WARNING: The following post contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG episode, "Ship in a Bottle". Those non-fictional persons wishing to avoid spoilers are thus advised to remain clear.

Poor Barclay. Doesn't he have *enough* complexes without now being told he might be fictional? :-)

I mean, honestly. Give the guy a break. ;-) 

"Ship in a Bottle" possessed one of the strongest plots I've seen TNG come up with in quite a while, and had some excellent performances backing it up.  More details (lots more!) after this synopsis, though:

When Barclay begins to work on finding and fixing a bug in the Sherlock Holmes holodeck programs, he accidentally finds and releases Professor Moriarty, who has been aware of the passage of time since being stored away by Picard and company four years earlier, and who is very annoyed that nothing has been done to help him. Barclay promises to talk to the captain
and puts Moriarty back into memory -- or so he thinks. Moriarty, however, reappears upon Barclay's exit from the holodeck and begins to plan...

As the Enterprise prepares to observe a collision of two planets that will then form a star, Picard joins Data and Barclay in the holodeck -- on 221B Baker Street, to be precise. He speaks with Moriarty, who bitterly refuses to listen to Picard, and in fact no longer believes that he cannot leave the holodeck. "Mind over matter", he ventures, and steps out of the holodeck.  Much to the surprise of the crew, he lives and breathes as ordinary matter!

After Moriarty is taken to sickbay and pronounced human, Picard takes him to Ten-Forward and speaks with him about the opportunities this century can offer him (so long as he stays on the straight and narrow, of course). Moriarty is initially ecstatic, but soon becomes depressed, and asks Picard to also allow the programmed love of his life, Countess Regina Bartholomew, to also become self-aware and leave the holodeck. Picard points out that even if they knew how to do so, the moral questions would be too great to allow it until it's better understood, and is later backed up by the senior staff in that decision. Moriarty, bitter, seizes control of the ship at a critical juncture, putting them all in danger of destruction.

Picard assigns Data, Geordi and Barclay to work on helping make the Countess real, and also asks Geordi privately to work on giving Picard back control of the ship. It's suggested that if the transporters could somehow lock onto a holodeck object and beam it "off the grid", then that object might have real cohesion once beamed. Barclay enters the holodeck to set this up, speaking to a now self-aware Countess in the process. Unfortunately, the test fails, with the chair they attempt to beam vanishing once the transporter cycle ends. Strangely, however, the transporter logs show no trace of the incident... Meanwhile, Geordi tells Picard that he believes he can give Picard back control of the ship. Picard quickly tells the computer his authorization codes in order to accomplish this, but the test appears to fail. 

Just then, Data arrives and tells Picard his startling conclusions, which are quickly confirmed:  Moriarty managed to "leave" the holodeck because it was a holodeck *within* a holodeck. Moriarty is in a huge holodeck program of his own making -- and so are they. This means that only Data, Picard, and Barclay are real -- and that Picard has just given Moriarty his voice codes, allowing Moriarty to take over the *real* Enterprise. They begin to search for a way to "give Moriarty what he wants", as Moriarty, now controlling the real ship, tells Riker to work on letting the *real* transporters beam holodeck matter.

Picard reenters the "holodeck" and trades pleasantries with the Countess. He informs her that they've found a way to make her and Moriarty real, and that "uncoupling the Heisenberg compensators" on the transporter will allow it to beam holodeck matter off the grid. He asks her *not* to tell Moriarty of this finding, urging her instead to help him move the ship to a safe distance. She, of course, promptly tells Moriarty, who calls up Riker and wants "to talk about uncoupling the Heisenberg compensators..."

Moriarty and the Countess pack, and prepare to leave. The transporter attempt takes place, and works -- they find themselves on the *real* transporter pad. Moriarty refuses to relinquish control, however, first demanding a shuttlecraft and safe passage. Riker, with little choice, grants it, and the Countess and a jubilant Moriarty take their leave. Once clear, he gives control of the Enterprise back to the Enterprise. 

Picard then steps in, shutting down the holodeck program that *Moriarty* had entered ever since Picard's conversation with the Countess and saving Moriarty and the Countess in an isolated memory cube. He then shuts down the program Moriarty created and leaves the holodeck. As the Enterprise retreats to observe the planetary collision from a safe distance, Picard explains this to everyone, pointing out that Moriarty's perceived "reality" right now may be no different from their own -- and perhaps they are just a fiction playing itself out on a box on someone's table.

There we are. Sheesh, after all the DS9 reviewing I've been doing all month, I'd almost forgotten how much work it was to write a synopsis. :-) Anyway, on to the meat:

This was one of the most delightfully *surreal* shows we've had from TNG in a while. Given the basic premise in "Elementary, Dear Data" of Moriarty being self-aware, the plot seemed to hold together extremely nicely (with perhaps one exception: it seems obvious to me how *Moriarty* was put into the holodeck-within-a-holodeck, but how did Picard get the Countess in there?). Besides, if it's done well I tend to enjoy stories that get self-referential, and this one did it in spades.

It took me a while to reason out how Moriarty and the Countess could have been beamed from one spot to another, given the holo-within-a-holo world they were experiencing. Eventually I figured out what Picard must have done: I can only assume that what really happened was that Picard programmed the holodeck to simulate for *them* what it looked like being transported, and basically changed the environment around them rather than them themselves. We didn't quite see it that way, but that's a very minor film cheat that I'm more than prepared to live with.

The "play-within-a-play" theme is far from novel, but being unable to *escape* the particular play-within-a-play you're in is much more rare, and I can only repeat that this one seemed excellently done. I must admit that Data's revelation midway through the show took me completely by surprise; I hadn't guessed that they must all still be on the holodeck, but in retrospect it does tie everything together neatly. Besides, Data's combadge hitting the wall of the holodeck was a startling sight, and the sudden realization afterwards of "uh-oh, I just gave Moriarty my command codes" was smartly done, though I'll admit that's one I *had* seen coming.

The most recent show this bears any sort of parallel to, I think, is "Cause and Effect". Both this and C&E were very plot-driven, idea-driven shows -- idea-driven enough that the characters' jobs were to find their way through the plot rather than go through significant change or growth. As a rule, I prefer the latter type of show, but really *good* idea-driven shows can more than make up for "static" characters once in a while, and this was definitely one of them. 

The show was helped immeasurably by the performance of Daniel Davis as Moriarty. I liked him very much in "Elementary, Dear Data", and I like him at least as much now. The man has *presence*, and is someone who strikes me as a very believable Moriarty (more so than Spiner/Data's Holmes, I have to say). His "Mind over matter. Cogito ergo sum!" speech to himself was powerful enough that I *could* bring myself to believe he'd somehow gotten himself out through force of will (which, after all, was what we were *supposed* to believe at that point), and that wasn't easy. In addition, his reactions both to the security guards ("Policemen. I'd recognize them in any
century.") and to the Enterprise's identity as a *starship* both seemed properly 19th-century. I found myself rooting somewhat for Moriarty here, and that's a pleasant change. Bravo.

I can't quite say the same thing for the Countess; she was engaging enough, but not particularly riveting the way Moriarty was. Given that her initial value was as something of a ruse to trick Picard into helping him, I was somewhat expecting that his attachment to her would be somewhat exaggerated as well, and that turned out not to be the case. I've no objection to being surprised, but I didn't see enough substance to the Countess to explain why she was so fascinating to Moriarty. Given, however, that the storyline was Picard vs. Moriarty in a game of wits, the Countess is very much a side issue.

As for Barclay, it was nice to see him as a normal, ordinary officer who isn't causing trouble with his neuroses (be they natural or artificially induced). Yes, he's the one who started this whole mess by releasing Moriarty, but that strikes me as a mistake lots of other people could have made in his situation. His reactions to meeting holodeck people who really *were* "real" were a delightful counterpoint to his original problems in "Hollow Pursuits", and his reaction to Picard's final suggestion seemed perfectly in character for him.  

Lisa (my own personal Countess, for those new readers) had an idea very early on, though, which is worth sharing. Wouldn't this have been a particularly nasty practical joke to play on Barclay? To have him go "fix" a holodeck problem, and suddenly run into someone who seems to know about the outside world? Given Barclay's retreat *into* fiction, if the TNG crew were a little nasty it could have been a cute comeuppance.

That's most of what I had to say. There's not much to say about the characters, since we only saw two "real" regulars for any significant time and I've already commented on Barclay and Moriarty. So, a few short takes:

-- Moriarty got some of the best lines. Aside from the "policemen" bit I've already mentioned, his statement about how "A deadline has a wonderful way of *concentrating* the mind" seemed very apt for him. And, of course, we had the requisite "I'm afraid I can't do that." to Riker. I guess Moriarty wandered over from A.C.Doyle to A.C.Clarke for a little while during his stay in protected memory. :-) :-)

-- I originally thought there'd be more to the "handedness" problem than there was.  Somehow, I thought Moriarty was affecting the initial simulation, but it appears to have been a convenient happenstance. Well, I'll manage. :-)

-- Also, it's been established before that Data's *left-handed*. Interesting to see during the handedness discussion here that his Holmes was *right-handed*. Boy, when Data gets into a part, he goes all the way in. 

-- I wonder what would happen if Moriarty's cube ever found its way to Bynarus, home of the Bynars. Just a thought. (How about the Borg?)

That should about do it. *Very* nice job -- a refreshing change from reruns. Between this and "Chain of Command", I think TNG is coming around this season. Let's hope it continues!

So, the numbers:

Plot: 9. One or two very minor things I haven't quite managed to figure out, but all in all very impressive.

Plot Handling: 10. Fan-*tastic* job for a rookie director.

Characterization: 9. Very nice.

TOTAL: 10, once I round up for general surrealism. :-)  Bravo.


Geordi's in lust with a suspected murderer, and the FX crew has fun with morphing.  

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"I think -- therefore I AM!"
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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