[TNG] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Thine Own Self"
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...@juliet.caltech.edu>
WARNING: This post contains spoiler information for TNG's "Thine Own Self". If you wish thine own self to be spoiler-free, leave the article alone.
In brief: a couple of small plausibility-straining ideas, but mostly terrific.
I'm getting more confident now that "Sub Rosa" was a dastardly fluke, because
both this and "Lower Decks" have been strong. More later -- but first, as always, a synopsis:
As Troi returns from a class reunion, Dr. Crusher updates her on the
situation while serving bridge duty. Deanna gets very curious as to why Bev
would take the bridge officer's exam and become a full commander in the first
place, and takes Bev's answer of wanting to stretch herself to heart. In the
meantime, there is no response from Data, who is away on Barkon Four to retrieve radioactive fragments from a crashed probe.
On Barkon, home to a pre-industrial society, a villager, Garvin, is talking to
his daughter Gia, when suddenly both see Data walk into the village, dazed.
His clothes and hair appear singed, and when he opens his mouth to speak, only
a machinelike humming is heard. Garvin sends Gia home and tries to
communicate with Data, who manages to get his voice under control. Garvin
quickly finds, however, that Data has great difficulty communicating -- at
first, he cannot even understand what is said to him, merely mimicking
Garvin's statements. Later, his comprehension begins to return, but he has
no idea who or where he is, remembering only that he walked to the village
from the mountains, a great distance away. Garvin, observing the fragment
container Data is holding, asks if he can examine it, and Data agrees. Data
finds that he can read the lettering on the container ("RADIOACTIVE"), but
has no idea what it means, and speculates that perhaps it is his name. "It's
not like any name I've ever heard," replies Garvin, taking and holding up a piece of metal from the case...
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Troi informs Riker that she wants to become a
full commander and take the bridge officer's test, "to stretch myself."
Although she admits seeing old friends at the reunion was a trigger, she says
that she's actually been considering the idea ever since her brief stint on
the bridge in a time of disaster two years earlier. Riker agrees to support
her, but also warns that he's the one who'll have to evaluate her, and not to expect any favors.
On Barkon, Talur, the village's resident scientist, examines Data and
pronounces him fit in all respects save his memory loss. (His heartbeat, in
particular, is "very regular.") As far as his odd appearance is concerned,
she grants that "my grandmother would have called our friend here a demon, or
a spirit, or some sort of monster -- but current scientific methodology
allows us to dismiss such ridiculous superstitions and concentrate on
_scientific_ reality." What is he, then? An "iceman", or so she says --
from a race that lives in the mountains under very harsh conditions. As Talur leaves, Gia enters and helps Garvin pick a name for Data: "Jayden."
Garvin and "Jayden" leave to find Skoran, the village smith, who might be
able to help identify the strange metal Jayden brought with him. Skoran
notes that the metal is strangely warm, and that given its quality it must
have been tempered in some way. He offers to buy half the lot from Jayden to
make jewelry, a prospect to which Jayden agrees. Just then, an anvil falls
onto one of the other smiths. He screams in pain, and others run for help --
but Data walks over and lifts it off him easily, allowing him to scramble out
from under and get medical help. "Did I do something wrong?" he asks Garvin,
perplexed by the stares this action has provoked. "No, " muses Garvin, "just unexpected."
That evening, Talur assures Jayden that *all* icemen have such strength, in
order to fight off the wild creatures living in the mountains. When Jayden
reminds Talur that no one has ever *seen* such creatures, she scoffs that
it's simply a well known fact. Garvin, meanwhile, is beginning to look and
feel very fatigued, and Talur takes him out for some fresh air. Jayden talks
to Gia, who tells him her mother died a year ago. "Father said she went to a
beautiful place, where everything is peaceful, and everyone loves each other,
and no one ever gets sick. Do you think there's really a place like that?" Jayden moves to the window and stares up at the stars. "Yes. I do."
Troi, having passed all but one test in the meantime, takes the engineering
qualification -- and fails, badly, destroying the Enterprise in simulation.
Riker reassures her that it's a very hard section, but refuses to tell her what she did wrong, since she'll have to take the test again.
Jayden, meanwhile, sits in on Talur's open-air schoolroom, but objects to her
characterization of "rock, fire, sky and water" as the four core elements of
the universe as reasoning by analogy. Talur is not impressed, reassuring the
children that Jayden's memory lapses are still present, and Jayden is thus
not the most reliable of observers himself. The class is dismissed, and
Jayden is far from angry -- but he is certain Talur's statements are wrong.
The issue is soon abandoned, however, when Garvin collapses while arguing with Skoran over money. Jayden and Gia get him home.
At Garvin's home, Talur examines him, but has no idea what's wrong with him.
Upon noticing that his lesions resemble burn marks, however, she suspects
"the fluids of [his] body have overheated", and recommends lots of water,
fresh air, and various herbs to cool the fluids down. After she leaves,
Jayden decides (with Garvin's permission) to try to investigate the illness
himself, and takes Gia into the village to get supplies. In the village,
however, he finds out that the disease is spreading, affecting Skoran and
others as well -- and that the villagers believe *him* to be the one responsible for the plague. He and Gia, with supplies, return home.
A while later, Talur finds Jayden examining skin samples from both Garvin and
Gia, who has also come down with the illness now. Talur looks through
Jayden's magnifying device, far more powerful than her own, and professes
some skepticism when Jayden begins discussing cellular damage. She agrees
with his ideas of searching for a common experience Garvin, Gia and Skoran
have all shared recently, however, and notes that Jayden himself is a likely
candidate. He agrees, but also points out that Talur has had extensive
contact with him and has not taken ill. Gia comes down to report on Garvin's
condition and is sent back upstairs to bed, but not before Jayden notices the
metal pendant she wears, and finds that she's had it for a few days, and that it was made out of the metal Skoran bought from Jayden himself...
Troi, back on the Enterprise, is studying once again for the engineering exam
and is annoyed at the technobabble. She is far more upset, however, when
Riker enters and informs her that he's cancelling the test, saying that his
first duty is to the ship and that he cannot let someone serve as a bridge
officer who is unqualified. Troi fumes, but then realizes something
important in Riker's statements and departs for the holodeck. There, she
averts the disaster that has stymied her before, by ordering Geordi to repair
a conduit directly despite the radiation in the crawlway -- in other words,
by ordering Geordi to his death. Riker closes down the simulation and
congratulates her on passing the test -- the entire point of which was to see if she could make that hard choice.
Jayden, in the village, shows Talur his findings, and tells her of his theory
that the metal is sending out invisible particles which are some sort of
energy source, and which also are causing the mysterious illness. She is
incredulous, but Jayden is insistent -- and what's more, he's noticed that
the container he brought the metal in seems to block the particles, so he
suggests that the container was a safeguard, and the "RADIOACTIVE" label was
a warning. He asks her to go to the village and collect all the metal she
can into that container, while he continues to search for a cure. Promising
to come back and examine Jayden's data in detail, Talur leaves -- but shortly
thereafter, Skoran comes in with several other villagers, convinced that Jayden is trying to kill them all.
Skoran tries to club Jayden and misses -- and doesn't get a second chance, as
Jayden neatly sends him against a nearby wall. Skoran's cohort, however,
delivers a glancing blow along Jayden's face, and rips off the "skin"
concealing Jayden's circuitry. Both villagers stare at Jayden in horror. As
Skoran blurts "What are you?" and leaves in a hurry, Jayden puts his hand to his face and replies, "I do not know..."
Later, Talur has collected the metal, but Skoran and the others are back,
intent on finding and killing Jayden "before he kills us all." Garvin and
Gia do not believe Jayden can be such a monster, but cannot stop the others
from departing on their mission. Talur tells father and daughter to rest,
and leaves herself. Gia wanders through the house, but stops when she
reaches the kitchen and hears a voice calling to her from the corridor. "Jayden!"
Jayden has returned, hooded, and needs time to find a cure. Gia tells him to
remove the hood so she can see him, and gasps in horror when he does so, but
stands her ground, willing to help. After hours of work, he finds this cure
and, having already administered it to Garvin, gets Gia to drink it. He
reasons that the villagers will not take it voluntarily, and decides to spike the village well with the solution to help them.
Jayden arrives at the well and prepares to drop in the cure, but Skoran and
the others catch him in the act and accuse him of causing the plague and
attempting to kill them. Hastily, he drops the compound into the well, just
as Skoran impales him with a sharp metal pole. Skoran is stunned by the electric shock, but "Jayden" is worse off, falling down dead in a heap.
Much later, a fully recovered Gia is walking in the village when Beverly and
Riker ask her gently if she's seen a friend of theirs. She says she has seen him, but points to a grave when they ask where he is.
"They killed him because they were afraid of him, but he saved all of us from
the sickness." She describes his work over the last few days, and tells them the metal fragments are buried in the forest. "What was his real name?"
"Data ... he was my friend too." Gia hurries off.
Riker and Bev quickly scan and confirm that it is Data, and prepare to beam both him and the metal up in secret.
Data is successfully revived, but with no memory of his experiences after a
power surge overloaded him as he was working with the crashed probe. He
examines his clothes, however, and concludes, "It appears I had an
interesting time." As Riker and Bev fill him in on what little they know,
Deanna departs for her bridge shift, telling Data that because of her promotion, "you can call me 'sir' from now on."
Whew. Another long synopsis; this is getting old *real* fast. :-) Now, onwards to some rather exhausted commentary.
I pitched a story to TNG shortly before this episode was filmed, and one of
the reasons my story didn't sell was the existence of several Data stories in
the pipeline, including this one. So, as you might guess, my reaction going in was "this had BETTER be good."
Fortunately, it was. In fact, the Data-centered elements of it are close to
my favorite parts of this season to date. Brent Spiner, although playing
Data not that differently than usual, got to loosen up in all sorts of subtle ways, I think, which made the episode work monstrously well.
It would be tough to find any premise which could justify an "amnesiac Data
ends up in the Age of Reason", let's face it -- but given that, this one will
certainly suffice. I'm not entirely sure I buy it that a power surge could
do what it did, but it's close enough that I don't care; and after all, much
of the show was done from the villagers' viewpoint, and to them he was simply a mystery through and through.
What's more, this mystery actually caused problems. It makes perfect sense
that the first thing Garvin would do to try to help figure out Data's
problems would be to examine what he was carrying. Perfect sense -- but it's
also something that should have been lethal, and it very nearly *was*, in the
most realistic treatment of radiation sickness we'll ever get from Trek in
any form. (When all the complaints I have about the depiction are nitpicks, it's not a worry.)
The plot itself wasn't all that difficult to figure out -- it was fairly
clear that Data would end up getting the Frankenstein treatment, and it also
seemed likely that most of the village, at least, would be saved. What it
came down to was the execution, and there were *so* many things to like in the execution that I found myself very interested.
The biggest one, which is probably not a surprise, was the Data/Talur
interactions, particularly all the discussion of methodology. After all of
my ranting about "The Chase" about this time last year, I'm glad to see a
show that made me feel just as positive about TNG's attention to science as
"The Chase" made me negative about it. (It's somewhat ironic, I think, that
Ron Moore co-wrote _both_ stories.) Here, we had points where Talur's
statements were wrong, but were wrong in ways that were right in terms of
motivation. Data's correction to her science lesson, while probably just
amusing to most people, had me virtually cheering: it _was_ pure reasoning
by analogy, which was the main flaw of scientific thinking at the time. I
had a blast in all of their discussion, particularly the science lesson and
her insistence on adding frills to an already shaky theory once Data's
strength was revealed. (I found myself thinking of Ptolemaic theory: epicycles, anyone? :-) )
I also particularly liked some of the direction. Data coming out of the
shadows to find Gia towards the end was expected, but wonderful; and the use
of the hammering motif when we first saw Skoran called "Birthright I" to mind beautifully (which I'm sure was intentional; after all, Kolbe directed both).
I also *very* much liked some elements of the ending. While I have a few
plausibility-straining points I'll get to shortly, I liked the fact that,
in effect, the Enterprise was *too late* to save anyone or anything. The
only reason Data wasn't actually _dead_ was a property unique to Data; there
was no miracle saving of the day here. I was fearing the Enterprise would
suddenly show up in orbit and beam Data out in the nick of time, then somehow distribute a miracle cure; fortunately, I didn't get that.
The fact that they were cured at all is something of a stretch, though. I
can understand that there may be a cure for radiation poisoning in the 24th
century. I have a *lot* of difficulty, though, believing that Data could
find it with a swiss-cheesed memory and make it out of seven herbs and
spices. It's certainly not impossible (and given that the cures are probably
fairly routine to the Enterprise crew, there could be easy scenarios to work
it up), but it made my disbelief sit up and say "yo!" for a minute, unlike virtually all of the rest of the show.
[The other planetary problem I had was Data's actions at the well. He
shouldn't have needed the lantern, and he shouldn't have paused so
dramatically before getting ready to dump the cure in. The combination would
have gotten the cure distributed safely. It's dramatic license, but it's a little much.]
On the planetary side, though, that's it -- and both are small objections
indeed. I liked all the guest characters a great deal (even Gia, who had the
potential to be a major annoyance, but was quite pleasant), I thought the points made sense, and I loved the whole feel of the episode.
The Troi plot on the Enterprise, on the other hand, was simply decent. It
wasn't bad by any means, but it really *was* ten minutes or so of plot to
fill out the hour, and felt like it. I did like Troi's motivation for
testing in the first place, though -- the reunion idea made sense, and the
reference back to "Disaster" is about the only good thing to come out of that whole episode.
Lisa and I are having something of a debate about Troi "passing" the final
test, though. She thinks it wasn't really demonstrating she might order
someone to their deaths in real life, since it was a situation she'd seen
three times before and tried several options in already -- and she thinks
that Troi might not really do it if push came to shove. I mostly agree, but
I also don't think there's any _better_ way to test it short of actually making her kill somebody, which is somewhat ... impractical. Thoughts?
That's about all the major thoughts I had on "Thine Own Self", really. The
show doesn't necessarily lend itself to huge speculation and back-chat the
way "Parallels" or "Lower Decks" does, but it was very strong in a more quiet way. I liked it ... a lot.
So, a few short takes:
-- I *loved* the Riker-trombone scene early in the show. I have a feeling
the line "did you come here for something in particular, or just general
Riker-bashing" is going to be repeated a lot in conversations for months. :-)
-- There's a great quote from _Analog_ a few years back that bears on Talur's
"four basic elements" lesson. I don't remember the exact phrasing (mostly
because I've never seen it :-) ), but it says something along the lines of
"In olden times, we thought there were four basic elements of the universe:
earth, water, air, and fire. Now, we know there are *really* four basic
states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Three cheers for progress." :-)
-- One unfortunate consequence of Data wandering around with half his face
off towards the end of the show is that the makeup job was _far_ worse than
usual on that half of his face then. I'm not sure there'd be a way to avoid it, but it's pretty obvious that the circuitry is a prosthetic. Oh, well.
That's about it. To wrap up, then:
Plot: Only very minor stretches only. Very tight, and very understated.
Plot Handling: The only problem was putting in the Troi stuff as padding;
the direction was top-notch. Characterization: Marvelous; absolutely marvelous.
OVERALL: A 9. Good job.
Poor Data. First amnesia on a primitive planet, now possession. Poor guy can't get a break...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I'm sure my grandmother would have called our friend here a demon or a
spirit, or some sort of monster -- but current scientific methodology allows
us to dismiss such ridiculous superstitions, and concentrate on _scientific_
"Then what do you believe I am?"
"You ... are an iceman."
-- Talur and Data
-- Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...