Star Trek: The Next Generation: 11001001   Rewatch 
May 22, 2020 1:44 PM - Season 1, Episode 15 - Subscribe

(MA): While a group of technologically advanced aliens board the Enterprise to update the ship's computer systems, Riker discovers just how real a holodeck character can be.

The Enterprise arrives at Starbase 74 for a computer refit, to be carried out by a team of Bynars under the supervision of Commander Quinteros. Most of the crew debarks for shore leave, but a skeleton crew remains aboard including Picard and Riker. Riker tours the ship before heading to the holodeck to check out the enhancements as the Bynars continue their work.

Riker instantiates a New Orleans bar with a jazz combo and a single patron, a lovely woman. He plays a tune with the band on his trombone and then introduces himself to the woman, who calls herself Minuet. He is immediately entranced. Eventually. Captain Picard drops in and is just as charmed.

Meanwhile outside the holodeck, things have gone awry - an imminent containment field rupture has led to the ship’s evacuation and relocation away from the starbase. As soon as the ship cleared the base, it warped away, with Riker and Picard still aboard. Operations to recover the ship are in motion.

Eventually, Riker and Picard realize there is a shipwide emergency and make it to the bridge just in time to hear an expiring pair of Bynars ask for help. The ship is in orbit around their homeworld; they stole the Enterprise after uploading a huge datastore to the ship’s computer. Riker and Picard locate the file and transfer it to the planet, somehow saving the Bynars. It is, essentially, a massive emergency backup of the main computer on Bynaus, taken due to an impending supernova event which wiped the planetary computer. They then return to Starbase 74 where there will be a hearing, but basically all is forgiven.

Poster's Log:

What a bizarre episode. The Bynars are of course reminiscent of the Talosians, and interestingly, they are directly described as ungendered in the script. This episode was intended to be shot and broadcast before “The Big Goodbye”, and the issues that arose in the holodeck in that episode were to have been attributed to the Bynar’s upgrades.

The traditional and-very-weird-to-modern-computer-users strangeness of TNG era computing is on full display here. Where did the backup come from? The planet’s surface prior to the supernova, one assumes. So was the Enterprise in orbit when the supernova took place? It doesn’t seem to have been. So somehow the Bynars were able to travel to Starbase 74 with the backup data and install it on the Enterprise as the Enterprise traveled to their system.

The actor who portrays Commander Quinteros, Gene Dynarski, had previously appeared in two episodes of TOS, “Mudd’s Women” and “The Mark of Gideon”.

Additionally, two computer voices are heard on the Enterprise, a male voice provided by an uncredited actor, and, for the first time in TNG, the voice of Majel Barret as the ship’s computer, reprising that role from TOS.

The fairly striking shots of the ship entering the docking area of Starbase 74 are modified effects shots taken from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Ex Astris Scientia has a detailed breakdown of many shots from the episode with a great deal of information on both this shot and the differences in the episode between the original SD version the show and the HD remastering.

Much of the show is devoted to minuta of the crew’s lives and interests - as Riker tours the ship, he comes across Geordi and Data as Data first tries his hand at painting, meets a harried Dr. Crusher on her way to meet a mentor on the Starbase, and encounters Worf and Tasha Yar, amusingly dressed in blue spandex, on their way to a game of Parisses squares. Then, as the crew realize Riker and Picard have remained aboard the Enterprise as it warps away, there are some interesting scenes in which they work together with starbase personnel to initiate planning for a recovery mission.

Once again, an interesting and fun episode with a central plot that is fairly shaky. Minuet will return in season four’s “Future Imperfect”. Her name was first proposed as the name of the android antagonist which eventually became Lore; one assumes her role here, as a charming antagonist, likely includes elements of that original character conception.
posted by mwhybark (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It is unfortunate that this one didn't get broadcast before "The Big Goodbye." It would have gone a long way in clearing up the first season confusion over holodeck character self-awareness. As things stand now with the order of the episodes, the Enterprise holodeck was apparently churning out self-aware beings capable of understanding their situation and then killing them off. Kind of horrific.
posted by Fukiyama at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Gene Dynarski just died this past February. He was also one of the MANDELBAUM!s in a later-season Seinfeld episode.

To me, this is the first really objectively good episode—not just "decent/not bad" like "The Battle" and mayyybe one or two others before this. Yeah, the Bynars' whole planetary problem is weirdly sketched-out here, but a couple of lines of dialogue could probably have made it more or less air-tight. But we have an actually interesting and not-super-embarrassing Alien of the Week, we have a non-formulaic story with a real sci-fi foundation, and we get to adore the Enterprise-D in one of TNG's quite rare Starbase Glory Sequences. Also rare: Picard and Riker working as a two-man team to solve the problem. Usually one is on the bridge and one is in the action.

Of course, we're still objectifying women, basically literally here. But given the context (holodeck + Riker + season one), it could've been a lot worse.

As things stand now with the order of the episodes, the Enterprise holodeck was apparently churning out self-aware beings capable of understanding their situation and then killing them off. Kind of horrific.

I feel like the script of 110101001101011lol suggests that the Bynars, in designing Minuet, transcended typical holo-character traits in that way. But your point still stands, because after this episode, plenty of holo-characters will be killed off, and they could very well have been programmed with, or otherwise retained, some of the Bynars' self-awareness subroutines. The horror of that was touched on a bit with Moriarty in this series (that link contains spoilers), with Vic Fontaine (whom the DS9 crew actually worked to save from oblivion in "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang") and in the VOY episode "Author, Author"; I hope it becomes a topic in PIC, which seems like a good fit. Bring back Moriarty!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

It occurred to me that maybe the reason Minuet was unlike any other hologram, is that she *isn't* a hologram, except in appearance. In other words, what if the Bynars were pulling the strings, playing her character from offstage, flirting with Riker like a real person and not just a computer simulation. Maybe her apparent self-awareness was really their own? Would explain why she reverts to being just a generic holo-character once they unplug from the main computer.

I rewatched this a few months ago, not for this FanFare, so I might be remembering wrong, but at the time I came up with this idea, I noted some "looks" between the Bynars and Riker at the end that could support the idea they'd been engaged with him - although that could simply be "hey, thanks for helping save our planet"...
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I loved this episode, and in fact it's one of the relatively few TNG episodes that I've sat through multiple viewings of. The objectification of Minuet by Picard and Riker was startling, but also very astute on the part of the writers, as it shows how characters--in just about any sort of fiction, but especially in computer-generated media such as videogames--can be seen both as subjects and objects, sometimes in such rapid succession that it seems simultaneous. I've certainly done so with my favorite space opera game, Mass Effect, going on at length about what they represent and the relative quality of their dialogue, and then crying when they died. It's more startling when the character has crossed the uncanny valley, so to speak, but to a large degree that's the point. It's of a piece in the scene in "The Big Goodbye" when the crew is standing around grinning at the gangsters who are very ready to kill them. Is the Turing Test really the be-all and end-all of whether an AI should be treated as sentient, or is it really more of a subjective reaction of at least one person to that AI? (Maybe call it the Velveteen Rabbit test.) Does Minuet's meaning to Riker have to do with the very fact that she's evanescent and irreplaceable; would she have meant as much if he could have booted her up any old time? This is strong, fascinating stuff, on a par with some of Philip K. Dick's work, and that's not a compliment that I give out lightly.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:24 PM on May 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

But your point still stands, because after this episode, plenty of holo-characters will be killed off, and they could very well have been programmed with, or otherwise retained, some of the Bynars' self-awareness subroutines.

I don't mean after though, but before. Look at "The Long Goodbye" and Picard's scene with Hill's cop friend. Picard tells him he doesn't know if he'll be going home to his wife and kids and then Picard leaves and the lights go out. Did the cop friend die? Was he left like Moriarty described his own experience after being saved to memory? Or was he just gone? I'm assuming that other members of the crew had their own programs with characters. What about them?

Like I said, kind of horrific to think about the implications before the writers finally set out the dynamics of the holodeck and characters not being self aware.

I do agree that Minuet herself is some kind of special case as being a product of the Bynars. When she was romancing Will and keeping Picard around, she was natural and all, but I always get the impression that when Riker and Picard came back for info, she was very stilted, as if she had gone off the romance script.
posted by Fukiyama at 4:48 PM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fully agreed that this was the first good not "not terrible" episode of TNG- if a tad melodramatically scored. It also has a good podcast counterpart- bad episodes are fun to riff on but good episodes allow Ben and Adam to let their inner geeks out. The objectification is... less than good but kinda crucial for setting up how holograms are treated- this sort of starts a thing that will end with the Doctor from Voyager. That fact plus season 4's gem of an episode means this ep is part of any Duffer's guide.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

That sequence at the end has stuck with me for the past couple of decades:

Picard: Why did you not ask us for help?
Bynars: (conferring) You might have ... said no.

Anyway, this is the first episode of the rewatch that I've been able to sit through and enjoy as a simple hour of tv, though it's a weird hour.

I like how the Enterprise computer's file directory system doesn't have a way to sort for most recently modified files.

Also enjoy that both Picard and Riker casually note that the auto-destruct sequence of course has no variability, it's 5 minutes and bam, and why would it ever need to be any other way? My headcannon is they realized that was not a great idea, and since they were at starbase getting the holodeck fixed anyway, why not install a configurable destruct sequence?

I don't even know what to say about the weirdness of Picard walking in on what was obviously the first segment of Riker's mastubatory holodeck sequence, and then ... not leaving immediately?!? Jesus, Jean-luc, you gotta maintain boundaries.

Minuet's callback several seasons later in Future Imperfect was for some strange reason, the most shocking moment in all of Star Trek for me. Like, a big dramatic twist that requires the viewer to be highly familiar with the whole backstory of the characters going back three seasons? Just a preview of what tv would be some day.

Weirdly, they mention Parisses Squares in this episode, but don't again until... Future Imperfect! At least, if I'm reading Memory Alpha correctly.
posted by skewed at 7:11 PM on May 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Worth mentioning Minuet was played by Carolyn McCormick, who was also awesome as psychologist Elizabeth Olivet on the Law & Order shows for a very long time.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:10 AM on May 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Given the rate of improvement of holograms shown through Voyager, we're lucky that future Riker isn't living with a recreated Minuet in Picard.
posted by ckape at 8:03 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

My career is really tightly coupled to the cadre of people who saw the Holodeck and thought "Oh, we should try to build that in real life" in various incarnations, to varying success. I very vaguely remember watching some of Encounter at Farpoint with my dad, but I would've been pre-kindergarten on premiere so it's possible I saw it in reruns or syndication. I'm pretty sure I remember the season 3/4 cliffhanger from original air, though. So it's a trip to revisit these original holodeck episodes. This, "The Big Goodbye," and S2's "Elementary, Dear Data," are interesting because they show what creatives in the 80s imagined about the future of tech. Some of it still feels at least a little prescient, some of it seems utterly ridiculous (the file search on the computer, for one thing) in hindsight. I think I'll have more to say about that for "Elementary, Dear Data" -- this one is about more than just holodeck shenanigans.

It does seem a little unusual that the Federation contracts with (?) the Bynars to refit a top-end warship, yet seems to have no idea what or how the Bynars are doing, and everyone is completely okay with this. It's hard to imagine Riker (or someone higher up the chain) not going to the Bynars and saying "so, you did this thing to our Holodeck. We want to understand that." Of course, as I've observed in other discussions, explaining too much has the potential to diminish the power of the story (see also: the Cylons from the BSG reboot, once they turned into squabbling high school cliques) so I'm okay with this.

Similar practical objection to "Where No One Has Gone Before," actually. Then again, I think this, as with a lot of things, is a case where "TV logic" rules. Which, I guess, is fine -- as I said, I don't require my fiction to be 100% congruent with the real world, so long as it's a good story.
posted by Alterscape at 11:48 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

It strains credulity a bit that the Bynars understood the psychology of Riker and Picard enough to build a persona who could play to their interests and trap them but not enough to just say “want to save an entire planet?” Because the Enterprise leadership is all over those shenanigans.

I mostly enjoyed this one. There are a few head scratching moments, but the plot moves pretty briskly and no one violates Yar’s agency, so it’s better than the first six episodes combined.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:47 AM on May 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It does seem a little unusual that the Federation contracts with (?) the Bynars to refit a top-end warship, yet seems to have no idea what or how the Bynars are doing, and everyone is completely okay with this.

This is 100% how IT outsourcing today works in any large company you could name.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:24 AM on May 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I am not sure how the Federation makes decisions. They seem to revel in sending poorly-researched “specialists” to a research vessel with a specific mission and running some opaque experiment that invariably ends in wild disaster. You think they would learn. At least, with the end of the TOS era, they seem to have given up on Commodores, a rank that seems to require megalomania, a rage disorder, or at least a pathological hatred for Kirk and/or Spock. Although we do get an Admiral in the near future with poor impulse control, so maybe Starfleet hasn’t given up yet....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:51 AM on May 24, 2020

When does Starfleet finally face their greatest enemy: the ISO 9001 auditors?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:46 PM on May 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Although we do get an Admiral in the near future with poor impulse control, so maybe Starfleet hasn’t given up yet....

You're going to need to narrow it down. It seems to be a requirement of Star Fleet admirals that they're either useless or straight out evil.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:56 PM on May 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Picard: Why did you not ask us for help?
Bynars: (conferring) You might have ... said no.

Much better to bet everything on Riker and Picard solving an elaborate series of puzzles!
posted by polecat at 1:26 PM on September 14, 2020

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