Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Royale   Rewatch 
August 10, 2020 6:10 AM - Season 2, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Riker, Data, and Worf get trapped on a mysterious away mission. Apparently, what happens on Theta VIII stays on Theta VIII.

Memory Alpha is flamboyantly generous with details:

• Writer Tracy Tormé first pitched the story (then called "The Blue Moon Hotel") to Robert Lewin during the first season, and it was one of two scripts that won Tormé a staff job on TNG. According to Tormé: "There had been a lot of talk about doing it in the first year, but finally [in the second] year they gave me the green light and told me to go ahead and do it. It became 'The Royale,' and I wrote a draft which was, again, a bit of a departure for Star Trek. It was kind of a surrealistic piece, with a lot of comedy and lot of subtle satire in it."

• Tormé requested the pseudonym Keith Mills to protest rewrites by Maurice Hurley. Hurley rejected the surrealism and claimed that Tormé's premise was too derivative of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action". "There were gangsters in this one, gangsters in that one, and both based on a book."

• Tormé commented, "I've completely disowned the piece. I suppose skeletally it's my story, but when I started to reread the rewrite, I got ten pages through it and I got sort of a cold chill and had to put it down. An interesting thing is that the cast, the crew and even secretaries went out of their way to tell me how much they liked my draft, and they asked me in a totally puzzled manner, what on Earth had happened and why we had changed it. All I could do was shrug. Of course this is all my opinion, and you'd probably hear something different from the other side…I felt like a lot of the comedy was taken out. A lot of the surrealism was taken out. I feel that it's very heavy-handed now, and it's gone from being a strange episode to being a stupid episode."

• The dispute resulted in Tormé leaving active staff duty and taking on a lesser role as creative consultant. He would contribute to only one more episode, "Manhunt", where further script disputes led to Tormé's ultimate departure.

• La Forge states that Theta VIII has a surface temperature of -291 °C. That temperature is below absolute zero (-273.15 °C), and is therefore impossible to attain. Furthermore the planet's age is estimated to be 7.2×1010, or 72 billion earth years old, far older than the universe itself.

• Fermat's last theorem is mentioned as being unproved for eight hundred years. In 1995 (six years after this episode was written), however, a proof was discovered by Andrew Wiles. It was later corrected for in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Facets" when Jadzia Dax tells Tobin (embodied in Chief O'Brien during Jadzia's zhian'tara) that many others have tried more original approaches to Fermat's Last Theorem since Wiles's original proof in the 1990s. Cliff Bole also directed "Facets." The implication is that the Wiles Proof, while correct, involved mathematics too complex for Fermat's time.

• The idea of an advanced alien race recreating a suitable environment from a wayward astronaut's cultural artifacts in which to live out his final days was first detailed by notable science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke and film director Stanley Kubrick in the novel and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• The novel Hotel Royale begins "It was a dark and stormy night". This line first appeared as the opening to the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and has since become identified with bad writing and purple prose.

Jill Jacobson (Vanessa) later appeared in the DS9 episode "Broken Link."


"What is this place? How did a being like you get here?"
"Why, this is the Royale, of course. And my personal life is really none of your business, thank you."
- Worf and the assistant manager

"Why would anyone go to all this trouble? It's just window dressing for a dead man."
- Riker

"I hold no malice toward my benefactors. They could not possibly know the hell they have put me through… for it was such a badly written book, filled with endless cliché and shallow characters… that I shall welcome death when it comes."
- Riker, reading Col. Richey's sole diary entry


Poster's Log:
This is one of those that I've probably seen about 7.2×1010 times, which tends to make these posts a little more difficult somehow. I recognize it as bizarre, weirdly-paced, unevenly-acted (and only partly on purpose), and conceptually pretty dopey even if you grade it on a Trek curve. I only watched it as often as I did because it was one of very few TNGs that I had on VHS for a long time; from its first airing, I understood that this was by no means TNG's finest hour.

Nevertheless!, I have a fondness for it. It's one of those reminders that this show isn't afraid to get weird and not bother explaining it, which is good worldbuilding for a show about the final frontier. My fondness, though, seems to diminish with each rewatch—I think, now, that most of it comes from Col. Richey's spooky, Kubrickian backstory. One wonders if, in hotel room adjacent to Richey's, our heroes might have found HAL-9000 with a guy in a dog suit.

Just as well that they didn't try to pull this off in season one. Now that I know about the rewrite, I'm enchanted to speculate about just how much weirder it could have been. This concept + more comedy + even more weird puts me in the mind of something like VOY: "The Thaw".

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The hotel's assistant manager was played by Sam Anderson, who apparently has been in a tonnnn of stuff, but I don't think I've seen any of it except Angel. Noble Willingham ("Texas"), of course, always plays this exact character.

"Greatest Gen" episode link.

Halloween Jack has graciously volunteered to pinch-post the next three TNG threads due to a busy time IRL for me; I'll be back for "Q Who."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wish that I could take a look at that original script; Hurley's objections ("There were gangsters in this one, gangsters in that one, and both based on a book.") are still present in the rewrite, and I was also reminded of the end of 2001. Another story that this is reminiscent of is DS9's "Our Man Bashir", which certainly had its "endless cliché and shallow characters", part of which takes place in a casino (and which scene features Worf being much more relaxed and part of the action--involuntarily, of course--as an ironic counterpoint to his discomfort here), and similarly a story where the only way out for our guys is through the story.

Data being able to throw the dice precisely enough to break the bank is a bit of a stretch, but I guess I can buy it; an easier way to go would have been for him to count cards in blackjack, which he'd been playing earlier (and I think that "Texas" even mentioned card-counting earlier), but maybe they thought that that would be both less impressive and also a bit too reminiscent of Rain Man, which came out the previous year. I also would have given the characters a bit of self-awareness in that, on some level, they were aware of their repeating the same story thousands of times, and would have been relieved and grateful that it was finally ending. (I hope that it ended...)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 AM on August 10


"endless cliche and shallow characters" trapped in sophomoric writing, repeating the same actions forever - you can't fire the writer, he quit, literally. But, enough about rewatching Season 1 for the umpteenth time...

Data being able to throw the dice precisely enough to break the bank is a bit of a stretch
I go the impression that he didn't just throw them, he re-weighted them by squeezing them around in his fingers. Another android superpower never to be seen again!

With that said - I've always kinda liked this one, in a comic-booky way.

For the Star Trek CCG, this episode presented the opportunity to create some games-within-games, blackjack, then craps, and finally a slot machine. For reasons I can't speculate on, this made it a (rather edge casey) reason to keep O'Brien in your hand...

Or you could always bring along Mickey D. The house always wins. I thought the image on this card was so cool, I used the namesake for my handle on Decipher's old message boards for a while.

The Charybdis makes you actually bring along an Archeologist to collect Artifacts. They kinda baked this idea into Second Edition Artifacts, so someone thought it was a neat idea.

I snarked about Doorway cards in the previous episode yet here they are again. Conceptually, they represent stepping through an aperture into a realm where new possibilities exist. As depicted in this episode a Revolving Door might kick you back out. Very powerful denial card. There's always the possibility of ending up Dead in Bed for your errant crew in stasis, but that status is mentioned on only 11 cards in the entire game, including this one. Them's the breaks.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:29 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


I also would have given the characters a bit of self-awareness in that, on some level, they were aware of their repeating the same story thousands of times, and would have been relieved and grateful that it was finally ending.

Wow, that would have been a fantastic flourish and provided a great denouement.

Sam Anderson as the Assistant Manager was fantastic, so cordially officious, so unlikable.

This episode is silly, and I've seen it too many times, but I still like it. Brent Spiner starting to really lean in on the hammy Data--never makes sense in terms of his character or his supposed limitations, but whatever.

There is some really fun dialogue. “The value of the cards remains constant, what would be the point in counting them?” Sam Anderson's response to Worf's "We call it Theta VIII"--"How charming." When Worf hears that Col. Richey died in his sleep: "What a terrible way to die." Reading Col. Richey's diary out loud was clunky exposition (how did Col. Richey possibly learn those things?), but Frakes delivery made it work for me, "I shall welcome death when it comes."
posted by skewed at 8:50 AM on August 10


Sam Anderson will always be Mr. Gorpley to me.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:33 AM on August 10


This is one of the most TOS episodes to have never appeared in TOS. It's surprising to find out that this wasn't a warmed-over Star Trek Phase II script. The obviously low budget, the cosmic weirdness, the poor grasp on scientific numbers, it all fits better with 1967 Trek than 1989 Trek.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:08 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


I suspect that if this episode had come later in the series, it would've become a holodeck episode. Perhaps something more like DS9's Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang.

It seems like there's something inescapable about TV shows from the 90s and earlier just wanting to do the occasional episode in a drastically different setting and/or era. TOS threw all sorts of random nonsense out to justify these episodes, but with TNG you could mostly just relegate it to a holodeck malfunction and call it a day, kind of like when Stan Lee invented mutants so he didn't have to keep coming up with origin stories. (And of course, Tormé's later series Sliders is basically nothing but throwing the same characters into drastically different settings and/or eras.)

The true secret of Fermat's Last Theorem is that not long after scribbling that famous marginal note he found an error in his proof and tossed it, which is why he never mentioned it outside of that one note despite all of the correspondence and published works he put out afterwards.
posted by ckape at 12:45 PM on August 10


The other thing about different-era shows is that they're dead easy to get the props, sets, and costumes for, if you don't just use some that are already made up. As COB noted, Noble Willingham plays basically the same character all the time, he might have shown up on set with his own Stetson. Aside from the cost and physical effort involved, it would get to be a drag on the designers involved to have to make up an entire culture every week. Rick Sternbach came up with some great starship designs, but sometimes on VOY you'd see that some weeks he just bunted; the ships of the Alien Race of the Week was some blobby, symmetrical, vaguely aerodynamic shape with a couple of nacelles. (The official Star Trek magazine would dutifully print these, although not all of them were worthy of further scrutiny.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:08 PM on August 10


Huh. This the second episode, written by Tracy Tormé, that has been unfairly compared to A Piece of the Action. The guy has a type.

I do like the Twilight Zoneiness, but it is basically another holodeck episode. Just an alien holodeck this time.
posted by rodlymight at 7:40 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I couldn't place this episode at all until I saw the revolving door in that black void, and then I was like, Oh yeah, this one! I remember liking it when it first aired, but it's definitely a lot slower and stranger in retrospect and does have that generic holodeck episode feel.

I always find myself irked at Data's consistent inconsistency; his little laugh when Texas wants his hat back, the whole "wha-wha-whaaaa" jokiness with the gambling stuff, just irritates. If they didn't constantly reiterate in-show that Data doesn't have feelings, blah blah, then why couldn't they remember that behind the scenes. He was never my favorite character, especially when Spiner's playing it broadly like in this.

That's such an interesting thought, that the characters would pick up some self-awareness. But that's horrible to contemplate once the original reason for their creation and then these "foreign investors" are gone.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:36 PM on August 10


I always find myself irked at Data's consistent inconsistency; his little laugh when Texas wants his hat back, the whole "wha-wha-whaaaa" jokiness with the gambling stuff, just irritates. If they didn't constantly reiterate in-show that Data doesn't have feelings, blah blah, then why couldn't they remember that behind the scenes.

The way the show handles Data is one of the biggest things that is jumping out at me on rewatch. I've mentioned in a previous thread that this is my first focused rewatch of TNG since it originally aired. I've seen a few episodes in reruns now and again over the years, but I decided to try to follow along with the FanFare crew and rewatched some of the first season to catch up to where the group was.

For now, I've decided on a kind of 'suspension of disbelief' when it comes to watching Data. Lots of Star Trek computer concepts are rooted in what people born in the 30s and 40s (with the exception of Brannon Braga) thought computers could do in the 80s. Of course, I am the same age now as those producers were during The Next Generation, so I don't mean for my comments to be ageist. I just frequently bump into TNG's very limited conception of computers as being a bit of a drag on the rewatch.

I can see how ultimately, Data was a chance to have Spock again without obviously just saying 'here's a new Vulcan.' Data was a character that could react against other characters by being 'different' in a sci-fi way. His in-universe explanation doesn't hold up very well, though. If he doesn't have emotion subroutines, why then does he modulate his tone of voice? Why is he curious about anything? Isn't curiosity an emotional state? Further, isn't curiosity itself an obliteration of the idea of being 'programmed'? Yes, we talk about 'machine learning' with our contemporary attempts at artificial intelligence, but then most 'machine learning' is software that is 'trained' on a massive data set that it attempts to produce novel outputs from based on programmed parameters. So, the software isn't 'curious' in any sense that is comparable to animal cognition, it's that programmers have developed a technique to harness greater and greater computational power to create more and more subtle pattern recognition.*

As kitten kaboodle and others have pointed out, Data is frequently confused, amused, concerned, frustrated, etc. He, in fact, probably more consistently demonstrates emotion than Spock did, it's just that, like Spock, those emotions are restrained.

Data is obviously considerably advanced beyond any and all artificial intelligence we have in our contemporary world. Consider Data's ability to move and perceive spatially in physical environments versus the Boston Dynamics robot dogs, for instance. However, his 'emotional' abilities are presented as less sophisticated than an AI chatbot.

There was a shot in this episode where Data and Worf are in the background and Riker is, iirc, talking to the Enterprise via combadge after they win at the dice table. Brent Spiner rolls again in the background and does a ridiculous flourish. This might be what kitten kaboodle is referring to regarding 'wha-wha-whaaaa' jokiness. This kind of thing works okay for me as it maybe shows Data being artificial, which I think works when you think about things like AI chatbots. In fact, I could see largely preserving Spiner's performance as Data, and even preserving some of the navel-gazing dialogue by shifting it a little to 'Am I really feeling this way, or am I utilizing programming that is allowing me to act this way?' This could even be related to human behavior in terms of how we often are disguising our true motivations from ourselves in certain situations.

But the part that doesn't work so well is how the rest of the crew treats Data. For people who are supposed to be the best-of-the-best scientist explorers, they just come off as stupid when discussing Data and how he could be thinking or 'feeling.' I know that they are just stand-ins for the writers, who were probably thinking that they would make the other characters stand-ins for the viewers of the era, but they just end up seeming dumb and incurious as to how Data's programming could be working.

* - Yes, one could argue here that maybe all animal cognition is pattern recognition, too. I don't buy that argument for various reasons, such as, for instance, the fact that the human brain seems to be 'pre-programmed,' if you will, for certain structures. Further, this still leaves the massive problem, germane to Data, of how emotion fits into an epistemological model based on pattern recognition.
posted by Slothrop at 6:25 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


There was a shot in this episode where Data and Worf are in the background and Riker is, iirc, talking to the Enterprise via combadge after they win at the dice table. Brent Spiner rolls again in the background and does a ridiculous flourish. This might be what kitten kaboodle is referring to regarding 'wha-wha-whaaaa' jokiness. This kind of thing works okay for me as it maybe shows Data being artificial

Yeah, we know that Data knows how to get into character on the holodeck, and if we're smart enough to recognize the Royale as just an alien holodeck, so's he!

I can see how ultimately, Data was a chance to have Spock again without obviously just saying 'here's a new Vulcan.' Data was a character that could react against other characters by being 'different' in a sci-fi way. His in-universe explanation doesn't hold up very well, though.

Roddenberry's go-to move was recycling, yes. But the best slack I can cut Data, explanation-wise, is that there's a lot we never get to understand about Dr. Soong's methodology. E.g.: just because Data eventually obtains an enhancement which he refers to as an "emotion chip" doesn't actually mean he never had emotions beforehand, and just because Soong may have believed that Data didn't evolve emotions doesn't mean it didn't happen. (But we're getting ahead of ourselves ^-^ )

If he doesn't have emotion subroutines, why then does he modulate his tone of voice? Why is he curious about anything? Isn't curiosity an emotional state? Further, isn't curiosity itself an obliteration of the idea of being 'programmed'?

I had the sense that The Orville was conscious of exactly these concerns while handling their Isaac character, who manages IIRC to avoid a lot of Data-esque plausibility entanglements like these. It probably helps a lot that he doesn't have facial expressions.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:51 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Not sure if I've said this in the TNG threads or elsewhere, but my impression, based on Spiner's portrayal, is that Data isn't emotionless, it's that he has precisely one--his curiosity about people other than himself. It's arguable that an AI without any emotions would do nothing; Data's singularity of motivation and desire give that emotion a power and purpose that is lacking in people with more complex and conflicting feelings. I also think that sometimes Data imitates the emotions of other people, in an effort to understand them. (I also think that sometimes he adopts a more casual manner in order to put people at ease and therefore maintain access to their casual company.)

Lots of Star Trek computer concepts are rooted in what people born in the 30s and 40s (with the exception of Brannon Braga) thought computers could do in the 80s.

I would put that mostly on Gene Roddenberry, since TOS was uniformly hostile toward the idea of computers being able to do much more than respond to voice commands and perform information lookup and retrieval queries. Roddenberry did do The Questor Tapes, which was the source of some of Data's concept and background (the Wikipedia article notes that Data's being able to tell that the dice are loaded was "borrowed" directly from the Questor pilot), but that seems to have been less about the actual development of AI by contemporary people and more of an updated version of some kind of "long line of secret guardians" myth. Moriarty is much more of an interesting idea--less of the AI as a physical stand-alone unit (along with Questor, the seventies gave us Demon Seed--from an early novel by horror writer Dean Koontz--and Colossus: The Forbin Project, both mainframe AIs) but rather a program that could reside on any number of platforms; this idea would continue in later series as, variously, Vic Fontaine, the EMH, and Control.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:27 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


In regards to the criticism that this is just a bad holodeck episode, sure they could have rewritten this episode to be a lot more straight, and dispensed with Data's over-the-top affectations, the subtle-as-a-hammer musical queues, and the hokey characters. But I prefer my 'Royale' with cheese.
posted by skewed at 9:28 AM on August 11 [11 favorites]


The link to The Questor Tapes is really interesting! I've never heard of that as it aired before I was born. But, yes it seems like Data is a reworking of a few different ideas Roddenberry tried in The Questor Tapes. What little I know of Gene Roddenberry mostly comes from the William Shatner documentary (the captains one), so maybe he was really drawn to the outsider archetype. I guess the outsider-as-misfit was more common in the 60s and 70s, to be sadly replaced by the outsider-as-antihero in the 80s through... maybe now? Now I'm thinking of David Bowie playing the role of Data.

I guess one thing that interests me about rewatching TNG and Data is that the idea in the show seems to be try to observe how a computer (Data) is changed by exposure to humans, but it seems our contemporary history is much more about how humans are changed by exposure to computers!
posted by Slothrop at 12:25 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I always thought that Data did have some emotions, that they were either baked in or he was gradually developing them, but they were muted and he didn't understand them. There are plenty of episodes where we get hints of that. He's been told he has no emotions, and he doesn't feel obvious emotions like humans, so when Tasha Yar is killed and he misses her (for example) he has to come up with a technological explanation for the sense of loss he feels. I think all of that was intentional and it was a big part of the intrigue of the character. I've heard various people on the spectrum talk about how much Data meant to them when they were growing up, because he was like them in some ways. Emotions were mysterious to him, he didn't seem to feel them the way others did, but that didn't mean he truly felt nothing.

Data's occasional "hamminess" may have partly been Spiner having too much fun, but I think it also makes sense that when Data tries to behave emotionally he doesn't know how much is too much. When he plays Sherlock Holmes he accesses Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett and countless other portrayals of the character, and he comes up with a kind of mega-Holmes, all the Holmes at once. It's somewhat uncanny by design.

Judging by the first season of Sliders and his Trek contributions I think Trace Torme was a fun genre writer, but he had really shitty luck in Hollywood. He walked away from both gigs bitter and angry, ranting about how his scripts were ruined by the bosses. In Fox's case I think he was probably right, judging by how the network became infamous for screwing over genre shows. The guy had the skills to make good TV, but he was rarely given the chance. Then again I also get the feeling he's kind of a Libertarian asshat, so some of his complaints about script tampering may have been your standard bullshit Ayn Rand tatrums about the heroic genius held back by the suits. He was an underappreciated talent, or a hissyfit diva... or maybe a bit of both.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:35 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


Now I'm thinking of David Bowie playing the role of Data.

“Captain! If we reroute power from the warp core, we can reverse the polarity of the shields, before it’s too late.”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:46 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


If I had the opportunity to redo Data's character, I would drop the "I don't have emotions" routine, because it's untrue and needlessly limits writing opportunities. I'd say Data was supposed to be built as a perfect simulation of a human, but was found in an unfinished state. Due to his incomplete programming the way he perceives and interacts with the world is noticably different than how a human would. He has emotions, but they're not human emotions. Data sees this as a flaw and a disability, but his arc over the course of the series would be to come to terms with and accept himself for who he is and no longer pursue a goal to "become more human."
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:12 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


I didn’t mean to spark a digression about Data like that, but I’m actually really enjoying reading what everyone has to say. I’m sure some of my irritation is born from my work—I spend a great deal of time when I’m copyediting or proofreading ensuring consistency and accuracy, verifying through style sheets how characters are supposed to behave. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not keen on Data generally. I mean I can enjoy him and he can make me laugh, but he’s probably lower on the list for me. I did always feel like, back in the day when the show was my obsession, Data absolutely had some sort of emotional capability, especially when you saw him with like Spot, for example. Or maybe to younger me it was just that Spiner wasn’t consistent with how he approached the acting or the writers didn’t give a a damn and that undercut what the show was insisting I was seeing.

Man, I’d completely forgotten The Questor Tapes. Wow. That’s kind of fascinating. And so is that info about Tracy Tormé.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 9:38 PM on August 11


Data seems most expressive when he's adopting a persona - a gambler here, Sherlock Holmes previously. When he went to the holodeck in The Big Goodbye he had a whole South American character worked out ahead of time.

Doctor Soong created himself a son, that son is a theater kid.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:20 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I know we're sort of obsessed with Data, and the abilities and limits of his programming and construction. I've always attributed the "hamminess" of the character as Data's way of trying on different personas; he adopts affectations of a role in order to explore that role. The most prominent example is how he shows up to the officers' poker game with that hilarious visor. Here, he is "playing" the role of the foreign investor racking up big wins at the craps table, and "wearing" appropriate mannerisms.

What struck me in rewatching this was a possible inconsistency with Troi's abilities. I know she's sometimes able to read emotional states and sense presences where the ship's sensors can't go, but often there's another link, especially across great distance: a comm channel, the view of a ship in nearby space. Is this the first example of her "reading" somebody on the surface of a planet, without anything else to go on?
posted by rocketman at 7:24 AM on August 13


Not sure if it's the first example, but I've assumed (possibly with the help of noncanon books or something) that Troi's empathic oomph is notably stronger when her imzadi is the one she's reading. That said, I'd be pretty shocked if there wasn't inconsistency w/r/t her effective range.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:01 AM on August 13


« Older The X-Files: Patience...   |  The X-Files: Roadrunners... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments