Star Trek: The Next Generation: Silicon Avatar   Rewatch 
March 29, 2021 9:01 AM - Season 5, Episode 4 - Subscribe

The Enterprise gives chase to the Crystalline Entity after it destroys a Federation colony. A xenologist, who has a motivation all her own with respect to the Crystalline Entity, is assigned to the Enterprise to assist in the investigations.

Memory Alpha does not possess the minute to minute remembrances of each person, although the more intense recollections are contained in its memory banks.

Story and script
  • The story for this episode was pitched by Lawrence V. Conley. At the time, the writing staff were trying to avoid sequels. However, this premise caught the attention of Jeri Taylor. She commented, "[O]f all the characters to bring back, who'd have thought the Crystalline Entity? But the Moby Dick premise of this obsessed woman whose son's consciousness was stored in Data was too good to pass up." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 179)) Michael Piller agreed, "It was a great premise. The idea of the crystalline entity as Moby Dick really appealed to me." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 229)
  • Taylor elaborated, "The crystalline entity was no one's favorite optical or bad entity, and there were doubts as to whether we should even resurrect it. Along came this story from a very young, inexperienced writer, Lawrence Conley, and he tapped into something that made us say, 'This works, this is a story that really has to be done.' I wanted to do it because I felt – being a mother and a woman – I could identify with what would have to be the worst kind of loss anyone could ever suffer, which would be the death of a child. I was really able to tap into those feelings and tell a story about a woman whose vendetta over the loss of her son ruined her." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 229)
  • According to Taylor, the story was helped by its title, even though "no one knew exactly what it meant". While "avatar" has several different meanings, the intended meaning here was a "repository of knowledge", referring to Data. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 179))
  • According to Brent Spiner, production problems affected the writing of the episode. He recalled, "Apparently they were having problems getting the next episode ready for production and this script was ready to go, but it wasn't very remarkable." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 229)
Production
  • As with its first appearance, the Entity was computer generated. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 179))
  • The destruction left by the Entity was accomplished by adding eighteen-inch miniature trees to the foreground after the live filming of the fleeing colonists. Rob Legato noted that the light beam was animated on computer afterwards, but the "sand trap" was actually a four-foot-wide tarp spread along the ground with air shot up from under it through the mesh. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 179))
  • The guitar piece played by Data is "Prelude No. 2 in A Minor" by Francisco Tárrega.
Continuity
  • This episode marks the return (and destruction) of the Crystalline Entity previously seen in "Datalore". The Entity would later be referenced in "Inheritance".
  • When Geordi La Forge compliments Dr. Marr on her professional handling of a console in main engineering, an LCARS graphic is seen for a short time. This is a re-use of the hydrogen-alpha emission (with the 4077) from "Half a Life".
  • This is one of the few episodes in which Data demonstrates his ability to precisely mimic the speech patterns of other individuals. Other examples include "Encounter at Farpoint" where he repeats Q's description of the trial against Humanity, "Brothers" where he employs Captain Picard's voice authorization codes to commandeer the main bridge, and "Descent, Part II" where he mimics Captain Picard's voice to toy with Geordi La Forge.
Reception
  • Shortly prior to this episode's initial airing, Rick Berman referred to it as "a show that I think is going to be wonderful." (Star Trek: The Official Fan Club Magazine issue 82, p. 6)
  • However, Brent Spiner was not fond of the installment, noting, "I didn't think it was a very good episode. If this was to really conclude the story of the crystalline entity, I don't think it was really the way to go." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 229)
Poster's Log:

Why is Picard calling down to Engineering for information on what's happening on the colony? Are the Engineering sensors that much better than what can be read from the Bridge? Or does he trust LaForge's reading of the sensor data more than he trusts Worf's?

The opening makes it look like the Carmen/Riker 'ship is just typical Riker flirting, this time with a willing and capable bantering partner. Why, then, does Picard ask him if he wants to include a letter to Carmen's parents? A couple of lines of backstory would have been really good here.

Similarly, Riker's outrage at the suggestion he might be influenced by feelings for Carmen also feels a little over the top for what we've seen of their relationship.

They spend a long time yelling at Dr. Marr before Data tries to disable the signal himself.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

I was not looking forward to this one and, on rewatch, it's not better than I remember. The Crystalline Entity is one of the worst visual effects in the TNG era, made worse by not updating it between its original appearance and this one. I've already touched a little bit on the suddenness of the Riker/Carmen relationship which seems to be missing some exposition. Dr. Marr's rapid decline into unhingedness at the end and Data's flat appraisal of how Renny would have reacted are painful to watch, and a very sour place to end the episode on (not that every episode needs to end with the Bridge crew laughing while light flute music plays, but maybe some expression of regret from Picard would have helped break that ending tension).

Also, I consistently confuse parts of this episode with "Inheritance".
posted by hanov3r (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This may be the worst ep of S5, even though it's still pretty early in the season. I may have actually said "you've got to be fucking kidding me" when it becomes clear to every single person on the bridge that Dr. Marr is killing the thing, but they can't stop her because apparently civilians--even one who made a fairly blood-curdling threat to Data near the beginning to have him disassembled if he screwed anything up--can lock everyone up to and including the captain out of a mission-critical system if they feel like it. You'd think that they would have learned something from that time that Wesley got space-drunk and nearly crashed the ship, or that time that Roga Danar managed to escape from the ship, or... I've complained about the ten-percent problem before, where there's an interesting premise (following up on there being some weird lifeform that just sort of goes around killing people on random colonies is not only a good idea but really the sort of loose end that demands to be tied up) but the writers can't quite stick the ending, and in this case not only botch the landing but really proverbially face-plant. A couple of easy fixes:

- The whole point of Riker Growing the Beard is that he escaped being a more-or-less one-note Commander Sexyboots with a woman in every port; it would have been nice for him to have had more going on with Carmen than just a prospective one-night stand in her tent--how about if he'd actually had a longish-term relationship in his past besides Troi? It would still count as a fridging, but would have given Riker's opposition to letting the Crystalline Entity live some real impetus, and maybe even given Dr. Marr a real ally among the crew.

- Float the possibility that, since Data holds all the memories of the colonists (how exactly that happened, the mechanism of all that memory being uploaded from the colonists and downloaded into Data, isn't really explained, nor even referred to after this ep, but anyway), maybe the CE is doing the same--maybe that's why it exists, to preserve the memories of the people that it disintegrates. (I will admit to shamelessly cribbing this idea from the Mass Effect videogames.) It's basically a life-form back-up archive system that has just gotten stuck on "record: everything." That makes its prospective destruction more problematic than just rote Prime Directive following; without some reason for it existing, it's just a bit more selective Doomsday Machine.

Anyway, bad but not unfixable. And, if the franchise needs to redo Moby Dick yet again, it's interesting to have the part of Ahab played by a woman, for once.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:11 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


It's basically a life-form back-up archive system that has just gotten stuck on "record: everything."

V'ger MUST join with the Creator.
posted by hanov3r at 11:19 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


Not counting part 2 of Redemption, every episode has had a scene shot outside, right? This seems unusual, did they get some increased funding starting this season? I can't remember when they stopped using those dreadful plaster-rock sets they used to use for outdoor scenes.

I always thought "the silicon avatar" was just a different name for the crystalline entity. The words even kind of sound alike.

I don't have anything to say about the actual episode.
posted by skewed at 11:37 AM on March 29


"Data has all the memories of the colonists" is just an intensely weird plot point. How does that affect him? Has he ever studied those memories to improve his own humanlike qualities? And yeah, how did those memories end up in Data to begin with? Nobody care if Soong shoved their brains into his robot?

I'm with Brent Spiner, I think this was a lame end to the Crystalline Entity. I wish they hadn't blown it up, they could have retained all of Dr. Marr's story beats without it ending that way. She could have tried to destroy it, nearly succeeded, then been successfully removed from her station before completing its destruction. Doing everything you can to try and understand something that has killed so indiscriminately is very Star Trek. I think finding out that the killed colonists live on inside the entity would have been a more satisfying and fascinating conclusion. It would not only mirror Data's storage of colonist memories, but imagine the arc of going from "I want to destroy this thing to avenge my son" to "I want it to destroy me so I can be with my son again." This could have easily been a two-part episode, which would have also given Riker and Carmen's relationship more time for development.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:43 AM on March 29 [8 favorites]


I was looking at the episodes and saw this one was next along with a few others coming up and it occurred to me TNG is really starting to transition from mid-season TNG to late-season TNG. It won't be every episode, but still quite a few from now on that are just not so great.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:51 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


Susan Diol will go on to more screen time as Denara Pel in two episodes of Voyager.

I share the overall sentiment of this one being fairly weak, but I'd like to praise an uncomfortably sharp performance by Ellen Geer as Dr. Marr. Her intensity is the main thing that kept me focused on this rewatch.

imagine the arc of going from "I want to destroy this thing to avenge my son" to "I want it to destroy me so I can be with my son again."

That would indeed have been a lot bolder and less formulaic than what we got.

I was looking at the episodes and saw this one was next along with a few others coming up and it occurred to me TNG is really starting to transition from mid-season TNG to late-season TNG. It won't be every episode, but still quite a few from now on that are just not so great.

You're not wrong, but at least the season wraps up with some quite good ones. In looking ahead, I'm surprised to perceive that maybe season 6 is stronger than season 5! (But season 4's gotta be stronger than either of 'em.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:04 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


Susan Diol will go on to more screen time as Denara Pel in two episodes of Voyager.

She'd also played Beth, the wife of Dean Stockwell's character Al, in two episodes of Quantum Leap.
posted by hanov3r at 12:12 PM on March 29


She'd also played Beth, the wife of Dean Stockwell's character Al, in two episodes of Quantum Leap.

Did you have to mention that? Did you really have to mention that? The scene where she dances with Al is one of the most emotional I've ever seen. Time to go waste a few minutes on Youtube...
posted by Fukiyama at 12:19 PM on March 29


This has never been even a "why not, it'll kill an hour" rewatch for me, so color me surprised that other people are not enamored with it, either. There are mutliple head-scratching elements to dislike, but for me it came down to one thing: this very Trek thing where women who appear capable and fully functioning suddenly, abruptly, become infantalized by their insanity. We saw it in Conscience of the King, and to some extent Turnabout Intruder, and obviously here, but it is never something we really see with men, even for instance when Dr. Daystrom goes full-bore whackadoo in The Ultimate Computer. It grinds my gears: "I've suddenly completed my mission of reVENge and now I will turn into a little child." That's not how insanity works, you guys.

Data may have problems understanding what humans need from him in any given moment, but he seems to understand the difference between outright cruelty and not being able to give someone what they want or need. It's strange that they forgot that for this episode.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:24 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Each edition of the game featured a Crystalline Entity card which exemplifies the styles in each game. The First Edition, simulationist version kills your crew unless some relatively simple requirements are met. You ain't having SHIELDS less than 6 unless you're on a shuttle or something. 5 easy points. For once, the existence of a foil version seems appropriate. We'll come to another card that interacts with this one in a couple seasons.

The Crystalline Entity in Second Edition is, typically, more abstract, conceptually floating through the universe, destroying Event cards. Relatively useful if you figure your events are cheaper/less important than your opponent's.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:43 PM on March 29


Each edition of the game featured a Crystalline Entity card which exemplifies the styles in each game

I need to find and thank the editor that added the needed comma to the First Edition foil card's descriptive text.
posted by hanov3r at 12:51 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Picard asking Riker to write the letter may just be that he was the senior officer on the mission where she died.

Dr. Marr's turnaround on Data felt a bit to extreme in speed and intensity, and it felt like the script went a bit too far by having Data say her son would've been sad, instead of sticking with a less emotional way of saying he wouldn't have wanted this.

Looks like you forgot to include the Memory Alpha link.
posted by ckape at 1:28 PM on March 29


My biggest quibble with this episode is -- wasn't it already established that Lore could communicate with the Crystalline Entity? Like, didn't we and the Enterprise crew witness him do so in his introductory episode? But it's just ret-conned away to make this plot work.

Even so, I liked this episode as I was watching it. Credit to Ellen Geer's performance, which was captivating enough that I didn't really notice all the flaws until I read the comments here.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:35 PM on March 29 [3 favorites]


The performances in this are all great, the interactions between Riker, Data, and their respective guest starts work nicely. The emptiness of Dr. Marr's revenge is the thing that sticks with me about this episode. Of the follow-ups to Data's goofy origin story, this is the best one IMO.

There's a little continuity goof in the scene after the ship is destroyed, the camera pans over the tactical station with an extra there (Guy Vardaman maybe?) and then Picard's like "Worf, whatcha think?" and it cuts to Worf in that spot. You could say that he relieved Ensign Extra off camera but it's a bit distracting.

There's a space crystal that can destroy your colonies in Master of Orion 2 which I believe is a nod to this, my google-fu failed to retrieve a proper image/video of it.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:07 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


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