Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Fistful of Datas   Rewatch 
July 12, 2021 9:10 AM - Season 6, Episode 8 - Subscribe

After a computer malfunction, Worf, his son Alexander Rozhenko, and Counselor Deanna Troi are trapped in an Old West holodeck program wherein the interactive characters physically resemble and have the same enhanced abilities as Data.

We ain't got none of that fancy European stuff here. Maybe I should get you a sherry. Ain't that what they serve at Memory Alpha? It is, ain't it?

Story and script
  • This was Robert Hewitt Wolfe's first contribution to Star Trek. He later wrote many episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Wolfe recalled, "I'd pitched to TNG a few times. I didn't sell anything, but Michael Piller liked my pitches enough that he invited me back. Finally, I came in and pitched two stories, one of which I was sure they'd buy – but didn't – and another one which they actually did buy." The unsuccessful pitch involved Jean-Luc Picard and Geordi La Forge traveling back in time to twentieth-century Los Angeles just before the Watts riots, a premise which was later developed into the Deep Space Nine episodes "Past Tense, Part I" and "Past Tense, Part II". (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 282)
  • The episode title is an homage to the Sergio Leone film A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood, the first in a series of what came to be called "Spaghetti Westerns" because they were produced in Italy by Italian filmmakers, such as Leone, often on a low budget. The original title was "The Good, the Bad and the Klingon", a paraphrase of the title of Leone's third "dollar spaghetti western", The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, again starring Eastwood. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., pp. 225-226))
  • Wolfe's story had Alexander attempting to bring Troi and Worf together romantically. Jeri Taylor noted that this was removed as it was felt that Worf's relationship with Alexander was becoming too similar to a contemporary soap opera or sitcom. "That's the kind of story that you can see on the air anywhere […] It's not an element of Star Trek I want to concentrate on. I think we just mined out all the stories about Alexander and Worf's problems as a daddy." Braga added, "[I]t felt false to me. This was a holodeck romp and it should be light and fun." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 264)
  • Director Patrick Stewart remembered, "There had been rumors around the production offices for some months that there was a Western episode coming up, and, of course, every director was eager to get a hold of it because everyone feels they have at least one Western in them." Originally, another director had been assigned to the episode but there was a switch, much to Stewart's delight. "There is nothing I have done in my career anywhere that could match the amazing thrill of directing a Western." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 265)
  • A scene cut for time included an homage to The Ransom of Red Chief with Alexander as the testy captive. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 226))
  • Another deleted scene featured Worf nearly shooting himself in the foot after a quickdraw lesson from Troi. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 226))
Sets and locations
  • The Western sequences were filmed on one day on the backlot of Universal Studios in Los Angeles, better known as the "Western Town". (Star Trek Encyclopedia (2nd ed., p. 12), Bold New Directions Year Six, TNG Season 6 DVD special features) The exact location is Six Points Texas, Backlot, Universal Studios – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California, USA.
  • The production staff had very little time to create this episode, and Stewart actually asked that all the sets be set up at night, so they could catch every portion of daylight for shooting. (Bold New Directions Year Six, TNG Season 6 DVD special features)
  • Production designer Richard James recalled that filming on the backlot was an uncomfortable experience for the cast and crew. "The temperature must have been a hundred and thirteen in the shade. It was awful. The guys in makeup, particularly Michael Dorn, were just miserable." Guy Vardaman was one of three people doubling for Brent Spiner. He recalled, "Everybody felt for Michael because of the Klingon headpiece and the wig and all that. It all came down to the heat, with all of us periodically running back to stand in front of whatever air-conditioning unit was functional – anything to avoid sweating makeup onto the wardrobe. Data should never be observed sweating." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 282)
Cast and characters
  • When she performed as Durango, Sirtis initially tried to blow rings of smoke, but Michael Dorn (Worf) cut her off and said "Stop it! Don't be funnier than me, this is my show." (Bold New Directions Year Six, TNG Season 6 DVD special features)
  • Brent Spiner commented that although he enjoyed playing all the villains in this episode Data was "homely" as the female bartender he played. (Special Crew Profile: Lt. Cmdr. Data, TNG Season 6 DVD special features)
  • In another interview, Spiner remarked, "I had the chance to play five or six characters in a show and Patrick directed, which made it additionally fun. It's certainly the most fun episode I've had to do and I would have liked to have done a show called 'For a Few Datas More'." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 265)
  • Picard's Ressikan flute, first seen in "The Inner Light", reappears here and once more later in this season ("Lessons").
  • In that scene, the Mintakan tapestry from "Who Watches The Watchers" is seen unfolded on his chair on the background.
  • The backing of Alexander's game that he plays in the beginning of the episode is made from 5.25" floppy drive face plates.
  • Naren Shankar commented, "We hadn't done a holodeck malfunctioning story in three seasons, which is a perfectly good track record. It was a lighthearted show and it was a nice show. People love "Shore Leave" and this show reminds me of that way." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 265)
  • David Livingston agreed. "Patrick did a wonderful job. He had a great time. He was Sergio Leone out there or Clint Eastwood, and Brent chewed every piece of scenery in sight and there wasn't any left by the time he got done.' (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 265)
Poster's Log:

Two "wacky" episodes in a row! Two kid episodes in a row!

Why does the holodeck have NPC interactions outside of the view of the primary characters? Why do we see Eli and the stereotypical Mexican bandito chatting before Worf and Alexander enter the saloon?

Fans of 80s TV might recognize Data's cowboy voice ("Vamoose, yah little varmint") as having originated with Night Court's Bob Wheeler.

Worf's demonstrated fear when he returns to the Sheriff's office after discovering Alexander's kidnapping seems out of character. Is he only brave when the safeguards are on? Where's our cool, collected head of security?

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

There's a lot of good meat in this episode. Marina's valiant attempt at running a Western American accent through her created Betazoid accent (itself a combination of generic Eastern European and Israeli accents) is fun. Spiner chews the hell out of the scenery when he needs to, but his Frank Hollister is coldly menacing.

I'm glad we've gotten some humor now, because the rest of the episodes this season are pretty heavy.
posted by hanov3r (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This one is fine. Always worth a watch. Not exactly sure what Alexander's role is. He seems like he more interested in watching his dad and Troi play than actually play himself. But then he gets captured and goes away for a lot of the episode, so it's fine.

On a side note, this one is a good example of how would Data's malfunctioning after the initial glitch have played out if the writers had remembered his Self Correcting Mechanism?
posted by Fukiyama at 10:29 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wasn't crazy about the stereotypical bandito, and to some extent Worf heterosexual-panicking at the idea of kissing Madame Data, but this is a very boilerplate Western (a genre set 500 years or so in their past) filtered through a child and Reg Barclay, so that can be forgiven. The real treat of the episode is Marina Sirtis obviously having a blast with it--seeing Troi getting into her part reminded me of Jadzia Dax grooving on the retro tech, which of course she remembered from previous hosts, in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations"--and Worf realizing that the setting, contrary to his fear of feeling awkward around his son, actually suited him quite well with its stark morality and potential for sudden violence. And I'd like to see Brent Spiner in a real Western, sometime.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:49 AM on July 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

People today routinely play fantasy games with knights and dragons, so I really don't think it's a stretch for 24th century folks to play Old West, especially extremely stereotypical Old West. I dunno what it is about Alexander and extremely silly Holodeck shenanigans, but I feel between this and the Parallax Colony from Cost of Living it's squarely part of his brand on the show.

Never been a fan of the climax of the episode, Worf has never struck me as a Competence Porn type starfleet officer, it's a shame they couldn't have come up with a solution that highlights his tactical warrior background rather than having him construct a technobabble doodad. I get that they're referencing the "cast iron vest" from A Fistful of Dollars but it would have been nicer if he had come up with a uniquely Klingon solution that takes advantage of the holodeck characters sticking to the rules of the Old West.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Primarily featured in the long-awaited Holodeck Adventures set, and delivering a host of fun cards, including Deputy Rozhenko, Durango, Eli Hollander, Frank Hollander, and of course Sheriff Worf. When using most of these your centerpiece card is Holoprogram: Deadwood. For me, these simulationist relationships between the cards, like Frank deactivating the normal action of the holoprogram or the Sheriff/Durango buff, are really essential to the flavor of the game. You can re-create bits from the episodes, but in a new context! These cards are all non-aligned so they could be hanging out with your Romulans, your Bajorans, whomever has a holodeck at the ready. Love it.

In Second Edition, we just get the fairly priced Personal Forcefield.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:30 PM on July 12, 2021

they're referencing the "cast iron vest" from A Fistful of Dollars

I think you mean from Back To The Future Part III.
posted by Servo5678 at 12:32 PM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

It’s hard to believe it’s been three seasons since a malfunctioning holodeck episode.

Why didn’t Worf just shoot Hollister in the head when he had his gun during his jail visit? Then shoot Eli while still in his cell for good measure. Seems like a good solution to the puzzle to me.
posted by skewed at 12:37 PM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Right? That's what I meant about a "uniquely Klingon solution." I feel like Klingons aren't big on sitting around waiting for a duel at a specific time, especially considering Frank Hollander is not an equal worthy of a stand-up honorable battle. Gank him when he least suspects it and wave it off as a warrior always needing to be prepared for combat. Take the battle to your enemies and strike when they are unprepared, that's the lesson for Alexander.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I dunno what it is about Alexander and extremely silly Holodeck shenanigans, but I feel between this and the Parallax Colony from Cost of Living it's squarely part of his brand on the show

Isn't the Parallax Colony more Lwaxana's fault than Alexander's, though?
posted by hanov3r at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2021

"We're just hooking Data up to a few non-critical systems. You know, the Sonos, the cafeteria, and that horrifying omnipotent death chamber that occasionally malfunctions and generates sentient life or locks people into a terrifying hellscape. That stuff."
posted by phooky at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

This was an episode I enjoyed as a tween when it first came out, then one that I frequently skipped when re-watching the series for being too much Spiner, then, finally, one that I seek out sometimes because Marina Sirtis seems like she's enjoying herself.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:51 PM on July 12, 2021

I dunno what it is about Alexander and extremely silly Holodeck shenanigans, but I feel between this and the Parallax Colony from Cost of Living it's squarely part of his brand on the show.

It sure would have made for a different arc for Alexander when he shows up in DS9 if he'd become the holosuite equivalent of a YouTube star instead.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:35 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here's another one I could never remember the placement of. Before this rewatch, I would've sworn it was a season seven episode, maybe because it feels kind of like TNG On Autopilot. But, as others have noted, watching Spiner try on all those personae is fun, and it's very nice that they for once allowed Sirtis to let her hair down.

In this very special episode of "Greatest Gen," Ben and Adam get hammered in order to get through "Fistful of Datas."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:01 PM on July 12, 2021

"Ah yes, it's a very intriguing drama, but I really don't have the time it would take to learn the part. And, uh, anyway I'm not much of an actor."

I've always been inordinately fond of this episode. It certainly has problematic aspects, though.

It's a shame that Sirtis didn't get a chance to be an even bigger badass than she gets to. I'm sure Dorn's comment was in jest, but still.

It's funny when the Ancient West bleeds into Data's behaviour, but a bit odd that he's blind to it.
posted by porpoise at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2021

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