Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ship in a Bottle   Rewatch 
July 26, 2021 9:17 AM - Season 6, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Professor Moriarty returns, only this time he gains control of the Enterprise in his quest to leave the holodeck.

None of this is real. It is a simulation. We are still on Memory Alpha.

Story and Script
  • This episode is a sequel to the second season episode "Elementary, Dear Data". Although the Sherlock Holmes setting had proven popular among the staff, further use of the character on The Next Generation was prevented by a protracted legal dispute between Paramount and the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. "Ship in a Bottle" came about when Jeri Taylor decided to re-investigate the possibility, only to find that the whole situation was a misunderstanding. The Conan Doyle estate had been irritated at Paramount because of the film Young Sherlock Holmes. However, by the time this episode was conceived, they were willing to license the character for what Taylor described as a "very reasonable license fee". Actor Brent Spiner was particularly thrilled, as he had wanted to play Holmes again. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 231); Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 269)
  • Reginald Barclay was added to the story when it was initially felt that a character was needed who had not known about the first Moriarty encounter. Although this later was regarded as a moot point, Echevarria noted that no one but Barclay could have made the episode's final line work. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 231))
  • According to Ronald D. Moore, the various nested universes in the episode confused even the staff, who ended up drawing diagrams during break sessions to keep track of them. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 231))
  • For set decorator Jim Mees, the challenge in recreating the 221-B Baker Street study set was to be faithful to both the descriptions in the original stories as well as the scenes in "Elementary, Dear Data". One notable difference from the previous episode was the wallpaper, which had been discontinued in the preceding four years. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 231))
  • This episode has one of the longest teasers at around six and a half minutes.
  • This episode features a very subtle sign that everything may not be as it seems in the scenes after Moriarty's first "departure" from the holodeck: in a typical episode, an exterior shot of the principal ship or space station is a common bridge between scenes. In this episode, there is an abnormally long break between exterior shots of the Enterprise, with none appearing between the moment Picard, Data, and Barclay enter the holodeck, and the moment just before Moriarty contacts the bridge after seizing control of the ship, despite there being several scene and even act breaks in between. This directorial style is common in instances when the principal events take place within a holographic or mental construct. It would later be seen in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "Distant Voices" and "Inquisition", the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Projections", and the Star Trek: Enterprise finale "These Are the Voyages...".
Cast and characters
  • This is the first TNG episode after the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, three weeks after the departure of transporter chief Miles O'Brien.
  • Although he does not mention Doctor Katherine Pulaski by name, Moriarty alludes to holding her hostage in "Elementary, Dear Data". This marks the final reference to the character.
Poster's Log:

Reg seems awfully eager to get into the holodeck to work.

I get a frisson of fear thinking about Moriarty's experience of flashes of consciousness over the last four years.

In "Elementary, Dear Data", Moriarty asks "Is the definition of life cogito ergo sum? I think, therefore I am." and here he uses that as his declarative to start his misdirection.

Those gas giants must be massive. It would take about 83 Jupiter masses to start a self-sustaining H->He reaction; that number drops to about 13 if you only want to make a brown dwarf, but you don't get heat or light from those.

Does Worf always keep a phaser under his console?

Does the ending mean that they've decided not to continue attempting to bring Moriarty out of the holodeck? What impact might Voyager's holo-emitter have on Moriarty's story in the future?
posted by hanov3r (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does the ending mean that they've decided not to continue attempting to bring Moriarty out of the holodeck? What impact might Voyager's holo-emitter have on Moriarty's story in the future?

Someone on Reddit remarked that the EMH might exist because Barclay took the Moriarty-'N-Countess Cube with him to Jupiter Station and studied/reverse-engineered the cube's inhabitants.

I find it quite likely that Moriarty and/or the Countess would realize that they were in a simulation at some point, and all the more likely if it's Barclay that's experimenting with the cube in this hypothetical bridge story between "Ship in a Bottle" and Voyager. Combine the ideas and you've got yourself a sequel novel idea; maybe call it However Improbable.

(Previous discussion of Moriarty and related holo-concepts from our "Outrageous Okona" rewatch thread.)

This is probably one of my favorite episodes of the series, and I have to wonder whether Nick Bostrom or David Deutsch ever saw it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:00 AM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I guess this gives me the excuse I never knew I wanted to post Slow Piscopo.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:50 AM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

"Four years."

"It seemed longer."

"What are you talking about? You can't possibly have been aware of the passage of time."

"But I was. Brief terrifying periods of consciousness, disembodied, without substance."

All the stuff Barclay has been through and he's not a very openminded sort!

Moriarty walks out and goes to sick bay where Crusher scans him and says he is human. Sure, he is still in the holodeck, but Picard, Data, and Barclay take what fake Crusher says without comment. Do holodeck simulations simply simulate an image or create an entire living thing within the confines of the holodeck?

When Picard and Data are figuring out they are still in the holodeck, the fake Geordi is there interacting with them. It's always bothered me how they go from treating him like a real person to realizing he's a simulation to simply dismissing him and then he walks away and disappears around a corner without any further comment. Geordi's falling out the conversation the way he does just seems so creepy.

It's asked by hanov3r if we are supposed to think they're not going to try any more to get Moriarty off the holodeck. The way they're all smiling and making jokes and explaining their solution, I would say yes. Which goes back to the dialogue I quote above. Moriarty and the countess don't have any physical being. Are they aware of it? They are alive and aware. What do our resident holodeck theorists think?

This one is definitely a good one with twists and turns. Viewers have to be on their feet.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

This has a lot of elements of an episode I wouldn't like: holodeck, Barclay, reoccurring guest stars, petty heavy reliance on hand-wavy technobabble. But it works so well, Daniel Davis's Moriarty is a pleasure to watch.

Fukiyama, I also noticed that moment when holo-Geordi gets downgraded from real person to automoton, and it is creepy as hell. He seems to acknowledge what they're saying without quite reacting to it. Then Data and Picard just start ignoring him.

The final scene has this great moment:

Picard (contemplating Moriarty's victory): But who knows? Our reality may be very much like theirs. All this [gestures at the room and ship] might be just be an elaborate simulation running inside a little device sitting on someone's table.

I have seen this episode at least a half a dozen times over the last 30 years, I cannot believe I never realized what they were getting at, now I feel really dense. They should have had Stewart turn to the camera and wink.
posted by skewed at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2021 [8 favorites]

Daniel Davis's Moriarty is a pleasure to watch

Moreso when you know that Davis was born and raised in Arkansas. That accent's pretty good, isn't it?
posted by hanov3r at 3:11 PM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

This one probably would have blown my mind if I'd seen it when it first aired, before sci-fi got Matrix'd to within an inch of its life. But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. [turns baseball cap backwards] Look, I know we've bought this up before, but [spins chair around and sits on it] it's time we had some REAL TALK about INFORMATION SECURITY on the ENTERPRISE-D. Dude. DUDE! You can't get constantly hacked every time somebody finds phone jack under a desk and figures out that you're still using CANbus. And you absolutely for reals can not, in the 24th century, still have your seat-back entertainment system tied into the freaking avionics! What were you thinking? Do they even know what they're doing out there?

And it occurs to me that maybe, they don't. Maybe no one on board actually knows how the computer works. Maybe it's been so hacked and patched and reconfigured by Binars and nanites and Travellers and Cytherians and Gorgonzollians or whatever that it's literally just out of control, far future tech that no one understands, and everyone is low key panicking 24/7 because who knows what the ship will do next. Maybe when Worf says "phasers are not responding" what he actually means to say is "phasers achieving sentience, phasers are playing tetris, phasers now reconfiguring themselves into computational ethics, what the fuck" but he can't and doesn't because he's not ready to lose it completely. Maybe all the technobabble is exactly that, actual babbling, the noises terrified humans make when everything has spun incomprehensibly beyond their control. Maybe Picard is internally strolling around thinking shit shit shit shit shit shit shit because he's blustering that he's responsible for however many lives but he doesn't even know if today will be the day the turbolift finally convinces the transporter to start randomly beaming people's kidneys into the cetacean ops tank. Maybe it's just all one step away from I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream on the 1701-D and everyone's just pretending it's all okay and barely keeping it together.

Maybe the idea that they might be living inside a hacked-up minidisc player on someone's desk is comforting.
posted by phooky at 5:27 PM on July 26, 2021 [29 favorites]

I’m away from home and I hate writing lengthy comments on MeFi on my phone, so I may do a longer one when I get back, but I will say that I love the concept, but two things bug me. First, proving that they’re on the holodeck by tossing something and hitting the wall. That hasn’t been done since the first episode, because you want to be able to do things like play a baseball game on the holodeck that are much bigger than it. Second, the idea that you could feed a holographic character through the transporter and make them a real person… OK, it didn’t work anyway, but why would anyone think so in the first place?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:20 PM on July 26, 2021

Yeah that was some grade-f holodeck magic technobabble. I enjoyed the episode, but it probably would have been better if they didn’t make me think about how the holodeck works too much.

Like throwing the combadge, maybe that works because the badge is a real object from outside the holodeck as opposed to a presumably holographic baseball, but that brings to mind the actual physical space of the holodeck, and I have to wonder how it is managing to have Picard, Data, and Barclay in different places at the same time.
posted by rodlymight at 7:52 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have to wonder how it is managing to have Picard, Data, and Barclay in different places at the same time.

If you've got a magic box with display technology that can create the illusion of infinite depth, as the holodeck does all the time at the walls, that's the easy part. Surround each person with a different projection and presto!

Data throwing a holographic rock into the wall and having it mess up the projection in Encounter at Farpoint never made any sense.
posted by wierdo at 8:02 PM on July 26, 2021

I like this one. It's not a favorite. But it's always a fun watch.

The characters and the acting are the highpoints of the episode for me. Daniel Davis and Stephanie Beacham are so good. Barclay has a nice balance between competence and his usual quirkiness. I love LeVar's performance in the scene where Data reveals Geordi's true nature to Picard. LeVar's subtle shift from realGeordi to holoGeordi was some nice acting.

The pacing in this one is a weakness for me. On one hand, the episode dragged, especially the Picard/Moriarty confrontations, unfortunately. Their scenes seemed to go around in circles. And it wasn't just in the same scene, but in multiple scenes across the episode. On the other hand, the pace seemed to race ahead at breakneck speed. Moriarty appeared. Moriarty wanted to leave the holodeck. Moriarty wanted to free the Countess. Moriarty took over the ship. Plus, all those off-screen conversations between Moriarty and the Countess. It felt like the show was taking its time trying to cram a lot of story into 45 minutes.
posted by Stuka at 8:20 PM on July 26, 2021

What do we think of Moriarty's accusation that he's been forgotten? I certainly never saw anyone working on his problem in the intervening years. Maybe Picard should have tried a slightly more honest answer: "Look, man, we want to deal with your case, but you would not believe the shit we've been through. There's this thing called the Q, and then I was forced into becoming the spokesman for a genocidal hive-mind. Only last week I was subjected to some of the most sadistic torture..."

Surely if they were thinking about Moriarty at all, some solutions might have presented themselves. Like Dr. Ira Graves could upload his consciousness into Data's body...maybe there's something to work with there...maybe in his old notebooks or something? And if they'd asked nicely, I bet Q would have given Moriarty a real body and then they would have become BFFs. Or, "Hey Kevin Uxbridge, we know you're feeling really guilty about wiping out all the Husnock. It would probably make you feel better if you gave a body to this nice Victorian chap we've got in our computer!"

Anyway, great episode!
posted by polecat at 11:27 PM on July 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

What do we think of Moriarty's accusation that he's been forgotten?

Some of the Federation's finest minds were working on the problem. If that's so, why wasn't Moriarty downloaded to a thumbdrive, shipped to Earth or a starbase or wherever, and activated 24/7 while the Federation worked on a solution. As far as Picard and crew, yeah, they forgot about him. I bet even Data dumped the subroutine he had dedicated to the Moriarty character! ;)
posted by Stuka at 6:29 AM on July 27, 2021

Now I've listened to The Greatest Gen, and was satisfied that they dropped in a clip of the cop from the Big Lebowski cracking up at "They got us working in shifts!". Less satisfied that they didn't also play a clip of "We have Top Men working on it".
posted by polecat at 9:43 AM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Study Stellar Collision is an easy, basic Premiere mission.

We covered the Holmes and Watson cards back during Morarty's first appearance, this week the centerpiece is the late First Edition card Holoprogram: 221B Baker Street which lets you pull the powerful Holmes/Data into play from your deck, while allowing you to make holo-duplicates of other personnel. Fun!

Professor Moriarty has a decent batch of skills and adds to your holographizing potential, while Regina accelerates the process. Holographic personnel cannot be killed, though they need a holodeck, projectors, or a mobile emitter to function, so they have definite strengths/weaknesses. They're most at home on the Olarra.
posted by StarkRoads at 2:43 PM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Data throwing a holographic rock into the wall and having it mess up the projection in Encounter at Farpoint never made any sense.

The holodeck is equipped with the same Dramatic Intent Sensors that the ship doors have that allow them to stay closed when someone gets close but turns around because they're still talking and not actually trying to leave the room.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:11 AM on July 28, 2021 [11 favorites]

In my dream canon, The Doctor (Voyager), after returning to earth and continuing the fight for equality for holographic life, finds out about Moriarty and Regina, is horrified at their imprisonment, and enlists Barclay's help in tracking down the holo-storage device they're trapped in. They are eventually released and supplied with holo-emitters, so they can finally experience life in the real universe.

The celebration of their newfound freedom is cut short by a sudden and shocking murder which the four of them must solve together, thus beginning Star Trek: The Moriarty Mysteries.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:18 PM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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