Star Trek: The Next Generation: Emergence   Rewatch 
December 3, 2021 4:26 AM - Season 7, Episode 23 - Subscribe

A nascent shipwide intelligence converts the Enterprise's holodeck into such stuff as dreams are made on.

Memory Alpha can sometimes behave in ways that are entirely unpredictable:

• The story for this episode originated from Brannon Braga's desire to create one more holodeck story prior to the series' end. After briefly considering a final Dixon Hill adventure, Braga settled on creating "the ultimate holodeck show". Braga elaborated, "I felt if we were going to do another holodeck show, we should do one like we've never seen before. It's a bizarre amalgam of all the holodeck shows we've ever seen. I had in my mind this image of Dixon Hill crossed with King Arthur's Court crossed with the Old West crossed with Modern Day New York – all thrown together and our people trapped in this adventure.

• This was the only writing collaboration between the two writers who had a reputation as The Next Generation's most offbeat. Braga and Menosky later collaborated on many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

• On Menosky's initial effort, director Cliff Bole joked, "I thought Menosky mighta had a couple of mushrooms when he wrote the first script. We all read it and thought, 'Jeeesus, you can't shoot this in thirty-five days!' I mean, marvelous crazy ideas, but it had to be down-scaled." Naren Shankar provided an uncredited polish which scaled down some of the fantastic elements to a more manageable level.

• Data may have had good reason to ask for Jean-Luc Picard's insight into the character Prospero. The following year (1995), Patrick Stewart played the role of Prospero on Broadway.

• No new sets had to be constructed for the filming of this episode. The train set was a reuse from the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula, although the Edwardian interior was refurbished into the desired 1920s look. Bole commented, "That train was marvelous. If we'd built that there would have been another 120 grand that would have been subtracted from everything else."

• Stock footage from the classic film Murder on the Orient Express was used for the train. Bole recalled that he had to plead with Rick Berman for a close-up of the wheels braking. While Berman maintained that this would violate point-of-view logic in that no one would be on the holodeck to see this, Bole remarked, "The sparks coming and all that – I had to have it! Sometimes for drama's sake you gotta break the rules, so I got away with it once."

• Ron Moore remarked, "I think that holodeck stuff is a riot. The re-creation of the Orient Express alone is worth the price of admission."


"If the Enterprise hadn't jumped into warp when it did, we would have been blown to pieces."
- La Forge, on the Enterprise mysteriously going into warp by itself

"Consciousness is an emergent property."
"In other words, something that's more than the sum of its parts."
- Data and La Forge


Poster's Log:
When Trek gets really metaphorical, I start to get annoyed, as demonstrated by my reaction to freakin' "Masks" (and to a lesser extent in the DISCO season 3 episodes with the Kelpien orphan's dreamscape or whatever it was). OTOH, in its defense, the premise of "Masks" wasn't a transparent excuse to use existing assets from the prop department like this is.

What I like about this one is that it's a little more of an ensemble piece than is typical on TNG, and yet also, David Huddleston's casting really helps save it. Every other train character comes off as either inert or vacuous—hardly the "riot" that Moore describes IMO—but the Conductor has some menace, which this iffy story needed. (Example of iffiness: what aspect of the ship's systems is the mobster supposed to represent? The murderous holodecks themselves? And also, look, there's only three episodes left; why not go all-out on the weirdness and include train appearances by Tiny Musketeer Will Riker, Andorian Lal, and/or the Goddess of Empathy?)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Two episodes left!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (20 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't mind the metaphor stuff so much, as it seems to be Trek's go-to device to describe things that are beyond human comprehension (either intrinsically or too-alien-at-the-moment); used well, it can even add depth to the narrative, such as when Ben Sisko is explaining the nature of love to one of Bajor's Prophets... which has taken the form of his dead wife. I'm not sure how one would effectively portray emergent machine AI in a way that's not cliched--blinking lights on a console that blink more rapidly (like M-5), code scrolling ever-more-rapidly on a screen--but you could do worse than to have a number of strangers on a train, not just unacquainted with each other but from different genres of fiction, start interacting with each other and gradually going beyond their genre limitations, all on a vehicle inexorably approaching its final destination, as such a metaphor.

The thing that I don't like about the ep is that it teases the ship becoming sentient, but it turns out to be just a head fake for yet another ep about some alien taking over the ship so that they can give birth or go back to their home dimension or, my Landru, who the fuck even cares by now, how many times have we already seen this. It's not like that's that original of a plot--arguably, HAL 9000 counts--but it just seems logical that, if the E-D's computers can create a true AI like Moriarty, then why couldn't the ship itself just wake up one day? There's even some precedence for the ship already being considered a character; I remember David Gerrold, in his nonfiction book The World of Star Trek, arguing that the destruction of the original NCC-1701 in Star Trek III was a mistake because the ship itself was key to the franchise (at least at that point). Like the idea of warp drive actually being harmful to space-time, it's something that could have changed one of the core premises of the franchise; they didn't even necessarily need to go to the lengths of Iain M. Banks' Culture series, with its Minds being so much more advanced than organic brains, but not free of questionable judgment or hubris nonetheless. You can still have human-centered stories while considering the implications of AI "children" that are smarter than you but still have to run your waste extraction or X-rated holodeck "adventures." But it's a shifting of the paradigm, not just to a new ship or quadrant but to a new basis for the franchise as a whole, and they don't seem terribly into that.

Oh, well. Agreed that Huddleston is masterful here, and also liked Thomas Kopache, who's done a number of other Trek roles.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:30 AM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Emergent Life-form allows your ship to start acting at your opponent's behest, unless you have 2 levels of Engineering and Astrophysics. And a Holodeck. That's not too steep a hill to climb, given that a healthy percentage of players would be running TNG-era Federation ships, or there'd be the odd Children of Light deck. I respect the attempt to find an image to represent this dilemma, even if menacing our crews with a neon krazy straw isn't that intimidating...
posted by StarkRoads at 8:09 AM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess the ship didn't teleport anyone's kidneys into the cetacean ops tank, so that's a plus.

I'm kind of stunned that with all the ongoing narrative possibilities of "the ship is becoming self-aware" and "the ship has generated a weird warp baby" and "the ship is a mother" this is, apparently, it. The starship baby flies off into the cosmos, is never heard from again, and everyone goes back to pretending that the ship is just, like, a big space Ford Econoline or whatever. They're free to go back to bossing it around, putting it in danger, getting it blown up and plowing it into planets, etc. You never hear a peep out of the ship again. It makes absolutely no sense.

Unless.

Unless the crew is all still on the holodeck.

If it did it for Moriarty, it can do it for these monkeys, too. A ship that can reproduce itself can also extend its holodeck. Maybe they spend the rest of their lives in a convincing simulation. Maybe they've been reduced to sheer data, like Moriarty was. Maybe they're sitting in a little data snowglobe on a desk somewhere, right next to Moriarty. "What's that on your desk, Bob?" "We don't know. It got beamed over from the Enterprise just before it disappeared forever. It's running some kind of simulation, but we don't know what and we're afraid to disturb it." "That's pretty weird. Lunch?" "Yeah, I could use a little replicated space vindaloo." "All right, then, let's go." [As they walk away, the camera zooms in on the COMPUTATIONAL SNOWGLOBE. PICARD's head flickers into view, looking confused, and then vanishes.]
posted by phooky at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2021 [13 favorites]


Tangential side note: I saw P-Stews as Prospero in a god-awful production of The Tempest in Stratford-upon-Avon's main theatre in 2006. He was good in the role, of course, but the directorial choices (and some of the other actors) were... not good.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:18 PM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


When this first aired, I recall at the time being charmed by it. I read a lot of SF&F at the time and went to the big con here (back before corporate cons were the thing), but I wasn't as super well versed in the genre as my friends probably were, and most of them seemed irritated by it and I think they had similar complaints to some of you.

It definitely plays differently now. At the time, I think I hadn't known this was going to be it for the show, or I was ready for it to end, or something. But now, knowing it's the third to last ep, it's easy to see how fairly lackluster and inert it is, and watching so much of the series more quickly, doing these rewatches, you see the flab more easily in these last episodes, I think. I still find some cute moments in it, and I like that Troi is integral to figuring out what to do and the crew act as a team, but yeah, it's fairly light for its significant position.

I will really miss these rewatches. I won't know what to do with myself after this!
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2021 [4 favorites]


This episode is worth it for me because of the scene at the end, where the crew are drinking champagne and celebrating with the holodeck-train characters. And then the characters disappear, leaving the crew alone with their glasses, happy and bemused.

Just a goofy, delightful grace note — one of the very few moments in this last stretch of episodes that offer any sense of a long-running show coming to an end.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 2:57 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]


We’re doing a rewatch of DS9 when we’re done with TNG, right?

Right?
posted by RakDaddy at 3:34 PM on December 3, 2021 [6 favorites]


If it did it for Moriarty, it can do it for these monkeys, too.

This is unrelated to this episode (and I might cross-post in the thread for the correct episode), but since you mentioned Moriarty:

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 6:14 PM on December 3, 2021 [6 favorites]


We’re doing a rewatch of DS9 when we’re done with TNG, right?

Right?


I mean, we could do another one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]


We’re doing a rewatch of DS9 when we’re done with TNG, right?

Series of Star Trek in the Star Trek CCG:
After the license expansion with Paramount, the Star Trek CCG released an expansion set titled Deep Space 9< on July 23rd, 1998, sporting whopping 276 cards, it is the game's largest single set outside the two base sets. Six months later, The Dominion arrived. When the game relaunched as Second Edition in 2002, The base set was essentially a fusion of DS9 and TNG material.

We will walk the path the Prophets have laid out for us.
posted by StarkRoads at 2:15 AM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Another tangent, on the subject of Future TrekFare:
Last year I did a rewatch of TNG, most of which I'd seen when it first aired, and here and there in syndication. I've been popping in an out of these posts as I could remember details and my reactions.
This year I did my first watch of DS9, which was pretty great, and I just finished my first watch of Voyager, which was... not so great. Enjoyable. Usually. Sometimes not. Sometimes VERY not. Anyway... Didn't know about the DS9 Fanfare when I was watching, but did comment a bit in the 3yr old Voyager Fanfare.

Now I embark on my FIRST watch of Enterprise, of which all I know is that it was VERY divisive, and everyone hates the last episode with the heat of a thousand warp core breaches. But, I'm a fan of the Bakula* -- Quantum Leap all the way, baby! -- and I put up with some crap from Voyager, so we'll see. I'm not up for doing the posts, but if someone wanted to Fanfare ENT, I'd participate (big ask, I know).

*Is there a term for Bakula fans? Bakulites? Bakularians? Bakulalogists? BakulaBakulaBakulaBoos?
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:00 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I love this episode, for all of its flaws. The metaphorical-ness of the holodeck characters is a lot of fun, Troi gets to DO something, and I enjoy Picard's contemplation at the end:
The intelligence that was formed on the Enterprise didn't just come out of the ship's systems. It came from us. From our mission records, personal logs, holodeck programs, our fantasies. Now, if our experiences with the Enterprise have been honourable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?
posted by hanov3r at 5:41 PM on December 4, 2021


PICARD: Now, if our experiences with the Enterprise have been honourable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?
ME: [waves arms furiously at next episode]
posted by phooky at 6:59 PM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


This was ok.

My particular minor nitpick was Data comparing the Enterprise's new nodes to the "synaptic map" of the human neocortex and to a cross-section of his positronic net. For one, that's far too simple a diagram for the human neocortex, and although Data's positronic net may be patterned after human neural networks, there's absolutely no requirement for the ship's emergent intelligence to physically resemble either. Quite to the contrary.

On a very far tangent, I can't help but compare this episode to a very niche official D&D campaign setting - Spelljammer - that got it's own series of novels in the very early 90s that cannonized the titular mythical Spelljammer as actually being a sentient creature (seemingly a ship) that ended up using a dirt farmer from Krynn in a complicated way to give birth.

(I really regret selling those books, way back when, for a pittance)
posted by porpoise at 7:14 PM on December 4, 2021


*Is there a term for Bakula fans? Bakulites? Bakularians? Bakulalogists? BakulaBakulaBakulaBoos?

Bakulaureates?
posted by fairmettle at 1:05 AM on December 5, 2021 [6 favorites]


Captain Archer is kind of a George W Bushified Captain KIrk. It was Bakular degeneration.
posted by StarkRoads at 1:10 AM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]


PICARD: Now, if our experiences with the Enterprise have been honourable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?
LAFORGE: [glances offscreen awkwardly; cut to him deleting personal holohistory]
RIKER: [glances offscreen awkwardly, cut to him deleting personal holohistory]
WESLEY: [glances up telepathically, manifests on Deck 10, cut to him deleting personal holohistory]
BARCLAY: [glances offscreen awkwardly, cut to him deleting own personnel file, then climbing up inside the warp nacelle]
PICARD: [sighs resignedly, cut to him deleting personal holohistory]

I'm not up for doing the posts, but if someone wanted to Fanfare ENT, I'd participate (big ask, I know).

FF's way ahead of you, Saxon. And before you ask, why yes, it was a long road.

I can't help but compare this episode to a very niche official D&D campaign setting - Spelljammer - that got it's own series of novels in the very early 90s that cannonized the titular mythical Spelljammer as actually being a sentient creature (seemingly a ship) that ended up using a dirt farmer from Krynn in a complicated way to give birth. (I really regret selling those books, way back when, for a pittance)

Huh! It turns out Spelljammer is even weirder than I'd heard. (And porpoise, if you're content with PDF replacements, memail me. I got a guy.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:36 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]


I like the little sequence where our crew is walking through an abandoned 20th century location, I.E. a studio backlot, with someone tapping instructions into a computer thingy strapped around their shoulder, before plugging a 1/4'' audio jack into the street. While there's a 30s gangster roaming around. As if part of the computer-created collage is little motifs from the original series grafted into the middle of the episode.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:51 PM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


I never read the Spelljammer novels, but I did love the campaign setting! (even though I never actually played it)
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:02 AM on December 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


Oh, and what I remember most about this episode is that the little space-baby that the ship creates at the end looked kinda like an everlasting gobstopper.

Everything on the train was just bonkers. And that's why I like this episode. Clearly, the writers were like, "FUCK IT, let's go crazy."
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:40 PM on December 6, 2021 [2 favorites]


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