Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Perspective [3.14]

Riker is accused of murdering a local scientist who was working on a new energy system for the Federation, and destroying his research station.  To decide whether he will be extradited to the planet, Picard has the holodeck programmed with a series of simulations of what went on.  There is much damning evidence against Riker, but Data, Geordi and Wesley are able to figure out what really happened in their scientific investigations.  Riker is cleared when it turns out the scientist was turning the energy system into a weapon, and had his attempt to kill Riker backfire.

Written by Ed Zuckerman. Directed by Cliff Bole.

Previous Episode: Deja QNext Episode: Yesterday’s Enterprise

Comments:
The DVD I’m watching has four episodes on a disk:  Deja Q, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Offspring, and this one.  One of those episodes I’ve already watched, and it was brilliant.  Two others are ones that I recall as being amongst my favorites – time will tell if they hold up.  And then there is A Matter of Perspective, which I remembered enough to know the basic premise but none of the particulars.  I thought something like, “If this episode is as good as all those others, than this is an amazing DVD!”  Unfortunately, it turned out that it falls a bit flat.

The concept is interesting, of course.  How could it not be?  It’s a tried and true one – going through multiple perspectives on a situation in an attempt to arrive at the truth.  It’s been around for at least as long as Rashomon, from 1950, and has also featured in films such as Courage Under FireVantage Point, and others.  But it turns out a great plot device does not make a great episode.

[Okay, quick aside here – it occurs to me that I can think of at least two other episodes of this show, that are still approaching, where Riker is at centre of the Star Trek-version of other tried and true plot devices.  He’s the subject of Star Trek’s “I wake up in the future and can’t remember how I got there” bit in Future Imperfect, and also in the “I wake up in an insane asylum and everyone is trying to convince me that my life is just a fantasy” deal in Frame of Mind.  What is it about the guy that lends himself to stories like that?]

As a murder mystery, A Matter of Perspective is all right.  I couldn’t remember who the killer was, so somehow I’d come to the assumption that it was going to be Tayna, the assistant, and the filler of the bill for the “least likely suspect” (although in truth, I guess the least likely suspect would have been Riker himself, or maybe Investigator Krag, or possibly just Wesley Crusher).  So anyway, I was wrong, and the answer, with Dr. Apgar’s secret side business in developing weaponry, is reasonably interesting.

Where the episode really fails is as a character drama.  That’s the strength of this approach to storytelling – you can really get into different character’s interpretations of a situation, and explore why they see things this way.  This episode doesn’t do that at all in the place where it really counts:  Riker.  After all, Riker is the only character that really matters here.  He’s the one on trial.  Of course we know he’s innocent.  Everyone who matters knows he’s innocent.  But why does he see things so differently than Dr. or Mrs. Apgar?  The only conclusion that’s hinted at is that they are sort of messed up and confused people.  We are left with the conclusion that Riker’s account is perfectly accurate, as far as he was knowledgeable.  But that’s kind of a boring answer.  I don’t mean I wish that Riker was really a murderer, but how much more interesting could this have been if Riker had come to realize that his own perspective on things wasn’t perfect?  If you know, the guy had to actually grow a bit or learn something about himself.

I like Riker, but every character should have some sort of arc in a story, especially if the story purports to be about them.  But there is nothing like that here.  Riker is just indignant at being arrested, everyone else is also indignant, they all work to prove his innocence, and they eventually do.  The end.  The end result is an okay plot, but a wholly unsatisfying story, and ultimately a failure of drama.  Now, I haven’t scrutinized every episode this way, but this one really begged the question because of the device they took with the holodeck simulations.

Of course, that’s not the only failure here.  The other one is the ludicrous idea that the holodeck is able to accidentally recreate a working piece of technology that is so new that nobody alive understands how it works or even that it exists.  And yet just be feeding into it technical schematics and eyewitness reports, it’s able to reproduce it perfectly – not just so that it looks like it, but so that it actually works.  It feels as ludicrous as that bit in Galaxy Quest where the aliens recreate a fictional miracle machine just by rebuilding what they saw on a TV show.  If the holodeck is really capable of all that, why don’t they just build the entire engineering station on the holodeck and tie it into the ship?  Then they could just continue to feed it holo-dilithium crystals, and so on, and never run out of power.  Geordi’s attempt to say that the device isn’t really so complicated is no help – it just makes them all sound like idiots for having such a hard time developing the technology in the first place.

It’s frustrating that even a story that uses the holodeck from something other than recreation, it still ends up being kind of stupid.  And since the major clue to solving the murder was built around this idea, than maybe that means this was a pretty weak mystery story as well.

Shout Out to the Past:
The Ferengi and the Romulans get a mention.

Guest Cast:
• Mark Margolis, who appears as Dr. Apgar, had the recurring role of Jimmy, one of Robert McCall’s allies, on The Equalizer.

Observations:
• Opening teaser is a nice attempt to introduce the theme of perspectives, even if they did have to have a nude model in it.

• It’s nice to see the full bridge from the back, when the Chief Investigator comes to arrest Riker.

• Picard denying Riker “a word” – an interesting touch.

• I don’t know if the chairs that they sit on for the investigation looked futuristic at the time, but now they just look like they came from Ikea.  Ikea designs are still going strong in the 24th century!

• Shouldn’t there be a way to check Riker’s phaser to see if it had been fired?  That would surely clear all this up pretty quickly.

• Worf warns Data of a mysterious outbreak of radiation.  Worf tells Data he doesn’t know where it’s coming from.  Data then asks the computer what sort of radiation it is.  Why would the computer have information about the situation that hadn’t immediately been made available to Worf?

• Dr. Crusher’s evacuation process is a bit relaxed looking.

• They bring up the possibility of having to leave orbit – I guess the implication is that Riker will have to be left behind, based on Picard’s earlier promise.

• Tanugan law is full of all sorts of goofiness that is convenient to the plot, in order to allow whatever is necessary for the story.

Dialogue High Point
There’s not a lot of interest here.  I guess my favorite is what fake-Riker calls Manua during her simulation:

A princess in a very high tower.

Previous Episode: Deja QNext Episode: Yesterday’s Enterprise


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