Star Trek: The Next Generation – Silicon Avatar [5.4]

The Crystalline Entity (from Datalore) reappears and destroys a colony world that the Enterprise is assisting.  An expert on the Entity, Dr. Kila Marr, joins the crew to pursue the creature.  Having lost her son on the same colony world in which Data was created, she is determined to destroy the creature, while Picard intends to attempt to communicate with it to see if understanding can be achieved.  Their efforts show signs of success, but Dr. Marr sabotages the attempt to destroy the Entity instead.

Teleplay by Jeri Taylor. Story by Lawrence V. Conley. Directed by Cliff Bole .

Previous Episode: Ensign Ro • Next Episode: Disaster

Comments:
Silicon Avatar is a solid episode of Next Generation, making a worthy attempt to tell a character-driven story that still has enough tension to keep things going.  It also strongly espouses the values of Star Trek, as Picard comes into direct confrontation with Dr. Marr about his effort to somehow make peace with a seemingly intractable enemy, the Crystalline Entity.

In doing so, it may go a bit too far, as I have heard other commentators refer to Picard’s efforts as ludicrous and “Pollyanna-ish.”  This is certainly a defensible position, with the creature having caused such enormous devastation over such along period of time.  It would have helped to keep things grounded if Picard’s attitude was a little bit more like Riker’s – recognizing that his primary mission here is to ensure the safety of Federation citizens, and that establishing a relationship with the creature was more of a secondary “if it’s possible” goal.  This could have been done without changing the tone of the episode radically, or even lessening Picard’s horror at what happens at the end – it just would have helped our main character seem less airy-fairy than we get with the whole “it has just as much right to be out here as we do” comment.  If that’s true, why are you even chasing after it with weapons in the first place?

There are some other general weaknesses.  Picard seems to forget the fact that he already knows (or should know, assuming that Beverly and Wesley told him) that Lore actually has already communicated to the Entity in fully developed sentences.  So the whole, “Then it’s possible. Communication, understanding,” epiphany is a bit out of place.  Also, the crew seems absurdly unequipped to deal with Dr. Marr’s betrayal at the end.  She has declared that she wants to kill the creature, yet nobody checks to make sure that she’s not instituting any commands to the ship that they can’t easily countermand?  And why didn’t they just fly away from the creature really fast?  Certainly that would have helped.

However, those technicalities aside, what makes the episode work is the impressive guest performance from Ellen Geer as Dr. Kila Marr.  Her increasing brokenness and descent into self-pitying madness is well written and well played.  It’s a little convenient that Data has all the colonists’ brainwaves programmed into him (what?!), but her desire to find peace and closure with her son through Data is something that I can understand, and the actress’ reactions to hearing his thoughts brought to life do tug at the heartstrings.

Related to this, one of the most impressive things about the story is its ability to avoid telegraphing exactly what is going to happen.  Watching it all these years later, I can see the decisions on Dr. Marr’s face – her commitment to destroy the Crystalline Entity in spite of Picard’s reasoning is locked in the moment that the Kallisko‘s go silent.  But the script refuses to put this right on the surface so that the ending is still unexpected, even though it’s not shockingly so.

Guest Cast
• Susan Diol, who plays Carmen Davila, appeared in two episodes of Quantam Leap as Beth Calavicci (Al’s wife).  She also played two Denara Pel in two episodes of Star Trek:  Voyager.

• Ellen Geer, who plays Dr. Kila Marr, appeared recurringly on Beauty and the Beast, and appeared on Falcon Crest, and played Eleanor Roosevelt in an episode of (not Star Trek) Voyagers.

Shout Outs to the Past:
Of course, the Crystalline Entity is from Datalore.  There is also a reference to Lore.

Observations:
• Carmen is Riker’s first romantic interest this season.

• Two things are called beautiful this episode:  the Crystalline Entity, and Worf!  Riker says, “Lt. Worf, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful sight.”

• The image of the devastated colony is effective.

• Marr’s prejudice against Data is interesting.  “Commander, I can hear everything you say to me. If there is anything worth my response, you can be sure I will not be silent.”

• Wait a minute…if Data has scans of all the colonist’s brainwaves in his memory banks, than how come he didn’t know that the colonists had Lore shut down because he scared them?

• Data pays the guitar

• Dr. Marr’s regret is deep and understandable:  “I left him with friends. I chose to pursue my own career. I planned to go back, but things kept interfering. I kept thinking, I’ll go next month. And there weren’t any more next months.”  It is of course, also ridiculous parenting.

• Riker’s reaction to things is the best of everyone in the story.  I like his line to Picard, “With all due respect, sir, I’m not a raw cadet. I’ve lost people on missions before. If we take time to try to communicate with this thing, we may lose our chance to destroy it. And I don’t think we can risk that. I think I’ll go write that letter to Carmen’s family.”  It was a candidate for my favorite dialog.

• It’s a testament to the strength of Ellen Geer’s performance that lines like this, which could have come across as very corny, work as well as they do:  “After hearing the screams of those men, I found it hard not to think about my son, about what happened to him. I’ve read stories about soldiers in the battlefield, wounded, dying. They call for their mothers. And I’ve often wondered if my son called for me. If he died wondering why I didn’t come to him.”

• I like the way that Marr intersperses personal comments with technical language.

• I also like Brent Spiner’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it awkward glance toward Marr as he mentioning that her son was drawn to a girl’s physical attributes.

• They make it sound like Data is taking a written document and speaking it out in a simulation of Renny’s voice.  That doesn’t make any sense, with the inflections and little noises that he includest.  Instead, it would make more sense if Data was simply re-playing an audio recording of Renny’s voice.  Although either way, it’s odd that it sounds like Dr. Marr has never read / heard these journals before.  If they were programmed into Data, than certainly she would have access to them.  Maybe she has, but it’s just been a long time.

• The Entity looks like a fancy computer graphic, which, I guess, is what it is

Dialogue High Point
After some consideration, I decided on a line of Dr. Marr’s, which she says about her son, when she finds out that Data – the android that she originally hated – may live forever.

I’m glad. As long as you’re alive, he’ll be alive.

Previous Episode: Ensign Ro • Next Episode: Disaster

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