Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ship in a Bottle [6.12]

The Moriarity-hologram program from Elementary, Dear Data is accidentally re-activated, and amazes everyone when he is able to leave the holodeck and continue to exist.  He is able to take control of the ship in an attempt to force Picard to find a way to allow his beloved Countess Barthalomew to also leave the holodeck.  Picard, Data, and Barclay eventually figure out that they are still on the holodeck, trapped in an elaborate simulation created by Moriarity to make him believe that he has left the holodeck.  Trapped, they must figure out a way to leave the holodeck and wrest control of the ship from Moriarity, who now has really taken control.

Written by René Echevarria. Directed by Alexander Singer.

Previous Episode: Chain of Command, Part II • Next Episode: Aquiel

Ship in a Bottle has got one of the most memorable, and overall most successful, plot twists in this or any installment of Star Trek.  The revelation that Picard, Data and Barclay are all still on the holodeck is one of the franchise’s first “trippy” moments, and commendably there are almost no hints prior to the revelation that anything like this is going on.  It’s too bad, then, that the actual sequence of Data solving the puzzle of what is going on is quite uninspired.  The missing transporter data is interesting, but his comment that “it’s almost like our effort to transport never took place,” is a bit much.  And the thing about holo-Geordi’s being left-handed seems forced, and the bit with Data throwing the commbadge at the warp core just seems silly (not that he did it, but that it actually worked).  Considering they had such a great plot twist up their sleeve, it’d have been nice to have the treatment of that twist make a little more sense.  However, that said, that’s a comment that only came up for me upon the repeated viewing of the episode.  Back in the 1990’s, when it was first on, I didn’t notice any problem like that.

Overall, it’s a good story.  Daniel Davis makes a welcome return as Moriarty.  His ability to get off the holodeck doesn’t seem to make any sense, but this is okay since it turns out to be a deception.  His interaction with Picard is nicely done and he even gets to ask the Captain some hard questions.  Stephanie Beacham also does a good job as the Countess – she’s also got a very nice scene with Picard, where he manipulates her into helping him defeat Moriarty.

And it’s nice to see Barclay again as well, and this episode is certainly more interesting than his last appearance, although he is less essential to the plot here.  It does get him back onto his old stomping grounds on the holodeck, and gives him one very memorable line of dialog at the end:  “Computer, end program.”

But it’s not a story that holds up under a lot of scrutiny.  For example, it’s never explained how Moriarty has taken control of the holodeck in the first place, nor how is able to take control of the ship just because he knows a few passwords (aren’t they voice command codes?  Or can anyone just punch them in and the ship will obey him?  I suppose there was an off-camera scene in which Moriarty holographically simulated the Picard’s voice and took control of the ship that way.)  And there’s something just a bit silly that though Picard couldn’t control the real holodeck, he could control the simulated holodeck inside the holodeck, and was also able to somehow use the holodeck transporter to digitize Moriarty onto some sort of external hard drive located back on the real holodeck.

But somehow none of this really detracts from the episode.  The performances and the dilemma are all inventive enough to overshadow the weaknesses.

Guest Cast:
An actor named Clement von Franckenstein plays the Gentlemen at the start of the story.  Improbably, hHe apparently is announced as actually playing Baron Karl van Frankenstein in an upcoming production called Sherlock Holmes vs. Frankenstein.

Daniel Davis returns as Professor Moriarity.  He is of course best known as Niles from The Nanny.

Stephanie Beacham plays the Countessa Barthalomew.  She has been in a bunch of TV shows including Dynasty, The Colby’s, Coronation Street, and SeaQuest 2032.

Shout Out to the Past:
There are many references to Moriarty’s previous appearance and the other events of Elementary, Dear Data, including an oblique reference to Dr. Pulaski, the last time her memory will be hearkened to on Next Generation.

• And we’re back to Data as Sherlock Holmes again, which, as noted before, still feels like a pastiche of prior Holmes performances rather than something unique, especially when we compare it to the other most noted Holmes adaptations over the last couple of decades (eg Robert Downey jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Jeremy Brett).

• Moriarty’s return is intriguing, and the teaser ends on a cool note.

• Moriarty has a lot of good lines, many of which expound a bit on his condition as a living being.  For example, he says, “When this is over, you will walk out of this room to the real world and your own concerns, and leave me here trapped in a world I know to be nothing but illusion.  I cannot bear that.  I must leave.”  And to Picard’s comment that he wishes to make Moriarty as comfortable as possible, he replies, “So long as I accept the terms under which you dole out those comforts.”

• He also says, amusingly about the security guards, “Policemen.  I’d recognize them in any century.”

• It’s a cute moment when Moriarty asks what sea the Enterprise sails, and if he can go above deck.

• Picard makes quite a big deal of the ethical implications of creating “another Moriarty”.  And rightly so, I suppose.  He had similar concerns about Data creating Lal.

• As befitting Captain Jellico’s order in the previous two-parter, Troi appears at first to continue to wear her standard Starfleet uniform.  However, later we find that this is actually holo-Troi, and that real Troi is still wearing something like she traditionally has.

• The episode gives a bit of an explanation of how the holodeck works – how it creates solid matter, but that matter isn’t “normal” and can’t exist out of the grid.  It never really goes into some other aspects of the holodeck that I wouldn’t have minded seeing explored.  For example, how big is this place?  When Picard & co are in different areas of the holo-Enterprise, how far apart are they really standing?  If Data could momentarily “trick” the holodeck by throwing something at the holo-warp core, is there some other way they could have attempted to get off, by attempting to ascertain how close they were to the controls and reach them even if they couldn’t see them, for example?  I think I’ve read something like that in a Star Trek novel, but the show never went there.

• The winner for the silliest line of dialog:  “I want you to find some way to undo what he has done so that we can regain control of this ship,” says Picard to Geordi, as if this is some sort of considered strategy.  Of course you should try to stop the malevolent being who is threatening the safety of the ship.

The Countessa’s response to the transporter is cute

• It’s a funny and awkward moment  when holo-Geordi hears the others talking about the fact that he’s not real.

• This exchange between Picard and the Countess is cute:

Picard:  I have come here to prevail upon your intelligence and your insight.
Countess:  But not apparently my humility.
Picard: Credit where credit is due, madam.  I can see you are a woman not only of breeding, but of wit and sagacity.
Countess:  And you, sir, are a man of charm and guile.

• Picard’s little meta-speech at the end about how their whole reality might be an elaborate simulation contained in a device sitting on a table is just a bit too obvious for me.

• Nice image at the end with the star forming

Dialogue High Point
I was tempted to go with Barclay’s final line, which is memorable in context but written down is a bit nothing.  After some thinking, I believe my favorite line is Moriarty replying to Picard’s concern that he’d be up to some criminal activity.

Don’t worry, Captain.  My past is nothing but a fiction.  The scribblings of an Englishman dead now for four centuries.  I hope to leave his books on the shelf, as it were.

Previous Episode: Chain of Command, Part II • Next Episode: Aquiel

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