Silicon Avatar

WARNING: The following article contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG episode, "Silicon Avatar". Those not wishing details surrounding the show's plot, mood, characters, events, and small fish named Ethel should perhaps consider moving on to another post at this time. Well, *I'm* depressed. Talk about your depressing endings...masterfully manipulated in that regard (and a few others, though not all). More, after this synopsis from your local station (well, okay, me):

While Riker, Data, and Bev are visiting the Melona Four colony, the Crystalline Entity appears and utterly destroys it, although all but two of the colonists are saved. The Enterprise is sent to track the Entity down, with the help of xenologist Kyla Marr--a woman who, although capable, has no trust for Data, due to Lore's previous assistance given to the Entity in the past. Picard, realizing that if her attitude will be a problem, it's best to know early, assigns her to work with Data in nearly every detail.

She doesn't take to it well initially--she accuses him of collaborating with the Entity (thus "explaining" why this group of colonists wasn't killed like all the other attacks in 20-plus years), and reveals that her interest in the Entity began when her son was killed at Omicron Theta (Data's homeworld). However, after Data has provided help in several occasions (including finding a way to track the Entity by a method Dr. Marr had overlooked), she appears to realize that he really *isn't* much like Lore.

As the Enterprise follows the Entity (which is apparently headed for the Brechtian cluster), Picard has to point out to Marr that the intent is *not* to kill the Entity unless they absolutely have to--he'd prefer to find a way to communicate with it, and see if its needs can be supplied in some other way. Marr is understandably skeptical, but agrees to work with Data to find a method of communication.

They find one--and Marr further finds that through Data's programmed memories and experiences of the Omicron Theta colony, she can, in some respects, hear her son again. (After the Entity captures and "consumes" the inhabitants of another ship, Data reads one of her son's journal entries aloud in his voice, bringing tears to Marr's eyes.)

They eventually find the Entity and begin broadcasting a series of graviton pulses to it. It appears to respond, and emits a pattern which is almost undoubtedly a sign of intelligence, although they cannot yet decipher what the pattern of pulses means. Picard is elated--but then Marr, who wrote most of the program, alters it to emit a _continuous_ pulse of gravitons with rapidly increasing amplitude, and locks the program in such a way that neither Data nor Geordi can stop the emission before the Entity is shattered.

Data takes Marr back to her quarters, her mind virtually snapped. She asks "Rennie", through Data, to tell her that he understands she did it for him. Data demurs: from what he knows of her son through his journals and vivid memories, he believes Rennie would be very sad at the loss of both the Entity and of his mother's brilliant career.

That should do. (Yes, it's a bit shorter than usual--I think it was a little more easily summarized than most. Besides, I'm tired. :-) ) Now, on to some comments.

It's an interesting situation when the alleged blockbuster of "Redemption II" (which, although riddled with holes and annoyances, did provide an interesting enough ride that it got a 6.5) is the worst show of the season. But so far, that seems to be the case--this was a pretty solid outing.

I'll get the gripes out of the way first, I think. So...

First, I'm a little bit annoyed that we rarely, if *ever*, see a scientist who isn't somehow obsessed, or overbearing, or some other form of bad guy. It's analogous to the "Admirals are all idiots" syndrome, but I don't mind that one. I do mind this one--we're not *all* like that, after all! (I make no claims as to which category I fall into, however. :-) ) That's just a general gripe--Marr was written well enough that I'm willing to overlook it in this case. But I *do* wish we'd see some non-Enterprise scientists who weren't so unlikeable (when the first three I can think of are Marr, "Evolution"'s Dr. Stubbs, and "Where No One Has Gone Before"'s Kosinski, there's a clear trend).

Along vaguely similar lines--although Marr was a well-written and well-motivated character (a bit of a surprise, actually; I didn't think so at all in her first few scenes, but most or all of it was set right), Ellen Geer's performance occasionally didn't hit things quite right. Most of her "hostile" scenes in the second act didn't feel quite right to me, despite the fact that they made perfect sense in context. And her final appeal to "Rennie" was ever so slightly too over-the-top for me. It's a minor point--her more important scenes (those in Data's quarters, and her final one on the bridge) were well-played, and that's what really counts. But it's worth mentioning.

Finally, I'm unsure about the Treknological aspects of the show. First of all, gamma rays are *not* in the 10 keV range--that's X-rays. Second, I don't believe proton-antiproton annihilation will make emissions at that frequency--but I'm not at all sure about that, and I'm sure someone more experienced can correct me on that. The prospect of using gravitons seems marginally titchy, since I believe gravitons are theorized to move only at c (i.e. they wouldn't work if you're broadcasting to something a few light-years away), but since we know so little about them (like, we've yet to *actually see one* :-) ), I'm not sweating that much.

Major plot problem: the only other time we saw the Entity, Lore *was communicating with it*--and it was clear that the Entity understood in "Datalore", based on its actions early in its appearance. This is a huge bit of retconning that makes much of "Datalore" somewhat difficult to explain, and I don't like it. I'm sure they could have come up with *something* to make both fit (and I'm sure r.a.s. will before too long :-) ), but it needed to be done. That's really my only strong objection to the show.

Now, on to some of the good points.

After two weeks of railing about Riker acting like a bozo (and a week before where he got virtually no air time in an allegedly important role), it was refreshing to see Riker done right. Yes, he was flirting outrageously with Carmen in the teaser (if you haven't seen the show yet, the details of the colony's destruction are *far* more extensive than I gave in the synopsis, and are well done)--but it felt human for once. (In fact, I *actually* found myself thinking a bit of Hawkeye Pierce in that scene, and Hawkeye almost sets the standard for TV flirting. :-) ) His actions throughout the Entity's attack on the colony were precisely as required, and were well played--it's not often that I manage to empathize with Frakes's portrayal, but I did here, both when Carmen was killed off and when he and Data emerge from the cave to see the absolute wasteland that the colony has become...brr. Finally, Riker took *exactly* the right tone when he was questioning whether they perhaps *should* just kill the Entity--right down to ever so slightly bristling when Picard suggested he was acting for personal reasons. A rare congratulations to Frakes for a superb job this go-round.

It was also nice to see them make good work out of a development I don't particularly care for, i.e. Data's professed complete lack of emotions. Based on his actions in past shows ("The Measure of a Man", for instance), I don't believe that it's particularly apt, but it was put to good use here. Only someone as unfeeling as Data could avoid reacting to Marr's accusations initially, and only someone as unfeeling as Data could have delivered a condemnation such as the one Marr got at the end. Beautiful.

And this was definitely one of Cliff Bole's better directing jobs. While I do tend to get into the show, it's rare that I have much of an emotional reaction to it. Two different scenes managed to evoke precisely what the writers intended--absolute shock and dismay at the scene of the ravaged colony (I'm reminded of the current cover to Donaldson's _The Wounded Land_ there...obligatory Donaldson reference :-) ), and feeling Marr's pain when hearing her son's journal in his voice. It wasn't all Bole's doing--in part, one of the reasons the former scene worked so well was that Riker looked _convincingly_ stricken by it, and another was the music there. But Bole was responsible for much of it, no doubt. Nice work.

As to that's definitely time to give Jay Chattaway as much work as he can handle. First, he does a memorable job on "Darmok"; now, this. His piece at the sight of the ravaged colony is probably the most powerful, and vivid, piece I've heard from TNG since the sighting of the Borg ship in BOBW1--enough so that it took a conscious effort of will not to stand. If he keeps this up, I'm going to have to start agreeing with people who're bored by the music from TNG's other musicmakers, since this is just so far above the rest. (He's no James Horner or John Williams yet, but he's definitely doing a solid job.)

The effects were generally excellent. There was one exception--the "shaking" in the cave when the Entity attacked outside was pretty cheesy (reminded me of "Devil's Due", in fact--and that's not a memory I cherish :-) ). But the shots of the Entity were breathtaking, particularly those in the teaser--both beautiful and menacing at the same time. Computer-generated effects or no, it was a vivid image.

Let's see...what else is there. Oh, yes, Dr. Marr. As I said, I didn't find her all that believable _initially_--and I didn't buy her sudden "okay, fine, everyone's terrific--Data, the Entity, everything" conversion. However, the conversion _wasn't_ quite legit--the part with Data was (and was not a part I objected to), but she'd simply changed towards the Entity in order to better have access to destroy it. Her clear obsession about her son was built up rather slowly--nicely done, since that's the sort of thing that can *very* easily be made a rotten plotline. About the only scene I didn't eventually accept was her initial arrival--it was necessary to show how strong she was there to show just how much she crumbles at the end, yes, but I couldn't swallow it. She *almost* makes up for it with her offhand "of course, the last person [her son] would tell [about a girlfriend] would be his mother," though. :-)

A few random notes:

--Nice use of Data's programmed memories. If there was ever a time and a way to use them, this was it--it makes perfect sense that someone with a relative at the colony should be avidly curious.

--So there's "no predetermined limit" on Data's existence, eh? I'm sure they didn't actually *intend* for this to impact on those who just saw the director's cut of "Blade Runner" in LA over the past few weeks, but...:-)

--Picard's "remarkable", complete with raised eyebrow. I think that's the most Vulcan I have *ever* seen our friend the Captain. Interesting image.

So, that would seem to do it. Not quite a perfect outing, but a very strong one. So, Da Numbers:

Plot: 7. It would've been an airtight 10, but for the "how the HELL did Lore talk to it, then?" retcon. Plot Handling: 10. Bliss. Characterization: 9. A bit off for some of Marr's less believable moments, but apart from that, everyone was in character, and *well* in character.

TOTAL: 9.5, upping quite a bit for music/FX. Good work, guys.

NEXT WEEK: "Disaster" strikes the Enterprise. I really hope those are the worst scenes, 'cos if they're the best...

Evenin', all.

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students) BITNET: tlynch@citjuliet INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "Travel...Arrival...years of an inch and a step toward a source..." --Suzanne Vega, "Pilgrimage" Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.


Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <>
Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38