Monday, January 11, 2016

The Next Generation 4x14 "Clues"

rating: **

the story: The crew begins to suspect something's wrong with Data when things don't add up and he looks increasingly guilty.

similar to: "The Menagerie" (Original Series), "The Omega Directive" (Voyager)

my thoughts: For most of the episode, "Clues" feels like a fairly generic mystery, with the crew trying to figure out why they seem to have lost time.  I prefer to think about it less in terms of the way most of the episode unfolds, and more about its ultimate implications.  It's best considered as a Data episode.

Just as Spock made himself look bad (in "The Menagerie") and Janeway had to withhold information from her crew (in "The Omega Directive"), what might have been an ultimately hackneyed story about Data being controlled by aliens (it's a Star Trek trope with spotty history, believe me) instead turns into another exploration of what sets the android apart.  I think ultimately the way the story approached limited its impact, actually.  A more straightforward story would have been more useful in that regard.  To salvage "Clues," you can of have to ignore most of it.

The series routinely attempted to feature Data in circumstances that exploited his unique nature as a nonhumanoid.  Most of the time it did so from oblique angles (Voyager was far less bashful with the Doctor, and even Enterprise with Phlox), as if making Data stand out too much would, well, make him stand out too much.  His ability to experience the alien culture mostly teased in the episode, and then have to lie about it, could have been far more interesting (would he really be incapable of tying up all the loose ends in the effort?). 

But, the episode is poised as a mystery, so you must accept that Data inevitably has his own limitations.  So to watch him try is as much as you'll get, and it's at least worth it just for that.  Theoretically he would experience moments like this all the time, maybe not to such a dramatic extent, but at least things he can't properly convey, or moments that he can't properly share, like how Geordi sees everything differently because of his VISOR, or Worf because he is a Klingon.  Which makes this a somewhat clumsy but still fascinating way to explore another aspect of what sets him apart and yet still a welcome member of the crew.

In the end, then, "Clues" is a better riddle about Data himself than the aliens he's attempted to help shield from the outside world.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)

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