Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Next Generation 5x4 "Silicon Avatar"

rating: ****

the story: The Crystalline Entity is back, and somebody is out for revenge against it.

similar to: "The Doomsday Machine" (original series), Star Trek: The Motion Picture

my thoughts: Ever since "Datalore," the first season episode that introduced Data's twin brother Lore, another figure lurked, waiting to return: the Crystalline Entity.  One of the more interesting aspects of Data's backstory is the existence of this incomprehensible being, used by Lore to destroy the colony where Data was created.  And yet, what is there to say about the Entity itself?

Plenty, as it turns out.  Very much like a Next Generation answer to "The Doomsday Machine," but kind of reverse-engineered to feature a far more powerless character tricking their way toward revenge, the mother of a colonist who died, dedicating her life to studying it, until the moment she can finally strike back...

But it's hardly that simple.  The wounded scientist is hardly the best selling point of "Silicon Avatar."  She's presented about as thinly as possible, as contrast to a crew that has, in the last two episodes ("Darmok" and "Ensign Ro"), proven itself to be infinitely capable of figuring things out, making peace with a galaxy that still seems untamed and barely understood (these are the episodes Picard should reference in his final trial with Q, it should be noted).  In all its horror, the final moments of "Avatar" see the crew fail spectacularly to prevent the Entity's demise. 

In so many other episodes, similar beings are revealed to be far more than they seem ("Encounter at Farpoint," "Tin Man," for instance), and yet the Entity, as originally presented, really does look like the menace it appears to be, a little like V'ger in The Motion Picture, plowing its way to Earth (and like the probe, too, in The Voyage Home).  We never get an answer, only a hint that the crew might have found something to replace its destructive feeding habit.

In the end, Data suggests that science that fails to trust itself but rather behaves emotionally is the true enemy, and it's a bold statement.  And "Avatar" is a classic for making it.  At its most reductive, Star Trek can be pretty preachy in its messages, so simplistic it can actually come off as insulting.  In "Avatar," a new bar is set.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

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