Revisiting Star Trek TNG: A Matter Of Perspective
The holodeck becomes a courtroom in the latest TNG episode to feature in James' Star Trek retrospective...
This review contains spoilers.
3.14 A Matter Of Perspective
The episode begins with Picard accepting critiques of the Enterprise's painting from Data. Because who better to judge art than someone with no subjectivity? The ship has also returned to Tanuga IV, where Commander Riker has spent the night with a researcher, Dr. Apgar, his wife and his assistant. Apgar is trying to create Krieger waves, which don't exist, but will prove to have astonishing qualities that make them perfect for the plot of this episode.
La Forge, who was also on the station, indicates that the mission has been tense. The very moment Riker beams back, there's a power surge. They almost lose Riker's signal, but the station explodes, killing Dr. Apgar! Sounds like a job for some kind of space detective. Unfortunately, there isn't one available: as usual it's up to Data and La Forge, AGAIN. Meanwhile, Chief Investigator Krag arrives to extradite Riker. After he and Picard spew regulations at one another for a while, they agree to recreate the events on the holodeck and see if they can prove Riker's guilt or innocence so that the trial can go ahead, or not go ahead. They should do all trials this way, it'd save a lot of time.
Having created exact facsimiles of the locations involved, right down to the equipment in the lab, the pre-trial hearing begins. Riker's version of events shows that Apgar was nervous and annoyed by Riker's early arrival, saying that work was not yet complete. Apgar's wife implores Riker to stay overnight, then throws herself at him once they're alone. For once, Riker keeps it in his trousers, but Apgar enters and gets the wrong idea. He strikes his wife, then attacks but misses Riker. The next morning Apgar has sent away his wife and assistant, and claims he'll lodge a formal complaint to Starfleet over Riker's behaviour. Riker transports away, which is where we came in. So far, so believable.
Krag asks Riker if he also wants to add anything else. For example, firing a phaser. Because they have evidence that suggests he did indeed do that. Riker denies it, but the graph Krag's people have produced which proves it is highly convincing (we must assume). They produce a simulation of Riker firing the phaser just as he transports out. Damning speculation if ever there was any.
Next up, Manua gives her version of the story, which shows Riker to be womanising and aggressive (which to be fair he is, but not to this degree) while she and Apgar are victims of his bad attitude. Riker doesn't help his case by getting up in the middle of the story and ranting about how not crazy he is.
Meanwhile, La Forge and Wesley are investigating strange radiation burns that keep appearing on the ship at regular intervals. Hey, wait, don't Krieger waves do that? Seriously, I have no idea.
Back on the holodeck, Apgar's assistant, Tayna, relates the version of events Apgar described to her before he sent her to the surface that night. In it, Apgar finds his wife and Riker in a mutual clinch, so he beats up Riker, who threatens him with death. It's mostly obvious lies, not least the bit where Riker is wasting his time kissing a woman instead of taking her straight to the nearest lovenasium.
Just as it's looking like Riker's pre-trial will establish his probable guilt, leading to an actual trial, Data, Wesley and La Forge figure out the secret of the radiation burns. And because of it, they know who killed Apgar!
Picard reconvenes the hearing and does his best impression of a John Grisham-style showboating lawyer, before piecing together various unreliable testimonies to establish the truth: Apgar had already developed Krieger Waves and the recreation of his lab equipment is amplifying the signal from his generator (which Tayna took to the surface) causing damage to the Enterprise. Picard asserts that Apgar was planning to weaponise the waves in exchange for lots of money, hence his annoyance at Starfleet's early arrival: he thinks Riker has found him out.
The truth is that just before Riker beamed out, Apgar activated his equipment in an attempt to kill Riker. It shoots a phaser-like beam at him, but reflects off the transporter containment field back into the equipment, which causes feedback that blows up the station. Hurray! Riker is innocent! There's no need for a trial at all. Manua and Tayna leave the Enterprise with their lives shattered, but that's their problem now. The Enterprise has places to go! Not very quickly, admittedly, since they only go there at Warp 3. But whatever.
TNG WTF: This episode does show that the Tanugans have the sort of legal system that can only exist on TV: one which appears to consist of a lot of dramatic scenes but no formal process. Admittedly, Riker's not actually on trial, just part of an extradition hearing, but they're clearly playing fast and loose with events. Tayna's retelling of Dr. Apgar's version of events is acknowledged as unreliable hearsay, and yet when it's over and it implicates Riker, everyone acts like it's the final nail in the coffin.
TNG LOL: It's easy to get cheap laughs out of Data irritating other people with his robot misunderstandings, but the opening scene where he insults Picard's painting by giving it a fair and accurate analysis is properly funny.
Who's that face?: You may recognise Dr. Apgar as Mark Margolis, who turns up all over the place but for me, will always be Ace Ventura's landlord ("Yes, Satan? Oh, I'm sorry, Sir, you sounded like someone else.")
Time Until Meeting: This entire episode is basically one big meeting. But 8:32, when Picard discusses Riker's extradition, would be the first.
Captain's Log: I really liked this episode, though I had to admit it was a little dry. But then if dry television turns you off, this is the wrong series to be watching. It would've helped if there was actually a little chemistry between Manua and Riker, but the mystery is mostly compelling and the conflicting depiction of events using the holodeck gives us a new spin on the basic courtroom idea. And hey, the Holodeck doesn't even malfunction! Although it does still cause actual physical damage to the ship.
One of the problems with this episode is that at no point does it seem like Commander Riker is actually guilty, which can't help but defuse some of the tension. His initial account seems trustworthy enough, Manua's depicts him as completely out of character, and Tayna's is flagrantly ridiculous to the point of being ignorable. Admittedly the writers try to side-step this by having Picard and Troi believe Riker's version of events and emphasising the question of how they can interpret the evidence in a way that doesn't implicate him, thereby avoiding a trial. But it still makes things much less tense than they would've been if - for example - the charge was Worf killing a Romulan Scientist, or something else we can actually believe might have happened.
Also, I was set to say "what the hell was that first painting scene about?" until I realised it wasn't just Data being wacky, it was essentially an overture of the episode to come, underscoring the idea that individuals can interpret a single view in different ways. Clever!
Watch or Skip? Watch. Who doesn't love the courtroom episodes of TNG?
Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Deja Q, here.
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