This review contains spoilers.
The Enterprise D docks at Starbase 84 to have its Holodeck repaired after it nearly killed one of their crew members a few episodes ago. Not a bad idea, although when it does similar in the future everyone forgets they even tried in the past. After the ship docks, everyone immediately drops what they’re doing and declares it a duvet day – everyone except Riker, who doesn’t appear to have any interests outside of being second in command.
To repair the holodeck, Commander Quinteros brings aboard some Bynars – aliens who exist in a technologically-driven symbiosis – to do the repairs. They’ll also be fiddling with the Enterprise’s computer, because that always goes well. Wesley and Riker watch the Bynars and can’t help finding them suspicious (good call, especially considering everyone pretty much let Lore get away with murder a couple of weeks ago.) Riker tells Wesley to keep an eye on them (presumably he’ll listen to his opinion this time) then goes off to find some leisure activity.
After meeting various members of the bridge crew and crapping all over their pursuits (including a hilarious scene where he insults Data and Geordi: “A blind man teaching an android how to paint? That’s got to be worth a couple of pages in somebody’s book!” *Data and Geordi look annoyed, say nothing and go back to painting. Riker leaves.*) Riker eventually decides to go and look at the upgrades the Bynars have made to the Holodeck. He creates a Jazz Club to play in, and a woman, Minuet, to be his audience.
Instead of playing jazz, Riker gets down to flirting with his holodeck-creation, which is in no way completely disturbing behaviour. This situation gets in no way a great deal more disturbing when Picard turns up and Minuet starts flirting with him as well. While the audience does their best not to imagine the kind of fan-fiction this scene is going to inspire, Wesley alerts Data to a problem in engineering, leading to a hilarious exchange along these lines:
Wesley: “I’m getting indication of possible trouble in Engineering.”Data: “Can you be more specific?”Wesley: “No.”
One can only assume that somewhere on the bridge a light marked “possible trouble” has blinked on.
As it happens, this “possible trouble” is a containment breach that might destroy the ship. Uh-oh! They should probably have a more specific alert for that, really, it seems pretty serious. The crew quickly evacuate, but Riker and Picard are on the holodeck, out of contact. No-one realises until the Enterprise suddenly flies off. They’ve been ship-jacked!
Eventually, Picard realises he’s earning himself the nickname Captain Cock-Block and tries to leave Riker and Minuet alone, but she stops him from leaving. They both realise something smells fishy (and it’s not the authentic holodeck jazz club deep-fried shrimp) and Picard gives a control panel a lengthy interrogation in what marks as one of TNG‘s most hilarious pieces of exposition. He literally asks it nine or ten questions, ending with the question “am I to believe the Bynars have stolen the Enterprise?” to which the computer replies (basically) “I’m a computer, how am I supposed to know that?!”
Luckily, Minuet the surprisingly clever holo-woman turns out to be a Bynar plant, and she explains that she was just a distraction so that they could keep Riker onboard while they nicked the ship, in case they needed his help. Which they now do. Picard and Riker leave the holodeck, set the self-destruct sequence, then tool up and plan to storm the bridge and shoot their way to victory. Except when they get there, they just find a pile of slumped Bynars who ask for help then pass out.
With no better ideas about what to do, Picard and Riker go back to Minuet and ask her for more specific exposition. It turns out that the Bynars needed to use the Enterprise’s computer to make a back-up of their home-world’s database because of stuff. (If my experiences with databases are anything to go by, the problem was that someone tried to use a £ sign and that broke everything.) Unfortunately, she doesn’t know the password to re-upload the Bynar consciousness database. Luckily they manage to guess it (because the Bynars intentionally made it simple enough to guess. Which begs the question of why they password protected it at all) and after some failures, they realise that they have to enter the code as a pair to unlock it.
They re-upload the computer core, and success! The Bynars awaken. A somewhat-less-angry-than-you’d-expect Picard asks them why they didn’t just ask for help, and they give a fairly convincing answer: “You might’ve said no.” Fair enough! Picard flies the ship back to the starbase (by himself, begging the question of just what the hell everyone else does on the Enterprise all day) and when the crew comes back, Riker heads back to the holodeck. Alas, Minuet is gone. A disappointed Riker returns to the bridge and Picard tells him there are other fish in the holo-sea. Riker sighs, and says she’ll be difficult to forget. But he only remembers her twice in the next seven years (and one of those is in a clip show!) so apparently, not that difficult.
TNG WTF: With their pitch-altered voices, androgynous looks and bright pink skin, the Bynars are obviously the kind of Star Trek aliens that’ll haunt your nightmares. But their weird push-to-talk 300-baud modem communication method hardly implies Arthur C. Clarke levels of foresight on the part of the writer. The wireless handshake has not reach Bynaus, apparently.
TNG LOL: This episode is full of hilarious moments, although one I didn’t mention in the synopsis happens when Picard and Riker go to get some weapons and the door’s locked (as you’d expect it to be). Picard walks up to it and shouts “Picard Access!” to open it. Like that phrase is some sort of master key. Unintentionally and inexplicably hilarious.
Mistakes and Minutiae: When the self-destruct sequence is set, the computer speaks with a voice that isn’t Majel Barrett’s. What’s that about? Do Starfleet officers not trust a woman to lead them away from certain death or something? This episode is also the first time Riker plays the trombone, thus acquiring something almost no-one else had in TNG season one: a secondary character trait.
Who’s that face?: Commander Quinteros is played by Gene Dynarski, who appeared in Star Trek twice before – as Ben Childress in Mudd’s Women, and Krodak in The Mark of Gideon.
Time Until Meeting: Another meeting-free episode! What a shambles this series was.
Captain’s Log: My memory of this episode was undoubtedly coloured by how disturbing the Bynars were, because I went in expecting something that was typically season one awful, and got something that was actually a lot of fun. There are some interesting themes woven throughout the episode about the relationship between biological organisms and the technology we create, and the symbiosis between man and machine, and the very solution to the crisis they’re in requires Riker and Picard to work as a pair with a machine relaying their communications which is nicely on-theme rather than tedious techno-babble. Like it was actually written by someone who thought about what they were doing.
As far as TNG season one goes, this is pretty well-considered science fiction, and the fact that it places a heavy focus on Riker and Picard (two of the better actors and characters in TNG at any point) makes this episode one of season one’s best. Probably the best so far, in fact. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but fourteen episodes in they were due something that could be called watchable without qualifiers.
Watch or Skip? Watch! Surprisingly good fun.
Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Angel One, here.