The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: A Matter of Perspective

When a space station explodes just as Riker is beamed back, the locals consider him the prime suspect – and according to their law, he is guilty until proven innocent. In an effort to clear the name of his first officer, Picard offers up the holodeck to be used for reconstructions of the crime – but what is the real story behind the explosion?

This is one of those episodes that makes you think “oh, how clever” when you first watch it; the testimonies of different characters are played out on the holodeck, and you can nod and smile at the differences between the scenarios. Coming back to it, it doesn’t seem to have stood the test of time – the science aspect is ridiculous, and all the evidence feels circumstantial at best.

Riker’s reign of terror

Entertain for the moment the possibility that Riker is guilty. That, in fact, the reason he likes being first officer on the Enterprise is because it gives him the opportunity to visit lots of alien worlds, fuck women, and then bully people into silence. Jonathan Frakes plays evil and callous well enough in this episode that I could fully believe in Evil Riker.

Star Trek: JAG

Even though most of the evidence in this case feels circumstantial, in my theoretical Star Trek courtroom drama, the holodeck would be used for reconstructions as it is in this episode.

Science in Star Trek

Since this episode features a typical Star Trek scientist, it’s time to consider how science and scientific research works in the future.

  • Scientists often work in isolation with at most a single assistant – no PhD students or postdocs to do the grunt work.
  • Typically, a scientist will be the only person working on something; even if it’s an amazing bit of breakthrough technology, no one else in the galaxy will be studying it.
  • If an experiment fails, that technology is abandoned and never heard from again (see: Krieger waves, solitons, the various technologies found in Voyager).
  • Publications still exist, as Scotty liked to read technical journals, and Data has been the subject of various medical textbooks.
  • Star Trek scientists are usually jerks – they are self-centred, have poor social skills and tend to antagonise the crew.
  • Scientists in Starfleet have to be commissioned officers – presumably because it qualifies them to go on away missions or to transfer to other departments such as Engineering or Command. Civilian scientists do exist and live aboard ship – I’m assuming Keiko qualifies as one, since she’s a botanist.

Other bits and pieces

  • My secondary viewing companion offers up the complaint that the Enterprise often gets in trouble because of the Federation’s policy of slavishly following local law. For example, if local law requires the Enterprise to be surrendered and scrapped, would they just mindlessly let it happen? Then again, when you go abroad, you become subject to local law rather than that of your home country, so it’s a fairly standard thing. When in Klingon space, do as the Klingons do. Perhaps there needs to be a concept of ‘international waters’ in space.
  • Picard includes painting among his hobbies – and, as captain, he can get members of the crew to pose naked for him.

Summary – A Matter of Perspective: Interesting concept but doesn’t really withstand rewatching.

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