WARNING: This post contains spoiler information for TNG's "Thine Own Self". If you wish thine own self to be spoiler-free, leave the article alone.

In brief: a couple of small plausibility-straining ideas, but mostly terrific.

I'm getting more confident now that "Sub Rosa" was a dastardly fluke, because both this and "Lower Decks" have been strong. More later -- but first, as always, a synopsis:

As Troi returns from a class reunion, Dr. Crusher updates her on the situation while serving bridge duty. Deanna gets very curious as to why Bev would take the bridge officer's exam and become a full commander in the first place, and takes Bev's answer of wanting to stretch herself to heart. In the meantime, there is no response from Data, who is away on Barkon Four to retrieve radioactive fragments from a crashed probe.

On Barkon, home to a pre-industrial society, a villager, Garvin, is talking to his daughter Gia, when suddenly both see Data walk into the village, dazed. His clothes and hair appear singed, and when he opens his mouth to speak, only a machinelike humming is heard. Garvin sends Gia home and tries to communicate with Data, who manages to get his voice under control. Garvin quickly finds, however, that Data has great difficulty communicating -- at first, he cannot even understand what is said to him, merely mimicking Garvin's statements. Later, his comprehension begins to return, but he has no idea who or where he is, remembering only that he walked to the village from the mountains, a great distance away. Garvin, observing the fragment container Data is holding, asks if he can examine it, and Data agrees. Data finds that he can read the lettering on the container ("RADIOACTIVE"), but has no idea what it means, and speculates that perhaps it is his name. "It's not like any name I've ever heard," replies Garvin, taking and holding up a piece of metal from the case...

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Troi informs Riker that she wants to become a full commander and take the bridge officer's test, "to stretch myself." Although she admits seeing old friends at the reunion was a trigger, she says that she's actually been considering the idea ever since her brief stint on the bridge in a time of disaster two years earlier. Riker agrees to support her, but also warns that he's the one who'll have to evaluate her, and not to expect any favors.

On Barkon, Talur, the village's resident scientist, examines Data and pronounces him fit in all respects save his memory loss. (His heartbeat, in particular, is "very regular.") As far as his odd appearance is concerned, she grants that "my grandmother would have called our friend here a demon, or a spirit, or some sort of monster -- but current scientific methodology allows us to dismiss such ridiculous superstitions and concentrate on scientific reality." What is he, then? An "iceman", or so she says -- from a race that lives in the mountains under very harsh conditions. As Talur leaves, Gia enters and helps Garvin pick a name for Data: "Jayden."

Garvin and "Jayden" leave to find Skoran, the village smith, who might be able to help identify the strange metal Jayden brought with him. Skoran notes that the metal is strangely warm, and that given its quality it must have been tempered in some way. He offers to buy half the lot from Jayden to make jewelry, a prospect to which Jayden agrees. Just then, an anvil falls onto one of the other smiths. He screams in pain, and others run for help -- but Data walks over and lifts it off him easily, allowing him to scramble out from under and get medical help. "Did I do something wrong?" he asks Garvin, perplexed by the stares this action has provoked. "No, " muses Garvin, "just unexpected."

That evening, Talur assures Jayden that all icemen have such strength, in order to fight off the wild creatures living in the mountains. When Jayden reminds Talur that no one has ever seen such creatures, she scoffs that it's simply a well known fact. Garvin, meanwhile, is beginning to look and feel very fatigued, and Talur takes him out for some fresh air. Jayden talks to Gia, who tells him her mother died a year ago. "Father said she went to a beautiful place, where everything is peaceful, and everyone loves each other, and no one ever gets sick. Do you think there's really a place like that?" Jayden moves to the window and stares up at the stars. "Yes. I do."

Troi, having passed all but one test in the meantime, takes the engineering qualification -- and fails, badly, destroying the Enterprise in simulation. Riker reassures her that it's a very hard section, but refuses to tell her what she did wrong, since she'll have to take the test again.

Jayden, meanwhile, sits in on Talur's open-air schoolroom, but objects to her characterization of "rock, fire, sky and water" as the four core elements of the universe as reasoning by analogy. Talur is not impressed, reassuring the children that Jayden's memory lapses are still present, and Jayden is thus not the most reliable of observers himself. The class is dismissed, and Jayden is far from angry -- but he is certain Talur's statements are wrong. The issue is soon abandoned, however, when Garvin collapses while arguing with Skoran over money. Jayden and Gia get him home.

At Garvin's home, Talur examines him, but has no idea what's wrong with him. Upon noticing that his lesions resemble burn marks, however, she suspects "the fluids of [his] body have overheated", and recommends lots of water, fresh air, and various herbs to cool the fluids down. After she leaves, Jayden decides (with Garvin's permission) to try to investigate the illness himself, and takes Gia into the village to get supplies. In the village, however, he finds out that the disease is spreading, affecting Skoran and others as well -- and that the villagers believe him to be the one responsible for the plague. He and Gia, with supplies, return home.

A while later, Talur finds Jayden examining skin samples from both Garvin and Gia, who has also come down with the illness now. Talur looks through Jayden's magnifying device, far more powerful than her own, and professes some skepticism when Jayden begins discussing cellular damage. She agrees with his ideas of searching for a common experience Garvin, Gia and Skoran have all shared recently, however, and notes that Jayden himself is a likely candidate. He agrees, but also points out that Talur has had extensive contact with him and has not taken ill. Gia comes down to report on Garvin's condition and is sent back upstairs to bed, but not before Jayden notices the metal pendant she wears, and finds that she's had it for a few days, and that it was made out of the metal Skoran bought from Jayden himself...

Troi, back on the Enterprise, is studying once again for the engineering exam and is annoyed at the technobabble. She is far more upset, however, when Riker enters and informs her that he's cancelling the test, saying that his first duty is to the ship and that he cannot let someone serve as a bridge officer who is unqualified. Troi fumes, but then realizes something important in Riker's statements and departs for the holodeck. There, she averts the disaster that has stymied her before, by ordering Geordi to repair a conduit directly despite the radiation in the crawlway -- in other words, by ordering Geordi to his death. Riker closes down the simulation and congratulates her on passing the test -- the entire point of which was to see if she could make that hard choice.

Jayden, in the village, shows Talur his findings, and tells her of his theory that the metal is sending out invisible particles which are some sort of energy source, and which also are causing the mysterious illness. She is incredulous, but Jayden is insistent -- and what's more, he's noticed that the container he brought the metal in seems to block the particles, so he suggests that the container was a safeguard, and the "RADIOACTIVE" label was a warning. He asks her to go to the village and collect all the metal she can into that container, while he continues to search for a cure. Promising to come back and examine Jayden's data in detail, Talur leaves -- but shortly thereafter, Skoran comes in with several other villagers, convinced that Jayden is trying to kill them all.

Skoran tries to club Jayden and misses -- and doesn't get a second chance, as Jayden neatly sends him against a nearby wall. Skoran's cohort, however, delivers a glancing blow along Jayden's face, and rips off the "skin" concealing Jayden's circuitry. Both villagers stare at Jayden in horror. As Skoran blurts "What are you?" and leaves in a hurry, Jayden puts his hand to his face and replies, "I do not know..."

Later, Talur has collected the metal, but Skoran and the others are back, intent on finding and killing Jayden "before he kills us all." Garvin and Gia do not believe Jayden can be such a monster, but cannot stop the others from departing on their mission. Talur tells father and daughter to rest, and leaves herself. Gia wanders through the house, but stops when she reaches the kitchen and hears a voice calling to her from the corridor. "Jayden!"

Jayden has returned, hooded, and needs time to find a cure. Gia tells him to remove the hood so she can see him, and gasps in horror when he does so, but stands her ground, willing to help. After hours of work, he finds this cure and, having already administered it to Garvin, gets Gia to drink it. He reasons that the villagers will not take it voluntarily, and decides to spike the village well with the solution to help them.

Jayden arrives at the well and prepares to drop in the cure, but Skoran and the others catch him in the act and accuse him of causing the plague and attempting to kill them. Hastily, he drops the compound into the well, just as Skoran impales him with a sharp metal pole. Skoran is stunned by the electric shock, but "Jayden" is worse off, falling down dead in a heap.

Much later, a fully recovered Gia is walking in the village when Beverly and Riker ask her gently if she's seen a friend of theirs. She says she has seen him, but points to a grave when they ask where he is.

"They killed him because they were afraid of him, but he saved all of us from the sickness." She describes his work over the last few days, and tells them the metal fragments are buried in the forest. "What was his real name?"

"Data."

"Data ... he was my friend too." Gia hurries off.

Riker and Bev quickly scan and confirm that it is Data, and prepare to beam both him and the metal up in secret.

Data is successfully revived, but with no memory of his experiences after a power surge overloaded him as he was working with the crashed probe. He examines his clothes, however, and concludes, "It appears I had an interesting time." As Riker and Bev fill him in on what little they know, Deanna departs for her bridge shift, telling Data that because of her promotion, "you can call me 'sir' from now on."


Whew. Another long synopsis; this is getting old real fast. :-) Now, onwards to some rather exhausted commentary.

I pitched a story to TNG shortly before this episode was filmed, and one of the reasons my story didn't sell was the existence of several Data stories in the pipeline, including this one. So, as you might guess, my reaction going in was "this had BETTER be good."

Fortunately, it was. In fact, the Data-centered elements of it are close to my favorite parts of this season to date. Brent Spiner, although playing Data not that differently than usual, got to loosen up in all sorts of subtle ways, I think, which made the episode work monstrously well.

It would be tough to find any premise which could justify an "amnesiac Data ends up in the Age of Reason", let's face it -- but given that, this one will certainly suffice. I'm not entirely sure I buy it that a power surge could do what it did, but it's close enough that I don't care; and after all, much of the show was done from the villagers' viewpoint, and to them he was simply a mystery through and through.

What's more, this mystery actually caused problems. It makes perfect sense that the first thing Garvin would do to try to help figure out Data's problems would be to examine what he was carrying. Perfect sense -- but it's also something that should have been lethal, and it very nearly was, in the most realistic treatment of radiation sickness we'll ever get from Trek in any form. (When all the complaints I have about the depiction are nitpicks, it's not a worry.)

The plot itself wasn't all that difficult to figure out -- it was fairly clear that Data would end up getting the Frankenstein treatment, and it also seemed likely that most of the village, at least, would be saved. What it came down to was the execution, and there were so many things to like in the execution that I found myself very interested.

The biggest one, which is probably not a surprise, was the Data/Talur interactions, particularly all the discussion of methodology. After all of my ranting about "The Chase" about this time last year, I'm glad to see a show that made me feel just as positive about TNG's attention to science as "The Chase" made me negative about it. (It's somewhat ironic, I think, that Ron Moore co-wrote both stories.) Here, we had points where Talur's statements were wrong, but were wrong in ways that were right in terms of motivation. Data's correction to her science lesson, while probably just amusing to most people, had me virtually cheering: it was pure reasoning by analogy, which was the main flaw of scientific thinking at the time. I had a blast in all of their discussion, particularly the science lesson and her insistence on adding frills to an already shaky theory once Data's strength was revealed. (I found myself thinking of Ptolemaic theory: epicycles, anyone? :-) )

I also particularly liked some of the direction. Data coming out of the shadows to find Gia towards the end was expected, but wonderful; and the use of the hammering motif when we first saw Skoran called "Birthright I" to mind beautifully (which I'm sure was intentional; after all, Kolbe directed both).

I also very much liked some elements of the ending. While I have a few plausibility-straining points I'll get to shortly, I liked the fact that, in effect, the Enterprise was *too late* to save anyone or anything. The only reason Data wasn't actually dead was a property unique to Data; there was no miracle saving of the day here. I was fearing the Enterprise would suddenly show up in orbit and beam Data out in the nick of time, then somehow distribute a miracle cure; fortunately, I didn't get that.

The fact that they were cured at all is something of a stretch, though. I can understand that there may be a cure for radiation poisoning in the 24th century. I have a lot of difficulty, though, believing that Data could find it with a swiss-cheesed memory and make it out of seven herbs and spices. It's certainly not impossible (and given that the cures are probably fairly routine to the Enterprise crew, there could be easy scenarios to work it up), but it made my disbelief sit up and say "yo!" for a minute, unlike virtually all of the rest of the show.

[The other planetary problem I had was Data's actions at the well. He shouldn't have needed the lantern, and he shouldn't have paused so dramatically before getting ready to dump the cure in. The combination would have gotten the cure distributed safely. It's dramatic license, but it's a little much.]

On the planetary side, though, that's it -- and both are small objections indeed. I liked all the guest characters a great deal (even Gia, who had the potential to be a major annoyance, but was quite pleasant), I thought the points made sense, and I loved the whole feel of the episode.

The Troi plot on the Enterprise, on the other hand, was simply decent. It wasn't bad by any means, but it really was ten minutes or so of plot to fill out the hour, and felt like it. I did like Troi's motivation for testing in the first place, though -- the reunion idea made sense, and the reference back to "Disaster" is about the only good thing to come out of that whole episode.

Lisa and I are having something of a debate about Troi "passing" the final test, though. She thinks it wasn't really demonstrating she might order someone to their deaths in real life, since it was a situation she'd seen three times before and tried several options in already -- and she thinks that Troi might not really do it if push came to shove. I mostly agree, but I also don't think there's any better way to test it short of actually making her kill somebody, which is somewhat ... impractical. Thoughts?

That's about all the major thoughts I had on "Thine Own Self", really. The show doesn't necessarily lend itself to huge speculation and back-chat the way "Parallels" or "Lower Decks" does, but it was very strong in a more quiet way. I liked it ... a lot.

So, a few short takes:

  • I loved the Riker-trombone scene early in the show. I have a feeling the line "did you come here for something in particular, or just general Riker-bashing" is going to be repeated a lot in conversations for months. :-)
  • There's a great quote from Analog a few years back that bears on Talur's "four basic elements" lesson. I don't remember the exact phrasing (mostly because I've never seen it :-) ), but it says something along the lines of "In olden times, we thought there were four basic elements of the universe: earth, water, air, and fire. Now, we know there are really four basic states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Three cheers for progress." :-)
  • One unfortunate consequence of Data wandering around with half his face off towards the end of the show is that the makeup job was far worse than usual on that half of his face then. I'm not sure there'd be a way to avoid it, but it's pretty obvious that the circuitry is a prosthetic. Oh, well.

That's about it. To wrap up, then:

Plot: Only very minor stretches only. Very tight, and very understated.

Plot handling: The only problem was putting in the Troi stuff as padding; the direction was top-notch.

Characterization: Marvelous; absolutely marvelous.

OVERALL: A 9. Good job.

NEXT WEEK:

Poor Data. First amnesia on a primitive planet, now possession. Poor guy can't get a break...



Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"I'm sure my grandmother would have called our friend here a demon or a
spirit, or some sort of monster -- but current scientific methodology allows
us to dismiss such ridiculous superstitions, and concentrate on scientific
reality."
"Then what do you believe I am?"
"You ... are an iceman."
                        -- Talur and Data
-- Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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