Or The One Where Picard Goes On Vacation, Fights Crime, Blows Stuff Up
I can think of no greater praise for the cast of TNG than to acknowledge their ability to maintain their dignity regardless of what fresh horror the costume designer forces on them. The uniforms aren't so bad, but the leisure wear is a disaster, a hideous explosion of flowing wraps, gauze, and various unpleasantries in spandex. There's an outfit Jean-Luc Picard wears during the mid-section of "Captain's Holiday" that probably would've killed a lesser man: a kind of loose-fitting jacket, combined with some deeply unsettling shorts. He is required to be forceful while wearing this, to express scorn, irritation, indeterminate lust, and worse, he is, in some choice moments, lounging. I'm not one to be upset by the male or female form in its natural state, but nothing about the presentation here is natural. Watching this scene, I find myself identifying with the sons who covered Noah in his drunkenness. That I remember anything else from the episode is, quite frankly, astonishing.
Which isn't to say "Holiday" is astonishing—it's not. It's not bad, either. It's… a lark? Yes, that sounds about right. The episode gives Picard a rare solo adventure while he's vacationing on Risa, a getaway planet with the usual open approach to sexuality the Federation requires in their recreational zones (I'm starting to wonder if, "Can you tap that?" is the main determinant as to which planets get deemed "resort spots."). The tone is light throughout, and the plot is a breezy homage to those detective novels that Picard so favors. No murder to solve, but there is a femme fatale, a thuggish villain, and some interested parties who may not be entirely what they seem. It's the sort of ep I would've hated growing up, because there's no real teeth to it. Even the time travel element is more for flavor than any real depth. Watching the episode now, I can enjoy it as a showcase for Patrick Stewart, and I can appreciate that the femme fatale he squares off against is actually somewhat age appropriate. I can also find the storyline somewhat ridiculous, because hey, apparently that part of my brain never shuts off.
Of course, "Holiday" doesn't start on Risa. It should've, because nothing that happens in the first ten minutes aboard the Enterprise really has much bearing on anything. It's all a variation on a very simple joke: Picard is stressed, but he doesn't like to take vacations. That's the punchline to every set-up, as various crew members, aware of his tension levels, do their best to cajole, encourage, trick, and force him into leaving the ship for a week of shore leave. As is often the case with humor on the show, it's a little too sitcom-ish for my tastes, although there are moments of cleverness. Beverly's "I have a patient who needs to relax" speech is made less painful by the fact that neither she nor Picard make any pretense that Picard doesn't immediately know who she's talking about, and Troi's claim that her mother will be visiting the ship soon is funny enough. Picard eventually yields and packs a bag, lingering just long enough to get a gift request from Riker, and to hear his reading choices criticized. (Screw Riker, I think Ulysses would make for excellent beach reading.)
Then it's off to Risa, where the real fun begins. There are factions here. We've got Vash (Jennifer Hetrick, who's actually 18 years younger than Stewart, but at least she looks like a grown woman), the temptress, who's on the run from Sovak (Max Grodenchik), a Ferengi in a regrettable shirt who believes Vash has something that belongs to him. Soon enough, Sovak comes to believe that Vash and Picard are working together. Vash is not what one would call discouraging of this assumption. And on the sidelines, we have two aliens called Vorgons who claim to be from the 27th century. They've traveled into the past in search of the Tox Uthat, a fabled doohickey of amazing power (it can stop a star, but don't get too worried because that never really becomes relevant) which another Vorgon thief stole from their present and ditched somewhen in the 24th century. According to their history, Picard supposedly discovers the Uthat while on Risa, and these Vorgons totally want to be there when it happens.
If you've already guessed that Vash and Sovak are on the hunt for the Uthat, give yourself a cookie. If you've further guessed that the Uthat is really nothing more than a MacGuffin with sci-fi decals pasted on, well, two cookies wouldn't hurt. Yes, it's an immensely powerful weapon, and that makes it valuable, which gives a certain edge to the proceedings, but it's a textbook plot driver. Everything about this episode is archetypal, from Vash, who rides the expected line between "traitorous" and "vulnerable," just charming enough to ensnare Picard in her escapades but not so charming as to pull the wool completely over his eyes, to Sovak, who's just smart enough to be annoying, but not so smart as to be really that dangerous. TNG is almost entirely made up of standalone episodes, connected by the universe the characters inhabit and the occasional references to past events, but "Holiday" seems more standalone than most. I doubt anyone was trying for a spin-off here (Vash is enjoyable, but I can't imagine watching her as a series lead), but that's almost what this plays like, a brief dip into a world that runs parallel to the one where we spend most of the series. There are no consequences here, but you know that from the start, even with those crazy time travelling aliens. This is a diversion, and as such, it's agreeable.
As to those aliens… well, okay, me being me I'm going to have to bring this up, but they time travel, and they know in their histories that Picard finds the Uthat, and we learn later on that they also knew he would destroy the Uthat rather than hand it over to anyone, so why aren't they more aggressive? Vash gives us some overly convenient exposition near the end—something about a pair of male and female aliens bothering her last employer, who'd devoted his life to finding the Uthat—that clearly implies these two are after the Uthat for nefarious reasons. They aren't happy when Picard destroys it. So why not just, I dunno, shoot him with some future beams or something and grab it? One of the problems with time travel as a story device is that writers rarely think through the consequences. If these two Vorgons really can travel through time, and if they know exactly when and where what they want is, there is no reason they can't have it, and no real reason that Picard should've been able to blow the Uthat up as easily as he does.
This is acknowledged in Picard and Vash's last scene; she points out that, as the Vorgons can come back to this particular point in their past whenever they wish, she and Picard may be reliving their time together over and over again throughout eternity. It's a sweet sentiment, but not one that bears much consideration. Because if the Vorgons keep returning, well, sooner or later, they're going to get tired of the run around. Once they realize Vash has the Uthat all along, there's nothing to stop them from getting it directly from her, and maybe even bumping off any vacationing Starfleet personnel that might interfere. That's the problem with time travel, you see. Things are never as simple as you want them to be.
That's about all there is to this one. The Ferengi are as annoying as always, and Sovak's crush on Vash—he's turned on by her trickery—is just weird. There are some good gags, and it's nice to see Picard get a little more play than the standard allotment of meaningful looks with Beverly. In the end, Picard gets his relaxation by having a sort of holodeck adventure in the real world, so at least we can rest assured knowing he won't take an ax upside Wesley's head any time soon. Kind of a shame, come to think of it. (I kid, I kid. Wesley's okay. I'd be satisfied with a minor flogging.)
- Riker: "Have I mentioned how imaginative the Risian women are, sir?" Troi: "Too often, Commander."
- Oh, Riker trying to set Picard up for some loving? Perfectly in character, and also, total jerkwad move. I can't imagine anything less relaxing than inadvertently declaring myself a sexual dynamo to a bunch of strangers. (I prefer to keep my true powers a secret, thankyouverymuch.)
- "All I require is to sit in the sun and read my book, alone." Why do people always have such a hard time believing this?
Or The One Where The Mayor Of Sunnydale Shows His Softer Side
Being around people isn't the easiest experience in the world. Even close friends can be a drag sometimes, not because of anything intentional, but because when you're around others, you have to maintain a certain poise. The lucky ones learn this when they're young, but the rest of us learn it eventually. We have to; you can't function in the world without some kind of persona to present outwards. Without that, it's just raw nerves and impulse and need, and you have to hide that, somehow. You have to have a place you can retreat to when necessary, a place where no one gets in, a place where you're safe to think the worst and want the worst and feel selfish and stupid and mean. It's easy, then, to understand why Tam Elbrun is so on edge. He can see into everyone's secret places without any effort at all, and I imagine that must get lonely fast. All that looking out—and no one's looking in.
I have mixed feelings about "Tin Man," sad to say. The idea is solid, but it's underdeveloped, and too much of the episode feels like a pointlessly long journey to arrive at a conclusion that was obvious from the start. All the smart ideas here are played out by the midpoint, and while that doesn't make them any less smart, it does make the episode's climax, which should be a deeply moving connection between two lost souls, oddly rote. As well, the Tin Man ship never gets enough of a personality. Tam is clearly defined, but the object of his obsession, in the end, comes off too much like the answer to all his prayers. That's not effective storytelling. Not every wish has to be made on a monkey's paw, but it would be nice if the happy ending here didn't feel quite so convenient.
The set-up is another one of Starfleet's ultra-secret missions. The Enterprise is the specialest ship in the fleet, so of course they get stuck with the really tricky high-priority stuff. In this case, it's escorting a psychic expert in alien relations, Tam, to meet with what's been dubbed "Tin Man," a living ship of unknown origin which is currently orbiting around a soon-to-nova star. This star is in a far reach of space which has yet to be officially mapped, and, unfortunately, the Romulans consider it a part of their dominion, despite not having any legitimate claim. Legitimacy for Romulans seems to be established mostly through blowing up anyone who objects (in their defense, they're far from the first to employ this tactic), so that's going to be a problem. Despite all the Federation's best efforts at secrecy, the Enterprise gets a tail immediately after beaming Tam aboard. Five bucks says it's not a surprise party.
All of this would be bad enough, but Tam himself is what can be kindly called "difficult." Harry Groener is a character actor who's done a fair share of television and movie work, but I'll always remember him as the Mayor in the third season of Buffy. (Or, in my lighter moments, as "that goofy Danny Elfman-looking dude.") He was amazing on Buffy, funny, ridiculous, and menacing all at once, but the Mayor was a confident super-villain, and Tam isn't either of those things. I'm not sure what to make of his performance, honestly. It's off-putting, but that's at least partly by design. Tam isn't supposed to be likable, and he goes out of his way to tell everyone that he isn't likable, which is never an easy angle to play as an actor. It feels overly self-conscious, and while it's possible to pull off, I'm not convinced it works here. Groener does his best, and during his conversations with Data, you can see the decent person buried under all that self-loathing. It's just too bad the rest of his performance is so shallow and showy. All the difficult characters the Enterprise has had to deal with over the years have been showy; wouldn't it have made sense to have this one, this man who was hearing other people's thoughts before he even knew the difference between "me" and "Them," be a little more subdued?
At least he gets a compelling backstory. In addition to Troi's explanation of how they met, we get some references to the "Ghorusda incident," which sets Riker against Tam almost from the start. We're never given a complete story, but from the pieces of information we do get (most of which come from Tam himself), he was serving as a bridge between a Federation outpost and an alien race called the Ghorusda. When problems arose, Tam had a hard time remembering which side he was supposed to be on. That makes sense. Someone with his condition would have a hard time forming boundaries between himself and others, and since he's bombarded by every thought and feeling around him, well, good vibrations must be the order of the day. Really, the more I think about it, the more amazing it is that Tam even exists as a conscious entity. There's a short story by Philip K. Dick called "The Golden Man"—they made it into a Nicolas Cage movie, Next, but don't hold that against it. The idea is, (and I'm totally going to spoil the story here, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph) there's a mutant who can see all possible consequences of any action he takes. Which means he can always pick the best option, ensuring his long-term survival and success. The cool part is, the Golden Man has no discernible consciousness. Because he can foresee all outcomes, there's no need for a intelligence, just the instinct to know which decision benefits him most. Tam's abilities aren't exactly the same—he can't see the future, obviously—but given the desire to please, and the talent for knowing what everyone wants… well, I'm not sure, but I think the results would be more complicated (and less hopeful) than what we see here.
Again, though, I'm falling into the trap of criticizing what I think "Tin Man" should have been, instead of commenting on what it is: the story of two lonely creatures finding mutual salvation in each other. That's a lovely idea, and there are times when the episode captures that sense of wonder and belonging. It helps that Tam becomes closest friends with Data, who is the only person on the Enterprise who seems to understand him. Troi claims she does, but as Tam and Tin Man come closer together, Troi is insistent that they be kept separate for fear that Tam might lose himself in the alien entirely. Data's the only one who trusts Tam's judgment, and what's interesting here is the subtle but distinct impression you get by the end that Troi wasn't entirely wrong; that Tam may indeed have lost himself; but that in losing himself, he finds the only happiness possible to him. There's an ambiguity in that, even if Tin Man itself (or Gomtuu, as it prefers to be called) is disappointingly generic. The ship looks like a giant glowing pine cone, the insides are all brown organic blah, and there's no sense of the ship's personality, if it even has one. So it's nice, then, that at the end, as satisfied with his place as Tam is, it's still possible for us to feel a little uneasy about the whole process.
While all this is going on, we do get some back-and-forth with the Romulans, and the realization that, if they can't communicate with the living ship, the Romulans won't hesitate to destroy it. So that gives us some sense of stakes, at least until Tam uses his mental mojo to warn Gomtuu, and Gomtuu sends out a wave of energy that destroys the Romulans and cripples the Enterprise. Which should give us a different sort of stakes, come to think, and it almost does. Picard is worried that any interference with Tin Man could further damage the Enterprise, and that Tam, who's the only person on board able to communicate with the ship, isn't guaranteed to have the crew's best interests at heart. But even this conflict is swiftly resolved, and once Tam enters Gomtuu, that's basically it. The ship has the power to do just about anything, and it proceeds to throw the Enterprise and the remaining Romulan vessel a few billion kilometers away, before beaming Data back to the bridge and going about its merry way. (You could say there's some ambiguity as to whether or not Tam and Tin Man survive the star going super nova, but since Data returns to the bridge after the sun goes boom, I don't think it's that ambiguous.)
Sometimes I'll watch a Trek episode and have a completely unshakable opinion; whatever anyone else thinks, I know what I think, and I don't have any intention of backing down. That doesn't happen very often, though. "Tin Man" is one of the other kind. I keep wondering if I should like it more than I do, if there's some extra piece I'm missing, or if my ideas of how to make the story better get in the way of appreciating what's on the screen. I certainly don't think this is a bad episode. It just feels like it could've been, and should've been, more.
- Not a good episode for Troi. In addition to misreading Tam's needs, she tells him his opinion of Data as "restful" is "unique." Apart from some anti-android resentment, I can't imagine anyone on the ship thinking of Data as anything but restful.
- Still, the final scene between her and Data is very nice. "When Tin Man returned me to the Enterprise, I realized, this is where I belong." (Although, not to be a dick or anything, but has Data ever expressed doubt about this?)
- We'll be out next week, but be back 10/21, when we meet Barclay for the first time in "Hollow Pursuits," and get some Data face time with "The Most Toys."