Monday, July 31, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 138 (Ship in a Bottle)

Way back in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Geordi La Forge and Data decided to try out a Sherlock Holmes story on the Holodeck.  The problem was that Data is an android.  With his perfect memory, he was able to solve all of the problems instantly.  Having read all of the source material, there was no ending that he hadn’t come across already.  Due to a poor choice of words, they ended up with a sentient Moriarty taking the Enterprise hostage.  The issue was resolved with the holographic Moriarty being put in protected memory.

Ship in a Bottle has Data and La Forge playing Holmes and Watson again only to find that there are some discrepancies.  A character who should be left-handed catches something with his right hand.  It’s nothing major, but they have Reginald Barclay look into it.  He discovers Moriarty, who claims to have been aware of the passage of four years, even if nominally.  He demands to speak to Captain Picard, who had promised to find a way for Moriarty to leave the holodeck.

Picard assures Moriarty that the ship did everything they could before passing it off to Starfleet, who is still working on the problem.  Moriarty has no way of verifying it.  For all he knows, Picard is saying this to placate him.  Either way, Moriarty is still confined to the holodeck…until he isn’t.  He seemingly wills his way into the corridor, which should be impossible.  Moriarty is just a projection of light and force fields.  He has no actual mass that can exist off the holodeck.

So, how did he do it?  As far as anyone can tell, sheer willpower.  He scans as human.  Oh, and he wants his girlfriend, Countess Regina Bartholomew, to be afforded the same opportunities.  She is a holographic character as Moriarty was before.  Picard cautions against it, as it would be of questionable ethics and morality to deliberately create a second sentient hologram, to say nothing of getting her off the holodeck.  No one can be certain that Moriarty is stable.

Finally, Data realizes what happened.  Moriarty created a nested reality.  He put the holodeck in a holographic Enterprise onboard the real Enterprise.  Picard, Barclay and Data are the real deal, as is the still-holographic Moriarty.  Everything else is a ruse designed to get Picard’s command codes.  This affords Moriarty some leverage in dealing with the real Commander Riker on the real bridge, who has to get the ship away from some colliding gas giants.

Moriarty is eventually turns Moriarty’s trick back on him and creates another level.  Picard has Moriarty beamed to this second fictional ship, where a fictional Riker gives Moriarty and Bartholomew a fake shuttle.  Moriarty then releases control of the real ship at the last moment, allowing everyone to get to safety.

It’s an entertaining episode, even if it does follow the same basic plot as Elementary, Dear Data.  (Moriarty gains control of the ship through trickery only to release it at the last moment.)  Here, a more permanent solution is found, where Moriarty and Bartholomew are on an independent device living out there existence in a virtual world.

Picard even muses that they might be part of some simulation on someone’s desk.  The first time I watched the episode, I missed the joke in that this is exactly what’s going on.  However, Barclay does tell the computer to end program just to make sure.  It has been noted that the computer should have responded, yet didn’t.  Even if it did, how would Barclay or anyone else really know?  The episode aired around the time that Deep Space Nine aired.  You could have had some cruel throwaway line at the start of the pilot episode about the Enterprise being lost a few weeks prior.

It is interesting to note that Star Trek: Voyager had a holographic doctor with a similar predicament.  The Doctor was confined to sickbay until he got his own portable emitter.  Of course, by the time it could have been any use to Moriarty, it would have meant admitting to Moriarty that they had tricked him.

Even if they did do this, there’s the issue of releasing Moriarty on an unsuspecting universe.  He claims that he can go beyond what he was written to do, but he’s twice taken hostage the flagship of the Federation, which is no small feat.  Given that they have Moriarty quarantined and that Moriarty has effectively gotten what he wants, it was probably best to leave well enough alone.

The character was never mentioned again in any of the episodes, even though Deep Space Nine had a recurring holographic character and Voyager had a regular holographic character, both aware of what they were.  It would have been interesting to have at least a mention.  I’d also like to know what happened to Moriarty and Bartholomew .  It’s possible that they lived their lives without ever realizing the deception or that they figured it out within minutes.  We may never know.

IMDb page

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