A magical ritual to pay my rent

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. K. Jones
    February 2, 2015 @ 8:40 am

    I was dreading a reading of Booby Trap because in my head it's not good, but I realize reading this that it's only retroactively not good because it has a direct sequel where we meet the actual real Leah Brahms that just kicks Geordi in the pants and makes him look like a fool.

    It's hard then to think of one without the other. Yeah, apart from the sad realization that the ramifications of them being able to literally create photonic life are never really taken to a sci-fi, narrative or just plain philosophical conclusion, this episode is lovely. It could just as easily be a story set on an old galleon or viking longboat. The asteroid field could just as easily be the Hebrides or the islands of the Mediterranean.

    Everything about the actor's reactions to the discovery of the Promelian battlecruiser sells the world-building, but it's not painstakingly gratuitously mapped out world-building. It's the Romance of history we see in action, blinding us to the dangers of the present. And that's just the entirety of the B-Cast!

    There's so much to like. Wesley doesn't suck outright. Picard and Worf as historians, even coming at it from different angles of interest, are like little kids seeing their first museum – their friendship is blooming a bit now. Riker and O'Brien get a bit of back-and-forth in, continuing that strong trend from Season 2. The fact it's an ancient ship gives a sense of the scale of the cosmos and takes us out of politicking and into our place in the scheme of greater forces.

    And then there's Geordi and Enterprise, pulling the whole "Doctor and his TARDIS" routine. Yes, it's proper fairy stories here.

    If I had one criticism it might be a lack of a female point-of-view in this episode. This one feels like it's about the boys, and their toys (and a little bit of objectification – in one case with a literal object), and what we see of the women is them reacting to that, whether it be novel or disconcerting or a gentle nudge or whatever else. But those are very poignant emotions and experiences to highlight. There's not a single character in this episode's main narrative that I can't identify with. We've all got our hobbies, our passions and our imaginations and our escapism to retreat into when we strike out with the opposite sex.


  2. Adam Riggio
    February 3, 2015 @ 4:14 am

    It anticipates what we'll probably end up discussing in the episode where we meet the real Dr. Brahms, but I think about that story as Geordi himself misunderstanding what precisely happened to him in the holodeck. What's actually happening to Geordi in Booby Trap is that he and the starship Enterprise are literally falling in love. It's the old Star Trek stereotype of the Chief Engineer who only has eyes for his ship taken to a context where the ship itself can create an avatar that appears human.

    Geordi's problem is that most people in the world of the Federation don't actually understand the mystical nature of the holodeck and the power of holographic life forms. This is one of the most interesting elements of Voyager's take on Star Trek. So he's mistaken the Enterprise's avatar, where the ship expresses itself through the image of Leah Brahms, for Brahms herself. This state of mind is creepy and unsettling, and the real Brahms calls him out on it.

    TNG scripts, especially in this early phase of Star Trek's television renaissance, made the holodeck a space that created photonic life forms, where the intelligence and personality of the ship expressed itself. But the characters of Star Trek themselves didn't understand this at all.


  3. Froborr
    February 3, 2015 @ 8:33 am

    "You don't really know what Geordi and Leah are talking about, but you don't need to because you can pick up on the severity of the situation by paying attention to the urgency in the way they act and speak"

    Yet another way in which The West Wing and TNG are basically the same show.

    Have I mentioned my… well, for lack of a better term, headcanon I guess… that the holodeck is based as much on the Genesis Device as it is on holography, creating temporary matter in a sustaining matrix for the nearby objects and using holography for more distant things, and that it was created as a result of Carol Marcus dedicating her life to finding a way to turn her son's "mistake" (his use of protomatter created an unstable Genesis usable only as a weapon) into something positive that would bring joy?


  4. Jacob Nanfito
    February 3, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

    This episode has a great atmosphere of the wonder and mystery about it, especially in the first half. I love the shot of Data and Wesley playing their game in ten-forward against the backdrop of the asteroid field. It's really beautiful.

    The ship-in-the-bottle element of the story as really appealed to me, as someone who was drawn to the show at a young age, in large part because of the amazing ships and imagining adventuring aboard them, much as Picard described. I am definitely one of those who plays with ships in bottles. 🙂

    In fact, as I watched this today, my son got really excited about the alien ship, and asked to play with my Playmates Enterprise D. He also brought out my Star Trek Micro Machines ships to examine, admire, and adventure with. It was really funny to hear Picard talk about the joy of playing with ships while my son was actively doing it — just as I did when I was a kid. That surface "this is SO cool!" element of Star Trek's ships is a big part of its enduring appeal, IMO.

    Maybe when he's older, my son will enjoy pouring over the Okuda books with the ships' design specs and layout — I spent hours doing that as a lonely, awkward young nerd. I can relate to Geordi's pain.

    Lastly, the scene where Picard walks in on Geordi in the holodeck is hilarious — the look on Picard's face is most excellent. Stewart really sells it.


  5. Josh Marsfelder
    February 3, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

    Well, they even say in "Encounter at Farpoint" that the Holodeck works not unlike the transporter, temporarily transmuting energy patterns into matter. Sounds reasonable to me!


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    February 3, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

    This story makes me so happy. I have similar memories of the appeal of the starship designs and the different starship toys and it heartens me to hear real-life next generations are still able to experience the same thing.


  7. Froborr
    February 3, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

    We didn't have a lot of money when I was a kid, and toy spaceships tended to be REALLY expensive. Most of my toy spaceships were variously sized soda bottles, carefully washed out and preserved from parental attempts to toss them in the recycling bin.

    The only ACTUAL toy spaceships I had were those Micro Machines, and they were MUCH beloved. It's really quite lovely to imagine the, well, next generation playing with them too.


  8. Dustin
    February 3, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

    I'd like this episode a lot less if the real Dr. Brahms hadn't shown up and reprimanded Geordi on his incredibly creepy creation of a romantically pliant fake Brahms. I'd see this episode as one more example of the embarrassing trope in which the lonely sexless nerd would rather create his perfect fantasy of a woman than deal with the emotional complexity of an actual human being with interests and desire that may diverge from his own. Geordi was a creep in this episode, and I'm happy the show callled him on it. But aside from that cringe-worthy "When you're touching the Enterprise, you're touching me" bit, I really like this episode, and I share everyone's joy at how the episode conveys these characters' wonder at the universe they live in, and its sense of a history deeper than just the story of the Federation. It's one of the first episodes I remember.

    Speaking of toys, Josh, when will you get to talking about the Playmates line? I'll have a lot to say when that comes up.


  9. Jacob Nanfito
    February 5, 2015 @ 11:35 am

    Well, it helps that the toys are really beautiful. I feel like we're blessed as Star Trek fans to have such cools toys out there. You really get the sense that they were made with love for the show. Next to CO's Doctor Who stuff, the Playmates line has to be the best line of action figures ever produced.

    And the Micro Machines — they're wonderfully detailed and just really cool. You can't help but have your imagination captured by them.

    For anyone out there interested in checking out this stuff out, or maybe re-collecting them, I have a pretty big collection of Mego, Galoob, and Playmates ships and figures, all of which I've collected only in the last 5 years or so (my mom threw out all my childhood stuff). I find them on ebay, at thrift and antique, and at most comics and collectable toy shops. At least in the US, they are plentiful and, as far as vintage action figures go, relatively inexpensive.

    Plus, they're nice enough to go up on shelves, but hardy enough for my 3 year old and 7 year old to play with. You can't say that about many genre toy lines.

    Ok, there's my unpaid endorsement. 🙂 Thanks for the responses to my comment.


  10. Josh Marsfelder
    February 5, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

    Definitely want to second everything above: I'll talk about the Playmates line myself when we get to it as part of the show's chronology (look for the TNG toys somewhere around the fifth season and the DS9 ones a year later), but for now I just want to heartily endorse everything Jacob has been saying.

    I still collect the Playmates stuff too: They've really got to be the greatest line of action figures ever because they are so detailed, so imaginative and you can still find most of them for under $10 pretty much anywhere you look. That hits just about everything a toy needs to hit to be a success in my book.


  11. Daru
    February 8, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

    "mortal heroes joining with gods, demigods and spirits of place, particularly in the Gaelic tradition"

    This is one of my favourite episodes, in fact part of a string of stories that I think really kindled my fascination with animism, leading then to mythology and storytelling. For the act of having the show create an avatar for the ship with whom we can dialogue and share, new layers of mythology are added to the whole show. I have always found myself deeply inspired by the stories that implied the living magic t the heart of the ship.

    In many ways the holodeck reminds me of the ancient Faerie mounds inhabited by the Sidhe, the Faerie Queen and all her denizens, as time works differently there, the place acts as a doorway to new consciousness and Otherworlds exist.


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