Pounded in the butt by dialectical materialism.

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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. Ross
    December 8, 2014 @ 2:25 am

    Oh and by the way, you can make whatever you want out of Ira Graves being written with Patrick McGoohan in mind.

    I'm guessing "Very subtle joke at the end about him being changed from a (free) man to a series of zeroes and ones."

    Unnatural Selection is mostly noteworthy only in retrospect as "That one time that, inexplicably, no one had any qualms about human genetic engineering"


  2. Adam Riggio
    December 8, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    Your comments about The Measure of a Man reveal some of what I think is incredibly important to understanding the flaws of TNG Season Two, taken as a whole. The Measure of a Man and The Schizoid Man ostensibly deal with the same basic concepts: whether an artificial form of life (implying any non-human forms of life) can develop a way of being that compels humans to accord it the same respect as we intuitively hold other humans deserve. The Schizoid Man did it very clumsily and stupidly; The Measure of a Man was a nuanced drama of ideas, and one of the best stories of TNG as far as I'm concerned.

    (The Measure of a Man also provides an answer to your question in last week's post about Guinan rendering Troi's shipboard role redundant. Troi is an emotional and psychological advisor; Guinan is the Enterprise's philosophical advisor.)

    But The Measure of a Man was an entirely unplanned pitch, improvised into a troubled production. The production was so troubled because for almost the entire year, a writers' strike crippled the creative capacities of the show. What TNG could potentially have become from its template in Season One crashed and burned in this chaos. Instead, the show was built anew from concepts that survived the tumult of Season Two and informed the renaissance period of Seasons Three and Four. The creative potential of the show was badly damaged by the material conditions of its production. I get the feeling that this analysis is probably coming anyway, but I wanted to shout about it right now.


  3. K. Jones
    December 8, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

    You know, I like both episodes. But I agree they're very run-of-the-mill in spite of their place in the context of production being important in the growth of a few characters via small character moments, and good actors. For instance, in BOTH of these episodes Diana Muldaur gets to record "Chief Medical Officer's Logs" instead of the usual Picard voiceover, and makes a strong case for being a supreme candidate as the leading role in a "Star Trek: Medical Frigate" spin-off.

    There's also great subversive moments – like Pulaski's "supreme confidence" in Doctor Selar, which feels like a small nod and counter-argument to her being a Bones McCoy knock-off, as if to say "skepticism about Data's personhood is not the same thing as abject anti-Vulcan bigotry encroaching into a professional rivalry." Of course, that episode also features the debut of the inimitable Susie Plakson, who instantly feels like she's been there all along as one of the crew. As notable as she is as Keylehr, she's more interesting as a stoic Vulcan dealing with a human whose chauvinistic tendencies are such politically incorrect throwbacks to 200 years earlier that he has to basically live in isolation. I'd be far more interested had a female Vulcan stuck around … and hell, if Worf had a romantic relationship with a female Vulcan … than the relationship he gets thrown into later. I'll not forget to mention that using W. Morgan Shepard is always memorable (I was delighted for instance when he turned up in Doctor Who the year before last.)

    So we have well-trodden ground, and by-the-numbers episodes. They are padding. But they are also steps in the road. Solidly performed, with good emphasis on much of the ensemble cast, well-built stock TNG. With actual funny humor (I can't believe for a second Marina Sirtis was faking it when she burst into laughter before running out of Data's quarters) and at least the very interesting premise of "A scientist with an ego comes to terms with his own mortality … in Data's body."

    And all through Graves' musing about the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz is some of the most blatantly obvious pointed proof and intimation that Data is already "human". The whole line about whining about wanting to be human only not noticing that he already was one. My skepticism about A.I. itself aside, there's no doubt in my mind that Data, the character, is human already.

    That's the thing about a lack of humanity … even humans wonder if they are or aren't. Data's facial expressions – his actual reactions to things – may only be learned behaviors that he imitates to blend more smoothly with actual humans, but then, aren't all of our responses learned behaviors as well? Don't many of us struggle with a perceived lack of emotions and wonder "how we should be feeling about something?" And isn't that itself a feeling?

    That's the dilemma I would have with ever finding Data to be a "favorite character". It's the illusion of a complex quandary when he's a quite simple concept to grasp. (Of course it's how other characters deal with it that makes his part of the ensemble a worthwhile concept.)

    The criticism of the transhumanist themes that you mentioned seemed really, really blatant to me as I watched these two episodes tonight. Not bad, not even heavy-handed, but nobody would have to dig very far to uncover the moral of the story, which explains how tropishly, predictably events played out. It's the kind of sci-fi that practically writes itself. But I'm pleased that we're just about to my favorite two episodes in the entire TNG series.


  4. Daru
    December 11, 2014 @ 10:58 pm

    "Meanwhile,“Unnatural Selection” being basically a plagiarized knock-off of “The Deadly Years”"

    Yeah I found these quite derivative episodes. Unnatural Selection did stick in my mind, but mainly as a reflection of The Deadly Years.

    Not much else to say except that I love O'Brien!


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