In the twelfth episode of the second season of The Next Generation, Worf, Data, and Riker become trapped in a bizarre reality. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
This was an entertaining episode, but it’s one that, in hindsight, doesn’t hold that much weight for me. I value the initial experience of watching or reading something, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so thrilled that my videos are part of the Mark Does Stuff universe. I can’t deny that it was fun to watch “The Royale” because it’s an eerie, surreal nightmare, one that provides a meta-textual commentary on specific tropes, too.
So I don’t want to deny the charm of that. A good mystery is a good mystery, and there’s a value in that reality. But what does this episode say? What does it mean for these characters? Does it tell us anything about them that’s new? Insightful? Vital? If anything, the bulk of the humor here comes from pretty much one dynamic: Data doing human things. Which isn’t exactly new for the show, nor is it something in short supply this season. Data’s gotten more attention than practically everyone else, except maybe Picard. So what’s the main conflict here?
It’s one that’s not particularly emotional. By the end of “The Royale,” all we learn is that this was simply an episode about escaping. The trio down on the planet, trapped in that alien reality, merely has to figure out the operating rules in order to get out. Now that was fascinating, definitely! This is one of those things that The Next Generation is getting better at, you know? They’re able to give us these ambiguous, confusing stories that make us (ME, I MEAN ME) shout in bewilderment. This is one of the more clever ones, though, again, it’s not super original for Star Trek. It’s kind of similar to “A Piece of the Action,” I think. But I loved that all of the melodramatic performances were intentional, part of the puzzle given to us. So was the remains of the NASA shuttle! And then that dead body… JESUS. WHAT THE HELL.
The problem in the ultimate conclusion of the episode is that “The Royale” is so detached from absolutely everyone who participates in it. First of all, every character on screen in the Royale Hotel isn’t real, so there are no stakes. There is no meaning. It’s an entire reality created by an alien race out of guilt. Those aliens? We never see them. We learn nothing about them. They’re just a means to an end. An entertaining end, yes! But they’re not part of the worldbuilding here. It was a delight watching these characters act “in character” within the confines of the novel, but what about Colonel Richey? Richey is just a corpse, and all we know is that he wished for death for DECADES while trapped in the world of the Hotel Royale book. LIKE??? THIS IS NIGHTMARE FUEL, Y’ALL. Good lord!
I don’t want this to come off like I disliked “The Royale,” because I didn’t. But it feels a little hollow when you look back on it, and that’s probably also the case because The Next Generation has started getting so good in this season. I admit it’s been hard to do my thing here and pick this episode apart because so much of it doesn’t matter in the end, you know? That’s the only reason this review is so much shorter than the others. I don’t want to force it, and I feel like the best of my shit is my reaction to it.
The video for “The Royale” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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