In the twelfth episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, this episode was wild as hell. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MADE MY BRAIN HURT.
You know, I like that this episode featured him but wasn’t about him. It’s a smart choice, not just because he’s entertaining, but because it allows us to see his progression as a character without necessarily calling attention to it. He occasionally speaks with a nervous air, but he’s also at a point in his life where he can now openly talk with senior staff without stumbling over his words. That’s progress, y’all, and whether or not that was intentional, it still worked for me.
I think it’s always challenging to use characters that were one-offs again, and doing sequel episodes can be a disastrous thing. “Elementary, Dear Data” was a ridiculous and enjoyable experience, but it was also incredibly clever. How could you possibly follow that up in a way that was at least as fascinating as the original?
I actually find “Ship in a Bottle” to be better than the original, and I’m prepared to defend that. Barclay is part of that, which is why I chose to open this review with him. There’s not just one thing going on here, and yet the episode feels like it’s got a strong focus throughout. That’s largely because Daniel Davis is just so compelling as an artificial creation struggling to claim the life he thinks he deserves. The show presents us with a character who was already an impossibility, and then we’re given AN EVEN BIGGER IMPOSSIBILITY: he can leave the Holodeck. For what it’s worth, I completely bought the trick created by Moriarty right up to the reveal, and I didn’t once suspect that something else was going on.
Why is that? Well, aside from generally being unprepared all of the time, I was so enamored with what Moriarty wanted, I never questioned the details. If this Holodeck character was truly sentient, then it made perfect sense to me that he’d want to leave the Holodeck, to experience life as all living beings get to do. So I sympathized with him, even when he took control of the Enterprise. Why shouldn’t he be allowed life out of the confines of a single room? Why must everything be artificial? Was it moral to keep him within a computer if he experienced every second of time passing? No, I don’t think so. Of course, that’s assuming everything Moriarty told the crew was truthful, and that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do. How did we know whether he was telling the truth or not?
Little did I know that this was THE LEAST THING I HAD TO WORRY ABOUT.
I’m not always the biggest fan of the whole, “None of it was real!” trope, often because it dilutes the story. The story becomes an experience and less of a long-lasting thing. However, that’s not the case here. When Data reveals that he’s deduced that he, Barclay, and Picard are still in Moriarty’s Holodeck, it broke my brain. I was so worried about whether or not Moriarty was genuine that I did not see the forest for the trees. The conundrum that these three characters face is one of the most mind-melting problems I’ve ever seen on this show, because HOW DO YOU TRICK A HOLODECK CREATION INTO BELIEVING THEY ARE ON THE HOLODECK? Once more, how do you do that to someone who just pulled the same con on you? These characters are stuck within a constructed reality, they are unable to communicate with the outside world, and they are expected to solve a massive scientific problem in a matter of five hours.
The kicker? Moriarty literally has nothing to lose. NOTHING. So what if the Enterprise explodes in the wake of the new star? Even if he’s sentient, he has no real history. Or family. Or a future! If the crew doesn’t discover a solution for him, he’ll spend his entire existence inside the Holodeck. So that makes his threat real. INCREDIBLY REAL. For me, that’s why this twist doesn’t feel superficial or useless. No, it defines the story and helps us to understand the lengths that Moriarty will go to get what he wants.
Ship in a Bottle
Let’s ignore how I missed the clue to this episode in the title. IT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER. I think that there’s a disturbing element to the solution to Moriarty’s hostage situation, but at the same time, I think it was the most considerate answer. In the end, Moriarty and the Countess Regina Bartholomew are confined â€“ once more â€“ to a single “room.” In this case, though, they’re none the wiser, and Moriarty will live out an entire life within that cube. He gets freedom, happiness, and companionship, and the Enterprise can continue on without ever having to worry about Moriarty’s escape. It’s a fascinating use of a trope that’s often used in predictable ways, and I commend the writers of “Ship in a Bottle” for making this such a fascinating and entertaining tale. Moriarty gets what he wants, but he won’t hurt anyone else in the process.
UNLESS THE WHOLE SHOW IS A SIMULATION. dun dun dun.
The video for “Ship in a Bottle” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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