Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S03E14 – A Matter of Perspective

In the fourteenth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, I like I like the idea behind this episode a lot more than the execution of it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For talk of rape.

There are aspects to “A Matter of Perspective” that I can appreciate. Much like Rashomon, this episode aims to build a mystery while commenting on the ways in which we all perceive events differently. And while Rashomon relies much more heavily on the ambiguous nature of human observation, “A Matter of Perspective” gives us a concrete “answer” to the mystery at hand. It does so with one exception, and its in that exception that the story totally loses me.

This episode has a promising start because it starts off with such a bang. (I COULDN’T RESIST IT, YOU CAN’T BLAME ME.) Riker is annoyed by his latest mission, he’s grumpy over coms, he comes back to the Enterprise, and HOLY SHIT, WHY IS THE SPACE STATION HE WAS ON EXPLODING, WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? Thus, we’re given a murder mystery where Riker is the prime suspect. Not exactly new ground for Star Trek as a whole, but the writers brilliantly use the Holodeck technology to give the viewers a new twist on the story trope. We get to watch each person’s testimony unfold live within a Holodeck chamber. It’s a surreal thing to experience, especially when Riker and Manua are watching themselves in the past. But goddamn it, it works! So well!

Thus, “A Matter of Perspective” takes us through the bizarre murder that Riker is blamed for. Throughout this, one detail hangs over Riker’s head: there was an energy beam that came from Riker’s position and caused the explosion that killed Apgar. So, as we watch Riker’s version of events, we’re unsettled by what unfolds. Apgar’s wife, Manua, comes on to Riker. Which… okay. It’s possible. I admit that. It’s not a scenario that’s so uncommon that it makes no sense. But this show has spent two and a half seasons building up Riker as a ladies’ man, the kind of person who will romance anyone he finds attractive, and who often gets exactly what he wants. For me, Riker’s testimony showed me that he doesn’t consider himself that sort of person at all. That’s not to suggest that his version of events didn’t happen at all, but the guy is extremely flirtatious. Now I’m asked to accept that he’s not at all?

But let’s say that Riker knew that Manua was married, knew that any sort of flirting or sexual activity with her was a terrible idea, and he acted accordingly. The problem presented to us by this story is that it doesn’t explain how the research station exploded. It made sense to me why Riker didn’t feel the need to explain to Picard why his mission had been so frustrating because in his view, none of the day’s events had contributed to the explosion. It’s only with Manua’s arrival that we begin to see how Krag is so certain that Riker was behind this.

Now, it’s virtually impossible at this point for The Next Generation to do anything with a main character that’s risky or long-lasting, and I’ve accepted that. This is an episodic show, and it looks like it will always be that way. So I did not go into this mystery expecting there to be some twist reveal that Riker was actually responsible for the murder. My interest was purely in seeing how this would be resolved, and I wanted to know how Manua’s testimony would complicate that. Unfortunately, her complications ultimately don’t matter, and that’s unbearably frustrating to me. Look, just because I think Riker is written as a womanizer doesn’t mean that I instantly think he’s guilty here, but once the show evoked rape and immediately dismissed it, I was kinda done. If this was meant to be a he-said, she-said mystery, then don’t bring up rape, because holy shit, this turns into a mess.

Think about it. We eventually learn how Apgar was responsible for his own demise by sheer coincidence. But in the midst of the proceedings, Manua claims that Riker sexually assaulted her, or at least he attempted to. This is a various serious claim, one that deserves attention. But what happens instead? Multiple characters claim that Riker is not capable of rape, which is not how the crime works, but WHATEVER. The show is quick to have everyone act horrified that anyone could say such a thing about Riker, and then, the conclusion pushes Manua’s claim under the rug, never to be spoken of again by any party. Why doesn’t it matter anymore? Are we supposed to believe that Manua made up everything? What kind of fucked up message does that send?

It’s not a good story, either. The end of “A Matter of Perspective” doesn’t touch on one bit of truth between Riker’s story and Manua’s. Tayna’s testimony provides the most likely answer, but what of Riker’s interactions with Manua? Were they consensual? Did they happen at all? It seems so strange to me that we’re given a definitive answer for everything else, but not this, you know?

Not my favorite choice, y’all. A decent episode otherwise, I admit, but this part of it spoiled most of it for me.

The video for “A Matter of Perspective” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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