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A Matter of Perspective
A murder mystery that doesn't have a murder and isn't much of a mystery
We open on a nude, as Picard gets a dressing down from Data for the poor quality of his painting skills. Then the science station Riker is visiting blows up as he is beamed aboard the Enterprise. That’s the exciting teaser... it’s all downhill from here, I’m afraid. The Tanugans accuse Riker of murdering eminent grouch Doctor Apgar, and so we get a whole bunch of holodeck reconstructions from different perspectives that try to make it seem dramatically plausible that Riker is going to be convicted. Eventually, when everyone’s patience has worn thin, Picard puts on his best Poirot impression and solves the mystery. Turns out Doctor Apgar was actually trying to kill Riker, but blew himself up instead. I imagine from a certain perspective that is a satisfactory conclusion to all the scenery-chewing we had to endure to get through this story.
Although this screenplay is credited to Ed Zuckerman, according to the scuttlebutt from behind the scenes, the entire writing team threw in to rework this one prior to filming. Disappointingly, all this work fails to rescue this story from being decidedly humdrum.
Behind the scenes, much of the discussions about the story focussed on the question of how to threaten the ship without breaking the rule that holodecks, by themselves, cannot create dangerous objects. This seems a quite surprising problem to face, given that holodecks make life-threatening objects all the time - have we forgotten our poor historian in “The Big Goodbye”…? However, UCLA graduate student David Krieger was brought in as a consultant to help resolve this frankly unimportant conundrum. He noted of his work on this episode:
At the whiteboard in Michael Piller’s office, I explained my idea of making the holodeck construct act merely as a reflector/concentrator for an outside radiation source. The reconstruction of the dead scientist’s laboratory was not itself inherently ‘dangerous’ (as per the series bible), but in combination with an external radiation source, its geometry made it as effective as the real concentrator in creating the destructive phenomenon the scientist had been studying.
It is in honour of this contribution that the radiation MacGuffin in this show came to be dubbed ‘Krieger waves’.
This is a screenplay that wants to be Akira Kurasawa’s Rashomon but doesn't have anywhere near the chops to pull it off. Head writer Michael Piller was really happy with the screenplay, but felt that the casting was what let it down, while also admitting it was a technical nightmare for the director. Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr are less positive, and considered it the worst episode in season three, with Behr calling it “a disaster” and the least favourite episode he ever worked on.
So if Michael Piller accuses the guest stars of failing to deliver on the premise of the story, who is guilty of hamming it up on the holodeck…? Let’s start with Craig Richard Nelson as Krag, the Tanugan chief investigator.
His job is basically to make us believe Riker is actually in danger of being convicted of murder, and although he sells his role, we weren’t ever really going to buy into this premise, so it’s not likely that the failure of the episode would fall upon his shoulders. My wife was especially impressed with his hair, though. I do note that they got Nelson back for a particular good Voyager episode (“Living Witness”), also as an investigator.
Mark Margolis plays Doctor Apgar, who is the centre of the story, and it’s a particularly flat and uninteresting performance.
However, he does get to biff Riker in his holo-sequence, so there’s that.
I do think recasting Apgar would have made a difference, but I doubt this would be enough by itself to rescue the episode. Margolis gives a great performance as the mathematics mentor Sol Robeson in Darren Aronofsky’s debut movie, Pi, so he clearly can act when he needs to.
How about Gina Hecht as Doctor Apgar’s wife, Manua?
This is who Michael Piller seems to blame, remarking that if Lana Turner was cast into this role, the audience would have completely understood the whole thing - i.e. that Manua is supposed to be a femme fatale in the tradition of film noir. Hecht doesn’t sizzle in this role at all, and looking at her career she has generally worked better in comedy than in drama - her major role is as one of the owners of the deli in the popular Happy Days spin-off Mork and Mindy.
Lastly, what about Juli Donald as Tayna?
She crops up in DS9 and Babylon 5 in small roles too, and ‘small role’ definitely applies here: her part is far too small to make any difference to this episode, although her hair is absolutely awesome.
Honestly, none of these guest stars do a brilliant job, and I must conclude my investigation by confirming that this screenplay just isn’t very good. However, as a consolation prize, it at least has something solid for Colm Meaney’s Miles O’Brien to do in the teaser as he just barely manages to rescue Riker with transporter trickery.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Welcome back the studio miniature that represented Regula I in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and that we last saw in season two’s “The Measure of a Man”, here seen in orbit of a surprisingly knobbly planet. What’s especially curious about this planetary matte is that it is never seen again. I wonder why?
But it's a pretty unremarkable show for special effects, I'm afraid, but at least it features two big explosions - one at the start...
...and one at the end.
Boom! Explosive bookends for a damp squib of a show.
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