Star Trek: TNG Season 5 “The Masterpiece Society” and “Conundrum”

Riker- "Hey now... whoa there!"

Riker- “Hey now… whoa there!”

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Masterpiece Society”

Plot

The Enterprise is trailing a galactic core piece [or somesuch] when they realize there is a heretofore unknown human colony in the path of destruction this object will plow. After making contact, they learn that the colony is actually a genetic experiment in which all the people have been selectively bred in order to fulfill specific roles. The colonists are thus quite resistant to the notion they need to move or relocate because they fear that it will overthrow the society that has been created there. The crew works to try to convince Aaron Conor–the colony’s leader–of the necessity of working together, and as they do work to save the colony, Conor and Troi forge a relationship. Hannah Bates, a scientist from the colony, is dispatched to help with figuring out how to save it on the Enterprise. After the danger is averted, Bates and others decide they want to leave the colony, and after some pushing on all sides, it is agreed they may leave, putting the colony in some uncertainty about its future.

Commentary

In writing, there’s a mantra repeated all over in almost every corner I’ve ever explored: “Show, don’t tell.” “The Masterpiece Society” commits the mistake of doing a bit too much “telling” and not enough “showing.” There’s a whole lot of back-and-forth over what is the right thing to do. Thus, we as viewers are treated to lengthy periods in which all that is happening is talking. I don’t mind this too much, but at some point I had to wonder if we were going to move the plot forward amidst all the debates over the right course of action.

That said, I really enjoyed this episode quite a bit. In fact, I think I’ll write about the ethical issues some more on my main site. The issues that were raised were continually interesting–issues of eugenics, genetic modification, and the like. Geordi’s discussion over his own ability to contribute to society was particularly moving. The ethical questions are all worth thinking about, and the episode continually raises new angles to approach them from.

The core plot is also entertaining, because we so often see the Enterprise swoop in and solve issues on planets without getting insight into how the process works. Here, we see tech teams moving around, crew members trying to solve related problems, and more. It’s an extended look into how things work in the universe, and that makes it solid viewing. I have to wonder, though, how it is that the Chief Engineer is somehow the one who is involved in all the science-y questions.

“The Masterpiece Society” was an intriguing episode. It just does a bit too much talking about the issues instead of showing them to us to be truly spectacular television. As someone interested in philosophy, it was a home run; as a viewer just wanting to enjoy some Trek, it was still solid but not as amazing as it could have been.

Grade: B+ “It brings up a bunch of interesting ethical issues, but it preaches about them a bit too much.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was a very interesting premise that raised some good issues, but lacked the ‘wow’ factor to put it into the ‘A’s.'” 

“Conundrum”

Plot

The Enterprise encounters an unknown ship which scans them in such a way as to erase everyone’s memory and block most computer functions. When they come to, they must figure out what is going on and who they are. The computer seems to suggest they are on a mission to destroy the base of an enemy of Starfleet that they have been at war with for some time, but the ease of their penetration of the defenses leads to the crew getting suspicious. As more computer records are accessed, it turns out there is a mole that the crew doesn’t know about, the alleged First Officer MacDuff. As MacDuff tries to throw them off the trail and keep the crew on task to destroy the “enemy” base, the crew continues to figure out more and more about themselves. Finally, Picard and the crew refuse to fire on the defenseless base, and MacDuff is taken down in his attempt to destroy what turns out to be his own people’s mortal enemy.

Commentary

‘Conundrum’ was a super episode. There was an immediate sense of “all is not right” that set viewers on edge, but the big reveal was still surprising, despite my wariness and looking for some kind of twist. To have MacDuff  as a planted alien was quite surprising. Sure, we didn’t see him before the weird scan thing happened, but it was all too easy to accept him as another random redshirt. But then, Boom!, turns out we were being played all along and the writers were banking on us not noticing some random redshirt getting too many talking lines. I’d started to suspect, but only because I’d seen the episode a really long time ago and had a vague sense of there being a mole. All of this is to say that was a really well-done plot twist.

To then have the crew trying to figure out what was going on while MacDuff deceived them was also convincingly done. There is enough culpability on the part of the crew without it seeming to be entirely contrived for the sake of the episode.

The moral questions raised were also pretty well done, such as whether one could feel morally right in taking orders without knowing more or “enough” of the story. Picard’s discussion with MacDuff on this point was written in such a way as to avoid being too preachy–something that recent episodes haven’t quite managed.

Finally, there were some good hints of humor throughout the episode that kept it from being entirely serious the whole time. These didn’t ruin the feel of the episode but in fact added to my enjoyment of it, particularly with Riker, Rho, and Troi trying to figure out who they were and what there relationships were. Epic. I also enjoyed Worf taking command. I’m still looking for that Star Trek TV show with Worf as captain of a Defiant class or somesuch. Please!?

Grade: A “The episode skillfully combined a sense of mystery and foreboding with some lighthearted and funny moments.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a very interesting storyline with a good mixture of humor and seriousness.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

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