Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "11001001" (February 1, 1988)



Stardate: 41365.9

 The Enterprise D. arrives at Starbase 74 for a routine computer upgrade. Performing the upgrade is a team of diminutive aliens known as "Bynars" from the planet Bynaus.  Over time, the Bynars have grown so "interconnected" with computers and computer language that their "thought patterns" have become almost binary in nature.

As the Bynars work, the Enterprise crew relaxes, off-duty. 

In a nice bit of characterization, the extroverted Riker seems at loose ends without his usual crew mates to pal around with, and so spends the first portion of the episode attempting to stave off boredom by visiting Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) in sickbay, watching Data (Brent Spiner) and La Forge (Levar Burton) paint in the conference room, and conversing with Worf (Michael Dorn) and Yar (Denise Crosby) about a competitive game called Paresi Squares. 

There's a slightly desperate quality to Riker here, and I appreciate this peek at his human frailties.  He's not a deep thinker (like Picard), and he needs other people around him.  When Riker tells Crusher that it looks like she's "packing up" to "leave forever," there's a vulnerable side to the character exposed, and it's good to see.  Frakes does especially well with this material, and carries this portion of the episode effortlessly.

Soon, Riker happens to the holodeck, where he find more Bynars working, and they ask him to test their upgrades to the system.  Almost immediately, Riker conjures a Bourbon Street bar in New Orleans, circa 1958, and indulges in a little trombone playing. 

His audience consist of one: a sultry but engaging woman named Minuet (Carolyn McCormick).  Riker plays "The Nearness of You" for Minuet, and soon comes to realize she is anything but a cipher. 

In fact, Minuet seems responsive and intelligent in a way that no computer simulation ever has.  She seems to possess life itself; sentience.

Outside the holodeck, the Bynars manufacture an emergency for the crew to disembark, leaving only Picard and Riker aboard.  They the aliens steal the Enterprise and make for their home world, where a supernova has imperiled their civilization.  An EM pulse threatens to destroy their main computer, unless the Bynars can use the Enterprise -- with its computer -- as a repository for all their culture's knowledge and information. 

Once Riker and also Picard realize that Minuet is merely a distraction, they set the Enterprise's auto destruct sequence, and reclaim the bridge.  There, they find the Bynars incapacitated and assume their mission: saving the Bynaus main computer and therefore the civilization itself.  When the crisis ends, Riker returns to the holodeck and finds Minuet gone, only a "piece" in the now-ended Bynar tactic. 

When Picard notes that "some relationships just can't work," Riker responds that, nonetheless, Minuet shall be "difficult to forget."


"11001001" is all about the human impact of the holodeck technology, particularly on the character of William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes).

This focus makes the story stand out fro the typical "holodeck malfunction" story, and makes for a great early episode of this series.

Like the original Star Trek's "Devil in the Dark," "11001001" concerns desperation, and an alien race that is so desperate to survive that it undertakes what could be misinterpreted as hostile action; here the theft of the starship Enterprise.  An enduring element of Star Trek -- and one that I love -- is that of mercy.  The men and women of Starfleet don't greet every challenge as an existential threat, and -- if able -- will demonstrate compassion and empathy for aliens in jeopardy and danger. 

This is a facet of our culture that is nearly extinct today, and such compassion and empathy is often viewed as a sign of weakness or vulnerability, not as a strength. 

Specifically, our culture encourages us to meet violence with violence, greet aggression with aggression, and target purported enemies for payback.  A wrong is not forgiven, it is cause for attack and reprisal.

Not so in the overtly idealistic universe of Star Trek, where the Bynars -- though acting poorly -- are treated fairly, and their world is saved.


But even that re-assertion of a great moral value is not the reason I appreciate this episode, even after almost twenty-five years.  Rather, I feel that the holodeck aspects of the story work remarkably well, and point to the evolution of the EMH  character in Voyager and other holographic characters as "sentient beings."  Here, Minuet is a fully-fledged individual, and Riker falls in love with her...regardless of her nature as a program. 

The heart desires what the heart desires, and this doomed TNG love affair seems indicative of that human truth.  Riker falls hard for a hologram, even though there's no real future in such a relationship.  She can't even leave the holodeck, actually.

Yet Riker loves her. 

And that's just how the human heart works. 


Once more, this idea carries tremendous relevance in our culture today, especially as some extremists seek to punish homosexuals for wanting what their hearts want. But, like Riker, that's how they are wired.  It isn't a choice.  By expressing this idea clearly, Star Trek paved the way for tolerance and compassion about such relationships. Ultimately, this idea went further in Star Trek than "11001001," but this episode lays the groundwork for the idea that holograms are people too, and also the notion that the human heart cannot, necessarily, choose who to love or not to love.

In terms of "11001001," the episode doesn't make the mistake of drifting into overt sentimentality or schmaltz.  Jonathan Frakes underplays his last, heartfelt line of dialogue, and rightly so. 

His comment about Minuet being difficult to forget thus transmits as not some angst-ridden, shallow admission of personal pain, but as pure statement of fact.  As such, it resonates powerfully, and I commend Frakes and director Lynch for resisting the urge to make more out of the episode's valedictory moment.  It speaks volumes as it stands.

"11001001" is also one of the few Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in the first season that seems to showcase an authentic and light-hearted sense of camaraderie and chemistry between the new cast.  There's a delightful moment here wherein Worf intentionally misunderstands the nature of sports competition to Commander Riker:  "If winning is not important, Commander, then why keep score?"

And I also love Riker's politically incorrect jibe to Geordi and Data about a blind man teaching an android to paint.  That's a priceless joke, and too often Star Trek: The Next Generation felt staid and sedate, instead of fun.  These remarks are not merely fun, but fun in the jaunty spirit of the original series.  They evidence a joie de vivre, and make the characters seem genuinely colorful.  "11001001" also offers one of the great lines of the entire season, when Riker asks Minuet "what's a knock-out like you doing in a computer-generated gin joint like this?"

I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but there's a very...Star Trekkiness...about this brand of dialogue.  It is both serious and creeping right up to the edge of camp.  It is smart, and it is funny.  And I wish Star Trek: The Next Generation featured much more of it.  Star Trek is always at its best when its characters acknowledge the humorous aspects of their situation. Somehow, it makes the universe seem more real when the characters have a sense of humor about it.

Another ingredient that works well in "11001001" is the concept of the Binars themselves.  They make for a fascinating alien race, being so interdependent with computers, and one wishes they had returned to the series in a more dramatic capacity at some point. 

Considering the nature of the Borg (representing the blending of biological and technological components), it seems there might have been  a powerful story here to tell about the Bynars.

Would they have considered the Borg brethren? Would they have felt they could have changed the nature of the Borg...for the better?  And how would the Federation feel with a kind of proto-Borg culture like the Bynars within their borders?  In all, not revisiting the Bynars seems like a lost opportunity.

About my only quibble with the episode is - as usual - the writing of the Picard character.  Here, he spends the first half of the episode thanking profusely his crew for a job well done, complimenting them over very, very little.

I suppose his pervasive good cheer was an attempt to soften the stern character, but it plays as strange; like Picard has taken some brand of mood-altering drug like Prozac. Suddenly the good captain is spouting "thank yous" and "well dones" repeatedly, as if in some kind of euphoric state.

Later in the episode, Picard also reveals his total lack of awareness of others, when he horns in on Riker and Minuet and just...won't...stop...talking.  Can't he see that they would like to be, you know, alone?   Eventually he realizes it, but only after quite a while. Again, I'm not criticizing the dignified Patrick Stewart, only the writing of his character.

Overall, however, "11001001" is a great early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation because it isn't just about fun and games and getting out of a pickle on the holodeck.  Instead, it's about the human problems that the technology of the holodeck creates, and how those problems emotionally impact the characters  In many ways, this episode may represent Frakes' finest acting work on the series.  Accordingly, "11001001""  is also one of the best episodes in terms of Riker's character development.  We see the extrovert growing lonely...and then answering that loneliness with a trip to the holodeck, and finding the unexpected specter of true love.



Certainly, "11001001" doesn't make any "top ten" episode lists for TNG, but that's because it isn't epic in scope (like the Borg episodes or the Klingon episode).  Instead, the episode achieves what the medium of television does best: it fosters a sense of intimacy and connection to a character.

"The Inner Light" is an episode that accomplishes the same thing for Picard (and it's one of my personal favorites), but "11001001" is an early segment of The Next Generation that really hits on all thrusters. 

This episode is all about interconnection. Interconnection between the Bynars, interconnection between the Enterprise crew members, and finally, between Riker and Minuet.  "11001001" reveals how we can succeed when we connect meaningfully to others and also, emotionally, how we can feel lost when that sense of connection disappears irrevocably.

Next week: "Too Short a Season."

1 comment:

  1. John,

    My comments for last week's episode seem to have vanished like the Defiant into interphasic space, but no matter. My memory of that episode was minimal, and I said as much. Similarly, I'd forgotten much of this episode as well, but your review and the ruminations contained within make me want to seriously seek this one out (did I just make a pun?) and watch it again. I really appreciate your introspection on what others may have missed. It may have been at this point in the first season that the writers actually looked at the cast that Roddenberry had assembled and said, "We need to see more of these people." This episode was as close to those "lower decks" episodes of the first year of The Original Series as The Next Generation got, and thank heavens for that. It really is a charismatic cast.

    There's a wonderful picture of the cast as they appear today in a series of black and white head shots, each of them filled with joy and laughter. I don't know if this link will work, but I found it here:

    https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/797629783976431141/?lp=true

    Look at those faces and tell me you don't love them. Such a great group. It's no small wonder that they carried the show through the lean times and grew into a crew that we fondly remember today.

    Steve

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