03. Elementary, Dear Data

A Work / Life Balance

lesson delivered by Geordi to Data leads off this episode. Apparently when the ship’s not moving, the officers have little to do. Geordi spends the time building a model ship, by hand. The by hand part is required. It’s some kind of rule. It seems play has rules too.

Play also feeds desires. Humans, according to Geordi, want what they don’t have. Can’t have even. It’s nice to use free time to dream a little. That’s great, says Data, because I want to be human. My wanting that when I can’t have it makes me more human doesn’t it?

OK, I might’ve made some of that up.

Still leisure time is as important as work that’s why Geordi has no qualms about giving Data a 911 summons. Dude, you gotta play Holmes in Holodeck. To which Data responds, I totally do, don’t I?

An Old-Fashioned LARP

is afoot. Geordi and Data get all dressed up, and enter a holoversion of 221B Baker Street. Data is blown away by the details. Everything he’s read and memorized is right here. Geordi is blown away that Data has everything memorized.

Then characters come in and start a-talking, and Data skips to the end and solves the case. Geordi is pissed. Hey! There are rules to play!

Hey Geordi, don’t be a dick.

Is There a Point?

Geordi asks Data in Ten Forward. I didn’t get all dressed up to skip to the end of the date, I mean game. Data asks, oh I’m supposed to drag it out? Geordi’s like, no man. You’re supposed to have fun.

It’s not fun unless you’re solving a mystery, and there’s no mystery if you have everything memorized. If there’s no mystery, there’s no game. If there’s no game, there’s no fun.

Then Data said, But I was having fun. Don’t you want to ask me how I like to have fun? Isn’t it facist of you to impose your idea of fun on me?

OK. I admit it. I did it again. Data didn’t say any of that.

Dr. P is sitting at a nearby table alone because… well because she’s an asshole.

She pipes in. No, there’s no point. You see Data can’t have fun. Here’s why:

  1. He can’t feel victory because to feel victory you must face the possibility of defeat. The possibility of defeat requires a real mystery, but…
  2. Machines can’t solve real mysteries because solving real mysteries requires
    deductive reasoning, and yes I know he has mad skills there, but it also requires
    knowledge of the human soul. He’s hopeless in this department.

Instead of gulping down his drink and leaving to find friends who accept him for who he is, Data says, OK let’s all go back to the holodeck together and I’ll show you I can solve a mystery.

Try, Try Again

Dr. P gets into costume and they try a second adventure. This time they ask for an original mystery in the style of Sherlock Holmes, but not written by Sir Doyle.

Data figures out by reasoning from the general to the specific that the computer has combine two Sherlock Holmes stories. He solves it quickly.

Dr. P calls him on it. She says this was not an original mystery because the solution could be reached through memory and not inspiration or original thought–the things that made Sherlock Holmes awesome.

Geordi wants to try again. He asks the computer to create an original mystery and a nemesis who can defeat Data.

Luckily for Professor Moriarty he sees the whole thing. He shouts, Me! Me! Or he just sees them talking to the arch. Either way, the next thing he knows he’s feeling a new man. He can call the arch. He wants to learn. The computer can teach, and it’s some kind of dark magic which is his fav because, as written, he’s a big bad.

Dr. P Gets Damseled

and in searching for her, Data demonstrates that he can have original thoughts. After all, he can tell by tracks that Dr. P was bound and gagged and carried off by a left-handed man.

He can even tell immediately that a recent murder has nothing to do with them. This means the computer is running more than one program. This mint just got real.

Yeah he won! Now they’ll have to love him. But first they have to find Dr. P.

Professor Moriarty has her, and he’s no longer a run of the mill hologram. He’s self aware. He knows Data and Geordi are weird as all get out. He can summon the arch. He has taken away the crew’s ability to end the holodeck program. And, most frighteningly of all, he can draw a totally awesome sketch of the Enterprise.

Time to Call in the Officers

Picard asks what Moriarty’s limits are. Well, he’s a fictional character, and he was originally programed with 19th Century knowledge. Bad news, though. He’s growing. Won’t be long before these limits no longer exist.

Worf and Riker want to attack the holograms, but Picard thinks it’ll harm Dr. P.

Deanna sense something from the holodeck, a consciousness trying to focus itself. (I wonder does that mean she can sense Data? What exactly does she sense when she’s being empathic? Radio waves? Chemicals? Thought waves? Does she sense the computer?)

Oh and plus now, Moriarty can affect the environment outside of the holodeck. He can wiggle the ship.

Picard decides the thing to do is go and talk to Moriarty. In costume. Because there’s no sense in helping him grow faster.

Meanwhile Moriarty is talking to Dr. P. He’s feeding her scones, pouring her tea, teaching her what lumps are, and developing something of a crush. He asks if they’re in a vessel, asks about Picard, and tells her he’ll join her on the Enterprise in time.

Dr. P’s not telling him anything, but she thinks there’s actually something different about him.

This isn’t the Moriarty from the beginning, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing him as just a program. I mean come on, you saw how she was to Data. She invites Moriarty out into the hallway so he can go bye-bye a la Cyrus Redblock.

(A bit of a gamble if you ask me considering the snowball from Angel One, the lipstick from the Long Goodbye, and the sketch of the Enterprise Data just carried out.)

What You Really, Really Want

Picard takes Data back to Moriarty to give him what he wants. Data capitulates the game to the better man, and Picard says you were programed to defeat Data. You have, so now you have no reason to exist.

Moriarty says no. He’s grown. He understands more. He can wiggle the ship. He can hurt everyone, but he’s no longer a nefarious fictional character. His is aware of his own consciousness. His wants have changed.

He no longer wants to defeat Data. He is alive, and he wants to continue to live. He wants to live outside of the holodeck. He says Picard must murder him to stop him from getting what he wants.

Picard changes his opinion of Moriarty. He’s no longer worried this person is evil. He doesn’t try to slow his growth. Instead he explains the holodeck. How if Moriarty goes outside of it, he will die.

(Which is awkward because Dr. P just tried to use this method to kill him.)

But having accepted Moriarty’s personhood, Picard doesn’t want to kill him either. So when Moriarty returns control of the holodeck to Picard, Picard saves him in hopes of being able to give him a sustainable life sometime in the future.

Then Moriarty said, I really hated the Big Goodbye. Picard said, Yeah, me too.

No, they really did! Go back and watch it again.


Picard stops by engineering to look at Geordi’s boat, and tell him not to sweat this mistake. They’re OK because they lived up to their own ideals. They met a new lifeform, and they didn’t kill him. They gave him a choice and he took it.

What Makes a Person a Person

Ever since Minuet, I’ve been discussing what makes a person a person with John, and through that exchange I’ve come up with this list.

a person (sentient being) is an entity possessing
1) intelligence,
2) consciousness,
3) a will,
4) the ability to transcend its programming,
5) and/or any other attribute that provides a reasonable doubt about their lack of sentience

Recently upon reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I decided to cut out the reasonable doubt, and make it just doubt. What an awesome book.

Anyway, I am ready now to pat my own back because it seems tailor-made for Moriarty in this episode. Yet, I wasn’t thinking of him when I made this list.

Now, I have to admit that I love this episode, and that I have loved it for a long time. It was the episode I most wanted to watch in Season Two when I got the DVDs and saw it was there.

But remember, I felt the same way about the Big Goodbye. It was one of my favorite episodes when I was young, and during my rewatch, it was the harshest disappointment.

Elementary, Dear Data lived up to my expectations. So I have no doubt that it sat in my subconscious serving as fodder for my own ideas. Isn’t that the way it goes with the ideas that impress us, but that we forget the details of? I’m sure that’s how I was coaxed towards number 4 in the above list.

There was, however, another story I thought of consciously when I was thinking about number 4: Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, the arc in which the Danger Room computer becomes sentient.

I suspect that Mr. Whedon also owes a debt to Elementary, Dear Data as well.

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. Play is as important as work.
  2. Mysteries are solved by original thinking.
  3. We can meet new life in ways we’ve never expected.
  4. Always be ready to change what you think.
  5. Never use coercion.

Does It Hold Up?


I would put this up against anything on TV now.

I love how the story took on a life of its own, completely becoming something else as it progressed.

It is the best episode of Next Gen yet, and I think it’s going to be tough to beat.

I will especially love it if Dr. P grows based on her encounter with Moriarty. If she starts to see Data as a person because she knows that even that one hologram was one.

Maybe sometimes when she’s alone drinking on Ten Forward, wishing she had friends, she still hears him say, “I don’t want to die.”


<<02. Where Silence Has Lease

04. The Outrageous Okona>>