[Insert obligatory joke referencing Pulp Fiction here.]
the universe is filled with them. Take for example Fermat’s last theorem, and debris from a NASA ship orbiting a nasty green planet called Theta VIII. The first being something Picard ponders and the second being a little something the Klingons spotted.
It’s not the kind of thing the Klingons stop for and as we saw in the Neutral Zone it’s not something Riker would stop for either but the captain’s onboard and he likes puzzles. Why? Because they remind us that despite all we’ve learned there’s still lots we don’t know.
of the debris reveals these unexplainable phenomena:
- The NASA ship is farther from Earth than ships from that time could travel,
- it was destroyed by energy similar to a modern weapon,
- there’s a structure on the planet,
- the structure is surrounded by air breathable by humans and Klingons,
- a mustard yellow storm rages around the bubble, but inside is silent blackness devoid of everything but an old fashioned revolving door.
Solving this puzzle means getting a closer look, so an away team consisting of Riker, Data, and Worf enters the revolving door. Inside they find a casino straight from the 1980s, but lose contact with the Enterprise.
Data tells Riker losing contact should mean returning to the landing point, but Riker’s still investigating. When the bellboy tells him to go to the front desk, he does. They meet the assistant manager who tells them their role in the formulaic fiction unfolding around them: they’re a trio of foreign gentlemen.
Data scans all the people in the casino and realizes, none of them are alive.
When the Holodeck Malfunctions
there’s no one you’d rather have working on it than Geordi and Wesley. No matter whose holodeck it is. So Picard puts them to work on re-establishing communication with the away team.
Deanna tells Picard not to worry because she can feel what Riker’s feeling, and the best description is “amused.” Let’s take a moment here to acknowledge she just told Picard something that isn’t obvious. Join me in applauding. The storytellers have figured out how to use her.
As Geordi and Wesley get closer to restoring communications, they realize whatever maintains the air pocket around the structure is also blocking their signal. They get technical, but Picard speaks technobabble like a second language. He’s right there with them.
The away team, meanwhile, doesn’t mention the holodeck, but we’re all thinking about it. Data scans a guy called Texas and says he has no DNA. To which Texas responds you sound like my ex-wife. Then Data plays blackjack with him and a woman who’s desperate to win.
Texas is good at bad advice.
They try talking to some other people, but Texas, his woman friend, the bellboy, and the assistant manager are the only ones who respond to them.
Once Riker decides they’ve done enough research, they try to leave. The revolving door just brings them right back. Worf tries to blow a hole in the wall. Nope. They’re trapped.
Defining the Puzzle
isn’t really their goal when Riker heads back to the assistant manager for answers. Neither is eavesdropping, but first they listen to the assistant manager warn the bellboy not to use a gun on Mickey D, but the bellboy totally wants to save a girl named Rita.
When that’s done, they tell the assistant manager they want to leave, and he doesn’t seem to realize they can’t. Nor is he trying to be funny when he suggests they take complaints to the manager. Only to say he’s too busy. We get the feeling the manager isn’t part of this story.
Data has apparently continued scanning for DNA because he’s detecting some in one of the casino hotel rooms. They find the decomposed body of an American astronaut named Colonel Richey.
The Enterprise is coming in loud and clear over comms now, so Riker gives a sitrep. They google Richey. He disappeared in 2037. The body in the bed has been dead 283 years.
Worf, tired of standing around with nothing to do, finds a diary and a novel. The diary explains aliens brought Richey here after accidentally killing his crew. To make up for it, they recreated his natural habitat based on the second-rate novel, the Royale, which was onboard the NASA craft. He lived this story for 38 years.
Note to the future: include on all NASA spacecraft a copy of the Kama Sutra.
Data does a quick read and finds these two subplots:
- An older man and a younger woman plot to kill her husband (I’m looking at you Texas)
- A man named Mickey D kills a bellboy
Now they know what the puzzle is, but not how to solve it and get out.
Story is Fate
awaiting them, so Picard, Geordi, and Dr. P brainstorm a rescue plan that involves shooting a hole in the pocket of air around the hotel, letting the atmo rush in and cryogenically freeze them, beaming them up within 12 seconds (lest they die), and then reviving them.
It’s not a great plan.
Riker says no thank you. We’ll figure this puzzle out from the inside. They start to explore the hotel with open comms.
Picard sits down to read the novel, thinking the story is important to solving the puzzle, but it’s not a good story. Even listening over the comms to characters talk is too painful for Deanna. She wants out. Bye bye Deanna.
Data does a little more research on Texas and realizes: Texas can’t leave either. Just like his lady friend can’t stop following all the bad gambling advice. They’re under the control of the narrative.
Riker and Worf watch Mickey D come into the hotel, argue with the bellboy over Rita, and then kill said bellboy. After that, Mickey D leaves. Riker realizes a character can leave when he or she fulfills his or her role and is scripted to leave.
The novel ends with a trio of foreign investors buying the hotel and leaving. So all they have to do is buy the hotel for 12.5 million dollars, and they can go home.
It’s all over
except for the dice rolling. They win the money at craps. Data says craps is easy if you bet with consistency. He realizes the dice are loaded and “fixes” them, and then gets the number he needs on 18 straight rolls.
But if we worry about him cheating, we’re going to have to worry about Worf and Riker letting the bellboy get killed.
Suffice to say, they win everything they need. Picard warns Riker to stick to their role, so they win even more and act flamboyantly generous. Just as the story requires, they buy the hotel and put the assistant manager in charge.
Their roles fulfilled, they leave the hotel and beam back to the Enterprise.
They solved the puzzle as best they could, but like Fermat’s last theorem they may never solve everything. It just stays there. In Vegas.
Some great back and forth
This planet. What do you call it?
Earth. What do you call it?
We call it Theta VIII.
Looks like the poor devil died in his sleep.
What a terrible way to die.
Morals, messages, and meanings
- There will always be things we don’t understand
- It’s arrogant to think we’re so advanced
- Sometimes to escape a situation, you have to play a role
- Through teamwork, we can solve puzzles
Does it hold up?
This is an episode I remember well. Or at least that I remember better than most. I can’t say I remember it well because I thought it had something to do with a James Bond novel. Or a Woody Allen movie. In any event, I’ve seen it more than most, and remember it fondly.
I can imagine it’s not well loved because it’s not all that serious, nor does it take itself so seriously. It doesn’t try to deal explicitly with moral issues or try to help the viewers better understand such issues. It doesn’t even try to make us feel optimistic about the future.
But it is a satisfying piece of storytelling. The plot is simple. The premise is interesting. We get to watch events unfold while feeling what our protagonists are feeling. There are no sudden inexplicable reversals in feelings or attitudes. Every accomplishment is earned. All loose ends are tied up neatly, and there are even thematic bookends (Fermat’s Last Theorem).
All of this makes for an entertaining episode, which is as enjoyable now as ever.
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