Episode no. 116
Season 1
Entertainment rating: B-
Tergiversation meter: -2


11001001



FEATURING: Katy Beyer, Alexandra Johnson, Iva Lane, and Kelli Ann McNally as Bynars; Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, with Carolyn McCormick as Minuet. DIRECTOR: Paul Lynch. WRITERS: Maurice Hurley and Robert Lewin STARDATE: 41365.9. EARTH DATE: 2-1-88.

OVERALL RATING: B-. WRITING: C (a good idea--lots of plot glitches) ACTING: A DIRECTION: B. SPECIAL NOTE: The script makes almost no sense at all, as I shall presently explain--however, the episode happens to be well-acted.

THE SHOW: One of the few truly strange, interesting and imaginatively-conceived alien races to be portrayed on ST-TNG makes its appearance in this numerically titled episode, only to disappear forever from the Star Trek lexicon at the conclusion. The diminutive Bynar people are named after the "binary" (2-digit) numerical system of ones and zeros that is the basis of our own 20th Century computer machine language. The premise is that this will still be the basis of machine language in the 24th Century--not a very original idea, as to computers or mathematics, although the Bynars, as characters, are unique.

The Bynars have adapted to contemporary 24th Century life, and have utilized their race's special talent for understanding computers, by living in psychically linked pairs, working very closely together as couples, and even standing close together like children sharing secrets. Together they "converse" with computers in high-pitched tones, at great speed. No one understands exactly how they do it.

Why Data doesn't understand their methods or their language is a not-so-minor plot glitch. There is simply no reason that Data, whose mind also works at very high speed on multiple tasks, could not follow Bynar thinking. The writers shove this connection aside, by having Data on R&R, learning how to paint--a minor, one-scene subplot, which has little to do with the story. Their chief interest is in producing a wet dream holodeck experience for Commander Riker, as follows...

The Bynars are engaged in upgrading the Enterprise computer. They do so well with this task that holodeck verisimilitude takes a quantum leap, producing, for Riker, the woman of his dreams--an entirely real-seeming person with gorgeous face and figure who tells Riker that she can be as real as he wants her to be--implying that sex with her will seem real, too. Riker can hardly believe his good luck. He finds this fantasy woman in his New Orleans jazz club (circa 1920s) holodeck environment. Her name is "Minuet." Why she is given a name from an older, more decorous, and distinctly European musical era is never explained. (Her name should have been Ruby, or Pearl, or Jasmine. She should have been an African-American jazz singer.)

Captain Picard joins Riker on the holodeck, leaving the bridge without a senior officer during a major repair. Incredibly, he leaves a child ("acting ensign" Wesley Crusher) in charge of the bridge!--an egregious failure of duty for which the Captain could be courtmartialled, considering what happens. This huge mistake of the Captain's is simply ignored by the scriptwriters. With Data on R&R, along with all the other senior officers, the Captain trots off to the holodeck for no particular reason. It is a coincidence that he just happens to go to the holodeck (remember this).

The Bynars override Enterprise warning systems on the holodeck, so that the Captain and his first officer are unaware of a crisis on board. The Bynars have faked a warp core shield malfunction. Ensign Wesley hails Data from his R&R, along with Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (who has been teaching Data how to paint). Geordi says, "Don't disturb the Captain and Riker until we check this out." Why the hell not--with the Enterprise apparently in danger of exploding? It makes no sense, and is merely another incident of sloppy, contrived writing. Data immediately orders a "red alert" and complete evacuation of the Enterprise. To all appearances, the anti-matter containment field is going to fail in less than four minutes. It is not until everyone is safely off the ship and ensconced in Starbase 74 that they realize that Picard and Riker are not with them.

Data has also put the Enterprise on "automated departure," because it is about to explode, destroying Starbase 74, where it is docked. The Enterprise slips out of the dock, apparently repairs its own malfunction, and warps away toward Byanis, the Bynars' home planet in the Beta Magellan system, with Picard and Riker still on board, on the holodeck.

Alone on board (except for the Bynars), Picard and Riker determine that the ship has been hijacked and initiate an auto-destruct sequence that is required when the ship is in danger of falling into enemy hands. Normal turbolift access to the Bridge is blocked. They prepare to use a transporter to get onto the Bridge, with weapons ready, facing death. They have no idea what is going on. They discover sick and dying Bynars all over the Bridge.

It seems that the Bynars' own master computer, in their home world, is threatened by a nearby supernova explosion. As the Enterprise speeds toward their home planet, the Bynars had begun to download all of the information from their master computer, into the Enterprise computer, to preserve it on an emergency basis. The Enterprise computer had been the only vehicle available with sufficient computer capacity to take the download--that's why they'd hijacked it The Bynars, whose mysterious connection to computers is never really explained, have themselves been hit by the shock wave from the supernova. It is killing them. Why this shock wave does not affect the Enterprise computer is not explained.

Captain Picard presumes that the lady on the holodeck, "Minuet," is part of the plot. Why he thinks this is not explained. It is not at all obvious. But he is correct. The Bynars had created her as a distraction, to get Riker off the bridge but to keep him on board, so that they would have someone to re-activate their computer after the emergency download. Why they chose Riker to do this is anybody's guess. Why not computer expert Data, "boy genius" Wes, or Picard himself (whose presence on the holodeck was not planned by the Bynars)?

As you can see, the number of coincidences, plot glitches, and essential points that go unexplained is reaching critical mass--and it isn't over yet. When Riker searches for an access code into the Bynar information on the Enterprise computer, Picard guesses that he and Riker must work as a pair, like the Bynars, to gain access. Not only is there no particular reason for Picard to think this, it is yet another plot glitch. Surely the Bynars knew they would need two people to help them, yet they made no provision for it. If Picard hadn't accidentally gone to the holodeck, and gotten trapped there with Riker, Riker would not have been able to save the Bynars.

As Lt. Yar (Denise Crosby) tells Data, when Data expresses remorse for not having been at his station on the bridge (he says he doesn't need rest and diversion), "This is a pointless discussion. You could have been on the bridge and it still would've happened." Maybe. Maybe not. (See above, i.e. Data's computer abilities.) The point could also be made in regard to Riker. What could he have done on the bridge to stop them--if no one understands what they do with computers? What could he have done to help them, if two computers users were essential to unlocking their stored data?

There finally comes a moment when Riker's wet dream woman "Minuet" might have made sense in this plot. Picard communicates with Data, who is back at Starbase 74, and asks him how to access the Bynar information. Data says the code or password may be "...a name, or a place. It may be something personal." We immediately think of "Minuet" and her strange name. But no, this has nothing to do with anything. The password is a number, which must be entered by a ,pair of computer users.

The only sense to be made of "Minuet" in this story--since she is a Bynar creation--is that her name is the code word. It isn't. The final plot glitch has to do with "Minuet" herself. After it's all over--the Bynars' problem is discovered, and the Bynars and the Enterprise are saved--"Minuet" disappears from the holodeck, leaving Riker sad and philosophical. Why does she disappear? Presumably, the remorseful Bynars would have completed the Enterprise computer upgrade and would have left the upgrade (including the holodeck upgrade) in place. They certainly owe one to the Enterprise. Instead, the Enterprise computer has apparently (this is not dealt with in the plot) reverted to its former, non-upgraded condition. Minuet's disappearance makes no more sense than does her arrival on the holodeck in the first place--and is as nonsensical as everything else in this episode, including the Bynars' choice of Riker for computer nerd.

This severely glitched plot plays much better than it should--a credit to the actors, all around (regulars and guests), and perhaps to the director (Paul Lynch). Patrick Stewart is particularly good at making anything--any nonsensical statement, or absurd bit of dialogue--sound like the word of God. Bynar make-up and costumes, and their general ambience (secretive, mysterious "little people"), are more attractive and intriguing than is usual for Star Trek aliens. Unfortunately, the fascinating Bynar people are never seen again. If you think about the plot glitches, they can drive you crazy. Intelligent little kids, trying to make sense of the world, would be better off watching "Sesame Street."

TERGIVERSATION METER READING: -2. One point for the Captain's compassion toward the Bynars; minus one point for the opinion that Data learning to paint is a non-essential activity; minus two points for the sloppy thinking of the script writers. Such poor writing cannot be said to advance humanistic principles.

Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).


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