"A Fistful of Datas"

Season Six, Episode 8
Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Brannon Braga 
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Brian Bonsall as Alexander
John Pyber-Ferguson as Eli Hollander
Joy Garrett as Annie
Jorge Cervera Jr as Bandito 

Synopsis:

Alexander convinces his father to take part in a holodeck program he's created of the "Ancient West". Set in the town of Deadwood, Worf is the Sheriff, Alexander is the Deputy and Troi is Durango, a "mysterious stranger". But an experiment being conducted by Geordi to link up Data to the ship's computer goes awry, creating several problems aboard the ship. The holodeck characters start to take on the appearance and strength of Data, causing problems when Alexander is kidnapped by criminals and the program won't stop. While Geordi attempts to correct the problem, Worf and Troi must play out the program to its conclusion, by preparing for the final gunfight. Worf rigs his comm-badge into a crude force field, which deflects the bullets. He rescues Alexander and apprehends the bad guys, ending the program.


Review: 

Well, whadda ya know? That was fun! Whilst the basic premise is little more than another holodeck-malfunctions-endangering-the-crew cliche, "A Fistful of Datas" was almost like a breath of proverbial fresh air and was pretty much entertaining throughout. I'm delighted to say that it also marks something of an upturn in the quality of season six -- with the "Chain of Command" two-parter just around the corner, things are definitely looking up following that early season slump (wah-hey!).

Back to the show -- I really enjoyed it. Something of a surprise given that I've never been all that partial to the Western genre (perhaps because it was way before my time). It's also a wonder that the episode managed to transcend it's hackneyed plot structure. Hackneyed because it conforms to the traditional "holodeck malufunctions" formula beat-for-beat. Let's see, it starts off with several characters in the holodeck. Check. Something happens to the ship, causing the holodeck safeties and controls to malfunction, the program taking on a life of its own. Check. The characters stuck in the holodeck realise they must play out the program to it's conclusion while Geordi tries to repair the damage to the ship. Check. Geordi repairs the ship and the holodeck program ends. Check! No surprises there, I don't think.

What essentially makes "A Fistful of Datas" work is the fun factor. It opens with a delightful teaser where Picard is taking some much-deserved time off to relax, only to be interrupted incessantly. Other enjoyable moments include Data's poetry from "Schisms", which comes back to haunt Riker (that "Ode to Spot" is just a scream!) and, of course, the holodeck scenes themselves.

Not only are the sets, costumes and music terrific, but there are so many wonderful little details that make the show such fun to watch. Just about every Western cliche is thrown in to good effect and Patrick Stewart directs with an assured hand. Quite a lot of the humour in the holodeck scenes is of the "let's make Worf look/sound silly" mentality. This is something that TNG writers did a lot of (including in the recent movie "Insurrection") and whilst sometimes amusing, I much prefer when the humour comes from the characters instead of at them. Still, I must admit I enjoy the character a lot more when the writers are making fun of him than when we're supposed to take him seriously (the stoic old fart!). Sometimes it fell flat (Look, he's wearing a cowboy hat! How excruciatingly funny!), sometimes it made him look dumb (particularly the early holodeck scenes) and sometimes it worked well (seeing him posing on front of the mirror was kinda cute!). 

The more subtle moments of humour were the best, such as his reaction to seeing the local brothel:

As for the other characters, Alexander was...Alexander, and Marina Sirtis looked like she was having a lot of fun playing the "mysterious stranger", Durango. She was also a lot of fun to watch...and I'm not just talking about those leather trousers (hey, aren't I allowed to be juvenile every now and again?). :-)

The real star of the show was Brent Spiner, who was given several different roles, enabling him to demonstrate his wide acting range. If anything he slightly overplayed Eli Hollander, but made a suitable villain out of Frank Hollander and was very funny as Data who started to display Western character traits. The only part I didn't like was when he appeared at the end as Annie...eek. Whilst it was momentarily amusing seeing Data dressed as a woman, Spiner was quite ghastly in those few seconds. Still, he more than made up for it with his entertaining portrayal of the three other roles.

My favourite part of the show? Why, the closing shot of the Enterprise flying off into the sunset. Lovely! On the whole, this was definitely an enjoyable romp and a suitably refreshing change of pace. It gains an extra half point for being mercifully light on the technobabble front (a lesson learned from "Realm of Fear", perhaps?) and another half point for opting not to have one of those stilted "jeopardy B-plots". Which tallies up to...

Rating: 7


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