Ship in a Bottle (original airdate: January 25th, 1993)
Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Alexander Singer
This episode returns to a storyline first introduced in season two. In “Elementary, Dear Data,” the holodeck program for Professor Moriarity in a Sherlock Holmes simulation becomes self-aware. That incident ended with a promise that one day, a permanent form for Moriarity would be developed. Now the program is accidentally released with Lt. Barclay is doing work on the holodeck. This time around, Moriarty appears to have created a way for himself to exist the boundaries of the holodeck and move about the ship. Picard and Data must try to puzzle out if a new form of life has been created or have they been tricked through Moriarity’s cunning.
Just like the Data-centric episodes, this one is great because it explores questions of humanity and technology. TNG was the first entry in the franchise to look into this territory, and it would be Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with Vic Fontaine & Star Trek: Voyager that carried the torch further with the Doctor. It all seemed to start with these two Moriarity episodes. At the time, it was pretty standard to have physical robotic characters with personality, but a creation purely of light & energy was a different thing to ponder.
Once again, Daniel Davis does an excellent job as Moriarity. He never really comes across a villain, a threat to the Enterprise. While Moriarity does cause problems, I never had the sense anyone was in real peril. Instead, the conflict is more Picard trying to wrestle with the protocols of being a captain while he must find a way to respect the free will of a being with all the rights a matter-based person would have.
Tapestry (original airdate: February 15th, 1993)
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau
I suspect Tapestry is an episode that will age with the viewer very well. If you watched this as a young person first, you could gain new insight years later. This because the story is about a man looking back on the mistakes of his youth and learning that this was the best path for him because it was his life. The central character is Captain Picard, who is injured on a mission. He dies on the operating table and encounters Q in a blank mind space where the cosmic imp allows Picard to travel back to a critical point in his training at Starfleet Academy.
The original concept was akin to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol complete with ghosts, but thankfully this was changed and stretched into the final idea. Writer Ronald Moore has gone to say a lot of this episode came out of writers’ room discussion comparing Picard to Captain Kirk. The backstory they developed that was during his Academy days Picard was a wild child, but a life-changing injury caused him to become a more staid, cautious person.
Q allows Picard the opportunity to live those days again, explore relationships allowed to go by the wayside, and ward off friends from dangerous situations. Picard learns that the alternate paths led to complications of their own, different but just as challenging to overcome and tackle. The ultimate lesson is that we live the lives we live, and it is what we choose to do with those experiences that matter. If we learn from our choices, then we have a good life. Picard is ultimately restored to life by Q, and the audience ends up with a more intimate and developed understanding of the captain.
Frame of Mind (original airdate: May 3rd, 1993)
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by James L. Conway
This is one of the trippiest episodes of TNG ever made, and it can bounce between being frustrating, hilarious, and genuinely disturbing. Commander Riker is taking part in a theatrical production where his character is put in a mental asylum. He gets a head injury during rehearsal and subsequently starts to see a strange man in the audience that silently provokes him. Suddenly, Riker finds himself in a real asylum on an alien world, apparently living out the story from the play.
Star Trek doesn’t often go to dark places like this, and it can be jarring if you’re expecting the typical TNG episode. The story plays with reality so aggressively that the audience inevitably finds itself in Riker’s shoes, ultimately confused and disoriented. We no longer know which layer is the real world or if any of them are. I many ways, this becomes more like a classic Twilight Zone story than what we expect from Star Trek.
What keeps this wild story from going off the rails is the performance of Jonathan Frakes as Riker. He has expressed his desire to work behind the camera now rather than in front, but this is strong evidence that Frakes possesses some fantastic acting chops. Helping him express this descent into madness is the production design that makes the play’s set, and the actual asylum resembles the German Expressionist cinema of the silent area with disorienting angles. Overall, this is an episode you would want to show someone who thinks they know what Star Trek is, jolting them out of their expectations.