Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Elementary, Dear Data"

***

Air date: 12/5/1988
Written by Brian Alan Lane
Directed by Robert Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Dr. Pulaski, ever the Bones clone looking for a Bones/Spock dynamic, challenges Data to an exercise in human improvisation: solve a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery that was not covered in the original source material. Is he capable of human insight beyond the Boolean logic of computer hardware? Geordi instructs the holodeck computer to create an original mystery with an adversary capable of defeating Data in a duel of wits.

Again we venture into the world of the period costume piece, a la first season's "The Big Goodbye," and like that episode, this one takes its time getting up to speed. I could've done with a little bit less of the Sherlock Holmes material and more of the sci-fi stuff. I think the story also makes a mountain of a molehill where Geordi's "slip of the tongue" is concerned. (Who cares if he instructed the computer to create an adversary that could "beat Data" as opposed to the fictional Holmes? The computer's sentient capability is the issue, not whether misspeaking one word can, or even does, cause it.)

Fortunately, the destination of "Elementary, Dear Data" is well worth the wait, and builds on the one moment of inspiration that "The Big Goodbye" had going for it: the idea that a computer program could become self-aware and grow beyond what it was designed to do. In this case, the intellect of Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) grows beyond the holodeck's parameters and is able to witness and participate in events outside its programming. The scene where he calls for the arch is an intriguing moment: We find ourselves asking, what does this mean? When he eventually is able to tie into the Enterprise's computer system and start shaking the ship, he gets Picard's attention.

What I like about this episode is its TNG sensibility. I could see Star Trek today using this as a gimmick solely for an action plot, but in 1988, the story exhibits a genuine curiosity about who Moriarty is now that he knows he's not part of the world he was created for. Picard and Moriarty have an exchange of dialog that's also an exchange of ideas, and they reach a peaceful resolution. It says a lot that Moriarty is willing to put his fate entirely in the hands of someone who could simply order his destruction in the interests of safety. But TNG was really about seeking out new forms of life, and this story highlights the series practicing what it preaches.

Previous episode: Where Silence Has Lease
Next episode: The Outrageous Okona

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33 comments on this review

Paul
Tue, Aug 30, 2011, 5:31am (UTC -5)
Just watched Elementary Dear Data on CBS action. The opening to this is horrendous, it really is. Geordi & Data discuss a model ship 'wind & sail!' and then the holodeck. It was more Sesame Street than Baker St. Embarrassing.
Rikko
Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
I'm going to agree with both Jammer and Paul here. The beginning is the weakest link and the reason this ep deserves 3 or maybe 2 1/2 stars.

But, I actually thought Geordi's "slip of the tongue" plot was a real nice touch. It was the first time (or at least the first time I did notice it) that something said by a character at the beginning ended up being important much later.

The closer it was to completion the better the episode became. Moriarty was an interesting guy and the guest-actor didn't suck for once!
William B
Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 7:48am (UTC -5)
Unlike Jammer and the other commenters, I enjoyed the opening to the episode -- well, maybe not the Geordi model ship scene. But I very much like the battle of wills between Pulaski and Geordi & Data over whether or not Data can use deductive logic combined with inspiration or is merely a machine. In fact, this part of the episode is tremendously important to the second half, because in his own way Moriarty is an answer to that question -- of whether a consciousness can emerge from pure computation and technology. We see Data functioning at a higher level than Pulaski believes he can, and in order to get an opponent who can defeat Data, the computer creates another being who functions at a higher level than expected.

In the original script (which is available in a link from the Memory Alpha wiki page for the episode), there is a development wherein Data, by deduction, realized that Moriarty *could have* left the holodeck had he wanted to, because the piece of paper with a picture of the Enterprise did not fade away when Data took it off the holodeck. When Pulaski learns of this piece of deduction by Data, she is suitably impressed. While it's probably a good thing this piece of plot business didn't stay in -- it'd screw up future holodeck storylines in a big way, for example, and it's not such a great idea even within this episode -- I do think that losing the resolution to the Pulaski/Data plot hurts the episode. Data should have been more instrumental in resolving the episode's plotline. While the episode links Moriarty and Data's respective artificial intelligences -- Moriarty, I believe, compares himself directly to Data as computer-based life forms -- it would be a stronger episode if Data could prove himself more strongly in the second half of the episode and if the ep were clearer about the ways in which Moriarty and Data are similar phenomena.

However, I think it's still a very strong episode, even if there is a bit of a missed opportunity. 3.5 stars from me.
William B
Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 1:36am (UTC -5)
One other great thing about this episode: Geordi as Watson, Data as Holmes actually is a pretty good way to sum up their friendship -- Data the genius eccentric and Geordi his smarter-than-the-average-guy-but-relatively-speaking-everyman.
Moegreen
Sun, Dec 8, 2013, 12:38am (UTC -5)
The removing of the paper from the holodeck by Data proves that Moriarty could leave the environment. I assumed this was an inconsistency, not part of a deleted plot-line.
Patrick D
Sun, Dec 8, 2013, 1:19am (UTC -5)
@Moegreen

Actually, according to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion by Larry Nemecek, it was an element of the original ending.
Tom
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 9:41pm (UTC -5)
This was the first TNG episode that I really liked. The costumes and sets are beautiful. I don't have anything against the model ship scene, though it's unrelated to the rest of the episode.
Andrew
Sun, Jun 8, 2014, 11:43am (UTC -5)
A good episode even though it felt too much like two disconnected ones; Picard was absent in about the first half and then became the lead while Data barely spoke in the second half.
Allison
Thu, Nov 27, 2014, 7:43pm (UTC -5)
One thing I noticed throughout this episode is the use of pieces of Bruce Broughton's _Young Sherlock Holmes_ score. As a fan of both the movie and the score, this was a nice touch.
tashayar
Fri, Nov 28, 2014, 1:49am (UTC -5)
When Geordi and data are in the conference room explaining the sitaution to the senior staff Riker asks Geordi if there is a way to destroy the holographic images themselves. Geordi then proceeds to say he knows a way to shoot some beam that will destroy all holograms. Then Picard asks what about Pulaski and Geordi says well it will also tear apart human flesh as well. Lol. Why did Geordi even recommend that if he knew it would kill her? It seems like he's just trying to sound smart because he knows he made a mistake.
Dave in NC
Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 10:04pm (UTC -5)
Maybe he just hoped nobody would ask that question. ;)
Nonya
Thu, Dec 11, 2014, 11:56pm (UTC -5)
This episode was okay.

Was anyone else bothered by Data's and Geordi's bad British accents?
Sean
Sat, May 30, 2015, 8:01am (UTC -5)
I enjoyed the episode, though it was hard for me to get past the "slip of the tongue" device that leads to Moriarty's sentience. The plot would have been a good opportunity to reference the Bynars and the creation of Minuet. Geordi simply could have discovered that some of the Bynars' programming had remained buried in the Enterprise's computer after all, and the computer had drawn upon those resources to fashion an improved, "real" Moriarty.
Shannon
Sat, Jul 25, 2015, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
I've tried re-watching this episode, and I just can't bring myself to like it. I really can't stand these "holodeck goes haywire" episodes, where computer generated characters made up of photons and forcefields all of the sudden became "aware" and are a threat. Ridiculous.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Aug 22, 2015, 2:23pm (UTC -5)
Ah, the sense of horror that arises when you recognise an episode title is going to mean something set on the holodeck!

But this one really bucks the trend. For a start, it looks great. I really enjoyed the Pulaski-Data jousting - I can see why people didn't take to the no-nonsense doctor but she introduces an interesting dynamic for Data, who by this point I'm guessing many viewers are simply seeing as another human cast member, by keeping alive the question of what level of 'humanity' Data represents.

And then the whole concept of Moriarty achieving sentience as a requirement of the computer's need to create a program to defeat Data is an intriguing one - one handled well, as Moriarty transcends his programming as an evil character and realises his own limitations and desire to live. 3 stars.
Pam
Wed, Sep 23, 2015, 4:56pm (UTC -5)
Let me start by saying that I LIKE this episode: model ship, bad British accents, and Pulaski included. The model ship because it provides a bit of insight into Geordi's character, and I am ever a fan of character exposition. The bad accents lent to the element of fun, and it was also fun to watch Pulaski jump up from the sofa and brush crumbs from her dress when the Captain showed up in Moriarty's laboratory. Also you can tell she is thoroughly enjoying holodeck playtime.

What I DIDN'T like was the lackluster, meaningless ending. Why would Moriarty give up control of the ship so easily? I realize that the computer had somehow granted him consciousness, but when did conscious equal conscience? What is it about sudden awareness of himself that turned him into something OTHER than Moriarty?

Don't get me wrong, I love Daniel Davis's portrayal of the character: he totally sells the idea of a two-dimensional construct becoming a three-dimensional, sentient being (even if only on the holodeck). But I don't get why he would give away his advantage simply because Picard says "I don't want to kill you."

Another thing, how would he get that advantage? How is it that the Captain of the ship can't override the command of a holographic simulacrum? Surely there would be fail-safes built into the system so that someone's holodeck jaunt doesn't wind up endangering the entire ship and crew..?

And Troi's one line in the whole thing was utter nonsense.

Good thing I have a healthy ability to suspend disbelief (and ignore Deanna Troi), because I really do like this episode. Honest.
The Sisko
Fri, Nov 20, 2015, 2:31pm (UTC -5)
I, too, disagree with Jammer on the beginning half being the weak link here. Even on the nth viewing, I was thoroughly entertained by the sense of adventure present throughout the first two acts. The Data/Geordi dynamic is as strong as ever in this series and the addition of Pulaski's character to the story works surprisingly well. The plot builds up really nicely until the introduction of Moriarty, a potentially perfect villain who is sadly extremely underused. The writers probably realized this too when they decided to make a follow-up to this one.

Yes, suspension of disbelief is required as always. Why are you watching a show about fantastic ideas if you're not willing to do that?

My rating: 3.5 stars
Jason R.
Mon, Feb 8, 2016, 11:28am (UTC -5)
"I enjoyed the episode, though it was hard for me to get past the "slip of the tongue" device that leads to Moriarty's sentience. The plot would have been a good opportunity to reference the Bynars and the creation of Minuet. Geordi simply could have discovered that some of the Bynars' programming had remained buried in the Enterprise's computer after all, and the computer had drawn upon those resources to fashion an improved, "real" Moriarty."

You touch upon the biggest weakness in the episode. It makes zero sense that the Enterprise computer would be capable of just conjuring up an AI due to a slip of the tongue as surely someone would have figured this out eons ago and there would have been safeguards in place.

The plot focuses on the hologram as if it is the source of Moriarty's consciousness, even going to the foolish proposition that he could be "destroyed" by obliterating the holographic image! No, clearly the real issue is the computer itself and why it is capable of doing something apparently unprecedented!

And as you mention, this is the biggest missed opportunity of the episode. There was a ready-made explanation, namely that the Bynar's had upgraded the computer, granting it vastly greater abilities and (for the first time) the capacity to create true AI. That should have been the first thing they discussed when the problem came to light. But in a baffling oversight / missed opportunity, they fail to mention it - leaving us with the ridiculous proposition that the Enterprise computer could always conjure AI, but... no one in the Federation tried to do it before?!
Jason R.
Mon, Feb 8, 2016, 11:34am (UTC -5)
Another thing I thought was funny with this episode, the way Data
"deduced" instantly all these conclusions with no background or context and practically zero facts, even after the new simulation was made so that it was a completely new mystery. I mean he solves the murder of that man on the street in what, 8 seconds?

I was just thinking, they should have Data do the Sherlock Holmes shtick all the time. Episodes like Conundrum and Cause and Effect wouldn't have lasted 90 seconds if Data was "deducing" like he did in this episode. Seriously, just put a pipe in his mouth and let him go.
William B
Mon, Feb 8, 2016, 2:20pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R., on the second point, Pulaski stated that she believed Data simply recognized plot points from various actual SH stories, and while I'm not totally familiar with the Holmes canon I thought that was the intent of the scene. It's not that Data is such an impossibly great investigator, but that his encyclopedic memory of Holmes stories allowed him to recognize each clue and figure out the story. I thought it was also a pretty good parody of how mystery fans react when encountering a new but formulaic mystery story, where they recognize the tropes and are sure going to tell everyone, not because of real world logic but mystery novel/play/show logic (where typically information only appears if it's a clue and there are X many red herrings etc).
Grumpy
Mon, Feb 8, 2016, 3:39pm (UTC -5)
Jason R. "...in a baffling oversight / missed opportunity, they fail to mention it ["11001001"] - leaving us with the ridiculous proposition that the Enterprise computer could always conjure AI, but... no one in the Federation tried to do it before?!"

"Missed opportunity" reminds me of "Booby Trap"/"Galaxy's Child" and the unexplored relationship between LaForge and the ship's computer. See, the computer wouldn't conjure AI for just anyone, but Geordi's wish is her pleasure. And he never thanked her!

Latent robosexuality aside, the Data/Holmes mistake works as almost Asimovian logic. The computer does exactly what you tell it to, so be careful! We don't need to worry about Moriarty being more self-aware than the computer itself. He claims to be more, but that's the computer doing its role-playing.
Jason R.
Tue, Feb 9, 2016, 6:55am (UTC -5)
"@Jason R., on the second point, Pulaski stated that she believed Data simply recognized plot points from various actual SH stories, and while I'm not totally familiar with the Holmes canon I thought that was the intent of the scene. It's not that Data is such an impossibly great investigator, but that his encyclopedic memory of Holmes stories allowed him to recognize each clue and figure out the story."

I was thinking of the scene *after* the Moriarty adversary was created. Data and Laforge are chasing after Pulawski's kidnapper and they stumble onto this completely different murder, which I guess the computer just threw in for kicks as a "side quest". Data instantly deduces that the man was a drunkard strangled by his angry wife with some beads or something. When Laforge calls him out on it (again supposing that Data was cheating by memorizing past Holmes plot devices) Data explains his deductions indicating that he was not cheating. So he didn't solve it by memorizing former Holmes stories. It was a completely new fact pattern.

@Grumpy,

I kind of like the idea of the computer being basically this djinn that will fulfill your wish (so be careful what you wish for!). It's a cool idea to be sure. Had they linked this new ability with the 11001001 episode I think it would have been even cooler (and made alot more sense!) because then there'd be this sense that the computer really is alot more mysterious and has these weird, previously unknown capabilities.
William B
Tue, Feb 9, 2016, 9:06am (UTC -5)
@Jason R., oh I see, sorry for the misunderstanding.
Strejda
Fri, Jul 8, 2016, 11:36am (UTC -5)
I didn't mind the beginning but one thing that bothered me was the way Geordi storms off because Data already knows the resolution to Sherlock mysteries. If it was something Data invited him for, that would be one thing, but this was supposed to be his gift to Data. And he doesn't even seem to take issue with it not being challenging for Data's sake, just that he himself isn't having any fun.
Zg
Sat, Dec 24, 2016, 6:25pm (UTC -5)
The only thing that bothers me is that in season 1 during Datalore, they act like a positronic brain; one capable of consciousness and original thought, was some groundbreaking discovery. In this episode, the holodeck literally just makes one up to create Moriarty.
Grumpy
Mon, Dec 26, 2016, 10:09pm (UTC -5)
To be fair, Zg, the Moriarty AI is driven by a building-sized computer core, whereas Data's positronic brain fits in his skull. Granted, no one ever speaks of Soong's achievement as a feat of miniaturization.
borusa
Wed, Feb 8, 2017, 1:19pm (UTC -5)
I agree that this episode improves as it nears its end.
On the minus side we have Brent Spiner's truly awful Sherlock Holmes-it is the stuff of amateur high school plays.
The terrible acting is complemented by Levar Burton and the guy playing Lestrade.
At this stage I was going with the series average to date of 0 stars.

The saving sequence comes at the denoument with Davis brilliantly portraying a hologram transcending his programming.
Sorry but it doesn't really save this from the scrap heap in my book although the sequel Ship in a Bottle makes this first part worthwhile.

1.5 stars from me -but only if we can put Spiner's Holmesian hamming it up to bed forever.
BC
Sat, Feb 25, 2017, 12:22am (UTC -5)
Instead of asking Mr. Computer to create a Holmes-LIKE mystery with an adversary capable of defeating Data, why not just (have Data?) wipe Data's memory clean of all knowledge of Holmes' undertakings? Then he and Geordi could've had their fun, and, afterward, it would've taken, what, thirty seconds for Data to re-capture all of the novels?
Peremensoe
Sat, Feb 25, 2017, 9:05am (UTC -5)
Because, BC--that would be a different experience, for a different person. Would you want part of your brain temporarily wiped, to increase the edited-version-of-you's appreciation of, say, a movie you've already seen?
BC
Sat, Feb 25, 2017, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
Peremensoe: But Data has no emotions so he wouldn't / couldn't actually care. Just erase the files. That would make it fun for Geordi.
Peremensoe
Sun, Feb 26, 2017, 2:47am (UTC -5)
Of course he cares. There's nothing for him to enjoy, to be interested in, no reason to engage such hobby pursuits, if he doesn't care. Data certainly 'enjoys' intellectual challenges, if maybe not in the same qualitative way as a human would.
Linda
Wed, Mar 22, 2017, 1:25am (UTC -5)
In Ten Forward, Pulaski accuses Data of not being able to solve mysteries because Data is incapable of having an original thought or inspiration. Nonsense. Data has already proved Pulaski wrong by all of the mysteries that he’s previously helped the Enterprise solve. Of course, Pulaski hadn’t been around in Season One to see it. (Lucky her, considering the quality of most of those episodes!)

Before Geordi ever entered his command for the computer to create an adversary worthy of Data, Moriaty sees the arch form and already seems to be scheming. The computer responds to Moriaty’s “command” for the arch, though the computer didn’t seem to produce the arch as part of Geordi’s wish for a “Data-worthy adversary,” but simply because Moriaty requested it. Moriaty learns everything to disrupt the Enterprise from the Computer: apparently he asks questions and the computer honestly answers. That the computer releases what has to be some classified secrets to a Data-worthy adversary for the sake of a holodeck program seems highly unlikely. Later Picard makes the point that he’s going to dress as a typical man of the time, so as not to give up any additional information to Moriarty. But when Picard meets Moriarty, Picard squeals like a stuck pig. And, as noted by others, as a very worthy adversary, Moriarty seems to give up awfully quickly.

But considering the quality of some of the previous storylines, it’s an enjoyable episode with some fun moments and banter.
Rahul
Tue, Apr 25, 2017, 2:36pm (UTC -5)
I too feel this episode got off to a slow start - it was probably 2/3 of the way through that they realized holodeck is acting on its own. Some of this background is necessary of course but it would have been more interesting to see what else Moriarty could do from the holodeck.
The actor playing Moriarty did a terrific job - he had that mischievous/almost evil look in his face.
The ending with Picard/Moriarty was on a knife's edge for a moment until Moriarty gives in and lets Picard have control. I thought the concept of Moriarty gaining sentience (with suspension of disbelief on my part) was an interesting twist but it should have been linked to the episode with the Bynars.
I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, quite familiar with the canon and thought it was a good idea for a story to have Laforge/Data try something along those lines. This episode was entertaining with a good resolution at the end. I'd give it 3/4 stars.

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