Jammer's Review

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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17 comments on this review

Paul - Tue, Aug 30, 2011 - 5:31am (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)

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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
Maybe he just hoped nobody would ask that question. ;)
Nonya - Thu, Dec 11, 2014 - 11:56pm (USA Central)
This episode was okay.

Was anyone else bothered by Data's and Geordi's bad British accents?
Sean - Sat, May 30, 2015 - 8:01am (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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

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