Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Booby Trap"

***

Air date: 10/30/1989.Teleplay by Ron Roman and Michael Piller & Richard Danus
Story by Michael Wagner & Ron Roman
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise finds a 1,000-year-old relic adrift in an ancient debris field. Picard — intrigued from a historical point of view — eagerly leads an away team to tour the relic. He likens the ship to a ship in a bottle, which prompts an amusing dialog exchange. Picard: "Didn't anyone play with ships in bottles when they were boys?" Worf: "I did not play with toys." Data: "I was never a boy."

Once inside the debris field, however, the Enterprise is ensnared in an ancient booby trap that sucks power from its victims' ships and then uses that same power against them in the form of lethal radiation. An away team discovers that the crew of the relic suffered exactly that fate. Geordi must now race against the clock to find a way to escape the debris field before the crew is exposed to lethal radiation. He does this in the holodeck with a computerized composite of one of the ship's key designers, Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney).

"Booby Trap" is a good, geeky, technobabble episode. In classic TNG fashion, it is about working a problem and very little more. The technical jargon goes on and on; you sort of have to take it on faith that it has meaning. Actually, writing good technobabble takes a certain level of skill, because in between the meaningless terms a writer must insert a certain amount of tech that actually comes from the real world and is not arbitrary. The writers of this episode know that, because the technobabble manages to maintain a certain level of credibility.

The episode is also about Geordi facing romantic difficulties. He has trouble relating to women and tries too hard to impress them. Yeah, sounds like a nerd problem. Still, I've always found something slightly pathetic about this story's subtle message that the perfect woman for Geordi might be a holodeck character. Or perhaps it's just saying that nerds should date other nerds in their field. Funny — you'd think a place like the Enterprise's engineering deck would be teeming with them. In that case, maybe it's a workplace sexual harassment issue.

Previous episode: The Bonding
Next episode: The Enemy

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17 comments on this review

Mentor397 - Mon, May 11, 2009 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
For the episode Booby Trap, I wonder how the officers aboard the Enterprise can reconcile their feelings about putting their lives in the control of computers with how they regularly entrust Data with the same. It might seem a giant step for us in the early 21st-century, but in the 24th, I'd be surprised if that step wasn't crossed quite regularly.
Paul M - Sat, Dec 29, 2012 - 8:00pm (USA Central)
Another fantastic score by Ron Jones, infamously fired later on by Berman because his score was overpowering the scenes or something.

I encourage everyone to listen to the track that was cut for being too bombastic. Link here www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTZuHGM6xCE
J.B. - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 5:38am (USA Central)
While I think Berman had terrible musical taste, this actually might have been one of his better calls. The tracked cue(s) they ended up using were perfect for the quiet suspense feel they were going for whereas the original cue feels overpowering. Of course, it's hard to judge because we'll never hear a version that's been properly mixed into the episode.
Paul M - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
I love both of those cues.

It's still baffling Berman fired Jones. When I youtube all my favourite early-TNG scores, almost every single one is Ron Jones. Booby Trap, Defector, Best of Both Worlds and others.

Anything is better than the horror of wallpaper we got afterwards. Even listen to some of Jones' soudtracks from Season 4 - they are much worse than before, probably as decreed froma above.
Grumpy - Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - 7:00pm (USA Central)
LaForge doesn't just have trouble dealing with women; he has trouble dealing with his *entire engineering staff.* You know, the people who were putting their heads together to solve this life-or-death problem while their boss played with himself. Well, not all by himself -- the computer helped. Say, was anyone worried that the holodeck simulation exhibited creative thought? That they might have another Moriarty on their hands?

(I'll have to watch again to check if holo-Brahms merely reflects LaForge's inspiration back at him or if she -- that is, the computer -- originates the idea.)
Grumpy - Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
By the way, if LaForge had bothered to ask his staff for ideas, surely someone would've suggested, oh, opening the main shuttlebay so the explosive decompression would push them out of the trap. Even Riker would've thought of that!
Grumpy - Wed, Apr 3, 2013 - 8:30pm (USA Central)
Upon closer inspection, although holo-Brahms shows more initiative and insight than I'd expect from a non-sentient computer, the actual solution does come from LaForge. No thanks to the two extras seen in Engineering during this episode (who probably could've very quickly suggested the ultimate answer: fire the engines once then coast).

A perfect opportunity for follow-up went unaddressed -- or rather, they addressed it the wrong way. "Galaxy's Child" recalled the bit where holo-Brahms says "Every time you touch the engines, you're touching me." That sounds to me like Brahms is a proxy for the *Enterprise computer* declaring its love for LaForge, the only way it can.
William B - Thu, Apr 4, 2013 - 5:50pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy, good points on both. I especially like the idea that the Enterprise computer is declaring its love for LaForge. But in general, I think it's probably closer to...the ship itself, as a technological entity, declaring its love for LaForge, rather than merely the computer. And this works both ways -- because when LaForge falls in love with holo-Leah, he is most likely primarily transferring his affections for the ship and her engines and her computer into an anthropomorphized version of her. Which, uh, yeah, *Barclay* is the guy with problems forming healthy relationships with people....
William B - Sun, May 5, 2013 - 12:31am (USA Central)
Sometimes technobabble plots are pointless, but at their best in TNG especially tech plots are about human relationship with technology and what this entails. I don’t know if this is a tech episode at its best, but this episode does work for that reason. The episode has a bit of an A/B plot structure, with Picard on the bridge and Geordi on the holodeck; it’s more Geordi’s show than Picard’s, but Picard is a secondary protagonist. Picard used to build model ships and is enthralled with the ancient ship; he is the guy who eventually pilots the Enterprise out. Geordi is down in the holodeck with “Dr. Leah Brahms,” because it’s easier to talk to a computer simulation of a person than the real thing; he eventually comes up with the idea to turn off the computers and tech. The booby trap itself is designed to ensnare ships by using the energy required to run those ships’ vast technology against them, and the only way to escape it, in the end, is to ditch almost all technology and go back to biological basics. So it’s appropriate that the arcs of both Picard and Geordi end up being much the same way: they get into a “trap” by letting their fondness for technology overwhelm other impulses, and get out by betting on human ingenuity.

What we learn about Geordi in this episode does mark him out as, if not necessarily unhealthy, at least unusual. Lots of people have trouble dating, and a lot of his problem with the date early in the episode is, as Guinan suggests, that he is trying too hard. But the primary way in which he tries too hard is to attempt full technical control of his surroundings, spending days on the perfect computer holodeck simulation that will woo the girl of his dreams. The inability to separate out his relationship with people and with machines runs throughout the episode, where first his date crashes because he treats his date too much like a technical problem to be resolved through careful engineering and then later on it takes about two minutes of hearing the computer quoting sections of a woman’s voice reading her technical manual for him to anthropomorphize the computer and start flirting with her, before eventually he starts asking the computer again and again to make adjustments to enable him to interface more directly with (essentially) a human face put on a design manual.

As Grumpy says above, that Geordi chooses to spend all his time with “Leah” rather than with anyone in his *entire engineering staff* is weird, and it is an issue that is flagged for the audience, albeit a little subtly—Picard makes the reasonable deduction that Geordi’s “we” includes other humans and Geordi is a little embarrassed when Picard actually catches him with his simulated assistant. When he explains to Picard that he needs the holodeck to keep running—even to the point of requiring captain’s override—he dances around the fact that he needs his holographic dance partner specifically rather than the more generic and sensible-sounding design simulation. And, notably, the only solution that “Leah” can come up with to the problem of the hour is to give the Enterprise over to the computer and ask the computer to make course corrections really, really fast. The reliance on an artificial woman as his date/sounding board gives Geordi some good ideas, but no ideas that actually work for this booby trap, which is designed to counter tech solutions. Hence, eventually, it takes Geordi gaining the courage to step away from his reliance on technology to get the inspiration to shoot the engines once and coast, relying on the navigator (in this case, Picard) using the thrusters. Geordi even has a speech about it—how he had to move away from the technological paradigm to get away.

For Picard, it is interesting that in a lot of ways it actually is Picard who both gets them into and out of the trap. It is probably standard procedure to investigate derelict craft so it’s not as if Picard is to blame in any grand way; nevertheless, it is interesting and in keeping with the episode’s themes that Picard also uses his experience building ships in a bottle as a way of defusing Riker’s not unreasonable concerns that it’s too dangerous to investigate the ship. Picard is not reliant on technology in quite the way Geordi is, but he’s fascinated by technical achievement in both the past and future, to the point where the crew can’t help but recognize Picard’s geeking out. Since Picard’s inability to resist the allure of a beautiful ship got them into the trap, it’s appropriate that he is the one to fly the ship out.

But notably, Picard’s flying the ship out is not actually a denial of technology, but a different relationship with it: Picard is still using tech and is navigating, but he’s using his own experience with thrusters and with flying through gravitational fields. If the episode is about the danger of overreliance on and overinvestment in technology, the solution is not to throw technology away but to make sure that one is able to control it and wield it properly. Humans can’t fly without ships and Geordi can’t see without his VISOR. There is something touching about “Leah’s” farewell to Geordi and their kiss, and I think it’s something akin to what Grumpy said earlier—“Leah” is the Enterprise computer expressing its love for Geordi in the only way it knows how, and Geordi’s affectionate response to the human face he has put on the ship’s systems is bizarre but also sweet. Talking to “Leah” helped Geordi get to the solution to the booby trap, but the solution is to stop relying on “Leah” (and, by extension, the computer), and so the episode has a bittersweet ending where Geordi and “Leah’s” weird romance ends and Geordi goes back to real life with real people (though without much dating luck, still).

In addition to that, there’s a great musical score in the end sequence and some fun theorist vs. engineer dialogue between “Leah” and Geordi that rings true. I never really thought of this as a great episode, but it gets better the more I think about it. I think that it still doesn’t examine the implications of a computer being able to create an artificial Leah Brahms, or acknowledge explicitly enough how weird Geordi’s relationship with her is (weird, not necessarily bad). Still, on the high end of 3 stars.
Stephanie - Thu, Jun 20, 2013 - 6:51pm (USA Central)
This is one of my favorite episodes of TNG. However, I have a gripe with it. In the end when Picard destroys the Promellian Battlecruiser, it is my opinon that Picard would've never done that. His love for history and archeology, and most importantly his intuition would've allowed him to find another solution instead of destroying the irreplaceable relic.

When he does make the decision to fire upon it, he doesn't even blink. I don't think the passionate archeologist in him would've behaved that way.

Grumpy - Fri, Jun 21, 2013 - 6:20pm (USA Central)
Picard's scuttling of the priceless relic can, at least, be easily ignored without damaging the rest of the story. Likewise, one must ignore the opening scene, when we're told the debris is the remnants of the *last battle* with the Menthars. Um, if the war ended when the planet blew up (which, btw, ouch!), who was still around to lay a trap in the remains?

So I just pretend it was a generic rockpile, not the site of a famous battle. Besides, if it was so famous, how did anyone learn about it without discovering the Promellians' indefatigable distress signal?
nick P. - Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - 10:33am (USA Central)
This is one of my faves also. The Geordi thing does get a bit creepier every time I see it though. But to me, this is an example of a very "regular" episode, but at the peak of TNGs creative juices. Even this episode looks and feels stunning.

The music might be a good part of that. I actually agree the original closing music doesn't quite fit the scene (of course it may have been different after it was edited in the scene), but the clip used (from "Where silence has lease") is probably my favourite musical cue from TNG, so I am quite happy to see it pop back up. And all of this is better than that crap from season 5-7.
Rikko - Wed, Jan 8, 2014 - 4:29pm (USA Central)
Correct me if I'm wrong but I think this is Geordi's breakthrough episode, and by now it was long overdue because the most important characters of the crew already had one.

IIRC Picard's was "The Battle" (S1 Ep9), Data's "Datalore" (S1 Ep 13), Worf had "Heart of Glory" (S1 Ep 20),Riker's was probably "Haven" (S1 Ep 11) or maybe "Angel One" (S1 Ep 13), both terrible episodes but he was the main character there, although the first good one was "11001001".

Wesley had his as early as in "The Naked Now" (S1 Ep 3) and during most of the first season. For Troi is much harder to tell, maybe "Haven" with Riker, but I'd say "The Child" (S2 Ep 1) was her breakthrough.

When it comes to main cast of yore, Tasha Yar's was Code of Honor (S1 Ep 4) I think; and Pulaski's was "Unnatural Selection" (S2 Ep 7), imo, first episode getting to know her well.

The only character that took a long time to get one of those was Dr. Crusher, with "Remember Me" (S4 Ep 5).

.....................

Now, I really liked this particular episode. I only stopped following the technobabble very close to the end, but for most of the episode it sounded like something that makes sense, hah.

As for the rest, you've said it all already :)
Paul - Wed, Jan 8, 2014 - 5:25pm (USA Central)
@Rikko: Geordi's breakout ep would probably be "The Arsenal of Freedom" from season 1. Maybe a better way to think of this would be, what's the first BACKGROUND episode for each character?

Picard's would definitely be "The Battle." Riker's would probably be "The Icarus Factor." Troi's would probably be "Haven," thought "Manhunt" is another example. Data's would be "Datalore" and Worf's would be "Heart of Glory."

Wesley, as a child, didn't really have that much of a background and Yar's background was probably explored in "Legacy," years after she died. But it's interesting that Crusher's most significant background story is probably the near-unwatchable "Sub Rosa," which happened in the seventh season.

Did Geordi have a background episode? "Identity Crisis" deals with his previous assignment and "Interface" talks about his mother and shows his father. Otherwise ...

It's interesting that Geordi got as much screen time as he did without ever really getting much in the way of a backstory. He's kind of like a Voyager character that way.
Rikko - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 11:09am (USA Central)
@ Paul: You're right! I forgot about "The Arsenal of Freedom"! Geordi was one of the main characters there. And to think that was my favorite episode of the first season. Oh, well, it's been a while.

What I meant by "Breakthrough" was an episode that highlights a particular character for the first time, not necessarily followed by his/her own personal background history. And those eps usually showcase their motivations and character quirks.

That's why I mentioned those S1 episodes for Riker, those were the first to let you know he was something more than just the second in command.

And while it's true that Wesley didn't have much of a background (he was a very unbalanced character most of the time, and didn't sit well with the rest of the crew, imo), most solutions for S1 problems came from him and that established something important: He's a boy genius. If we like that or not it's another mater entirely, hah.


Oh, and I can't comment on those episodes from upcoming seasons you mention, since I'm just at mid S4 at this point in time. Although, I've heard A LOT about Sub-Rosa.
William B - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
I think the reason "Booby Trap" seems to me to be more of a true Geordi-focus episode than "The Arsenal of Freedom" is that "TAoF" is a bit of a dead end for Geordi. There are no more Geordi-in-command stories after "The Arsenal of Freedom." It's not a total dead end. Part of "The Arsenal of Freedom," maybe the biggest part, is Geordi working on his interpersonal skills in order to be a good commander, figuring out how to connect to his crew. That carries through into his stories as Chief Engineer, such as "Hollow Pursuits," in which he has to figure out how to be a boss/commander to someone else who lacks ability to connect to people. I don't think it gets to the core of who Geordi is the way "Booby Trap" does.

Notably, "Samaritan Snare" is also ostensibly a Geordi episode, but reveals very little about him except that he's a generally affable guy.

I actually think "Symbiosis" is the first real Beverly "episode," and if not that then "The High Ground" or maybe "Transfigurations." "Symbiosis" is what positions Beverly as the somewhat bleeding-heart humanist individualist, highly ethical and concerned with care but with a different sense of justice than Picard has. But "Symbiosis" is a mess, and "The High Ground" does that stuff better.

I think the first episode that really gets a handle on Wesley is arguably "Evolution," which takes the boy-genius idea and goes somewhere interesting with it (even if the final episode is only so-so), which is what eventually leads to the character's finest moment later in the series (which I won't spoil). Though, I think a case could be made for "Coming of Age" finding a way to make Wesley human and relatable.

The point about background episodes is interesting, because I think that revealing a character's backstory is one way to get into a character's head, what motivates them, etc. But it's not the only way, and for some characters the backstory is a little bit irrelevant. This is why season seven went off the rails, because of the conviction that the only way to reveal character is by examining backstory -- even there, some of those eps ("The Pegasus," "Inheritance") were good to great. That "Datalore" and "Heart of Glory" double as the first "true" character-exploration pieces for Data / Worf and their backstory eps is partly because the backstory of those characters ends up being important to understanding why they are the way they are, especially Worf, but Data to an extent too.

Anyway, my picks for "first episode for a character to really come alive for me":

Picard: Encounter at Farpoint (Patrick Stewart is just that good); in terms of writing, maybe it's not until The Measure of a Man that Picard is Picard in all his awesomeness. the "we need you!" speech in Q Who? maybe is the last piece for me to fully see Picard at his best -- that willingness to admit failing and vulnerability is there in earlier episodes, but never quite so strongly before then
Riker: 11001001. A Matter of Honour is another leap forward.
Data: Datalore, though The Measure of a Man is an even bigger breakthrough
Worf: Heart of Glory
Geordi: Booby Trap, but yes honourable mention to The Arsenal of Freedom
Beverly: The High Ground, honourable mention to Symbiosis
Troi: Haven, I guess; Troi's a tough character, and her first genuinely-good starring role is not until s6
Wesley: Evolution, but honourable mention to Coming of Age
Pulaski: Elementary, Dear Data as a supporting character; Unnatural Selection starring
Yar: Yesterday's Enterprise
O'Brien: The Wounded
Q: Q Who? (he is good in Encounter at Farpoint much of the time, but Q Who? is where the character really sells)
Guinan: the "slavery" scene in The Measure of a Man really makes clear this character is something special. I guess Q Who? is her first "backstory" episode, and that is a good one for her character too.
Paul M. - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 4:10am (USA Central)
Interesting how many people really liked this episode, myself included and it's not hard to see why. A good script that builds tension all the way to the end, some interesting character work with Geordi and Picard.

But what really sets this episode apart, at least in my opinion, is a cinematic quality that was all too rarely present in TV trek -- the outstanding Ron Jones soundtrack, the lighting (bridge looks fantastic; wouldn't it be great if it always looked like that during Red Alert?) coupled with generally improved Season 3 production values and here we have one of my favourite episodes of TNG.

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