Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"A Matter of Perspective"


Air date: 2/12/1990
Written by Ed Zuckerman
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You're a dead man, Apgar! A dead man!" Ah, how I remember and cherish that line from when I first heard it 17 years ago. It sums up this episode perfectly, in which a comedy of errors (actually a tragedy, but it plays like a comedy, hence Data being an art critic for Picard's painting in the opening teaser) is remembered by those involved in the way they want to remember it. In what must've been a brilliant high-concept pitch by writer Ed Zuckerman, this episode is "Rashomon in the holodeck."

As Riker beams back from a space station after discussing the progress of a new technology ("Krieger waves," not to be confused with "Kegel exercises") being developed by scientist Dr. Apgar (Mark Margolis), the station explodes, killing Apgar. Riker is accused of murder by the local authorities (Craig Richard Nelson), and the extradition hearing is held on the holodeck, where witness depositions and the facts of the case are viewed like scenes from a play. This is a clever twist on the courtroom show, and the holodeck is, I must admit, the perfect venue for dramatizing this kind of fact-finding mission. The facts mostly surround a perceived attraction between Riker and Apgar's wife Manua (Gina Hecht), which in varying versions of testimony has Riker flirting with Manua or vice versa.

The Rashomon effect eventually plays like humor, where Apgar, in three different versions (1) takes a swing at Riker and misses and falls down, (2) receives two punches in the gut from a real bastard version of Riker, and (3) kicks Riker's ass (in the most unlikely of scenarios). This third version leads to the hilariously over-the-top "You're a dead man, Apgar!" line. Riker watches the simulation and buries his face in his hand.

Who really killed Apgar, and why? That's answered in a final act that nearly drowns in its excess. A lengthy scene of exposition threatens to collapse under its own weight. The technical role of the Krieger wave converter (and its implausibly perfect replication in the holodeck, such that it actually functions) is ridiculous, and requires pages of explanation dialog. But the plot is exceptionally tidy, tying up all loose ends, assuming you buy into the technobabble. I don't, really — but, dammit, I like this episode anyway. It follows the facts from beginning to end in the true, verbose spirit of TNG.

Previous episode: Deja Q
Next episode: Yesterday's Enterprise

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16 comments on this review

Jay - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
In "A Matter Of Perspective", it is never explained how both Riker's and Apgar's wife's stories can be true, which they obviously cannot be.

Troi stated that both believed what they were saying, which just doesn't sit at all...again, their stories as to who seduced who are diametrically opposed. The episode throws this out there and then doesn't care. That costs two stars at least.
Powers - Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - 2:12pm (USA Central)
I'm sure you're aware, Jay, that human recollection is notoriously unreliable. Once Manua decided that Riker must have killed her husband in a fit of jealousy, she went back through the events of the previous day and re-interpreted them in a different light.

And in that reinterpretation, a stray glance that she previously might have dismissed became an appraising leer. A hand on the shoulder, meant to steady her, or push her away, became an attempt to remove her robe.

We know how Riker is. He probably stole a glance or two, and probably enjoyed whatever attention Manua directed his way. Maybe they even flirted a bit with each other, innocently.

And it's possible, he, too, misread Manua's friendliness for flirtation. By his recollection, perhaps, he'd been a perfect gentleman, but her memory pushed aside those aspects and highlighted others.

That's the way human (and presumably Tanugan) memory works. Troi was absolutely correct.

(And of course, if it was just a matter of "who's lying", having a Betazoid on board would end the episode before it began...)
Jay - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 1:47pm (USA Central)
@ Powers...

If we play that fast and loose with what the truth is, then legal trials have no meaning...certainly swearing an oath doesn't.

If you can make yourself remember things differently with time and decide that this new recollection is the new "truth", it all becomes meaningless...
Simon - Thu, Mar 7, 2013 - 5:20pm (USA Central)

Correct. Eyewitness testimony is highly over-rated. Here's Wikipedia on the myriad ways a witness can be plain wrong:
You'll notice that almost all of the references at the bottom of the page are to serious academic journals.

On a similar note, Wikipedia's page on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes has a lengthy section on "disputed facts", including several eyewitness statements compared to CCTV and other photographic evidence.

A highlight is that eyewitnesses described de Menezes as wearing a heavy winter coat (in July) and carrying a bomb with wires sticking out. In fact he was empty handed and wearing a light denim jacket.

There is an awful lot of evidence that human memory is extremely fallible. The so-accurate-it-works holodeck reconstruction is just about the only unrealistic thing here.
William B - Mon, May 27, 2013 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
Rashomon on the holodeck is indeed a great pitch, and part of the pleasure of this episode is to watch different perspectives on the same event, similar enough to recognize how the broad outlines are the same and (most important) different in ways that often, especially early in the various simulations, suggest how even subtle differences in behaviour can change the interpretation of a series of events. Certainly late in the game, the question of whether Riker tried to rape Manua is not at all a subtle difference (and that is one element in which the distinction is a bit too broad to be wholly believable) -- but the early scenes especially in which Riker and Manua begin to have a flirtatious back-and-forth exist on that perfect edge in which most of the communication is in subtle cues and smiles and looks of discomfort. Even the way Apgar gets knocked down in Riker’s and Manua’s versions of events seem somehow credible: Riker actually didn’t hit him but it seems pretty believable that it could all have gone so fast that it looked much different. The funniest simulation of all is the version of events as told by Apgar to his assistant, in which he has apparently narrated a version of himself as a total badass.

Actually, probably the most interesting thing about the episode (in a broader sense) is the question of what exactly happened with Riker and Manua. Again, he certainly didn’t try to rape her, but while it’s clear from the moment the episode begins that Riker didn’t actually murder Dr. Apgar, is it actually so far beyond the realm of probability that Riker started hitting on his wife? Especially when we know that Riker recognized that she was unhappy with her husband? The possibility that Riker crossed a line morally through his flirting hints at the ways in which Riker’s sexual aggressiveness actually really is unprofessional, albeit most obviously in really bad episodes. “Angel One” is the most obvious, though he was not the aggressor there but “merely” someone who slept with a head of state without much compunction about whether that’s appropriate (Exhibit A that Riker responds to others’ sexual advances very readily regardless of the situation); I also think his pursuit of Yuta borders on creepy in “The Vengeance Factor,” given how little she was responding to his advances early on and how subservient and passive she was when she did respond (though he tried to correct her, for what it’s worth). Meanwhile, Riker flirts with attractive women so readily and reflexively that it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that he flirted with Manua without even realizing it, or without noticing how this could be misinterpreted and thus get him into trouble. Unfortunately, this element of the episode is somewhat dropped when eventually revealing that Apgar tried to kill Riker and killed himself in the process, and when the flirtation between Riker and Manua turns out not even to be part of his motivation. Certainly mysteries all work around misleads, so it’s not inappropriate to have Riker/Manua as a red herring (there to provide Riker with a reasonable motive but not actually relevant to what happened), but it does leave the thorny issues about Riker’s self-presentation and professionalism pretty irrelevant. (It’s worth noting, too, that in Manua’s version Riker did nearly sexually assault her and was stopped by her husband coming to her rescue, and the fact that this accusation is completely dropped within the episode even when Troi says that she’s not lying is a bit of a problem.)

A good mystery should present all the clues to its solution throughout the story so that the ending, while perhaps shocking, is consistent with what came before. On one hand, the solution is so fantastic -- and so reliant on technobabble with fairly arbitrary properties -- that even though the clues had been stated earlier in the episode, it’s a little hard to say that the episode is really playing fair. All that said, what I liked about the resolution and, as a result, about the whole episode, is that it shows a real dedication on the part of Picard and the Enterprise crew to truth-seeking. Riker, Manua and Apgar’s assistant’s accounts are all distorted reflections of the truth, because humanoids are ultimately fallible in their memories. But by synthesizing all three versions of events together and combining it with technical information which Do Not Lie, Picard et al. can get at the truth, and a truth that is convincing to all parties. Rashomon itself was a movie which ended with the characters largely admitting that there was simply no way to know what actually happened, and losing faith in the world before finding some modicum of finding it again through discovering a child who needed tending to. This version manages to use the mystery-investigation genre to play a Rashomon-comedy in which careful work can discover an objective truth, which, as we all know, is the first duty of every Starfleet officer. It’s impressively Trekkian.

And yep, “You’re a dead man, Apgar! A dead man” is hilarious. Low three stars.
TH - Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - 12:55am (USA Central)
I always liked this episode as well, but in rewatching it, I admit it has some weakness in it. I think Jay has highlighted one of them; Powers is right to a degree, but I'm still with Jay on this one. I think the writers were trying to make a point with Troi's line that Powers is making, but the script went too far to justify it.

Eyewitness testimony is one thing. This is the testimony of participants, and it's not to a crime or fleeting rapid event. These are calculated decisions.

I agree that the opening introduction scene where "who checked who out" is in dispute and whether she was hugging the Doctor or being very cold to him is totally plausible.

I think it's also plausible neither quite remembers the minute detail of who first brought up the notion of Riker staying the night (although the fact that in one scenario she suggests it and in the other scenario when he suggests it she OPPOSES it, that's getting iffy on being truthful). The biggest problem, however, is the rape scene.

If he really believes she closed the door, he asked her to leave and she came on to him, and she actually believes he closed the door and started ripping her clothes off while she protested and declared love for her husband (remember, her clothes other than a shawl didn't even come off in his simulation), I'm concerned someone has some delusion problems.

Similarly, if he actually belives he never punched the doctor and she believes he did, that's a pretty specific memory for both to believe occured. That scene is where I can't believe
Doug Mataconis - Sat, Dec 7, 2013 - 5:36pm (USA Central)
One plot hole that has always annoyed me about this episode is why nobody ever checked Riker's phaser to see if it had been fired.
Rikko - Tue, Feb 11, 2014 - 9:47pm (USA Central)
Well. Not much to say. My first impression was thinking the episode was going to be very serious and talky. Only half right, the end result is very funny. Although I didn't get much of the technobabble. Overall, I liked it.

On Riker's behavior: I think he has a problem when it comes to sexual stuff. William B. you said it mostly happened in bad episodes, but what about the one with the bynars?

In that particular ep, Riker created a female hologram only to have a good sexy time. And then, they say Barclay has a problem with the holodeck...

Taking into account that I haven't seen all of TNG, I guess Riker's ways are never the crux of an episode, and this is maybe as far as they wanted to go on the matter. A shame, because that would partially explain why him and Troi didn't last long. He was always hitting on more girls.
Tom - Tue, Apr 8, 2014 - 8:39pm (USA Central)
This episode failed to convince me. The solution to the mystery wasn't especially interesting, nor was the journey to get there. I didn't really like the characters, nor the setting, nor the repeated scenes. I never really doubted Riker's version of the story. We know he's not a rapist and wouldn't try to blow up the station for no reason. There was no tension for me in the episode.
dlpb - Wed, Jul 9, 2014 - 6:39pm (USA Central)
Correct. Eyewitness testimony is highly over-rated.

Simon, you don't seem to understand the context of when eye-witness testimonies are credible or not. It is not some blanket rule that they are wrong. In the case of this episode, it was not some quick fire event. It is a lady who states she clearly saw and heard things contrary to Riker. This isn't the typical eye witness situation. If she was placed in front of a jury, she'd be found guilty of perjury.

You can't have 2 stories THIS intricate and opposite being true. I really don't know why this is hard to grasp. The problem with this episode is that it had to somehow do away with Troi's powers, and the way it goes about it is unrealistic and stupid.

THAT'S the ONLY reason why they came up with that mumbo jumbo.
dlpb - Thu, Jul 10, 2014 - 5:55pm (USA Central)
And this isn't even an eye witness. It's the actual people involved.
grumpy_otter - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 4:11pm (USA Central)
Here is an article about memory. It is pretty detailed, but the basics are that memories never remain intact in the brain. They are constantly moving about and being stored in different parts of the brain--and changing every time they move. In short, memory--even of events in which we were participants--is NEVER reliable. The different perspectives in this episode are entirely plausible.

www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199501/its-magical-its-malleable-its-memor y

If you are interested in learning more, you should also check out the work of Daniela Schiller--she's one of the leaders in memory research.
Jeffrey Jakucyk - Wed, Sep 24, 2014 - 7:03pm (USA Central)
Before this hearing/deposition/whatever you call it on the holodeck, shouldn't someone have contacted the hotel on the planet to verify that they'd made reservations to stay the night, even if they canceled or didn't show up? Irrespective of the whole eye witness and faulty memory arguments, that's one easily verifiable piece of testimony that's pretty critical to the he said/she said arguments being made.
xaaos - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 6:21pm (USA Central)
@ Rikko: "A shame, because that would partially explain why him and Troi didn't last long."

But didn't they get married afterall, Rikko?
Lionheart - Mon, Nov 24, 2014 - 11:36am (USA Central)
Jay really does make a good point. When I saw how different Mrs Apgar's interpretation of what happened was, I instantly realized this episode failed. I realize that perspectives can be different during the fact, and can even change after the fact based on one's personal feelings, but this episode didn't just stretch it, it spaghettified it. There is no way she would turn a relatively normal conversation into an attempt at rape. Aside from that, she had a clear view of what happened when Apgar attacked Riker, so I find it very unlikely she would recall Riker punching Apgar in the gut twice -- especially when you consider that Riker's version is probably almost fully correct. To go from Riker dodging Apgar's punch, to Apgar being punched (rather slowly) twice... no. It just doesn't work.

The plot would've been more believable if Mrs Apgar were simply lying about what happened. Of course, the rest of the plot would have to be overhauled to fit that, so maybe Troi would have to have trouble reading Mrs Apgar... maybe it'd work if she were somehow a master of deceit.

Overall, it was just another mediocre TNG episode.
Robert - Mon, Nov 24, 2014 - 1:27pm (USA Central)
"especially when you consider that Riker's version is probably almost fully correct"

Sure, the episode makes no sense when you ignore the premise! :)

The writers almost undoubtedly intended the old saying that "the truth is somewhere in between". Both Riker and Mrs. Apgar shifted the situation to put themselves in a better light.

Her husband just died and she's wracked with guilt for cheating on him. Also, she actually BELIEVES Riker killed her husband. Suddenly her mind starts to see his advances as aggressive.

In his version the advances were all her doing... I'm just saying perhaps they came onto each other and then realizing it was wrong both blamed the other person and started thinking better of their own actions.

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