Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"A Fistful of Datas"


Air date: 11/9/1992
Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Brannon Braga
Story by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Patrick Stewart

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When the crew finds they have some spare time on their hands, they take on some personal projects and diversions. Data and Geordi (ever the nerds, even in their free time — says the guy writing a Star Trek review) try an experiment where Data hooks himself into the ship's computer to increase efficiencies. Meanwhile, Worf gets dragged to the holodeck by his son to role-play in the Old West (or the "Ancient West," as this episode calls it). I wonder if these two threads will become connected somehow...?

Well, of course, yes. A malfunction scrambles the Data/computer transmission, and bits of Data's brain end up as manifestations in Alexander's holodeck program — with the safety mechanisms disabled, of course. (Yes, it's the latest take on the "holodeck goes awry" trope.) This plot is a naked excuse for TNG to get dressed up and play western. I have no problem with that in theory, but as westerns go, "A Fistful of Datas" is shockingly lifeless, bloodless, and joyless. (Back to the Future Part III seems to take a lot of flak as sci-fi western comedies go, but I enjoyed it, which stands in stark contrast to this.)

This show is underwritten and underplayed and the production is shot on an Old West backlot that feels completely deserted. What could've and should've been a rip-roaring good time instead comes across as the walking dead. TNG's pace has always been somewhat talky and deliberate, and that works when TNG is being TNG. But to adopt that same stolid sensibility in the Old West proves fatal here. (Honestly, "Rascals" was better paced.) The result is an hour that feels like it was constructed by aliens who had watched a few westerns and then stitched together some of their cliches into, well, a holodeck program. They play the notes, but that doesn't make it music. (Jay Chattaway's western-themed score works, though.)

Probably the best part of the show is, not surprisingly, Brent Spiner. The real Data finds pieces of the holodeck program spilling back into his brain, making him use Old West colloquialisms. Not exactly the cleverest joke ever, but Spiner nails it. The same cannot be said of sheriff-star-brandishin' Worf, boot-wearin' Troi, or lame-and-simple Alexander — none of whom sell much of anything except a substitute for Ambien amid a pointless plot. The writing overall is too restrained (aside from a Data-in-drag gag that simply misfires instead), and Patrick Stewart's leaden direction is unfortunately of little help. This episode is a head-scratcher. At least the Enterprise sails into the sunset at the end.

Previous episode: Rascals
Next episode: The Quality of Life

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32 comments on this review

David - Sat, Jun 9, 2012 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
I'd give this 2.5 stars--it is okay not great. It starts off a little slow until the malfunction threat sets in then I thought it was entertaining enough for a hostage/western/action piece. Brent Spiner can do menacing quite well and I liked Worf's trick of using forcefields to briefly deflect bullets.

And whenthis aired I wasn't tired of holodeck gone wrong stories so I give this a pass and I loved Brent as the female at the end.
Joseph B - Sun, Jun 10, 2012 - 2:04pm (USA Central)
Two stars seems about right for this one although I did get a kick out of Troi's "mysterious stranger" role -- and Spiner, of course, was obviously having a lot of fun. (Perhaps a little *too* much fun!)
Jake - Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 7:50am (USA Central)
And this is not worthy of the 3 stars you gave the similarly-themed & similarly-contrived "Our Man Bashir" because.....?
Jammer - Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 6:42pm (USA Central)
Because "Our Man Bashir" was a zippy and fun parody of cliches, while "Fistful of Datas" was a plodding and lifeless regurgitation of them. Did you not read my reviews?

Similarly themed and similarly contrived does not equal similarly enjoyable.
Van_Patten - Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 8:52pm (USA Central)

The best riposte to the criticism of the rating given to this vs 'Our Man Bashir' -show me the liine to equal:

'Kiss the Girl, get the key - they didn't teach us that in the Obsidian Order!'

Counter pose any line delivered by Alexander or Spiner's horrendously hokey delivery of his lines within the holodeck simulation.

2 stars about right for this one- the crying shame is it had real potential but they bodged it by putting Troi in, and there aren't many Alexander episodes that do much for me. Arguably he highlight (other than the scenes with Data in engineering) was Worf playing the holodeck simulation and beating seven bells out of the 'Non-data' holodeck characters in the bar. Unfortunately after that, it's downhill all the way!
Robert - Tue, Jun 12, 2012 - 8:33am (USA Central)
I totally agree with the review. Weirly enough, the highlight of the show for me was Riker reiterating Data's "Ode to Spot" from 3 episodes ago. I loved his amused look (could have been more obvious though) before starting to read it. Any trekkie loves a continuity gag.
Evan - Tue, Jun 12, 2012 - 7:02pm (USA Central)
Geordi and Data do indeed have nerdy pastimes. Jammer, if you haven't checked out the tng_s8 Twitter account, it's highly entertaining. It's full of joke synopses of the fictional Season 8 of TNG, and Geordi and Data always seem to end up in nerdy and childlike subplots.
Tony - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 6:23am (USA Central)
"Because "Our Man Bashir" was a zippy and fun parody of cliches, while "Fistful of Datas" was a plodding and lifeless regurgitation of them."

WTF-ever, dude! This episode ROCKED!!!
TMLS - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
"Red Dwarf" did the 'season 6 western episode' much better ;)
Latex Zebra - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 6:04am (USA Central)
lol @ TMLS - I watched that the other night. Has some very dodgy acting in it... Mind you most of them did.

Never been a huge fan of themed episodes. Always seems to be a lazy idea.

'What can we do this week?'
'Lets do a Western!'

Most Holodeck episodes drive me mad. This is no exception. Not helped by the fact I don't really like Western's bar a few classics. Django Unchained looks like fun though.
Tim - Mon, Jun 18, 2012 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
Well, it wasn't great, but I learnt that 'reckon' is seen as a Western word, I had to google it, to work out why they thought Data saying it was odd. I reckon, I use that word loads!
Paul - Wed, Jun 20, 2012 - 1:21pm (USA Central)
I think this is about the time TNG started to show its age (even if it could still be very good at times).

The sixth and seventh seasons really change the character dynamics of the show. Riker is used a a supporting character (sort of like Scotty in the original series). Geordi and Beverly both get some episodes, but they're also forgotten or barely mentioned in others.

Troi is given more to do, which is sad, because Marina Sirtis is such a weak actor. Worf is put in a lot of episodes but not to much effect. This show, the Troi love arc and others pale in comparison to the Klingon-centric shows.

The best episodes over the final two years are Picard stories or Picard centric (Tapestry, AGT, the Chase). Even some of the Data stuff falls flat (Descent, Part 2, Thine Own Self, Birthright, Masks, etc.).

I know early TNG is pretty bad, but late TNG isn't that great either (though it has higher highs). The sixth and especially the seventh season have a lot of boring or failed high-concept episodes or character shows that don't work.

I love TNG and grew up on it, but the late-series episodes often fall flat. I'll be interested to read Jammer's take on that.
Shane - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 4:30am (USA Central)
I hate the holodeck malfunction cliche in Trek (should have been done no more than 2 times, maybe 3). It was silly how often TNG did it and was just plain absurd by the time Voyager started spitting them out.

Aside from that I found this episode enjoyable and I guess I'm stuck remembering it fondly from my childhood. I grew up with the show and was roughly Alexander's age when this episode aired so I was easily able to put myself into the situation.

Brent Spiner was a lot of fun to watch, Worf had a couple of good moments, and Troi was just fine as well. (I'm sure Marina Sirtis was thankful to have something to do!) I guess I'd just say it's harmless fun.
Rosario - Thu, Nov 8, 2012 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
I just recall this episode being unbearable. Reading the review gave me flashbacks of a terrible nature. Alexander in fake western clothing... *shudder*
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 2:13pm (USA Central)
I think Data's character was a "hoot", both as himself and in his various holodeck incarnations ... Worf was pretty good too... I think this was pretty well done compared with later holodeck episodes on other series.

That reminds me... you know they were dying to use the holodeck in Enterprise... how they must have suffered not to have that to fall back on! Still didn't force them to come up with better quality stories most of the time though
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 2:21pm (USA Central)
Loved Data in drag too... Data and Worf, there was a missed opportunity for a bromance
Corey - Fri, Jul 12, 2013 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer's 2 star rating for this one. There were a couple of scenes I liked though:

1) Riker reading his "lines", which were really the ode to Spot, and the resulting bemused Riker expression and "What the heck is going on" look from Crusher
2) Worf's exclamation after beating up some of the bad guys in the bar: "I'm beginning to see the appeal of this program!"
3) When entering the town, Worf noticed a prostitute - Worf: Did you write this program Alexander? Alexander: Yes, but Mr. Barclay helped. Worf: (frowning) I'm going to have to have a talk with Mr. Barclay.
Locke - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
Everytime I watch this I always think... this is the freaking weirdest idea for a Star Trek episode that I have ever seen. Who said "Lets do a western where all the characters are data" and what the hell were they smoking? xD
mephyve - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 7:03pm (USA Central)
I liked it. 2 stars
William B - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 10:57am (USA Central)
I think one reason I like this episode is that it takes seriously (though in a comedic tone) Worf's parenthood toward Alexander, by telling a story in which Worf indulges in his son's pastimes and eventually finds himself enjoying it. There is something neat about Alexander casting Worf as the sheriff and Worf enjoying the idea of being that figure of total moral and literal authority. And the episode then, as most holodeck stories do, has a malfunction happen in which the characters have to follow through the rest of the story, even as they stand outside it, but in this case there is an additional resonance because the main reason Worf has to do what he has to do is because 1) Alexander made the program so that it ends when Worf has completed certain tasks, and 2) Alexander himself is threatened. Worf is a reluctant father, who would much rather impose his own values and interests on his son, if doing anything at all, but in this episode he has to play by Alexander's rules, more closely associated with the human past than Klingon custom, and finds out that the role isn't as far off from who he actually likes to be as he thought. He saves the day by the application of defense rather than offense (that Worf can create a force field out of a phonograph and some comm badges stretches credulity, to put it mildly, but at least force fields and shields are a form of technology Worf would likely be familiar with).

In particular, the moment at the episode's end where he decides not to shoot Frank Hollander and the rest of the men, but instead sends them out of town, is interesting: Worf is about to resolve the program dispensing Klingon justice (see his earlier glee at the possibility of executing Eli instead of holding him for a trial), then looks at Alexander watching him intently and with awe, thinks about what messages he wants to send his son, and realizes that, when it comes right down to it, gunning down a bunch of people, even bad people, is not really what he wants Alexander to think is right. It's a follow-up from "Redemption, Part II" where Worf defied Klingon custom in sparing Toral, even though Toral had tried to kill him; here, there's no moral reason not to kill the various holographic characters (though he might not be able to, them being Data and probably bulletproof and all), but his son is watching. The games parents play and the stories they tell are how they model behaviour for their children, and in spite of himself Worf aligns himself more closely with human values than Klingon ones, even if he'd really like to kill things. I think it's character growth that Worf decides to let the bad guys go rather than execute a mass slaughter, when he's the guy who almost attacked Riker back in the holodeck program in "Where Silence Has Lease" because he could only barely get out of kill-mode fast enough.

In short: Worf gets to be a hero, and the kind of hero he ends up being is the kind of hero he wants his son to admire and be, which is what parents generally are, at their best, to their children.

Deanna's participation follows up her concern for Alexander in season five, and Worf and Troi's friendship shows continued development from "Ethics." He calls her Deanna -- which is a level of familiarity he has with *no* one else. (There are no other officers he's on first name basis with, even Riker or Picard, though of course they are not just his friends but his superiors.) I admit that I'm not as against the Worf/Troi thing in season seven as most, but a lot of it is because Worf's growing respect and closeness to Troi is based on the fact that Troi really does help him with Alexander. I don't actually like Alexander very much usually, but Worf having to deal with personal responsibility (and the changes in other relationships of his that result) I do like, provided it's in an episode like this rather than (eep) "Cost of Living."

The idea that there is a Western where are all Data is one of the strangest ideas that has ever been floated in this show, and I can't really think of any thematic justification for it. I kind of like the idea that removing the separation between Data and the ship's computer, and in particular the fictional systems, means a loss of integrity for both, and that maybe reinforces the overall idea that fictional stories we tell and live out are important and are "real" and can have real impact on others (especially impressionable children) morally; by interfacing with the computer, Data becomes the stories and the stories partly become Data. But that's still pretty weird, but I have to give it points for originality even if it's really freaking weird.

I find the episode fairly entertaining, though yes the pacing is bad and the premise is still generally ludicrous. I like it, in the end, though I acknowledge it's probably not a very good show -- probably 2.5 stars.
William B - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 10:57am (USA Central)
Also I love Worf's "So, we are in law enforcement" reading.
William B - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 10:58am (USA Central)
And the gentle humour of the opening scene of Picard's fluting being interrupted. And the sunset. Generally, a pleasant hour with some character importance and an overly slow pace.
Jack - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
Is Troi's holosmoking hazardous to health, or is it like synthehol?
Jay - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
Far and away Alexander's most subdued performance (at least until his adulthood return in DS9), and, uncoincidentally, his best.
Jons - Mon, Jan 6, 2014 - 2:16am (USA Central)
A completely boring episode. If I wanted to watch western movies, I would.

I wish Star Trek writers stopped pretending 24th century people LOVE the 20th and 19th century. It is ridiculous. Instead, they could invent the own ST past (and base "cowboy-indian play" on relatively recent history, of the 22th century or something). Kids today don't enjoy playing a bard in 16th century Scotland. And if/when they do, they get most of it wrong anyway. Why do kids and people from the 24th century should be any different??
Trent Miner - Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
It doesn't make sense that Worf and Troi didn't simply trade the hologram-generated prisoner for Worf's real son. It's just a game. I can understand their being some reluctance on letting an actual real criminal go in real life, but how could you risk your son's life for a fictional prisoner in a game? (And then risk your own life in a shoot out as well) I guess defenders will allege that the program had to played out that way for it to end, or will claim that Worf wanted to set an example for his son?
Moonie - Thu, Jan 23, 2014 - 4:32pm (USA Central)
I *hate* Holodeck episodes. And a Holodeck episode set in the Old West, that's TWO things I hate all rolled into one.

@ Jons, I couldn't agree with you more regarding the the Star Trek crew's obsession with the 19th and 20th century. It's as if nothing has happened between now and the 24th century. I don't know if the writers were just lazy or lacked imagination, or actually did this on purpose because they thought the audience would like it. In my opinion, that is one of the weaknesses of Star Trek. (Which of course we all know to overlook.)
mephyve - Mon, Jan 27, 2014 - 6:41am (USA Central)
Roddenberry loved westerns. Star Trek for him was cowboys in space. "The Final Frontier"
Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 6:51pm (USA Central)
Disappointing episode. As a serious drama it was too flat. Bad guy wants son back. Worf engages in final gun battle to end program. That's pretty much it...and to quote Bilbo felt like too little butter spread over too much toast.

It could have been worse...initially Troi/Worf were going to be romantically involved and there was a cliche Alexander/Troi family banter scene.

If this has played as a pure comedy (Shanker actually screamed at Braga to put more gags in), it could have been a great episode. Loved "Ode to Spot"! That's worth at least a half star boost by itself.
213karaokejoe - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 5:50pm (USA Central)
What with weapons routinely going of holodeck safeguards and trains barrelling down on patrons, it seems that the brilliant technoengineers and command structure of the future would have come up with a few rules for any holodeck adventure:

1. There must be a duty officer for the holodecks, checking in routinely to make sure everything is OK
2. There must be communicator capability at all times; routine check-ins by patrons is required
3. Removal of safegaurds has to be arranged with the captain and notification of removal of safegauards must be communicated through status indicators to the appropriate personnel and stations.

How many near-misses should be tolerated?
Pluto-Nash - Sun, Sep 7, 2014 - 5:35pm (USA Central)
In Descent I two senior officers were needed to shut down holdeck safeguards (I remember these things but forget high-school trig?).

Holosmoke might be like synthehol but someone forgot to remind the Voyager writers synthehol can't actually get you loaded (7 of 9 was shown drunk on synthehol champagne in one episode).

And T'Paul, bromances don't get outright sexual (at least not according to UrbanDictionary.com).

All that aside, this episode had its moments, especially Data telling Spot to 'Vamoose'.
Samuel - Sun, Mar 15, 2015 - 12:25am (USA Central)
Jammer, I'm confused: how does this episode compare with The Walking Dead, as you claim? Are you saying this because of the episode's pacing?

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