Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Emergence"

*1/2

Air date: 5/9/1994
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After three straight outings featuring stories that clearly hinted at a closing series tidying up unfinished character business (albeit not especially successfully), we get one last trip into bad sci-fi tedium with "Emergence," which would've been right at home in the middle stretch of season seven that gave us "Sub Rosa," "Masks," and "Genesis," TNG's Trilogy of Terrible.

Of those three, "Emergence" most resembles "Masks," in that there's a bunch of crazy stuff going on and it's all supposed to be a metaphorical representation of something more significant and highbrow (or at least middlebrow). At this point, I think maybe we've been one too many times to the metaphor well of Joe Menosky — who has the teleplay credit here from a story with Brannon Braga's name on it, but which mostly seems to be an asinine foray into a holodeck-gone-awry pastiche.

The plot is that the Enterprise begins developing its own conscious intelligence based on the massive knowledge base that is the ship's computer, with all its recorded mission logs and personal data. From this intelligence it begins to synthesize a series of connected circuit nodes that suggest the ship itself is becoming sentient. The ship begins synthesizing a physical presence in a cargo bay that the crew believes is its progeny.

That's not a bad concept for a sci-fi story. But the show drives itself into a coma-inducing morass when the computer's consciousness begins using the holodeck to express itself through a series of holodeck programs, combining various characters, eras, and scenarios into a ponderous muddle of sequences that do not for a moment cohere into anything thoughtful or intriguing. They instead come off as random scenes playing out in front of us, alleging the illusion of meaning where none actually exists. The most thematically consistent part of all this is that there's a train, and everyone aboard it is trying to get to "Vertiform City," which is the computer's way of symbolizing the realization of its birthing journey. There are plenty of other details, but none of them work as good storytelling. (Meanwhile, I kept wanting — now, albeit not in 1994 when it originally aired — for the train conductor, played by David Huddleston, to break out and shout at somebody, "Condolences! The bums lost!" But all he could muster was "Ticket, please.")

There's probably a decent story that could've been made from the crux of "Emergence." The idea of the ship becoming its own intelligence and creating its own offspring is reasonably intriguing, as is the idea of the final scene, where Picard notes that he didn't view the entity begotten from the Enterprise as threatening because, well, it came from us. But unfortunately, the way the vast majority of "Emergence" is executed makes success impossible. Here is yet another seventh season episode where it feels like everyone is sleepwalking through it — the writers, the producers, the director, the actors, everyone.

Previous episode: Bloodlines
Next episode: Preemptive Strike

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23 comments on this review

Latex Zebra - Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 7:22am (USA Central)
I remember this episode being on a VHS of 3-4 episodes I'd managed to grab when it was first aired in the UK.

I remember this being really bad. I have no desire to revisit it.
I feel sorry that you had to.
BIGPALE - Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 1:15pm (USA Central)
This should have been saved for Voyager. It's just the kind of high concept sci-fi that Menosky was famous for. He was always kind of a Bragga-lite.
Grumpy - Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 10:27pm (USA Central)
In a way, this show is as much a first season bookend as "Bloodlines" and "All Good Things," only they didn't make it explicit. Consider everything that happened to the Enterprise computer in its first year after launch: it became a repository for the Bynar planetary mainframe, host to Picard's disembodied consciousness and the Velara microbrain, and was goosed by the Jarada probe.

In year two, the computer conjured a self-aware Moriarty and merged with the mind of Ira Graves. It was also infected by the Iconian probe virus, but that was presumably wiped out.

Beyond that, after being infested with self-aware nanites, interfacing with Barclay's super-genius, absorbing Data's daydreams, and transforming into whatever "Masks" was about, we should've been surprised if the series had ended *without* the Enterprise computer coming to life.
GC McDowell - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 10:23am (USA Central)
Interesting observation, Grumpy. It might have been more interesting if even a few of those connections to self-aware computer concepts from throughout the series were made explicit. It might have been more interesting than the random holo-characters that were used instead.
William B - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 6:07pm (USA Central)
I agree with Grumpy's point; and in general I think there is actually a metaphorical function that the ship's computer coming to life serves as well. The episode opens with Picard explaining his interpretation of The Tempest as Prospero recognizing that his existence is ending and wondering what the future will hold; that was written at the end of Shakespeare's career. Given Menosky's long-standing interest in myths, I think idea of a new life being birthed from the ship and in particular from the holodeck (the stories the crew tell themselves) means that is "about" the show ending, and the notion that the story lives on after the writers and cast and crew work on it -- that the show takes on a figurative life of its own.

I don't think the episode itself is good or anything (I haven't watched it in years, so can't comment; I doubt it is anything to write home about) but the episode is concerned with the series ending and the show's legacy in a way that the rest of episodes in this stretch are, too. It's just not particularly effective at exploring that.
Nic - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 9:36pm (USA Central)
This episode has always been a pleasure of mine (I was going to say "guilty pleasure", but why should I feel guilty about liking something?). Maybe it's just because I love trains. Or maybe I enjoyed the puzzle pieces and clues that the crew had to pick up to figure out what was going on. Did it amount to anything? Probably not. But it was still an interesting ride. I always get a kick out of Data casually holding the car back as he makes repairs to the sewer!
Nick P. - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 7:35am (USA Central)
OK,Nic and William, you have talked me into it, I will finally see this episode again for the first time in 20 years!

Wait, what I meant to say was that if I was trapped on a deserted Island and had nothing else to do, and this was the only episode of ANYTHING, that I would re-watch.
Grumpy - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 12:21pm (USA Central)
When you put it that way, William B, now I wish this episode had actually been about those themes, not just potentially. At the time, I caught the significance of the Shakespeare allusion, but it doesn't carry through the rest of the story.
Paul - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 1:07pm (USA Central)
One of my least favorite episodes of TNG. I think it's a perfect example of how TNG was out of gas.

There is an interesting premise here. But it's horribly rendered -- the train stuff is just dumb and boring. It's also another example of season 7's overuse of Troi and the very slow and dull pace of many of the episodes.

Honestly, season 7 of TNG in many ways could be considered season 1 of Voyager -- shipbound action that falls flat and has poor use of characters.

Fanner - Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
At the very end, after they say "End Program" and the Holodeck finally shuts down, why do the champagne glasses remain?
Dude - Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
I would've lobbied for him to say "Never mind that shit, here comes MONGO!!"
Cloudane - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 4:14am (USA Central)
In the words of Chris Pine's Kirk, "Enough of the metaphors, ok? That's an order."

I guess the champagne glasses were replicated, I think it's in Trek lore somewhere that as well as projecting holograms and conjuring force fields a holodeck can also act like a giant replicator so you can eat and drink in all those simulations of France and whatnot. Replicators are always seen constructing the container as well as the drink.

Also explains why Wesley comes out wet in the very first episode - whoever created the program must've thought it was funny (or maybe feels more realistic) to use replicated water instead of holographic.
T'Paul - Thu, Jun 27, 2013 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
Riker: But why the holodeck? It doesn't make any sense.
Data: Commander, I believe what happens on the holodeck has a direct effect on the ship.

That's gotta be the worst of TNG in a nutshell right there
J - Sun, Jul 14, 2013 - 5:25pm (USA Central)
This would have been a fun episode for an early season, where the ship came to life and became a permanent sentient character on the show.
Adam - Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - 12:58am (USA Central)
I thought this episode was bad because of its ending. All of this buildup and the end result is: the life form leaves, the ship's intelligence disappears, and everyone goes on their merry way. We never find out why the life form was created or what it set out to do, and why the ship randomly decided to just create it. There was no cause and no end result, with a bunch of random stuff in between.
mephyve - Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 3:08am (USA Central)
Q messes with Picard but this time he does it secretly.
It's either that or the ship's computer becomes temporarily sentient and gives birth.
I'm going with Q.
Moonie - Wed, Feb 12, 2014 - 2:02pm (USA Central)
Cute. The Enterprise comes alive and creates life. Not a bad idea.

Could have been really good. Sadly, it was not.

Leif - Fri, May 9, 2014 - 11:40pm (USA Central)
Am I the only person who thought this was a mostly good, fairly ambitious sci-fi episode??
John Dunn - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 7:36am (USA Central)
I watched this episode from the perspective of it being one of the last episodes of the series. There was much foreshadowing of Deep Space Nine in season 7, with cameos by DS9 characters in TNG episodes. This episode was decidedly not good, but I got what they were attempting. The opening scene has Picard explaining to Data Shakespeare's perspective of Prospero being the change from one era from another, from the Renaissance to the modern era, and that Shakespeare was excited about it. Prospero represented the old, who had one last trick. TNG, at this point, was Prospero -- now the old series making way for a new one in Deep Space Nine, as well as looking forward to the large screen roll-out of TNG. It's Star Trek, so there must be allegory. The Enterprise, becoming self-aware, is "reproducing." The squiggly node in appearance resembled DS9. At the end of the episode, having completed this new "life form," it goes away, birthed from the Enterprise, out into Deep Space. I bet if I re-ran that scene, it's departure arch would have looked like a nine. Cornball, but given the nature of the writing in the last season, entirely expected. Then we see Picard explaining his willingness to allow this beast almost destroy the Enterprise because new life is good, or some such thing. There.
langtonian - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 12:52pm (USA Central)
Unlike many people, I didn't mind Sub Rosa that much, and I thought that Masks was at least trying something interesting. This one, though, had nothing new or interesting to say. Holodeck episodes are generally hideous - how many times must the holodeck go wrong before they install an emergency cut-off switch? - and this must be the about the worst. The holodeck sequences here are just a miscellaneous heap of unrelated stuff, with no obvious point. I mean, why the heck would the ship generate all this stuff as some kind of metaphor? It adds nothing to what is, at best, a pretty run of the mill sci-fi plot. This episode is right down there with the worst of season 1. Zero stars. I hate saying that. The writers gave us so much over the course of the series, but this just seems like self-indulgence on their part.
SkepticalMI - Sat, Sep 13, 2014 - 8:00pm (USA Central)
Weird, I like this episode. Random comments:

1) I don't consider it a "holodeck malfunction" episode. Yes, the safeties went offline again, but it wasn't a major plot point. Yes, the holodeck screwed up, but only because the entire Enterprise was going haywire. So I see it as a "something weird happening on the Enterprise" episode, which I have a higher tolerance for.

2) While everyone talks about the ship coming to life and all, the truth is that the ship was more of an incubator for the new life. Whatever caused the thingy to be created, it wasn't the idea of the Enterprise. Of course, the question remained how a species could have evolved to using the computers in random passing starships to reproduce, but whatever. In any case, that means I don't have a problem or a particular fascination with the idea of the computer becoming an emergent intelligence. Adam thought that the birth of the new life going away made the whole thing pointless, but I disagree. We saw a radically different new life form being birthed, which to me was a satisfactory conclusion to this mystery. It is, after all, part of the Trek credits that the goal is to seek out new life.

3) In general, I thought the holodeck scenes worked ok. It had that random element of weirdness, but the metaphor aspect worked ok. I think in part it worked because nothing was explained. Troi suspected that different people on the holodeck represented different systems, but we have no proof of that. In fact, the engineer seemed to be an avatar of a personality that supported the crew, and then got shot. But the engines didn't die. So she was clearly wrong (what else is new?). But what was going on? It just seemed like the ship's way of talking to itself and figuring stuff out. But it was never actually explained which worked out nice.

4) This is one of the few true ensemble episodes in the latter part of the show. For once, we don't just have one character roaming around while everone else has a tiny bit-plot. Picard, Riker, Troi, Worf, and Data all had significant parts to play in the show. While first season episodes tended to be awful, one good thing about them is it tended to involve everyone. And it was just nice to finally see that again. Character pieces are great and all, but sometimes you just want to lay back and watch the team solve a weird problem.

And really, to me that's all this episode is. Just pretty good fun. It's not overly impressive by any means, it's not Cause and Effect or Timescape, but to me it's servicable. Even though The Tempest analogy at the beginning was about the most unsubtle metaphor imaginable, it did feel like one last hurrah of the classic TNG episode: a weird mystery happens, and the crew solves it. Maybe Trek was moving away from that style, and so be it. Maybe this was just one last hurrah. And it wasn't the best hurrah, admittedly. But to me, it was good enough.

One thing I would change would be to throw a few little in-jokes in there. After all, the holodeck was explicitly made up of different characters that were already programmed in, so we could have seen some old characters. Instead of Data getting run over by a car, why not have one of Worf's monsters attack him? Why not have Dixon Hill's secretary on the train? Or, for a lot of fun, why not have Barclay's mini-Riker or goddess of empathy there too?
Polly - Fri, Sep 19, 2014 - 7:58am (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode. I'm always happy to see a Star Trek story that can be described as sci-fi rather than soap. I'm also happy to see the charming, but frequently poorly written Troi given something sensible to do. As a couple of other posters have mentioned, it is enjoyable to watch the crew team up to solve a problem.
Adam C - Mon, Dec 15, 2014 - 12:44am (USA Central)
The Enterprise used personal logs and holodeck programs to help design the new widget. Two problems:

1. “Erase all programs filed under ‘Reginald Barclay’.… Except program nine.”
2. “Riker to bridge: If you need me, I’ll be in holodeck four.”

And this supposes that Professor Moriarty is still locked away in Reg’s little yellow cube. I just watched it (and actually enjoyed it quite a bit, although it’s hardly a classic — I’d say 2.5, maybe 3), and when Picard and Data were talking about the thingamajig in the ready room, I could only think that maybe they made a mistake. (Personal logs, too. Think of Worf saying as if reciting a weather report, “The conditions were difficult. Many contestants were maimed.” Yikes!)

Good luck, universe. Enterprise Junior is on the loose!

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