Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Interface"

***

Air date: 10/4/1993
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Geordi tests an experimental new probe technology that uses a virtual-reality interface to drive its operation. The way it works is that you're hooked up to a VR suit and you operate it as if you were the probe. So when you move your arms to pick up a heavy beam, the probe activates its tractor beam and moves the beam. This essentially allows the user to venture via a VR interface into inhospitable environments. The crew intends to use the technology to retrieve data from a disabled, uninhabitable starship whose crew has perished. (Narratively, the camera shows Geordi as a physical stand-in for the probe, which is the right storytelling decision.)

About this time, Geordi receives news that the Hera, a ship commanded by his mother, vanished recently without a trace 300 light-years away. The search has proven futile and is about to be called off. But then, while hooked into the interface, Geordi sees his mother (Madge Sinclair) aboard the disabled vessel whose data the Enterprise is attempting to salvage with the probe; she says she and her crew are trapped on the inhospitable planet below and she implores him to rescue them.

Obviously, this is impossible. Or almost impossible (as Data attests), since this is Star Trek after all. Geordi searches for answers to clues that cannot be explained, and while everyone believes he has lost objectivity and is seeing what he wants to see, Geordi cannot dismiss what he has experienced and presses on even after it's discovered that the feedback signals from the interface can injure and even potentially kill him in extreme situations. Naturally, Geordi will have to take risks and disobey orders in order to see this thing through.

"Interface," while not great or groundbreaking, is a significant step up from the first two lackluster outings of season seven — much more focused, much less of a mess, and with true character motivation at its core. This is not a matter of Geordi indulging in an obsession of the imagination but rather being compelled to investigate the possibilities he's observed in front of him because he's additionally emotionally vested. As he puts it late in the episode, he can't ignore the possibilities, however remote, because if he doesn't at least try to rescue his mother and the Hera crew, he won't be able to live with himself.

Naturally, Geordi's mom turns out to be a mind-reading alien in danger who needs Geordi's help and has used his mother's image to manipulate the situation. This is not an unexpected development. One wonders why Starfleet crews don't immediately suspect aliens with extraordinary capabilities as the solution to most unsolved mysteries, considering how often it happens.

The introduction of Geordi's mother — not to mention his father (Ben Vereen), who early on gets a scene that I thought hit the wrong note, as if this husband of the missing woman was just another skeptic writing off Geordi's clinging to hope as somehow ridiculous — is the first of several season seven family connections that would eventually come across as the writers grasping at straws. But this is probably the most workable and involving of them. This is a story that tries, in its TNG sci-fi technobabble way, to deal with the nature of loss concerning a missing person who can never be physically confirmed dead. As Geordi stories go this side of "The Enemy," it's a pretty good one.

Previous episode: Liaisons
Next episode: Gambit

Season Index

16 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 9:00pm (USA Central)
I thought this one was terrible. The virtual reality component simply just did not work for me.

I would have liked to really meet Geordie's family--I hate when they introduce new characters who turn out to be already dead.

And his mom's name had already been established in "The Next Phase" so what was up with changing it to Silva? Sloppy.

This one just seemed slapped together because Levar needed a show.

And just to help along the "didn't seem real" factor--I have long disconnected Geordie from his previous roles, but when Chicken George showed up I lost it.
David - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 11:58pm (USA Central)
This to me is a perfect 2.5 star episode--nothing particularly bad that makes it unwatchable but not good enough to be really engaged in what is going on. Very average.

Ben Vereen's appearance amounting to a mere cameo was disappointing I was hoping he'd have a bigger role when I had read he would be making an appearance but then again I think I remember reading that in S7 there were a lot of actors wanting to get onscreen before the show went off the air so maybe that's why it is just a cameo.

I thought the teaser with Geordi/probe was a cool idea. But overall the story just didn't resonate with me. I don't know if it is because we never met his mother before and the fact that the alien payoff was tired but it just lacked energy.

I will say I always wondered if the Hera might have been one of those ships brought to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker and if it might have been more interesting if they were the crew Janeway encounters in "Equinox".

Paul - Mon, Sep 24, 2012 - 10:10am (USA Central)
Not three stars, though this is probably better than the previous two episodes. Why Geordi/probe doesn't have a visor makes no sense, BTW.

Seriously, the series really was running out of gas at this point. Season 7 might be the second-worst of the series.
Nick P. - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
OK, this is the episode I realized that the season ONE storytelling is better than season 7! seriously!

Think back to the episode "Heart of Glory". In that one Geordi beams over to the Batris and acts as a bizarre camera for the bridge crew. It was silly, but it was 1 minute long and that was it, the cool Klingon stuff happened after that. Just a little thing used once and that was it. Had nothing at all to do with the episode. I know alot of you disagree with me on this point, but I LOVED how the early seasons would throw weird nuggets in the teaser that had nothing to do with the shows.

But jump forward to season 7, and these dumb boring plots like this one, where Geordi goes all VR and does it MOST OF THE EPISODE, and "shockingly" solves the problem with it. There was another show I watched back then that had plots back the, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! The difference being the Turtles was fun to watch, this who during season 7, was slow, predictable, boring, and had no life at ALL.
Paul M. - Thu, Oct 4, 2012 - 3:52am (USA Central)
@Nick P.

You're preaching to the choir, friend. I wrote something similar in Season 1 thread.

Both seasons (1 and 7) are pretty terribad, no way around it. BUT, S1 is so hillarious and out there with its concepts, it's almost great! I was very rarely bored with the episodes back then. They were just enough silly to keep me interested, sort of like S7 Genesis episode. Idiotic? Yes. Boring? Not really.

Season 7, on the other hand, is just so deliberate and bland and restrained and bland and joyless and, did I say bland?
Jay - Sat, Oct 6, 2012 - 11:52am (USA Central)
Ugh...I thought this was as bad as the first two episodes of the season. As mentioned this might have meant a little more if we'd met the LaForges before this.
Cail Corishev - Mon, Oct 8, 2012 - 8:12am (USA Central)
"One wonders why Starfleet crews don't immediately suspect aliens with extraordinary capabilities as the solution to most unsolved mysteries, considering how often it happens."

I've thought before that if I were a starship captain, rule #1 on my ship would be that everyone has a complete scan for alien infiltration at least weekly. In fact, maybe we'd just build scanners into the turbolifts, so everyone would get checked every time they changed decks. And any time anyone acts out of the ordinary -- tired, sick, confused, slow to answer a question -- the ship goes to yellow alert and he's immediately transported to the brig and held there until the doctor can give him a full workout.

Yeah, it'd get annoying after a while, but just think how many dozens of alien takeovers and other attacks it would have avoided over all the series.
Grumpy - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 11:32am (USA Central)
Nick P. complains that this episode was overly enamored with its VR premise. But remember that in 1993/94, VR was The Next Big Thing... and then the World Wide Web was invented, and suddenly VR was as dated as disco.
William B - Sat, Oct 5, 2013 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
I like this more than most of the commenters here, it seems. I think that "Liaisons" and "Interface," together, are fairly typical of season seven -- which is to say, episodes that are mostly weak and dull, with a few redeeming character moments relying on our long time spent with these characters ("Liaisons"), and episodes with a few intriguing ideas a little wanly executed (this one). There are a few exceptional shows in season seven, but they are rare, and this is closer to the standard fare.

This episode is certainly low-energy, too enamoured with its not overly impressive VR technology and it hinges its plot on a relationship (Geordi's bond with his mother) we have never encountered before, to say nothing of starting season seven's excessive reliance on families. There's something else here though that I think is pretty typical of season seven, and not a bad thing. For most (not all) of the main cast, and some of the recurring players, there is at least one story in season seven which upends certain things we knew about that character, casting some doubt on their heretofore cherished values, and suggesting the possibility of growth as a result. Some of these are better than others, but I think that this season undermines our original assumptions about the meteoric rise of Riker's career in "The Pegasus," touches on some of Data's isolation as an android and raises the spectre of other models of android-ness that he cannot reach in "Descent" and "Inheritance," has Worf realize that he cannot force love of Klingon culture onto his son in "Firstborn," and has Picard further recognize the lost opportunity for a family in "Bloodlines." In addition to that we have Wesley and Ro's careers in Starfleet ending. These capsule descriptions don't actually do justice to what those episodes do, and some, again, are better than others. Some of them simply subvert earlier reads of the characters, but some, like "Firstborn," use the character's realization that their prior value system was incomplete to lead to genuine growth. And then "All Good Things" capitalizes on some of these themes, showing the characters a future which is not purely dystopic -- some people's lives, like Data's, have generally gone very well -- but in which there have been some losses and there is some desire in the characters to make adjustments to their lives, culminating in Picard entering the poker game in that final shot.

This is a way of saying that I think that "Interface," while presumably not intended as such, actually is a decent capstone to Geordi's story in the series. Abigail Nussbaum at her blog Asking the Wrong Questions did a few posts after a TNG rewatch, and pointed out that Geordi’s difficulty dealing with people without technology as a buffer is a pretty consistent thing throughout the series, and that there is something off about him -- he falls in love with Leah through a hologram, Aquiel through video monitors, he is the person who most easily befriends android Data and Borg Hugh. His VISOR is so much a part of him that he’s a little like a cyborg. The original conception of Geordi’s role in the show from Gene Roddenberry was to make a bold statement about the future, where a blind man can pilot the ship, but the move of Geordi to engineering was the genuinely smart move that made his role in the series clearer, as The Tech Guy. Geordi is the guy who has the most expertise at dealing with technology and is also the guy who most desperately needs technology in order to function. Even Data, who is on the other side of the coin, is actually less clearly a demonstration of the integration of technology to improve human lives, since Data *is* technology who nevertheless remains separate from humans, rather than a human who takes technology in. So we do get episodes like “Booby Trap” which are about the role of technology in lives, we get episodes whose plots hinge in some way or another on Geordi’s VISOR, either as a weakness to be exploited (“The Mind’s Eye”) or as the key to a breakthrough (“The Masterpiece Society”). We get episodes like “The Next Phase,” where Geordi’s material rationalism and technical knowledge are the whole key to survival, and Ro’s spiritualism and acceptance of death are foolish.

So Geordi’s strength is that he is the most in tune with technology, and this is mostly a good thing. However, a few episodes ago his VISOR implants and friendship with Data made him the ideal target for evil-mind-controlled-Data’s mind experiments, and a few episodes from now his precious engines will be undermined in “Force of Nature.” And in this episode, we see a repeat, in some senses, of what we saw in “Booby Trap” and “Aquiel”: Geordi connects with another human being through technology. But it’s not really her. Improbably, the Geordi/Leah and Geordi/Aquiel arcs both ended “happily” when he finally did meet them in person, largely because “Galaxy’s Child” is weak and “Aquiel” is terrible, and so neither episode was able to fully puncture the idea that Geordi’s ability to see someone *through* tech, and *in* tech doesn’t deeply distort his ability to relate to them clearly. Here, Geordi seems to see *his mother*, his relationship with whom is one of the most formative relationships of his life, and it turns out to genuinely be a lie. Geordi wanted to believe it (the same way he wanted to believe that real-Leah was basically the same person as holo-Leah, e.g.), but his better-living-with-technology attitude was not able to restore his mother to life. Hence, the actually hilarious scene of Geordi explaining how his mother’s ship got caught in a warp funnel, which is as funny as it is because it’s on the one hand completely indistinguishable from all the rest of the technobabble on this show, but on the other clearly ludicrous. And of course even Geordi’s technological friend Data won’t back him up on it.

Geordi actually does do good work here. By obsessing over finding his mother and by trusting the fact that he *was seeing* something, he manages to save some life forms, and apparently get some closure (as he says to Picard at the episode’s end). In that sense, the episode plays out a little like “Realm of Fear,” where Geordi/Barclay *are* kind of emotionally unstable but have to believe that what they are seeing was not just a figment of their imaginations, and eventually save lives in the process. The episode is not a genuine anti-tech argument at all. But there is something refreshing about the episode’s somewhat downbeat ending, and the acknowledgment of limits. And it plays straight in with Geordi’s strengths and weaknesses. His inability to deal with emotional realities without technology as a buffer renders him easily exploited and keeps him from accepting the truth, or recognizing that, yes, the warp funnel thing is pretty much impossible. It also means that he can get emotional closure by talking to an alien projecting an image of his mother into a probe he’s interfaced with, as if this is the only way he can. It’s sad and a little touching, in a very low-key way. The overall “technology is good, but is not everything” theme is basically the same one that “Booby Trap,” to my mind the first major Geordi episode (honourable mentions for “The Arsenal of Freedom” and “Samaritan Snare,” but Geordi-in-command was not really a story with legs in the show and the latter mostly had Geordi as hapless everyman with bad luck, admittedly also a recurring Geordi theme), had, and so there is a full-circle sense that this episode has as the last major Geordi episode. Well, full-circle or rehash, probably a bit of both.

I like Data’s role here very much, though it’s relatively obvious. The Riker/Geordi scene is both touching and ridiculous, depending on how you want to read Riker’s “you remind me of me when I was like seven!” sentiment. This is a low-key story, too straightforward in plot and somewhat thinly written in terms of character revelations. But I think it mostly functions well in the big scheme of things for the reasons I mentioned above. I think it holds on to 3 stars, though only barely, perhaps.
William B - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
I ended up watching the second half of this episode again with my girlfriend, because she was behind where I was. And the long, kind of vacant spaces in the episode became clearer. On some level, this maybe would have worked well as a half-hour episode rather than an hourlong; but there isn't enough story here for a full show, and while that is somewhat the point, I don't think it's a strong enough representation of loss ("You can experience the emptiness with me if you like") to justify its languid pacing. So, down to a low 2.5 stars.
Jeffrey Bedard - Wed, Dec 4, 2013 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
Not bad, but not earth-shattering either. I watched this last night and I was surprised at how subdued Burton's performance once. He had the different emotional tones, but seemed to play them all quietly. I think he should have emoted more.
Nissa - Sun, Jan 5, 2014 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
I didn't like this episode. It was pretty boring. It was the fairly standard one guy believes something while nobody else goes with it plot. Neither of Geordi's parents were all that interesting, and Geordi himself...well, I don't like any of his episodes, if I can be honest. He's such a recluse that it's hard for his shows to be interesting as other's would be.
mephyve - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 10:49pm (USA Central)
Red alert, Red alert! i think we have found the most boring episode in the history of the Star Trek universe!
When it first started and Geordi fad dark pupils and no visor I thought 'Oh boy! Alteenare universe!' My enthusiasm was soon curbed by the realisation that this was in fact a 'gadget' episode.
Then things got worse as it deteriorated into a 'psychobabble' episode.
By the time it had regressed into a 'save the energy aliens' episode, I had already given it up for dead.
Ok Geordi, here's your obligatory slap on the wrist for disobeying a direct order. You're not worthy of a 'Crusher' pass because she solved a murder while all you did was prevent the extinction of an insignificant alien energy race that Starfleet has absolutely zero interest in because they inadvertantly killed the crew of a Starfleet vessel. Oh yeah, and by the way, nice to see they gave you closure over the death of your mom by impersonating her to manipulate you. Maybe we should hire them as ship counsellor and get rid of Dr. Useless.
mephyve - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 11:01pm (USA Central)
Oh yeah, Can we do negative stars? I'd give this a - 5 stars.
Smith - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 9:06am (USA Central)
Not awful, but a weak episode. The concept was fun...of exploring vicariously dangerous locations while encountering entities who fool you through the probe. Unfortunately the “dead mom” angle didn't work. It came off as emotional indulgence. I agree with Gene...Star Trek should not be about mourning dead people. You need to move on and get back to fun creative science fiction stories that look forward, not backward.
TS - Thu, Jun 12, 2014 - 4:44am (USA Central)
Just watched this episode for the first time, 2.5/4 stars imo. Very average.

It (unfortunately) reminded me a lot of Voyager, in that it introduced some ZANY new technology that would be super useful beyond this episode, yet we never see it again...?

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