Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Thine Own Self"
Air date: 2/14/1994
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Christopher Hatton
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Data, suffering from memory loss because of a power surge, walks into a village on a pre-industrial world whose inhabitants find him perplexing. He doesn't know who he is or where he came from, or even that he is an android. He's befriended by a local man whose daughter names him "Jayden" so arbitrarily that I decided to look up the meaning of the name on Wikipedia, which mostly informs me that Jayden became a popular name in America starting around 1994. Coincidence? The Wikipedia entry even mentions this episode, though I'm as likely to chalk that up to Wikipedia writers being disproportionately composed of Trek nerds as any other reason.
If I'm spinning my wheels talking about Data's temporary name, it's because I have little to say about "Thine Own Self," which is inoffensive but relentlessly nondescript. Here's the tale of an android who doesn't know who he is but has Data's unshakable power of reasoning and finds himself among people with far inferior knowledge. (Data is especially skeptical of the local teacher's science class, and for good reason.) These people find his complexion and eyes strange. They think he is an "ice man." They are freaked out when he demonstrates astounding feats of strength. Naturally, this society (that we see) is made up of one isolated village in keeping with the reliable Trek cliche. By this point in TNG's run, it seems as if we've seen every possible permutation of the isolated alien village/society.
There are some stakes, albeit slight ones. It turns out Data has been unwittingly carrying radioactive metal and has poisoned the entire town. (Apparently, he doesn't know what the word "radioactive" means, which is written on the metal case he's carrying, yet knows what all other words mean.) When two villagers looking for justice for this cursed illness come after him with, literally, torches and pitchforks — ripping off the side of his face and revealing an array of circuits — they think he's a monster. So Data must cure the town before the suspicious townspeople kill him. If this sounds more exciting than the episode actually is, well, yeah. I'm not saying Trek has to be new and exciting every time, and I will always love TNG, but this is one of many stories that betrays the signs of a season (and series) running out of gas.
The out-of-left-field B-story involves Troi deciding to take the commander's test (inspired by Crusher's shifts commanding the night watch) in order to stretch her ambitions beyond her job as ship's counselor. While the intentions here are okay, this is completely forced and unrealistic, and Troi frankly comes across as immature and unprofessional when she all but throws a tantrum when Riker won't tell her why she keeps failing the crisis simulation exam. (She eventually realizes her failure is because she won't order someone to their death.)
At this point in the series, this feels like the writers — without at all earning it — trying to reinvent a character whose role has for some time felt unimportant compared to the rest of the main characters. The conceit that Troi can earn a commander's rank after studying for a few days and taking some tests only cheapens the whole idea — to say nothing about her openly admitted uncertainty as to whether she could actually order someone to die for real. Early in the episode, Troi cites her disastrous command in "Disaster" as when she first realized she liked the idea of being in command. I would've flunked her on that alone.