Jammer's Review

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.

Previous episode: Lower Decks
Next episode: Masks

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25 comments on this review

SFKeepay - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 12:49am (USA Central)
This episode deserves a 3-star rating. While I recognize the validity of Jammer's specific criticisms, I'd like to suggest that "Thine Own Self" is best considered as an all-too-rare demonstration and defense of the scientific method. It effectively advoctes for reason and sequentialism in the face of supernatural hysteria. It invites us to enlist on the side, as sides there so clearly are today even more than when it first aired in 1994, of rationality and evidence-based opinion.

Oh and the actress who plays the village teacher/healer is cool.
Paul - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 8:15am (USA Central)
Jammer, I totally agree here. The series clearly was running out of gas at this point and this episode is a snoozer. The creators relied on Data masturbation and the horrible season 7 choice to elevate the status of Troi.

Oh, and Troi being a commander who OUTRANKS DATA for the next eight years? Just ridiculous.
Dan - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
I disagree. I enjoyed this episode, 3 stars. I enjoyed the parts where data starts to employ early scientific methods to show that x-rays exist, the use of microscope, and eventually a cure for the village.
dan - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 1:13pm (USA Central)
The lady who played the teacher was also well cast. When she first called data an "Iceman" and her prescription to eat a lot of "meat, butter, and cheese" made me laugh. Also she didn't reject any of Data's findings and was curious as to what he was doing.

The 'b' story was just filler, I agree with that

Derek - Thu, Dec 6, 2012 - 2:40am (USA Central)
I've always enjoyed this one...the Troi bits are kind of lame, but I'm able to ignore the big lapses of logic in both stories and just enjoy it as is, i.e. a big goofy "Oops Data Forgets" story.

I also dig it as the only episode where Picard only shows up at the very end for one line...he was busy at the time, I gather.
Nic - Thu, Dec 6, 2012 - 8:25am (USA Central)
The Troi storyline would probably have played better had it spanned the entire season, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I agree with SFKeepay, this was not a stellar outing by any means, but still a worthwhile effort.
Grumpy - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 12:34am (USA Central)
Nic: "The Troi storyline would probably have played better had it spanned the entire season..."

Boy, you said a mouthful! Imagine if, before each season of TNG, the writers had developed arcs for the characters, which would've been addressed whenever they needed a b-plot or filler. Strangely, Worf was the only one who got any: his discommendation, his relationship with his son, and (around these episodes) his fling with Troi. Wesley's coming of age counts too. Other character arcs never lasted longer than one episode -- which is why Troi's sudden growth here is shocking by comparison.
Jay - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 2:50pm (USA Central)
Haha...Jammer already caught the silliest thing about this episode...that Data seems to have retained his entire vocabulary (including "empirical evidence" and "reasoning by anallogy" (and the ability to read and write it) except for (unconveniently) "radioactive".
grumpy_otter - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
This one is my guilty pleasure and I have it saved on my DVR. So much to like here, including a stellar supporting cast who play their parts beautifully. I am only saddened at the end when Data seems to have no memory of his adventure.

Didn't anyone else like Riker talking through his trombone? I always laugh.
Paul M. - Sun, Dec 9, 2012 - 6:05am (USA Central)
Ah yes, the Troi-earns-a-promotion episode.

Imagine what it must be like to work in an organisation like Starfleet.

Exhibit A: Lt Commander Data, some 26 years of exemplary service. Close to eternity in the same rank.

Exhibit B: Counselor Troi, perhaps 12 years of service as a PSYCHOLOGIST. Outranks Exhibit A and is above him in chain of command.

In what kind of serious and professional semi-military organisation, except in some medieval or early modern setting, is this even remotely possible?

How come Trek never went the opposite route? Why didn't, let's see, Worf, one day decide he wanted to be a doctor? He would get a crash course over a couple of days, pass a test and voila, dr Worf, chief of medical staff.

Why the hell is Academy even needed if every doctor and psychologist in the galaxy can ride their own personal Death Star?

Excuse my nerdy rant, I had to get that off my chest.
John the younger - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 2:20am (USA Central)
I was waiting for this review just to bag the parts concerning Troi's... I can't even say it... promotion.

But I'll just tip my hat to the rest of you who have already said it well (esp Paul M).

The only good thing about it is that it contrasts so sharply with the A-story, emphasising Data's overall superiority as a character and actor.
Shane - Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - 8:32am (USA Central)
I actually really enjoyed this episode during TNG's original run and still do today. I felt it was a decent lesson about using empirical evidence over blind theory (at a time when many of my friends still believed in Santa Claus and the boogeyman -- I was 7 years old when this first aired). Data was one of my favorite characters at the time so I always enjoyed watching him, and this episode featured him heavily of course.

As for Troi and her story, yes it's goofy to jam it into a single episode -- or more correctly a fraction of an episode. Realistically, if they did it at all, it should have been spread throughout the season or several seasons, something like Nog's Starfleet career in DS9. Pretty ridiculous that one of the least qualified crewmembers could earn a promotion to commander in a single episode. I always thought Deanna shouldn't have been a Starfleet officer at all, especially since she didn't wear a uniform for much of the series. Oh well...
TH - Tue, Feb 26, 2013 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
I think others have touched on this point, but I appreciated that there were some characters on the planet who were genuinely open to consider Data's findings and the possibility that their beliefs were wrong. Unfortunately that is balanced against the pitchfork wielding townspeople that make up everyone else. We too often see (esp. in Voyager) the stubborn villain character who won't listen to reason for no good reason other than the script requires it.
navamske - Wed, Feb 27, 2013 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
It's fun seeing goofy Mr. Treeger from "Friends" (Michael Hagerty) as the pitchfork-wielding bad guy. Could he *be* any more stupid?
grumpy_otter - Mon, Mar 4, 2013 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
@TH--I don't want to get into a big religious debate (well, maybe I do) but your characterization of "the stubborn villain character who won't listen to reason for no good reason other than the script requires it" reminds me of many people who follow religions. If their script (holy book) requires a certain behavior or belief, then they are closed to reason.

Ignorance, willful or no, is a denial of reason. One reason I like the village teacher so much is that she is the epitome of skeptical thinking. She has her ideas that she teaches but is perfectly open to changing her ideas if new evidence is presented that contradicts her views.

True zealots don't do that--they cling to their Bible or Quran or whatever and reinterpret verses to suit their own prejudices. The Bible says it is a sin to have gay sex in the chapter right before it says you can't plant your fields to the edge--but how many Christian farmers think the first should be interpreted literally and the second metaphorically? (Leviticus 18:22 & 19:9)

Although the remedy is education, I believe, are there some people who are simply addicted to their dogma and incapable of giving up their dearly-held beliefs?
TH - Sun, Jun 9, 2013 - 2:40am (USA Central)
@grumpy_otter:

I don't think this episode was touching on religion. I think this is more xenophobia. They didn't go trying to kill Data because of religion. They did so because he was an unknown outsider who showed up at the same time as the problem. Contrast this with Who Watches The Watchers where Liko's insistance on harming Troi was based on religious belief (I actually DON'T consider Liko to be a to be a "stubborn billain who won't listen to reason for no good reason" for that reason.
Krog - Thu, Jun 20, 2013 - 12:26am (USA Central)
In the previous episode, Lower Decks, Troi and Riker joke about giving each other promotions. Seems like the writers thought it sounded like a good idea and went through with it (for one of the characters, the wrong one).
William B - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 3:47pm (USA Central)
As other commenters have stated above, this episode is best viewed as a quiet parable about the defense of the scientific method and rationality over irrational fear. Very Trekkian. Which, well -- I appreciate all the values that the main plot has, and I think that the episode does relatively well in establishing the gradual respect between the schoolteacher and Data, and the way Data is a saviour for Gia. And yet, emotionally, there is just something missing. There's a lot of smugness to dropping Data, who is a supergenius by 24th century standards, into a pre-industrial village and to have him solve all problems with science. The only real thing that tempers it is that Data is just so unfailingly polite about everything, so that it's hard to get annoyed with him.

The moment where Gia talks about her mother having gone to a place where there is no sickness and everyone is always nice to each other, etc., and she asks "Jayden" if he believes such a place, and Data looks out to the stars and says he does, kind of touches on the problems with the episode, but also possibly what it might "really" be about. Somehow, the 24th century is equated to heaven, because that's just how awesome the 24th century is. That is a little bit annoying, but this story also suggests, somehow, that a better future awaits the people of this planet, too. The schoolteacher pointed out that there has already been some progress, moving away from describing Data in purely religious terms and into (pseudo)scientific ones. Maybe the episode is best understood as having Data come back to this village as a refugee from the planet's "future" (which presumably is going to be like 24th century humanity) who brings with him both the enlightened scientific and ethical philosophy of "the future" and the dangers that it represents. The villagers are poisoned by the radiation he brings with him, since they are unprepared for it. Eventually "Jayden" has to sacrifice himself in order to undo the damage that his presence has done, but his impact on the people of the village, in scientific reasoning (the schoolteacher) and in friendship and heroism (Gia) is still felt. Data remains unaware of this experience because in some respects the Jayden story does not really tie into Data's story, because it is separate from the future -- "Jayden" really does die when he risks his life to save the villagers from the dangers he has brought with him, and that death has to mean something, and does, since Jayden ended up being something like a ghost, sweeping in and out of the village and in and out of existence for a very short time.

I don't feel like we learn anything about Data here, so that some of the emotional beats of the story don't seem to matter. When Data's face is scratched off and he finds that he is not an iceman and may well be a monster, it is important to the story that Jayden, Data's amnesiac villager-identity, *chooses* to believe that he is still a good person, capable of saving lives, and willing to die to do so. But somehow there wasn't really any doubt that Data would do that, is there? The crisis relies at least a bit on Jayden wondering if he's really a monster, and the story sort of plays that, but *we* know so clearly that Data/Jayden is not a monster, and Jayden responds to it by just continuing to be Data without skipping a beat, that it's hard to feel any deep pain at the story. This episode feels very thin, and the main story is one that might have worked if it were a 20-minute story rather than a 40-minute one.

The Troi subplot ultimately bothers me for the reasons others have discussed. It should not be that easy to become a full commander, and Troi talks about all this like it's a whim she just had the other day. It would certainly be one thing if she tried to earn her command over a long period of time, but the idea that the only real difficulty Troi would have is in Making the Hard Call feels particularly silly since that is pretty similar to the Kobayashi Maru test for *cadets*. I did like Riker's trombone talk though.

Overall, 2 stars is fair.
William B - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 3:54pm (USA Central)
Thinking some more: I think the problem is that Data is so Data-like throughout that there is no tension, because there is almost never any ambiguity about the choices Data makes. Of course Data will be awesome with science. And of course Data will risk everything to save the village, even when he's being threatened with death. Something like "The Ensigns of Command," which also deals with Data/random villagers and I'd say has generally poorer characterization of the villagers, is still a better episode for me because it requires Data to be put out of his element/comfort zone, and whether Data will succeed in getting through to the villagers depends on more than Data's ethics or scientific strength. The only real question is whether Jayden would view himself as a monster and what that would mean, and this is mostly still resolved in a fairly standard way (i.e. Data seems a little weirded out by it, but keeps doing what he's going to do). The episode is mostly about how Data is better than pre-industrial villagers, and given that I think it's a tribute to Spiner's performance that I don't get a strong impression that Data/Jayden ever interprets the story that way.
William B - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 3:44am (USA Central)
OK, having given the episode some more thought I think I have a bit of a better idea what works about it.

Barkon IV is introduced as a planet with a preindustrial civilization. The community Data enters, however, is taking baby steps into something like modernity and perhaps even a scientific revolution. Talur, who is an early scientist and rationalist, says of Data, “I'm sure my grandmother would have called our friend here a demon or spirit or some kind of monster. But current scientific methodology allows us to dismiss such ridiculous superstitions and concentrate on scientific reality.” The implication that only two generations ago Data would not be viewed through a “scientific” lens suggests that there is a relatively rapid change in scientific and technological thinking. Talur leans toward the future in this kind of thinking; Skoran the blacksmith leans toward the past. Gia represents the future of the civilization, of course.

So Data enters a village which is poised on the beginnings of a scientific breakthrough, perhaps a Renaissance. And he represents the scientific and technological world encroaching on the village. No one realizes that this is what Data is or represents, including Data himself, because his nature as a technological being is hidden, as is his memory. But on a fundamental level this is what Data brings. What Data brings is a kind of systematic rational thinking which the Barkonians have not yet reached, although Talur is somewhat approaching it and Gia’s generation will be even closer. What Data also brings are radioactive materials: a substance associated with the risks and benefits of technological advancement. Radiation poisoning from radioactive materials which have been purified through technological, non-natural means (a line of dialogue from Skoran emphasizes that it’d be impossible for the Barkonians to refine the metals to that level of purity) is a risk of the modern age, not of the preindustrial age. I don’t think that Data is “just” a symbol of modernity. He is still Data, a character, after all, and the episode is also explicitly related to Data’s sense of self and identity. I think, though, that the townspeople viewing Data as a monster is related to the question of whether scientific progress is inherently destructive.

People are afraid of Data because he is unknown, and that is what he is seen as at first. What no one quite realizes, and only becomes clear to Data himself late in the narrative (and never entirely, because “Jayden” never recovers Data’s memories nor does Data ever reintegrate “Jayden’s”), is that he is not a general unknown, but specifically the unknown represented by a rational, scientific future. As Data points out, however, they are not wrong to believe that there is a causal relationship between his arrival and the sickness which spreads throughout the town; the Progress, even the benign progress, as represented by Data comes upon the village too quickly to deal with all the dangers that are associated with technological advancement. That the radiation sickness spreads because people are attracted to the shiny new products emphasizes the risk of being seduced by the surface benefits of technological development into ignoring its dangers. But Data, by using his rational scientific mind, eventually identifies the radioactive materials as the problem, finds a cure, and gives these to the village. His willingness to “die” to save the village is somewhat a sacrifice for the fact that he brought the sickness with him.

Frankenstein (in both book and film versions) was a story which warned against the dangers of heedless scientific progress, and so Data-as-Frankenstein’s-monster references the villagers’ fear of progress. The story even has the radiation nearly kill members of the village and so suggests that there is real validity to warnings about progressing too fast scientifically/technologically. However, it’s Trek and it’s Data, and Data’s rejection of the mantle of monster, and insistence on saving the village at all costs, is a way of showing the best of scientific and technological progress. Data is from the Star Trekkian enlightened future, and this enlightenment remains with him even without his memory, even placed in an unfamiliar environment. Trek is just a tad too positive on the future of technology for my tastes, but I value its emphasis on the value of scientific truth a lot. Things will get better, even though they may seem bad in the interim, if we continue believing in scientific truth rather than superstition.

This is why this exchange happens:
DATA: Where is your mother?
GIA: She died about a year ago. Father says she went to a beautiful place where everything is peaceful and everyone loves each other, and no one ever gets sick. Do you think there's really a place like that?
(Data gazes out at the moon and stars)
DATA: Yes. I do.

Data knows on some deep level that the enlightened future is better, that it is a place of peace and love. “No one ever gets sick” is a bit much, but certainly people don’t get sick from run-of-the-mill radiation poisoning on the Enterprise. Data is a refugee from this future sent to reassure Gia to value Talur over Skoran, to look to the future rather than the past for her answers, even though it may hurt her in the interim.

It’s worth noting that the Troi story, in which she has to learn that it’s necessary to sacrifice officers for the greater good if she’ll be in command, is a counterpoint to the portrayal of the enlightened life in the stars as, basically, Gia’s heaven. Troi tries to learn everything she can about engineering schematics, believing that if she could only learn all the technical knowledge in the world she would be able to find a way around death. She can’t; no one can: death is a part of life, and it should be avoided if possible but must be accepted if it cannot be avoided. Malice and unnecessary suffering born out of ignorance is vastly reduced, but some pain is unavoidable. I think this helps counterbalance the sense that the story may be too uncritical of scientific progress (though I’d prefer a Ron Moore too uncritical of scientific progress over the Ron Moore who advocates ditching all technology).

So, I think my Thine Own Self rating has just been bumped up; though I think the story is still too slow-paced and low-stakes, I think I’ve gotten a handle on what it is that does work about it. And the Troi subplot has, er, problems. I'd probably give it 2.5 stars now.
Jack - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 7:37pm (USA Central)
Data plunked, again, into a 19th century setting, first our planet, different time, back in Time's Arrow and now here our time, different planet.

What's better, this or Time's Arrow. I'd have to say this, if only because it's refreshingly Twainless.
Josh - Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - 12:11am (USA Central)
To be fair, this was more of a 16th century setting, and I've always enjoyed Jerry Hardin's Mark Twain.

All the same, the biggest problem here is the business with Troi. It certainly doesn't square with anything we know of Starfleet let alone present-day organizations that one can merely take a test to get a significant promotion. Of course, part of the issue is that Troi's assumption of temporary command way back in "Disaster" never made a whole lot of sense, particularly when it was plain that she lacked anything more than rudimentary understanding of the ship's technical function.

Otherwise, wouldn't the sorts of decisions she'd be expected to make in a command role usually have been preceded by years of experience at lesser ranks than commander? Presumably Riker's command style did not emerge immediately upon becoming a first officer, but was the result of years of experience in a command-track career. Troi has been a psychologist/therapist for her entire career and there's no indication she ever had prior experience in this kind of decision-making. Just silly plotting in an otherwise interesting (if admittedly unoriginally premised) episode.
Jons - Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 4:38am (USA Central)
I really liked that episode, a solid 3 stars for me. I liked both stories, even though I'm not entirely convinced by Data finding a cure for radiation poisoning so quickly with the few herbs that pass for medicine and chemistry in this village. WE still don't have a cure for radiation poisoning - of course they could have found one by the 24th century... But then again we're led to believe Data doesn't remember anything and re-invents everything.

The few things I don't like in this episode are not exclusive to it, but more a dissatisfaction with ST in general (notably, the ridiculous idea that two societies at a similar scientific/industrial development stage somehow ALSO have automatically similar fashions or social organizations... Especially since it could be reasonable to imagine that humanoid societies would progress to scientific knowledge (which i objective) folowing the same steps. But fashion is entirely arbitrary - there is absolutely NO reason for a commonality of fashions. There was absolutely none ON EARTH! So you can imagine how I feel about having it in the universe...
mephyve - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 11:07pm (USA Central)
Kind of a first contact with a twist. A familiar theme wherein a primitive society is presented with technology they have no hope of understanding, namely Data. Having lost his memory, Data has no qualms about the Prime Directive and proceeds to advance technological and medical science. Since he himself is just learning about himself and his surroundings, he has only primitive materials to work with so the advances are only huge from the villager's perspective.
Nice episode. No excitement but still a fascinating watch.
Smith - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 8:15am (USA Central)
Not spectacular but solid for an episode. Yes, the village was a little bland and trek cliche. But the radiation subplot was interesting to follow. The best part was the "teacher" and her psuedo-science. Very well casted and acted. There are a lot of people like her...spouting "scientific" sillyness while being generally accepted by the public.

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