After a hard day's work running bridge simulations on the holodeck where they try to engage the Dauntless without infecting them with the Super Virus Weapon, the kids settle down for some relaxing ice-cream social time. But when it's time to turn in for bed, strange things begin to happen, and our crew realizes they actually never left the holodeck. They're stuck there for unknown reasons, until they can solve the computer's puzzle by retrieving a mysterious skeleton key. The holodeck has become an escape room (which is not a bad high-concept pitch, to be honest).
After last week's brisk journey through a series of fairly substantive backstories, "Ghost in the Machine" is unfortunately a pretty clear example of the pandering kiddie side of this series, which serves up episodic action sequences that have nothing to do with anything (or even each other) and exist mainly to fill screen time and cater to the assumed short attention span of our YouTube/TikTok-addicted youth. (Get off my lawn.)
Hey look: A mysterious mansion where Zero must solve a mystery, Sherlock Holmes style! A motorcycle gang where Jankom has to get into a fight with a bunch of thugs! A 1940s nightclub in black-and-white, where Murf lip-syncs and Gwyn's father plays a nicer version of himself! A pirate ship with a giant sea monster generated from Rok's favorite cutesy creature! There's no focus or follow-through on anything before we're off to the next half-sketched idea.
The episode ultimately betrays itself as the true wheel-spinner it is by revealing that Hologram Janeway has held the crew in the holodeck as a delay tactic to keep the ship on its collision course with the Federation (just when the crew was mulling abandoning their Federation dreams). It turns out Holo-Janeway has been corrupted by the Diviner's programming, although apparently only to the degree required by this particular plot.
And, of course, the safeties are off! (Dun-dun-dun!) So ... why even bother disabling the safeties if the whole point of the program is to delay, not harm, its occupants? (We know none of the kids are actually going to be put in any real danger, anyway.) Or if you're actually trying to kill them, why go about it so inefficiently rather than turning the entire holodeck into a meat grinder? But forget about that. Why bother trying to entertain your prisoners — and give them a way out — if the real goal is to simply imprison them? And if you are really trying to detain them in this particularly convoluted manner, why give them clues that things are amiss? Why not just have them believe they are going about their day? This just doesn't make any sense given what it's ultimately revealed to be. (At the end of it all, the holodeck is a completely unnecessary tool for this particular job. Just lock them all up.)
Even granting the absurd premise, what's missing here is a clever through-line of any kind to make this more than a series of mindless action sequences. It starts as a mystery and ends up as vaporware. The Diviner's sabotage plot just keeps getting deeper and deeper — and more and more implausibly contrived. The things writers do to draw out and service a serialized story...
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