When the crew finds they have some spare time on their hands, they take on some personal projects and diversions. Data and Geordi (ever the nerds, even in their free time — says the guy writing a Star Trek review) try an experiment where Data hooks himself into the ship's computer to increase efficiencies. Meanwhile, Worf gets dragged to the holodeck by his son to role-play in the Old West (or the "Ancient West," as this episode calls it). I wonder if these two threads will become connected somehow...?
Well, of course, yes. A malfunction scrambles the Data/computer transmission, and bits of Data's brain end up as manifestations in Alexander's holodeck program — with the safety mechanisms disabled, of course. (Yes, it's the latest take on the "holodeck goes awry" trope.) This plot is a naked excuse for TNG to get dressed up and play western. I have no problem with that in theory, but as westerns go, "A Fistful of Datas" is shockingly lifeless, bloodless, and joyless. (Back to the Future Part III seems to take a lot of flak as sci-fi western comedies go, but I enjoyed it, which stands in stark contrast to this.)
This show is underwritten and underplayed and the production is shot on an Old West backlot that feels completely deserted. What could've and should've been a rip-roaring good time instead comes across as the walking dead. TNG's pace has always been somewhat talky and deliberate, and that works when TNG is being TNG. But to adopt that same stolid sensibility in the Old West proves fatal here. (Honestly, "Rascals" was better paced.) The result is an hour that feels like it was constructed by aliens who had watched a few westerns and then stitched together some of their clichés into, well, a holodeck program. They play the notes, but that doesn't make it music. (Jay Chattaway's western-themed score works, though.)
Probably the best part of the show is, not surprisingly, Brent Spiner. The real Data finds pieces of the holodeck program spilling back into his brain, making him use Old West colloquialisms. Not exactly the cleverest joke ever, but Spiner nails it. The same cannot be said of sheriff-star-brandishin' Worf, boot-wearin' Troi, or lame-and-simple Alexander — none of whom sell much of anything except a substitute for Ambien amid a pointless plot. The writing overall is too restrained (aside from a Data-in-drag gag that simply misfires instead), and Patrick Stewart's leaden direction is unfortunately of little help. This episode is a head-scratcher. At least the Enterprise sails into the sunset at the end.
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