Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 2/21/1994
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Wiemer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
The Enterprise discovers an ancient computerized alien spaceship/library at the core of an 87-million-year-old comet. The library latches onto the Enterprise with an energy beam and begins using the ship's replicators to create ancient artifacts and mysterious symbols — before then proceeding to transform the Enterprise wholesale into an alien museum. Or something. (It literally transforms objects on the ship into other objects; it's more like magic than technology.) It also takes over Data, who begins channeling odd personalities of various people from this long-dead civilization. The crew must figure out what all this means before the entire ship is transformed and nothing is left of the Enterprise. (I hate it when that happens.)
"Masks" might be the most flat-out bizarre episode of TNG ever made. It's conceptually ambitious but ultimately an epic failure of an episode. I mean, this is an utter mess. The story is at times so incomprehensible, impenetrable, and incoherent as to require three synonyms starting with the letter "I" for me to adequately convey its bewildering effect. I was staring blankly at the screen in disbelief. If this were also enlightening that might offset some of its impenetrability, but it unfortunately suffers from being as hopelessly flat, dull, and pretentious as it is impossible to decipher.
Could I go back and watch/listen more closely and to figure out what this episode is trying to say? I suppose I could try, but I sure don't want to. Some puzzles are simply not worth solving. This is a story so desperately in search of subtext that it forgets to supply whatever it is that exists above that — the "text," I guess? Joe Menosky, the Trek writer who has explored ancient societies, myths, and oblique concepts more than any other, stuffs "Masks" so full of symbology and ancient characters that it becomes an archaeologist's turgid self-parody. The actors can't save it; Data's downloaded split-personality disorder is portrayed by Brent Spiner as an array of broad caricatures and silly voices, none of which I cared about in the slightest. And the way the Enterprise is transformed into this alien museum (for reasons I could never understand) is so utterly unbelievable as to venture into pure fantasy. The script itself is beaming in from another galaxy.
"Masks" is basically the story of the much-feared ancient Queen Masaka, whose authority can only be challenged by the mighty Korgano, or something. What is all this supposed to mean? Don't know. Don't care. The ancient power struggle must be played out by the crew for some reason, in order to satisfy the computerized gods of the alien archive. (The concept of a re-enacted power struggle was much more straightforward and entertaining in DS9's "Dramatis Personae," also a Menosky script.) The hokey payoff at the end, with Picard and Data facing off in their titular masks, owes more to trick-or-treating than ancient mythology. And yet as goofy as this is, the story plays itself deadly serious. As long as the computerized archive gods are happy with Picard's performance while wearing a mask, all is well in the world.
I suppose, intellectually speaking, I prefer the ambitious failure that is "Masks" to the brain-dead failure that is "Sub Rosa." Then again, maybe not; "Sub Rosa" was at least humorously, simplistically watchable in its unabashed wretchedness. "Masks" plays more like a dirge. A dirge scoring a Shakespearean dramatization of Sophocles translated into Klingon and projected through a malfunctioning holodeck during a self-destruct countdown. What is that sentence supposed to mean? Exactly.
Previous episode: Thine Own Self
Next episode: Eye of the Beholder
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147 comments on this post
Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 5:13am (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 6:49am (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 8:19am (UTC -5)
TNG in its later seasons (as other shows have done) seemed to forget about the 1,000 people living on the Enterprise who weren't the senior staff (other than 'Lower Decks', of course). Why there's less concern that the Enterprise crew might be in danger as the ship turns into ... well, whatever it turns into is goofy. Even first season TNG would have made more of an effort to consider the safety of the ship's families.
Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 1:18pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 1:22pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 4:33pm (UTC -5)
I've gotta say, it fit pretty well with my thoughts as I read the summary of the episode.
Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 7:03pm (UTC -5)
*I didn't find the underlying story that hard to understand and the archaeological angle was fascinating. It reads as a story about balance in nature, light & dark, yin & yang.
*I remember reading Menosky was not happy with this episode, but a large detractor for me was the cheap production: it was a bottle show with cheaper props (the artifacts in Ten Forward were pretty funny). If they had a cgi battle between two transformed gods, that might have been different ...
*I thought Brent Spiner did a fine job with the different mythological characters, and it was chilling to think that a malfunction (or misunderstanding) of an ancient library could lead to real world death. As a writer above mentioned, it would be like LotR wih the holodeck safeties off, :).
In short, it was more the production than the story that hurt the episode. The idea was cool, the execution lacked, but when I think of season 7, I think about Data's mask. Probably a good Halloween costume, as a nod to Trekkies and to have fun with anyone that hated this episode, ;).
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 7:00am (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 8:00pm (UTC -5)
I'd probably give it 2 stars; not great, but not a clunker (of which their are many this season).
Sat, Dec 8, 2012, 10:00pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 4:39am (UTC -5)
Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 5:38pm (UTC -5)
"Masks" wasn't so bad it was good. "Masks" wasn't so bad it was bad. It provided not a shred of entertainment value, was mind-numbingly vacuous, and committed the cardinal sin of being unforgivably boring. No other episode of any "Trek" series has managed to hit this trifecta so well - or so poorly.
Wed, Dec 19, 2012, 12:56pm (UTC -5)
I would say this isn't the worst episode of the series (that was "Force of Nature" in my book), but this might be the hardest to watch. I just start yawning before the teaser is even over!
Wed, Dec 19, 2012, 1:13pm (UTC -5)
You really nailed it....Season 7 just isn't entertaining. There is just nothing FUN anymore. I will admit the finale has elements of it.
I had a friend tell me the other day that the 1st five seasons of TNG seemed like a fun ride with a lot of science thrown in. the last 2 seasons seemed like episode after episode of 7 people reciting math functions that they don't understand.
@Paul and Jay, I addressed that very point a few episodes ago. If you compare any random 1st season episode to any ep this season, the Enterprise really seems like a "city in the stars" in the first season, as Roddenberry intended. It seems like there are 7 crew and cast of the week by season 7. Jay, Paul isn't talking about the "focus" of the plot, in that sense I agree with you, TNG rarely addressed families, he is referring to just the feeling of having 1000 other people. You "feel" it more in earlier seasons, the 1st in particular.
Thu, Dec 20, 2012, 12:26am (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 20, 2012, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
I'm curious to see what Jammer has to say about Journey's End, which I think is one of the more passable season 7 affairs. I'd probably put it in with Inheritance, Attached, Interface and the Freud episode (blanking on the name) as OK.
Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 1:50pm (UTC -5)
I can't tell if you're being serious or not but symbology isn't actually a word. The word you're looking for is 'symbolism.' Watch "Boondock Saints" and Willem Dafoe will explain it. Sssssssssymbolism!
Mon, Dec 24, 2012, 2:37pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 8:49am (UTC -5)
So here we have an ANCIENT computer system inhabiting Data while the alien archive transforms the Enterprise. Even as a kid I found this premise to be somewhat flawed and wondered how the Enterprise held together and remained inhabitable while being transformed. Not to mention the far fetched idea of a multi-million year old computer system yet alone one that could interface with and cause changes to the Enterprise. But being that Contagion had a touch of that I guess the writers saw no problem doing it here.
As a kid I found this episode somewhat creepy and Osaka scary but as an adult I think Spiner's performances are a bit goofy. I always thought Picard dawning the mask was goofy.
Lots of folks like to suggest TNG was out of gas and it was time to end but Season 7 was planned to be the last so I think that contributed to more unusual ideas making it to production. Maybe the actors were getting fatigued but I'm thinking the "weaker" storytelling was simply due to the a-team writers giving additional attention to DS9, while other staff were starting work on the forthcoming TNG film, and Voyager.
Sun, Dec 30, 2012, 11:51pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 3, 2013, 9:49am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jan 5, 2013, 1:21am (UTC -5)
Funny, that's how I felt throughout the entire last two seasons of Battlestar Galactica.
Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 7:15pm (UTC -5)
Yes, in between that posting and seeing the response now, I was being a bit snarky in exactly the same way and got educated the same way. Consider me educated. And chagrined.
Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 3:59pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 7:24am (UTC -5)
Again, if one of the reasons you watch Trek is consistency of genre, these won't work for you. That's fine (although I don't really hold with the extreme emanation of this, which hates DS9 apparently for no better reason than its difference for other Treks). Nobody's required to enjoy Gothic romances or explorations of mythology. But the badness of there episodes, I think, is largely a matter of perspective, rather than the flat-out incompetent storytelling of a Shades of Gray or a Let He Who Is Without Sin.
Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 7:27am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 12:17pm (UTC -5)
I love that science fiction is able to create its own rules that help to shape a fantasy universe that viewers use for entertainment. However, there's a fine line where absurdity simply takes over, regardless of genre. For me, that's when the entertainment factor is diminished, because you feel like your intelligence was questioned and that your time has been wasted.
"Masks" was an atrocious episode, save for Brent Spiner's humorous performance. It goes to show that an actor/actress can take a very sub-par script and turn it into a decent piece of work. It also doesn't come as a surprise that the TNG crew had trouble filming this episode.
Think about it: an alien society creating its jungle onboard the Enterprise while demonly possessing our beloved characters is absurd. Even more absurd is communicating to these aliens by posing as one of their own kind via the use of a mask.
Going back to my point about science fiction and entertainment, the absurdity detracts from our fantasty universe that viewers have been escaping to for almost 7 seasons. I agree with Jammer in that I'll take "Masks" over the ghost sex in "Sub Rosa." However, I still can't help but wonder if the TNG writers were trying to make a parody of themselves.
My rating: 1 out of 4 stars
Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 9:31pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 1:03pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 1:10pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 2:03am (UTC -5)
To me, this episode is like "The Inner Light"'s evil twin. In both cases you have an ancient alien society that has left a cultural archive which the Enterprise happens to discover. Neither episode has a real problem to solve (I don't consider deciphering the alien symbologism to be a real "problem"). Everyone is basically just waiting for the magic alien gadget to finish. Is symbologism a word? It is now!
But in that episode, it's done by showing us what amounts to an alternate-universe version of Picard. Not only do we learn what Picard would have been like in a very different situation, we also learn what the people of the ancient society are all about. We see them caring for their families and building their future, even though we know they are all doomed. They aren't that different from us, really.
This one doesn't really involve any of our actual characters. It uses Data's body, but not actually Data. And we don't really learn much about the alien culture. We only see it in such disconnected pieces that it's hard to get much of a feel for it, and we don't really get to know any individual characters either, certainly not to the level that we get to know the individual ancient Kataanians. We only really learn about one myth. I'm not even sure if any of the various personalities here are supposed to be real, or if they're all mythological.
You might also compare this episode to "Darmok," because both of them are basically an incomprehensible muddle until the crew manages to piece together the outlines of an alien myth. I think the difference again comes down to characters. Darmok has them, and even without real communication, you learn about the Tamarian captain and what their society considers important.
Anyone who's been in a foreign country and managed to make a friend without knowing the local language can probably relate to "Darmok." This episode is more like getting lost on the way to physics lab and finding yourself in the midterm for a comparative religion class.
Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 12:00pm (UTC -5)
Actually, "Shades of Grey" is "The Inner Light"'s evil twin. Or perhaps better described as "The Inner Light" on opposite day.
Tue, Jun 25, 2013, 8:34pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 5, 2013, 4:49pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Aug 18, 2013, 11:44am (UTC -5)
Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 9:14am (UTC -5)
But this did feel more like a Voyager episode, down to the music and everything.
As someone else has said, the ship seemed very, very empty in this episode, almost as much as when everyone was disappearing into Wesley's Wacky Warp bubble.
But yes, there was a certain "mojo" missing here that meant a possibly good idea fell to bits.
Stewart seems especially wooden here, Worf out of place in a number of scenes, Troi seems to have gone back 5 years.
Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 12:18am (UTC -5)
I guess when Troi gave Data the same dumb assignment I should have taken it as an omen that this episode was going to suck. Somebody must have been smoking the peace pipe when they wrote this mess.
Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 12:25pm (UTC -5)
What didn't work was trying to fit an entire civilization into Data. This wasn't Menosky's original idea...his original script was much different and the other writers butchered what he submitted from Europe. The execs felt that script was "too complicated" so they dumbed it down for us which was unfortunate.
Spiner wasn't even given a full day to prepare for this script which unfairly hurt his performance.
Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 4:52pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 8:06pm (UTC -5)
Shaka, when the walls fell!
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 10:51am (UTC -5)
The Sun-Moon relationship is only applicable on planets like Earth. Forcing some establishing piece that the place the comet comes from also happened to have 1 moon would be rather out of place.
I feel they ought to have used some more... applicable dichotomy.
Sun, Aug 31, 2014, 1:38am (UTC -5)
Still, you do raise an interesting point. The dualism many older religions and myths ascribe to the Sun and the Moon stem from the fact that the two celestial bodies appear to be of exactly the same size - the Sun's radius is some 400 times greater than the Moon's while it's 400 times farther out from Earth, effectively cancelling each other out where an observer standing on our planet is concerned. It really is a curious turn of events dictated by mere cosmic chance.
Sun, Aug 31, 2014, 6:09am (UTC -5)
Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 11:39am (UTC -5)
Fluffysheap compared the episode to Darmok, and I like that comparison. In my comments on that episode, I mentioned that I felt the story did a great job of presenting a truly alien community. It wasn't just the language, but their decisions, their rituals, everything pointed well to a people who had a low sense of identity and focused more on narratives. I liked that about Darmok. And it would have been nice to see it here. Rather than the somewhat generic plot we got, it would have been nice if the plot focused more on learning and discovering who this lost civilization is. After all, that would fit more with the Trek ethos of seeking out new life and new civilizations. And it would have made the symbolism more pronounced, more impressive than a simple sun/moon story. As it stands, what we got was a jumble.
I like mythology. I like sci-fi. I like examining alien cultures. So why couldn't we really delve into it here? With Picard as an archaeologist, this could have been an episode tailor made for him. But anything interesting about these people was dropped and ignored without a single sideways glance to us. I noticed three main issues that were worth exploring, which I think would have greatly improved the episode.
1) Masaka was a bad guy! The sun-goddess was feared rather than worshipped and celebrated! This is hardly consistent with Earth mythologies. Ra, Sol, Shamesh, Utu, Apollo, and probably all the ones I don't know tend to be associated with positive imagery like truth and justice and so forth. Which, of course, makes perfect sense for ancient human cultures. The sun brings out light and warmth and drives predators away. The sun allows crops to grow. Of course we would celebrate and not fear the sun. So why do all the characters fear Masaka?
Here's one interesting sci-fi answer that took all of 10 seconds to think up. I'm not an expert on orbital mechanics, but what if this planet was in a binary star system? It orbits one star similarly to Earth orbiting the Sun, but the second star is in an eccentric orbit. This orbit brings the second star close to the planet every 100-200 years or so, and wrecks havoc on the climate for a few years during that time. Thus, the inhabitants called the second star Masaka, and would have a reason to truly fear her return. And maybe the solution to the plot here involved Picard and company finding out something about this civilization, and thus required Picard to make this logical leap. Now, the symbolism present would be a key aspect to the plot itself, as well as relating to the sci-fi nature of the TV show.
2) All the characters suggested that Korgano was no longer chasing Masaka. Isn't that weird? The plot suggests that's only because the Korgano symbol hadn't been downloaded yet, but that's just silly. Isn't it more interesting to think that something actually happened? If Korgano is the moon, then why did the moon stop chasing Masaka? Was it destroyed? Just how would that impact this society? Maybe that's why they all fear Masaka now. Or maybe that's why the civilization itself was lost. Again, this is something weird in the symbolism itself that the story ignored, and I think it would have been much better to embrace this symbolism rather than just move on with the plot. Again, a destroyed moon would have been an interesting story to deal with.
3) On a meta-example, why did this civilization take so much effort to preserve their mythology? They are undoubtedly an incredibly advanced civilization, and undoubtedly would have discovered the principles of orbital mechanics and the likes. So there is no longer any need for myths to state how the stars and moons and suns move across the sky. And yet, that seemed to be the primary thing that this civilization preserved. If we could recreate part of our society in space, would we recreate Mt. Olympus? Or would we recreate New York or London or whatever? Undoubtedly the latter. Heck, we'd probably be more likely to preserve Marvel's Thor than the Norse Thor... We keep our mythology, but our interest in it is very shallow and doesn't impact our day to day lives.
So why is this civilization different? Like with Darmok, the unique plot aspect (speaking in metaphors, preserving a mythology) should speak to the alienness of the culture. But while TNG succeeds with the Children of Tama, we don't really get a chance to understand the Mask people at all. Why are they so interested in preserving their mythology? Do they still talk like that?
I'm reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Calvin asks his dad how wind appears, and his dad says the answer is trees sneezing. Calvin asks "really?" and the dad responds no, but the truth is more complicated. The last panel has Calvin walking outside on a windy day and commenting that the trees are really sneezing today.
So is that the answer? Do the people not care about truth, but only care about convenient answers? Leave the actual science to the scientists, but we'll just choose to believe the easy answer? Or maybe they just like anthropomorphization? And if so, how would that impact the rest of society?
Maybe this would have been better as a novel than a 43 minute episode. Maybe its impossible to really delve into a culture in a plot like this. But it would have been more interesting than what was given. I know most people look at this episode and just declare it to be a waste, but I think of it mostly as a lost opportunity.
Sat, May 30, 2015, 12:26am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 16, 2015, 11:24am (UTC -5)
That said, I still didn't see the point of it all. Ancient aliens with space travel technology decide to build a giant Lego library (sorry, but the thing looked like a painted Lego sculpture to me), launch it into space disguised as a comet just so it can take over and transform whatever ships it encounters?
The beginning of the episode was especially weak for me. Why is Troi teaching a children's sculpture class? And why is Data taking a CHILDREN'S sculpture class? Why does it not occur to Picard or anyone else to evacuate the crew (or at least the children and families) in some shuttle craft once the Enterprise is trapped in the tractor beam and starting to be transformed?
Sun, Jul 26, 2015, 10:12pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Aug 11, 2015, 10:07am (UTC -5)
Regarding other comments:
I liked Steve pulling out his pen and writing it down...hey this is good stuff!
Regarding SkepticalMI's comment that the sun is a bad guy...
In particular desert cultures sometimes regarded the sun as either evil or having harsh elements.
Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 9:11pm (UTC -5)
Um, Jammer, I think you may have been watching 1984's "Dune" instead of "Masks". They both have Patrick Stewart in them. Just saying. :p
Okay, confession time again, ladies and gentlemen. "Masks" is my guilty pleasure of TNG. And not in a "so bad it's good" kind of way. I legitimately like it. Granted, I can see how a lot of people wouldn't like it because, let's face it, it is a rather absurd episode. But it just clicks for me on all the right buttons. Maybe that's because I'm a huge mark for the mythological/symbology/archaeological aspects and this episode is indeed loaded to the brim with them (at the expense of just about everything else). I've liked it ever since I first saw it when it originally aired. In fact, when I later found out that it was almost universal detested, I was amazed.
It's got a good atmosphere, a nice use of an ancient civilization and its rituals, a wonderful score (probably one of the best of late TNG) and a really good performance by Brent Spiner (for crying out loud, he plays six different characters in this one episode!). Granted, it's got more than its fair share of problems when you stop and think about it. For example - how is the ship able to continue functioning when everything is being transformed; what happened to the rest of the crew (I guess it's a good thing that none of the 1000+ people aboard the ship weren't transformed into anything); why does the library just stop recreating the city when Masaka goes to sleep; etc. Still, I like it in a kind of "just shut up and enjoy it" kind of way.
What else is there really to say? There's absolutely no meat to sink your teeth into here. "Masks" is quite possibly the quintessential definition of a fluff episode that isn't trying to say anything. But so what? What is "Timescape" trying to say? What is "Gambit" trying to say? "Starship Mine"?
I like it and I'm not ashamed to say so. Like I said, however, I can understand why it's not everyone's cup of tea (if the symbology/symbolism and atmosphere isn't enough to carry you through it, then avoid "Masks" like the plague because it simply is not going to be for you). But I simply don't understand the level of visceral hatred it receives from so many quarters. I'll gladly defend this episode until the day I die.
7/10 (yes, I just gave "Masks" a higher score than "The Inner Light")
*runs and hides* :-)
Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 10:42pm (UTC -5)
Whatever. But the comparison is instructive. Actually, fluffysheap made the same comparison, above, which to me suggests a way "Masks" could've been invested with more significance. To wit, suppose this archive was another Kataanian probe.
The Kataan connection would resonate with Picard, as that culture's last survivor. He alone would recognize its symbols. As the probe threatens the ship, he can't bring himself to destroy the last relic of his lost lifetime.
Further, Picard would have a deeper connection with Data, who undergoes essentially the same experience, becoming a repository of Kataan's culture. (Often ignored, except in "Silicon Avatar," is than Data is *already* a repository with a legion of voices in his brain.) Data's role could be further enhanced by letting him choose to be possessed. By volunteering to act as a spokesman for the probe (as he did with the nanites in "Evolution"), Data is a hero, not a victim. He might crave the experience as a window into what it means to be human (or Kataanian).
Huh. Seems like I derive enjoyment from Star Trek these days mainly by imagining how it should have been done differently.
Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 11:02pm (UTC -5)
Another idea just occurred to me: given the similarity to the destructive probe in "Contagion," what if this story revealed that the archive was Iconian??
Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 7:29pm (UTC -5)
Still, I do find it interesting, Luke, that you like the episode for the same reason I was disappointed in it. I like mythology too, but it seemed that the writers just threw random imagery together without trying to make the culture behind it have any meaning. To me, this episode is like if someone created a "World War II" story, but only had the superficial trappings. I mean, it would have Hitler and Churchill and Hirohito and Roosevelt and everyone else, but with no historical accuracy in terms of who they were or the geopolitical situation. If you were a fan of that period of history, would you enjoy the story because of the superficial trappings, or would you be annoyed by the lack of understanding?
Just curious if you agree with my assessment that the mythological angle is lacking, and you simply don't care about that aspect, or if you did think they did a good job in that department.
Tue, Oct 27, 2015, 9:32pm (UTC -5)
"To me, this episode is like if someone created a "World War II" story, but only had the superficial trappings. I mean, it would have Hitler and Churchill and Hirohito and Roosevelt and everyone else, but with no historical accuracy in terms of who they were or the geopolitical situation."
That sounds a lot like the Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds". That movie has all the superficial trappings of World War II yet almost no historical accuracy what-so-ever. I still kind of liked it. In fact, what you describe sounds like most works of historical fiction. There is always a huge amount of suspension of disbelief involved with that genre; but I still consider myself a fan of it.
As for what you say about the mythological angle being lacking - well, I can't argue with you there. It is, indeed, lacking and we could have been given a lot more. But, what we are given works well enough for me. Then again, your argument of "it could have been more" is the same one I used in my review of "The Best of Both Worlds." It lacks what I consider an extremely important element - the response to the Borg threat on Earth. Still, what we're given is very good.
The more I think about the episode there's another appealing aspect that I forgot to mention. I love that the culture is depicted as so ritualistic. If you'll indulge me, I'll try to explain with a personal anecdote. I'm a practicing Roman Catholic, but I wasn't raised Catholic. I converted to Catholicism in my early twenties. I was raised in a very lukewarm Protestant house (Methodist, to be specific). My parents weren't huge church-goers and we didn't attend church all that often. It would be a stretch even to say we were "Easter and Christmas only Christians". Still, I did experience a wield variety of Protestant services since I was in Boy Scouts (various local churches would aid our troop so we often had to go to their services to thank them). I saw a lot of different types of services (Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, various non-denominational ones - just to name a few). The one thing I found that they all had in common was that were all so incredibly dull - I mean just mind-numbingly boring! By sheer happenstance, however, most of my friends in high school and college were Catholic. So, in my senior year of high school, I asked one my Catholic friends if I could go to Mass with him since the local Catholic church was the only one I hadn't been to yet - that was enough to arouse my curiosity. What happened was very similar to something from TNG: "Sub Rosa", of all places. In that episode, the alien governor says that, when he first looked out over the Scottish Highlands he felt as if he had come home. That's how I felt in my first Mass. It was the first church service I had been to where I wasn't bored out of my mind. And that was entirely due to the highly ritualized aspect of the service. It just spoke to me on some deep level, which I still to this day can't entirely explain (maybe it's just the high theater aspect, I don't know). It took me a few years of soul-searching but I finally decided to take the plunge and become a Catholic. Even when I have massive disagreements with the Church (like on its, and especially our current pope's, stances on economic issues), I'm still happy to be a Catholic because I love the ritual/liturgy. In fact, I would love to attend a church that offers a real old-school, pre-Vatican-II High Latin Mass with literally all the bells and whistles, but I don't live near one that offers that, more's the pity.
What I'm trying to get at is that I love the fact that "Masks" is willing to showcase a culture that shares my love for ceremonial rituals. And I do think that the intention was to pay some respect to this sort of thing (yes, the rituals are the driving force to be overcome in the episode, but the characters never denigrate the culture or its rituals - they even show a good amount of respect for it all in the end). Now, like the mythological aspects of the episode, they could have done a lot more with this but didn't. But, still, what they did give us works well enough for me. I'm just glad they gave us anything. Maybe it's just that I'm too easy to please in this department. :-)
So, to finally answer your question - do I think they did a good job or do I not care if it's lacking.... I guess I just don't care. :-P
However, there are parts of the episode that I do think are done very well - most notably the score and Spiner's performance. The score adds a sort of Aztec/Mayan/Incan feel to the atmosphere and is easily one of the best musical pieces of late TNG. And I really thought that Spiner did a wonderful job, even though most people don't share that opinion. Given that he plays no less than six different characters (Data, Ihat, Masaka, Masaka's father, the terrified supplicant and the awestruck supplicant) he does an excellent job of giving them all distinct personalities.
Fri, Nov 6, 2015, 9:18am (UTC -5)
There is nothing redeeming about Masks. Except that last tine: Riker: I dont know what you did Captain, but things are back to normal.
to which the audience responds, neither do we riker......neither do we.
Fri, Nov 6, 2015, 4:01pm (UTC -5)
Additionally, we have Brent Spiner chewing the scenery in a variety of silly voices. Ambitious but ultimately fatally flawed. 1.5 stars.
Sat, Nov 7, 2015, 1:10am (UTC -5)
Wed, Nov 11, 2015, 7:21pm (UTC -5)
LOL and this has happened ever since 1994.
The worst TNG episode.
Thu, Jan 28, 2016, 6:01pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 24, 2016, 1:23am (UTC -5)
There are not many episodes of TNG that I hate, though there are some that I think are measurably less good than others. Having re-watched Masks last night, I was struck , not by any suckiness, or incoherence of plot (I will say I thought that a society who could build the device in the comet , which is technologically comparable if not superior to the Enterprise may have moved past such simple allegorical stories, but then our messages to the universe are simple too, by necessity), but by the fact that for once, when he wasn't playing 'straight man Data' I was impressed by Brent Spiner's performance.
I ordinarily hate him playing anyone else (in part because he is sooo good as Data), and because I find him less convincing as a human being. I thought in Masks, that his portrayal of the other characters was great. The trickster, Ehot was a bit irritating, but those archetypes roll that way, but the other 'inhabitants' were goosebump material.
I'm also realizing (I've been re-watching them all) in Season 7 that Michael Dorn is a tremendously under-rated actor. Even under all the prosthetics he as a remarkable degree of charisma and gravitas. They really should have done more Worfisodes. This episode is a great example of him being given absolutely sod-all to work with and doing a great job of it.
Thu, Feb 25, 2016, 7:09am (UTC -5)
Thu, Feb 25, 2016, 8:02am (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 3:58pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 6:22pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 5, 2016, 1:26am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 5, 2016, 10:37am (UTC -5)
I'm not sure if I agree that good Sci-Fi *needs* to be believable. Take hyper-spatial jumping in Asimov's books. Our science has zero understanding of hyperspace. It's a completely fictional concept. It's not something combustion, fission, or solar engines can plausibly be modified to reach. Yet, considering a galaxy as a collection of points on map that can bent together through a different plane of galactic travel is an intriguing and clever concept, so we let it pass. I suppose the idea is that in science, disruptive, or unheard of techniques can be discovered, making that seems unbelievable now completely believable.
Let's take a concrete example like the iPad, which roughly look like PADs on TNG. Those would've been unthinkable even as late as the 80s, because the then popular CRT screens needed large vacuum tubes and fans to operate. But now we have pads even more powerful and smaller than the ones used on this show. So believably isn't necessarily a dealbreaker.
As for this episode, which you didn't mention, I think it's okay. I like the simple symbolism of the episode. It reminded me of Season Two's "Contagion" in that an enticingly ancient civilization was able to use primitive technologies to have a profound effect on a modern starship. It's interesting to think how technologies may develop very differently than our own, and in ways we cannot understand or believe now. That's what I liked about the Iconians, and that's still likeable about the D'Arsay.
Tue, Apr 5, 2016, 10:09pm (UTC -5)
"Plausible"may be the word I was looking for.
Or maybe "possible".
Hyperspace works because Asimov introduces us to a hypothetical phenomena that exists outside of our physical universe, so it is not a slave to our laws. Warp drive attempts the same with its "folding" of space, but is then constantly misused as just another way of going real fast. I remember an episode where they used their momentum at warp speed to carry them through an anomaly safely with the engines turned off. If they could do this, why wouldn't they do it all the time and save on plasma or whatever it is they use for propulsion. (If their speed with warp drive off is anywhere near light speed then it is an impossibility in our physical universe.) Is it folding space or moving real fast. It can't be both.
I just recently started to read these reviews, and I was seeing a lot of people liking or criticising episodes for their under or over use of sci fi themes, and bashing episodes because of their scientific impossibility and I just felt like saying something. I love Star Trek, but if I based my opinion of the show on its scientific accuracy I would have stopped watching a long time ago. (It's true, this comment was not specific to "Masks").
That being said, this wasn't a bad episode because it wasn't good sci fi, it was bad because it didn't mean anything or make any sense in our universe, of course this is just my opinion.
Wed, Apr 6, 2016, 2:00am (UTC -5)
I love the Star Trek franchise.
Sun, Apr 24, 2016, 12:30pm (UTC -5)
And I still feel that way. I'm also a huge fan of Stargate, which also regularly appeals to archaeology, one of my favorite subjects. Indeed, there is no character development per se, except for what Data got out of it. It was reset at the end. Meh.
So it was a Trek one-off, so what — remember, ye haters, above all, this show is about "[seeking] out new life and new civilizations," and this is exactly in that vein. It's not necessarily about "solving Worf's convoluted but intriguing family problems" or "Jake wants to become a writer instead of joining Starfleet," though those human interest stories are also what make Trek the Trek what we know and love. Paraphrasing Freud, sometimes a space adventure is just a space adventure.
I give it 3 Masakas, 1.5 Korganos, 1 Eehat, and 1 comet 🌞🌞🌞🌝🌛💫☄
Sun, Apr 24, 2016, 12:49pm (UTC -5)
I always hated that Data can't get promoted above the transparent aluminum ceiling of LCDR (I guess because he didn't have his Imzadi giving him hints to pass the bridge officers test), but maybe this is the very reason...
Sun, Apr 24, 2016, 8:43pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jul 3, 2016, 3:25pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 14, 2016, 1:15am (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 7, 2016, 2:25am (UTC -5)
I love seeing Picard display his deep anthro understanding. I think this episode works because Picard IS a Korgano-figure - he does represent a sort of ultimate archetypal masculine. So it's satisfying to see him do badass things like reason sensibly with an all-powerful "glorious" female power. Another example of this sort of archetypal feminine power, I think, is found in Phoenix from X-Men.
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 12:54pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Feb 10, 2017, 11:06am (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 15, 2017, 11:02am (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 24, 2017, 1:14am (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 30, 2017, 11:09pm (UTC -5)
Wed, May 17, 2017, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
I also agree to what someone else already commented - yes, I enjoyed Spiner's performance, too. He himself said in interviews that his acting in "Masks" was terrible because he had only a day or so to prepare for the roles. So it turns out cheesy, I admit that. But somehow his acting is still good and fun to watch. We've seen him do Data, Lore and that mad scientist in season 2 who transferred himself into Data's body... but the roles of Lore and the scientist being really similar, both having giant egos and a lack of respect for others. I liked the variety that we could watch in this episode.
Nobody can claim that "Masks" is stale and boring. It doesn't stick to any formula that has been established on TNG. The plot isn't great, but the story carries a certain sense of wonder, and the archeological element (which I associate with Picard) and Spiner's enjoyable acting both lift this episode up.
Giving it the same 1-star-rating as "Genesis" is an insult. It should be placed higher.
Wed, May 17, 2017, 6:51pm (UTC -5)
- Jamahl said "the story is at times so incomprehensible, impenetrable, and incoherent" and others joined into the same chorus. I COULDN'T DISAGREE MORE. As soon as you realize that the most dominant personalities inside of Data are mythological figures, everything falls into place. Watch the episode again with that knowledge and you'll see how everything makes sense. Masaka literally is the sun who created the world "from the bones of her father after she had killed him". She is the sun itself, which is seen as a living entity with a personality.
Why are these mythological figures so dominant inside of Data and Masaka so powerful that she can threaten the Enterprise? I think it's pretty obvious that they hold a key role in that culture and because of this cultural importance of the highest order, the archive places priority on materializing those mythological figures. Less important contents of the archive would likely have followed later (that's how I see it).
- Another point that people really don't like is how most of the Enterprise is "transformed" in a weird way. I actually agree. I think it would have been far better if the archive only transformed a small portion of the ship because it would be more believable. How the hell is a back-transformation even possible, once the matter has been re-aligned? What we see in the episode (on screen) is how parts of the bridge, the engine room, some other minor rooms and of course that deck for Masaka's temple are transformed. That's all fine with me. The writers should have sticked to these "most important rooms" of the ship and saved us a headache for trying to explain how the back-transformation of the majority of the ship is supposed to work.
The story itself is actually intriguing - and rather coherent, although not executed perfectly. Take a closer look.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 2:09am (UTC -5)
Shouldn't Data know what abstract art is by now? He's done quite a few paintings that are pretty abstract and they could have done the treble clef joke without backsliding his character.
Sat, Jun 17, 2017, 7:17am (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 20, 2017, 2:05am (UTC -5)
Jamahl didn't really make the effort to figure out this episode and dismissed it too quickly as a silly cartoonish story on the level of "Genesis". It's a pity.
Strangely, he rated "A Fistful of Datas", another episode in which Spiner showcases how funny he can act, with 2 stars. Compared to "Masks", that episode was pretty much pointless and had no depth to it. Let me propose more adequate scores:
Masks 1.0 -> 2.5
A Fistful of Datas 2.0 -> 1.5
Thu, Jul 20, 2017, 10:38pm (UTC -5)
Upon later viewings however, it did seem a bit silly that they didn't grasp the sun/moon connection much quicker than they did, even going so far as to propose other ideas (like Worf speculating the moon symbol was an animal's horns). The majority of the senior staff presumably grew up on Earth, so they should have been quite familiar with it.
Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 12:40am (UTC -5)
Tue, Aug 1, 2017, 3:03pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 3:04pm (UTC -5)
The concept of ancient alien figures altering current technology to share a mythological story is intriguing; the episode didn’t make it very clear whether all of these figures were real people in history, or whether they were avatars of deities in this alien culture. I lean to the latter explanation.
I agree with other posters who said the episode felt a bit hollow and meaningless. We don’t see how these figures from an ancient alien race have any consequence or importance for the lives of current Starfleet officers.
We don’t really even know anything about this alien race, so we aren’t very invested in its background, and we don’t learn anything new about the regular charaters (or see any character development) so I had no emotional response to the episode other than boredom
Mon, Oct 2, 2017, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Nov 29, 2017, 5:12pm (UTC -5)
I also liked a lot that a basic myth idea, that of someone being killed so that his body is used to create the world
Ihar looks like some typical trickster figure, he creates problems while also being then that gives fundamental infos to solve them
Still wonder what he meant when he said Masaka chased him as well, and he had managed to escape her until then, is he supposed to represent a specific element as well?
Also, who is the guardian? why his appearance wakes up Masaka? why is he scared as hell if he's the guardian? and why is he spared by Masaka?
Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 12:50pm (UTC -5)
If this had to happen, the Enterprise was the perfect place for it. Capt. Picard is a trained archeologist, so he knew what was going on. And the archive possessed Data, instead of the computer. So it made much less damage than it could have. (Someone should have really pointed this out.) It needed more work, but not too bad within its limits. One important question, though. Why does the goddess Masaka's symbol look like a Chinese man?
Thu, Feb 15, 2018, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
I remember on first watch, I kept waiting for something to happen because I was really caught up in the idea of the archive bringing a dead civilization back from...well, the dead. Then the sun goddess and the moon god had a showdown by proxy and the sun goddess went to sleep and all was right with the world.
I wanted my hour back.
Joe Menosky was participating from the Italian Alps at this point in the series. I hope he enjoyed whatever he was smoking when he shoved this piece of excrement into the fax machine and pushed send.
Sat, Feb 17, 2018, 10:20am (UTC -5)
The silent red alert bridge scenes is some of the worst writing I've seen on TNG. "I'm not going to permit this ship to be turned into an alien city!" Yikes. And it's true, it looks like they ran out of money to pay the extras.
I don't mind Picard as an archaeologist, but in the other episodes where this interest has come up, there is a very explicit tension between that way of life and the one he leads as Captain of a starship. Which makes for interesting television. Here he is clicking buttons and materializing unknown objects on a hunch, inserting himself into an alien mythology on a hunch (wtf), and overruling very sensible objections from his crew. At one point he literally says, "Anybody got any better ideas?"
Also, a killer archive. Come on. For a split second, Ihat looked like he had the makings of an arch-nemesis, sitting on the warp core and all, but it's a steep downhill from there.
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 15, 2018, 9:22pm (UTC -5)
It's a shame this episode wastes its running time on dull mysteries and multiple personalities when it could be exploring a fascinating alien civilization (though given that this civilization seems like a hokey version of an African/Mayan tribe,, that's probably a good thing).
Mon, Jun 11, 2018, 1:55am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 26, 2018, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 21, 2018, 11:12pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jan 9, 2019, 3:12am (UTC -5)
This really was not that bad, IMHO. 2 or 2.5 stars, I think. It was vastly better than certain holodeck episodes.
My only substantive gripe with it is, that, yet again, Data brings the ship into danger, and yet again, gets off with no consequences. No human would be allowed to do that. I always did prefer Geordi. Data is annoying.
Sat, Jan 26, 2019, 1:38am (UTC -5)
J**** effing C*****!!
Patrick Stewart doing his ludicrous Cockney-peasant-with-a-broken-nose-that-never-healed routine a few episodes earlier didn't suffice, I guess. Spiner YET AGAIN had to show us his, uhh.....gifts? Bloody narcissists.
And and awful and boring incoherent total-clusterblank of an episode. What were they thinking?!! Zero point two-five stars.
Tue, Feb 19, 2019, 10:12pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Feb 24, 2019, 6:48am (UTC -5)
And how would a computer transform matter on a ship? Random objects get replicated, OK, but how do they end up sitting on someone's furniture (ie. the totem on Deanna's table). Guess that's all part of the "fi" of sci-fi, we're just supposed to accept it, like transporters and warp drive...
Sun, Mar 17, 2019, 3:49am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 9, 2019, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
Picard loves archeology so there's a chance to tap into that -- but the main upshot of this is Picard figuring out the sun/moon dynamic, putting on a mask and voila! we get the perfect resolution like waving a magic wand -- sort of like in "Genesis". Spiner is good at playing multiple characters so throw in some of that, but that ends up being a failure. The multiple personalities Data portrays are nothing to care for and the "Ihat" character was really stupid/annoying.
This is bad sci-fi. Far too wacko, far-fetched, and arbitrary. So the ancient archive is able to transform parts of the ship into an ancient city without regard for the needs of the ship's crew (presumably) just so the crew can re-enact Korgano (the moon) chasing Masaka (the sun)? And why should Masaka terrorize/sacrifice people like Ihat? Makes far too little sense. It was just laughable watching Picard with his Korgano mask making Data in the Masaka mask fall asleep and then the ship is back to normal. Just poor all around.
One interesting thing is that it's Troi and Worf together with Picard in Masaka's temple trying to figure out the 2 symbols -- even though there's no romance between the 2 here, this episode (I think) tries to provide some continuity for these 2 as being together at this point in the canon.
Barely 1 star for "Masks" -- a real meaningless mess. TNG shouldn't have been putting out this kind of garbage in its seventh season, but this episode isn't an exception. I think Menosky tried to capture some elements of ancient civilizations but ultimately had no idea what he wanted to convey. If it's just that day follows night, then that's nowhere near acceptable. Quite a boring episode to watch as well.
Mon, May 6, 2019, 10:23am (UTC -5)
For example, we've seen data make some incredible paintings, expressive and original. We've seen him explore his subconscious. We've seen him learn about musical expression. Yet all of a sudden he's back to making accurate clay PADDs and Troi chuckling at the silly grinning android. Then we get a rehashing of numerous previous data "possession" episodes, and a Lore-esque voice or two.
Even Picard feels off - "Mr La Forge, do you have any ideas?.... (Geordi technobabbles) ... Yees, that's a good idea, but I'm going to ignore it because i already knew what I was going to do anyway". He suddenly seems like a bit of a self important dick, like the writer watched season one Picard before he wrote this one.
The whole thing feels like its from one of Worf's parallel universes, the one in which Everything Is Just a Little Bit Shit. I am saving up the series finale as I know its good, but getting through the remaining few episodes feels like a chore. At least I have the whole of DS9 to watch!
Thu, May 16, 2019, 9:06pm (UTC -5)
Maybe it's because I've had to navigate a lot more boundaries as the years have passed. Maybe I just didn't "get it" at first.
Thu, May 16, 2019, 9:39pm (UTC -5)
This is ridiculous: how much Picard interprets and tells the crew what is going on.
Sat, Jun 1, 2019, 11:52pm (UTC -5)
Descent: 7/10 it had Lore in it. ^-^
Liaisons: 3/10 it was pretty dull.
Interface: 5/10 hey it's a Geordi episode where he's not fumbling over some chic.
Gambit: 6/10 I've never been a big Riker fan but the episode holds it's own. *episodes that is*
Phantasms: 8/10 it's creepy in all the right ways and was a weird change from normal.
Dark Page: 5/10 unlike most I'm a Lwaxana fan because I love Majel Barret and this was a somewhat interesting turn to see her character take.
Attached: 4/10 for some reason I strongly ship Picard/Beverly even though there seems to be an age difference there. That said, I didn't need an entire episode about it.
Force Of Nature: 3/10 painfully boring the only redeeming quality being the Spot B-plot.
Inheritance: 8/10 it gave us more insight into Data's background and family which I thought was cool. All he was missing was a mother.
Parallels: 8/10 awesome episode with some very interesting possibilities explored. I wish we could have seen more alternate realities.
The Pegasus: 5/10 like I said Riker episoded don't normally do anything for me. And how many evil admirals are in Starfleet?!
Homeward: 3/10 everyone in this one seems like a total dick because they refuse to help the dying species from finding a new home until they're backed into a corner and forced to. Lame.
Sub Rosa: 2/10 the only reason I give this one 2 is because I usually like the attempts at a darker atmosphere like Phantasms. This failed miserably however.
Lower Decks: 6or7/10 now before you send me hate mail let me explain that I'm just not a big fan of focusing more on random side characters. Most side characters are great, and I would have liked an episode about them, but most of the characters here are people we haven't even met and will never see again. I read a lot of Trek novels and whenever they focus all on a random OC more than the crew it makes it really dull for me. Apologies.
Thine Own Self: 8/10 I didn't expect an episode like this and it was pretty intriguing. Plus, Data. ;) although the B-plot with Deanna was dreadful.
Masks: 6/10 I don't know, I found it compelling because I wanted to see where it was going.
Eye Of The Beholder: 4/10 I think it's safe to say that Deanna is my least favorite character on TNG. Just beating out Riker because at least Jonathan Frakes is a good actor. :(
Genesis: 5/10 as ridiculous as it is, I have a soft spot for it. It's fun to see the crew turn into weird animal people. I think. Kinda. 4/10
Journey's End: 3/10 UGH WesleyBoyWonder is back. Yay.
Firstborn: 4/10 Klingon stuff has always confused me. I couldn't keep up anymore on DS9. But poor little Alexander tries so hard. And I like Worf.
Bloodlines: 3/10 this was just a confusing mess. But hey nice humanizing moment for Piacrd. Kind of.
Emergence: 7/10 yet another episode I enjoyed better than most fans. It was just really fun and thrown out there which I thought was compelling.
Preemptive Strike: 5/10 I didn't feel this was a suitable ending for Ro Laren at all. I really liked her and hated to see her leave especially under these circumstances. And it started the whole Maquis thing that would be done to death.
All Good Things...: 9/10 an instant classic. All Data's cats.
Over all not a bad season IMO, just underrated and underdone in some areas.
Plus I love when the talented Brent Spiner gets to strut his stuff. He's never as good as when he's Data, but that's because Data is a cosmic role beyond all roles.
Tue, Jun 18, 2019, 9:51pm (UTC -5)
When comments like that are the chief apologias for an episode, the episode has problems.
More than one person has commented that he or she has studied or is familiar with principles of archaeology or mythology. One shouldn’t have to be, though, to find the episode coherent or enjoyable. Some people are fond of Civil War reenactments. A movie that constitutes a three-hour-Long Civil War re-enactment would no doubt be regarded as “good” by these people-whether or not the movie made sense, was interesting, entertaining, or dramatically compelling. People who like something for what it is about instead of how it is about that thing, should at least cop to it.
As to “what is it about,” as in, “Does the episode have a meaning or purpose or moral or theme?,” my answer is I have no idea but in any event the having of one does not make something inherenly better. Mindless action movies can be quite entertaining if made with skill. To me, Masks was so incoherent that I cannot tell whether I was trying to say something, or whether it was not. Incoherence of that magnitude - that makes it impossible to tell who is doing what with whom, and where, and why, can be entertaining, but it wasn’t here. I love the line where right before Picard basically talks an alien to death, he says, “I have experience with this sort of thing” (the line may have been “I have experience with these kinds of situations” (or”mythology”)... he then...promptly talks an alien to death with characteristic numbing pomposity.
“Your speech.. It’s dull.. plodding... pedantic.... much like yourself.”
Sat, Jun 29, 2019, 3:59am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 9:50am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 11:59am (UTC -5)
U would actually say that something like "The Royale" comes closer to avant-gardism through its unbridled strangeness; "Masks" comes off as both too studied and too cash-strapped to conjure up a truly weird vibe. In truth, in laying out all of its themes in such a banal way at the end, it is less like abstract art than a mediocre undergrad paper on the topic of abstract art.
Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 12:08pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 5, 2019, 6:58am (UTC -5)
On the other hand, the episode can be summed up as a hot mess which leans heavily on established tropes and technological magic. And Series Seven had already heavily overused "Data behaves out of character" by this point.
Once more we have alien technology which is somehow able to effortlessly take over the Enterprise - and Data's positronic brain. It's also able to transform the entire ship, somehow without immediately causing an engine explosion or interrupting life support.
(And once more, the civilians on the ship are completely ignored...)
Not one I'd actively rewatch, but interesting enough...
Wed, Mar 11, 2020, 10:25am (UTC -5)
Eighty percent of “Masks” is the following cycle, endlessly repeated:
1. Something odd happens.
2. Picard explains to the audience, “Maybe this reflects mythological blah blah other cultures blah blah archeological yada yada.”
3. Another character points something out.
4. Picard explains that, too.
I actually like the weird episodes. (In spite of my critical comment about “Sub Rosa,” I can have fun watching it.). So I’m pretty sure I could have liked an ancient-myth story or a Data-gets-possessed story or an Enterprise-is-hijacked-by-an-alien-culture story - even though I seem to remember all of those being done and done and redone before.
But I don’t like dullness. The writers’ meeting for this one must have been: “Let’s do a Picard episode. He's into anthropology, right? So that’s our plot: some anthropology thingy happens on board and Picard figures it out. Slowly.”
Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 2:34pm (UTC -5)
I was having a lot of fun trying to understand the meanings of these symbols along with the Enterprise crew. I absolutely loved the fact that the viewers were able to experience the mystique of the situation instead of being spoon-fed immediate answers. It was very satisfying to realize the answer of Korgano being the moon just a few minutes ahead of the cast, long enough for it feel like an accomplishment, but short enough not to be annoyed by the characters following a false lead at first.
This episode lets the viewer draw their own conclusions concerning the meaning of these myths even at the very end, and I feel this gesture is genuine, not something like "well, we had no idea what we were doing but hopefully the audience will think of something". There seemed to be a lot of thought put into the mystery, the symbols, the personalities "possessing" Data, and it paid off overall.
I personally arrived to the conclusion that the civilization in question might have fallen victim to a cosmic disaster that destroyed the moon around their planet, and made the sun much more deadly than it previously was (perhaps by altering their planet's orbit). That is why Korgano was not present as a personality on the artifact and Picard had to take his place, resolving the cataclysm that artifact's builders fell victim to, at least in a symbolic manner. Of course, that's just my take on things after seeing the episode once, I believe other valid interpretations definitely exist - and for me, that's one of the Masks' strengths, instead of a weakness.
Fri, Apr 10, 2020, 4:48pm (UTC -5)
I'll write a brief summary to show why I believe this is an effective episode: The Enterprise encounters a comet, one unaccounted for in Federation records, and something worthy of study. After scanning it, they then discover that it is, in fact, an artifact, a folk-archive from a civilization that existed 87 millions years ago, which is now buried under tens of millions of years worth of ice and dust accumulation. But it isn't just a library, it's an interactive library, one that goes out of its way to interface with those civilizations advanced enough to interact. It is able to interface with the ship's computer and with Data. It then proceeds to relate a myth central to the D'arsay civilization by using the matter aboard the Enterprise to fully recreate the scene, a scene not just visual and auditory, but wholly tactile. (It alters those systems that are not necessary to sustain life on the Enterprise; killing the class isn't good for show-and-tell day, after all.) Data, being an android, can function as an actor, playing, potentially, hundreds of characters from D'arsay mythology, and presumable "thousands" of its long-dead citizens. Picard, Troi, and Worf piece together the story, and once Picard assumes the role of Korgano, proving the message has been received and understood, the artifact concludes the simulation, making it possible for Federation scientists to study this library more thoroughly.
And that's about as straight-forward a story as I've ever seen. Simple, in fact. And that's probably why Joe Menosky was pissed about the final product. He had more to say.
I take it that this myth was central to D'arsay culture because that species evolved on a planet just barely within the Goldilocks Zone, too close to the sun for comfort. Theirs was a miserable existence and the sun was feared because it was unrelentingly hot — the reign of the moon was sweet respite — still, they managed advance as a species, achieving space flight. But their condition was the first and foremost thing they wanted others to understand.
My rating: Squeaks in with 3 stars.
Sat, May 23, 2020, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
I think following through with the idea that Troi was Masaka would have helped....an ancient sun goddess with streaked platinum hair or similar treatment would raise it up at least 1 star. Better yet, bring in Ensign Ro as Masaka and have the sun symbol grow upward from her Bajoran latex prosthesis. Then Picard comes in as Korgano and we would have "Moon god meets She who must be obeyed". 3 stars at least!
Tue, Jul 14, 2020, 8:23am (UTC -5)
The crew didn’t really seem all that alarmed by random crap popping up all over and that the ship was being transformed.
Fri, Jul 24, 2020, 5:50am (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 8, 2020, 3:07am (UTC -5)
There are a few episodes like this in trek that by themselves are pretty boring, but their tone and music and overall feel is soothing.
It soothes me.
Tue, Sep 1, 2020, 8:08am (UTC -5)
I know very soon it will be all over and I will miss them.
Fri, Oct 9, 2020, 4:17pm (UTC -5)
Sub Rosa was campy and fun. Masks was boring and confusing.
Sun, Dec 20, 2020, 3:33pm (UTC -5)
This idea of a space probe somehow managing to take over an Android - presumably its firmware is compatible - then transforming huge chunks of a starship - it stretches credulity too far, for a plot that's just too out there.
I have to give it credit for being imaginative and stylish but it's far too bafflingly silly to be effective. Especially in the solution - Picard winging a preposterous dialogue with the Masaka character that magically fixes everything.
Thematically similar to The Inner Light, but whereas that's one of the very best TNG stories, this is one of the worst.
Tue, Dec 29, 2020, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 30, 2020, 5:06pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 24, 2021, 2:25am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 28, 2021, 11:32pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Feb 21, 2021, 12:39pm (UTC -5)
My theory is that the artifact originated on a sunbaked world. The artifact is similar to the probe from The Inner Light; the difference being that not only does it contain memories and cultural data it also has terraforming capabilities. What's more the artifact actually uses its designer's creation myth to carry out its terraforming operation.
Coincidentally, and gratifyingly, i was watching the blu ray of this episode while typing this comment and there is a deleted scene where the bridge crew are theorizing about the artifact and Riker and Picard mention some of the same ideas I had. Of course, Worf thinks it might be a weapon!
There is also a deleted scene with Riker, Geordi, and Worf in ten forward that is pretty funny.
I wish both scenes had been left in.
Sat, Apr 3, 2021, 6:08pm (UTC -5)
Sun, May 9, 2021, 1:40am (UTC -5)
One bit of praise, though: the Enterprise being gradually re-made or re-constituted by an eternal force is an interesting idea, but the particular execution of that idea is absurd, laughable and unengaging.
Sun, May 23, 2021, 6:33am (UTC -5)
TNG season 7 episode 17
"Now, come sit with me. Tend the fire.”
- Data as Masaka’s father
3 stars (out of 4)
The Enterprise encounters a probe from an ancient civilization. Through the probe, the crew is thrust into the midst of one of the most important experiences of that civilization.
If this sounds familiar, it is not altogether different from The Inner Light ("The rest of us have been gone for a thousand years. If you remember what we were, and how we lived, then we'll have found life again.”). It is not altogether different from Dramatis Personae ("This world is not worthy of a Klingon colony. All we found were a collection of energy spheres which possess some type of telepathic archive. The spheres described an ancient power struggle that destroyed a race called the Saltah’na.”). It is not altogether different from Remember ("I was with her every step of the way as she convinced herself that what she did, betraying the man she loved, playing her part in a massacre, that it was all somehow for the good of Enaran society. She showed me everything. No apologies, no request for forgiveness, just the truth.”).
But while the civilizations in Inner Light, Dramatis, and Remember chose to document how they died or killed others, the civilization in Masks chose to document what they glorified while they lived. In that way, the episode is almost Klingon. No wonder the episode's reception is so uneven amongst us humans.
Data spends much of the episode in his quarters acting up a storm as various people from this ancient civilization, while sitting around a fire. The last time I can remember that type of fire in crew quarters was back in “Rightful Heir,” when Worf was trying very hard to have a vision of Kahless ("It's a pity you didn't try using the holodeck instead of setting fire to your quarters.”).
The mood is quiet, and the lighting is dark. There are almost no background noises. All the focus is on the people. As the archive slowly transforms the Enterprise, the sets fill with plants, artifacts, even snakes. Never has the ship felt so organic. Data, as Masaka’s father, laments: "Children grow, forget their parents.” This old civilization has grown old and its gods are long forgotten.
I am particularly fond of @Luke’s writeup. While I don’t share his religion, I know exactly what he’s talking about when he says sometimes rituals can be exactly right, "I love that the culture is depicted as so ritualistic.” As @Luke goes on,
"What happened was very similar to something from TNG: "Sub Rosa", of all places. In that episode, the alien governor says that, when he first looked out over the Scottish Highlands he felt as if he had come home. That's how I felt in my first Mass. It was the first church service I had been to where I wasn't bored out of my mind. And that was entirely due to the highly ritualized aspect of the service. It just spoke to me on some deep level, which I still to this day can't entirely explain.”
I have seen various rituals performed across the world, some at monasteries that are more than a thousand years old, where they have been literally going about the exact same motions for centuries. The religions and languages and beliefs in those rituals were very different from each other. And yes, some come across as hollow, superficial and empty. But every now and then you come across a place that gets it just right. And friends, for all it’s faults, Masks gets it just right.
Maybe the best example of this phenomenon in film is Mel Gibson’s incredible Apocalypto. Again, like @Luke’s religion, that movie doesn’t portray a set of beliefs I even really understand, let alone subscribe to. But somehow Mel Gibson got it just right. Joe Menosky is no Mel Gibson, and season 7 TNG was probably not the best vehicle to tell this kind of tale. But gosh darn it, they still somehow got it right.
Actually, Masks would have been much better as an episode of Angel,
As so many have noted above, by season 7, TNG was a tired vehicle. In DS9 at this point we were close to diving into Blood Oath, introducing the Maquis, and getting the absolutely phenomenal Garak episode The Wire. Two days after Masks aired, we got “Parliament of Dreams,” one of the seminal episode on Babylon 5, followed the next week by “Mind War,” which saw a return of Chekov to the screen for the role of Bester. By contrast, Masks marks the last truly ambitious effort on the part of TNG to tell a compelling and unique story that somehow illuminates a part of lived experience. All we really have to look forward to on TNG after this, is farewells for Wesley, for Ro, and for the show. It is a ritual we need to go through after 7 years on air.
Finally, I’m so happy to see that @Peter G. did not like Masks at all :-) I always respect his opinions, yet we have disagreed pretty fundamentally at least once before, with TOS’ The Alternative Factor, which I gave zero stars (technically “Zero fucking stars”) and @Peter G. wanted to give four stars. Nice to see our positions flipped here.
So add me to those who, like @pip25, @Dahj's Digital Ghost, @Alex, @methane, @Steven, @Lupe, @Wilshire, @Lizzy DataLover, @Mike, @Ace, @Steve, @Troy, @Chrome, @Caedus, @K9T, @Quetzalcoatl, found a lot to enjoy in this hour of TNG.
It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was worth while nonetheless.
Sun, May 23, 2021, 7:47am (UTC -5)
No, he did not. It is as historically accurate as Braveheart.
Sun, May 23, 2021, 8:19am (UTC -5)
Haha, I had to check, and my only comment on this episode is a short agreement with someone else's negative review. That being said, I think this must be one of the worst episodes in all of TNG. If you're not interested in seeing Spiner doing silly voices then there isn't much here. I wish this had been an Alice in Wonderland episode of walking through an alien culture, but instead it was more like watching low-budget theatre put on by college undergrads. It's a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. We learn nothing about them that matters, nor do we care about them or their culture. The weirdness is mostly just weird because we have no idea why what's going on matters at all, not because it's bizarre in itself. Let's face it, they just wanted to give Spiner a chance to do some children's theatre.
So there you go! I wanted to make sure your expectation of me giving this one a negative review was right on the money.
Sun, Jul 25, 2021, 3:06pm (UTC -5)
(I also think S7>S6 FWIW)
Thu, Aug 19, 2021, 11:55pm (UTC -5)
Other than that, yeah, *yikes.*
First things first, you're gonna melt the ice on a comet to see what's inside of it? What if it's nothing? Will you study the vapors?
Secondly, it seemed like they were more into getting people to tune in; the previews for this were all about Data losing his mind and that ends up being one really creepy line in Engineering, buried under all this Sun/Moon Mythology Nonsense.
If you'd written characters for the imaginary mythological people (I can't believe I just typed that), then maybe this ep could have had something going for it. But all the parts that are not Data are stupid and try to lean on an air of mysticism that the episode hasn't done anything to build up.
Basically, don't drop me into the frigid water of a culture that died out supposedly more years than my brain can process ago, without saying something about them first.
Wed, Aug 25, 2021, 7:48am (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 30, 2021, 12:36am (UTC -5)
I still think ,whilst it is far from the greatest episode, there is a great deal to like. I think Picard and crew were as dense as dense can be, not leaping to an astronomical interpretation earlier in the piece, Australian Aboriginals have been studying astronomy for 40 odd thousand years, and have numerous mythological explanations for their observations which also serve to remind them when to hunt what kinds of prey, when it's safe to pick what kind of plants, when to hold various ceremonies. But now imagine if something astronomically improbable happened, the star man stops chasing the star lady or something. Imagine further that the failure of whatever celestial body the Star man actually represents to follow its ordinary path caused some kind of reverse Nightfall type scenario of ecological disaster on that planet.
Presuming that the Myth was as powerful, culturally as any of the mainstream religions we have today, then even though the culture had spaceflight, holotech (or whatever Mcguffin was used in this ep), the mythohistorical (to use a Trekism) impact of that cosmic change would still, even to the scientific population be at least as significant as whatever "real world" astrophysical disaster caused the actual environmental disaster that followed.
Presume again that they have a Darmokian ritualistic bent (comparisons to the Inner Light ep here are very valid), why would you not want to push the message out there? "We were Ozimandeus, look upon us all ye mighty and tremble".
Again, Spiner's Ihot (?sp?) is irritating, much like any other non-data character I've seen him do, but Masaka and the old dude by the fire continue to be very compelling.
Anyway, at least I'm consistent.
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 12:28am (UTC -5)
Brent Spiner was TNG's MVP, and proved it once again in this episode. Sir Patrick was good as always, especially at conveying the melancholy weight of empathizing with these long-dead people. Definitely a Data/Picard episode.
If they'd been able to write the reveal sooner, this episode would have turned out much better. It would have spared the audience much annoyed impatience, and allowed them to explore the culture and the ramifications of the myth they were acting out more. It would have been nice to care a little about these people, and it would have lent weight to Picard's sympathetic resignation when the resolution came. I give this 1.5 stars, plus a half-star for ambition.
Tue, Nov 30, 2021, 1:53am (UTC -5)
Actually, the worst part of it was the beginning - Troi as the very worst teacher in history (wandering among the kids with a constant bland “That’s very good” “Oh, very nice”; thank God for the little boy who met her ineffectual platitudes with honesty about his own effort: “No it’s not, it’s rubbish”). I’d have learned NOTHING if she’d been my teacher.
I can see how Data might be the one who had no natural defences against the ancient technological incursions - in any case, it gave Spiner room to stretch his acting legs from the normal android.
Yes, the episode dragged rather after a while with too much repetition. However I think it deserves at least 2 stars.
Sun, Mar 13, 2022, 1:48am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 4, 2022, 7:34am (UTC -5)
I didn't make it even to the opening credits. Troi's psychobabble, inviting budding sculptors to get in touch with their deeper emotio... *snore*
Sorry, I dozed off there.
So yeah, the dollar-tree pop-psychology right at the start from what's easily the most boring and pointless character on the show did it for me. NEXT!
Fri, Oct 14, 2022, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
It could’ve been another episode titled “Where No North Carolinian Has Gone Before,” replete with ETB, at some point, tossing a rock through the ships main viewer screen.
Sun, Nov 20, 2022, 4:08pm (UTC -5)
......might be the most flat-out bizarre episode of [Star Trek] ever made. It's conceptually ambitious but ultimately an epic failure of an episode. I mean, this is an utter mess. The story is at times so incomprehensible, impenetrable, and incoherent as to require three synonyms starting with the letter "I" for me to adequately convey its bewildering effect. I was staring blankly at the screen in disbelief. If this were also enlightening that might offset some of its impenetrability, but it unfortunately suffers from being as hopelessly flat, dull, and pretentious as it is impossible to decipher....
Could I go back and watch/listen more closely and to figure out what this episode is trying to say? I suppose I could try, but I sure don't want to. Some puzzles are simply not worth solving. "
Mon, Nov 21, 2022, 2:07pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 5, 2023, 1:32pm (UTC -5)
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