Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Patrick Stewart
In my opinion, one thing the writers did right when they brought the Klingon Worf’s son, Alexander, on board the Enterprise was that they didn’t have there instantly be a terrific relationship between the two. Worf has always been somewhat awkward as a father, while Alexander is unsure of his feelings toward his father as well as whether or not he believes his father has feelings for him.
While the Enterprise is waiting for a supply ship which has been delayed, the crew has some down time. The android Data (Brent Spiner) and Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) are working on an alteration which will allow Data to be used as a back-up for the ship’s computer. This begs the question if this the start of the EMH program first seen in regular use on Star Trek: Voyager.
Alexander (Brian Bonsall) wants his father to join him on the holo-deck (which is a virtual reality room people of this time can only dream of) where he is running a western story called “Deadwood”. After much reluctance, Worf (Michael Dorn) agrees to spend time with his son. In addition, Alexander has asked the Ship’s Counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) to join them as well.
Initially, all does not go well. Worf manages to get the “bad guy” all too soon. In the hopes of creating a scenario his father will enjoy, Alexander has the computer increase the difficulty level. Soon, Worf is beginning to understand what his son sees in this program and is enjoying himself.
Meanwhile, Data experiences a power surge and they disconnect him from the main computer. However, the damage has been done. Many of the ship’s systems are corrupted. At first it is the music that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) has been trying to learn, then the play that Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is trying to rehearse has it’s lines replaced by Data’s poetry. In the holo-deck, suddenly Data appears as the villain who kidnaps Alexander. Meanwhile, the real Data is in his quarters.
Something is seriously wrong with the holo-deck program. Both Worf and Alexander realize this when they try to “freeze program” and “end program”. Neither Troi nor Worf can contact anyone outside of the holo-deck. They also soon discover that none of the safety protocols are functioning when Worf is injured by a bullet from one of the gunslingers.
While the idea of a malfunctioning holo-deck and having the protagonists being trapped inside a story they can’t get out of is about as innovative as the transporter malfunctioning, the episode is still a pretty good one. One reason is that it’s just funny. Seeing a Klingon as a sheriff in an old west setting was fairly comical, as well as moments when the action was frozen and the actors are in unusual positions. Michael Dorn does a great job, keeping Worf’s reluctance and unsureness in his role as a father, while gradually allowing himself to relax and enjoy himself until the danger of the malfunction is realized.
Unfortunately, I thought the acting on the part of Brian Bonsall was fairly unremarkable here, and that’s being generous. He’d had a decent career up until this point on Family Ties, and in his first appearance as Alexander in the episode New Ground he did a pretty good job. Here, however, it feels more like he is uncomfortable in the situation in general.
It’s nice to see Marina Sirtis get to stretch her acting abilities a bit, as she gets to immerse herself in the character of “Durango”. The character is completely different from Troi, yet she shifts easily between the two as it’s needed.
However, the real star here is Brent Spiner. Not only is he the malfunctioning android, but slowly his likeness replaces all of the characters in the holo-deck, so that he becomes the gunslinger Worf arrested, the gunslinger’s father, a Mexican bandito, and eventually the female bartender of the saloon. He is tremendous in all of these roles, altering his voice and mannerisms so that each one seems like a completely different character, rather than the same person portraying the same character in a different way. Credit for this must also be given to Patrick Stewart who directed; he knows how to get a great performance from Spiner.
I give an A+ in the continuity department as Captain Picard is shown playing the same instrument he did in Inner Light.
All in all, this is a terrific episode, and one that is just as much fun for casual viewers or people who really don’t watch the show. You don’t have to understand the background between Worf and Alexander to enjoy the story, although that does add a dimension for regular viewers of the series.