Written by Joe Menosky, Rene Echevarria, and Naren Shankar
Directed by Robert Wiemer
This is one of those episodes that produces two reactions in me. The first is “What were they thinking?” The second is that it was a good idea for Star Trek: The Next Generation to end it’s series run after the seventh season. There were a few episodes this season that seemed as if the writers and producers had run out of ideas and were grasping at anything they could for a story. This is one of those episodes.
The Enterprise stumbles across an 87-million-year-old comet. Soon after scanning the rogue comet, alien artifacts begin appearing in various places around the ship. The android Data (portrayed by Brent Spiner) is sculpting clay and designs a mask similar to the artifacts. Mysterious symbols begin appearing on viewscreens all around the ship as well.
Data can interpret the symbols when no one else can. Soon he becomes “possessed” with an alternate personality who calls himself “Ihat” and warns that “Masaka” is coming to bring death to the ship. He cowers before Counselor Troi (portrayed by Marina Sirtis), thinking she is Masaka.
Geordi (portrayed by LeVar Burton) figures out that the archive they downloaded from the comet is using Data to recreate the people of the world, and at the same time reconfiguring various parts of the ship to recreate the world. Ten-Forward has become a jungle and an aqueduct has appeared on Deck 12. Geordi and the Klingon Worf (portrayed by Michael Dorn) open a power conduit to find it filled with snakes.
Captain Picard (portrayed by Patrick Stewart) takes it upon himself to square off against “Ihat” and later on “Masaka” to try and save the ship. As he unravels the meaning of what is happening, it actually gets a little interesting as it becomes apparent this all has to do with the beliefs in gods on a world long forgotten.
I generally don’t like tales where the ship (or the people) are transformed and then in the end everything is back the way it was. Imagine if the Enterprise stayed part jungle and had to be fixed later on? But of course, the next episode is coming up the following week and they can’t have that. The only time this was touched on was after the first battle with the Borg. However, this way it feels just a bit too contrived and convenient. I am all for suspending disbelief while watching, but episodes such as Masks require a bit more than usual.
I felt some of the acting wasn’t up to the usual standards either. Part of the problem is the character of Data as possessed by Ihat seems to be too similar to when Spiner portrays Data’s “brother”, Lore. That is right down to the tone and pitch of his voice and mannerisms. It’s apparent the episode was written for a chance for him to stretch and I didn’t think that was the case. Instead, he just primarily brought out the same character as before and hoped the audience wouldn’t notice. At other times when he’s acting as other people in the mythology it’s a little better, but that initial transformation really set the piece in a negative tone.
The rest of the cast supports him well. Patrick Stewart seems fine as Picard – he’s giving it his all in what is essentially an unbelievable situation. Marina Sirtis seems to have asserted her abilities a bit too, and that’s a shame that it took until the seventh season for the writers and producers to really appreciate her and her talent.
There’s not that much in the way of effects. There’s a cool scene of the Enterprise traveling alongside the comet that very obviously looks CGI but looks good nonetheless. We don’t get to see the actual transformations of the ship, just hear about it mainly and see a few jungle scenes. It would have been neat to see what an aqueduct running through a starship would actually look like.
This is definitely not an episode to sit and watch with your non-Star Trek fan friends. They will be looking at you like you had two heads, wondering why you liked the show. I think there’s also precious little here for fans as well. Why waste your time watching a mediocre episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when you can pick and choose some that are excellent?