Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “A Matter of Perspective”

A Matter of Perspective“A Matter of Perspective”
Written by Ed Zuckerman
Directed by Cliff Bole

Season 3, Episode 14
Original air date: February 12, 1990
Star date: 43610.4

Mission summary

Data interrupts Picard’s art class to tell him that they’ve arrived at Tenuga IV and also that Picard couldn’t paint his way out of a Rothko. It seems Riker and La Forge conducted a survey of Dr. Apgar’s work on Krieger waves, which they hope will become a new energy source. La Forge says in so many words that Riker surveyed someone just a little too intimately and is in a rush to return. But as he beams back, Dr. Apgar’s science station explodes, and Riker barely makes it home intact.

But his luck isn’t meant to last, because an Inspector Krag beams aboard and arrests Riker… for murder.

Picard demands an explanation and Krag explains that he has two witnesses who will testify that Riker threatened Dr. Apgar’s life. Worse, in the Tanugan system he’d be guilty until proven innocent, and without a shred of exonerating evidence, it looks like Riker would be on permanent shore leave. Picard tries to avoid this fate, but he cannot refuse extradition altogether. Rather, he suggests using the holodeck to re-create the deposition testimony of the witnesses–including Riker–to piece together what really happened. Even better, it has “only” an 8.7% margin of error, which should be totally statistically insignificant when deciding guilt.

On the holodeck, Picard, Krag, Riker, and Counselor Troi sit at a table to watch the show. The first steamy holo-novel we get is Riker’s. Upon beaming down to the science station, Dr. Apgar and his lovely wife Manua greet Riker and La Forge. Apgar looks particularly tense and upset at their arrival three months ahead of schedule, but Riker assures them that it was merely more convenient this way. Manua can’t take her eyes off that beard, though, and invites Riker and her husband for a champagne toast, then insists that Riker stay on the station despite already arranging planet-side accommodations. She then shows Riker to his room, closes the door, and propositions him. Of course her husband enters just as she’s undressing and he and Riker get into a rather lame man-fight. The next morning, Dr. Apgar vows to file a complaint against Riker, but is very concerned that doing so will threaten Riker’s report on the Krieger wave project and affect Dr. Apgar’s request for more dicosilium. Riker says their personal dispute–which he’d be happy to clear up–won’t affect his report. He contacts the Enterprise and beams away.

But Krag thinks that Riker’s version leaves out the part where he fires a phaser at the core and kills Dr. Apgar. Riker denies it, but Krag can prove there there was an energy drain at the moment of transport, and that a very focused beam of radiation hit the core from precisely Riker’s spot. Hmmm…

We now get to watch this happen two more times! The next version is Manua’s, in which she is the demure hostess and Riker is the lascivious otherworlder who not only undresses her with his eyes pretty much every second he’s on the surface, but invites himself to stay the night then tries to rape her when she shows him her room. Oh, and he threatens to kill Dr. Apgar. Last, we get Tayna, Dr. Apgar’s assistant, who gives us Dr. Apgar’s story as filtered through her. Picard objects that this is inadmissible hearsay, but Krag reminds him that they have to play by Tanugan rules and on their planet there are no civil rights. Ultimately, Tayna’s story makes Dr. Apgar look a little better but closely mirrors Manua’s version of events.

At a recess, Picard and Troi start to sweat. Though they “know” Riker is innocent, they can’t prove it, and he’s doomed. But while they’ve been watching the Lifetime movie-of-the-week, La Forge and Data have been doing an actual investigation. Mysterious bursts of radiation have been hitting the Enterprise at regular intervals, and they determine that it’s from Dr. Apgar’s surface-based energy generator in combination with the all-too-realistic holodeck. They also say they know who killed Dr. Apgar.

Picard takes this new “evidence” to Krag and Riker, and pieces together his own theory of the crime from the various deposition testimonies. In all three versions, Dr. Apgar is very worried about the presence of the Federation. Picard theorizes that Dr. Apgar, realizing the Federation wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative an ally as their enemies interested in a powerful radiation weapon, has shifted his research to a new goal. Worried that Riker is on to him (and bitter at him for skeezing himself at his wife), it was Dr. Apgar who killed Riker. He had the energy core emit a beam at Riker as he beamed out, hoping to make it look like a transporter malfunction, but instead the magic beam reflected back and caused an overload of the reactor.

Krag drops the charges, because obviously this is the only possible way it could have happened.

A Matter of Perspective


If you’re considering watching this, watch Clue instead. Or Rashomon. It’s not even that much longer.

I have a real soft spot for whodunits, which may be why I have so few nice things to say about this episode. The mystery sucks. I have read dime-store paperbacks more tense, sexy, and shocking that this one. Hell, “Wolf in the Fold” is Oscar-worthy in comparison. Once again, we absolutely know that Riker is not going to be taken to jail or executed and thus could not possibly be guilty. In fact, even though he’s the defense, we get his story first, and we know that it’s going to be the one closest to life. As a result, the mystery feels completely flat. There is no question of who did it (given that the two other characters are the nervous scientist and his devoted wife, the answer is obviously going to be “no one”), only a question of how it’s done–whose answer is utterly meaningless. It’s a long, dreary story that we have to watch three times that adds nothing to what we know of Riker. Good job, guys.

I’m also seriously troubled that in Manua’s version of events, Riker isn’t just smarmy or pushy–I can believe that–but he tries to rape her. It a) immediately lets us know that this version of events is bogus because it just crossed a line Riker never would have crossed; and b) instantly turns the viewer against her, because only a monster would falsely claim rape, whether she “believed” it or not. It’s just so obviously too far, and feeds the harmful fiction that women who claim rape are merely bitter at being rejected (or embarrassed at being sexual aggressors).

The only thing I genuinely like about this episode is the creative use of the holodeck. I like the idea of putting in real people, the way that La Forge did with Leah Brahms, and telling their stories visually. It’s also a dream come true for criminal prosecutors and defenders because it’s an easy way to manipulate or prejudice a jury. But it doesn’t make sense that the holodeck can create another dangerous situation aboard the ship (why does the ship have to be in danger all the time anyway?). I also wouldn’t risk MY neck on an 8.7% margin of error, but hey, that’s just me.

Oh, and why is Troi in this episode? No reason.

Ultimately, my favorite thing about this episode is the idea that a painting class requires a live, nude model to paint on-the-fly 1) surrealist; 2) cubist; or 3) constructivist pieces. Or is it the idea of anyone filling out a Starfleet Visit Complaint Form? What would that even look like?

Dear Interstellar Being,

We are so sorry that your Starfleet visit was anything other than excellent. We know how disappointing it can be to get an Officer who does not live up to your expectations. To improve our services, please let us know what aspect of the Officer requires improvement:

◊ Adherence to the prime directive
◊ Professionalism/ courtesy/ deference
◊ Unable to resolve your issue
◊ I do not remember signing up to receive a Starfleet officer

We hope that you will continue to seek contact with the Federation in the future. If you have requested removal from our Federation, please allow 7-10 business days.

The Federation Customer Service Board

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: As if being a grad student weren’t bad enough, poor Tayna has to inhabit a carapace.

On the plus side, I completely love Inspector Krag’s sleek suit.

Best Line: None. Seriously zero.

Trivia/Other Notes: Data must have hurt Picard’s feelings because we never see him painting again.

Krieger waves were named after scientific consultant David Krieger, who was surprised to hear his name in the episode when it aired.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 13 – “Deja Q.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 15 – “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.