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A Matter of Perspective

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at June 13, 2008 - 7:07 PM GMT

See Also: 'A Matter of Perspective' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: An orbiting space station explodes just after Commander Riker beams back to the Enterprise following a visit to Dr. Apgar, who was at the time the only other person at the facility. The planet's head of security, Krag, beams aboard the Enterprise to arrest Riker after the scientist's widow and assistant both accuse Riker of having threatened to destroy Apgar. Picard will not extradite Riker until he has seen evidence that a trial is warranted, so the holodeck is programmed with recreations of the events as described by Riker, Apgar's widow Manua, and Apgar's assistant Tayna. Riker tries to demonstrate that Manua made improper advances which in turn made Apgar jealous, but Manua's testimony suggests that it was Riker who propositioned her. Tayna's testimony suggests that Apgar feared for his life and work after threats from Riker. Troi says that each witness believes his or her own version of the truth. Meanwhile, the ship suffers from cyclical energy bursts that seem similar in nature to the energy blast directed at Apgar just as Riker beamed out, which Krag had concluded must have been a blast from Riker's phaser. LaForge discovers that Apgar had successfully produced experimental Krieger waves, but rather than reporting his success to Starfleet, Apgar was hoping to sell the technology as a weapon. Using another holographic simulation, LaForge demonstrates that Apgar tried to disintegrate Riker's body during beamout using the wave converter, but the transporter reflected back the beam and destroyed the station. Krag agrees that Apgar appears to have been responsible for his own death, and drops the charges against Riker.

Analysis: Anyone who has seen Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon will recognize the device borrowed by this episode, in which a crime and its aftermath are revealed in full by showing different versions of the story - that of the victim, the accused, the wife and the person who discovered the corpse. "A Matter of Perspective" strains itself trying to fit the broad details of Kurosawa's story - I find it very hard to believe that Picard would trust a single word of the testimony of a woman who accused Riker of trying to rape her, or that Troi wouldn't call the woman delusional. Moreover, Picard is required to listen to the testimony of the assistant, a third party who had only Apgar's word for what transpired between Riker and his wife, and who may have her own motives for distorting the truth. What should be a psychological study of the tragedy's survivors instead turns farcical at times.

Still, that makes for entertaining television, since the events must be compressed into under an hour. Riker's initial flashback narrative, the one we're supposed to trust, is a pretty straightforward story in which he tries to carry out his duty and is embarrassed to have to duck overtures from the wife of his host; after finding the two of them together, Apgar takes a swing at Riker, which he also ducks. In Manua's recollection of the same events, Riker grabs her and tries to force her to surrender to him, at which point Apgar enters and Riker repeatedly punches him, threatening them both. Then, in Apgar's version of the story as told to Tayna, the older scientist barges in on his flirtatious wife with the handsome Starfleet officer and pummels Riker, who falls to the floor shouting, "You're a dead man, Apgar!" Even though this is a sad situation - a scientist so determined to keep his wife that he'll resort to criminal behavior, which ultimately backfires and kills him - it's quite amusing to see everyone's self-image, Riker so righteous and focused on duty, Manua the devoted wife who just can't help being irresistible to other men, Apgar the brilliant scientist who can't keep his lovely wife's attention away from other men without giving her lovely things.

The holodeck is used to terrific effect here, even though it's hard to believe that the ship's safeties permitted the recreation of a device that exploded when exposed to the same energy that destroyed the space station. The mystery of what's going on with the ship, which is clearly tied to the mystery taking place in the mock courtroom, is more compelling than the trial for a while, since we can be pretty sure that Riker is innocent but it's very unclear what's happening to the ship, since we've never seen any weapon cause the sort of internal damage the unknown energy is unleashing. Seeing sickbay evacuated because its panels are melting is rather exciting. Unfortunately a great deal of technobabble is required to settle that situation, which ends up with LaForge giving an overlong lecture about the energy conversion that was Apgar's area of expertise.

One could ask questions about the judgment of the Starfleet officers as well, like whose bright idea was it for LaForge to beam off the station, leaving Riker alone with a woman he claims made a pass at him and a man who threatened to punish him for it. But Riker's not on trial for those things, so they're allowed to slide. We might have been deprived of such entertaining moments as Manua's recollection that Riker checked her out from head to toe. And it's a bit irritating that yet again we get a scenario with a brilliant older scientist and a trophy wife of inferior intellect. (Maybe Manua could take up with Paul Manheim, who's also a bit unhinged, and set Jenice free for Picard.)

But mostly "A Matter of Perspective" is fun, even if a bit of a guilty pleasure, laughing at the expense of a dead man. The episode tries to be philosophical without being heavy-handed, opening with a witty sequence in which Data walks in on Picard's art class, praises the various techniques used by other students and then launches into a long list of blunders in technique and style observable in Picard's painting - if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then memory is just as subjective. Unlike Rashomon, however, which allows viewers to decide whose version of events is most plausible and how the details from the others' accounts fit in, "A Matter of Perspective" must exonerate Riker. I find it as unlikely for an alien chief of security to accept holographic speculation about the cause of an explosion as for Picard to absorb calmly the testimony of a woman accusing his first officer of attempted rape, but by then the episode is running out of time for any other neat solution. Though it's wise of the writers to put a character we care about into the scenario rather than having Picard judge a case involving a crewmember we don't know, the price is a rushed ending.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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