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Silicon Avatar

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at June 6, 2009 - 1:07 AM GMT

See Also: 'Silicon Avatar' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A team from the Enterprise is helping a team of colonists on Melona IV when the Crystalline Entity attacks. Riker gets most of the colonists to shelter, but one of the leaders is killed while helping an old man reach the caves where the others are hiding. When Worf arrives with a rescue team, the surface of the planet has been stripped of all life. The Enterprise takes the colonists back to a starbase and beams aboard Kila Marr, who has become an expert on the Crystalline Entity. She is eager to discover how the colonists survived, but reluctant to work with Data, suspecting that he might have lured the Crystalline Entity to Melona IV the way Lore lured it to Omicron Theta. Marr begins to trust Data when he discovers the combination of minerals that enabled the colonists to hide in the caves, and confides in him that her own son, Renny, was killed on Omicron Theta. When Picard reveals that his mission is to communicate with the entity rather than to destroy it, she expresses her frustration but continues to work with Data to find a resonance frequency that might allow the crew to send the Entity a message. Riker, too, expresses his frustration that after watching the Entity kill both people on the planet and the crew of a passing freighter, the Enterprise does not intend to put a stop to its killing, though Picard believes the Entity is merely feeding and may not understand that humans are intelligent beings. Meanwhile, Marr persuades Data to share some of the contents of her son's personal logs and to speak to her in Renny's voice. Using Data's research, the crew lures the Entity toward the ship and begins to exchange a pattern of graviton pulses, but Marr changes the frequency, shattering the Entity before Data can override her programming. Marr asks Data to confirm that Renny would have understood her decision to stop the Entity from ever killing again, but Data says he believes Renny would be very sorry she destroyed her career in her quest for vengance.

Analysis: I had remembered "Silicon Avatar" as a pretty poor episode, but it isn't; it's just not as good as the excellent trifecta that precedes it. I'm still not fond of the overly pedantic ending, and the storyline overall is marred - no pun intended, which can't be said of the scientist's name - by long stretches of technobabble which never make a dent in explaining what the Crystalline Entity is, other than that it poops antimatter. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me, since I thought there were enough particles in space that antimatter would be annihilated before someone could follow a trail of it, but maybe Data knows best.

Here's the bigger problem for me: Marr may be obsessed, and she may be vengeful, but I'm not sure she's wrong to destroy the Crystalline Entity while the starship has the chance. Riker isn't sure either, for that matter, while Data is either silent on the subject or deeply manipulative - putting his own condemnation in the words he thinks her son would use. We already knew the Crystalline Entity had some degree of sentience or Lore wouldn't have been able to summon it as he did. Instinct may be the Entity's primary motivation - as Picard says, it may be hungry - but even if the crew is successful somehow in asking the creature only to digest the life forces of entire planets that have no intelligent life, and the creature understands the request, how does Picard imagine it can be trusted to determine for itself which life fits that criteria according to Starfleet's standards? In a universe where time travel is known to be possible, I would think it would be very risky to permit the destruction of all life even on a very primitive planet that may one day evolve to save the galaxy from some other menace. Surely the Prime Directive must say something about who gets to decide which life forms are suitably undeveloped to be dismissed as another life form's dinner.

These issues aside, the plot and pacing of "Silicon Avatar" would still make it a strong episode if we had more emotional investment in the storyline. Marr is the emotional pivot and the villain all at once, which really isn't satisfactory. This is a human woman whose son was brutally murdered, yet we're told in Picard's haughtiest tones that as good explorers and scientists, we're supposed to be more concerned with communicating with the killer. Marr is heartbreaking explaining how her son died while she was offworld, and she has been consumed ever since by a combination of guilt and rage, all channeled into her work. Ostensibly she's been trying to understand the Crystalline Entity, but Starfleet surely knows her background - don't they suspect that her interest may not be solely scientific? Tell me there's not some admiral like Kennelly who deliberately put her on the Enterprise to get rid of the Crystalline Entity problem! By the time we see Marr beg Data to speak to her in Renny's voice, it's apparent that she's a bit unhinged, which poor Data is too naive about human behavior to understand, though I'm not sure what Troi's excuse is. She's a tragedy looking to happen, and if there's a surprise in the ending, it's that she doesn't destroy more than the entity; usually, in such stories, the person seeking vengeance is destroyed as completely as the object of the vendetta. Maybe Jeri Taylor recognized that Marr comes across in many ways more sympathetically than Picard or Data.

It's easy to forgive Picard, who is doing his job as he understands it: his crew is safe for the moment, the Brechtian cluster is safe for the moment, and his primary mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations. The black hole in this episode is Data. By all accounts, this should be a Data episode. It's the story of the Entity that his brother summoned to Omicron Theta to murder everyone on the planet in vengeance against the colonists who had complained about the android in their midst; even without human feelings, Data surely has opinions about Lore's behavior, the logic of Marr's initial prejudices against another Soong android, the fact that his own mind has been programmed with the memories of those colonists as a form of penance by Soong for the horror of his creation's behavior. How unsatisfactory that Data is used as little more than a vehicle to expose and punish Marr for her inner demons. The guilt that Marr feels for her inability to protect her son on Omicron Theta should rightfully be Soong family guilt. They're the reason Renny died, not Marr.

Maybe I've been unduly influenced by Doctor Who - the Ninth and Tenth Doctors carry around the guilt of the destruction of worlds, it colors everything they do, and it's added a compelling dimension to stories that otherwise might seem relatively superficial - but Data just doesn't seem sufficiently affected by the impact of what Lore did, what Soong enabled him to do, and how that affected the way Data himself was constructed, his own limitations. I would think he would share Marr's obsession with the Crystalline Entity, albeit for different reasons. His own history is inextricably interwoven with that of the Crystalline Entity, yet we don't hear any opinion from him about Marr's actions, unless those he attributes to Renny are in fact his own. Even then, the disappointment is in how she has violated her charge as a scientist, not about the ethics of killing the alien. Is Data relieved from a logical standpoint that the Entity will never again slaughter the population of a planet? Is he disappointed from an intellectual standpoint that he will never be able to find out whether it had substantive communication with Lore or merely responded to a summons calculated to lure it?

Even without emotions, Data is capable of forming judgments. He has the memories of all those colonists wiped out by the Crystalline Entity, records of the lives cut short, and of the friends and family they left behind to mourn them, yet they represent only a small percentage of the Entity's total victims. We would learn a great deal about him - indeed, he would learn a great deal about himself - from being asked, "What did you think about Marr's actions?" But no one asks. So it becomes the story of a woman driven mad by grief, someone we will never see again, whom Picard can judge coldly...but what if she was one of his own, and what if the decision to end the Entity's life arose not from irrational emotion, but a calmly rational assessment of the risks? That would have been a gutsier story.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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