Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before: Data isn’t who he seems to be, and despite many obvious clues backed up by good independent reasons to believe something like this might be happening, it takes over half the episode for our brilliant heroes to figure it out. Yes, The Schizoid Man is Season Two’s retelling of Datalore.
It’s a huge improvement, let’s just get that out of the way. Datalore was a giant gaping plot hole emptying into a philosophical mess. This one at least kinda holds together, even if it still isn’t all that interesting.
Plot in brief: the Enterprise gets a distress call from Graves’ world, which is, if I’m not mistaken, inhabited only by Federation uebersupergenius Ira Graves and his comely young assistant. Graves is dying, and his assistant sent out the call for help, knowing that he wouldn’t. For no discernable reason whatever, the writers conspire to send Dr. Pulaski away at the begining to be replaced by her Vulcan assistant – giving this episode, interestingly, the distinction of being the only one in all of Trek where the landing party/away team doesn’t have at least one full human member (source: the Memory Alpha episode description link above). Not that that’s probably why they did it, so whatever. Anyway, Graves turns out to be kind of an arrogant jerk. He takes a special interest in Data, and they go off by themselves to talk about stuff. It’s a ruse: Graves just wants to download himself into Data using the new technique he’s developed, which he does. For the rest of the episode, Data walks around acting completely uncharacteristically like an arrogant jerk, and although exactly everyone notices this, and although exactly everyone appears to have known that Graves’ work involved bridging the man-machine gap, it takes an excruciatingly long time for anyone to arrive at the truth. By the time they do, Graves-as-Data has already injured two people by accident, and after accidentally injuring a third (Picard), voluntarily leaves Data and downloads himself into a computer instead, ending the episode without any real action on the part of our heroes.
So there’s a minor pacing problem.
But the pacing isn’t the main problem. As usual, the main problem with this episode is that it’s sitting on a thematic goldmine and refuses to go digging. For example, when Graves-as-Data first enters the bridge, he lets his eyes follow a hottie crewwoman walking past. Now let’s stop and think about this. Is sexual attraction a function of body, or is it a function of personality? Everyone but the most tedious of monks and poets will agree it’s both, and that the physical component is hugely important. Therefore, it seems really, really, very unlikely that you could download someone’s consciousness into an android and expect him to feel the same kinds of casual physical attractions he felt before. I’m not saying the initial attraction wouldn’t be there, necessarily. Whatever associations caused arousal in the consciousness when it was in its old body would presumably trigger the same parts of the chain in the new body. The point is just that there’s a chain of mental events here. At best, it would feel like the works had been seriously gummed up. Here in our human bodies, we see someone we desire, and there are all sorts of minor physical reactions – a rush of pleasure, the heart beats faster, breath gets shorter, eyes dilate, etc. ETC. That presumably feeds back to the “higher” brain functions, causing all those well-known effects where, say, women are more likely to believe tall men, or men are more likely to regard attractive women as nice. Does any of this happen to Data? And if not, is it merely because they’re left out of his personality, or is it becuase in building the non-reproducing body the designers just didn’t consider mating biofeedback to be a high priority? We don’t really know that much about how Data is constructed, but it doesn’t matter – because we can be fairly certain that the chain of mental events that culminate in a man letting his gaze follow an attractive woman will be interrupted and redirected at NUMEROUS points. It’s just not going to “feel the same,” whatever that even means to a consciousness recently downloaded into a cybernetic brain! But to watch this episode, the transition went smoothly, and Graves is just there as his good ol’ chauvinistic self inside Data’s “fully functional” body.
Now, granted, I’ve received a lot of Cognitive Science training, much more than the average late-1980s scriptwriter. So I’m not necessarily expecting them to think of it in exactly these terms. But the basic mind-body problem is a philosophy standard, and it’s not asking much to think the writers should recognize that by putting someone else’s mind into an artificial body with – we’re later told – the original mind still in there and along for the ride they’re raising mind-body duality questions by the imperial buttload. But what we get is a standard-issue soul-transfer story. When the crew can’t think of any mechanical reason why Data would be behaving the way he is, Counsellor Troi helpfully suggests that they should look instead at his mind, as though that’s exactly the same in Data as in anyone else. So they give him a routine Starfleet Academy image-association-with-associated-brain-scan psychological evaluation and determine that there are two personalities living inside Data, one stronger and one weaker, and that the stronger one is winning. No one is the least bit curious what that means for an android. No one is the least bit concerned that the standard brain-wave scan might not work in exactly the same way on a positronic brain as on an organic one. It’s lazy writing, as usual. They raise an interesting issue – just how deep is the mind-body connection, and to what extent is a mind the product of its medium? – and decide instead to tell us the Frankenstein story all over again – only this time with all the conventional morality and none of the atmosphere.
I think that’s what bothers me most of all about this one – the 19th century moral framework they’re operating in. In the final scene – when Picard saves the day by letting Graves bitch-slap him (no, really) – Picard confronts Graves with the idea that he’s stolen a body from another living creature. Graves argues that human life must take precedence. And Picard’s response is not to contradict that, but rather to suggest that it’s simply unfair for Graves to live longer than nature intended.
Here on this (nominally) science fiction show, we’re gonna take the Natural Law route with a side helping of the Great Chain of Being and just ignore the whole argument that it’s sentience that we value rather than the specific human gene code? That’s what you reached up in your collective asses and pulled out? That Graves is in the wrong because he’s cheating death?
OK, OK, Picard does outright accuse Graves of stealing Data’s body and specifically mentions that Data is a living thing. But he doesn’t specifically object to Graves’ assertion that humans take precedence. Furthermore, think back to that scene where Graves revealed to his assistant that he’s inhabiting Data’s body, that he had found a way for them to be together. Her objection was that she wouldn’t let him put her in a machine. This despite the fact that he’s (implausibly) sitting right there before her as exactly the same dude he always was, just in a better body. So, there’s something intrinsically icky about having a mechanical body, then?
In any case, I’m not sure what place Picard’s insistence that Graves is cheating death has here, but I’m sure that “cheating” is a loaded term. I would LOVE to hear Picard try to justify the idea that it’s immoral to live forever, because I’m really not sure how to do it without appealing to God. Not that science fiction necessarily has to be atheist, but there’s hardly a point to it if it’s this conventional!
Of course, the final scene is a false dilema anyway. Graves managed to put his mind in Data, and there’s no reason to think he can’t take it back out. Data is a well-studied manufactured body, and there’s no reason to think Federation scientists can’t make something similar, if maybe not quite as good. And indeed, once Picard invokes the inevitable crisis of conscience in Graves by getting hit on the head, Graves voluntarily leaves Data and preserves himself in a computer. So, there was just never an issue here to begin with, and Graves and Picard were arguing about nothing. Excellent.
Let’s recap. The writers take a mind from an organic body, put it into a mechanical one, but they’re not interested in talking about the qualitative implications of that. They specifically mention that the mind of the android is still hangin’ around in there, but we get no indications of any kind of conflict going on. The main reflection on this whole setup is that immortality is wrong, but they never say why. And a secondary property rights non-issue is raised and presented as a problem, even though it has an obvious solution which is in fact applied summarily at the end of the episode (after NOT having been suggested by our hero).
Already we have an air-tight case against this episode, but it’s even worse than all that. Consider, Graves has actually invented an immortality technique that seems, to all outward appearances, to be immediately practical. But the epiosde ends without anyone so much as mentioning it. Graves is just sittin’ there in the computer, and that’s just that. 5 and a half more seasons go by, and we never meet Graves again, and no one ever brings up the fact that the technique for downloading onesself into an android body exists and underwent a favorable pilot study? Back here in the real world, if somoene came up with something like that, human existence would pretty much immediately change radically and permanently. If someone goes and invents an immortality recipe, I’ll admit I’m not sure what happens exactly, but I do know what DOESN’T happen, and that’s “nothing much.” (Contrast this with Babylon 5‘s superior Deathwalker episode. B5 doesn’t know any more about what kind of effect immortality would have on human society than STTNG – and so the writers there had the Vorlons destroy Jha’dur’s anti-agapic before it could be introduced into society at large. Hey, it’s not a cop-out to admit you just don’t know! But it does know enough to know that news of a cure for death and aging would be sensational news: we have no reason to doubt Jha’dur’s prediction that the price that must be paid for her invention (I won’t spoil it completely – watch the original if you don’t know what the price is) will destroy galactic civilization. We know she’s right because we know just how badly we all want to be immortal. The same way we know there’s no freaking way Picard would just kind of grunt and welcome Data back after Dr. Graves had demonstrated that immortality was achievable.)
And of course that’s not the only reset button incident on display here. Data is also completely unaffected by the experience, having been “unconscious” the whole time. Which doesn’t really square with Counsellor Troi’s explanation that Data’s personality was fighting for dominance with Graves’, but that’s not the real problem here. The real problem here is that having some lingering memories of what it was like to be human would have made Data a more interesting character. Can’t have that, now, can we?
So they’ve missed all kinds of opportunities. How do they do with the story they were trying to tell? As far as I can see, that was a story about hubris, and maybe unrequited love. Graves is in love with his young assistant, and although she cares for him deeply, it doesn’t seem to be in a romantic way. In his arrogance, Graves concludes his aging body must be the explanation for her lack of reciprocation – but the events of the episode expose the truth. Kareen doesn’t love him no matter WHAT body he’s in – presumably because she doesn’t trust his affection for her, and because Graves scares her a little. And she’s right not to trust it, for it isn’t clear that Graves’ “attraction” is based on much more than her good looks and intellectual inferiority. He’s an ego case, and he clearly needs to be admired, having staked his entire self-esteem on his intelligence. A man like Graves probably needs someone like Kareen – who is not even remotely intellectual competition – just to be able to relax and let his guard down. But she, understandably, needs to be more to someone than just an admirer. Graves’ intellect appears to have shielded him from normal emotional development, and so the irony here is not only that he’s arguably emotionally younger than the woman he assumes doesn’t love him because of his physical age, it’s also that he had to steal a younger body to find out that there’s more to love than bodily attraction after all. Graves’ hubris is both personal and scientific, then. He cannot cheat death, and he cannot command love.
As far as that story goes, it’s told adequately well. But I still keep coming back to the same question: why tell that story on this show using these characters? Indeed, do any of the characters the show is nominally about even participate? Since Data is unconscious the whole time, and Graves surrenders himself for reasons all his own, I’m gonna go with “no, they don’t.” And just again, if you’re gonna do a soul-transfer story, then just do a soul-transfer story. Sorry, but you can’t just reach for the conveniently present remotely scientifically plausible route without raising all the concommitant scientific questions. If you’re going to do this with Data and a halfway believable transfer process, then you’re going to have to say something about the nature of mind, the mind-body connection, and identity. And why wouldn’t you want to?
This episode in a single word? Adequate. It has a plot that holds together just well enough for an hour’s entertainment. There’s nothing really to complain about with the acting or the production values. The story is an old standard, and it reaches standard conclusions. Really, there’s nothing wrong with this episode but a lack of imagination. Which is a shame, because imagination is what we watch science fiction for.
Overall Grade: C