Friday, November 27, 2020

Star Trek: A Matter of Perspective

Episode: "A Matter of Perspective"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 12, 1990

Riker is accused of murdering Nel Apgar, a prominent Tanugan scientist.  Picard must decide if he will allow his First Officer to be extradited.  To that end, he directs Data and la Forge to recreate the circumstances of the crime on the holodeck in accordance with witness testimony.

"A Matter of Perspective" is a Rashomon-inspired story, not to mention a Rashomon-inspired title.  One of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's numerous masterworks, Rashomon - based in turn on two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa - tells the story of an alleged rape from multiple perspectives.  So too is Riker's story complicated by his interactions with Apgar's wife, Manua.  She alleges an attempted rape.  He claims she was the one who made unsolicited advances.  A third witness believes it was mutual consent.

Let's be honest about all of this for a moment.  It's icky.  The film is icky, too.  All adaptations of Rashomon are.  Real-life rape cases are exactly like this: one's word against the other and the assailant gets away with it for lack of conclusive evidence.  As much as we want our man Riker to be the good guy, it's clear Manua sees things in a different way.  Even Deanna acknowledges Manua believes she's telling the truth.

Take another step back and the episode has a lot going for it.  The interstellar legal considerations are inherently interesting.  This particular use of the holodeck is novel and the explorations of its potential impact on the physical world signify a narrative groundbreaking.

Still, it's icky.  I have a hard time getting past icky.

Acting Notes

Craig Richard Nelson played the role of Krag, the Tanugan investigator.  Nelson was born September 17, 1947 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He went to the University of Utah as an undergrad, then NYU's Tisch School of the Arts for graduate school.  His first gig after getting his MFA was a Tony award winning, musical production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Broadway.

Big screen credits include The Paper Chase, Quintet and My Bodyguard.  This was the first of two Star Trek appearances.  Other television credits include Square Pegs, The Golden Girls and Home Improvement.


  1. I think I saw Rashomon. It's been a long time; I don't quite remember.

    1. It's Kurosawa so from a filmmaking perspective, it's amazing - groundbreaking, even. Back in the DVD days, there was a making-of bonus well worth the time.

  2. I have to see that film one day. This episode was really quite good and made one think but , anything having to do with rape, forms of sexual assault, molestation is all icky. Have you ever seen the miniseries with Brian Dennehy as the horrible John Wayne Gacy? It’s excellent.

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  4. I didn't like this episode. Mainly for the reason you stated that it was icky. On the other hand, the use of the holodeck was an interesting take on how technology can be used in court.

    I've read that some courts are allowing the use of computer simulations to prove or disprove a case.

    1. Interesting. I suppose if both sides are allowed to do it - as was the case here - that's fair.

  5. Yeah, pretty problematic. Sort of glad it’s an episode I don’t have any strong memories from.

  6. Just watched this episode for the first time, and I honestly find parts of the episode too incoherent to be directly called 'icky.'

    The first assumption I have going into this is that Riker is trustworthy. I am not saying that the testimony of a man saying that he didn't rape a woman should be gospel in court, but we are 3 seasons in, and it is clear that Riker is almost always written as a paragon human with impeccable character, at least what the author thinks is paragon (which explains why Riker occasionally acts like Kirk: the writer sucked). Riker impressed an ancient guardian of a planet with his fair application of justice, resisted the temptation of Q by giving up literal god like powers once he realized humanity is not able to handle that yet, embraces other cultures, and refused to give up secrets of the Enterprise to save his own life when he was part of an exchange program with klingons that went wrong. While he can be immature, he is honest and trustworthy.

    Secondly, I assume that the assistant has no reason to lie about or embellish the doctor's story (the doctor dies and is unable to tell his version of the story, so the assistant knows about certain scenes only through 2nd hand information).

    My third assumption is that the doctor is an untrustworthy jealous double-dealing murderous loon who thought everyone was out to get him, and therefore an unreliable narrator. Most of this is directly confirmed by the episode: he was using Federation resources intended to produce an energy source for weapons research so he could get rich double dealing and tried to kill Riker when he believes Riker had discovered his secret. We also know that in the doctor's version of the story (as told by his assistant), the doctor beats up Riker in one-on-one unarmed combat, which is clearly bullshit when Riker regularly trains with Klingons and has beat several Klingons in pure hand to hand combat. The doctor could not accept whatever happened and had to make himself sound like the victor. I fully believe that the doctor was the type of person who could see Riker and Manua (the doctor's wife) talking politely in the same room and automatically ASSUME they HAD to be f*cking.

    Manua and Riker are both read by Troi (the on ship psychic) to be telling the truth (at least what they remember, which made me think there might be memory editing going on). From Riker's reaction to Manua's story (plus our assumptions of his character since he is the good guy in the show) we can assume that Riker would never knowingly force himself on a woman who did not consent. The only way I could understand Manua's belief that Riker was forcing himself on her is if the Tanugan mating behavior is so subtle and passive that Riker totally missed signs that would be obvious to a Tanugan (this cultural difference would have to be insanely extreme). But even if this were the case, Manua's telling is so extremely aggressive (to the point that it disgusts Riker) that either Manua has been brainwashed/etc, Manua is lying (Troi says no), or Manua has a loose grasp on reality (no evidence of this). And both of their stories show the doctor coming in before there the aggressor in each story kisses the other, which leads to the doctor's story.

    Continued in part 2/2 (once this post is approved) because there is a character limit in replies.

    1. Part 2

      The doctor's version of the story is the only one with Riker and Manua making out at all (he even says it was mutually consensual). It is possible that Riker and Manua actually tried to sleep together (since sometimes Riker is written like Kirk), and when they were caught, they both threw the other under the bus to save their own reputation. Except Riker was on trial for murder, and while adultery is frowned upon, adultery would not get him extradited (plus we assume that Riker is not a liar), so telling the truth would be Riker's best bet. I could see the episode being called 'icky' if only Manua threw Riker under the bus because false rape accusations are statistically rare and depicting them in fiction re-enforce the common cultural assumption that women can not be trusted about rape accusations, but again Troi says Manua believes what she is saying!

      Something that would have helped a lot is La Forge shared his side, or the doctor's assistant's side. It is possible that both of their testimonies would conflict, and that one or both of them would lie to help 'their side.' This could be partially negated by getting La Forge's story before he heard any details about the events he wasn't there for. The assistant's testimony might be contaminated from the beginning because she seems to trust the doctor, doesn't know the doctor already succeeded and had expanded to weapons' research despite being left to work on the device on her own (SOMEHOW), might believe the Federation came to hurt her project, and might project his story back to her memory of the first meeting. But these testimonies should have been taken for identifying inconsistencies in the parts of the story they were there for.

      So we have established a he-said, she-said situation, which is the closest thing I have seen to icky, but again Troi says both of them are telling the story "as they remember it," which is why I honestly assumed that there was going to be a mind control beam or something (would not be the first time). But instead, the episodes just... forgets to resolve this ever. We find out the doctor tried to kill Riker (killing himself instead), and the lawyer + witnesses all go 'oh,' and the whole 'attempted rape' accusation just... vanishes! Manua is not even revealed to be lying! Everything just stops mattering because the dead man killed himself on accident. If everyone but Manua dropped the issue, I would see it as icky because no one cares about the rape accusation. But once she saw that Riker didn't kill the doctor, her face changes the same way as all of the Tanugans as if her issues just vanished. Was she lying to hurt the man she thought killed her husband? No, because Troi says she believed it. But again we are safe to assume in this specific case that Riker is telling the truth. We don't see any memory manipulation, so do Manua or her entire species just automatically believe whatever they want to believe? Can she/they trick psychics? With how backwards and unmanageable the Tanugan justice system is (guilty until proven innocent, all hearsay is admissible in court), I would not be surprised if this is something that could happen, and if this is the case, the Federation needs to not deal with this planet at all.

    2. Part 3/3

      But in reality... it is just a murder mystery with an interesting core idea that is full of plot holes. If we strip all the cultural stuff about rape accusations away and just treat it as a raw logic problem, we are distracted from the main mystery with a red herring based on inconsistent information that is never resolved. I really wish this episode had a few more passes to make it work. It would be better if Manua had a damn good reason to lie, if Manua's memory was manipulated, or if the entire rape accusation subplot was changed out with another misunderstanding that pisses off the doctor.

      Maybe the fact that the rape accusation's resolution was enough of an afterthought to be overlooked entirely is what makes the OP call this episode icky, and if that is the case, then I understand the label... but GOD the interesting sci-fi mystery attached to fractal plot holes makes it just feel ambitions but incompetent to me. The fact I wrote so much on this one episode shows the potential in the mystery, and that doesn't even touch on how cool the application of the holodeck, collision between legal systems with different founding principals, etc! It could have been SO GOOD!

    3. I have not seen Rashomon, but have been informed that if the episode was based off that story as the OP says, then it is icky.

    4. Another option my friend pointed out is that the author of this episode was not rushed, put in as much effort as they wanted to, was proud of the script, and thought that they had written a complete nuanced story. I didn't think of that, and would be pretty icky.

    5. Okay, first of all, thank you for your thorough analysis! Most impressive. You make excellent points.
      There are numerous holes even without the rape issue.

      But I have a hard time letting go of the cultural issue.

      I should also devote more consideration to the source material. I've never read the novel, though it's on my TBR shelves. However, I know the Kurosawa film and it is quite genuinely a masterpiece. A lot of camera tricks we take for granted now were invented for that film. But the story...

      Here's why I have a hard time letting go of it: television has been a tough industry for women since the beginning and as progressive as Trek has been over time, Papa Gene was a well-known womanizer. It's doubtful he was the only one, in fact. I can't help thinking of a room full of men green lighting the idea of the story simply because they want to show that the man's point of view in this situation is equally valid. You're absolutely right, Riker had been well-established as an honorable, decent man and I can see the men on staff seeing themselves in that role.

      Yes, I'm probably reading too much into it. But I can't help that.

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  8. Turns out the screenwriter thought the script was perfect and should have won awards for best mystery of the year... also blamed the actress portraying the doctor's wife for failing to deliver on his vision.

    So... icky.