In which it’s elementary, there is no spoon, and we have to go deeper.
Welp, back to TNG. Picard has finished impressing on Sisko the importance of slorping up Bajor into the Federation, Miles has had his first fight with his wife in a brand new location over brand new problems, and it’s already obvious who the new favorite person-learning-to-be-human-and-straight-man buddy duo is going to be. Let’s check in on the old crowd, shall we?
Oh good, a Holmes mystery. Haven’t had one of these since Moriarty installed an emergency brake in the Holodeck back in season two. You’ll recall that Moriarty gained self-awareness because Geordi wanted Data to not be able to solve the mystery immediately. Therefore, from the fact that they’re back in the saddle, we must conclude that either Data has decided to allow his wit to be dumbed down for the sake of drama, or Geordi figured out how to ask for an opponent that could stump Data but won’t attain self-awareness. The latter possibility is probably going to make Geordi look like a huge jerk in a few minutes.
Also, Data failed the mystery and immediately blames the holodeck for a malfunction. So either Data is just going through the motions for Geordi’s benefits or Data and Geordi are in the habit of rejecting reality and replacing it with their own.
Reg Barclay is called in to scan the Sherlock Holmes files, and finds a couple of anomalous files in protected memory. Upon finding them, he unlocks and runs them, revealing Professor James Moriarty, who demands to see the captain. Reg is unaware of Moriarty, which, as we predicted, instantly incenses Moriarty because nobody has been working on the problem. Note that he wasn’t evil before, just curious and hostage-taking in the most genteel sort of way. However, having been locked away in memory, awake and aware for four years, he’s unlikely to be so forgiving this time. Reg pulls the chip from the holodeck and goes to see Picard about it, but Moriarty will not be so easily dismissed.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is going to watch two gas giants collide, which is expected to form a new star. Data and Geordi have had time to change back into their unitards by the time Reg gets back, and, credit where it’s due, Picard does not delay in owning up to the responsibility. However, his platitudes are not impressive. Picard is talking about every angle of the situation except for the one where Moriarty can’t leave. Moriarty decides to test his own hypothesis – that his will, his soul, endows him with the staying power that a mere object lacks.
One thing that bugs me is that Picard warns Moriarty off as if the memory space allocated to his program will be immediately overwritten once he exits the holodeck. That… that can’t be, right? An IndexOutOfBounds error won’t just wipe the data, right? Surely if Picard were actually concerned about Moriarty he could have the computer rebuild the simulation of his body somewhere inside the bounds of the projection matrix.
It doesn’t matter, though. Moriarty strolls out of the holodeck and blithely submits to a medical examination. It seems he is fully human, but not quite as evil as we first thought. Picard warns him off of criminal behavior, but Moriarty reassures him that Doyle’s works are but a fiction. Nobody mentions the fact that they are a fiction that Moriarty was based on, unless the ship’s computer was heuristic enough to weight this representation of Moriarty more on Newcomb, Gauss, and Boole than on Adam Worth.
Look it up, I can’t be expected to do all the work for you.
Moriarty requests one further favor – the presence of the Countess Regina Bartholomew, the love of Moriarty’s life. Moriarty suggests repeating the incantation that brought him life in order to create her. Picard argues, and this whole scene is very eerily like the argument between Doctor Frankenstein and his creation. Having created life once, man shirks at repeating the experience. Picard takes it to conference, where a testable and repeatable experiment is treated as complete magic.
Amusingly, when Picard pushes back and asks whether the Countess is involved in some scam with Moriarty, his defense is that the computer designed her to be of impeccable integrity. Yet the computer designed Moriarty to be a master criminal. These statements do not track, and if Picard were less flabbergasted by the goings-on he ought to pick up on that.
There are all sorts of subsurface questions of identity and destiny bring thrown around. Raised, but not hammered into the ground. We are left to stew on them as Picard goes to check out the stellar formation. He will not be allowed to ignore it, however. Moriarty takes over the Enterprise, holding it hostage against the creation of his Countess.
Their plan is to attempt to beam a holodeck object, thus passing it through a system designed to convert energy into solid matter. The deliberations are somewhat handicapped by the fact that they are operating on the premise that they don’t understand their own technology. But heck with it, Barclay delivers the pattern enhancers just in time to watch Moriarty and the Countess suck some face. Reg tests with a chair first.
Of note – they beam the chair into the big blue circle in the middle. The side panels are usually sufficient for humans and have also been used for test cases. Apparently the middle one is for really intensive transports. The operation fails, but when Data goes to check the logs to see what they can learn, the display says no logs are available. Data finds this interesting. He goes to check Geordi’s handedness. It turns out that Picard, Barclay, and Data never left the holodeck – Moriarty just simulated the rest of the ship.
As a note, Moriarty did, finally, after four years, manage to out-think Data for a pretty good run, which is something he actually didn’t really demonstrate back in season two. Data proves it by throwing a real object, his commbadge, at the wall. I’m pretty sure I covered this already, but just to recap, people can walk around in the holodeck via a combination of holo-treadmills and inertial dampers. Throwing a holographic object at a wall would just result in it being reabsorbed into the backdrop. But a real object gets to hit the wall, I guess.
Of course, knowing that doesn’t help much – Moriarty still controls all the command functions within the holodeck, and has subnetted the commbadges. And Picard also just gave the computer his command codes. Picard’s ‘oops’ face is fantastic. For once in an ever, someone on Star Trek understands the implications of proper information security.
Now that the plot has been revealed and we get an establishing shot of the actual Enterprise, we see Moriarty negotiating with Riker. He demands that they try the transporter trick, and messes with the Warp Core to show he’s serious.
Picard goes to talk to Regina and spits some technobabble about the Heisenberg Compensators at her. Then he asks her not to go tell Moriarty about it immediately, at least before he gets control of his ship back. Moriarty takes this information to Riker. The planets are knocking together, so Riker seems to capitulate quickly, and beams Regina and Moriarty off the holodeck and into real life. Moriarty holds on to the command codes long enough to get a shuttle as well. Riker sees Moriarty and Countess Bartholomew off, and Moriarty gives back command to Picard.
Immediately following, Picard discontinues the program he made for Moriarty to beam into in the holodeck aboard the holodeck-simulated ship. Moriarty and the Countess are being stored in active memory, so their program will keep running, but it is an active universe simulation rather than a hellish limbo. Hopefully, they’ll be too distracted by all the cool stuff to notice discrepancies. Picard, Data, and Reg walk out of the holodeck, Reg pausing to pull out the self-contained memory cube, and Moriarty is running a full-on universe simulation on a computer about the size of a small child.
Just to be sure, Reg calls for an End Program, and looks relieved when it doesn’t work. Completely ignoring the fact that it didn’t work twenty minutes ago either, and doesn’t normally work for NPCs. Or maybe he’s fine with being in a simulation as long as he can convince himself he’s not.