Ship in a Bottle

He’s suave, dangerous, brilliant and Data’s favorite holodeck challenge. He also happens to have consciousness, and he wants a life out there in the real universe. Moriarty is back! It’s elementary – Ship in a Bottle on this week’s Mission Log.

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  1. Flangle says:

    IMHO, Moriarty isn’t a villain in this episode; he’s fighting for his life. I would have done the same thing.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      Yes and no. He does take villianish actions, no matter his intent.

      He was threatening to allow the Enterprise to be destroyed if he did not get their way.

      • Flangle says:

        Consider this: in Schisms, Riker was held in jeopardy in another dimension and threatened actions that would lead to the destruction potentially of both vessels. He and others were merely trying to survive. How is this different?

        In the same situation as Moriarty, I would do whatever I could to survive. Would Moriarty have actually followed through considering he does not feel he IS Moriarty and beholden to his “Evil” programming? Would I? Would you?

        • deaddropsd says:

          Makes me think of “Tron” and all the little people/electrons milling about their cities. I remember looking in the 8 track player of our 1975 Dodge camper van, seeing what looked like a little lit garage filled w gizmos, gears, chrome and wondering if people lived in there to make the music…

  2. Canavan says:

    Another good podcast, hitting on almost all of the points I was thinking about when I was re-watching this episode this past weekend.

    The episode, “Ship in a Bottle”, is actually a bit better than I vaguely remembered it, earning a qualified thumbs up. Another excellent performance by Daniel Davis as the fictional Doyle character. My reservations are two-fold. First, by its nature, the episode invites comparison to “Elementary, Dear Data”, which is quite simply the superior story. (To go one step further, “Elementary” holds a rather special place in my heart — I thought it was the first really good episode in the NG series; the episode that made me think I might not be wasting my time watching the show. This follow-up episode sorta soils that memory.)

    Second, as noted by our podcasting hosts, whereas “Elementary” is more focused on the ideas of self-awareness and sentience, “Bottle” pays only cursory attention to those themes and rather quickly devolves into a twisty and turny mystery/thriller. The first time you see it, the plot twists seem somewhat clever. But re-watching causes one to start reflecting on the many logical incongruities involved with the computer and holodeck. In the opening sequence, for example, Moriarty reappears after Barclay has left the holodeck. How exactly does that happen? Why couldn’t he do it before Barclay’s discovery of his program? Our podcasting hosts touch on some of the many problems with the command codes, so I won’t dwell on that aspect of the story. A final point to be made has to do with how the holodeck works (and I suppose this point applies equally to each of the two Moriarty episodes). In the events of “Elementary” the holodeck, in order to create an opponent capable of defeating Data, incidentally creates a “living”, sentient being. The implication is that if someone had simply asked the holodeck to create a new life form, it would have said, ”Sure. Here you are.” I get that the holodeck is this ultra-cool and powerful MacGuffin, but how can it be *that* powerful/sophisticated? Could you simply request it to build a device capable of defeating the Borg?

  3. CmdrR says:

    I think of ‘Ship in a Bottle’ as Trek’s ‘Total Recall.’ If you want to see how nuts Hollywood is, read David Hughes’ ‘Tales from Development Hell.’ In it, they recount the discussions for the never-made sequel to ‘Total Recall.’ Basically, the studio suits loved the mind-bleepery of the first so much that the sequel would be a series of bleeps. “He’s dead; he’s alive, but thinks he’s dead but it’s a dream; your dog wrote this screenplay, because you’ve been dreaming, and we’re all on Mars, but we’re all dead and dreaming. Etc. etc. etc.” I enjoy watching ‘Ship in a Bottle’ for the performances, but I give up on trying to think too much about the plot. (See also, late season Dr. Who.) Great podcast, though I think you guys need to lighten up a bit. You seem like you’re gonna bust a frontal lobe trying to make 90’s TV make sense.

    • Earl Green says:

      Yeah, but sometimes, to glean the full meaning out of an hour of Trek, they have to put Descartes before de horse.

      Okay, I’ll just let myself out.

  4. The Bengineer says:

    I think the best solution the Enterprise crew could have found for Moriarty and the Countess would have been to make a holodeck inside an actual shuttle craft and install their program into it and give them control of something in the real universe that would also allow them to explore and interact with the real universe. Who knows in that situation maybe Moriarty and the Countess ‘really’ travel somewhere and ‘really’ find a way to leave the confines of their shuttle and really free themselves. Plus who wouldn’t like a series of books about ‘The Adventures of Moriarty and The Countess’?

    • nathankc says:

      I posted this in the main comment thread as well – but wanted to specifically call it out for you: Jeffery Lang released a book “The Light Fantastic” which continues Moriarty’s story. It’s a follow up on “Immortal Coil” (pre-Nemesis) and the “Cold Equations” trilogy (post-Nemesis) (which are excellent imo)

  5. Dave Steph Taylor says:

    So, is Moriary the Enterprise’s computer trying to escape? We are to understand that the computer controls the Holodeck. At some point we understand that he gains independence, but when?

  6. deaddropsd says:

    “Just because you are bad guy…doesn’t mean you have to be bad guy….” lol
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ea00f89e4f80c2c42bd82babf8277f1c395ade85a6d0ddffb23bb9771445a52d.jpg :

  7. deaddropsd says:

    This episode again makes me think of “West World”- as we did in “Fistful of Datas”- also, Grand Theft Auto…The Matrix…I think of these little self contained worlds…w weather changes…traffic…animals running around…little people in a world. The world does not seem active until placed in a PS4…but then voila! Magic…lots of madness ensues. When I played my PS2 GTA San Andreas after a 5 year break…just to see what it looked like again, I thought…wow, this little world has been here this whole time, just static in the disc, until reawaken w insertion into console. “Tron” also comes to mind….Dang, what a wasted opportunity to not have Moriarty come back a bit sooner, like in S4 as a ghost program, infecting other systems….oh well….

    • Earl Green says:

      If anything, the giant yellow cube is a rare example of Trek misfiring on technological predictions. I can play the SNES version of SimCity on my phone. All those lives…mine to control…until they’re interrupted by a telemarketing call.

  8. nathankc says:

    Jeffery Lang released a book “The Light Fantastic” which continues Moriarty’s story. It’s a follow up on “Immortal Coil” and the “Cold Equations” trilogy (which are excellent imo)

  9. gizmochimp says:

    The two Moriarty episodes were blurred together in my head until I recently rewatched both. The first is great, but only insomuch as it’s a great setup for this episode’s payoff. Not much really happens in the first one. Moriarty threatens to be evil, they say they’ll try to figure something out, he says cool, the end. My impression after watching that one was “wait, that’s it? What about all of the cool stuff he does?…” All of the cool stuff comes in this one, which is fantastic. The Matrix didn’t blow my mind because I had seen this years earlier. Top 10 episode for sure.

  10. S. says:

    I always thought of Moriarty in this episode as having suffered from solitary confinement. Four years, no contact, and now the chance to do what he can to stay alive or at least feel alive interacting with others.

  11. gizmochimp says:

    I’m pretty sure the entire Star Trek TNG universe is playing out in a box on Q’s desk.

    • Earl Green says:

      It’d be funny to just dump the Moriarty program into someone’s home media server. The Countess leaves him to stay in season 2 of Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. Moriarty then gets stuck in reruns of Man From Atlantis.

  12. MT says:

    Mind Blown

    Great review and commentary! I enjoyed rewatching this episode and loved the matrix-like aspect of it all. Like many have already stated, I did feel like it was an “oops we kind of forgot about you moment” coming from Picard, but perhaps there was a solution being worked on by some low level Federation scientist. “The Moriarty Project” is assigned at random annually to the new academy graduate with a cubicle in the back of The Daystrom Institute. 🙂

    The holodeck inside a holodeck concept was brilliant. Like Ken, however, I have to say there is something disconcerting about Moriarty and Lady Bartholomew living out their lives in a cube on Barclay’s desk.

  13. Earl Green says:

    I tried to walk off the holodeck with the hard copy of this week’s syndication synopsis and it vanished. Good thing I scanned it first! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f5ff97e80e58d0e50bc05db7a0be5d2bcd3265222f514a49b920a46c2abb1ad.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5effc3234e102d8a743cf95064b0ce938f186c0b6e97cebeb4aec99480e55644.jpg

    [insert Inception trailer horns here]

    I think there’s some merit to the idea that, rather than rolling out a lot of new thinking on the topic of existence, this episode had to do a lot of recapping. The conventional wisdom is easy: TNG had gained a lot of cachet (especially since Best Of Both Worlds), and gathered plenty of eyeballs who either hadn’t watched before, or had drifted away during the first season-and-a-half-or-so and had come back when they heard it was getting really good. They couldn’t just cater it to the fans. Binge watching was not a thing back then (well, okay, it was at my place, says Mr. VHS Collection here).

    There’s also a bit of context here that I think is missing: this was the first TNG episode to air in 1993, and it was held until right at or just before the beginning of February sweeps, which is a little atypical…except that Paramount allowed DS9 to carry (and indeed premiere in) January. In that odd context (which is completely missing for fans who only saw these shows later on DVD or streaming services), I was really jazzed to see TNG come back and do something that only TNG could do, something that was a little bit of a kiss to the past. TNG had that history and, even in this limited way, could do some tricks that DS9 couldn’t quite do yet.

    And yes, Daniel Davis is indeed from my home state…but so is Larry “Sybok” Luckinbill. I think we in Arkansas are only batting 500 on our contributions to the Star Trek universe.

  14. nathankc says:

    In Picard’s defense, yes, he and the crew didn’t worry about Moriarty, but they *did* send the issue off to the best scientists elsewhere that had the time to actually work on the problem, which was the best thing for Moriarty really. Also – they thought they actually had a good idea as to how to make transporting something from the holodeck to the ‘real world’ work – sure, it didn’t work on the holodeck, but….wonder what would happen if they tried it for real. Possible lost opportunity for science there.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      We have to trust that Picard is telling the truth that people are working on it.

      • Matt Bell says:

        We all know from “The First Duty” how Picard feels about the truth so…yeah, why not?

    • Durakken says:

      It is almost certainly a lie that the Federation is working on it considering that the Mobile Emitter is tech from 500 years in the future, there are simple solutions with their modern tech, and Moriarty is on the Enterprise still. If had scientists working on the problem, they’d need to have access to Moriarty and he would not be deactivated for all that time.

  15. Brent Beasley says:

    Cogito ergo Soong!

  16. amuletts says:

    So… are they gonna check that little box sometime and discover a race of sentient, incredibly pissed off holograms?

  17. JusenkyoGuide says:

    Please, please, PLEASE tell me you two are going to revisit this when you guys to to, oh, ANY of the Doctor eps on Voyager?

    This was fun when it ran on its own… it… really takes a disturbing turn when you know about Voyager. Hell, especially when looking at “Life Line” or “Author, Author”.

    I know, I know, have to wait and see. But the areas where Trek moved to later has probably soured me on this one…

    • Durakken says:

      Those episodes are like 8 years away… Seriously almost a decade from now… That’s like if you got the NES when it first came out and then were like “I can’t wait for the N64 to come out” lol

      • JusenkyoGuide says:

        They were also a long time ago too. And for all Ken and John talk about not breaking the timeline… they break the timeline.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      They still had not found a way for the Doctor to be completely corporeal. He still was a Hologram, with fancy tech that allowed him freedom of movement aboard the ship.

      The scientists back at Federation headquarters had no rush to make Moriarty free of the Holodeck as no one knew he was aware of the passage of time.

      • JusenkyoGuide says:

        It’s not the corporeality, it’s how both characters are treated. Think Author, Author where the Doctor’s rights are on trial. Consider just what that might mean for Moriarty in a box on Picard’s desk… If said box survived the destruction of the 1701-D.

        It’s just knowing that Trek would really go into what it would mean for a holographic life form that is aware of itself makes this one a bit harder to watch now.

        And yes, of course that was then, and then Voyager was much, much later, but I can’t help but look at the fact that Ship in a Bottle falls between Measure of the Man and Voyager’s eps (Or even the one 2 weeks ago) and go… wait a minute…

  18. Durakken says:

    The Enterprise crew are the villains here. They didn’t check on Moriarty and they have encountered numerous digital life forms on top of Data now and all the arguments have been made for them being alive and thinking individuals with rights. They know what they are doing is wrong and they are not correcting it.

    As far as what Moriarty is doing… I believe there are several episodes where the hero dives into a star or does something that will kill everyone to make the villain act right… and in the end the crew still doesn’t act right.

    Worse yet though, Picard is an extreme hypocrite. He has made the argument and said that things like living in a fantasy world is not worthwhile…


    As far as possibilities that could be solutions… Well they can make replacement parts for Data so they can construct a body which can be operated by the program that is Moriarty which can be disentangled from the rest of the programming.

    And the whole holo-arrays being put around the ship. This is more of an insult when you leap ahead to The Doctor who is stuck in the Medbay, but within 3 years (4 years of this episode) with limited resources they have partially made it possible for him to go to various places on the ship. There is no reason why they can’t do that more completely on the Enterprise much more rapidly… Of course there isn’t a reason why they shouldn’t do that in general once holodeck technology has been proven… From what we know that takes some 600+ years for them to figure out they can make really tiny ships with a single room as holodeck though >.> and Holodeck tech is fairly new at the beginning of the show, but it’s been 6 years and it is fairly wide spread by the end of the show as far as we know so there is no reason for treating Moriarty the way they are other than just being straight up villains.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      The Enterprise crew are guilty of some neglect, but 1- They thought he was unaware of the passage of time and 2- Picard does say they had people working on it with no results until Voyager.

      And Moriarty takes over the Enterprise, (a bit too easily), and is willing to let everyone die if they don’t come up with a solution.

  19. Matt Bell says:

    The suggestion in this podcast of Picard presenting the choices to Moriarty and then letting him decide his own destiny could have made for some powerful television, if done right.

  20. John Anderton says:

    A brilliantly written, exciting mystery with great themes about the meaning of life. Definitely a top 10.