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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Most Toys (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a way, The Most Toys feels like the other side of the coin to Hollow Pursuits. One of the more interesting aspects of Hollow Pursuits is the way that it casts guest character Reginald Barclay as something of a Star Trek fan. He escapes from his mundane existence into a fantasy world where he tells his own stories about the crew, succumbing to various fan fiction clichés. The Most Toys is also built around a guest character who seems to have been written as a Star Trek fan, albeit a lot less pleasant sort of type than Barclay.

Fajo is a collector, you see.

An honest trader? Fajo chance!

An honest trader? Fajo chance!

Of course, collectors aren’t unique to Star Trek fandom by any measure. Film and television memorabilia is an old game, even if the studios were slow to catch on – a matte painting from The Wizard of Oz junked in the mid-1970’s sold for almost $50,000 at auction years later. In 1970, MGM sold on its old props to auction. Without even selling all the items, the industrious auctioneer recouped eight-times his investment on the collection.

Naturally, given the show’s status and rapidly expanding fandom, Star Trek inevitably attracted a large volume of collectors. While the franchise produced an incredible volume of collectables and merchandise, as early as 1966, there were always those who liked to collect more exclusive items. This fad exploded in the mid-nineties, with the high-profile auction of William Ware Theiss’ costumes at Butterfield  & Butterfield in 1993, and continued with several high-profile Christies auctions as well.

Dammit, you've spoiled the original packaging!

Dammit, you’ve spoiled the original packaging!

While the number of high-profile auctions continued into the first decade of the twenty-first century, it’s worth noting that trading and selling Star Trek memorabilia was not a new phenomenon. It was just one that was now conducted in the open. Alec Peters, who runs Star Trek Props, noted that while a 2006 auction at Christie’s was a high-profile and noteworthy event, there’s a long history of people trading in Star Trek memorabilia:

The world of collecting Star Trek props and costumes was a small and expensive one prior to the big Christie’s Star Trek auction in October, 2006. That auction, sanctioned by Paramount and held in New York City at the world famous Christie’s Auction House, opened up the shadowy world of collecting screen-used props and costumes to Star Trek fans worldwide.

I say “shadowy” because before the Christie’s auction, much of the Star Trek props and costumes in circulation where not legally obtained from Paramount. Poor security, insider theft and lax handling had resulted in props and costumes leaking out from Paramount over the years. Outside of the Bob Justman, Matt Jeffries and Bill Theiss auctions, all of which saw those legends sell off their personal Star Trek collections, much of what had previously been sold at auction or directly from insiders was basically stolen property with no legitimate provenance.

That’s an important facet of the trade in Star Trek memorabilia as it existed in the twentieth century. So Kivas Fajo’s collection of ill-gotten memorabilia feels like a rather direct reference to that particular practice.

Inspecting the merchandise...

Inspecting the merchandise…

In September 1990, a few months after The Most Toys aired, Detective John Winchester revealed that more than $150,000 worth of props from the Star Trek motion pictures and Star Trek: The Next Generation television show were stolen over the previous two years. This was obviously on the studio’s mind in the early nineties. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News to promote the 1991 release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, William Shatner confessed that he doesn’t own any memorabilia:

I don’t have any memorabilia, because it’s dangerous to own. It’s always being stolen. Star Trek is such a phenomenon that everybody wants a piece of its history. The studio has had a terrible time. The Paramount wardrobe building has been broken into by sophisticated criminals, who cut barbed wire and short circuit alarms to get to our old costumes. Then they sell them on the black market.

The 1992 Smithsonian Star Trek exhibit was a high-security event, with The New York Times noting “the alarm display cases and two full-time guards on hand to protect the memorabilia from overzealous fans.”

The show was hardly beaming with enthusiasm about certain aspects of fandom...

The show was hardly beaming with enthusiasm about certain aspects of fandom…

The Next Generation was far from immune to these concerns. During the show’s first season, special effects technician Greg Stone broke on to the set (in a Starfleet uniform) and filmed a self-styled documentary with Ralph Miller. Miller currently works on the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages. Several of the items “obtained” by Stone were later listed for sale. Michael and Denise Okoda commented on the incident:

Those jerks not only stole stuff from the set, but they caused damage, costing us prep time and money. Hardly the behavior you’d expect from people who profess to like Star Trek.

Incidents like this apparently led to the studio adopting a more wary attitude towards fans, becoming very cautious about fans involved in the production process. So The Most Toys feels like it fits within that context. It’s the story of an entitled collector stealing “a rare and valuable object” upon which he has no claim. Kidnapping Data, Fajo is very clearly trying to possess a piece of Star Trek.

A posable action figure...

A posable action figure…

This feels particularly appropriate given Brent Spiner’s own observations about how some fans see him – his discomfort with being seen as or treated like or even reduced to Data, and understandable reaction given that Data is a fictional character and Brent Spiner is a real actor. As Spiner explains:

The only thing that bothers me—and it happens all the time—is when people see me and shout, “DATA! DATA!” I’m fine with people recognizing me. I just wish they shouted, “Guy who played Data!”

Leonard Nimoy had similar difficulties with the character of Spock. So one might imagine that The Most Toys is Brent Spiner’s nightmare brought to life, perhaps a nightmare shared by quite a few Star Trek cast members. Indeed, the story of a rabid fan kidnapping a cast-member, play dress-up with him and act out his fantasies was the driving plot behind Futurama‘s affectionate Star Trek tribute and reunion, Where No Fan Has Gone Before. So The Most Toys skilfully conflates these contemporary concerns about excessive collectors and the fear that many Star Trek actors feel of being objectified.

I wonder if that's one of the ones the Doctor marked as a fake?

I wonder if that’s one of the ones the Doctor marked as a fake?

It is worth noting that there’s nothing inherently wrong with collecting movie memorabilia, just as there’s nothing wrong with writing fan fiction or drawing wonderful pictures or even crafting extensive overly-elaborate retrospective reviews of the franchise. (What? My relationship with Star Trek is perfectly healthy!) Collecting can be a wonderful pastime. There is something absolutely thrilling about finding and holding a piece of history; owning it as an expression of your affection and love.

At the same time, there are certain behaviours and attitudes that can take root within a franchise’s fanbase that threatens to poison the waterhole. There are certain types of fannish mindsets that can be unsettling and uncomfortable. The comic book industry, for example, seems to play host to a vocal minority of fans with rather unfortunate attitudes towards gender. The television show Doctor Who has wrestled with a fandom hierarchy, with accusations of episode-hoarding prone to circulate and a weird engagement with fandom in the eighties that gave certain fans power and influence over the show itself.

Stop, or the droid will shoot...

Stop, or the droid will shoot…

Fandom can be an unsettling and terrifying thing. It mostly isn’t. It’s mostly nice and fun people chatting and joking about a thing that they all love, and enjoying one another’s company. However, sometimes the relationship with fans get a bit skewed. Sometimes fannish affection gives way to a sense of entitlement or ownership – a sense that the show “owes” a particular fan something, that the producers are expected to live up to the fan’s own unique vision of what Star Trek should be.

To be fair, Star Trek has seldom had a problem with its fans, at least not on a large scale. Although a frequent subject of pop culture mockery, even the most extreme “Trekkies” are generally regarded with affection (or, at least, curiosity) by the mainstream media. The media loves stories about the Klingon language, or people wearing silly outfits or redecorating their houses to resemble sets from the show.

A flying start...

A flying start…

And the show maintained a relatively healthy relationship with the fans, at least until the final years of the Berman era. Star Trek: Enterprise attracted a strong reaction from a vocal segment of the fandom, right up to fans mailing their refuse to Brannon Braga. The new movies have also prompted strong reactions. Actor Simon Pegg and writer Robert Orci have both taken high-profile swings at vocal fandom in the wake of fan backlash to Star Trek Into Darkness.

However, these are minor issues. Outside of the theft of Star Trek merchandise by over-eager fans and cynical brokers, the franchise has enjoyed a long and healthy relationship with its fans. After all, the oft-repeated (if, perhaps, not entirely accurate) myth is that the fans saved the original Star Trek from cancellation with a letter-writing campaign. Even if that’s untrue, they certainly kept it alive during the seventies. You can understand why the franchise has traditionally been affectionate and protective of its fanbase.

No electrical fault of his own...

No electrical fault of his own…

This is probably why characters like Barclay and Fajo – both archetypes very consciously modelled on Star Trek fans, were relatively uncommon during the franchise’s heyday. This sort of approach is more common in franchises that have had trouble with their fans. For example, Doctor Who has a somewhat more turbulent relationship with its fandom across its fifty-year history, and that occasionally troubled dynamic has bled into the show more than once.

Certain members are accused of “hoarding” lost episodes of the classic series, leveraging them for more power in the community. Fans working behind the scenes were a driving force towards the show’s cancellation in 1989, leading the show to produce episodes that catered to fan whims without any regard for the casual viewer. (Attack of the Cybermen is perhaps the best example of this approach, along with a strange fascination with continuity and violence.)

Quite a handy (puppet) pet...

Quite a handy (puppet) pet…

During the show’s hiatus in the late eighties, a temporary lull in the series’ production, some of these “superfans” (led by Ian Levine) recorded a pompous single (Doctor in Distress) intended to held save the show, demanding that the BBC announce the renewal of the series immediately and generally turning fandom into a joke in British pop culture. So there is considerable bitterness at play there. In particular, Russell T. Davies’ 2005 revival seemed to have quite a lot of vitriol for the sort of entitled collector embodied by Fajo in The Most Toys.

The first season episode Dalek is based around a collector who has hoarded away a Dalek in his vault, prompting the Doctor to lambaste the villain for his possessiveness. (When the collector claims that he just wanted to touch the stars, the Doctor corrects him, “You just want to drag the stars down and stick them underground, underneath tons of sand and dirt, and label them. You’re about as far from the stars as you can get.”) The second season episode featured an alien monster who hijacked a bunch of Doctor Who fans to serve at his whim, rationing information in order to get them to behave.

Bad Data!

Bad Data!

Kivas Fajo is that sort of fan; he’s the sort of fan who absolutely has to own something. He cannot appreciate anything he cannot control, something that is not entirely in his power. His thrill comes from the exclusivity of it all. It isn’t just having something that thrills Fajo. It’s the idea that having it means that other people cannot have it. He owns four of the five Varon-T disruptors that exist in the entire universe – never mind that one is more than enough for his purpose. He owns four Veltan sex idols.

Fajo is a character who measures the worth of his collection not by its material or sentimental value. He describes the items as “priceless”, and treats the original smell of “bubble gum” accompanying a collectible baseball card as a quirky historical detail rather than anything more personal. The items themselves don’t matter – all that matters is that Fajo has more than others. Giving Data the grand tour, he explains, “Everything that you see in the room here, everything. One of its kind. Unique. All original. Just as you are.”

Deducing the Ki(vas) details...

Deducing the Ki(vas) details…

He’s a fan who feels like his possession of these artefacts gives him power. There’s a sense that he’s only interested in owning Data so that he can show him off, so that he can impress other people. (That’s why Data’s refusal to perform is so brilliantly effective – it makes Fajo look stupid and powerless in front of others.) Like any entitled fan, he likes to use his superior knowledge of the material to assert his own authority. When rival collector Toff asks about the pearls on his Veltan sex idols, Fajo cleverly realises that it was a trick question. “Please. Pearls were added by the Ferengi agents to increase the value.”

Fajo is an absolutely fascinating character, and one of the better guest stars to feature on the show. (Indeed, Fajo might rank among the franchise’s all-time best one-shot characters.) Fajo is wonderfully and deeply unsettling because he’s so very familiar. While The Next Generation has a bit of a fondness for smug capitalist villains, Fajo strikes much closer to home than Devinoni Ral or any Ferengi guest star.

This is just begging for a Star Trek Storage Wars special...

This is just begging for a Star Trek Storage Wars special…

Fajo is a small-scale baddie, one who will never alter the flow of galactic politics or spark interstellar war. Kivas Fajo is a much more banal form of evil. He’s the kind of self-centred amoral power-tripping individual that most viewers will encounter at some point in their lives, in one form or another. He’s just writ on a slightly larger scale. Not so large that he becomes unrecognisable, but just large enough to fit with the Star Trek universe. One suspects that, had he not punched so far above his weight to abduct a senior officer from a Federation starship, Fajo would have remained at large and unnoticed for quite some time.

Of course, Fajo is a notable character in Star Trek lore for another reason. Star Trek fan Saul Rubinek is absolutely amazing in the role, but his performance is all the more impressive for being a last-minute addition to the episode. British character actor David Rappaport had originally been cast in the role, but director Timothy Bond was forced to recast Fajo when David Rappaport attempted suicide late in filming. Rappaport made a second attempt with a legal purchase firearm in a Los Angeles public park. He died five days before The Most Toys was broadcast.

Saul good, baby!

Saul good, baby!

Although he did not complete work in the role, Rappaport had filmed some material for the episode before his first attempt. It was buried in the Paramount vault, until Robert Meyer Burnett and Roger Lay, Jr. found it while working on the high-definition remaster of The Next Generation. The pair sliced some of Rappaport’s work together to present a hint at what the actor’s version of Fajo might have looked like, integrating the footage and sound with the finished cut of the episode.

The footage released (and, presumably, the footage completed) is limited to the opening and closing sequences of the episode – Fajo contacting the Enterprise feigning concern about the explosion of Data’s shuttle, Data confronting Fajo in the shuttle bay and then in the brig. There’s nothing of the interactions between Data and Fajo in the middle of the episode, no sense of how Rappaport’s Fajo would have reacted to Data while in a position of power – the scenes where Rubinek’s Fajo boasts and brags and jokes.

Data's the life of the party...

Data’s the life of the party…

Still, Rappaport’s Fajo has a somewhat darker edge to him. He seems less playful that the version played by Rubinek. Even in his conversation with Picard over Data’s death, he seems much more sinister – less conciliatory. There seems to be a note of bitterness in his concessions about his freighter’s limited capabilities, “Compared to the Enterprise’s, our sensors are rather primitive.” (Rubinek’s line-reading is a bit more aloof and disinterested, while Rappaport seems almost resentful of the fact that he doesn’t own a kick-ass state-oft the art Galaxy-class starship.)

In his final confrontations with Data, Rappaport’s Fajo seems more bitter and angry – in contrast to the arrogance and resignation played by Rubinek. When Data informs Rappaport’s Fajo that all his property has been confiscated and returned to its original owner, Fajo responds, “I suppose that gives you great satisfaction.” The aired episode substitutes the word “pleasure” for “satisfaction”, which suggests a lot more emotion on the part of Data, but also less resentment from Fajo.

Varria good?

Varria good?

“Satisfaction” implies that the status quo has been restored, everybody got what they expected. “Pleasure” is a much stronger emotion, implying a much more fortuitous outcome. The impression on gets is that Rappaport’s Fajo is driven by resentment – or, at least, less adept at hiding that resentment from others. After all, satisfaction merely implies that expectations have been met. Rappaport’s delivery of the line implies that Fajo is prone to that sort of insecurity, the belief that the universe enjoys diminishing him. You won’t have Fajo to kick around anymore.

It is worth noting that the version of Fajo who appeared in the original version of the script was a lot more unpleasant than the version who appears in the final episode. Various additions and subtractions take a bit of the edge off the character. For example, Fajo’s attempts to win Data over with a sob story about a “desperate youth… wasted… wasted on the streets of Zimballia” did not appear in the script drafts. (Even with Fajo’s subsequent confession that it’s all a lie, the conversation does humanise Fajo a great deal. He’s more playful about it all.)

We apologise for this disruption to schedule...

We apologise for this disruption to schedule…

In contrast, the version of Fajo who appears in the script is a lot more cynical. His relationship with Varria is a lot more explicitly unpleasant than in the final cut of the episode. Indeed, given how unpleasant it is in the final cut of the episode (“well… there’s always another Varria”), that’s quite an accomplishment. After all, Varria is presented as a slave kept for the amusement of a boss who could care less about her. Joining the crew at fourteen – a fact which has its own uncomfortable connotations, given how Fajo objectifies her – she has never known another life.

The script goes further. The most important scene cut from the broadcast episode features Varria attempting to seduce Data, with Data (correctly) deducing that she has been “sent by Kivas Fajo to test [Data’s] sexual abilities.” It’s a nice character moment for Varria – building more towards her inevitable betrayal – but also an insightful glimpse of Fajo. It’s clear that he sees Varria as his property, and as a disposable (and replaceable) object.

Wrestling with the issues...

Wrestling with the issues…

In fact, in the script, Fajo’s biography of his right-hand woman goes on a bit longer than it does in the broadcast. “And I made all her dreams come true, didn’t I?” Fajo asks her at one point in the episode.  In the script, he continues, “At a slight cost of course. She had to lose all those pesky ideals. But then maybe that was what made these years so wonderful, watching her lose them one by one until none were left.” It’s underscores just how much of an object Varria is to Fajo, and is much more unsettling than “I’m going to miss you.”

The version of Fajo who appears in the script is on a very short list of the worst villains in the history of the franchise. The version played by Saul Rubinek loses a bit of that edge, while still remaining a thoroughly repulsive individual. As such, he’s really the perfect character to serve for the episode’s climactic moral ambiguity. Realising that Fajo will never let him go, and that Fajo has no concern for any life other than his own, Data seems to make a conscious choice to murder the trader in cold blood. “I cannot permit this to continue,” Data remarks, preparing to take his shot.

They'll throw the book at Fajo...

They’ll throw the book at Fajo…

What happens next is intentionally unclear. Data is transported away before he can fire, as Fajo panics. O’Brien reports a weapon in discharge in the transporter beam. When Data arrives, he tries to explain the discharge. “Perhaps something occurred during transport, Commander.” Writer Shari Goodhartz was less than satisfied with the ending:

I wish I’d come up with something more clever for the end of The Most Toys, when Data is whisked away from Kivas Fatjo [sic] by a too convenient initiation of the transporter sequence. And it still feels overly facile to me that Riker can filter out the disrupter beam that Data fired at Fatjo[sic]. By the way, on the set I asked Brent Spiner whether he thought Data purposefully pulled the trigger or not, and he was adamant that Data did fire the weapon, which was my intent as well, but the powers-that-be wanted that kept ambiguous, so it was. If I had a chance to do it over, with all the experience I have behind me now, I would argue passionately for Data’s actions and their consequences to have been clearer, and hopefully more provocative.

Of course, having Data take a life is an interesting concept, to the point where writer Melinda Snodgrass had pitched it as the third story in her planned Data triptych. And the addition of Data’s excuse complicates matters greatly. Regardless of whether or not Data is actually lying, he’s still intentionally obfuscating the facts.

Reaching out...

Reaching out…

The implication is pretty profound. It suggests that Data is far more human than he has ever conceded. In a way, the fact that he’s lying about the discharge is somehow more unsettling than his willingness to kill the murderer. Data is quite capable of lying to his friends and colleagues, even when those lies are unnecessary. It’s hard to imagine Starfleet would have a problem with Data killing a murderer, poisoner and kidnapper in order to escape.

As such, Data’s decision to cover up his actions is uncomfortable. Is Data trying to preserve his appearance of innocence to the crew? If so, can we really trust that Data is as innocent as he claims to be? How can we be sure that Data isn’t simply manipulating the crew? After all, Lore was quite capable of manipulation and lying. Is it possible that Data – Soong’s follow-up to Lore – is simply better at it? Feigning innocence, exaggerating alienness and claiming to be emotionless would be a great way to avoid Lore’s fate. (Of course, Data claims never to have been aware of Lore in the first place, but can we trust him on that now?)

Well, he'll be kept in mint condition...

Well, he’ll be kept in mint condition…

Of course, this is a reading of Data as a character that is built from one short scene towards the end of The Most Toys. Still, the episode leaves us with the suggestion that Data is far more human than he can concede. His final exchange with Fajo is laced with sarcasm and cynicism; it almost reads as if Data is taunting Fajo. When Fajo accuses Data of deriving pleasure from his arrest, Data simply responds, “I do not feel pleasure. I am only an android.” This is a direct response (with a decidedly bitter edge) to Fajo’s insistence that Data is “just an android” and so is incapable of murder.

It’s a wonderfully ambiguous conclusion to the episode. Ironically, the producers’ decision to take the edge off Data’s decision to murder Fajo actually creates more ambiguity. (Compare this to the nuance that was stripped out of Melinda Snodgrass’ original script for The Ensigns of Command.) Perhaps Data is more human than he lets on. And perhaps that is not a good thing.

Read our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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