“A Matter of Perspective” – TNG 3X14

“A Matter of Perspective” is Star Trek’s attempt at Rashōmon, a courtroom drama where the holodeck is used to show us a murder from three different perspectives.

A painting of a woman in the foreground, a woman acting as a figure model in the background

There’s a lot to appreciate about the episode, including the opening scene of Picard in a painting class. Data comes in and analyzes the three painting students’ interpretations (or perspectives, get it?) and finds Picard’s somewhat wanting:

Data: While suggesting the free treatment of form usually attributed to Fauvism, this quite inappropriately attempts to juxtapose the disparate cubistic styles of Picasso and Leger. In addition, the use of colour suggests a haphazard melange of clashing styles. Furthermore, the unsettling overtones of proto-Vulcan influences –

Picard: Thank you, Mister Data.

Krag, Picrard, Riker and Troi at a table during the hearing

The main plot begins when Chief Investigator Krag accuses Riker of murdering a scientist, Dr. Apgar, and asks for an extradition hearing. 

The mystery of Apgar’s death is tightly and well-written – Krag initially suggests Riker decided to shoot Apgar while transporting back to the Enterprise, and Apgar’s wife and assistant present supporting testimon, although at times it’s not clear whether the reenactments are meant to be funny or suspenseful. 

There are two areas where the Rashōmon framework doesn’t really work for me. The first is that we know Riker is innocent, so it doesn’t invite us to really inhabit the other witnesses’ perspectives. 

The second is the way the differing perspectives are used to talk about alleged attempted sexual assault.

In Riker’s story, Dr. Apgar’s wife, Manua, comes on to him basically from the moment he walks in the door. She tells him she’s bored with her husband and starts undressing herself in Riker’s guest room, despite his protestations.

Manua stands close to Riker and starts to remove her robe

Apgar walks in on them, slaps Manua and tries to take a swing at Riker. He leaves, threatening Riker.

Manua tries to push Riker away as he grabs her arms

Of course, Manua’s story is quite different. In her story Riker insists on staying the night, traps her in his room, and tries to rape her.

Riker interrupt the testimony to insist he didn’t try to rape her. And we know he didn’t because he’s Riker.

Riker pleads his innocence to Troi

A recess is called and Riker protests to Troi that Manua is lying, but because it’s Rashōmon, Troi says she doesn’t sense deception from Manua:

Troi: It is the truth as each of you remembers it.
Riker: But her version puts a noose around my neck.

So, troublingly, the “perspectives” framing of this episode suggests that a woman could be entirely honest testifying at a rape trial, and yet still be objectively lying or misremembering. For more on why that’s an issue, check out my review of the Voyager episode “Retrospect.”

It would almost be better if Manua were lying in order to cover up the truth: that her husband tried to kill Riker, not out of jealousy, but to cover up the fact that he was withholding scientific information from the Federation in order to make a more lucrative weapons deal with one of the Federation’s enemies.

The characters at the hearing in the holodeck

As it is, once the truth about the murder is uncovered, the fact that Manua still honestly felt like an assault victim is forgotten.

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail

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