Star Trek: Asterisk "The Royale"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S02E12
Air Date: March 27, 1989
Written by: Keith Mills
Directed by: Cliff Bole

Riker, Data and Worf step into the pages of the most terrible book ever written.

So, a Klingon vessel passed by this planet a while ago and reported seeing a strange vessel that appeared to be terrestrial, so the Enterprise goes to check it out. There's some wreckage, so they beam it aboard, and lo and behold, in big, bold letters the wreckage reads "NASA" with an American flag on it. Upon closer examination, it seems to have come from the mid-21st century, which is good news, because it means that at some point in our future NASA will get its funding back.

Then again, this episode opened on Picard talking to Riker about Fermat's last theorem, a mathematical equation that, he said, had never been proved in 800 years. Turns out it was proved in 1995. So their history might be a little off. Now they have to beam down to a planet that's full of nitrogen, methane, liquid neon, a surface temperature -291 degrees Celsius (18 degrees below absolute zero) and wind speeds up to 312 meters per second to investigate. So, maybe their science is a little off, too... Geordi might wanna give their equipment a little diagnostic. It's okay, though, because there's a pocket of breathable air on a bit of frozen methane and in that pocket is a structure where someone might live.
Or it's just a door.
They might have wished it was just a door that lead to nowhere, because when Riker, Data and Worf walk into that revolving door, they find a Vegas hotel from the mid 20th century. In a pocket on a planet lightyears away from Vegas. They look around and find that the people in the hotel are pretty dull except the bellboy who is over-dramatic. They go to check in and the bellboy interrupts them to ask the cashier if his girlfriend had called. Because that's so important. Data says that none of the people they see register any kind of life form. They're all illusions. Like the dude from Texas who just walked in and is as loud as one might expect a Texan to be. He ends up going to the blackjack table to hit on a woman there.

Well, they look around a little more, Data even starts to befriend the Texan, but they get no answers and they're a little tired of it, so they try to leave. Except the revolving doors just bring them back inside. IT'S A TRAP! Worf even tries to fire a phaser at the wall, and that doesn't work. Finally, Data finds traces of human DNA. After braving the "turbolift", they find a human skeleton in one of the rooms. They find his name on his astronaut uniform: Colonel S. Richey. In his desk drawer they find his diary and a novel: Hotel Royale. Data does a quick scan and reports that it's basically the worst novel ever written. Riker reads in the diary that Richey's ship, the Charbdis, was destroyed by an alien scan and the aliens, feeling sorry for what they'd done, created this environment after the book believing it to be his preferred way of life, but unknowingly condemning him to a stilted and cliched hell.
"This reminds me of Captain Kirk's old logs."
Richey lived another 38 years and apparently died in his sleep of old age. So at least we know he was somehow able to get food. After finding all this out, they try to find a way out for themselves. That's when the mobster walks in and shoots the bellboy for screwing around with his gal. And then the mobster walks out. That gives Riker an idea. Picard tells him that at the end of the book foreign investors buy the hotel and then leave. So Riker, Worf and Data play the part of the investors. They play the games and, with Data's natural talent, break the casino's bank. They use that money to buy the hotel with a little left over to spread the wealth to all the non-existent characters.

Up on the ship, Picard has been reading through the novel. It started out with "It was a dark and stormy night." Which is the worst way you could ever start a novel. He and Troi listen to the dialog being performed by the characters through Riker's comm and Troi asks if humans actually talked like that. Picard assures her that it's the most terrible dialog he'd ever heard. She, understandably, asks to be excused, while Picard gives himself a facepalm, finishing out the scene. I have to believe that Picard, who was safe on the ship all along, was the most relieved when Riker finished out the story and was able to get away from that place.
"I have to talk to you about putting a casino in 10-Forward"
When they got back, Riker and Picard have a chat about how such a primitive ship got so far and they basically end where they began, on Fermat's last theorem, citing that there are just some mysteries that will never be solved. Even though that particular one was... okay, bad example. The point is... there are a lot of mysteries in this episode.

Overall Thoughts
I like to imagine the aliens that built this habitat for Colonel Richey suddenly coming to the realization that they left this program running. "OMG! It's been hundreds of years! That human is definitely dead by now. Did we really just leave that program on repeat? That must have been maddening for him... OH WELL!" Meanwhile, the alien who was assigned to find Richey's home planet and bring him back just got caught up doing other things, watching old episodes of Mad Men and forgot all about it... Okay, so this episode has a few holes in it, but it was entertaining at least. There were a few laughs to be had because Data. That's it, pretty much. Data.