I mean, the episodes begins with little Timmy being trapped under a huge beam, part of the super-structure of his ship the Vico, but not being crushed or even injured due to the experience. What did they make starship hulls out of, if parts of them could continually fall on people and not even mess up their hair?
While at the same time manufacturing storage barrels that can break a freaking Klingon spine if dropped from a height of 10 feet!
Originally Posted by Martok
I suppose the notion of a kid imitating Data was thought to be cute, but really, the whole story just came off as another “touchy-feely” episode gone bad. All that was missing was Troi whining or crying over something.
My Mom thought it was cute. I thought it was obnoxious, although the episode where Picard, and some of the others get zapped into kid form and Picard pretends to throw a tantrum at one point does out-annoy it.
Do you mean immortal?.....Sheriff, do you have any idea what a Thompson submachine gun does to immortal? - Lawless
Thanks for the response, PS. I almost chose “Ethics” as one of the worst, one reason being for exactly what you pointed out. A Klingon warrior brought down by a plastic crate? And then wanting help with ritualistic suicide? Well, actually, that is in keeping with the Klingon Code of Honor, but still. And the other Doctor reminded me of that second season horror Kate Pulaski, so all in all another forgettable episode.
As a preview for season six, the kid episode you mention has made the short list for one of the worst. I have visions of The Animaniacs.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION: THE BEST OF SEASON SIX
Where to begin. The sixth season of Star Trek The Next Generation premiered on September 21st, 1992. Twenty-six episodes would be aired in total. But during those twenty-six episodes, within the context of the Trek Universe and Star Trek History, much would happen. Although season six was sometimes criticized for an overall lack of effective plots, fans who followed not only the stories but the characters would find much to be excited about. Or at least satisfied with. During season six both TNG and Star Trek went in bold new directions.
Most notably, I suppose, was that Trek the Franchise set another mile-stone, as this was the first time in Trek history that two distinct Star Trek television shows aired concurrently. The sixth season of The Next Generation would share its science-fiction duties with the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The premier episode of that series, “Emissary”, would air on January 3rd, 1993. TNG’s “Ship in a Bottle” would air on January 25th of that same year. And, as had occurred during its history on a few occasions before, Trek would never be the same.
One other influencing factor, it not a primary factor, would be season six of TNG was the first complete season to be constructed following the death of Gene Roddenberry. Consequently, TNG explored a few issues which probably would not ever have been seriously considered had Roddenberry still lived. Rick Berman and Michael Piller remained as Executive Producers, but were free to make their own marks on the series without much interference. That they split their time between TNG and DS9 didn’t seem to hamper them much, with the exception to this rule perhaps appearing within the overall quality of the writing. Season six of TNG was largely characterized by either good quality episodes, or really “crappy” ones. In the case of the later, Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi once again come to mind.
In context of season six, Brent Spiner once comment he thought this was the best of the series run. It was also the one season during which the character of Lwaxana Troi did not appear, so that, and the fact that the character of Commander Data was heavily featured, may have influenced his opinion. The character of Lwaxana Troi would be featured during season one of Deep Space Nine, but that will have to wait. Season six of TNG was also the one season during which Denise Crosby did not appear in any of her incarnations. On a personal note I found this regrettable, as I thought much could have been done with the character of Commander Sela of the Romulan Star Empire. Alas. Finally, although he is referenced from time to time, the character of Wesley Crusher also does not appear in any episode. Given the events as described in the fifth season episode “The First Duty”, in Trek Cannon this at least made sense.
The writers continued the pattern from season five of featuring each of the primary characters in at least one episode written almost exclusively for them. Unfortunately, they also continued their pattern from the entire series run of conjuring up really dismal ones for both Crusher and Troi, with for good measure tossing in one for Worf as well. In Troi’s case, however, as will be detailed later there would be one notable exception to this rule. Both the characters of Picard and Riker would receive notable attention and development during this season, each being forced to face their inner demons through deep personal conflict. Unlike those featuring a few of their fellows, some of these moments were extraordinary.
TNG season six would receive three Emmy nominations by the time it was complete. Two episodes would win, “Time’s Arrow, Part II”, and “A Fistful of Data’s”.
According to the official time-line of Star Trek, season six would occur between the years 2369.460 and 2369.499. The events detailed during the first season of Deep Space Nine would occur during the same time frame.
During season six, the crew of the Starship Enterprise would not only once again encounter the Q entity on two separate occasions, but would also find Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott trapped in stasis, suffer alien abduction, be turned into children, revisit the Old West, find themselves on the brink of war with the Cardassians with a new commander while the old one was being tortured, engage in a battle of wits with Professor Moriarty, stare into the face of the enemy, meet some of the crew of Deep Space Nine, further explore Klingon Culture, fight for control of their ship, witness their Captain falling in love, witness Commander Riker going insane, witness Troi devolve into an uber-****, solve a riddle of the Universe, encounter Khaless, the greatest Klingon Warrior who ever lived, discover a second Commander Riker, become stuck in time, and battle once again with their arch-enemy The Borg. As I stated earlier, a lot happened during this season.
In choosing my selections for the best of season six, thirteen episodes made the initial list. My final selections took some consideration, therefore, especially where the first slot was concerned. Ultimately I chose the episode which was not only a fan favorite, but one I have always considered well crafted where all were concerned, powerful and, still today, quite topical.
STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION
The Best of Season Six
1. Chain of Command
The essence of Drama is Conflict. And this two-part episode featured conflict on a scale seldom witnessed during the series run of TNG. I hate to sound cliché, but when it comes to TNG, this episode had it all. And it wasted no time in hitting the fans full face with that conflict when, during the teaser, Captain Picard receives a visitor.
“Captain’s Log: Stardate 46357.4. We have rendezvoused with the Starship Cairo near the Cardassian border for an urgent meeting with Vice Admiral Nechayev.”
Fans of the series were only too aware that relations between Captain Picard and Admiral Nechayev had always been strained. In fact, Nechayev was firmly in the camp of wanting to relieve Picard of his duties following the events detailed in the episode “I Borg”, during an earlier meeting informing Picard of that very desire in no uncertain terms. To highlight this rift between the two she steps into his Ready-Room and immediately, and quite unceremoniously, does exactly that, informing Picard she is there to relieve him of command.
Holy shock-value, Batman! However, the look on Picard’s face at this moment was a harbinger of the quality acting which characterized this episode.
Nechayev subsequently meets with Commander Riker, Data, and Counselor Troi to inform them of the change of command and the worrisome details concerning Cardassian military activities. The risk of war is high due to the concern the Cardassians may make a military move into disputed territories located along the border, and because of his prior accomplishments in negotiating the original treaty between the Federation and the Cardassian Union, Captain Edward Jellico will be assuming command of the Enterprise. She even insults Riker during this notification, informing the Commander that his “lack of knowledge” concerning the Cardassians combined with his “minimal combat experience” make him unfit for command. Ouch. But that is only the beginning.
Jellico is the antithesis of Picard. He is forceful, domineering, demanding in the extreme, bellicose, blunt, and often rude. When Riker goes to greet him in the transporter room, he immediately begins to issue a series of orders which, on the surface at least and apparently to Commander Riker, make no sense. Upon entering the turbo-lift to inspect his quarters, Jellico cuts Riker off mid-sentence, leaving the Commander with an exasperated look on his face. But again, this is only the beginning of Rikers woes in front of his new commanding officer.
Meanwhile Captain Picard is still on board, having been given, along with Doctor Crusher and Lieutenant Commander Worf, secret orders to prepare for a clandestine mission into Cardassian territory. They are seen training in the holodeck amid photon generated underground caves, running around while being timed setting various high-tech spy gadgets into place. Subsequently both Crusher and Picard are seen sitting around the ship in various stages of exhaustion, but unable to utter a single word as to why.
This episode was well directed Robert Scheerer from a teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. The tension is already beginning to mount in two separate plot lines, firmly supported by the superb acting of all the primary cast.
Riker and LaForge wonder how long this change of command may last, the former relating that the official ceremony is usually not preformed unless it was meant to be permanent. As a military veteran, I found this scene both appropriate and quite understandable, having suffered through a number of new commanders during my time in uniform. Regardless, later it is revealed that the intelligence information Picard and his team are operating off of is at least two-years old. In response to this Jellico agrees to launch a Class-5 probe into Cardassian space to gather what information they can. This, however, leads to another in a long line of personal conflicts between Jellico and Riker when, after ordering Riker to prepare the probe, Riker informs him that the new duty roster ordered by the new Captain is not yet ready to be implemented. Jellico launches into Riker as many new commanders are prone to do, establishing his dominance and leaving Riker no room to maneuver. When Picard subsequently attempts to defend his former first officer, Jellico informs him that the Enterprise is his ship now. Picard, like his former first officer, is also left with no room to maneuver.
He even orders Picard’s fish to be removed from his Ready Room.
Following a new plethora of orders given to the crew, including one to Counselor Troi demanding she wear a standard uniform, Jellico states in his log, the first ever to be heard on any Trek incarnation entered by someone other than the established Captains, that the ship is on course to rendezvous with the Cardassian ship Reklar. Negotiations will be held on board the Enterprise to “discuss” the military situation with one Gul Lemec, spokesman for the Cardassian Union. During a subsequent conversation with Captain Picard, Jellico admits he believes neither side will be willing to give up much of anything during the negotiating process, and that he doesn’t expect Picard and his team to return from their secret mission.
Yikes. But, this is keeping in character. As stated, one of the strengths of this episode was the performances delivered by the principal cast, including Ronny Cox as Captain Jellico. His performance here did, however, remind me of the character he played in the feature film “RoboCop”. His line in that movie, “I’m sure its only a glitch”, shared all the same compassion as his signature line in this TNG episode “Get it done”. The only real difference here was he didn’t have ED-209 following him around to terrorize the crew.
You may judge this for yourself, if you wish. The first scene is from the later portion of this TNG episode, featuring a conversation between Riker and Captain Jellico. The second is from the afore mentioned movie “RoboCop”.
As Jellico exited Riker’s quarters, you could almost hear him ordering up a hit man.
Picard and his team leave the Enterprise and set course for Torman V to seek the “help” of a Ferengi named DaiMon Solok. En route Picard informs Worf and Crusher of their mission. They are to investigate reports of Cardassian development of a metagenic weapon believed to be being conducted on Celtris III. Crusher informs them that such a weapon is biological in nature, capable of destroying the ecosystem of the target planet within days of its introduction. They are also to investigate the possibility this metagenic weapon could be delivered by means of theta-band carrier waves. Picard has prior experience with theta-band emissions, thus his role of leader of the mission. Crusher is along to confirm the use of metagenics, while Worf is along to beat up any bad guys encountered. They need the aid of DaiMon Solok specifically for safe passage into Cardassian space.
Meanwhile, on board the Enterprise, negotiations with the Cardassians have begun. Jellico acts like a barely controlled savage, further alienating him from both Riker and Troi. The talks proceed, with Riker doubting his new Captain, while Troi does not.
There is much at stake here, and at this point of the narrative, on initial viewing fans were not sure of what really lay ahead. This was primarily due to the crafting of the plot, with information given out to the fans on an almost “need to know” basis. The story unfolded without ever really tipping its hand; fans were left to either guess, or simply watch. Either way, it was drama effectively presented, the established tension levels never subsiding for even a brief moment. I found this yet another strength of the story, in that the writers did not employ the often tired and overused device of comic relief.
Toward the end of the “negotiations”, the tension level is upped yet again. Gul Lemec is about to leave the negotiating room to return to his ship. But he pauses, turns to Captain Jellico, and inquires as to the whereabouts of Captain Picard. His demeanor clearly implies he already knows the answer to this question.
Which, of course, he does. Picard and company arrive on Celtris III, make their way to what appears to be part of a secret installation, and are immediately ambushed by a group of Cardassian soldiers. Worf and Crusher make good their escape, but Picard is captured.
The former Captain of the Enterprise, and the USS Stargazer, is taken to a dimly lit and imposing room and brought before a Cardassian named Gul Madred. Madred recites Picard’s name, serial number, parent’s names, and place of birth. He informs Picard he is also aware of his prior experience with theta-band carrier waves, and that the entire notion of a perceived Cardassian attack into the disputed territories was nothing but an elaborate hoax generated to lure Picard to Celtris III. Finally he states that Picard will be questioned, and if Madred is not satisfied with the answers given, he will die.
At this point Chain of Command, and Star Trek itself, delves into a previously unexplored and volatile issue, that of the use of torture on a captive. Gul Madred foreshadows this in the teaser for part two:
"From this point on, you will enjoy no privileges of rank, no privileges of person. From this point on, I shall refer to you only as Human. You have no other identity!"
Trek fans may recall that in the Original Series Episode “The Empath”, Doctor McCoy suffers a form of torture by being hung by his wrist, suspended a good few meters from the floor in an effort to make him co-operate with his captors. But that episode was not structured as this one. In “Chain of Command”, Gul Madred inflicts pain on Picard sometimes for the sake of pain, sometimes in an effort to break him, and sometimes simply because he is angry. Picard is deprived of not only of food and comfort, but is systematically dehumanized by Gul Madred, who isn’t really attempting to garner any useful information from Picard but rather simply engaged in a personal struggle to break him. All of these scenes were expertly crafted and well acted by both Patrick Stewart and David Warner as Gul Madred. They were both edgy and brutal, leaving fans longing for the cathartic moment to arrive. McCoy’s scenes, on the other hand, looked kind of cheesy.
While Picard is systematically being deprived of his humanity, negotiations with the Cardassians have broken down. Captain Jellico states in his Captain’s Log he feels confrontation with them is now unavoidable. His misgivings are only confirmed when Gul Lemec returns to the Enterprise and informs him that Captain Picard and his team have been captured, but not before they succeeded in killing some fifty-five men, women, and children.
I found this moment interesting, as recent as well as past history is full of exaggerated claims made by one party in a dispute against those of the other party. Let one bomb dropped by a US or an Israeli aircraft go astray, and it always manages to land on a hospital full of old people or a school full of children. The Cardassian claim of Picard and his team wantonly killing in the name of the Federation represents a typical propaganda ploy, with the bonus, in context with this situation, of a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Crusher and Worf are successfully returned to the ship and report Picard’s capture. In response to this news, Jellico and Riker come to heated words, and Riker is relieved of his duties.
This scene was also well crafted. Riker seethes with anger over Jellico’s apparent dismissal of Picard’s situation, yelling at him:
"I can't believe you're willing to sacrifice Captain Picard's life as a negotiation tactic!"
Troi attempts to defuse the situation, but is summarily and appropriately ignored by both. In context, although Captain Jellico’s character was never meant to endear itself to Trek fans, he really has no choice but to relieve his First Officer. Riker has questioned his authority, in front of another crew member no less, leaving any Captain no choice but to either retain his authority or appear weak. Jellico closes the conversation by stating:
“Don’t make me confine you to quarters.”
Jellico promotes Commander Data to the rank of First Officer, which was really kind of cool. Subsequently, as if nothing has happened, Jellico orders Commander LaForge to conduct “discrete” scans of the Cardassian ship in order to determine where “she” may have been. He is looking for a tactical advantage to use now that negotiations have ceased, and he finds a useful one.
Picard’s situation has only grown worse. After being drugged, his captor realizes the former Captain of the Enterprise knows nothing useful concerning military affairs within the sector. So he simply sets out to break him. What follows is a series of well crafted scenes in which Madred and Picard conduct a battle of wills, Madred aided by a device surgically inserted into Picard which is capable of inflicting excruciating pain upon its victim. Gul Madred then alters the game, drawing Picard’s attention to a row of four lights situated behind and above his desk. He ask Picard simply:
"How many lights do you see there?"
When Picard answers he sees four, Madred tells him he is wrong, there are actually five.
Many readers will be aware of the genesis of this plot device. In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Winston Smith is tortured by a member of the Thought Police, one O’Brien, who keeps holding up four fingers and demanding that Smith actually see five. An exercise such as this is meant to break the will of the captive, making him submissive to the will of his tormentor. At this moment in the narrative, this is all Madred truly cares about. He seeks to diminish Picard, strip him of his dignity and pride thus leaving him a broken man. Less than human.
It nearly works.
Back on board the Enterprise, LaForge has discovered some “minor” hull degradation along the warp nacelles of the Cardassian ship. This indicates recent exposure to more TNG techno-babble, specifically a “molecular dispersion field” found within the McAllister C-5 Nebula. Jellico postulates the remainder of the Cardassian fleet must by hiding inside the nebula, and orders the Enterprise to set course. His plan is to prepare a series of mines which can be surreptitiously placed on the hulls of the Cardassian ships by use of a shuttle craft. But through another plot twist, he learns that Commander Riker is the best shuttle pilot on board, and the only one fully qualified to complete this mission.
As seen in the you tube link above, Jellico goes to seek Riker’s aid.
Riker and LaForge complete the mine-laying mission, and to conclude one story line, the Cardassians are forced to back down or be destroyed.
Picard, of course, has no knowledge of any of this. After enduring days of torment at the hands of his captor, he finds himself alone for a moment in Madred’s office and torture chamber. Madred enters and finds Picard attempting to smash one of the control devices the Cardassian used to inflict pain upon him. Madred offers Picard one last chance, one last choice, to comply with his wishes. Picard can either be allowed a life of ease and pleasure combined with intellectual challenges, or remain a prisoner, subject to his whims. Picard asks:
“What must I do?”
“Nothing really. Tell me…..how many lights you see.”
As was the moment when Captain Picard stepped up to the viewing screen and announced he was now a member of the Borg Collective, this moment was one of the greatest ever filmed not only in all of TNG but in all of Trek history. Picard is at his breaking point, he believes he will never be released from his captivity, at least alive, and his captor is offering him an escape. In true climatic form, this is the moment the entire show has been building to. Through a labyrinth of design, the viewers have been led here with only one question remaining to be answered. What would Picard do?
What would any of us do in a moment like this? I don’t know. As many of you here, I have read much in the way of military history. I have read of how American POW’s were tortured at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors, of how American prisoners of war were treated by the Japanese during World War II, of how Civil War soldiers were passively tortured to death through simple neglect during the American Civil War. I have wondered how I might have held up under such conditions. Fortunately, I have never had to find out. But many who live among us have, and if you look closely enough you can still see the scars they bare. John McCain comes to mind. Regardless of what you may think of that man as a politician, his trials as a captive of the Communist are nothing to lightly dismiss.
Picard’s torments have left no visible scars. He didn’t have needles driven under his fingernails, or his skin burned, or his bones broken. The Cardassians had no need for such crude ministrations. But his torment is no less real simply because it was delivered via electronic means. Worse yet, the choice presented to him at this moment is not to either simply live or die, as his captor has not offered him death. His choice is to live, either in agony or in comfort. Only the knowledge he would admit before his tormentor he was broken causes him to pause for consideration.
Or was it, really? In watching this scene, one can clearly draw the inference that Picard isn’t trying to decide if he should give in to his captor’s demands, but actually trying to determine what he actually sees. He stares upward at the row of lights, looking intently at them but with just enough doubt visible in his expression to imply he isn’t sure. Does he see four lights, or in fact five? Again, this was a reflection of Patrick Stewart’s effective portrayal of Picard at this pivotal moment; due to which, viewers were still in doubt themselves as to how he would answer Madred’s question. When he does finally answer it, Picard the Captain is triumphant, but one has to wonder if Picard the Man will ever be the same.
The resolution of this powerful and brilliantly portrayed climax is best appreciated when viewed.
In the closing scene, Picard admits to Counselor Troi that he left a small detail out of his report to Starfleet. He states that in the end, not only would he have told Madred anything he wanted to hear, but that he believed he could “see five lights when in fact there were only four”.
Which, if nothing else, proved once again that Picard was mortal and only human after all.
WWKD: Kirk was never placed in such a situation as this. But in studying his persona over the years, I would have to conclude that Kirk would have been fortunate to hold up under such stress as well as Picard did. Of course I believe he would have, he was Kirk after all. The only real difference I potentially see is that somewhere along the way, Kirk would have found a means to get at least one good punch in against Gul Madred. The dialogue probably would have been different as well. I can see Kirk delivering a line something to the effect of “you Cardassian bastards are all alike”. But then Picard was meant to be the “more polished” Captain.
All in all, this was one of the most memorable Trek episodes ever aired.
Patrick Stewart often lamented that the nature of his character tended to be one dimensional and somewhat confining. Of this he once said:
“I had come to the point when I realized it was unlikely that my film career was going to move beyond a certain level of role. And I was - because I had graphic instances of it - handicapped by the success of Star Trek. A director would say, 'I don't want Jean-Luc Picard in my movie' - and this was compounded by X-Men as well.”
I believe this was why, as a British actor, he was left out of the Harry Potter movies. J. K. Rowling, or perhaps the producers of that franchise, probably didn’t want fans going to see Jean-Luc Picard rather than Harry Potter. But I have always felt that with this episode Stewart finally, or perhaps firmly, endeared himself to Trek fans everywhere. His was a brilliant performance, one which by his own admission gave him an opportunity “to act”.
Chain of Command was originally intended to be a one off episode, with Picard being rescued by the end of the hour. Michael Piller suggested splitting it apart, but primarily for budgetary reasons rather than dramatic ones. As a “one off” episode it probably would have gone down in Trek history as another mediocre effort, but as presented it worked extremely well.
Concerning the character of Captain Jellico. Most Trek fans didn’t care much for him, but I found him effective both as an appropriate character to be placed in this situation and as a Starfleet Captain. Sure, he was a far less “friendly” version of the man he replaced, but he knew what he wanted to accomplish and drove full-steam ahead to do so. According to “Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion”, the producers saw him as a more “by the book” commander, and crafted him purposefully in the no-nonsense fashion presented.
As ordered to by Captain Jellico, Counselor Troi begins to wear standard Starfleet Uniforms in this episode, something she had not done since the pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint”. Apparently Marina Sirtis was eager to make the change, as according to the same source listed above, the producers cited her as “eager to oblige”.
Of this Ronny Cox once stated:
“I think there were a lot of things that Jellico did that were really important for that show. Having Troi put on a damn uniform? Give me a break! This is an officer on a ship and she’s running around with her boobs hanging out?"
Well, perhaps the Trek geeks were not all that grateful, but Troi did continue to wear standard uniforms for the remainder of the series.
Also according to the Trek “Companion”, DaiMon Solok was originally intended to be portrayed as the character Quark from Deep Space 9. However, since the premier of DS9 was moved into January of 1993, no one would have known who Quark was. Therefore the scene was filmed with a different Ferengi reprobate. Solok’s scene was, however, filmed on DS9’s Replimat set. The director simply employed tight angles to hide this fact.
Another alteration made to the final episode as aired was a scene featuring Jellico and LaForge discussing a mutual acquaintance. Jellico states he attended Starfleet Academy with Captain Zimbata, LaForge’s former commanding officer aboard the USS Victory. They even speak of playing Rugby. This scene was cut due to time restrictions.
Ensign Ro did not appear in this episode, but her influence was felt none the less. Recall her back story as detailed in my treatment of “Ensign Ro”, specifically that she was forced to witness her father being tortured at the hands of his Cardassian captors. The producers originally wanted to feature her, as her presence would have contributed to the overall impact of Picard’s torment, but decided against doing so due again to time and budget constraints.
Ron Moore wrote the teleplay for this episode, but Frank Abatemarco was given “sole writing credit” for the story. In preparing to craft the story Abatemarco was said to have conducted intensive research into the history of torture, to include “consultations” with Amnesty International. They provided him with information on the “psychology of torturers, torture methods, and the experiences of survivors” (Captains Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages). Patrick Stewart is a long-time supporter of Amnesty International, and was said to be concerned that, as they had done in the episode “The Outcast” with the issue of homosexuality, the producers might “back off” some of the torture scenes as written. Of this Jeri Taylor once said:
“Patrick got very concerned because he assumed that meant we were going to back off from the very strong nature of it. He said, 'I don't want that to happen. I think that this hits it head on. I want to do that. I don't want this to become another talky episode where we simply talk about and around something and don't really tell it the way it is."
Stewart, however, was said to have been “thrilled” over the script as completed, because “we didn't back off an inch. It was very strong stuff."
According to the book “Star Trek 30 Years”, Stewart prepared for his scenes with Madred by watching tapes provided to him by Amnesty International. He also, at his own insistence, performed his first torture scene naked on a closed set.
Author Phil Farrand, who wrote “The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers”, was apparently the first to note the similarities between Chain of Command and Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Good literature will often influence good television, at least if the writers have any sense, and as I did with the inclusion of a re-telling of the Epic of Gilgamesh in “Darmok”, I found this nod to a literary classic appropriate. And well plundered.
Originally intended as part of this episode was a larger confrontation between the Enterprise and the Cardassian fleet hiding in the McAllister C-5 Nebula. This also had to be scrapped due to budgetary concerns.
Chain of Command was the final TNG episode to air before the premier of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. As you all know, the Cardassians were pivotal players during the run of that series, and Chain of Command helped establish them as the arrogant and insidious bastards they were. Deep Space 9 was only better at it.
Entertainment Weekly ranked this two-part episode as number ten on their list of “The Top 10 Episodes” as part of the 20th anniversary of TNG.
Of Chain of Command Michael Piller once said:
“I can't imagine a better show than 'Chain of Command, Part II' and it had no tricks or whiz bang stuff and it was one of the least expensive shows of the season. David Warner was sensational and Patrick Stewart was even better. I don't think there's been a better show in the history of this series, and certainly there was not a better hour of television on that year."
There hasn’t been a better hour of television so far this year either, but I digress.
Jeri Taylor later noted some viewer protest over the “graphic nature” of the torture scenes. She stated:
"They didn't want to see Patrick Stewart or anybody else writhing in pain. They felt that it was excessive, that it went too far and that it was disturbing to children. I can't disagree. It's certainly very intense for children. I wish there had been a disclaimer."
Concerning the notion that this episode would never have been filmed if Gene Roddenberry were still alive at the time, Ronny Cox once stated:
“Gene Roddenberry didn’t like conflict between the characters, so my guy was the first guy to come in and sort of ruffle everybody's feathers. I liked that aspect of him. I also liked that he was a by-the-book guy.”
He also stated later that many in his family thought his appearance on TNG was the “only thing of any worth I have ever done”. I guess there were no RoboCop fans in his house.
Even the latest incarnation of Star Trek did not escape the influence of Chain of Command. Writer Juliet Lapidos was quoted in a review for that movie in an issue of Slate Magazine. She referred to Christopher Pike’s torture as a “standard Hollywood torture scene”, and that the film “failed to live up to the intellectual standard set by Chain of Command”. She found the TNG treatment of the issue “more sophisticated and pertinent to the ongoing debate over the United States use of enhanced interrogation techniques”.
That point is debatable, but not here.
Oh, but I did find this comment concerning this episode and the question of torture over on the Democratic Underground. I thought it worth repeating here, as made by someone named nankerphelge:
“Bored on a Sunday night so I was sitting here watching a Star Trek tape (yes, I'm a nerd). Anyhoo, it happened to be an episode where the bad guys kidnap Patrick Stewart and start torturing him- ironically, the bad guys say he is not a prisoner of war, so they're treating him as a terrorist. Stewart tells his captors: "Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control. One wonders why it is still practiced."
“Thought that was pretty good.”
Anywho? And they tortured Patrick Stewart? Ah, the DU…….
Finally, in the Star Trek novel “Ship of the Line”, Captain Picard is allowed some measure of revenge on Gul Madred. Picard is aided in this effort by Madred’s own daughter, who did make an appearance in part two of Chain of Command, some three years after the events as depicted. Read the book, it is one of the few Trek novels worth the effort.
Sixteen pages on this. I am getting a bit long-winded, I suppose. However, I hope you enjoyed it, and more to come.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
Star Trek The Next Generation: The Best of Season Six Continued
My apologies for being absent from this thread for so long. Life.
What makes a great Star Trek episode? First and foremost, the answer is always the writing. A good story can sometimes survive a few bad actors, or a bad director, or poor visual effects. Alternatively, a bad story can sometimes be elevated by good acting and a good director. But if the essence of a good story is adhered to, that essence will always shine through.
Mention the feature film “Starship Troopers” and most Science-Fiction fans will groan in misery or disgust. But the downfall of that film wasn’t the over-the-top acting, or the idiot director. It was the simple fact that the only real relation to the original Heinlein story as presented on film was the name. Mention, however, the made for TV presentation of “Colossus”, and those Science-Fiction fans who have seen it will usually remark on what a great film it was. Even though made on the cheap, “Colossus” told the original story in very effective form. It was gripping, and the actors took what they were given and made it both believable and horribly relatable.
My selection for slot two on this list may have had a few flaws, if one wished to nitpick it to death, but was at its core a good story. The actors involved took what they were given and made it both believable and personally relatable. Who among us has not fantasized about having a second chance, or dreamed of the opportunity to return to one’s youth and attempt to correct some mistake made, or simply make a different decision while standing at one of life’s pivotal moments? All of us, I suppose. But then one is forced to ask oneself, how would that alternative outcome truly have played out?
What would have happened if I hadn’t married Commander Shelby? I don’t know and I never will. All I know is that who I am now was shaped in some part by that experience, and by removing that experience from my life, who can say exactly how my life would have progressed differently. At my core I feel I would have been better off, that certain events could not have transpired but in a more positive manner. I suppose, however, that I can never make that claim with any absolute certainty.
Captain James T. Kirk once commented on this ideal. During events as portrayed in the feature film “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”, Sybok attempts to relieve Kirk of his “pain”, or in essence whatever guilt Kirk may be harboring in relation to certain events in his past. But Kirk protest, stating he couldn’t question what may have happened if he had “turned left when he should have turned right”. He stated he needed his pain, to help him live his life as it was. In this I think Kirk probably correct.
But in the next featured episode, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is given an opportunity no other human has ever been given. He is allowed to replay a part of his life, and in doing so attempt to correct what he always felt was a mistake of his youth. How this all transpires, and what the good Captain learns because of the experience, was not only easily identified with by Trek fans everywhere, but was first and foremost wrapped up in the context of a good story well told.
"Welcome to the afterlife, Jean-Luc. You're dead."
During an away mission, Captain Picard’s landing party is attacked by a group of Lanerians and he is shot, the victim of a pulse-beam discharging against his chest. Upon returning to the Enterprise via emergency beam-up to Sick Bay, Doctor Crusher determines he has suffered severe damage to include what is essentially a heart attack, and attempts to revive him. She is apparently unsuccessful, as Picard fades out and then back in again to find himself standing in a desolate area surrounded only by white light. Our favorite scamp Q steps out of the light and informs Picard that he is dead.
The good Captain, of course, refuses to take this proclamation on face value. His prior dealings with Q to this point would naturally prohibit overt trust, so Captain Picard questions Q Almighty.
"Q, what is going on?"
"I told you. You're dead, this is the afterlife, and I'm God."
"You are not God!"
"Blasphemy! You're lucky I don't cast you out or smite you or something."
Great dialogue, which was the hallmark of this entire episode. Q manages to convince Picard, mostly, anyway, by conjuring up an image of the Captain’s father, who immediately lays a guilt trip on his now dead son. I imagine if the first thing I see upon awakening in the hear-after is my father, he will probably start off by telling me what a loser I was as well. But I digress. Picard is then granted the additional boon of having to listen to the voices of all those who have died while under his command. When they go silent, Q tells Picard they are waiting for him to say something; but as they are a surly bunch, he shouldn’t keep them waiting for long. Picard refuses this opportunity, I suppose not wanting to play Q’s game, but either doesn’t realize or simply won’t admit that the game is already afoot.
Q states that Picard’s anger and blame over his current situation is misplaced, that he didn’t kill Picard, his artificial heart did. Q then conjures up Picard’s artificial heart, and inquires as to how the good Captain came to require it.
TNG fans were already aware of this story, of how as a young officer Picard entered into a fight with three Nausicaans and received a knife thrust through the heart as a result. The one loose end still dangling from this story, as originally related to Wesley Crusher in the Season Two episode “Samaritan Snare”, was why Picard laughed when he saw the dagger protruding from his chest. Picard related to Wesley Crusher he thought this a “strange thing to do”. However, Picard’s need for an artificial heart was the direct result of his encounter with the Nausicaans.
Q then replays this moment for Picard to watch, after which the Captain admits he does regret a few moments from his youth. When prodded by Q, Picard admits that if he had it to do over, “things would be different”. As should be no surprise to anyone by now, especially to Picard, this is all Q needs to hear. Preceded by the typical impish Q grin, the realm of bright-white light is instantly replaced by a standard looking Starfleet dorm room. Picard now finds himself back at Starbase Earhart as a newly commissioned Starfleet Officer, awaiting his first deep space assignment.
Oh, and he immediately gets slapped by a woman. That is probably how the afterlife will begin……
Q arrives moments later and demands “attention on deck”. He offers Picard a choice, informing him he has been brought back to a moment in time two days prior to the fight with the Nausicaans. He can relive the moment as it originally transpired and he will die on the table in sick bay under the inept ministrations of Doctor Crusher. Prevent or avoid the fight, however, and he will be returned to the exact same moment in time to live out his natural life, only this time with a real heart. He can correct a mistake, he can turn right instead of turning left.
This episode is filled with wonderful Q moments. During a conversation in now Ensign Picard’s quarters, Q is forced to listen to Picard whining about the potential of altering the oh-so-sacred time line. Q responds:
“Please! Spare me your egotistical musings on your pivotal role in history. Nothing you do here will cause the Federation to collapse or galaxies to explode. To be blunt, you're not that important."
And if anyone would know, I suppose it would be Q. Given the stoic and sometimes presumptuously arrogant nature of Captain Picard, however, this line was as ruthlessly effective as when Ardra told him to “Keep up the good work” (Hey, you guys all remember my review of that episode, right?).
So anywho……nah, just kidding……What follows is a series of incidents worthy of the title “A Series of Unfortunate Events” as Picard reunites with two of his fellow Academy graduates, one of whom was kind of hot, and begins to maneuver through his past while retaining all knowledge of his future. It would be kind of a pointless exercise if he didn’t retain full knowledge of his future, as all dreamers know. During this time, however, he manages to get slapped by one woman, has a drink tossed in his face by another, seduces his fellow Ensign Marta Batanides, all while revealing to TNG fans what a cad the young Picard actually was. The best moments here again go to his nemesis. After spending the night with Ensign Batanides, Picard wakes to find she has vacated his quarters and Q is now lying next to him in bed.
“We’re just friends, Q.”
Later, after referring to an older woman he met in a bar as “handsome” and them immediately wearing her drink, Picard again laments to Q his treatment of women during that portion of his life. Q’s response is one of the greatest puns ever aired, when he taps his chest with his fist and states with mock sympathy:
"...It's a beautiful story. It gets you right here, doesn't it?"
This was another serio-comic episode, but one in which the “comedy” worked quite well.
The moment of truth is, however, swiftly approaching. Picard’s close friend, Ensign Corey Zweller, is cheated by the Nausicaans in a game of Dom-jot, a type of pool played with glowing sticks on a pin-ball table. Originally, Picard helped Zweller achieve his goal of revenge upon the Nausicaans by helping him rig the table. But since this is what led to the fight, Picard now attempts to talk Zweller out of any such foolish ideas, appealing to his sense of professionalism as a new Starfleet Officer. He even threatens to rat his friend out to the games foreman if Zweller doesn’t desist. A rift between these two thus begins to form, as well as one between Picard and Marta Batanides, who is having “morning after” regrets.
This all comes to climax the next night when, while sharing a last drink with his friends, friends who now do not understand who he has become, the Nausicaans arrive. They try to pick a fight with the three Starfleet cadets, but Picard avoids it by pushing Zweller away and begging the Nausicaans to leave them alone. He has avoided being stabbed, he has successfully completed Q’s test. But in doing so his friends feel he has betrayed them. Zweller tells Picard he doesn’t know who he is anymore, but that “you are not my friend”. Batanides simply tells him goodbye.
Q stands in the background watching as two people Picard has stated were lifelong friends turn their backs on him. But he offers congratulations, telling Picard he has done it. The former Captain of the USS Enterprise now finds himself back on board that vessel, only wearing a blue Science Department uniform. He learns he is now an “assistant astrophysics officer” with the rank of Junior Lieutenant. Commander Worf is now his immediate superior, and the ship is commanded by Captain Thomas Halloway.
Keeping in character, Picard again refuses to believe that Q has simply kept his word and returned him to the Enterprise as the man he now is. He goes to sickbay and walks in as if he still owns the place, seeking Beverly Crusher because, you know, even though she let him die on the biobed after being shot by the Lanerians, THIS she will be able to fix. He finds Q in her office instead, who informs him that indeed he has simply kept his word. Picard is now exactly who he wanted to be, the man who did not pick a fight with three Nausicaans and thus still has his original organic heart. His current status as a low-level perfunctory is the result of that decision. Q tells Picard, with just the appropriate amount of sarcasm laced into his inflection:
"...You should be happy! You have a real heart beating in your chest, and you get to live out the rest of your life in safety - running tests, making analyses, and carrying reports to your superiors."
Realizing his predicament, Picard seeks out Commander Riker and Counselor Troi, whom he finds sitting in Ten Forward, as usual. Riker can barely remember his name, and then proceeds to inform Sub-Lieutenant Peon Picard that he won’t be up for promotion any time soon because he just “doesn’t stand out”.
"They won't teach you this at the Academy - but, if you want to get ahead, you have to take chances...stand out the crowd, get noticed!"
Troi informs Sub-Lieutenant Peon Picard his problem all along has been his setting of lofty personal goals but having no real plan to achieve them. Then the Command Staff is called to the bridge, leaving Picard wallowing in misery as he is called to Engineering to deliver a report.
In what could be called a prayer, I suppose, Picard beseeches Q to end his torment. The turbo-lift doors open and once again Picard finds himself in the realm of bright-white light, facing Q Almighty.
"I gave you something most mortals never experience - a second chance at life - and now all you can do is COMPLAIN!?"
Picard states he simply can’t live out his life as “that person”, claiming:
"That is not who I am!"
To which Q responds:
"The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did NOT fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is, or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda...going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away-team on Milika III to save the ambassador, or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe...and he never, ever got noticed by anyone."
I included this entire speech because I thought it important to the overall issue at hand. What would be the result of one of us being able to alter some part of our past? Q seems to have known all along how this experiment with Picard would turn out, and therefore was simply leading him through a labyrinth of design. But for one of us other lowly humans?
WWKD: As discussed earlier, when given the opportunity to simply alleviate the pain associated with one of his past mistakes, Kirk refused. He knew that his complete life experience was what made him into James T. Kirk, and therefore no charlatan wielding a cheap parlor trick was even going to attempt to alter his core being. But then, Q was no charlatan.
Picard further beseeches Q, stating forcefully:
"I would rather die as the man I was...than live the life I just saw."
Q smiles again, only this time in apparent satisfaction. Picard immediately finds himself back in the recreation center at Starbase Earhart with his two Starfleet friends, facing down the three Nausicaans. Only this time Picard starts the fight, as he originally did, and gets knifed in the back, as he originally did. On his knees, he glances down at the protuding dagger and laughs. And that particular mystery is solved. Picard laughs because he realizes his actual destiny is now fulfilled again. He may die in sickbay, but he will at least die as he was, Captain of the USS Enterprise.
But Q has other plans.
Picard wakes to find himself on the biobed with Crusher and company looking over him. His wounds have miraculously healed. He is Captain of the Enterprise again, alive and well.
On a quick side-note, in this episode Q does display what can only be identified as affection and concern for Captain Picard. He seems to be taking Picard down this road with complete foreknowledge of what the result will be. This is a fatherly endeavor, and in watching "Tapestry", one does get a sense that Q was trying to teach Picard a life lesson in the manner of all fathers everywhere. Well, all loving fathers, anyway.
The episode ends with Picard once again not only questioning if Q had anything to do with his experience, but whether it happened at all. As was true following the exploits of the episode “Q-Pid” and despite Q's best efforts, Picard doesn’t appear to have really learned anything. As a fan Picard’s arrogance always bothered me, and I suppose that is why I always enjoyed those moments when his character was skewered by an insightful and telling insult. One has to wonder if Q has wasted his time on the ever so stoic Captain, even though Picard does at least admit that IF these most recent events did happen, THEN he does owe Q a debt of gratitude.
What do the mighty really learn when they fall, if they are simply allowed to get right back up?
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON “TAPESTRY”
The following little side-story was recounted in both source manuals “Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion” and “Captain’s Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek”.
The producers chose to construct this episode around one event in the life of Captain Picard as opposed to the original concept, which was a basic retelling of “A Christmas Carol”. Originally, Q was to lead Picard on a round-robin tour of his life, but Michael Piller balked at this as “pointless”. Ronald D. Moore then focused on the stabbing incident because he stated it had “always intrigued” him. Quote:
“It was an interesting little story about him. That story, to me, said a lot about Picard's character – that he was a different guy in those days. Then he changed. Why did he change? What would be the difference in the young womanizing, hard-drinking, hard-fighting Jean-Luc Picard and the guy that we know today?"
It was only after the episode was aired, however, that the producers realized they had essentially stolen the idea from someone else. A writer named James Mooring contacted Jeri Taylor and reminded her that he had pitched the idea of Picard’s death and re-awakening in a “near-death white light” surrounding, and having summarily been rejected for his efforts. Oops. But Taylor reported that both she and Moore subsequently talked to Mooring, paid him for his efforts, and he left happy.
One scene of note for me was the “morning after” encounter between Picard and Ensign Batanides (pronounced Ba-tah-ni-dees). The scene reminded me of a like event in my life, details redacted. However, I thought the scene well done.
One scene I didn’t find very effectively done was the moment of seduction between the afore-mentioned Captain Picard and Ensign Batanides. Q explains early upon Picard’s arrival at Starbase Earhart that even though he sees himself in his older incarnation, to everyone else he appears to be the younger version. OK, fine. But watching this scene was kind of, you know, icky. Like watching a grandfather make out with his granddaughter. Judge for yourself.
Originally, a scene was to have been shot featuring “Lieutenant Picard” being treated much as Lieutenant Barclay always was by Geordi La Forge while down in Engineering. In other words, like a barely tolerated lackey. This scene was cut for time, however, and consequently the character of Geordi La Forge is regulated to one voice over line.
This episode marked the first appearance of those snarky and overbearing Nausicaans. They would make additional appearances during the run of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and, if I recall correctly, at some point in Voyager.
True die hard Trek fans will have noted that in one scene of this episode featuring Q and Picard at the Bonestell Recreation Facility, two deadly enemies can be seen in the background, although not sharing a drink. Both a Selay and an Antican are featured for the first time since the season one episode “Lonely Among Us”. I think in that episode certain members of those two alien species tried to have the others “over” for lunch. Also meant to be featured but scrapped for continuity’s sake was a Ferengi. Someone remembered that at the time of Picard’s encounter with the Nausicaans at Starbase Earhart, the Federation had yet to encounter the Ferengi.
On another continuity note, in the earlier episode “The Changeling”, a younger version of Picard is briefly seen sporting hair. In the feature film “Star Trek Nemesis” however, Picard’s younger self is seen in a photograph sporting his legendary bald head.
Because they must have known I would someday write this series of reviews, Entertainment Weekly ranked “Tapestry” as number four on their list of “The Top Ten Episodes” in their celebration of their 20th Anniversary of TNG. “Tapestry” was also listed as one TNG’s “ten essential episodes” in the book “Star Trek 101”.
Of this episode Q himself once said:
“I thought it was a terrific script...There was a speech at the end where I talk about what he would have been, which I thought was a tip-top speech. I just thought that show from beginning to end was terrific."
Michael Piller was not so enthusiastic, however. He compared the episode to the feature film “It’s A Wonderful Life”, lamenting that “When a series gets tired, they do It's a Wonderful Life".
I, of course, disagree. But as Rene Echevarria noted:
“We’ve gotten some flack about it. People felt it glorified violence and that it basically says Picard tries to go back and not do the violent thing and solve things by reason and it makes him bland and not captain material. We got big, big letters from people saying this is awful and goes against everything Star Trek stands for. I think the point the show made was more subtle than that, and I think they lost sight of it."
Fan reaction to this episode was overwhelmingly positive. I found one fan comment which referred to “Tapestry” as “perfect from beginning to end”. I do not feel it was perfect, but it was a good story well told.
The Star Trek novel “Q&A” postulates that Q did not place Picard back into his prior life, rather having left him as a low-life lackey running reports to and fro. But since you can’t keep a good man down, this Picard does take Commander Riker’s advice and “get noticed”. By the year 2380 he has risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and is now First Officer of the Enterprise E serving under, now get this guys, Captain Wesley Crusher.
Oh, the humanities! I bet he wished he had died on that table.
The Trek novel “Q-Squared” features Q calling in Picard’s debt to him in relation to the events of this episode. Picard ask Q if those events ever really took place, and Q responds by saying “yes and no”.
In the MMO game Star Trek Online, Q has made a recent appearance. For a time a player could go to Star Base One and be granted a boon by Q, one which he justified as a token of his appreciation for his finding humans a constant source of entertainment. A player was also given the option to question Q, specifically if he really was “that powerful”. In response, Q turned me into some kind of pink and purple crab. Hard to command a Starship when your crew reports for duty holding little bowls of melted butter.
Twenty-six pages on this. I got to cut down.
But no! Nooooooooooooo! On to my third pick of the Best of Season Six, an episode in which Counselor Troi finally discovers she has a pair, and comes across as something other than a whiney little bitch.
3. Face of the Enemy
"You find a way to let the Enterprise track us, or I will go to Toreth and tell her I've discovered you're a traitor! I'll have you ejected into space! Is that clear, Sub-Commander?!!"
Holy altered-states, Batman! Counselor Troi is abducted by those false and tricksy Romulans, surgically altered to look like one, given the identity of a member of the feared and deadly Romulan Intelligence agency known as the Tal Shiar, and handed a mission which even real Romulans wouldn’t touch with ten light-year Disruptor Beam.
OK, I admit, even though I often felt the character of Counselor Troi fairly useless, she did make good window dressing. In the overall context of TNG, she did have her place, and did have her moments. As a fan I was pleased to see the writers finally gave her an episode which served to make her character, well, more likeable. In this episode one actually cared what happened to her.
On board the Romulan ship, Troi is instantly at odds with Commander Toreth, “Captain” of the enemy vessel. She realizes a bit too late she must present the fierce and demanding persona of a member of the Tal Shiar, a group which utilizes death threats against not only any who question them, but their families as well. This is, of course, the antithesis of Troi’s “touch-feely” nature, and Toreth can’t help but be suspicious. The two spar with each other at every turn, leading to a moment in which Troi must relieve Toreth of command and rule the ship herself.
There was great tension and drama featured in this episode. Viewers learn that Troi is actually caught up in a mission initiated by Ambassador Spock, still on Romulus working with the dissidents. Her contact on board, Romulan Sub-Commander N’Vek, informs her they are attempting to deliver three Romulan dissidents into Federation hands. Specifically they are Vice-Proconsul M’ret, one of the highest-ranking officials in the Romulan government, and his two aides. M’ret is part of Spock’s underground, and this is the first such mission undertaken by the dissidents in hopes of establishing a pipe-line into Federation space for future defectors to utilize. The stakes are high, to say the least.
Troi learns quickly to play her role well. At dinner, Commander Toreth suggest she try some of the Viinerine, which is apparently a Romulan delicacy. Troi responds:
“I’ve smelled better Viinerine on prison ships.”
At first glance this line may seem trite and contrived. But in actuality it is in keeping with the character of a member of the Tal Shiar. To intentionally digress for a moment, in Trek lore, the Tal Shiar represents the “elite” intelligence agency of the Romulan Star Empire. They are both respected and feared not only in the Alpha Quadrant, but all the way to the Beta Quadrant. They guard the Empire from the threat posed by both the United Federation of Planets and The Klingon Empire, as well as from traitors and dissidents found or suspected within the Romulan population. In other words, they are the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, the SS, the NKVD, and Homeland Security all rolled into one. They answer only to the highest level of the Romulan government, and sometimes not even to them. It is rumored that the Chairman of the Tal Shiar is the true power behind the Romulan Senate. Consequently, the Tal Shiar can operate with impunity, and to cross a member of their select fraternity is to invite a consequence which transcends mere death. The threat contained within Troi’s words is therefore clear.
“Leave me alone, Commander, or at best you will wind up on a prison ship”.
Who would have thought Troi had it in her.
In an effective plot-twist the Corvallen freighter the Romulan ship is to rendezvous with and transfer their dissident cargo to is destroyed by N’Vek when Troi remarks she senses the freighter Captain has no intention of keeping his part of the bargain. The only remaining course of action is to penetrate Federation Space and attempt to deposit the dissidents on the Federation outpost located on Draken IV. Toreth balks at this notion, and Troi is once again forced to pull rank. In another effective plot-twist, at this precise moment the USS Enterprise arrives on scene, there to investigate the destruction of the Corvallen freighter.
Troi then orders N’Vek to find some means to allow the Enterprise to track the cloaked Romulan ship. He, of course, refuses. Finally, for the first time in six seasons, Troi asserts herself in ruthless fashion, stating that if he doesn’t listen to her now, she will use her standing as a member of the Tal Shiar to have him branded a traitor and ejected into space. N’Vek backs down, claiming he may be able to convince the ship’s engineer, a sympathizer to the dissident cause, to “misalign one of the nullifier cores” found within the cloaking device. This would result in an intermittent energy release which would manifest itself as a magnetic distortion to the Enterprise’s sensors, and allow the Romulan ship to be tracked.
A second intentional digression. Fans of The Original Series will recall a third season episode entitled “The Enterprise Incident”, in which Kirk poses as a Romulan in order to steal the Romulan cloaking technology right from under their noses. He was successful in that mission, as you will recall, leaving me to wonder why the Federation would, during the time of TNG, be so woefully inept at tracking cloaked Romulan ships. Sure, The 2311 Treaty of Algeron prohibited the Federation from developing for use said cloaking technology, but it did not prevent Federation scientist from researching into that technology. It struck me as strange therefore, given the nature of the threats the Federation faced from potential enemies such as the Romulans, the Klingons, and the real threat of the Borg, that Federation scientist would have ignored the whole question and simply not kept up. In his series of Trek novels, William Shatner addresses this concern quite well, postulating that the Federation was actually ignoring the Treaty of Algeron and had not only produced a number of cloaking devices but had put them into service on board a series of vessels built for covert operations. Apparently Starfleet Command decided not to let everyone in on the secret, as Picard and company were forced by default to rely on deception on the part of Troi and N’Vek to aid them in tracking the Romulan ship.
Upon determining that the Enterprise was indeed tracking them, Commander Tareth declares her intention to attack and destroy the Federation Flagship. Troi again asserts herself, relieving Tareth of command and contacting Captain Picard. She states to the Romulan crew she intends to lure the Enterprise commander with diplomacy into dropping his shields, and will then destroy them. But this is simply another ruse utilized by N’Vek to beam the three dissidents to the Enterprise bridge. For this N’Vek is vaporized, and Tareth retakes command of her ship. But as the Romulan Warbird cloaks, Troi is transported back on board the Enterprise, which Picard immediately orders out of the sector.
A third digression. This resolution was actually not a faulty plot device. As Trek fans know, vessels which utilize a cloaking device are not able to operate cloaked and with shields up at the same time. They must therefore drop their shields as the cloak is engaged, providing a brief window during which someone could be beamed off of the cloaking ship before it vanishes from the sensors and the transporter lock is lost.
I am such a nerd.
To end the episode, Doctor Crusher bobs Troi’s ears and re-does her hair. Picard states that with the successful delivery of the three dissidents, Troi has blazed a trail for future defections from Romulus. She laments N’Vek’s death, of course, but in this case her emotions are appropriate.
I liked this episode for a number of reasons. It was again a good story well told in a very dramatic fashion. But more importantly, to me at least, was the elevation of the character of Counselor Deanna Troi. In this episode, Troi literally walked the edge of the knife, and, as had both Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher before her, acquitted herself well. In the tradition of both “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “The First Duty”, the writers finally placed the character of Deanna Troi into a situation which demanded she either embrace Starfleet’s highest traditions and overcome all set before her, or die in the attempt. Tasha Yar decided to remain on board the Enterprise C because she felt it was the right thing to do. Wesley Crusher decided to tell the truth because it was the right thing to do. In this episode, one can certainly claim that Troi was given little choice in regard to her actions, but in reality this isn’t quite accurate. She was forced into the situation, but her subsequent actions were guided by more than a simple desire to survive. In that regard, what then was the “right” thing for her to do?
Troi could have revealed herself to Commander Tareth in hopes the Romulan Empire would opt to trade her back to the Federation in order to maintain “peaceful” relations. She was abducted against her will, after all, and initially N’Vek certainly did not appear to have any of her interest at heart. He was simply using her to achieve an end, and regardless of how noble that end may have been, Troi was under no constraint other than fear for her own life which would prevent her from refusing to cooperate with N’Vek and taking her chances with Romulan “good will”.
But more believable perhaps is the fact Troi could have had Commander Tareth executed when she relieved her of command, thus insuring not only the “loyalty” of the Romulan crew, but also insuring she could have made whatever deal she wanted with Captain Picard in relation to both herself and the Romulan dissidents. But randomly ordering the death of another, even an enemy, would not have been in keeping with the expected values of a Starfleet Officer. Troi was balancing the lives of the three dissidents not only with N’Vek’s, but during a few tense moments with those of both the Romulan crew and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. In this context her own life was forfeit, and not because she stood on the bridge of a Romulan ship. Rather, it was forfeit precisely because her oath to Starfleet demanded she make the attempt to resolve the situation with the least loss of life, except in relation to her own. At this moment the Federation and the Romulan Empire were not at war, therefore to arbitrarily kill Commander Tareth was really not an option. Her death at the hands of in essence a Federation spy certainly could have provoked a war, and Troi, in keeping with her oaths, could not allow herself to take that risk. Tareth therefore lived, and if not for the timely intervention of the Enterprise crew, Troi would certainly have died.
Nuance, one may say. But nuance was one of the strengths of a good Trek episode. Tareth lived because Troi could not allow herself the luxury of hating her enemy, even while being forced to wear the face of that enemy.
As will be detailed later, the character of Counselor Troi would sadly revert to its usual forgettable self. But for the moment, Troi had risen to the challenge, displaying a level of courage and conviction few would have thought possible. In the finest tradition of those who had preceded her, Counselor Troi took her place with the best Starfleet had to offer.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON “FACE OF THE ENEMY”
Marina Sirtis gave perhaps her finest performance as Deanna Troi in this episode. That statement is relative, of course, but in judging all of the primary cast solely in the context of TNG, each had their moment of glory. In my opinion, this is Sirtis’s moment. View the scene during which Troi takes command of the Romulan ship and again judge for yourself.
Initially the script for this episode was written in a “Hunt for Red October” fashion, in that the prize to be delivered over to the Federation was Romulan ship. This idea was eventually scrapped in favor of actual Romulans. The writers and producers wanted to reference Ambassador Spock in some fashion, even discussing the idea that Spock be in one of the cargo containers or was supposed to be but was killed before he could be secreted off of Romulus. But Michael Piller rejected that idea, deciding instead to simply have Spock mentioned as the originator of the overall plan. Which was a sound decision, because the fans would have revolted over the notion of killing off Spock via fiat, in addition to the fact he wouldn’t have been around for the 2009 Trek movie. “Face of the Enemy” is the only TNG episode aired subsequent to “Reunification” to deal with Spock’s dissident movement in any fashion.
It was also interesting to discover that originally this was meant to be a Doctor Crusher episode. Discussions among the writers determined that Troi would be the better of the two to place in this situation due to her telepathic abilities. Indeed, this was the one use of those abilities on her part which not only proved effective, but made sense. I also feel the episode would not have worked as well with Crusher as the protagonist.
Having mentioned the TOS episode “The Enterprise Incident”, the producers also considered casting Joanne Linville in the role of Commander Tareth. Linville played the role of the Romulan Commander seduced by Spock in that TOS episode. For some reason not mentioned in any source I have or could find, Linville was unavailable for the role.
Worf’s ponytail is seen for the first time in this episode. A Klingon warrior with a ponytail, what was the galaxy coming to?
The Romulan Warbird featured in this episode was a D’deridex class ship. As detailed earlier, when cloaking devices are engaged they leave standard defensive shields off-line. This episode is the first to make mention of this restriction concerning the operation of cloaked ships. It is also revealed during dialogue in this episode that the Romulans make use of an “artificial quantum singularity” as a power source for their starships. As a result of this technology, when, during the TNG episode “The Next Phase”, a Romulan science vessel suffers a warp core breach, it implodes rather explodes.
Counselor Troi would not be the only Trek character to undergo cosmetic surgery resulting in her appearance being altered into that of another alien species. In the Deep Space Nine episode “Second Skin”, Commander Kira receives an extreme make-over leaving her with the face of one of those she most detest, a Cardassian.
My final two selections will follow shortly. Well, I hope so anyway.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
Star Trek the Original Series had a poor record when it came to crafting comic episodes. When the writers of TOS felt the fans needed to laugh a bit either with or at their Starfleet heroes, they offered up Harcourt Fenton Mudd. I realize some fans found the episodes he appeared in enjoyable but, as detailed in my treatment of those particular episodes, I did not. To me they came across as exercises in making the crew look stupid, something the writers were well adept at without trying to shroud it in comedy.
The Next Generation also suffered from this particular malady, in that the writers were often wonderfully successful in making the crew look stupid fully in the context of trying to make them appear dramatic. Therefore I was usually pleased to see the writers attempt to introduce a bit of comedy into the plots, as these intentionally comic moments tended to run counter to the norm and be crafted exceptionally well.
Of course, having Worf around as a straight-man didn’t hurt. But what I feel truly allowed the TNG writers to feel comfortable in their efforts to craft a comic episode was the knowledge that no matter how inane or insipid their idea may have been, they had Brent Spinar around to salvage glitter from the trash and at least make the episode worth watching.
Star Trek goes to the old West. Well, it had been done before. This time, however, the bullets fired down the dirt covered streets were real, and the guns they came from wielded by villains all whom possessed the blazing hand speed and reflexes of a android.
4. A Fistful of Datas
"Aw! Now isn't that a shame? Poor sheriff's been injured. What's the matter? Was ma pa' 'little too rough on ya?"
I liked this episode. It was a cross somewhere between a cheesy John Wayne movie and Blazing Saddles. Worf as the two-fisted no-nonsense Sherriff keeping order in HIS town, Troi as the mysterious gun-slinger taking sides with a law man in trouble, Alexander as the supportive but largely useless Deputy, and Data as everyone else. Which, of course, was the strength of the episode, Data as everyone else.
So the crew finds itself with some 48 hours downtime, and Worf runs off with Alexander to the holodeck to indulge himself in the Deadwood Holodeck Program. Which is nothing like the HBO version of Deadwood, for sure. But the program, along with many other systems on the ship, begins to go awry after Commander Data is connected to the ship’s computer systems as part of an experiment he and Chief Engineer LaForge are conducting down in Engineering.
What follows featured just about every Western Movie cliché imaginable, which in reality made it even more enjoyable to watch. Hokey dialogue, cartoonish villains, the bar-maid in love with the Sherriff, fistfights, confrontations in the Saloon, and a climatic showdown in the street, complete with henchmen hiding out on the rooftops to ensure the bad guy wins. Not to be redundant, but it really was an effective cross between this:
As a result of the experiment being conducted in Engineering, Data’s “personality” infects the entire ship, to include Worf’s holodeck fantasy. All of the other characters begin to take on his appearance and abilities, which, when combined with the slight little problem of the holodeck safeties being disengaged, makes the inevitable final confrontation between Worf and his nemesis a decidedly final affair. Worf can’t possibly hope to out-draw an opponent who possesses the speed and accuracy of an Android, therefore both he and Troi know when that showdown occurs, the good Sherriff will be killed. But not to worry, the “mysterious stranger” has a plan.
In a MacGyver inspired moment of brilliance, Worf and Troi construct a simple force field generator out of some photon-generated telegraph parts and his combadge. Thankfully neither thinks of sticking a piece of celery up their backsides in an effort to confuse Data. The field will only last about fifteen seconds, but this is enough time for Worf to survive Data’s flurry of gunshots and then, in truly classic Old West fashion, shoot Data’s gun from his hand. Troi aids the Sherriff by wielding her shotgun to keep the henchmen at bay, but in truly TNG inspired moments, doesn’t actually shoot anybody. The holodeck program ends when Worf is forced to kiss the girl, who also looks like Data, thus ending the story once again in true Old West fashion.
I resisted the temptation to recount all the details, but there are some additional classic moments to be found in “A Fistful of Datas”. Early in the episode, Captain Picard can be heard playing his Ressikan flute with all the skill he acquired during his second life as a member of that race. Worf and Alexander, upon entering the holodeck, walk pass a prostitute. Worf learns that Mr. Barclay helped write the program, and vows to have a few words with him later. He later ask Troi if his prisoner has any rights in this century, or should he just “execute” him now. As part of a rehearsal for one of Doctor Crusher’s plays, Commander Riker begins to read Data’s “Ode to Spot” from his data pad instead of the actual dialogue. Worf enters the bar for the first time and orders Klingon Fire Wine, to which the bartender responds:
“This ain’t Kansas City! We ain’t got none of the fancy European stuff here!”
Oh, and of course, to end the episode the Enterprise flies off into the sunset.
Brent Spinar’s performance, or perhaps I should say performances, was stellar in this episode. He played the evil Western businessman determined to own the town while ridding it of the annoying Sherriff, the dimwitted evil guy’s son captured by that Sherriff, the skulking henchmen, and the love-struck damsel with near brilliance. The costumes were effective, and even the accents were believable. My favorite incarnation of Data only had a few screen moments, but in my humble opinion was the quintessential caricature of a bad guy featured in almost every Western movie I ever saw. Behold Senor Data:
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON “A FISTFUL OF DATAS”
As I am sure everyone can guess, the title of this episode was a tribute to Clint Eastwood’s film “A Fistful of Dollars”. Originally the title of this episode was to have been “The Good, the Bad, and the Klingon”, which I like better, but this idea was scrapped in favor of the shorter title. According to “Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion”, producer Ira Steven Behr pushed for the plot to be an homage to the John Wayne movie “Rio Bravo”. But not to be “out homaged” by any other television show, an additional scene was filmed as a tribute to the movie “The Ransom of Red Chief”, with Alexander as the feisty little captive. This scene was cut for time.
Patrick Stewart directed “A Fistful of Datas”. As part a TNG Season Six DVD additional features segment, Stewart confessed to watching the movie “Shane” seeking inspiration on how to direct a Western. This “inspiration” can be seen during the final showdown, as Alexander watches his father face down his nemesis while lying under the Saloon doors. Stewart also spoke to the fact that all of the outdoor scenes were filmed in a single day due to the limited time he was given to complete his shooting schedule.
During that same DVD additional features segment, Michael Dorn recalls a moment of filming featuring he and Marina Sirtis. She was attempting to blow smoke rings while smoking the obligatory “mysterious stranger” cigar, and Dorn told here to stop. “Don’t be funnier than me”, he said, “this is my show.” I wonder how Stewart felt about that.
I found this on Wiki, a brief segment which comments on the music score for this episode. Apparently the episode score made many “references” to the music of Ennio Morricone, who composed the music score for the films “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The first three notes of the famous GBU melody can be heard during the opening moments of “A Fistful of Datas”.
The Old West sequences were filmed on Universal Studios famous back lot located in Los Angeles. For the first of two occasions this season Picard’s Ressikan flute, and his playing of it, is featured. He would take it up once again in a later episode entitled “Lessons”.
“A Fistful of Datas” won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Drama Series”.
All in all, a good episode, comic or otherwise.
I waffled a bit in my selection for the final spot on this list between the episodes “Relics”, “Timescape”, “Schisms”, “Realm of Fear”, “True Q”, and “Frame of Mind”. Each had their strengths, and each was worthy of the appellation “a good episode”. There can be only one, however, so I eliminated “True Q” because of the similarity of the plot with a season one Q episode, and dumped “Schisms” because of the giant plot failing found within its ending. “Relics” featured the one and only Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, but as TNG had already done this crossover bit with the Original Series twice now, I dumped that one as well (although this episode would lead to one of the best Trek novels ever written). “Realm of Fear” featured an excellent story as well as a good use of the Lieutenant Barclay character, but simply wasn’t gripping enough to be a repeater. That left me with two choices, both of which were unique, exciting, and able to hold the viewers interest. In my usual manner, I chose the one which I most enjoyed watching.
"It's going to take a little time to explain, Number One."
OK, I know some have voiced their distaste of the “time travel” plot device in particular and therefore “time travel” episodes in general, but “Timescape” isn’t exactly a time travel episode. The Enterprise is “stuck” in time, kind of like the Simpsons always are only with the added pleasure of being a few micro-seconds into a Warp Core breach. Toss in a Romulan Warbird apparently blasting away at the Enterprise with a few Romulans already on board the Big E engaged in nefarious appearing activities, and you have a mystery which is not only worthy of Captain Picard but finally, finally, of the fans themselves.
The strength of the episode lay in how bizarre all of this is, and in how Picard and company must pick their way through a real “fog of war” in their attempt to both solve the mystery and save their ship. Much thought went into this story and its presentation, clearly evidenced by the detailed nuance visible to the observant viewer. But more on that later.
To summarize the plot, the teaser features Commander Riker ordering the Enterprise to respond to a distress call and rendezvous with a Romulan Warbird. The scene then shifts to a Starfleet Runabout manned by Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, Commander Data, and Engineer LaForge. They are returning from a three-day away mission to a psychological conference on the effects of long-term deep space assignments. Jovial and in apparent relaxed moods, the four discuss various failings of the conference until Picard, Data, and LaForge suddenly freeze in mid animation for no apparent reason.
This trend continues as the Runabout cruises forward toward its pre-determined rendezvous point with the Enterprise. Troi herself “freezes”, leaving behind a tri-corder reading which is unable to account for three minutes of her life. The Runabout’s starboard warp nacelle is found to have been in operation for forty-seven continuous days, depleting its fuel supply. Picard finds a bowl of fruit has suddenly progressed from being fresh to rotten with the blink of an eye. With a bit of investigative work the four determine that their Runabout is surrounded by dozens of disturbances in the dreaded and apparently fragile space-time continuum, the temporal fragments of which can only maneuvered around at half-impulse speed. Upon eventually finding the Enterprise at its new location they discover to their horror that the temporal fragmentation effect has increased to completely engulf both the Flagship of the Fleet and the Romulan Warbird. The two ships appear to be engaged in combat. A Romulan disruptor beam is impacting the Enterprise, and a beam of unknown type is emanating from the Enterprise’s Navigational Deflector impacting the Warbird’s engineering section. All of this is, of course, completely frozen in time.
Picard determines that they can safely beam on board the Enterprise utilizing subspace isolation fields similar to the type Commander Data employed on Devidia II (as seen in the episode “Time’s Arrow”). Picard, Data, and Troi transport over, only to discover the situation is even more dire than they first thought. Three armed Romulans are on the bridge, which itself has already taken damage. Bridge instruments indicate a massive power surge in main engineering. In Sickbay, Troi finds that Doctor Crusher has been hit by a disruptor blast fired by another Romulan at point blank range. Further, on leaving Sickbay, one of the Romulans begins to look around, apparently unaffected by being trapped within the temporal fragment.
Three additional Romulans are found in one of the Transporter Rooms, having just been beamed aboard. Curiously to Picard, they are unarmed. Data then calls he and Troi to Engineering, claiming the matter is urgent. Upon arriving, they are informed of the cause of the indicated power surge. A warp core breach is in progress. When Picard ask what can be done to stop it, Data responds that nothing can be done, as the breach has already occurred.
At this point in the tale fans couldn’t help but be impressed. Given, this was season Six, and everyone knew that the intrepid crew of the Enterprise would eventually solve this particular puzzle just as they had all those which came before. But still the question had been effectively posed. What was going on? How were all of these bizarre events related? Often Trek in general and TNG in particular suffered from plots the outcomes of which could be predicted by the end of Act One. But not on this occasion. The writers had skillfully crafted the story to be both interesting and confusing, gripping even, as even though the viewers were completely in the dark, they did know one thing the Enterprise four did not. There was a Romulan running around clear and free to navigate.
As the narrative continues Data determines that time is still moving forward, simply at an almost immeasurably slow rate. The gas cloud emanating from the Warp Core is expanding because it would progress at a “substantially faster rate” than everything else. Based on calculations possible only by use of his super-sensitive Android eyes combined with his superior “intellect”, Data concludes the core explosion will consume the Enterprise in just over nine hours and seventeen minutes relative time.
It is then determined the Enterprise was in the process of transferring power to the Romulan Warbird at the moment it became caught in the temporal fragment. Data suggest they board the Romulan ship, but at that moment Captain Picard begins to laugh. He has succumbed to the effects of "temporal narcosis", a condition much like nitrogen narcosis, and in a mild state of delusion has drawn a smiley face into the expanding gas cloud. He then panics, and Data and Troi take him and call for LaForge to beam them back to the Runabout.
WWKD: Kirk would never have panicked. It would have been Scotty.
As a result, Picard must stay on board the Runabout while Troi, Data, and LaForge beam over to the Romulan ship. There they find the Romulan crew is not at battle stations, but rather engaged in activities which indicate an evacuation procedure. Based on this Troi is the first to suggest an alternative scenario, in that perhaps the Romulans in fact did not attack the Enterprise. Upon examining the Warbird’s engine core Data and LaForge discover it is completely inactive, a seeming impossibility. As detailed in the episode “Face of the Enemy”, Romulan D’deridex class Starships employ an “artificial quantum singularity” as a power source. As such, once one of these babies has been activated they can never be shut down. But this one is.
Not content with this incongruity, LaForge examines the Romulan engine core and finds a vortex whirling within. Data determines this is a “focused aperture” in the dreaded and apparently fragile space-time continuum, as its energy signature matches that of the temporal fragments surrounding the two star ships. He believe this may be the origin of those fragments, as this vortex is a million times more intense.
One Nit-pick: Does it always have to be a “million” times more intense?
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Data’s scan also reveals “dark spots” within the vortex which produce “bio-electric” patterns, suggesting they are organic and thus a possible life form. But his scan has unforeseen repercussions. The vortex begins to fluctuate causing time to return to normal. The Romulans begin to move about their stations, all but one of them completely oblivious to the presence of the three Starfleet Officers. On board the Runabout, Picard is suddenly forced to watch his ship explode as a result of the warp core breach.
All is not lost, however, as the sudden resumption in normal time just as suddenly reverses itself and everything returns to the exact moment the vortex in the Romulan engine core began to fluctuate.
To this point still, a fine, intriguing story. But then an element is introduced which led to my one point of contention with this episode. After discovering the Romulans were attempting to eject their engine core, one of the Romulan bridge crew suddenly attacks LaForge. As a result he goes into “neural shock”, and Troi removes his isolation field emitter to slow the effects. They leave him on the Romulan ship and return to the Runabout with the Romulan who attacked them.
Only, and I guess we should have seen this coming, he is not a Romulan. His bio-electric readings are a close match with those taken of the dark spots found within the vortex whirling away inside the Romulan engine core. Data concludes the “alien” is probably not native to their time continuum, and that the readings of the organic matter found indicate they are in a state of cellular mitosis. He believes the vortex itself may be some type of embryo.
When the “alien” awakes, he confirms he only assumed the appearance of a Romulan in order to survive in this “time continuum”, and that he is here in order to save the “young” trapped within the artificial gravity well. He tells Picard and company his kind required a quantum singularity to incubate their young, and they thought the Romulan version would suffice. But when the alien’s young were nested there, it had the effect of causing the artificial singularity to shut down. And thus the mystery is solved.
Picard and company deduce, correctly, that the Romulans sent out a distress call to which the Enterprise responded. Believing the Warbird to be suffering from engine failure, the Enterprise began a power transfer to the Romulan ship. This disturbed the nest, however, and in response, the alien himself went to the bridge and fired on the Enterprise. This, combined with a feedback along the power transfer beam, caused the warp core breach. Before he dies, the alien informs Picard there is another like him still on board the Federation ship.
So, OK, the mystery is solved, but the Enterprise is still in the midst of a warp core breach, and Doctor Crusher is still getting blasted with a Romulan in Sickbay. Or perhaps I should say, by a Romulan in Sickbay. These dilemmas still had to be resolved, and thus the viewer was still engaged by the story.
Of course the resolution lies in Data’s scan of the Romulan engine core. Given that the original scan caused time to proceed forward and then backward, obviously a reverse application of that process should cause time to proceed backward and then forward. The Enterprise crew will then be in a position to stop or prevent the power transfer beam and the impending death of Doctor Crusher. I mean, of course. It was so obvious. And this is what the Enterprise crew does.
Having placed themselves at strategic locations around the ship, Data activates the modified tricorder. But this episode still has a few surprises left for the fans. In Sickbay, Troi stands with a Phaser aimed at the Romulan firing on Doctor Crusher. She does not, however, notice that one of the Romulans previously in Sickbay has departed. Data stands in Engineering waiting to deactivate the power transfer and thus prevent the warp core breach. Picard is on the Bridge prepared to give the necessary orders required to save his ship. As time reverses itself the core seals and the Romulan disruptor reclaims its energy. But as time then stops and reverses itself again, Data is attacked by the second alien before he can stop the power transfer. He is however able to command the computer to raise a “level-3” containment field around the warp core, but this would only delay the inevitable. Troi grabs Doctor Crusher and pulls her from the Romulan’s line of fire, and Picard orders continued evacuation of the Romulan ship and for Geordi LaForge to be beamed directly to Sickbay, thus proving his faith in Counselor Troi. It is learned that the Romulan in Sickbay was actually firing at the alien imposter, and that Crusher simply found herself in the line of fire. But Data reports he was unable to stop the power transfer beam, and thus the core breach is still imminent.
Enter Commander Riker. He remote pilots the Runabout to intersect the power transfer beam, interrupting it and destroying the Runabout. When this occurs, both the second alien on board the Enterprise and the Warbird itself vanish into the void of the dreaded and apparently fragile space time continuum. With the return of the vortex embryo to its own continuum, the temporal fragments also vanish, and all is well.
After reading the above, some of you may be asking what was really so great about this episode. Three factors, really. It was confusing in an engaging manner, it was bizarre in the same context as the TOS episode “Specter of the Gun” was bizarre, and it was nuanced in the extreme. It kept the viewer guessing, and not since “Darmok” and “Frame of Mind” had I experienced that with a TNG episode. Entertainment has sometimes been defined as the absence of thought. But I disagree with that premise as a absolute. Far too often the producers of episodic television, and film, for that matter, will assume the ignorance of their audience and thus churn out shows that are little more than idiotic slug-fest or which feature plots barely more intricate as one found in a Scooby-doo cartoon. Not so “Timescape”. This episode epitomized the literary construct, as articulated by English literary critic John Dryden, of a “labyrinth of design”. Dryden stated it was “infinitely pleasing” for a reader, or viewer in this case, to be led through such a labyrinth constructed by the narrative, and that successful writers managed:
“…to conduct his imaginary persons through so many various intrigues and chances, as the labouring audience shall think them lost under every billow; and then at length to work them so naturally out of their distresses; that…the spectators may rest satisfied.”
Source: Dryden's Classical Theory of Literature, page 57.
And that is exactly what this episode did. It presented the viewer with a series of well constructed plot twist and turns which left them confused and confounded, made them labor a bit to fathom the events as depicted. But in the end the “spectators”, due to the resolution, were resting satisfied. And in context with my previous mention of assuming the ignorance of the audience, I have always enjoyed television which caused me to think far more than the typical inane, ignorant, and idiotic drivel typically cranked out and evidenced on shows such as supposed icons “Rosanne” and “Law and Order”.
As for the nuance, if you have access to this episode simply watch the opening teaser. The conversation concerning the crew’s experiences at the conference is not only well presented but very in character with those who speak. The criticisms are also very identifiable to anyone who has ever had to attend such a scientific conference. A much subtler perhaps nuance can be witnessed when Troi taps her ear as she attempts to explain what occurred on the Runabout. She was only seen to have done this once before on any TNG episode, this mannerism explained as a Betazoid relaxation technique. Someone had done their homework. Even Riker’s tale of trying to feed Spot was in context both with his character and Data’s, and again identifiable with anyone who ever owned a cat.
The level of detail to be found in “Timescape” is evident throughout, however, and the writing, acting, and directing are all balanced in the overall presentation. As three small examples consider the manner in which Picard draws the face in the expanding gas cloud, followed by the crewman who can be seen behind the clear panel Picard falls against. She never moves, and her expression never changes. In addition, the look on Doctor Crusher’s face combined with her body language as she is about to be vaporized suggest she is under attack, in essence being murdered, thus amplifying the tension level of the episode. All in all, an excellent TNG episode; one worth another look.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON “TIMESCAPE”
To begin, I thought this was one of the best utilizations of the Doctor Crusher character to date, in that she moved very little and spoke even less.
The scene in which Picard draws the smiley face into the gas cloud and his subsequent panic attack can be seen here:
According to “Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion”, the plot for this episode was based on a one-sentence concept pitched by a writer named Mark Gerhed O’Connell. Brannon Braga then took that concept and developed it for the screen. He was said to have been motivated by a desire to “out-do” a previous episode entitled “Cause and Effect”, in which the Enterprise kept blowing up over an over again. Of “Timescape” he once stated:
“I wanted to do this as 'man against nature,' or 'man against time'. What “The Abyss” was to deep-sea diving, this would be to 'deep-time diving'.”
Deep Time diving? I wonder how Jacques Cousteau would describe that. I think the “stuck in time” analogy works better.
This episode was directed by Adam Nimoy, son of legendary Trek icon Leonard Nimoy. According to both the director and the producers, “Timescape” was an extremely complex episode to produce. Braga remarked:
“As I was writing it, I was thinking there’s no way.”
Jeri Taylor also referred to “Timescape” as “absolutely bizarre”. Director Adam Nimoy stated his desire was to “bring life to the eerie ambience” of the plot. According to “Captain’s Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages”, of this episode the son of Spock once stated:
“It was very different. I relied a lot on the special effects guys in an attempt to keep what I thought was the drama of the scene and deal with the restrictions that special effects put on you in terms of what you can do with the actors while also using those effects to maximum dramatic capacity to make it work with the scene. It's a whole different mindset. I'm learning a lot from these guys."
As part of the crossover attempts with the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, a Starfleet Runabout is seen for the first time in TNG in this episode. The name of the Runabout is never revealed, but some of the footage created of it would be used on DS9, and the ship given the registry of the Rio Grande.
“Timescape” makes reference to two prior TNG episodes, “Time’s Arrow” and “Face of the Enemy”. I mention this because whereas Deep Space Nine attempted story arcs from the beginning of that series, TNG did not, and rarely referenced events from previous episodes. To its detriment, I might add.
One of the speakers mentioned in the teaser of “Timescape”, a Doctor Vassbinder, would be mentioned again in the episode “Journey’s End” by Wesley Crusher, and by Commander Chakotay in the Star Trek Voyager episode “Year of Hell”.
The nature of temporal distortions must be that they destroy any star ship which wonders close to one. For the third time in the series run, the Enterprise D is blown to atoms due to an encounter with a “temporal disturbance”. The other two episodes to feature this inglorious end for the flagship of the fleet were “Time Squared” and “Cause and Effect”.
As stated previously, Counselor Troi can be seen during the teaser of this episode employing the Betazoid relaxation technique she had previously taught to Lieutenant Barclay during the episode “Realm of Fear”. I don’t know, I could think of a better relaxation technique to be employed with Counselor Troi, but I digress.
One final comment on “Timescape”. In looking around the web, I found where someone who writes under the name of “fiver” wrote a parody of this episode. Here are two lines from that effort, quote:
La Forge: There's something alive inside this engine core.
Troi: Yes, the Romulans use gerbils on treadmills as a power source.
End Quote. I don’t know, I think my parodies are better. But that’s just my opinion I could be wrong.
HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR BEST OF SEASON SIX
1. Frame of Mind: Commander Riker slowly loses his mind as he finds himself moving between a play featuring an insane asylum and an actual insane asylum. Truly a good episode.
2. Relics: Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott is returned from the past via the magic of a transporter effect, and once again earns his reputation as a miracle worker.
3. True Q: That impish rascal Q returns to the Enterprise, only this time to determine if a lowly human does indeed poses the powers of the Continuum.
4. Schisms: Another well crafted episode in which members of the Enterprise crew slowly discover they are being randomly abducted by aliens and experimented on. A South Park premise, perhaps, but well executed.
And so we move on to the worst of Season Six. Well, soon anyway. As always, thanks for reading.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
As I have said before, when Star Trek was good, it was very good. But when Star Trek went bad, it did so at light speed with little regard to a course. The episodes chosen for the worst of season six epitomize this ideal.
There are a number of possible reasons why. The writers got lazy at times, or perhaps they were running out of ideas. Time crunches, perhaps. Bad directors given bad scripts. The actors not stepping up and stating what crap they were being given to act. All of the above. Who can say for sure.
Well, I can. Over the course of discussing these particular five episodes I will point out each of the above flaws as they are found within. And, it should be fun.
One more thing. When I began this effort I remembered that even given the number of years which have passed since TNG left the airwaves, there was one episode from the series I had never seen. It was a season six episode, and I suppose with all the other concerns of life I just never made any real attempt to track it down. But in crafting these post I feel it important to view the episodes before writing as a means to ensure some level of accuracy in content. Funny how this worked out. That episode, after being viewed for the first time, made it to the top of the “worst of” list. Obviously, in the context of this particular episode, I had not missed anything. Except the opportunity to give it the treatment it so richly deserved.
With that as an introduction, raise the deflector shields and brace for impact as I present my choices for the worst of TNG, season six.
STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION: THE WORST OF SEASON SIX
I don’t know. The character of Doctor Beverly Crusher, like her mostly annoying son Wesley, could have been a truly strong character within the ensemble cast of TNG. She was what Deanna Troi wasn’t, something more than eye candy occasionally given a memorable scene or two to grace. She was both intelligent and attractive, and could be humorous and witty. And she had red hair….
But typically the episodes crafted to feature her as dramatic lead were, well, crap. “Suspicions” is no exception. Before writing this review as stated above I sat down to watch “Suspicions”, and I must honestly report that it was one of the worst 50 minute periods of my life in the context of viewing television. It hurt. I mean like the Space Hippies hurt, like The Planet of the Really Pissed Off Black People hurt, like taking an hour of your life and actually trying to enjoy The View hurt. I mean, watching this story unfold was, or is, like watching Obama’s latest Jobs Bill speech. You just know it is going to turn out badly for all concerned. And when it does, you really aren’t disappointed, in a sick, stomach churning kind of way.
But, the review.
So in the teaser Crusher and Guinan are in her quarters talking smack about Geordi’s tennis game, when Beverly tells….Guinan….she can’t help with her tennis elbow because she is facing a court martial. And the flashbacks combined with voice-over narration begin.
So a group of Benetton Kids are on board the Enterprise because the way-cool Ferengi kid has created Metaphasic Shielding, a process good for keeping ugly people away. But the Klingon, the Vulcan, the Human, and the new Jo’Bril kid say his process is stupid, and can’t wooork, because, you know, like, I mean, we didn’t think of it, right?
Interspecies relations. In six seasons nobody has seen this Jo’brill kid before, and now he shows up as the only one to show any support for the smelly Ferengi’s stooopid idea. He volunteers to fly the most awesome shuttle thingy into a nearby star to test the shielding because, hey, all those pretty colors, man.
But of course he dies, causing the other kids to point at the Ferengi and say “You suck, neener neener”. But the death of the Jo’Brill kid causes Doctor Crusher to become, ah, what is the word? Oh, yeah, suspicious! One prime reason for this is during the autopsy she can’t figure out one thing about his physiology and therefore concludes he should still be alive. Her main point of evidence for this conclusion? He hasn’t started to stink yet. But he isn’t moving or anything, so he must be dead.
But the other kids don’t have time for that, they are too busy phoning home about what a bummer this whole trip has been. Then the Ferengi is found dead, which puts them all in a better mood. Except for Crusher, who grows even more….wait for it….suspicious!
Ok, so here we go. Enter Commander Worf, who’s prime responsibility is security on board ship. Within this construct one would logically conclude it falls within his domain to investigate such trivial matters as the sudden strange death of a guest on board. And how does Worf handle this minor security matter? He joins Crusher in the Ferengi’s quarters, looks down at him and says:
“He’s dead, Doctor. I shall inform the Captain.”
Both a script and a plot failing. In complete disregard for the very nature of the character of Commander Worf as established over six seasons of episodes, this time the Enterprise Security Chief senses nothing, you know….odd…..about a suddenly dead Ferengi the other kids didn’t like and made fun of because he had perfected an idea they hadn’t lying on the floor of his quarters with a plasma weapon beside him after he had engaged in harsh language with said other kids. All in a day’s work, I guess.
So Crusher drags the Ferengi back to sick-bay, because no one else will help with the icky dead Ferengi, and begins to perform an autopsy. But Captain Picard rushes in and stops her. He cites the Ferengi Death Ritual, which insist that no non-Ferengi touch the corpse until it rots. Frustrated, and even more suspicious, Crusher confronts the other kids. Well, those still alive, anyway.
“Hey, like, we didn’t have anything to do with it, man! We ain’t down like dat. So go bother the Klingon!”
So Crusher goes to find the Klingon, who at the moment is in Astro-physics pushing a bunch of shinny buttons. She ask one too many questions, however, and the Klingon knocks her half-way across the room.
But this only serves to cause Crusher to become more, everyone say it together now, SUSPICIOUS. So in a moment of brilliance, she disobeys Picard’s order concerning the now rotting Ferengi and performs an autopsy anyway. In response Picard blows her out an airlock so we will never have to suffer through another Crusher episode.
Insert sound of whistling here.
No, really, not only did Picard not seem the slightest bit interested in finding out why two beings on his ship are now dead, he doesn’t really even get mad over Crusher disobeying him. Oh, he barks for a moment, but then says something along the lines of “there, there, it will be alright” and temporarily relieves her of duty. Again, a script failing, because in every episode prior to this one when even the slightest mystery presented itself, Picard was all over it like the Falcons on Michael Vick last Sunday. Boooyah!
And now here is The Matrix in only five seconds.
OK, so, taking her suspicions to Nurse Ogawa, these two suspicious co-conspirators perform another test on the Jo’Brill kid’s corpse, looking for Tetryon particles. Upon finding the mysterious Tetryon particles crawling all over the body, Crusher becomes even more…..ah, frak it….and decides to prove to everyone that she is right and they are wrong and the original test flight was sabotaged and the Ferengi was murdered. The only way she can do this, she decides, is by flying the most awesome shuttle thingy into the star to look at all the pretty colors herself. This, she now does.
But somehow the Jo’Brill kid, who isn’t really dead even after having spent untold hours lying inside a deep-freeze where they keep the dead guys in the morgue, stows away inside the most awesome shuttle thingy and, just when Doctor Crusher is about to prove her point by not being vaporized by the intense stellar heat which exist only like a mile from the surface of a STAR…..slips out of his hidey hole and pulls a gun on Crusher. In an evil voice while twisting the corner of his mustache Jo’Brill informs the Doctor, yes, THE DOCTOR, the pride of Starfleet medical serving on the Flagship of the Fleet, one of the most intelligent and capable and respected medical personnel in all the galaxy, that he was only faking being dead. Because that is what the Benetton Jo’Brill kids can do!
“And you didn’t notice it, you stoopid cow! Now I am going to shoot you with my laser gun and steal this most awesome shuttle thingy and go back to my crib and make a really way-cool weapon out of it! How’s that for a plot twist?”
But Crusher, in a move her character has never before been shown the ability to master, Bruce Lee drop-kicks the Jo’Brill kid into next week, steals his laser gun, and vaporizes him. Leaving her without the one key piece of evidence she needs to prove her point, but why quibble over such trivial matters. Once back on board the Enterprise, the crew all stares at her and says:
And once again the Universe as we know it is saved for humanity.
The AV Club actually gave this episode a B minus, although I can’t fathom why. The writing was so faulty and the acting even worse that it was a pain to watch. Really, when Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan turns in the strongest performance of all the actors featured in only two and a half minutes of screen time, there isn’t much good to be said for the completed effort. Both Picard and Worf were out of character, Riker was reduced to a mere snide but emotional crutch, and Crusher came off as an obsessed adolescent simply trying to prove she was right and everyone else, who had all taken the day off anyway, were wrong. If it wasn’t for the Klingon babe clocking Beverly up side of her head, there wouldn’t be a single moment worth remembering from “Suspicions”.
Another failing of this episode was the poor use of both the flashback motif and the annoying voice-over narrations given by Crusher. Remember that as the “drama” develops, Crusher is actually still in her quarters with Guinan, who as time wore on was probably like that lady in the movie Airplane, about to kill herself if the excruciatingly boring narration didn’t stop. Add to this the narration itself did not reveal anything the viewers did not already know or could fathom for themselves, and it was simply another failing to toss on an increasing pile of episode failings. Most of the dialogue was poor as well, which is why I made up my own.
And what were the writers thinking when they decided to have Picard refuse to allow Crusher to perform an autopsy on the dead Ferengi because it was considered too invasive, but the autopsy performed on Jo’Brill wasn’t so invasive that a guy who was only faking being dead could survive it? How exactly does that work?
“Nurse Ogawa, weigh Jo’Brill’s brain for me. Then we will put it back in because, you know, I really don’t know what that will do to his physiology.”
What does this remind me of? Oh, yeah…
This episode did have all the charm of “Spock’s Brain”, only without the magnetism of Kirk and company. As I did when reviewing that TOS episode, while watching “Suspicions” I found myself hoping for the moment when Crusher would look directly at the viewer and say:
“Nah! We’re kidding with this crap! We are really on our way to steal Romulan intelligence from the Tal Shiar!”
But no. Nooooooooo! Crusher keeps after her obsession, and we as viewers are forced to tag along. In addition, a plot device never addressed was the death of the Ferengi. Crusher suspected he was murdered, but this question is never resolved. Well, Worf and Picard didn’t give a frak, so why should we?
WWKD: “Two people on my ship are dead, Doctor, and you want to prance around chasing shadows because you think one of them may have been murdered? I want to know how they died and I want to know now!”
Finally, what of the impending court martial? Apparently the Ferengi Picard was so worried about offending if he let Crusher carve up the dead one were suddenly overjoyed that the good Doctor solved everything about the mystery except how their family member was killed that they forgave and forgot. Apparently Picard was so overjoyed his main squeeze didn’t get fried while cruising around inside a star’s corona that he did as well. Neither of these points are addressed in the resolution phase of the story, but by the end of “Suspicions”, the viewer is so ready to go binge drinking in an effort to forget everything having to do with watching it that, you know, who cares.
I do kind of feel sorry for Gates McFadden. She was a good actress, one I believe simply saddled with a series of crappy scripts poorly written which few actors could have salvaged. Maybe Spinar, but then again, given the overall quality of the finished “Suspicions” product, probably not. And we still have to discuss “Sub Rosa” as part of season seven.
Lets see what the books have to say.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: “SUSPICIONS”
Well, not much, actually. According to “Captain’s Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages”, this episode sucked.
Oh, and although she would return in the feature films “Star Trek Generations” and “Nemesis”, this episode would feature the final appearance of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan on TNG. In celebration, the cast and crew threw a Tea Party on the set of Ten Forward. Nah…..not really. But I guess we could say that “Suspicions” had one saving grace.
The Metaphasic Shielding process the Ferengi gave his life for would later be used by Doctor Crusher in the almost as crappy episode “Descent”, but would be credited to Commander LaForge. In temporary command of the Enterprise, Doctor Crusher would once again take her ship into the corona of a star to look at all the shiny colors.
In the MMO game Star Trek Online, Tetryon particles can be found floating all over the place. But I have yet to encounter a Jo’Brill type alien. They may be in there, but some of the various aliens in that game have a habit of all looking alike.
So, on to my next selection, one which would feature the “other” TNG babe who’s character would also often suffer from poor writing saddled with the additional burden of being a fairly useless bitch. It is about half completed, so…….soon.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
It should be noted that the events as detailed in the next episode featured occurred, within the Trek timeline, before the events as detailed in the episode “Face of the Enemy”. So expectations of how the character of Counselor Troi would be portrayed were not very high. As we all know by now, TNG had a way of often delivering on our occasional low expectations.
THE WORST OF TNG SEASON SIX CONTINUED
2. Man of the People
A corridor within the Starship Enterprise. Counselor Troi is standing in her open doorway, barely dressed. She beckons to Commander Riker as he happens to walk by.
“Do you like what you see, Commander?”
“All I see is you looking like a tramp.”
“But I am a very good tramp, really!”
Riker looks past her into her quarters. Ten crewman scatter seeking for places to hide.
I suppose a possible alternate title for this episode would be “the one where another Ambassador comes on board and Troi becomes a crazed uber-slut”.
It really isn’t her fault this time because, you know, this particularly evil Ambassador pawned all of his base carnal emotions off on her so he could remain clear minded while negotiating yet another useless treaty between yet another two petty little warring factions. But apparently all of his base carnal emotions revolve around sex, and the process he uses to accomplish this transfer turns the recipient into a submissive and dependent although rapidly aging play-toy. So the whole thing is reminiscent of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair. All it needed was for the bald-headed Captain Picard to suddenly channel the spirit of the bald-headed James Carville and start screaming about Ambassador Alkar and The Horse He Rode In On.
A quick synopsis. Ambassador Alkar arrives on board escorted by an old woman he introduces as his mother. Only upon meeting Troi in the turbo-lift, his “mother” attempts to scratch Troi’s eyes out. Later his “mother” dies, and after spending a few minutes alone with Alkar (because Enterprise women could never seem to resist a visiting Ambassador…. “Oh, Odon!”…..) Troi mysteriously begins to act like she is in love with him and wants to scratch the eyes out of anyone who gets to close. She also becomes somewhat petty and unsympathetic in her dealings with those she is counseling.
This scene was actually interesting. Troi is sitting in her office listening to some crew-woman whine about how her superior doesn’t seem to like her. The good counselor is sitting back a bit rather than in her usual pose of leaning forward displaying concerned interest. On this occasion Troi is emoting disinterested disgust. She finally tells her “client” to stop being “pathetic” and either shape up or find an easier assignment. Worf couldn’t have done it better.
Troi’s behavior continues to become more bizarre as time passes. In a rare moment for TNG she is seen touching herself (well, she is fully dressed, but still) in a sensual manner and then runs off to try and seduce the Ambassador. Failing this, she successfully seduces a young crewman and subsequently does flaunt him in front of Commander Riker. Later she shows up in Ten Forward dressed like a Romulan hooker and, when Riker escorts her out, becomes angry. She runs her fingers along the back of his neck leaving one inch furrows. And she begins to age quite rapidly.
This is Doctor Crusher’s cue. Troi’s aging can’t be credited to a bad hair day (even though that is yet to come), and eventually, the pride of Starfleet Medical makes the connection between Troi’s “odd” behavior and the arrival of Ambassador Alkar. Crusher confronts Picard, who then confronts Alkar, and in a moment of dispassionate honesty the Ambassador cops to the crime. He states he is using Troi as a “vessel” to dump all of his darker emotions and impulses into. The fact she is not of his species accounts for why she now appears older than the Sacred Chalice of Rixx her mother is always bragging about, and why she is so insanely jealous of any woman who finds herself within three feet of him while simultaneously trying to shag everything with three legs. Perhaps I should have put a disclaimer at the beginning of this review.
Ambassador Alkar is completely unrepentant, however, in the face of Picard’s condemnations. He confesses to the fact the woman he originally brought on board was not his mother (shock) but rather his previous “vessel”, says he needed a replacement when she died and Troi was, you know, available, and so he leached into her. He shrugs his shoulders and nonchalantly says “women”, and then returns to negotiating a peace between the warring factions via use of the brilliant tactic of singing:
“War! Huh! Good God, Ya’ll. What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin!”
Say it again.
But, the crew of the good ship Enterprise isn’t going to take this crap lying down (well, except for Troi), and Doctor Crusher devises the equally brilliant tactic of killing Troi to break the connection between her and Alkar.
Picard: “Don’t you think that a bit drastic, Doctor?”
Crusher: “Have you seen how she has been acting lately?”
Picard nods his head: “Very well, proceed.”
So Worf enters sick bay and whacks Troi over the head with his Bat’leth. On the surface of the planet Alkar grabs his chest and does his best Fred Sanford impersonation. As the Ambassador returns to the ship Picard has all the available women beamed away and, being deprived of another receptacle for his dark yucky man-cravings, Alkar ages rapidly before everyone’s eyes and dies in mere moments. All of which miraculously returns Troi to her prior stunningly beautiful but only slightly lose self to include a complete restyling of her hair. Oh, and there is some Trek techno-babble included about “neutralizing the excess neurotransmitters” now raging within her, but…..by now….who cares.
The astute among you will already know this episode was an attempt at a Trek retelling of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”. At face value this wasn’t such a bad idea. However, in keeping with the Trek tradition of interspacing brilliant episodes with really poor ones, this attempt fell far short of the intended goal.
The primary problem was the overall acting effort put forth by the principal cast. And the writing. Ok, so, the acting and the writing. And the directing, but I digress. Everyone, with the exception of Sirtis, delivered appallingly flat performances which rivaled the acting to be seen in the subsequently aired episode “Suspicions”. While watching I had to wonder what had gotten into these guys. Was it fatigue or laziness or simple Trek burnout, especially in light of the brilliance actors such as Stewart and Frakes and Spiner were each capable of. As stated previously, both Stewart and Spiner were accomplished actors capable of saving crummy scripts with their talents alone, but on this occasion one got the sense the effort wasn’t worth the bother. Sirtis was the only exception to this rule. But in contrast, her performance was so “over-the-top” as to be ridiculous. She screamed, she wailed, she vamped, and whined and whined her torment in a “Bride of Young Frankenstein” manner which wasn’t dramatic but rather contemptuously silly. Consequently, this episode possessed all the charm of, well, this:
Only not as interesting.
As for the writing this episode was entirely predictable. Well, I will admit Troi “touching” herself was a bit surprising, and all that scene needed to be complete was a bit of Divinyls music in the background. But beyond this nothing really occurred which the viewer couldn’t see coming at least an act in advance. Then there was the inclusion of the “aging” character plot device. How many times did we have to be treated to this?
Recall that whole Doctor Pulaski thing during season two and, well, you get the idea. Worse, probably, than all of this was the fact that Ambassador Alkar didn’t really fit the role of a Dorian Gray, but rather just another run-of-the-mill psychic Vampire. This fell into the category of another Trek plot device utilized a few times to many, serving to further brand this episode as another in a long line of forgettable efforts. Unless someone wanted to MST3K it, you know, for old times sake.
The Divinyls. Heh….look that reference up.
ADDITIONAL NOTES: “MAN OF THE PEOPLE”
Because I have done it for every other episode.
According to “Captain’s Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages”, the writers did draw “inspiration” for this story from the classic novel “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”. The transport ship which brings the Ambassador to the Enterprise was named “The Dorian”. The writers also admitted to a process known in “the Hood” as “Gangbanging” the script. Perhaps that is where Troi got the idea……. Regardless, this refers to the fact that a bunch of different writers had a hand in the final product.
One of them was TNG Science Advisor Naren Shankar. He justified the “psychic link” between Alkar and Troi as a conduit between them “charging her up” like an electrode. Ok, one point on this drawn from my science background. The whole “heightening of (Troi’s) neurotransmitter levels”, as Doctor Crusher puts it, is actually closely related what occurs when someone trips out on LSD. The enzyme levels which inhibit neural activity are lowered as a consequence of ingesting this particular drug, meaning that Troi wouldn’t have been vamping around seducing everything in sight, but rather bouncing off the walls suffering from what addicts refer to as “a bad trip”. She probably would have still done her “screaming meeme” bit.
Of this episode, and her part in it, Marina Sirtis once said:
“I played it like these were underlying parts of Troi that she controlled or managed to suppress. And just looking in the mirror was all I needed to change. When I look in the mirror and see Troi, it's a very soft and gentle look. In the scene in Ten Forward where my hair was up, I saw Anne Bancroft in the mirror. I saw Mrs. Robinson and that's what I played. Basically, a lot of the performance is governed by the way that one looks. Some actors say they put the shoes for the characters on first and figure out the walk. I look in the mirror and play whatever I see in the mirror – especially when it's a make-up thing like in 'Man of the People,' where the old person was a witch and that's who was in the mirror, so I played a witch."
A Witch! And what do you do with Witches? Regardless, quote taken from the same source as listed above, page 258.
According to “Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion”, both Michael Piller and Ron Moore credited Sirtis with a “sexy but scary” performance which “lifted” the episode. Well, it couldn’t have sunk much lower. As for “sexy but scary”, when considering what became of Troi in “Man of the People”, I prefer this:
Other members of the production staff, notably Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga, felt the episode suffered from how the script was prepared. Of this Braga once said:
“I would have done it differently. I would have made it darker and much more a story about Troi's dark descent from the psychological point of view. A scene we all wanted to see was Troi giving therapy to a young ensign – but make it twice as long and twice as dark as the one that was filmed, and make it much more of a Hannibal Lecter thing.”
Ok, that would have been cool. But the final scene as aired could be described as a diamond in the ruff. Judge for yourself:
Director Winrich Kolbe, of course, defended his effort on “Man of the People”. Of it he once said:
“I am very happy with it. There are obviously some problems with the script, but what intrigues me is that I took a script that had problems and came out with a damn good show. Marina was really terrific. She knew it was her show and was prepared for it. I think the only thing that I occasionally did was push her a little bit harder to be a vamp."
So he was the one. Well, you know what they say about Directors…..
OK, so, how did I really feel about this episode?
It was that bad.
More to come…..
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)
As an interruption to our regular programming I wanted to post a trek related video or two. Of course I plan on posting a series of them toward the end of this thread, but this may be a good moment just to break the pattern.
In researching material for this thread I have made a discovery I was heretofore unaware of. Brent Spiner is hilarious. He could make a living doing Trek Stand-Up, and if you have never either seen him at a Trek convention or just on video taken at one, I suggest taking a few moments and surfing Youtube. By the time you are finished, I predict your sides will hurt.
As an example, this series of videos were taken at a Fan Days event which featured Spiner along with Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn. During part one Frakes himself displays a sense of comedy and satire, but the others join right in. I think the satire lost on many of the Trek fans who were there, but I thought it brilliant in context of where these three guys were.
QamuIs Heg qaq law' lorvIs yInqaq puS
(Better to die on your feet than live on your knees)