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The Next Phase

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WARNING: This post contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG offering, "The Next Phase".  Stand clear.

Well, if you make an effort to avoid *thinking* about it, it's great fun. As soon as you do, it starts to lose something.

I don't normally worry much about plot holes, but there are questions here in vast numbers that needed better treatment. But first, the synop:

The Enterprise assists a critically damaged Romulan vessel, but when Geordi and Ro beam back with some damaged equipment, something strange happens in transit. They fail to rematerialize, and no sensors can locate them. The Romulan ship manages to save itself by ejecting its engine core (with some help from Riker, Worf and Data), but they continue to need power from the Enterprise while conducting repairs.  

Meanwhile, Ro wakes up in a hallway and heads for sickbay. Oddly, however, no one seems to notice her, even when she arrives in sickbay and asks people for help. Then, to her shock, she hears Picard and Beverly talking, and Beverly expressing dislike for making out death certificates; namely, those of Ro and Geordi. As she tries to convince them both that not only is she not dead, but she's right *there*, Picard leaves--and walks right through her on the way out.

As repairs continue on the Romulan ship, and Data begins preparations for a memorial service, Ro finds Geordi in engineering, as confused as she. They're both in the same boat, but at least they seem solid enough to each other. Ro tells Geordi that she's concluded they're dead, but Geordi refuses to believe it. He leaves through a bulkhead for transporter room 3, leaving Ro to "make peace with her former life."

There, he finds Data examining the situation and theorizing that damage to the Romulan cloaking device may have caused the transporter malfunction, noting that there is a substantial chroniton field present on the Enterprise. Ro tries to say goodbye on the bridge, but gets drawn into following a discussion of the memorial service; at least, until Geordi arrives and convinces her to join him on the next shuttle to the Romulan ship to check the situation out.

They board that shuttle, which Data and Worf are piloting. After Geordi and Ro listen to Data and Worf plan their funerals (an eerie feeling, at best), they all arrive on the Romulan ship and investigate. Data and Worf find little, but Geordi and Ro discover two things of note. First, Geordi finds a molecular phase inverter, which quickly leads him to believe that he and Ro are both cloaked and "phased", a process which must somehow be reversible. Second, they hear two Romulans planning to rig a boobytrap via the energy beam supporting them, which will trigger and destroy the Enterprise when it goes into warp. They leave to attempt to warn the Enterprise somehow; and a spectral Romulan gets up and follows them every step of the way.

Data's inspection of all the chroniton fields turns out to correlate with every place Geordi or Ro have appeared, and Geordi quickly comes to believe that it's their interactions with normal matter such as the bulkheads that causes the fields. He begins walking through everything he can to get Data's attention, just as Ro, on the bridge, is accosted by the Romulan, who demands she take him to Geordi. Geordi discovers that the anion beams Data uses to wipe out the chroniton fields help him to solidify--but at this setting, it's
both slight and temporary. En route to Geordi, meanwhile, Ro double-crosses the Romulan and tries to get away. A long chase ensues, triggering a run of chroniton fields that Data (and Geordi close behind) follow. Eventually, Data is none the wiser, but Geordi arrives just in time to save Ro, accidentally knocking the Romulan out through a bulkhead and spinning off into space in the bargain.

The Romulan ship, repaired enough to get home, leaves, and only the decontamination procedures used on the chroniton fields prevent the Enterprise from going into warp. Frantic, Geordi and Ro realize they have to
have a high-intensity anion beam directed at them, and it'll be short duration enough that it had better be in front of a lot of people. They proceed to their own wake in Ten-Forward, where with a little judicious action (including setting the Romulan disruptor on overload, finally), they manage to induce a high enough anion beam to allow Picard and Data to see them for a moment. Data orders a highest-power anion beam to flood
Ten-Forward, and Geordi and Ro return to normal. All is well, but Ro finds herself questioning her earlier skepticism out Bajoran beliefs in an afterlife.

There, that should do. Now for the commentary.

I'm trying to write this as fast as I can, because I *did* enjoy it a lot, and the more I think about the show, the more reasons I come up with why I shouldn't have. :-)  It just comes down to a question of believability, and if you stop to ponder it, this show sets off more suspension-of-disbelief alarms than I've seen in a very long time. I'll go through them in brief, and then get to the definite good things.

First, foremost, and utmost, there's this weensy little problem with their intangibility. Fine; they're intangible. Why, oh *why*, then, is it that:

  1. The can walk on the floor?
  2. They have to take suuttles and turbolifts?
  3. They apparently need to breathe (e.g. the Romulan) and eat (e.g. Geordi's last remark about not having eaten for two days or so).

The latter two are not overly big deals, but the first is amazingly so. I realize that without something like that, you get both incredible plot complications and incredible budget overruns (after all, as long as people
can walk on the floor the rest is easy :-) ), but even so, it's very careless. Hell, I'd have been satisfied if there'd just been a quick exchange on order of "but hey...wait a second, if we're walking through everything, why can we still stand on the deck?" "Damned if I know." It doesn't need to be *explained*, merely *acknowledged*. This wasn't, and it makes Ron Moore look like a fool. (And Ron's done good stuff, so I think from past experience we know he's NOT a fool.)

A related problem that was most likely just a mistake: Ro very definitely, and very longingly, *touched* both her chair and her console when she went to the bridge to say her goodbyes. The camera made a special point of noting both of those events. No explanation, however, was given. I'm willing to bet this was just a quick brain-fade on the writer's or director's part, but that really is the sort of thing that should be caught in the editing stage.

The other plot *problem* I guess I had was with Geordi's tactics in getting Data's attention. C'mon, Geordi, you can do a *lot* better than that. If you want to get Data's attention by making things look nonrandom, start drawing geometric shapes in the wall or on the console. Hell, start triggering deja vu by drawing the number 3 everywhere if you want to. A series of pulses, even in a somewhat nonrandom order, aren't likely to set anything off nearly as much as something like that. Even if you just want to do pulses, try something like an SOS pattern, or a sequence of prime numbers. *Something*. I liked the idea, but this made Geordi look a bit shy of gray matter.

The other thing I disliked a bit wasn't really a plot issue so much as a padding issue. The entire subsubsubplot with the phased Romulan was almost entirely out of left-field. There's no reason given for how he got that way in the first place: there are tons of likely explanations, but you'd think one of them would be forthcoming. There's no reason given for why he wanted to follow them to the Enterprise: to stop them from warning the others? to stop them from returning to normal? to join them? If the last, why not simply ask for it instead of threatening them? And finally, the chase scene was really...well, "gratuitous" is the most apt word I can think of for it. It kept bouncing back and forth between action and slapstick, and as a result it didn't really work as either for me. I get the impression that this was a combination of show padding and an excuse to show lots of FX, plus a chase scene to boot. There really should be better reasons.

The Romulans have been really *interesting* in the past, too, especially from Ron Moore; "The Defector" is a vivid example. Here they were basically stock villain XJ-28, except for the fact that they had a cloaking device. It's depressing.

But enough of the bad; on to the good. The *premise* of the show was a good one, both in the Interphase device and in Geordi and Ro reacting to their situation. And character-wise, most of it was very well executed. Ro, in particular, has really come into her own. I liked her back in "Ensign Ro", but mostly as a fairly feisty plot device. "Conundrum" improved things a bit, but this did it a lot more. Yes, she's still acerbic; that's no problem. She's also vulnerable, and shaped a lot more by her "outdated" Bajoran traditions than she cares to realize. This said a lot, I think, about lessons one learns in childhood; even if you end up rejecting them as foolish as an adult, sometimes they're deeply ingrained enough that you revert to them when push comes to shove. Her interest in Riker was well carried off, too; I suspect "Conundrum" may have a few ramifications after all between the two of them.

Geordi was fairly nice, but somewhat less so. This was probably because he ended up in a far more technical role, as the genius who figures it all out. Somebody had to, but it makes him less easily empathized with and somewhatless interesting to watch. Geordi was competently characterized, certainly,
but there wasn't much new here the way there was for Ro. (His reactions to Ro's calm acceptance of her "death" were a major exception to that, and a pleasure.)

Data and Worf were quite good; both reacted about as I'd expect them to for Geordi's apparent death.  Data's unintentional eulogy in the shuttlecraft was the highlight of his role this week; as I'm about to speak at my own grandfather's memorial service this weekend, it touched a major nerve. It was also very touchingly ironic the way he so quietly delivered a very beautiful summing-up of Geordi's effect on him, yet professed not to know what to say. Very, very human indeed. As for Worf, the little insight we had into his beliefs was most intriguing, and seems to fit in fairly well with the "it is only an empty shell now" attitude most Klingons have towards the body. (I just *wish* he'd used the words "Black Fleet" once. Just once, guys, that's all I ask...)

Picard, Riker, Bev, and the random crewmembers were fine, but had significantly less to do than the others above. (Riker's reaction to the wake was perfect, though; the only thing that would have been better would
have been to have him admit to having had a hand in planning it, which is what I expected; it *was* rather New Orleans-ish, after all.  :-) ) The Romulans were...well, they weren't characters so much as plot devices, so they're not very relevant. The crucial ones were the four I mentioned in detail, I think.

The directing was fairly typical: no real edge-of-your-seat surprises, but entertaining enough. (Sort of midrange for David Carson, I guess; he did "Yesterday's Enterprise", which was expertly done, but also did "Redemption II", which seemed very rushed and hurried.)  The chase scenes, despite being somewhat gratuitous, *were* fairly fun to watch; I just found myself asking why afterwards.

The FX were on the whole very good for the phasing, but once or twice things looked pretty obviously matted. (The first one, with Picard walking through Ro, is the biggest example.)  The best one, far and away, was when Geordi was pushing his hand into the engineering console with difficulty; especially given the reflective surface, that looked *incredibly* good to me.  

The music was better than usual for Dennis McCarthy, enough so that I thought it was Jay Chattaway.  Good work. :-)

I think that's most of it.  A few short takes:

--I think it would have been very interesting to have Geordi note the parallel between here and "The Most Toys". In TMT, we saw Geordi helping to arrange the aftermath of Data's apparent death, and here, we saw Data planning Geordi's own funeral. That's not a combination you see every day, and it certainly called up images of TMT in my mind.

--"Are you saying I'm some kind of blind ghost with clothes?" Loooooove that line.  :-)

--The final scene with Geordi and Ro was almost perfect. I liked the fact that they didn't just end on the party, as I thought they might; and Ro's comments were good. If they'd cut off their laughter five seconds earlier, it would've been superb; as it is, things went on just slightly too far past the annoying line.  Ah, well, no big deal.

--The subplot with the phased Romulan might have been gratuitous, but that Romulan *looked* incredibly spectral. Good makeup job there.

Well, that ought to about do it. I wouldn't call this high drama the way "I, Borg" was by any means, but if you turn most of your mind off, it's a lot of good fun. That's enough for me most of the time.

So, the numbers:

Plot: 5. Nice concepts, but Swiss Cheese Central.
Plot Handling: 8. Strike the phased Romulan plot and you're done.
Characterization: 9. If Geordi had had more meaty stuff, this'd almost undoubtedly be a 10.

TOTAL:  7.5, rounding up a bit for good music and FX.  Not bad at all.

NEXT WEEK:  A rerun of "Violations", so we can all breathe.

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjuliet
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"Are you saying I'm some kind of blind ghost with clothes?"
                --Geordi LaForge
--
Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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