WARNING: The following post contains critical spoiler information regarding the sixth-season premiere of TNG, "Time's Arrow, Part II". Those not wishing to have already seen spoiler information at the time of viewing are advised to remain clear at this time.
Well, that was...strange.
There were quite a few things they did, many of them good...but there were also a lot of things they *didn't* do, and a few things they did that I didn't like. More after a synopsis:
Sam Clemens, convinced by his eavesdropping that Data and Guinan are invaders from the future, tells a reporter of the broad strokes of his theory that the 19th century is in as much danger as King Arthur's time was in his novel _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_. He abruptly stops, however, when he sees Data emerging from a building and walking down the street. He moves to follow Data, whom we see passing a well-dressed couple (known to us as the true "invaders").
Some time later, Riker and Dr. Crusher (both in appropriate garb) are searching the morgue for signs of the aliens' presence. Beverly finds that many of the so-called "cholera victims" died, not from the disease, but from having their neural energy completely drained; their souls were stolen, if you will. She and Riker theorize that the aliens have traveled back to this disease-ridden time to use the epidemic as a cover for murder. They return to the apartment where the entire team is staying and report their findings, and the team plans to infiltrate the charity hospital from which many of the victims have come. Additionally, they note that the aliens should be detectable at close range via tricorder thanks to their triolic emissions, and note that they have not yet managed to contact Data.
Meanwhile, Sam Clemens is let into Data's hotel room with the help of Jack the bellboy, and in return advises Jack to follow his dreams and write about them. (Jack, his last name now revealed to be London, vows to do so.) Clemens takes a piece of Data's strange construct for safekeeping, then hides in the closet as Data returns with Guinan. Data and Guinan discuss ways to enter the cavern where Data's head will eventually be found, until Data suddenly notices the absence of the missing part. Guinan immediately believes it to be Clemens, and Clemens then accidentally reveals himself.
As Data replaces the transceiver, Clemens angrily defends his actions by claiming to be defending the interests of his race and his century. He challenges Data to explain his journeyings all over the city in search of the cavern they have now located, and accuses the pair of scheming to foul the 19th century with future technology.
Some time later, the away team is working in the charity hospital, surreptitiously setting "alarms" to react to the aliens' presence. Beverly, as a nurse, is the first to notice an alarm going off and moves to intercept the strange doctor and nurse that have just appeared. Without a word, they begin to move toward her, but she is saved by the arrival of the rest of the team. Overmatched, the two aliens phase away, but without benefit of the
man's cane. The team tries to explain themselves to an arriving policeman, but eventually are forced to assault him and escape, fleeing in a cart driven by the arriving Data, whose device alerted him to the aliens' phasing.
Back in the team's apartment, the team tries to activate the cane. Phasered, it turns into the ophidian they've been searching for and causes small time-shifts. However, the shifts are both very small and very short-lived;
it becomes clear that a focusing mechanism is needed. The rest of the team heads for the cavern, as Data and Picard detour to Guinan's home. There, the true "first meeting" of Picard and Guinan takes place, as Picard for once finds himself with the advantage of foreknowledge.
As Clemens, tipped off by his reporter friend as to Data's involvement with the team at the hospital, heads for the cavern, the team arrives there. Geordi finds that the walls of the cave have effectively been turned into a giant focusing device for the ophidian's power; a triolic "lens", if you will. Assuming the cavern on Devidia Two is similarly designed, destroying that cavern should stop the aliens' presence on Earth. They decide to attempt to use the ophidian to head back to their century, but are stopped by the sudden arrival of Clemens, who threatens them all with his gun and demands they leave with him. Just at that time, however, the aliens phase back in and attempt to recover their cane. Data grabs it back and subdues the man, only to have the cane flare twice. The first flare seriously injures the female alien, and the second blows off Data's head and blows everyone else to the ground. When they revive, they see the cane vanish and a time-gate open. The male alien runs through, and all the away team save Picard (with an injured Guinan) follows. Just as the gate closes, however, Clemens revives and also follows through.
Back on Devidia Two, everyone seems all right, but Riker harshly upbraids Clemens for following. They find Data's headless body (still holding the cane), and all six people beam aboard the Enterprise. There, Geordi begins attempting to reattach the head they currently have, while Troi volunteers herself as Clemens's escort.
Five centuries earlier, Picard tends to a seriously injured Guinan. When she seems puzzled by why he would do so, he reveals something of how close they will one day become (well beyond friends, he says). They spy Data's head, which Picard refers to as history fulfilling itself.
Back in the 24th century, Guinan tells Riker that history must be allowed to fulfill itself, and refuses to tell him anything about what he should do. After Troi tells Clemens a bit more about her century (and convinces him that
many of his century's baser elements such as poverty and greed have been eliminated), they arrive at Geordi's lab, where nothing constructive has happened yet. Clements finds his broken watch and talks of having misjudged Data.
Back on Earth, Picard interrogates the dying alien, who insists that they needed human energy and had no choice but to do what they did. When Picard tells her of their plan to destroy the Devidia Two cavern, she gloats that the Enterprise's weaponry will only amplify the time distortion and destroy Earth as well. Dying, she fades into nonexistence.
While Worf (over Riker's initial objections, then with his grudging support) prepares a photon spread to destroy the cavern, Geordi finds an iron filing causing intermittent problems in Data's input polarizers. Puzzled, he wonders how it got there.
Picard, meanwhile, uses an iron filing to encode a message in Data's head. With one minute left in the 24th century until the torpedoes are launched, Geordi successfully revives Data, who comprehends Picard's message and aborts the torpedo launch. The problem revealed, they begin modifying the torpedoes in ways that would destroy the aliens without causing time-shifts.
However, that doesn't solve the problem of how to recover Picard. Beverly explains that their weaponry could open a gate, but only powerful enough for one person to go back and then one to go forward. Clemens offers himself as the obvious choice to return to his own time and allow Picard to return to his. He thanks Data for allowing him to begin a new adventure and recover from his own bitterness, then departs.
As Picard readies to leave the cave and help Guinan, Clemens rushes in with instructions. With less than five minutes until the torpedoes are launched against Devidia Two, he explains the situation to Picard and agrees to help Guinan get proper care. Picard bids both farewell (telling Guinan that he'll see her in a few minutes) and prepares to leave.
However, with no trace of him in the 24th century and signs that the aliens are becoming active, Riker orders the torpedoes fired. Picard arrives just as the first torpedoes hit, and is transported aboard barely in time. The
cavern is destroyed, and Picard returns to a new understanding of his relationship with Guinan. Finally, Clemens gets Guinan help and, knowing what lies ahead, deliberately avoids picking up his 19th century watch, leaving it to gather dust just a few meters away from Data's head.
Well, that should do it. Now, onwards.
As I said before, there are good and bad things here. Perhaps I just wasn't particularly in the mood for Trek this week, but I found this somewhat disappointing. Not *awful*, mind you; just disappointing.
One of the things that disappointed me is that very little about the actual reason for all this got *answered*. The basic storyline about these aliens works out to be: Picard and company find signs of aliens in the 1890s, assume they're hostile, attack them when they find them in the past, and eventually destroy their base in the 24th century. We're never given any evidence that they *must* be hostile, or that they have a choice in the matter (remember the Crystalline Entity? "It is not evil, it is *feeding*."), and I find that disturbing. Even more annoying is that we found out precisely zero about why they picked Earth at that time, or at all. Riker and Bev gave a theory which might work, but we have no sign that it's the case. Finally along these lines, the particular aliens involved more or less ended up drifting off screen rather than being resolved somehow. Yes, the female presumably died and faded offscreen, but the male jumped back through the portal. Where is he? Did he remain on Devidia Two with the others? We don't know. Too many unanswered questions that *should* have \ been answered.
Here's another, for instance: Why, *why*, did the away team not try to simply find Data via communicator? We're given the clear impression from the hospital scene that they work; why not try it? If in fact Data *had* lost the communicator in last show's poker game, then we'd be the wiser for it, and the show would look very bright for having thought of *and blocked* that easy way out. Instead, it looks like they forgot. Sigh.
As long as we're on the away team, we are told absolutely nothing about how they got from the situation at the end of part one to the apartment they were in now. There are several easy answers, but nothing obvious; how did they get, not only a room, but an apartment large enough to hold the whole team? How did they get, not only clothing, but *precisely* the clothes they all needed to do what they had to (Riker's policeman outfit, Beverly's nurse garb, etc.)? That felt decidedly like ducking the issue to me, and I'd prefer something more honest.
Another one that just occurred to me: the soul-searching about whether the portal would open and get Picard back was completely unnecessary. The Federation has had the knowledge of time travel for a *century* now, and I cannot believe that a situation like this would not at least allow them to consider using it. The Devidia Two cave was hardly the only way back to 1893.
I also thought the whole resolution was too...well, just too *easy*, or too obvious. The surface interpretation some people had at the end of part 1 was that the aliens were some sort of soul-vampires, and that Data would be revived by having the discovered head reattached. A great many people, myself included, scoffed, saying "they're not going to go with something that obvious". Unfortunately, they did; and it feels like a gyp to me. If the
head could be reattached, why was there a big worry about it being *disattached* in the first place?
Another thing that got to me slightly was the end of the Jack London riff. I *liked* it in the first part: very quietly and subtly done (to the point where I didn't even notice it myself first time around). Even most of this part of the story was all right; if we'd been left with Clemens encouraging Jack to write about his experiences and Jack determined to go to Alaska, that could have been nice. But instead, we get the answer thrown up in bright neon letters: "Look, I'm Jack London!" Maybe it's just me, but that sort of soured the deal for me. I prefer things said a little more softly than that.
On to some of the good things, though. Far and away, the best part of the show had to be the several meetings in 1893 'tween Picard and the young Madame Guinan. From the first moment those two met, I felt the bond between them jump into sharp focus. (It helps that the actors involved are among the best TNG's got, of course. :-) ) This whole sequence of events brought so many memories of past TNG home ("A bald man was kind to me once"..."once, when I was in trouble, a *lot* of trouble...somebody helped me"..."we'll *never* meet"...) that this felt like a kind of...well, like a circle closing. I was very impressed. ("Do you know me?" "Very well." "Do I know you?" "Not yet...but you will." That hit home; I've no idea why.)
(I do wish, though, that someone had let slip to Guinan "oh, by the way, don't schedule any visits home in the mid-23rd century" and thus started up another informational loop about the Borg. :-) )
Speaking of time loops, that's another thing the show did quite well. Lots of little loops were set up, and the big one was resolved *without* changing history in any significant way. Let's see if I can catch all of them:
1) Picard has now made himself known to Guinan, so she can make herself known to him when she's ~470 years older and he's 20 (perhaps) years younger. Er...check, please. :-)
2) There is one uninterrupted timeline both for Clemens's watch and for Data's head. The watch traveled a linear path from its beginnings until 2368, then traveled back to 1893 with Clemens and continued on at the usual speed. There are two watches post-1893 (at least until he junks the broken one he's got now :-) ), but these things happen when you start mucking with time travel. (Look at Kirk's glasses. :-) )
3) Same goes for Data's head. It traveled a linear path from its origins to the beginnings of "Time's Arrow", then had a long stint from 1893 back to 2368, then reattached itself and continued on. One head, just with a very long down time in the middle there.
Yes, it looks like there are two heads and two watches, but these things do happen. I've always liked stories that manage to manipulate time-travel while keeping their wits about them, and this definitely won that. (Those who want an example of a much deeper paradox that could *really* make their head spin are strongly advised to pick up a copy of Heinlein's short story "By His Bootstraps". You won't regret it.)
Back to some bad news, unfortunately. While I thoroughly enjoyed Jerry Hardin's turn as Sam Clemens in part 1, it was used way too much here. More than that, it was in some ways used *carelessly*. Twain jumping through the gate to arrive in the 24th century is all well and good, but having everyone be so nonchalant about it is quite definitely not. You don't want someone heading back with lots of knowledge of the future, even if it's Mark Twain. (*Especially* if it's Mark Twain, now that I think about it. Someone that outspoken and that prominent is not someone you want with the power to change history, folks.) And while a couple of minutes of Clemens' speechmaking is fine, after a while it gets very wearing, *especially* when it's countered by a speech about 24th-century Utopia. (I don't mind having the show take place in an optimistic future; I've gone on record about that many times. I *do* mind having the extreme optimism that occasionally shines through tossed in my face.)
The basic feeling I got after watching was that the show was very *clever* in clearing up all the time paradoxes, but that except for the Picard/Guinan elements, I was given very little reason to actually *care* whether they did so. Aside from the aforementioned scenes (and the scene where Data actually lost his head), very little stands out to me as memorable, and that's rather rare.
Onwards to some more short takes. Maestro:
--For credits-watchers: Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria are now story editors, replacing Peter Allan Fields. This seems an extremely good sign to me, given both the talents of Braga ("Cause and Effect", "Reunion") and Echevarria ("The Offspring", "I, Borg"), and the real qualms I have about Fields ("Cost of Living"). Congratulations to both.
--Also for credits-watchers: Poor William Boyett is doomed always to play a San Francisco cop, it seems. First he ends up as a cop in a fictional 1941 SF in "The Big Goodbye", and now we see him again as the cop Riker slugs here in 1893 SF. If I didn't know better, I'd think we were seeing a whole family line of Frisco cops. :-)
--I thought the bits with Picard's landlady were decidedly fillerlike. Bits of the first one weren't bad ("Ah...Milan."), but the second one had my teeth on edge. (On the other hand, it *was* cute to see how Geordi avoided having questions asked about the VISOR. :-) )
--I did enjoy the scene where Riker was "convinced" to destroy the cave rather than try to go back. Voiceovers from the room were easy. ("Permission to speak freely?" "Granted, Mr. Worf." "You're acting like an idiot, sir." :-) )
I think that's really about it. I wish I liked it better than I did, but it was not to be. That might bode ill for the season...but then again, last year we had "Redemption II", which I also found disappointing, followed up by "Darmok", which I've found to be one of TNG's strongest shows. We shall see!
So, the numbers:
Plot: 4. The main plot points were answered and well-woven, but we had absolutely no answers to all but the most crucial of questions.
Plot Handling: 4. Too much padding and too little subtlety.
Characterization/Acting: 7. Had Clemens been either less annoying or less present, this would be higher, as Spiner, Stewart and Goldberg all did terrific jobs.
TOTAL: 5. That feels about right. Not bad, but decidedly disappointing.
Barclay returns, this time with a phobia of transporters. Or is it really that irrational a fear?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I'll see you in five hundred years, Picard."
"And I'll see you...in a few minutes."
-- Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...