Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Neutral Zone"

*1/2

Air date: 5/16/1988
Teleplay by Maurice Hurley
Story by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Glee
Directed by James L. Conway

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Here's an episode that plays like the writers took two story pitches and simply filmed them, without bothering to develop a script for either one that would fulfill the requirements for an actual episode of television. To call "The Neutral Zone" half-baked would be an understatement. It's quarter-baked.

In story A, Data and Worf beam onto a drifting space relic and find three cryogenically frozen survivors from the 20th century. They bring them to the Enterprise and revive them. In story B, the recent mysterious devastation of Federation and Romulan outposts along the Neutral Zone prompt some new rumblings from the Romulan Empire. After a 50-year hiatus of having not come in contact with the Federation, indicators are that they might be returning as a possible cold-war threat. (Gee, what about the plot from "Angel One" where the Enterprise was supposed to rush off the Neutral Zone to ward off a Romulan attack?)

Neither of these plots is worth our time (and the point of putting them in the same episode escapes me, because they're incompatible). The Romulan storyline exists to tell us — and only tell us — that the Romulans are back from obscurity and available for future episodes. Beyond that, there's very little insight or point to any of this, except for Troi's scouting report about the Romulan persona — reported to be arrogant and more likely to test the enemy with mind games and vague threats before resorting to force. Unfortunately, this makes for a long setup to a non-payoff where the Romulans literally say, "We're back," and then turn around and leave.

The storyline involving 20th-century Americans waking up in the 24th century is even more of a nonstarter. We're given three characters who wake up and scarcely react to the new world that surrounds them. When they do react, their reactions are bland and obvious. The writers apparently thought it would be cool to try to use these characters as entry points with which we could identify. No such luck, because these are three exceptionally uninteresting guest characters. Better luck next season.

Previous episode: Consipracy
Next episode: The Child

Season Index

42 comments on this review

Joe - Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - 7:14pm (USA Central)
To true man. I recently decided to work my way through every star trek episode from first to last, and your reviews really help to put things into perspective. I'm glad this site exists.
Daniel - Tue, Dec 11, 2007 - 2:48am (USA Central)
Great stuff on all these reviews...I like "The Neutral Zone" though. Putting aside that Romulan encounter from "Angel One", this episode does a great job of creating an ominous overtone to reintroduce the Romulans. The 20th century characters are used well too, adding some humor without taking away from the best part of the plot (the Romulans). I'm always impressed when TNG can do that.
Dan - Thu, Jan 24, 2008 - 8:58am (USA Central)
I have to echo my namesake. I really enjoyed The Neutral Zone as an episode.
k - Fri, Aug 1, 2008 - 5:29am (USA Central)
Thanks Jammer for working your way through NextGen. The first season has just arrived on the Sci-Fi channel out here in Asia. Haven't seen them since I was a teenager and they do not age very well. Cheap sets a la TOS, bad acting, flaccid writing etc etc. Only thing keeping me going is knowing it does get a lot better (and Troi's cleavage of course!). Cheers and keep up the good work. K
Daniel L. - Sat, Jan 10, 2009 - 12:19am (USA Central)
Most of your reviews are spot-on, Jammer, although I would have been a little harsher on "The Naked Now" and "Home Soil" (especially Home Soil), and a little less harsh on "Where No One Has Gone Before," "When The Bough Breaks" (come on, you didn't get a HUGE laugh when Picard barked, "You have committed an act of UTTA BARBARITEH!"), and especially "The Neutral Zone" (a dopey but entertaining season finale).

I am thirty now and started watching The Next Generation in between Seasons 4 and 5. I watched the first 4 seasons in the summer of 1991. By that point in time, I'd just finished watching all of the TOS episodes; it took further viewings of both series to realize how TNG was an uneasy mixture of recycled TOS themes (the God figure/punisher/lawgiver theme, the soapbox speeches about inequality) and "new" Trek themes and trappings (the holodeck, quite overused in season 1; the saucer separation; the more "cerebral" - read, surrender at the first opportunity - Captain).
impronen - Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - 10:28am (USA Central)
I think the first season of TNG is the worst trek ever. I have to admit that I have not seen many of TOS episodes but in all, this season was just utter crap from beginning to end. Voyager is a gem compared to this and even Enterprise had something worth watching on the first season. This is just one facepalm after another.
E. Kristjans - Thu, Dec 3, 2009 - 9:42pm (USA Central)
Don't be too hard on these episodes, they're just extremely 1980's - and extremely funny in all their hairsprayed, spandex-clad corniness! ;)

Plus, when you're 14 and the Internet is almost a decade away, even the blandest looking bad actresses look like super-sexy space godessess in their "spacy" 80's hairdos & costumes.

Too bad I'm soon turning 40, married (not even to a space babe), and the 1980's are long gone :(

But well, we'll always have TNG on DVD!
Andy - Sat, Dec 5, 2009 - 11:13pm (USA Central)
This season why Roddenberry was a figurehead for the rest of his tenure.
Adam - Wed, Mar 17, 2010 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
For the most part, this is a bad season. 16 of the 25 episodes range from just adequate to bland to terrible. The only good ones are:

Encounter at Farpoint: mildly good, and Q is a pretty fun villain, but in order to see another episode where it doesn't feel like the writers are struggling to write a compelling episode (with how far they are varrying from episode to episode), a person watching them in order will have to wait ten more episodes, then they'll get a good episode followed immediately by a great episode

The Big Goodbye: This is the good episode in question.

Datalore: This is the great episode. Fascinating Data character development, though I could have done without Weasly being the only character who can figure out what's going on and the adults always replying "shut up Weasly". It makes the adults look both stupid and obnoxious.

Some of the following five episodes have interesting-sounding premises that could have made the episodes good were it not for the characters still seeming largely like blank slates (see "Home Soil" for a prime example, as the idea of something that didn't seem to be turning out to be alive, though certainly done before in the original series, is still a pretty interesting premise, but the other characters still aren't interesting enough for me to care much). Then we get two more consecutive very good ones

Coming Of Age: Good character development for Weasly, actually made me feel sorry for him when he felt bad about failing the test, and mentions the conspiracy within Starfleet that will be the plot of the season's penultimate episode.

Heart of Glory: At last, some really good Worf character development!

After that come the last six episodes of the season. The sixth-to-last and fifth-to-last are not bad, but aside from Kirk and Crusher's disagreement about the Prime Directive in the fifth-to-last one, there's nothing especially interesting about them either. Still, nice to see the Prime Directive actually matter instead of seemingly having no point other then being a rule to break like on the original series.

The last four episdes are all pretty good.

Skin of Evil: Tasha Yar's death would have meant so much more if she'd seemed like a real person and not a cardboard cutout. Other then that I enjoyed this episode, though I can't think of anything else to say about it.

We'll Always Have Paris: Fairly interesting stuff about Captain Picard. This episode is bettr then the previous one.

Conspiracy: Exciting action episode.

The Neutral Zone: Both of the plots are interesting concepts and both are done pretty well here.


Nick P. - Thu, Sep 23, 2010 - 12:08am (USA Central)
I love this page, you like star trek but not insane nut, like some (alot actually).

I agree with you mostly, but I have a couple nit-picks.

Naked Now- I loved and still love that episode. I agree with one poster that it is a rip-off, but it acknowledges that in the first ten minutes, and it is a very fun episode. You are quite correct, the second episode is too early for fish out of the water, since we don't even know what the water is yet.

When the bough Breaks & Symbiosis. I actually completely disagree with you on these two episodes. I think these two in particular are series favourites of mine, and I don't think they are as far-fetched as you imply. It is easy to be the viewer and say you wouldn't be fooled by the drug trade for instance, but then again since we have entire CITIES locked into very similar situations as the ornarans, I think it is a little pretentious to say it is a silly concept. On top of that, I think Symbiosis has bar none, the most interesting "prime directive" debate of the entire series, possibly all of star trek. Perhaps the resolution was a little too TV, but the set-up was thought provoking. As for When the bough breaks, I do not love it as much as Symbiosis, but I think it is a solid concept that had to fit in 45 minutes, as all treks, but this was the first time Picard asctually got pissed at something, which was satisfying. And btw, happened little after the 5th season.

I agree with almost everyone else that you give short shift to the Neutral Zone, I thought the tension of the romulans was perfectly broken by the very likable and sympathetic 20th century folks. I think this one could easily have been a very popular 2 parter.

I completely agree with you on everything else. 11011010, is one of the best of the series. So few give it the props it deserves.
Matthew Burns - Wed, Dec 15, 2010 - 9:56am (USA Central)
I love - no - I absolutely love 'Jammers Reviews'. They MUST be the most comprehensive reviews of ALL the star trek episodes that can be found on the internet at the moment. They are brilliantly produced and thoughtful in the right places. I hope you get around to finishing those later TNG episodes that still aren't done yet - I am looking forward to that.


I agree mostly with the reviews on this first season. Of all the modern trek's first years (TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT) TNG'S is probably the worst by some stretch. Half the episodes (at least)of the season are mediocre or worse. The very best for me were 11001001, The Big Goodbye, Datalore, Conspiracy and Where No Man Has Gone Before. Encounter at Farpoint was quite good in places, especially scenes involving Q; It just wasn't a well executed episode and although felt fresh and and different, was evidently restrained by a background intention to help the show appeal to fans of TOS in the early stages of the series (which I surpose is understandable). However, DS9 tried to capture a TNG spirit in places during its first season and I think this damaged that show's first season as well; to a lessor extent than TNG suffered here, I'll admit. Voyager was also a culprit as well; trying to mix TNG and DS9 themes into one - quite successfully at times. ENT was bad throughout the first two seasons of existence as well trying to be like, yeah, like TNG and VOY again.

I think its just a modern star trek trend for a trek series to either start badly, or attempt to recapture the essence of a previous incarnations. Or - in the case of TNG-S1 - Both.

On the other-hand TOS's first year is generally regarded as its best and it's third year the worst - strange that. Although it did only have three seasons it still is a fact in my book regardless.

Michael Piller would have loathed this season, I'm sure of that. Drama and character development is simply bad or non-existent most of the time. That's why the third season was so, so, so much better! It was like a new series that year, started anew! And nobody ever never looked back after that season.
stviateur - Mon, May 9, 2011 - 2:49pm (USA Central)
Have just begun reviewing TNG from first season for first time in decades and must agree with most of what Jammer has said about the episodes...easily the worst Star Trek I recall seeing! But in particular I want to bring up the final episode The Neutral Zone that I recall liking back in the day. It still held up due to its A and B storylines but the real problem I had with it was the reactions of the crew to these rescued people (and what's the deal about them being "dead?" Are we to believe that Federation medicine can revive dead people?) Totally arrogant and completely disinterested...in fact totally out of character so far as I can tell. Riker was even made that they were rescued...a robot had more compassion for these hapless people than he did! Then, as the episode progresses, everyone acts as if nothing is amiss...survivors from hundreds of years in the past and no one cares a wit about them. Where are the historians aboard the Enterprise? you'd think people would be falling all over themselves to get first hand accounts from a time period hundreds of years ago. And what's with the condescenion over television? You mean to tell me entertainment/information is no longer recorded for later visual broadcast in the future? Anyway, the whole attitude of Riker and Picard especially toward this incredible find was just plain bizarre! that said, I still kinda dig this episode!
Paul - Thu, Jun 9, 2011 - 7:31pm (USA Central)
While I definitely agree that season 1 of TNG is quite bad, for some inexplicable reason I kinda like it. Yeah, the episodes are utter camp, plotting beyond silly, but I dunno... there is some unpredictable, campy sci-fi quality to it. It has a very pulpy feel to it, and as Quentin Tarantino will attest, that's not entirely bad :)

I'd certainly rather watch season 1 than season 7 -- the latter is completely drowned in that patented TNG late-season beige blandness, while the first at least has an abundance of these silly out-of-the-left-field plots that are sometimes, at least as an idea, interesting.

Am I crazy or are there others who think that way?

Also, watching some early TNG, I noticed that the soundtrack is much better than in later seasons. Nothing particularly fancy mind you, but it does occasionaly stick out and it's not nearly as bad as that horrendous musical blandness (that word again!) of we're going to get.
stviateur - Fri, Jun 10, 2011 - 3:33pm (USA Central)
I have to take issue with at least one thing mentioned by Paul, ie you give pulp a bad name by associating with the mess that was season one!
Paul - Sun, Jun 12, 2011 - 10:13am (USA Central)
Hehe, but that's the point. Season 1 is so bad it's good! Elixirs of youth, invisible weapons that destroy whole civilizations, drunk crew destroying the ship!, stepping into flowers gets you killed!, etc, etc. However bad season 1 episodes are, they often have really hillarious concepts. Compare that to, for example, many Voyager or late season TNG episodes which are bad in that straightforward, dull and sterile way.

stviateur - Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
I've reached mid season of season 3 so far in my reviewing and I've been trying to put my finger on just what it is about Trek that prevents me from wholeheartedly getting into it the way I later did with Bab 5 and I'm beginning to think that it's the fact that Trek is just so MANNERED. I think you touch on that in your comments regarding some of the end season episodes. The living room look of the bridge is a perfect visual example of that. The characters and Federation itself are often devoid of human foibles etc. The insufferable PC attitude of the show also doesn't help. I think that's why a show like Bab 5, despite its sometimes tone deaf dialogue and stiffness on the part of some of its actors, still landed like a depth charge amidst TV SF that was dominated by Trek at the time. Bab 5 had human beings behaving like real people, it had an ongoing, visceral threat, and its sets looked like real working envionments. When Trek had good episodes they worked but so far, there have been few of them.
Paul - Wed, Jun 15, 2011 - 3:05am (USA Central)
Ooh, I love Babylon 5, though I haven't watched Season 5 yet.

Yeah, budget, acting and overall production values were not so great, but that show still had countless moments of great beauty. One has to be patient though and give B5 some time to really spread its wings both character- and plotwise. But once it gets there (mid S2), it's just great.

I think Jammer would appreciate that show, warts and all (and there are some BIG warts), though I seem to remember he said once he hadn't watched it. Well, Jammer: watch it! Give B5 a chance. No reviewing necessary :), just check it out when you have the time.
stviateur - Wed, Jun 15, 2011 - 1:18pm (USA Central)
Have to admit some surprise that with all the reviews Jammer has done, there was no evidence on his site that he covered Bab 5...perhaps the most important SF tv show outside of Trek. What's up with that Jammer?
stviateur - Wed, Jun 15, 2011 - 1:25pm (USA Central)
Caveat to my last post: Bab 5 and Trek are most imporant star faring SF tv shows. Of course, the original Outer Limits was the most important SF tv show of all time!
pviatuer - Wed, Nov 23, 2011 - 10:54am (USA Central)
Having finally finished watching the entire TNG series over again after many years, my conclusion was the the show overall wasn't so hot...even the key episodes that once excited me so. I'll likely not bother watching this series again. By contrast, the classic series, even with its physical drawbacks, still holds up and is even refreshing after viewing Next Gen with its deadening load of PC. I suspect however that the franchise improved over the years and episodes I've seen of Enterprise I recall being more interesting.
Paul - Thu, Dec 1, 2011 - 7:19pm (USA Central)
@pviatuer

Unfortunately, I agree :(

I've also just finished watching TNG after more than a decade, and I am sad to say that it is a pretty mediocre series. Seasons 3 and 4 are really good, Season 6 right behind them, but all the rest... not good. I am an SF junkie, so I enjoyed the time spent on this, but I have to admit that TNG is not a particularly good TV show
William - Mon, Aug 27, 2012 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
This was not great Trek. Not even good Trek. But it was not bad Trek either. And it had a saving grace -- the Ferengi were an epic fail as villians and the Klingons were co-opted as allies. This let us know the Romulans were back. And that was a good thing.
xaaos - Wed, Nov 7, 2012 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
The story A with the frozen survivors was told way better by VOY ("The 37's" episode).
Rikko - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 8:15pm (USA Central)
This episode was so mediocre, the 20th century people could have been left out entirely for all they do in the overall scheme of things. And the Romulan threat felt empty for guys like me that barely knew anything about TOS prior to TNG. They should have made at least one episode (or situation within an episode) to introduce the Romulans as a powerful enemy. In the way they are presented, it feels more childish than anything else: "We're back". Oh yeah? And then you are...?

It's even worse in hindsight, because they wouldn't have a relevant role until Season 3. It's like S2 didn't even exist for the Romulan empire.

-----

Now, regarding the season overall...What a disaster.

Watching the show for the first time in 2012, I can't help to have a lot of preconceived ideas about what Star Trek can be: Bad acting, pathetic stories, ridiculous alien races, etc, etc.

And S1 fails spectacularly as being good TV because it was exactly what I was expecting, which is terrible.

And there's an overreliance on TOS stories and TOS past to make full sense of it.

The overall feeling I got from S1 is that TNG was a terrible show with an insecure identity. On one hand it wanted to satisfy longtime TOS fans by ripping off stories or making references to things that happened before and all of that was done in such a bad way, it could be seen as an insult to the original. On the other hand, it was a catastrophic starting point for new fans.

I don't get how this thing stayed in the air for an entire season. Were shows real bad that year? Or the Trek fans were so happy to see new Trek (any Trek) that they endured until it became better?

With that said, it is true that TNG becomes much better in its third season. And S2 wasn't as bad as S1, either.
Jammer - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 12:51am (USA Central)
@Rikko: With respect to how TNG stayed on the air its first year: That's actually an interesting story in the TV business. TNG was not carried by a network (nor was DS9 or Voyager after it). TNG was sold syndication style to individual TV stations, which for a show with its level of production was quite rare.

Additionally, Paramount set the syndication deal (for the first season of TNG only) such that the stations that picked it up didn't have to pay anything to air it, provided Paramount could book a large percentage of the advertising. So Paramount had a basically guaranteed first season of 26 episodes. It couldn't be canceled because it didn't air on a network, and a syndicated show that cost the TV stations nothing but air time was a really good deal for those stations, which also got a portion of the advertising time to sell. The risk was all Paramount's -- whether the audience would be big enough to sell enough advertising to turn a profit on the show's production costs.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, despite TNG's first season not being good, the viewership was there. In the end, the quality of those episodes was less important to the show continuing than the fact that enough people were watching it for it to be profitable in ad revenue.
Tom - Wed, Dec 12, 2012 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
Jammer,

Do you really think that overall the first season of TNG was not good since it had several good episodes and not too many two star or lower, even by your ratings...wouldnt you rate it more as decent or average rther than flat out bad? Thanks
fluffysheap - Fri, Dec 21, 2012 - 4:08am (USA Central)
I liked this episode. Not perfect certainly, but better than 1.5 stars (compare "Skin of Evil" or "The Outrageous Okona" - also rated 1.5, and those are just bad episodes).

The A and B stories don't have much to do with each other, but they usually don't. Ideally they'll show similar themes, like how Wesley and Picard both deal with their future in "Coming of Age," but here there's not as much. I guess they both cover elements from the past coming forward and becoming relevant again, but the connection is not strong.

I felt the real problem was that Picard's characterization was off. I can understand his irritation with the timing given the Romulan situation, but knowing Picard's interest in history, I would expect him to show more of an interest in the 370 year old humans, Romulans or no Romulans.

As a result of the crew not attending to them properly, they spend most of their time virtually confined to quarters until Ralph figures out how to get them out. Picard should have assigned Troi to deal with the old-timers and Data or Worf to research the Romulans, giving more time to the acclimation and ideology conflicts and less to exposition about stuff everyone already knows.

Despite all this, the old-timers still aren't totally wasted. Their purpose is to illustrate the differences between the attitudes of the 20th and 24th centuries and how much society would change during that time. Claire and Sonny have straightforward reactions that make sense. While not particularly exciting, they both show aspects of humanity that are actually timeless. Claire cares about her family (and establishes the sense of continuity that is one of the aspects of family most often stressed on TNG). Sonny demonstrates adaptability and shows us that even in the 24th century, people will still want to have fun. (One thing about TNG - the most fun they ever seem to have is performing Shakespeare - I think they could use a Sonny). He is almost slyly poking fun at the overall stuffiness of Trek, maybe showing some ways that modern-day life is actually better. Ralph shows the most contrast - like a less annoying version of "Time's Arrow's" Clemens. He even engages Picard in a debate over the nature of destiny, and wins. With Ralph, you see some ways humanity has improved over time, but also that something may have been lost, that humans are a little too accepting of fate and need a little challenge and encouragement to really do their best. One of the weaknesses in most utopian visions, Roddenberry's included, is that, when life is just so easy, what really DOES motivate people? Ralph forces Picard to try to answer this question. Unfortunately, the episode just doesn't spend enough time on these issues.

I find that in general, I like the first two seasons of TNG more than most people, and I'd give this episode a solid 2.5 stars, 3 if it had been paced a little better.

If nothing else, I think this episode deserves credit for inspiring "Futurama," whose "freezerdoodles" look exactly like these cryocanisters, whose power-outages gag echoes the explanation here of why they are in space, and the episode "Futurestock" which appears to be based on Ralph (or perhaps simply draws from the same stock 80's financier character).
fluffysheap - Fri, Dec 21, 2012 - 4:11am (USA Central)
@Paul: "Season 1 is so bad it's good! Elixirs of youth, invisible weapons that destroy whole civilizations, drunk crew destroying the ship!"

---

You've pretty much just described three of the last five movies.
Comp625 - Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
I'd have to slightly disagree with Jammer on this one. A 1.5 star rating is a bit *too* harsh. I agree it was a disjointed episode, but there are a few fun factors that add to the entertainment and watchability of this episode.

- Watching the 20th century humans try to adapt to 24th century life, let alone life during a crisis, was amusing. Also, the set of the cryogenic chambers was well put together. It was probably my 2nd favorite away team set, with the 1st one being the transport ship from "Heart of Glory."

- Seeing the Romulans on-screen "for the first time in 50 years" (but really 18 years since TOS was aired) was cool for its time. I also forgot about the Romulan attack that was supposedly taking place during "Angel One." It goes to show the writers didn't plan far ahead, haha.

- Although no one knew it back then, this episode provided hints about the Borg's existence. Maybe it's this "future" knowledge which makes me think a little more highly about this episode.

Compared to most of Season 1, this episode is definitely one of the better ones.

My rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Solinga - Sun, Mar 10, 2013 - 9:15am (USA Central)
When TNG first came on the air in the 80s, I was a teenager. I watched a few episodes and decided I didn't like it. I was very disappointed with it. Yet, I've been impressed that it had such a long run and had so many fans. So this month I decided to watch it all.

All the reasons I stopped watching it are very clear. Writing that is so bad, it hardens back to Ed Wood. Characters that really annoyed me, useless Troi, creepy Riker, shipsaving Will Crusher. TNG couldn't make the leap to full equality; females assigned only "nurturing" roles. (Tasha wasn't nurturing and got killed off. I remember really liking her.). DS9 also lost me in season 1, but I became a huge Voyager fan. I will go back and try DS9 too.

Thanks for this web site. I really enjoy reading the reviews and comments.
Corey - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 2:35pm (USA Central)
I'm going to have to disagree with Jammer on this one - sorry there bud. How WOULD 20th century humans react to how life is in the 24th century? I think that's an interesting sci-fi premise, and enjoyed the "Neutral Zone"'s take on this.

I'm going to have to comment on Starfleet's atrocious security again - why does the turbolift allow mere passengers access to the bridge, a critical area of the ship? At the very least, only Starfleet personnel should be able to get the turbolift to the bridge.

And come on you guys, you didn't like Picard's chiding of Data (which didn't happen much during the series) - "What more could have happened to them Data? They were already dead!" His attitude seems a bit odd, though, since he obviously loves history with his archaelogy hobby, here is history in the flesh, people who can give 1st hand accounts of life in the 20th century, and he isn't even the least bit curious?

I did like the cryogenic ship set also. It was rather silly though, that not even a lowly midshipman was assigned to these people, just to explain how things work in the 24th century. But then we couldn't get the antics we got, so maybe that's OK.

In any case, I would say this is a solid 3 star outing. You say "We'll always have Paris" is 2 stars, there's just no way that show is better than this one in my opinion. As an example, when re-watching episodes, I will sometimes skip watching "We'll always have Paris" but I never skip the "Neutral Zone", so that says something, I think.
William B - Wed, Apr 3, 2013 - 8:38am (USA Central)
I actually think 1.5 stars is generous here -- I find the plight of these three characters from the 20th century painfully uninteresting, and the smugness with which the 24th century characters regard the 20th century types persistently annoying. Within universe, it's forgivable, I suppose -- I don't imagine that we would be all that kind to 17th century people demanding us to pay attention to their needs and values -- but the fact remains that this episode was written by 20th century writers, who are not above the same qualities which are so broadly ridiculed in the characters here. Of the three, only Clare is even marginally tolerable, and her entire story is "Clare is sad."

The episode does get credit for introducing the Romulan warbird, which is pretty badass.

Anyway, 1 star.

As I just did on the page for s2, I will (for fun) list my ratings for s1, where they differ from Jammer's (I did a rewatch recently) -- note that these are all open to change over time. In parentheses are included the difference between my ratings and Jammer's.

The Naked Now 1.5 (-1)
The Last Outpost 1.5 (-0.5)
Lonely Among Us 1.5 (-0.5)
Hide and Q 2.5 (-0.5)
The Big Goodbye 2.5 (+0.5)
11001001 3.5 (-0.5)
Too Short a Season 1 (-0.5)
Coming of Age 3 (+0.5)
The Arsenal of Freedom 2.5 (-0.5)
Conspiracy 3 (-0.5)
The Neutral Zone 1 (-0.5)

There is little that needs to be said about s1 of TNG. It is actually amazing to me how bad this year is, and how radically it improves. It actually feels unfair using the same rating system for s1 as future seasons. I mean, can one really call both "Angel One" and "Manhunt" one star shows, when the latter's sin is boringness and the former's is -- I mean, I don't even know where to start? Obviously, Jammer does, and I agree with those ratings -- it's just that it is hard to even compare the two seasons. In context, "11001001" maybe does deserve four stars -- I mean, what a breath of fresh air it is; it is actually fairly incredible that that episode got produced, since it must be *much* harder to write an episode for characters who are poorly established and contradictory than for characters who are well established.

But despite its low quality, I do admit to finding this year charming much of the time. It is exciting when threads are first introduced to be picked up later, and there is something amusing about the bright, anything-goes style, in which the writers, cast and crew are clearly throwing a lot of different things at the wall and waiting to see what sticks.
Kevin - Wed, May 15, 2013 - 5:20pm (USA Central)
I LIKED 'The Neutral Zone'! The new series (TNG) had to find some way to separate itself from TOS,and this episode makes a start. Using the same premise as 'Space Seed'-antiquarian, frozen humans- it spins the tale out in a decidedly different direction; instead of over-the-top, eugenically advanced Super Villians,we get more normal( i.e., grounded in everyday reality)humans.The one trump card TNG held over TOS was its psychological sublety vs. TOS (sometimes) heavyhanded commentary. Sooo...in place of Khan, hellbent on seizing control of a starship,presumably en route to conquering the (known) Universe, we get Ralph Offenhouse.Pushy, arrogant, used to getting his way he is,simply, an obnoxious Capitalist Pig;"do you at least have a Wall Street Journal?" he snaps at Will Riker. But is Offenhouse really all that simple? Although driven by the Profit Motive,seemingly, he shows surprising depth and feeling in his encounter with Jean-Luc;in fact,it is the Captain who comes across as more than a little smug,assured in his comfort zone that we've "grown out of our infancy". Offenhouse actually outpoints Picard when the Captain snorts at the notion Ralph posits that the power to "control your life, your destiny" is the ultimate object of the financier. "Such control is an illusion" he contends."Oh really?" Ralph replies,"I'm here,aren't I? I should be dead,but I'm NOT!" Tellingly,Jean-Luc has no answer ready for that one. Later, Offenhouse demonstates superior capabiltites by not only finding his way to the Command Deck, but by actually making an on-the-spot assessment of the Romulans which Picard concedes is accurate.ERGO: Clearly the writers were after a more rounded and nuanced characterization in Offenhouse than is found in TOS. And they got it. He's not loveable, but he's tantalizingly real.
William B - Wed, May 15, 2013 - 10:41pm (USA Central)
@Kevin, the contrast with "Space Seed" is the most interesting take on this episode I've ever heard, thank you.
Kevin - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 4:38pm (USA Central)
You're welcome, I'm sure. Of course, this episode DOES have SOME problems-chief of which is the implausibility(not to mention disputable utility) of a cryongenic capsule drifting out into deep space,light years away from earth. Let's log that one as a convenience of/for the writers,shall we? Ditto trouble with the Romulans and/or the Neutral Zone-which provides a crisis to distract Captain Picard & crew from their out-of-time passengers,thereby causing anxieties and conflicts to develop between them, which would ordinarily have been given some level of priority. However, these flaws do not detract from the greater points of interest; i.e., the differing responses of three ordinary humans who wake up 370 years in the future. Usually, anachronism is played for the Cheap Laugh, especially on TEEVEE: "Happy Days and "That 70s Show" being the best (and worst) examples.There's little of that here and, in fact, one of the more sophisticated yucks comes from the comparison of the Enterprise to the "Q.E.II". Although it is observed by Data that the C&W singer has adjusted most easily to the situation, I must point out that his "adjustment" involves the further pickling of his liver via prodigious consumption of martinis;picking up where he left off,back in the 21st Century.
SkepticalMI - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 6:12pm (USA Central)
I agree with many of the commenters that this is a better episode than given credit here. This somewhat surprised me, as I don't think I liked it much back when I first saw it as a kid. Maybe it's just the knowledge that Season 1 is finally over and the show will get better, or maybe it's just the appearance of the Warbird. Or maybe it's just an actually decent episode. Not great, perhaps not even good, but decent enough.

The tension over the Neutral Zone was built up quite well over the course of the episode I think, broken up only by the human popsicle scenes. The show tended to use more dramatic shots of the Enterprise, we had infighting on the bridge, and some good music as well to put us in the mood. It's a nice preview of what we'll get later in Season 3 with the Romulans; that feeling of foreboding doom around every corner and the need to carefully consider every step. Was it as well executed as in The Defector? No. But it still worked.

Yeah, simply saying "we're back" was a bit cheesy, but it served as a way to keep Trek fans hopes up for the 2nd season, so why not. Yes, the crew was preachy yet again about how 24th century life was so superior, but at least the 20th century man defended himself adequately. I would have liked more of that, particularly at the end, but of course Roddenberry couldn't allow capitalism to be seen in a positive light. The financier was definitely the most interesting of the three survivors to me, and frankly I could have enjoyed a whole episode dealing with him. The southern guy was ok as comedy (although the accent was a bit grating). The lady was rather boring I thought, but perhaps necessary to put in the requisite family aspect.

Some other good moments:

- When Picard yells at the banker for using the intercom, banker asks him why there's no lockout if it's only to be used for official business. As someone who's been rolling my eyes at the lack of safeguards on the ship, it's nice to see someone call them out. Picard's answer (self-discipline) wasn't satisfactory enough either. Self discipline? On a ship with kids? Often used to transport other races? Is that seriously it?

- The Warbird decloaking. Definitely one of the best designed ships in Trek. The camerawork making sure to put it in the foreground (thus very imposing compared to the Enterprise) was a nice touch.

- The fact that the destroyed outposts were never resolved. It's nice to know not everything can be solved in 43 minutes.

- Picard acting like a captain and taking control of the situation. After so many episodes of seeming like a doddering old fool compared to the super genius Wesley and totally Kirk-like Riker, it was nice to see him in command, choosing his own course of action and avoiding the rash suggestions of Riker and Worf.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Sep 3, 2013 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
As an aside, one thing I noticed after rewatching the first season is just how much it improved over the course of the year. So many of the horrid images I had of the first season, like Code of Honor or Justice, were in the first half. Likewise, Wesley the Wunderkid, Grumpy Picard, Preachy Moralizing, Awful Second Halves, and all the other problems were reduced significantly as the season wore on. Also, the acting got so much better, particular Gates McFadden, who was acting more like an android than Brent Spiner in the beginning. She seemed to figure out her characterization as time wore on. The characters are so much more comfortable with each other and far more natural, so you can start to see the greatness that the series would become.

Starting with Home Soil, there's a string of 9 episodes to end the season that, well, aren't bad. Some of them aren't good, of course, but none of them are Angel One or Code of Honor. Given that, it's a bit easier to see the improvements that will come in the 2nd Season.
Paul - Thu, Sep 5, 2013 - 10:21am (USA Central)
@SkepticalMI: I think you nailed it. The second half of the first season really is improved. I think "11001001" was the turning point. "When the Bough Breaks" sucks, but I've always thought "Too Short a Season" and "Coming of Age" were underrated. "Skin of Evil" was sort of necessitated by Denise Crosby wanting to leave the series. "Symbiosis" isn't good, but it feels less like the early episodes.

One thing I would say is that the second season has some pretty bad episodes ("The Outrageous Okona" might be Trek's most pointless episode, if not its worst). I'd say the next jump in quality for TNG didn't really happen until season 3.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 3:55pm (USA Central)
I gotta make a comment towards all of the "How did the show even make it 1 season" talk.....Let's not forget, this was filmed in 1987, what were the GOOD shows in 1987? I have below the top 10 shows (some ties) for 1987-88. Now I am not saying TV is better or worse, just different, and I guess that much like TNG, if these shows were produced today, they would die pretty quick.

The Cosby Show
A Different World
Cheers
The Golden Girls
Growing Pains
Who's the Boss?
Night Court
60 Minutes
Murder, She Wrote
(tie) ALF
(tie) The Wonder Years
(tie) Moonlighting
(tie) L.A. Law
Grumpy - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 4:12pm (USA Central)
Sadly, Nick P, for viewers with a nostalgic bent, your list proves exactly the opposite of your point. Oh, what I would give to travel back in time to re-experience peak Night Court!

Supposedly, Brent Spiner's Bob Wheeler was set to join the Night Court ensemble, but he got another job that year.
Kevin - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 9:27am (USA Central)
I think it says something about the attitudes of the 1980's that the audience took such a blatant middle finger in their collective faces in stride and came back for more. Pretty much every episode of the first season had something along this theme, but the bulk of this episode puts it all together and drives home the message, "YOU, THE AUDIENCE, AS HUMAN BEINGS OF LATE 20TH CENTURY EARTH, WILL BE REMEMBERED AS SOME OF THE WORST PEOPLE IN GALACTIC HISTORY."

About the only thing that explains that plot line to me is that the writer must have thought the series was cancelled, that this would be the last episode of TNG ever, and decided to use it as an opportunity to vent about everything he or she hated about the world of that day.
Garrison Skunk - Wed, Apr 23, 2014 - 2:28am (USA Central)
I'm not sure if anyone mentioned it, but isn't it convenient that Riker answered the page using the room's comm unit instead of his communicator, just so the guests could later get on the comm and annoy Picard.

One thing I do give the episode props for...the bit about TV going out of style seems visionary from a show about 8 years away from the popularity of the Internet itself, and about 10 years away from YouTube and DVRs

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