Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Time Squared"

***1/2

Air date: 4/3/1989
Teleplay by Maurice Hurley
Story by Kurt Michael Bensmiller
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

If "The Measure of a Man" plays as a rebuke to "The Schizoid Man" in terms of artificial-intelligence themes, then so "Time Squared" plays as a rebuke to "The Royale" in terms of procedural sci-fi mysteries. The crew is stunned when they discover a duplicate of an Enterprise shuttlecraft adrift in the middle of empty space, and inside the shuttle is a duplicate of Captain Picard.

Strangely, one of the reasons "Time Squared" works so well is because it comes fairly early in the series' run, at a point when the show hasn't been time-traveled to death. Here's an episode of TNG that is not jaded by the fact that a duplicate of Picard has crossed through time and brings with him crucial information about the Enterprise's near future. The story depicts the duplicate Picard as a harbinger; Picard himself is unsettled by the sight of his twin lying in sickbay, to the point that early on he flat-out refuses to accept that the doppelganger is in fact the same person. When the crew discovers the duplicate Picard's shuttle log, they determine the duplicate is from approximately six hours in the Enterprise's future; there's a disturbing video recording that shows the Enterprise being destroyed.

The episode is a triumph of mood and tone, in no small part because of Dennis McCarthy's ominous musical score, but also because the crew reacts with genuine awe and concern to this bizarre situation. The way the mystery is slowly broken down allows us to become fully immersed in the story. The notion that the duplicate Picard has an internal biological clock that is knocked out of whack is intriguing, even if it is the only such example in Trek time-travel annals. The closer to his time we get, the more normal he becomes, and yet we always get the sense that he's trapped in an unalterable loop where his actions have already been preordained.

Best of all, the episode is content to let a mystery be a mystery. The vortex that traps the Enterprise (which resembles an inside-out tornado in space) seems to be governed by some form of intelligence, but the story never spells out exactly how or why. And unlike "The Royale," the episode is able to make unanswered questions part of its appeal, rather than a lumbering mess.

Previous episode: The Royale
Next episode: The Icarus Factor

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12 comments on this review

Jay - Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
The ultimate, looped reset button. And how could a nonintelligent vortex focus so personally (by the episode's own reckoning) on Picard. The episode never addresses it.
Grumpy - Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
Jay, don't blame this episode for the unsolved mystery; blame the follow-up plan that was scrapped (at GR's insistence). As the story goes, Hurley intended this as a lead-in to "Q Who?" -- making Q responsible for the vortex. Still not the greatest idea, but at least it's something. And, I must admit, had that plan been carried out, it would've injected much-needed energy into S2 (more than "Q Who?" by itself).

As it was, I found this episode terribly boring, so I'm surprised by the high rating. However, I'd be willing to re-view it with different expectations.
Rikko - Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 10:09am (USA Central)
Well, I liked 'Time squared' and I 'd like to consider it one of the highlights of season 2. It has nothing to do against better eps in the same line like 'Yesterday's enterprise', thought.

But, Jammer is right when he said this ep comes so early that feels different, intriguing and even good. After season 3 this would have been quite boring.

I particularly liked the not-so-happy ending, music and Picard vs Picard action.
istok - Fri, May 10, 2013 - 7:31pm (USA Central)
I liked Picard's loss of self-confidence. That was old fashioned drama, sitting easily with scifi. Quality stuff. Patrick Stewart is a fine actor. I liked that scene where Riker and other guys enter the shuttle bay with the strange shuttle being pulled in, and then it's in, and the tractor beam is shut down. It's an ordinary sequence of events but it has great dramatic value in anticipation of the unknown drama ahead. Whoever directed this episode seems to have done a better job than usual.
T'Paul - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 8:26pm (USA Central)
Agree with istok... it was great to see Picard unsettled by himself and applying his usual high standards to himself, a good character examination of Picard and how his strengths could well be flaws, and how such exacting standards also have their negative side. Pulanski's concern and soft side were also appealing, especially faced with "tough cop" Troi.
SkepticalMI - Mon, Sep 23, 2013 - 7:35pm (USA Central)

It was a good episode, no doubt about it. Although I'm not sure if it's worth 3.5 stars. On the plus side, the eerieness and mystery surrounding the whole thing works well. I like the fact that we have no freaking clue what happened or what that thing was, even after the episode ended. For all of TNG's episodic nature and need to solve problems, they occasionally do have the totally bizarre thing that never explains anything (Conspiracy and Schisms are two others). Why did this thing go for Picard, other than that it is the Enterprise's "brain"? Why did Picard go back in time? Who knows? Who cares? It's more about the whole WTF factor more than to have any conclusions.

Instead, we got a good Picard piece. He's thrown into a situation that is both personally and professionally uncomfortable. I was a bit concerned going into this episode, as I remembered Picard's anger at the end bit wasn't sure if it was handled well in the episode or not. Fortunately, it was. He didn't really act too irrational, just whenever he was around his future counterpart. And the theme of self doubt and second guessing played out well. Pulaski and Troi's conversation made it a bit heavy handed, but only a little bit. I thought that scene worked well.

So basically, the plot worked for me, as did the basic theme and the characters. For the most part, so did the pacing. I think we had just about the right amount of time dwelling on each of the mysteries (what's with the shuttle and the new Picard? Whoa, the Enterprise is about to go boom? OK, the weird energy thingy is here, now how are they going to solve it?). I'd say, essentially, the "macro" aspects of this episode were great.

Unfortunately, some of the "micro" aspects kept taking me out of the show a bit. None of my complaints are big deals, and none of them really impact the episode as a whole. But they still annoyed me:

- The whole aspect of the future shuttle and future Picard being opposites of normal shuttle and Picard. This was particularly ridiculous with the shuttle, when Geordi and Data had to do the opposite of what was needed to get the logs. Why would time impact it like this? The "internal clock" for Picard was silly too, especially when Pulaski said it would get better the closer they got to his time period. Except, of course, the future Picard would always be 6 hours out of time. This is probably the biggest issue.

- Picard tells Troi to wait in sickbay because future Picard would be able to talk to her first or something. Troi and Pulaski have their little argument about whether or not Picard's orders still need to be obeyed. And then Troi leaves. I guess she thinks everyone should obey Picard except for her.

- Early on, the music disappeared for about 5-10 minutes. This was in a fairly slow, talky part of the episode (right after the shuttle came aboard I believe). When I said the pacing was good for the most part, this was the only part it wasn't. It seemed to drag on a bit, and scenese were a tad silly.

- Picard shot future Picard to kill, not to stun? That seemed very unPicard-like. I'm not sure what the intention was, but it did hurt the show.

- Pulaski then walked in, checked on dead Picard, and left. So, she just left the dead body sitting there? Waiting for someone else to take out the trash? Kinda dumb.

These seem to be the kind of mistakes that simply aren't present in season 3, at least based on what I remember. But they're far less aggravating than the mistakes of season 1. For a show still trying to find its legs, it does a good job here.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 4:38pm (USA Central)
OK, this is one of my favourite TNG episodes all time. I realize I am in the minority, and sure there are little problems with it (Pulaski leaving the body in the shuttle for no reason), BUT, I think this is sci-fi at its purest. A pure mystery that may or may not even have a reason. I LOVED there was no explanation. If this was a season 7 episode, the entire 3rd act would have been data spouting nothing.... I love the music, I love the premise, I love the eerie build-up to the end. I absolutely love the scene where they are watching the enterprise blow up, they act like real people, again, compared to season 7 where everyone seems to act like they are cashing in a check.

I actually think later star trek lost something by not having more pure mysteries like this.
Dustwy - Thu, Oct 31, 2013 - 6:03am (USA Central)
I think the opening scene deserves a bit of credit, too. Riker's "defense" ("A cook is only as good as his ingredients.") upon noticing the reactions of LaForge and Pulaski to his scrambled egga (Owon eggs, nonetheless) and Worf's most cautious approach... followed by "Delicious." - one of the better character scenes in TNG.
Jack - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 11:21am (USA Central)
Pulaski seems unfamiliar with Riker's father here (your father...liked to cook?), but they later very much retcon that in "The Icarus Factor".
Jack - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 11:25am (USA Central)
As for the underpinnings of the episode itself, the concept of "catching up" with the future Picard's time (and that making the future Picard increasingly coherent) struck me as ridiculous. The future Picard continues through the normal time continuum with everyone else...he "stays" 6 hours off indefinitely.
Tom - Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
I was unimpressed by this episode. It was a fairly obvious concept and I had an idea of where this was going the moment the other Picard arrived on the Enterprise. It might be because I've seen this type of story done many times before, or at least I think I have. The phenomenon was never really explained and we have to just accept that things somehow worked that way. There's no moral debate about zapping the other Picard.
$G - Sun, Oct 5, 2014 - 7:41am (USA Central)
This is a strong episode. I haven't seen it in years and I really, really enjoyed the cosmic horror element of the second Picard and the vortex. The episode's tone is perfect, reminding me why I loved Star Trek to begin with. Later Treks, rehashing this idea, would need to add some self-awareness or self-referential humour. DS9's "Visionary" does a similar idea, but it never really feels all that threatening because of lines like "Oh, I HATE temporal mechanics!" Interestingly, that episode stars O'Brien, who's the one standing in the shuttle bay watching the Picard double vanish.

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