Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Time's Arrow, Part I"

**1/2

Air date: 6/15/1992
Teleplay by Joe Menosky and Michael Piller
Story by Joe Menosky
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

And so the serviceable but uneven fifth season ends — with a serviceable but underwhelming "cliffhanger" that continues in the obligatory tradition of season-enders but definitely doesn't live up to the label in terms of its impact or suspense. After a number of memorably good and great episodes the second half of this season, "Time's Arrow" is a letdown, showing indications the writers took an average concept and tried to twist it into a two-part "event."

An archeological discovery finds Data's detached head, — yes, his head — buried in a cave beneath San Francisco. It has apparently been there for 500 years. Data concludes that in the future he will travel back in time where he will be destroyed in the 19th century. There's a certain intrigue and poignancy in watching Data matter-of-factly ponder the inevitable future of his own death, which up to this point was never guaranteed. Also found in the cave: traces of This Week's Technobabble, "triolic rays," which the Enterprise traces back to the planet Devidia II. There the investigation into the triolic rays reveals possible human life, but the readings are all phase-shifted because of a mysterious alien presence; Data uses a device to shift himself out of phase to further investigate, but then he gets pulled through a temporal vortex where he winds up in the late 19th century.

The scenes in the 19th century are where this story really kind of stalls out. Data has an extended conversation with a sick old 49er, then with a hotel bellhop (Michael Aron), and then plays a poker game (one of the players is Marc Alaimo, aka Dukat) in order to win some money to secure a hotel room and buy equipment for running his technobabble investigation via 19th century science. About this time he sees Guinan (!) in a newspaper story for a literary reception. (Back on the Enterprise, Guinan insists to Picard, with vague overtones of cosmic urgency, that he must go on the away mission to the planet surface.)

Mark Twain (Jerry Hardin) is among the noted guests at the literary reception, where he gives an extended speech about the significance of humanity in the universe (with Hardin chewing the scenery at length) that I'm afraid the story thinks is far more amusing and significant than it really is. (I'm not a literary historian and have no idea if Twain was this much of a showboat and an eccentric, but here his personality is out of scale compared to everything else.) The 19th century scenes are all sluggishly paced, and San Francisco just feels too much like a Hollywood backlot.

"Time's Arrow, Part I" is all setup and absolutely no payoff (as opposed to "Mr. Worf, fire," which is its own payoff). The final scene of the season has the crew following the mysterious aliens (who are apparently soul-eating time travelers!) through their temporal vortex and into the 19th century, but the execution is so lacking in juice and urgency that the music has to futilely sell us on how "significant" this ending is. I suppose this is okay as a whimsical hour of conventional time-travel sci-fi, but it's severely lacking as a season-ending hook.

Previous episode: The Inner Light
Next episode: Time's Arrow, Part II

Season Index

29 comments on this review

startrekwatcher - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
I would give it 3 stars. It was intriguing and fun as set-up but the payoff in part two really was underwhelming.

But here I was curious about what was going. The reveal of Data's head was shocking when I first watched the show. The chronicling by Data of the alien's realm was spooky and effectively done matched by the away team finally phasing into it. I thought the snake cane and two aliens in their 19th century garb were terrifying. I was genuinely concerned by Data's trip into the past--some of the scenes stalled yes but overall I thought the episode got the job done in what it set out to do--I liked the Data/Geordi scene in Ten Forward discussing Data's mortality, Guinan's cryptic comments under her breath and the cliffhanger of the crew stepping into the past had me wanting to know what was going to happen next.

Was it as powerful as BoBW's? No but that was in a league of its own. I still looked forward to the season 6 premiere.
Destructor - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 9:00pm (USA Central)
I love the paradox in this episode (Futurama even re-used it with Bender's head), that is classic sci-fi, but Jammer is right, it's lacking in energy, particularly the weak cliffhanger.

I also see this episode as the answer to the question: "Why does Guinan see her relationship with Picard as 'beyond friendship, beyond family'?" which many fans consider un-answered.

I see it this way: When Guinan first met Picard, it was not the first time he had met her. Conversely, when Picard first met Guinan, it was not the first time she had met him. So their relationship really is *beyond* friendship and family- it's a recursive friendship that goes beyond linear time.
bigpale - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 12:02am (USA Central)
I read on Memory Alpha that this was originally just going to be a one-hour finale, but with DS9 revving up the producers were afraid fans would assume TNG was to be canceled, so they half-baked a 2-parter to ensure the fans stuck around for season 6.

Smart idea. Stupid episode. Though the guy playing Twain is the spitting image.
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 8:49pm (USA Central)
Right comments on the pacing and urgency complaints--but I found the inverse to be true regarding sluggishness, the 19th century scenes charmed and moved (yes and wanked a bit) while the 24th century scenes stuck out as tired routine Enterprise mumbo-jumbo. The second part was strangely better, but I think 2.5 stars is fair on the low side for this one. Given how wonderful I found Twain's speech at the reception, I'd give it 3 stars).

Sidenote : while we all appreciate Trek's openminded fairness (I hope), how is it that Guinan as a black woman in the 19th century is able to move about in such circles. I applaud it from the stance of personal ethics, but it completely sidesteps the reality of the time and place.
Nolan - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
Yeah... for some reason, when I saw this two-parter as a kid, I loved it, but I think i was really into Back to the Future heavily at that point, so, I loved it.

Years later, that nostalgia and love for the episode is still there, but, I can now see the flaws, and how the episode just stops, almost as an act break. It's kinda dissapointing. Still like it a lot though, depsite it's flaws.
Nick P. - Mon, May 23, 2011 - 12:47pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode. It gets a little slow side but at the same time I felt that was a decision by the producers for the 19th century setting. And I also agree that I find it highly unlikely any black woman would so freely be found in the upper echelons of San Fran society in 1893.

As for Mark Twain, it seems that he makes or breaks the episode. For those that liked the performance, the episode works, for those that find it overdone, they don't like it. But Mark Twain WAS an overdone person, the actor that portrayed him did a fantastic job, and he liked JUST like him.

The aliens scenes were creepy, and although there was the usual technobabble, it was not worse than usual.

I would say that behind BOBW and all god things, this is easily the next best 2 parter in TNG.
philosopher-animal - Sun, May 29, 2011 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
I remember the buzz about this episode on the BBSes when this was "expected" - all the speculation (based on pre-release semispoilers): "Mark Twain!?" "Guinan in the 19th century?!" "Data's head??!!" It was a severe letdown. If the information about it being stretched into a two-parter is right, frankly I'm not surprised. The aliens in this episode are abysmal. No *depth* at all. On the other hand, I was one of the ones who also noticed the explanation of two of Guinan's earlier remarks - not just the "beyond friends and family" thing, but another. Guinan also told Geordi (why is he almost always Geordi and not Mr. LaForge?) in "Booby Trap" (IIRC) that she was attracted to bald men because a bald man was kind to her once. People at the time took it to mean Picard, but very few people noticed the possible explanation in this episode - or rather its sequel.
Stef - Thu, Jun 2, 2011 - 3:45am (USA Central)
I'm a big fan of this episode, but I recognize it for what it is, a bit of fluff.

It sure ain't no "Mr Worf, fire!" But it is fun none the less. I quite like Twain/Clemmens, and from what little I know about him I believe that he would be something like that.

I found Jack London to be miscast... far too over eager.

I think the episode is worth it for Data's poor acting when he accidentally lifts the anvil with one hand in front of Jack. "Ow!"


Hmmm, now I know who Leonardo DiCaprio based "Jack" on in Titanic, it was Jack London from this episode. That would explain the bad acting and annoying character.
Jeff O'Connor - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 3:39pm (USA Central)
I probably would have sighed a bit at this season finale if I were an adult when it first aired some twenty years ago. (Instead I ate it up undauntedly like I did with all things space as a five-year-old. But I digress.)

Following "Best of Both Worlds, Part I" and "Redemption, Part I" this episode definitely doesn't hit the mark. But as a small piece in the great tapestry of Trek, viewing it while ignoring its place at the end of the year, it's a solid three-star excursion. Fun all-around.
TH - Fri, Sep 9, 2011 - 7:23am (USA Central)
My biggest problem with this episode was a minor logic flaw. The Enterprise finds Data's head underground on Earth from 500 years ago. They follow a fossil ON THE HEAD (or in the cave, I don't recall) that leads them to Devidia II.

Subsequently, Data argues with Picard that it is irrational for Picard to keep Data on the ship on this mission, as we have no idea when he will be sent back in time. And Picard agrees! "then I'll be irrational!"

Has everyone forgotten that the sole reason they are on this planet is because something from this planet will be on Data or in the cave or whatever when Data goes back in time? There is DIRECT connection between this planet and Data's going back in time. It is not irrational to keep him on the ship.

However, if the Enterprise had had simply gone on any other old mission and Data happened to get sent back in time, we'd complain that it's awfully coincidental that his time travel was mere days after his head is discovered. The only reason I don't shout at the TV over the fact that it's mere days between head-discovery and Data's being sent back in time IS because his time travel occurs on Devidia II during the investigation into the head and the clues from the cave. The head discovery leads Data to the time jump.

I still hate that they don't acknowledge that this away mission might be a bit more risky for Data to join than had they gone to Bajor or Vulcan.
TH - Fri, Sep 9, 2011 - 7:27am (USA Central)
PS: This episode was the start of a new Trek Era for me. The first 5 seasons were, for some reason, different to me than the last two. I considered the former to be the "classic TNG" episodes while I considered the latter to be the "trying to be TNG, but not quite living up to it" episodes. Not that some of Season 6 and 7 weren't good episodes, but they just felt like they were written, directed, acted or produced a bit differently. A different look or feel to them, starting with this episode. I think the characters were a little less formal and a little looser starting with this episode. That annoying forced humour that showed up in Nemesis and Insurrection started to show a bit in seasons 6 and 7, and the writing just wasn't quite up to par. I think I started "regularly" watching TNG around this episode, so maybe that's why I feel this way, but I always feel like seasons 6 and 7 were like someone "coming back" to TNG after a period of time and trying to start it up again but not quite succeeding. You'd never see something like Fistful of Datas in Seasons 1-5 (ok, 2-5).
Nick P. - Fri, Sep 9, 2011 - 11:22am (USA Central)
TH, I completely agree with you. I have voiced my complaints about the scoring that got terrible about half-way through season 5, but I agree with you, there is a sort of "forced" to the relationships between characters that starts occurring in season 6 and 7, and it becomes blatantly forced in the movies.

I have traced it to Picard smiling. I HATE Picard smiling. Everyone else seems to think it is character growth, and i am Ok with the last scene in "all good things", but for the next 2 seasons it is simply a "softer" Picard that I find unwelcome. I have said before here, that I find "yelling" Picard from season 1 far more enjoyable to watch than "Picard day smiling idiot" from season 7...
Paul - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 5:17am (USA Central)
@TH and Nick P.

I absolutely agree. Season 7 in particular has this utter blandness in it, as if someone sucked all the joy out of storytelling and replaced it with by-the-numbers plotting and character work. In fact, it reminds me of Voyager to be honest.

Maybe it has something to do with some of the writing staff moving off to DS9? Just guessing...
Elliott - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 10:15am (USA Central)
@Paul :

That's odd, because I found the declining quality of TNG to be it's attempt at embracing a DS9-style world-view, with the introduction of Ro and the Maquis (and of course the Cardassians and "Bajora") as well as dropping the so-called "no-conflict rule," etc. TNG had to make room in its Universe for DS9 and in so doing nearly lost its soul--the evidence is in the writing. As for the staffing, I'd have to look it up, but this blah episode here was written by two of Trek's most honoured and well-remembered writers, Menosky (Darmok, Muse, Nth Degree, Blink of an Eye) and Piller (need I say more than BOBW?).
Nick P. - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
@ Paul, TH, and Elliot.

I wonder if part of it was the actors. I noticed this in later season of Seinfield. I sometimes wonder if when an actor portrays a character long enough, he sort of stops acting. I feel like in season 7 it is very noticeable that I am watching Stewart, Frakes, Sirtis, etc.. Vs Picard, Riker, and Troi. It is really noticeable with Troi, watch her in the 2nd season versus season 7 and it is almost gross. I feel like she rolled out of bed in the morning, said a few lines, and ran with her check out of the building. The only episode I enjoyed watching Troi in any any of the last 3 seasons was season 6 "face of the Enemy".
Paul - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
Well, I don't really see DS9 influence in those weak S6 and S7 TNG episodes. Their weakness is a result of bad... I don't know, crafting, I guess. They are bad because they are bad, not because someone shoved DS9 morals down our throats.
Asia watcher - Thu, Oct 20, 2011 - 1:53am (USA Central)
A total flop. As per the last few comments above, there does seem to be a marked change in the last half of this season in quality, from the acting to the scripts, to the cinematography (everything has a somewhat washed out look, like the contrast or brightness button has been turned a bit too low). Compare this soul snatching story to the Soul Hunter episodes on Babylon 5, which were spookier.
TH - Fri, Oct 28, 2011 - 2:34pm (USA Central)
Nick, excellent comparison with Seinfeld. I wholeheartedly agree; is it the acting? Maybe partly, but I still think it's the writing mainly. The writers in the last two seasons of BOTH series started taking things to extremes and far-fetched scenarios that you wouldn't see in earlier season [edit: in fairness, I think Seinfeld came back with many strong episodes in the last season after a bad second last season. In Seinfeld, the whole premise of the show-about-nothing was that these were scenarios everyone could relate to or get into - a soft-talker who you nod at and you agree to something you are unaware of; Dating a virgin (or someone shy about sex); someone in front of you buys the last Rye; someone walks in on you getting dressed and spreads a rumour... etc.

As the show went on, the characters and plots grew further unbelievable and out-of-character (Kramer finds the Merv Griffin Show set and his life becomes a talk show; J.Peterman pays Kramer for his life; Kramer lives/cooks/etc. in his shower; Kramer somehow becomes hosts to Japanese businessmen and lets them sleep in a chest of drawers? [I note a Kramer pattern here] Jerry, Kramer and Elaine’s boyfriend all go get vasectomies on a whim Jerry becomes a video bootlegger, Sometimes it was the premise that was unbelievable and other times it was how the premise was handled, eg: Elaine eats Peterman’s cake and gets effectively no punishment; Elaine promotes Eddie the Army guy and suffers no real consequences, George flys to Akron to give a comeback zinger to a colleague; The Postal Service stalks and harasses Kramer because he doesn’t want to receive mail anymore.).

The acting gets a bit exaggerated along with the writing and it all spirals into too much. This all culminated in the finale which was completely unbelievable and over the top. However, I don’t think I could instantly identify “that’s a season 9 episode” just from the visual appearance like I could on TNG. “The Cartoon” in which Kramer vows silence, Elaine draws a cartoon for the New Yorker and Kathy Griffin has a one-woman show about how evil Jerry is. Other than the fact that Kathy/Sally has ridiculous success so quickly, the episode is fairly down-to-earth and could easily fit into season 6 or 7.

On TNG, besides some extreme plots, (Fistful of datas, Rascals, Schisms, Phantasms) I think there was just something about, as you say, the scoring, the lighting, the video tape... something that just SEEMED different, and yes, perhaps more Voyagery.

EG: Go to memory alpha and look up A Matter of Perspective vs. Second Chances (I'd link, but they are disabled in comments). Or else go to the Troi article. Look at the early shots of her compared to the one of her rapidly aged from Man of the People. The latter shot is far brighter, less contrast and less saturation - more blues less yellows.

Something was just "brighter" and more artificial about the lighting and the sets and even the shots of the ship. I can't put my finger on what it is, but it was noticeable enough that I recognized a change, and can easily tell you from most screenshot whether an episode is pre- or post- season 6.

But I still think it's the writing. You have shows like Relics in that time that are still wonderful. They do LOOK different, but they end up as good episodes. Whereas timescale, a plot I could see having been done in season 4, just seems off in season 6. Having Picard draw a happy face? In season 4, he might have given an unusual Order or said something confusing that didn’t make sense, but he wouldn’t have acted like he was 10 years old. They would have been more subtle. And Picard’s impression of the lecturer who kept "talking and talking" - he would never have been that casual pre-season 6. He was portrayed as taking everything in life seriously and rarely joking about a distinguished lecturer. It was too out of character. The look was half of the problem while the script was the other half, I think.
TH - Tue, Jan 17, 2012 - 9:10am (USA Central)
As a slight post-script to my previous posts, I'll note that the first time I saw the online preview clip for the new TNG BluRay upgrade (the clip that shows some encounter at farpoint footage with lots of wipes to show you the original vs. cleaned up footage), it got to the panel showing Picard and Q and the wipe turned their uniforms from a sort of dusty mauve to a striking scarlet, and that's when I realized fairly conclusively that lighting and colour are a significant part of what made the seasons really stand apart. As soon as they wiped to the new colours, I felt like I could have been watching a shot from season 7. I also realized that when shot in proper colour, I actually didn't mind the season 1/2 jumpsuits that much. Picard looks a lot better in it when the colour is on.

I'm really curious to see if a full episode of the BluRay changes my perception of the early episodes. I'm also hoping they do what they did with TOS and provide the unremastered and remastered versions via the 'alternate angle' option.
Mike Caracappa - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 4:10am (USA Central)
The irony I love most about this episode...everyone is so broken up that Data is going to die, but two episodes earlier Geordi is presumed dead and no one sheds a tear! They even throw a party at his service!

I love this show. ;)
Cail Corishev - Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - 8:14pm (USA Central)
I grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain set his most famous books, so I've seen a few Twain imitators. This guy was more annoying than any of them. And what's with walking around at a party, pontificating in a loud voice about how stupid people are who disagree with you? Did people really do that?

I had to laugh when Data said his head was proof that he would die. "It has happened. It will happen." Come on, they've all taken Temporal Mechanics; they know there are all sorts of loopholes when it comes to time travel. The way Trek treats time, the past is endlessly malleable, so Data's head proved nothing at all, except that it was really dumb to go straight to the only planet where he could pick up the bacteria they found with the head.
T'Paul - Sat, Jun 15, 2013 - 6:37pm (USA Central)
Totally agree that seasons 6 and 7 (7 especially) went downhill (with some exceptions).

In this particular episode I enjoyed learning more about Guinan, although the time-travel story as a whole was a bit hokey.

The aliens were fairly original though.

I did think that Data was more data-like in this episode (in terms of excessively technical vocabulary, even when dealing with people who would clearly respond to something more colloquial, which Data is capable of). In the sequel I was amused by the travelling theatre company disguise.

William B - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 9:57am (USA Central)
@TH, a big, big part in the difference in tone (and quality) in Seinfeld is that Larry David left after seasons seven. It's not that the show hadn't gotten more outlandish in the years leading up to season seven, but Larry David's voice was a big part of what made that shoe recognizably what it was, and the loss of Larry David meant both that there was no one to stop Jerry Seinfeld himself and the other writers from following whatever crazy idea they thought of, but, because of the loss of David's voice, the writers (and cast) kind of compensated by making the plotlines more extreme and bizarre. There are still some good moments in the last two Seinfeld seasons but it is, basically, in significant respects a different show, and a much lesser one IMO. (Not that Larry David was perfect or anything; the finale was his doing and all.)

On TNG, I find it hard to explain exactly what the development over the years was. There is a movement from the brazen, bright, silly first season to the crisp, strong middle years to the slow, dull, final season. I think that season six is pretty good overall, though it's more like season seven in tone than it is like season three.
William B - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 10:51am (USA Central)
Thoughts on s5 as a whole: Starting with my usual "how do my ratings differ from Jammer's"; some of these ratings have changed since I did my review-ish posts (which is not for every episodes). If I don't note an episode it's the same rating.

Darmok: 4 (+1)
The Game: 2 (-0.5)
Unification II: 2 (-0.5)
A Matter of Time: 1.5 (-1)
Hero Worship: 3 (+1.5)
Violations: 2 (-0.5)
Ethics: 3.5 (+0.5)
The Outcast: 1.5 (-0.5)
The Perfect Mate: 4 (+1)

Season five has, I am almost certain, the biggest first half/second half split of any TNG season. The first three episodes are dealing with old business ("Redemption II"), introducing new business ("Ensign Ro") and one instant classic ("Darmok") and is good. But then the next 10 episodes in the season's first half are, if almost never outright bad, a consistent disappointment and generally mediocre. I like "Unification I" and "Hero Worship," and a few others are decent enough, but it is a generally rough time. I think only "A Matter of Time" strikes me as poor, but even that is mostly just an absence of workable material; what this run mostly is is a long slog of competent but unimpressive outings.

Then comes "Conundrum" and "Power Play," both around 2.5-3 stars but exciting shows, and suddenly a run from "Ethics" to "I, Borg" in which every episode is, for me, either excellent (3.5-4) or terrible (1-1.5) -- which is not that different on average from the season's first half, but I'd take a run with "Ethics," "Cause and Effect," "The First Duty," "The Perfect Mate," and "I, Borg" over a mediocre run even if it does have "The Outcast," "Cost of Living" and "Imaginary Friend." "The Next Phase" is good-but-not-great, and "Time's Arrow" is okayish, but "The Inner Light" is..."The Inner Light." So the second half of the season overall is inconsistent but with maybe the highest concentration of brilliant, top-drawer episodes in any half-season, at least for me. Overall, I think the first half of season five is weak like nothing since season one, but the second half is around the best the show does (maybe not THE best, but close to it), making for a weird, up-and-down experience of a season.

Other things I noticed: there's a real drop-off in Data stories this year; season four had "Brothers," "Data's Day," "Clues" and "In Theory," all of which were good and one of which ("Brothers") was exceptional. I think Data himself was always well done, except maybe in "A Matter of Time," and he was prominent of course in "Redemption II," "Silicon Avatar," "Unification," "Hero Worship" and "Time's Arrow," as well as very significant in "Cause and Effect" and "The Next Phase." All of these had some good Data material, but not much really pushes his character forward; the most interesting for me were probably Data's considerations of death in "The Next Phase" and "Time's Arrow," as well as his brief tenure in command in "Redemption II."

There is a corresponding increase in Picard stories, though. "Darmok," "The Inner Light" and "The Perfect Mate" are pretty definitive as Picard stories, and "The First Duty" and "I, Borg" are close behind. Picard also avoids too much participation in the season's worst episodes, and even his material in "Disaster" was some of the most fun in that ep.

Otherwise: Alexander has not really done wonders for Worf's character, though I appreciate the idea of Worf taking responsibility for his child. "Ethics" was good for Worf, as was "Redemption II" though I wish it had gone further. Riker didn't have a great year -- "The Outcast" is about his only starring show and it didn't work for me, though "Ethics" is a significant boon. "I, Borg" is probably my favourite use of Geordi as tech-friendly everyman in the series, so that's good. Deanna, well, she pretty much never has good seasons, so. Crusher does get good material in "Ethics" and "I, Borg."
Jons - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 3:20pm (USA Central)
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that Data or anyone else would assume he would die shortly... Obviously there's been time travel involved, so he could have been sent back to the 19th century from the 58th century for all (we) they know...

Same as Data's remark on how he didn't realize Guinan's lifespan was so long because he sees her in the 19th century. She could have just as easily been sent back here from the 22th century or even 23d before they knew each other.

I hate those time travel episodes because they ALWAYS are completely illogical.
Moonie - Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 5:48pm (USA Central)
I loved Time's Arrow. However I kept waiting for more of an explanation/clarification about why Guinan was on earth in the 19th century, but okay... maybe I just have to rewatch (such a chore...lol). After a few disappointments, I was very glad that season 5 ended with a string of good episodes, or at least episodes that *I* liked a lot. Time's Arrow, The Outcast, First Duty, I, Borg, The Inner Light, The next phase.... all fantastic.
Patrick D - Fri, Mar 7, 2014 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
The other 2-part episodes of TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds"; "Redemption"; "Unification"; and soon "Chain of Command" have been given special single Blu ray releases.

"Time's Arrow" has been snubbed. And if you watch this 2-parter, you'll find out why.
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Apr 5, 2014 - 3:30am (USA Central)
I loved how detached (pun intended) Data was about discovering his head on Earth. Yes, he's an emotionless android, but it was still amusing. I wish this had been developed a bit further - everyone else's emotional responses vs. Data's detachment (again, I know, but I can't resist).

Amusing/entertaining on a surface level. I tend to give episodes the benefit of the doubt when they're entertaining enough for me that I can mostly ignore plot holes/contrivances/stupid science/outlandish plots/etc.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Jul 20, 2014 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
First of all, I think I disagree a bit with William B that S5 had the largest shift in quality between the first and second half. While the second half may have had a better ratio of good episodes, I think most of the really bad episodes were also in the second half (Imaginary Friend, Outcast, and Cost of Living). The first half was just more uniformly bland, but the few highlights from the second half didn't quite stand out as much as the highlights of S3. In any case, though, I think Season 1 still reigns as the largest improvement in quality between first and second half, even if it was just going from downright awful to mostly watchable.

People tend to see Season 5 as a transition between the peak of TNG and its decline. I think part of the reason for that is that there was a bit of a transition from character and universe defining stories to plot defining stories. If you were to give a one line description of the plot of an episode, how important would that one line be to understanding the episode? It seems to me that it becomes more important in the later seasons than in the earlier ones, which can have its advantages but also major disadvantages as well.

Take The Defector, for instance. The Hero must decide whether or not to trust an enemy defector, and the ramifications of this decision could either start or prevent a war. That's an interesting topic to explore, of course, but it's hardly original or unique. You could take the entire episode and translate it to a Cold War setting and it would fit just fine (other than the cloaked ship ending, of course...). But it was a character defining piece for Picard, and it was a universe defining piece for Romulans. TNG's version of this rather vague plotline was the reason the episode is excellent, not just the idea of the plot itself. Even though the plot doesn't require TNG characters, the execution of the episode does.

Measure of a Man is perhaps a better example. The question of rights for robots is already massively abundant in science fiction. But because we care for Data, and because we feel for Picard as his advocate, the episode turned out to be very good, and is considered a harbinger for the heights of Seasons 3 and 4.

Or look at Sins of the Father and Reunion. These stories came about because Worf existed and were built around him. The plot pieces surrounding the episodes may be unoriginal, but the stories work because of who Worf is. Building such tales around a guest star of the week would have ruined them.

Now, with that said, compare these classics to one of the classics of Season 5: Cause and Effect. The one line synopsis: A starship is caught in a time loop where it is constantly destroyed and then sent back in time to repeat the events again. An intriguing, unique idea. And the execution of the idea was very well done. But what, exactly, makes the TNG version of this plot shine? What about TNG made this a better episode than if the idea had appeared in the Twilight Zone or Voyager or a short story?

I can't really tink of any. Picard's presence isn't important for this tale. Worf's presence isn't important. Data has a plot point, but that's about it. None of the other characters matter. This episode could be lifted wholesale and put into Voyager without missing a beat. I don't think that would work with Defector or Yesterday's Enterprise or Measure of a Man or Sins of the Father or BoBW or whatever. But here, the TNG atmosphere is window dressing.

That's not necessarily bad. We like these characters, and its ok to just see them reacting to weird events sometimes. But I think it's harder to have a really impactful story within a serialized universe when the universe itself is just the carrier for the plot. You watch Cause and Effect, and think "That was pretty cool!" You watch Yesterday's Enterprise, and you say "Whoa..." Both are positive results, but the latter resonates with you longer.

Now let's look at two other classics of Season 5: Darmok and the Inner Light. I'd consider these somewhat of hybrids of the "universe-driven" vs "plot driven" dichotomy I mentioned above. In both of these cases, the one-line synopsis plays a very big role in the quality of the final episode. They are both very unique, original ideas and rely on being a unique, original idea. But in Darmok's case, the fact that this is a TNG episode is very important. The theme fits TNG's ethos of exploring new life perfectly, and it fits Picard perfectly. Having Janeway or Sisko or even Kirk be opposite Dathon would have lessened the episode. It's because Picard is who he is that makes this episode shine. Inner Light also benefits from TNG's ethos, although to a lesser extent. Frankly, I think it benefits more from being a Patrick Stewart story than being a Jean-Luc Picard story. There are some residual themes that work with Picard, but the episode would have worked with any character played by as brilliant an actor as Stewart is.

It seems moving forward that these sorts of episodes that benefit significantly from being in TNG become more and more scarce. Maybe it's just the rise of Brannon Braga; I don't know. But I'm thinking of the episodes I really like from seasons 6 and 7 and thinking which one's are universe-defined like in Season 3, and I'm coming up with very few. Frame of Mind? Parallels? They're fun to watch, and it's fun to watch TNG characters within the episodes, but that's about it. It's more like the characters themselves are just actors playing out roles; the episodes don't seem to mean anything. I don't think that's necessarily TNG's fault (I tend to think most TV shows have hit their peak by season 5), but it does make these episodes less memorable and less impactful. I've been personally rating episodes on a 0-5 scale, with 5 stars being reserved only for the best of the best. Other than All Good Things, I'm not sure I'm going to be giving out any more.

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