Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Timescape"

***

Air date: 6/14/1993
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Adam Nimoy

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When returning from a conference, Picard, Data, Geordi, and Troi attempt to rendezvous with the Enterprise, but before they do, they discover strange things happening in the space-time continuum. Troi experiences everyone else in the room freezing in time for a few seconds. Later, Picard reaches for a bowl of fruit that has suddenly gone rotten, and screams in pain as his hand suddenly ages several weeks in a few seconds. (In a nice touch, his fingernails have grown to an alarming length.) Time in this region is moving at different rates within variously sized pockets of space. When their Runabout finally reaches the rendezvous point, the Enterprise is frozen in time, apparently in the middle of a battle with a Romulan warbird.

"Timescape" takes the idea of time travel to its logical next step (note that I did not say "logical conclusion," as there is likely always room to go further) by having space-time shattered into multiple levels of backward, forward, accelerated, and decelerated. Geordi engineers a way to surround the bodies of the Runabout crew with a technobabble field so they can visit the Enterprise without becoming frozen in time. This allows them to walk around the decks of the frozen Enterprise (in scenes reminiscent of TOS's "Wink of an Eye") so they can try to figure out the mystery of what went wrong. Frozen Bad Things Happening include Crusher being phasered, the bridge apparently under siege by a Romulan boarding party (but things are not as they appear, as we learn), and a warp core breach in progress in engineering.

Like a lot of other conceptual sci-fi examples of what I like to call Good Brannon Braga (see also "Cause and Effect" and "Frame of Mind") the truth of "Timescape" is all in the details. Like the most entertaining of TNG tech adventures, this story knows that to keep us engaged it can't shy away from some fairly involved details that clearly explain what's going on. But at the same time, it has to walk a fine line so it doesn't drown in pure exposition. Data is always perfect for this task, as in the scene where he explains the Enterprise is not actually frozen in time, but moving forward extremely slowly. Apart from tech details, some zany humor sure doesn't hurt. Qualifying as a classic moment in my book is when Picard, experiencing a moment of "temporal psychosis," draws a smiley face in the gas cloud of the warp core explosion, and then laughs maniacally.

The story is honestly more fun as an unsolved puzzle than it is once all the reasons for the shattered space-time are made clear. (For the record, an alien race from another time continuum mistook the Romulan engine core for a black hole, which they attempted to use to incubate their young, which had a disastrous shattering effect on space-time after the Enterprise attempted to initiate a power transfer into the Romulans' engine. Feel free to go back and read that sentence again; I'll wait.)

The story's momentum flags somewhat in the last couple acts once all these answers come at us. And, of course, the complexities of shattered space-time ultimately become very easily manipulated, as, I suppose, they must. (You haven't seen anything until you've seen a tricorder essentially become a rewind button.) But then, this storyline also means that we get to see the Enterprise explode, and then unexplode when time rewinds. What more could you ask of the guy who blew up the ship four times in "Cause and Effect"? "Timescape" is a fun and well executed sci-fi yarn of space-time zaniness done in the TNG tradition of procedural investigation. It doesn't mean much of anything, but, hey, that's perfectly okay.

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26 comments on this review

David - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 12:18am (USA Central)
I'd give this 4 stars. It is such a well crafted sci-fi mystery with a unique idea at its very foundation. Brannon did an extraordinary job with the pacing and the build up of suspense as to what is really going on.

Brannon was always great at incorporating and remembering little details in all his episodes and this was no different(the rotting bowl of fruit, Picard's fingernails, the runabout running out of fuel, the dialog among the crew in the teaser, the idea of temporal narcosis leading to a plausible threat to the crew, contuinity touch by mentioning the Devidians and phase discriminators).

I loved the misdirection with the Romulans and Brannon finding yet another way to blow up the Enterprise and bringing it back in one piece smartly. I also appreciated Brannon remembering Troi's time on the Romulan warbird earlier in the season and putting her front and center and to effective use again.

A definite highlight of Season Six.
Sxottlan - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 2:21am (USA Central)
A very enjoyable episode. Loved the humor, especially in the teaser (Picard impersonating someone and Data's reaction) and it was just a great idea.

Also loved the continuity with the Devidians as well as the TNG crew using a runabout (never did get its name).

It's also interesting to note that this was the only time we ever saw the aft section of a runabout.

lvsxy808 - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 3:09pm (USA Central)
One little thing that I appreciated about this episode was that, for once, someone else got "possessed" and "impersonated" by non-corporeal aliens. It's always the Starfleet crew who get taken over every time this kind of thing happens (which is fairly often across the whole Trek 'verse). But this time we see that all the wacky high-concept stuff that goes on in the galaxy at large doesn't just affect Starfleet ships - it screws with other people too. And this time we're just there to help out.
Paul - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 4:18pm (USA Central)
It's baffling to me why Troi gets so much plot in the final two seasons. Marina Sirtis is SUCH a bad actor, and making Troi an engineering expert -- a year after she admitted not knowing what a warp-core breach was? WTF?

Also, why were they in a runabout? For the previous six seasons, crewmembers would have used standard shuttles. It's a weird decision -- especially considering the crew never uses a runabout again.
grumpy_otter - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 5:12pm (USA Central)
Like David, I'd give this four. Every time I watch it I am on the edge of my seat because I can't quite remember how they resolve the supposed "attack" by the Romulans. And then seeing the friendly gestures evolve is really nice.

It gets 4 if only for the wonderful opening sequence--that was some of the best of Trek-- combining humor, humanity, and mystery.

And of course, thinking Bev might possibly die THIS time makes it all the more worthwhile. . .

Jammer - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 8:13pm (USA Central)
@Paul

I'd imagine they used a runabout for this episode because for as much as they had to shoot not aboard the Enterprise, and with four characters, and considering the geography of the shattered time spheres within the runabout itself -- I just can't imagine a shuttle would've been enough room to do everything the story needed. Usually a shuttle scene is just a couple people talking (unless Beverly is karate kicking some alien in "Suspicions," but never mind). Here they used the whole aft room of the runabout, something never even shown on DS9, as Sxottlan pointed out.
David - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 11:37pm (USA Central)
the reason they used the runabout was TNG had a bigger budget than DS9 at the time so they constructed the aft compartment so DS9 could have it available if or when they ever wanted it.
Sxottlan - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 1:48am (USA Central)
I was always disappointed that we never saw more of the interior of the runabouts.

Clearing away the transporter from the cockpit was a good idea to give it more space, but then we never saw where the transporters went. Just somewhere in the back.

Supposedly the middle and aft were modular. Once years ago I found a website where someone designed all these different modules for the runabouts. There was one that functioned as a medical rescue ship, another was a transport and another had a balanced suite of quarters, medical bay, science lab and armory. Essentially since the runabouts were actual starships with a class and name designations, it only made sense.
Yakko - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 9:00am (USA Central)
@Paul

In DS9's second season episode "Paradise" O'Brien mentions that runabouts are a new class of vessel that had only been in service for two years. So of course we'd never seen the Enterprise crew use them since they didn't exist before. It seems believable that the flagship would be equipped with a few of them. I always liked that they had a runabout here because it helped build continuity between the two shows.

That said it would have been cool if they'd used the NEVER SEEN Captain's Yacht that's docked on the underside of the saucer section.
Jay - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 3:08pm (USA Central)
I really like this episode, thought it's rather absurd that this alien race would only just now make this goofy mistake for the first time with a Romulan engine...warp engines aren't exactly new
Paul - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 3:57pm (USA Central)
@Yakko -- fair enough, but why didn't we see a runabout in season 7?
Yakko - Fri, Sep 14, 2012 - 1:51pm (USA Central)
@Paul

Well I didn't mean to imply that runabouts made shuttles obsolete. They certainly stayed in service and there was no evidence that Voyager had anything but shuttles until Tom built the Delta Flyer. But why couldn't Picard and Data been flying a runabout back to the Enterprise in "Genesis" for example? I'd only be guessing but it could be that the runabout forward interior set was too often unavailable. Remember that during "TNG"'s seventh season "DS9" was concurrently in production on its second. The Defiant hadn't been introduced yet so the runabout set was in use a great deal.
John - Sun, Sep 16, 2012 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
I only just saw this episode recently having somehow missed it in the original run and, being more of a DS9 fan, found it quite bizarre seeing Picard and co in a runabout..

Anyway, as you say Jammer, this ep fits into the ‘Good Brannon Braga’ category.

Though GBB is, for me, still usually pretty ordinary.

About 2 stars imo (ie. about 4 times better than Frame of Mind).
Landon - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 6:18pm (USA Central)
I still dont understand the hate some have for Braga and never will. He was absolutely one of the best and most creative/ambitious minds of Trek.{he had a few bad episodes out of hundreds written-WOW!} Anyway, this episode like many BB wrote have always endured and stuck out in my mind and are remembered and have something visually or conceptually thats just so sharp and unique and sticks out. 4 stars.
DavidK - Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - 10:18pm (USA Central)
Just in regard to the Runabout aft set not appearing in DS9, I did read a few interesting observations on a website (the name escapes me). So yeah these aren't my finds, credit where credit is due.

The bunk beds that are to the left and right of the entrance to the aft pod appear to be same bunk beds used in the crew quarters on the Defiant, so it seems by the time the Defiant was introduced the aft set had been disassembled/cannabilised.

It also pointed out the aft set may appear once, in a manner of speaking. During The Visitor as Jake leaves DS9, there's a shot of him looking out a Runabout window as DS9 disappears into the distance. Given the way the shot works, it would have to be one of the rearmost windows in the aft section (the ones that are on the model itself). Of course the shot is tight enough that they only needed a generic sloped Starfleet window to make it work, but there you go...technically that one shot in all of DS9 would appear to occur in the aft section!
TH - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
Just a quite comment to say that this is yet another "mystery" episode this season. It seems to have been very popular this season. Fistfull of Data's was a bit of a mystery (I consider it a mystery if both the characters and the audience are trying to figure out what's going on at the same time which is only revealed at the end of an episode)
Comp625 - Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - 1:37pm (USA Central)
@Landon - I think the "hate" for BB came about during the course of Star Trek: Voyager. BB's episodes on Next Gen were fantastic, but many feel visions for Voyager were haphazardly executed. Perhaps national ratings pressure from UPN Executives screwed up his mojo, but it's almost like we saw a completely different person sharing the same name and writing duties.

Regarding "Timescape," I thought this was a fanastic mystery episode. Mysteries is a sub-genre that TNG does quite well, in my opinion, and is golden BB material. Like Jammer mentioned, take a look at "Cause & Effect" and "Frame of Mind," where the mystery is what keeps the viewer engaged until the very end. THAT is successful television writing.

Also, I enjoyed the twist where the viewer finds out that Romulans aren't the bad guys. It takes a second or two to fathom this notion since you a seemingly destructive beam between the Enterprise and the Romulan ship. And the viewer is accustomed to thinking that Romulans are always the bad guy. That's what makes the twist and entire episode so successful.

The concept of aliens-from-another-dimension-nurturing-their-newborn-in-the-Romulan-warp-c ore-mistaken-to-be-a-black-hole IS very hokey and far-fetched. That's probably why I took away half a star in my own rating. However, to the story's credit, it does serve as a fantastic vehicle for a humorous and engaging episode. Can you think of any other instance where you see Picard insanely laughing while drawing a smiley face into a cloud of smoke? I certainly can't.

My rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
J - Fri, Jul 5, 2013 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
Picard had his hand in the fruit bowl for about 2 seconds. Given that time was moving 50x faster in the fruit bowl, I guess we can conclude that Picard always keeps a set of nail clippers in his pocket. Maybe that's why we never see a shot of the floor behind his ready room desk... he's probably knee deep in finger nails back there.
William B - Thu, Sep 26, 2013 - 11:30am (USA Central)
In some ways, this episode is most valuable for me to figure out exactly why "Cause and Effect" and "Frame of Mind" are thrilling, excellent episodes when, superficially at least, they don't seem to "mean" anything. Here's another Braga script, generally good and sensical albeit with some tech leaps, and I...enjoy it, but don't find it thrilling. I think maybe the solution is found in one of Braga's own scripts, "Schisms":

DATA: Geordi, may I make a personal inquiry? It concerns my poetry reading.
LAFORGE: Sure, Data. What is it?
DATA: I noticed that many spectators seemed distracted during my presentation. Was my poetry uninteresting?
LAFORGE: Well, it was very well constructed, a virtual tribute to form.
DATA: Thank you. And?
LAFORGE: And what?
DATA: Did it evoke an emotional response?
LAFORGE: Well.
DATA: Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest. An artist's growth depends upon accurate feedback.
LAFORGE: Well, your poems were clever, Data, and your Haiku was clever, and your sonnet was clever. But did it evoke an emotional response? To be honest, no, I don't think so.
DATA: Then I did not succeed in my efforts.
LAFORGE: No, it's not that you didn't succeed. You accomplished a lot, but, if you want to touch people, don't concentrate so much on rhyme and metre. Think more about what you want to say instead of how you're saying it.

Braga is not going for an emotional response, exactly, but in "Frame of Mind" and "Cause and Effect" he manages to be funny and frightening in equal measure (well, the balance changes between the episodes), and "Schisms" is another episode that I think manages to be unsettling in a deep way. This one, I find mostly clever but in a way that leaves me cold -- though I still think it's clever enough to warrant 3 stars.

"Frame of Mind," at core, touches on on the fear of losing one's sanity, the difficulty in trusting oneself and one's own instincts over authority, and the question of how to discern what reality itself is. While I'm not sure how much these apply to Riker-the-character (though I think they are relevant to him; one of these days I will try to piece out why I think that's a good Riker show), they are universal human experiences. "Cause and Effect" superficially has less of a major theme, but it still bases an episode around (essentially) deja vu, existential dread about the inevitability of death (c.f. Beverly's broken glass), and grounds it all in the mundane reality of the ship's everyday operation.

This one *does* have a real-life-inspired theme -- Troi, at the beginning of the episode, and Data at the end make a connection between the time distortions and the human (/Betazoid) experience of time seeming to slow down or stop or speed up depending on one's own experience. And some of the episode's impact does come from those moments; the uncanny, creepy scenes aboard the ship in which the Enterprise's destruction and Beverly's death and so on come down to a slowly mounting disaster that the episode's central characters feel helpless to avert. Like "Cause and Effect," I think this taps into fears about the inevitability of death, though I think here the catastrophe is one in which it's impossible to stop a disaster from affecting others. But the sense of dread that permeated "C&E" was maintained throughout the episode, partly because of the fact that the crew's awareness of what was going on reset at each act break; here, once it becomes clear that the tech tech tech tech it's just a matter of applying the tech to stop badness from happening and go on their way. The episode opens with discovering the crew had been at a space psychology conference, and so it's somewhat a shame that the episode's attempts to produce psychological horror are so arbitrary -- Troi's dizziness, Picard's sudden acute dementia. Though, I will say that Picard drawing a smiley face in a slowly spreading warp core breach is one of my single favourite images from the whole series.

Anyway, I like that the episode's end reveals that the Romulans were not responsible for the problem, and reverses several of the apparently disastrous images (the Romulan was not aiming at Beverly in sickbay, but hit her by accident, e.g.), and in some ways this makes this the reverse of, e.g., "The Next Phase" in which the Enterprise crew looks rather stupid for not recognizing that the Romulans are evil to begin with. Here, the Romulans genuinely didn't do anything wrong, and the aliens themselves were acting in self-protection; I like the Trekkian optimism, not necessarily in every story, but in many of them.

Anyway, I think the early scenes on the Runabout and on the Enterprise earn the episode 3 stars, but whereas other Braga scripts do, I think, get at some core idea about the human condition to propel their apparently meaningless stories forward and to get a real response, this one only touches on an interesting topic before moving on to a clever but arbitrary tech plot.
William B - Thu, Sep 26, 2013 - 11:37am (USA Central)
With regards to Brannon Braga generally, I think the thing that sets him apart is that his penchant for wacky/conceptual episodes means that he avoids some of the things that make Trek Trek much of the time -- issue episodes, close character studies, etc. That's not bad, but it does mean that his episodes, for better or ill, have their own tone that is different from most of the rest of the series. (Not that he doesn't have episodes which blend in much better.) When they work very well, as in "C&E" and "Frame of Mind," I'm glad that he has the freedom to do whatever he wants; and when tied to a strong character idea his outside-the-box writing often works very well to the story's benefit, like in "Birthright, Part I" or in some of his RDM collaborations, "All Good Things" most obviously but also "Reunion" and First Contact. Of course, the Braga/Moore combination also yielded Generations, which has some good parts but overall doesn't work that great, and, uh, Aquiel, so. There is also a penchant in his scripts for stories that lose all sight of character or meaning and they live or die on the cleverness of the story -- in this case, the episode is clever enough to stay afloat, but, uh, in "Threshold" or "Genesis," not so much, to say nothing of totally nonsensical ostensibly character-based outings like "Sub Rosa." I think BB and RDM are the two most recognizable writers of late-era Trek, though, which is why they are the most frequently discussed; Behr and Echevarria and Jeri Taylor are probably the next tier down in terms of recurrent themes and tones in their work; Echevarria, I think, is my favourite character-writer, with work spanning from "The Offspring" to "Chimera," though the downside is that when he goes off the rails he does ponderous messes like "Birthright, Part II."
Latex Zebra - Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - 3:38am (USA Central)
This is a lot of fun. I like the fact that you solve the puzzle at the same time as the crew.

Not a classic but 3/4 is a good score.
mephyve - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
Great episode. Just a little disappointed that we didn't get to see how Crusher made out with spot. It would have been interesting to see a cat get tased.
The smiling explosion was a treat.
Of course I get the greatest joy from altereed time episodes. Manipulating time provides a multitude of interesting opportunities.
Excellent episode!
4 stars
Smith - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 12:26pm (USA Central)
One of my favorite episodes. Am shocked that this was written by Braga as I tend not to agree with his artistic vision from other trek projects.
Jack - Sat, Aug 9, 2014 - 10:29am (USA Central)
I like the episode, but the resolution seems rather simplistic. Having the termination of the power transfer beam solve everything seems absurd when the power transfer had only been initiated a few minutes earlier, long after the distortion calamity had happened. The root of the problem was the infestation of the Romulan drive. Merely severing the beam somehow made the Romulan ship vanish (or be destroyed?!?)...how exactly?
SkepticalMI - Thu, Aug 14, 2014 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
I just want to echo what others have said: this is a great mystery episode. We really were brought along with Picard et al. Not only did we get a lot of contradictory information at first (were the Romulans really attacking the Enterprise or not?), but it was all resolved in a reasonably satisfactory matter. Excellent pacing in this episode overall.

The only major plothole (and its a big one) is why the Romulans had disruptors on them in the Enterprise, especially in sickbay? One would expect better security, even during a mission of mercy. Security seemed tight in the transporter room, after all. OK, I also agree with Jack that the ending (with the Warbird mysteriously vanishing) was rushed. That actually seemed to be a pattern in Season 6, with very little in the way of an ending after the climax. See Frame of Mind or Schisms as other examples.

But other than that, I don't have much to say, because this was just a really fun episode that was ultimately meaningless. And like Jammer said, that's perfectly ok.

I also want to say that TNG seemed to have some really good time travel episodes. Instead of running through the typical time travel cliches, they seemed to be more inventive with them. Really, Time's Arrow is about the only "typical" storyline: conveniently ending up in Earth's past, having an easy to solve paradox, running into famous people, etc. But then you have creative episodes like Cause and Effect (which came out before Groundhog's Day) or Timescape, which played around with time rather than just had a simple travel. And, of course, two of TNG's most popular episodes (Yesterday's Enterprise and All Good Things) used time travel as a background, but the focus and energy was on greater matters. Time travel can be fairly trite or it can be very effective, and I think overall TNG was in the effective category. Only Time's Arrow and Time Squared were on the weak side. I guess you could include Matter of Time and Captain's Holiday as well, but the latter barely dealt with time and the former I thought was reasonably clever as well.
Polly - Thu, Sep 4, 2014 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
Really enjoyed this episode. I haven't seen enough of DS9 or Voyager to judge the writers of those series, but if this is typical Brannon Braga I'd like to see a lot more of his work. I dislike Star Trek in soap opera - sorry, 'Mythos' - mode and much prefer the episodes that actually approach science fiction. I have no objection to 'technobabble'. Don't see the necessity for the aliens - surely large space ships moving through time distortions would be enough in itself to cause something to go boom? Re Paul's comment about Troi's technical knowledge: well, she's had a whole year to make up for her humiliating uncertainty in 'Disaster' and she has obviously made good use of the time :P Always happy to see Troi acting something like a Starfleet officer rather than a victim of various intergalactic perverts, and also happy to see the charming and talented Marina Sirtis given something interesting to do rather than struggling to make something of underwritten or poorly written parts.

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