Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Too Short a Season"

1.5 stars

Air date: 2/8/1988
Teleplay by Michael Michaelian and D.C. Fontana
Story by Michael Michaelian
Directed by Robert Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Two hoary cliches — the Hostage Crisis and the Fountain of Youth — converge/collide to create one of the more forgettable and emotionally impenetrable episodes in TNG's run. This is hardly the worst of TNG, but I'd be lying if I said I could turn my empathy over to anybody in this story's scenario. One of the odd aspects of the show is that it makes the guest character the central character without giving us any notable reason to care about him.

The hostage standoff has to do with a vendetta that dates back 45 years. Karnas (Michael Pataki) has taken hostages and is promising to execute them unless an ancient Starfleet admiral, Mark Jameson (Clayton Rohner), turns himself over to answer for his crime: arming both sides of a conflict (rather than just Karnas' side), which led to four decades of civil war. Who are these hostages, who are the hostage-takers, and who exactly is Jameson? Most of all, what does any of this have to do with Jameson's sick need to answer this hostage negotiation in the middle of a risky drug regimen intended to reverse his aging? Better question: Who cares?

Clayton Rohner is not convincing as an old man — not in the makeup and certainly not in the performance, which seems to equate old age with a (very fake) gruff voice. By the time we get to the revelation that Jameson armed both sides of the conflict, the ship containing our interest has long since sailed. The final act falls victim to its boundless overacting, with Karnas shouting and refusing to believe the young Jameson is who he says he is, despite the lack of any reasonable motive for such a convoluted deception. The story makes too much of proving to Karnas that Jameson is actually himself. Meanwhile, the audience is sitting on the sidelines with blank stares.

Previous episode: 11001001
Next episode: When the Bough Breaks

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30 comments on this review

Sat, Jul 25, 2009, 10:10am (UTC -6)
I thought your comment about the center of "Too Short a Season" being the guest character. Did you know that this episode was originally conceived as an episode where Kirk comes back to face a decision he made in an episode of TOS (I think it was "A Private Little War"). However, William Shatner refused to do a guest appearence because he said the show was trash (though I'm sure his ego was involved in the decision).
It makes you wonder how different the series would have been if Kirk had appeared in this episode. For one thing, all subsequent Star Trek films (especially "Generations") would have been very different.
Thu, Apr 19, 2012, 4:37pm (UTC -6)
I see this episode as being generally despised by ST fans, however I thought that it was a fairly solid-by S1 standards-story. I thought that the story was actually quite interesting with an elderly starfleet admiral being forced to confront the consequences of his secret actions many years ago, as well as the tragic implications of his decision to use an alien de-aging drug, not only for himself but also his wife, who was left in the dark about Jameson's decision to use the drugs so that he could be part of this mission. I liked how the episode dealt with Jameson's past decisions to arm both sides and acknowledges that Jameson (probably) made a huge mistake by arming combatants on both sides that cost Karnas' world years of death and devastation BUT also smartly acknowledges the fact, as Picard points out, Karnas didn't have to keep the fighting going either and that he could have worked for peace.
Sat, May 26, 2012, 2:09pm (UTC -6)
Hey, let's face it, TNG in the first two seasons sucked. Voyager was far better then this, so it's not hard to see why Shatner wouldn't want to do it, cause yeah, TNG was going the way of show Enterprise at the time.
Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 5:29pm (UTC -6)
This ep was so boring, couldn't agree more with Jammer. The Karnas guy was so bad at his role that it put a smile on my face.

@ Nic: That would have been pretty cool, dunno how good the plot could have been, though. Haven't seen much of TOS, so I don't know that ep you're talking about.

@ Duge: One man's trash is another man's treasure, huh? Imo, the plot wasn't so bad, but the acting killed it.

@ Edax: Completely agree with you until that S2 episode "The Measure of a Man". The series seems to have made a significant leap in quality ever since (I'm only 5 episodes after that one, and so far so good)
Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 8:58pm (UTC -6)
They are cliches yet the story feels oddly innovative.

Wisely, the "fountain of youth" trope would always be a cliche, so they kept that aspect shallow while focusing on other events. Which is best, the more they discussed the de-aging Admiral's love life with his wife the more I started to cringe, but they kept the thought minimal. So it's realistic (for the scope of the concept) without descending into the drivel other S1 stories would descend into. Thankfully.

The hostage crisis/arms dealing was one of the "real life" things TOS was known for. It feels like it's trying to be a reversal of what TOS' "A Private Little War" was doing.

Admiral Jameson's makeup was very iffy at times, but the younger he got the better he got...

Michael Pataki excelled as Karnas...

I then just read Nic's response above. It's cool to know the story started as a sequel to "A Private Little War". At the time, Shatner wasn't wrong (but his ego, "GET A LIFE!!!" bit notwithstanding, wasn't why he claimed the show was trash, if he had indeed do so...)

I rate it 3 of 4 stars.
Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 6:54pm (UTC -6)
After the heights of the last Outing '11001001' odds are we were due a clunker and 'Too Short a Season' doesn't fail to disappoint. The plot such as it is is pretty well derivative of a dozen other shows and the episode rarely rises above the level of cliche. The Enterprise is called To a hostage crisis on Morden IV and Starfleet requests they take along the Admiral who negotiated the Original ceasefire on the planet, Mark Jameson (Clayton Rohner), although it quickly transpires that neither the situation nor he are what they appear to be.

This episode was for me, arguably the weakest of the season - very close run with 'Angel One' or 'Code of Honor', it tends to get overlooked when worst lists are being considered. But th olotmisnshot full of holes. Michael Pataki overacts dreadfully as Karnas and Rohner's performance, although improving somewhat when he sheds the 'Old Age' makeup is still pretty poor. With the two guest stars failing to impress, a weak, predictable plot, it would look to someone watching TNG fresh that the excellence of the previous episode was an isolated 'lucky strike' - Certainly the episode seems to go on interminably, and as a result merits a low score for simple boredom value alone.

For me, extremely weak and I'd strongly consider dropping it below the 1 star I believe it merits. I'll settle for that, though given what comes next.
William B
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 4:11am (UTC -6)
I think Jammer has the problem(s) here nailed down really well. There is no particular reason to combine Hostage Situation and Fountain of Youth in this story, and the whole episode is devoted to a guest character. Essentially, while it's nice and all that Picard made the effort to figure out what was going on and to try to curb Admiral Jameson's excesses, this episode would have worked out exactly the same had the Enterprise crew not bothered participating in this plot at all. Not only that, but the episode hardly even requires *Jameson* to do anything at all after his (off-screen before the episode starts) downing a bunch of anti-aging drugs, since ultimately he just...dies from those.

Anyway, nothing in this story requires Trek, for that matter, nor even any sci-fi/fantasy elements outside the basic "fountain of youth" angle, even though that is hardly necessary for the revenge plotline. Heck, the story could play almost exactly the same in modern setting, non-SF/fantasy, with a hostage negotiator (who armed some rival gangs in the past) taking a bunch of steroids or some such so he can stare down the gang leader he had dealt with before, and then dies in front of him. Or as a Twilight Zone episode (hopefully a half-hour one) with nearly the same plot. And even that assumes that there is some reason why the "revenge hostage-taking" plot needs to be wed to any drug-taking plot at all.

I mean, I don't object to stories that don't require a sci-fi element. But there should be some sense of why exactly this episode exists on this series -- some relevance to character or theme. And this episode is mystifying because there is none. "Fountain of Youth" is genuinely as far as this story went as far as locating it within a sci-fi context, and it went absolutely no further to find some kind of resonances with any of the Enterprise crew. That means that in its own way it is less clear why this exists than the season's actual low points ("Code of Honour," "Justice," "Angel One"), which are worse than this episode but have some effort (albeit botched) to relate the episode story to the main cast and the series' themes more directly.

The aged-Jameson makeup and acting are laughable even by season one standards. Fortunately, the episode stopped being laughable once he got somewhat younger, but then it just stopped being...anything. 1.5 stars is probably reasonable, but I can't help but go lower for the absolute lack of reason for this episode to exist. 1 star.
William B
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 4:16am (UTC -6)
To elaborate a bit more -- the actual idea that Jameson armed both sides and that this led to a civil war, and then his need to atone for this act, is actually potentially strong enough to carry an episode, if this were given the proper focus it is due. Contra Jammer, I think that this scene in which Jameson admits this to Picard is the one (only?) effective scene in this episode, and I managed to care in spite of myself. But this aspect is still badly buried, and almost nothing else in this episode works.

I also want to stress how perfunctory this episode's action sequence was.

I like DPC's point that this feels like a follow-up to Kirk's idea in "A Private Little War." There is another TOS reference -- I think that the design of Jameson's wheelchair is meant to evoke Christopher Pike's from "The Menagerie."
Nick P.
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 11:29pm (UTC -6)
I am one of the few that really enjoy this episode. I am sure it is 7 year old me, but whatever, I love it. As I have stated numerous times, I would take the S1 overacting, over the S7 underacting bore any day of the week. Why shouldn't Karnas yell everything? His mortal enemy is showing up 45 years too young.

I really loved that ending too, "annie with the hair of Gold", I say it was done pretty well.

the ONLY thing that annoys me here is the Star Trek trope of discovering the cure for death, and forgetting it by next week....WTF.
Wed, May 8, 2013, 10:35am (UTC -6)
@Nick P: I just watched this the other day. There's a good episode dying to get out.

The story is interesting in concept. If this had been done in the third or fourth seasons, the acting would have been better. I also think the writing would have been better. The fountain of youth stuff is cliched, but at least here it's a means and not an end.

This is better than a lot of first season fair, because the concept is stronger. But the episode suffers from a lot of the first season's problems.
Wed, May 8, 2013, 6:18pm (UTC -6)
Even if this had been presented as a Kirk story (and thanks, Nic, for that tip), it would've had the same problem of not involving the TNG characters. At least make the admiral a hero, mentor, or close friend of a regular. That's one thing the later TOS crossovers did succeed with.

The Kirk aspect also explains why the de-aging drug was shoved into the plot: to spare Shatner a few days of age makeup (which must've been hell for De Kelly's cameo in "Farpoint"). The question remains, once Shatner said no, when didn't they drop that subplot?
Sun, Dec 15, 2013, 5:19am (UTC -6)
Gates McFadden's beauty saved this episode for me. God, she looks gorgeous here.
Diamond Dave
Tue, Aug 18, 2015, 1:48pm (UTC -6)
After a definite improvement with 11001001, we're right back down in the depths again here. Another one of those episodes that seems to go on forever, largely because it has no B-story at all - there's even a phaser fight thrown in, apparently to spice things up, for no obvious plot reason at all.

I can see why this might have worked as a Kirk story, but as others have noted putting the guest character front and centre - and making him an unsympathetic one from the start - just makes it a grind to get through. The overblown scenery-chewing finale merely adds to the feeling. 1 star.
Kira Nerys
Thu, Nov 12, 2015, 9:47am (UTC -6)
Well, I don't think this ep was as bad as everybody makes it out to be...nothing brilliant, but definitely watchable. I have to say I enjoyed it much more than Datalore, which made me squirm almost as much as Code of Honour or The Last Outpost.

One thing I don't get is how everybody seems to act like 85 is a really advanced age...shouldn't human life expectancy be well over a hundred by the 24th century, or even significantly longer considering all the tech at their disposal? 85 should barely be retirement age by then...
Mon, Dec 14, 2015, 8:16pm (UTC -6)
Gates McFadden's beauty saved this episode for me. God, she looks gorgeous here -GABRIEL

Agreed. Her makeup looked great. And her hair was a lighter shade.
Tue, Jan 26, 2016, 6:34pm (UTC -6)
Am i the only one who noticed this episode was about suicide, The Admiral overdosed on the drug that made him younger and he revealed his wrist had been slit at the end, it was a terribly over acted and poorly written episode though.
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 5:02pm (UTC -6)
The wrist slit was a scar from a ritual 40 years prior in the old negotiations. He was showing it to prove he was the real guy.

I don't think this guy was suicidal. He took the drug and it was working slowly, and he had a dose for his wife if it worked.

The problem was, when he was called to this hostage situation, he felt he need to atone for his past and be Mr Action Hero.. so he took the rest of his drugs and also his wife's supply. It accelerated the process so he could accomplish his goal, but killed him along the way.

I have no sense he was suicidal. He simply took the risk of death in order to be able to "fix" his problems from the past.
Sat, Jul 9, 2016, 10:56am (UTC -6)
This is the worst episode of season 1 that I have seen so far. From the beginning, one might assume that the Admiral's reverse aging is somehow linked to the hostage situation (does the kidnapper want the potion, perhaps, as part of his demands?). But no, the episode isn't clever enough to link the two stories together. Everything falls flat. For example, in the final scene, when the Admiral's about to be executed, his wife doesn't even so much as yell out. By that point, he should have been 13 or 14 years old anyway - this would have at least made it somewhat more interesting to watch. I give this 1 star.
Wed, Nov 9, 2016, 4:01pm (UTC -6)
The fountain of youth,elixir of life-this pulp concept belongs in an episode of Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea and the acting is just as bad as any other season 1 episode.
Denise Crosby gets about two lines-never mind Denise-you can leave this farrago in a bit.
As for the plot-it would have been a lot better if it had been a sequel to A Private Little War.
Mon, Aug 21, 2017, 11:36pm (UTC -6)
Clayton Rohner was woefully miscast in this episode. His characterization of an "old man" has all the finesse of a junior high drama student. It baffles me why they did not simply cast an older actor who resembled Rohner to play the elder Jameson. It still would have achieved the same payoff in the end, and made his relationship with his wife much more genuinely convincing (and far less creepy.) Even as younger Jameson, Rohner paints him in amateurishly broad strokes and comes off as nothing more than an insufferable, selfish jerk. I felt no sympathy for the character at all in the end, and that's a shame, because the way the story was told, it seemed like I should.
Thu, Oct 12, 2017, 2:10am (UTC -6)
Not my favorite eposode. However, its underrated here. It resonates a bit louder post the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In this story, Jameson had supplied weapons to a faction of people to get out of a hostage situation. These people then used the weapons to create terrorism and a war that lasted 40 years. It made this man regret his decision, because many more lives were lost than he was able to save by giving in to terrorist demands.

Historically, there are many instances where the US has intervened on behalf of one side or another during a conflict. Many times giving modern weapons to 3rd world nations. An example being helping the Middle East against the Russians. Well, after time has gone by, those same people we armed with guns, tanks, munitions, etc have built sophisticated terrorist cells all over the world and continue to expand to this day.

They owe thanks to the US for getting it started by handing them sophisticated weaponry.

This episode shows powerful insight into the powers of terrorism, 14 years before the United States finally started taking them seriously. Similar to the impact of the episode "the High Ground," which is an even better episode.
Sat, Nov 25, 2017, 8:19pm (UTC -6)
2.25 stars

It’s not awful but not good either. It’s watchable enough
Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 11:27pm (UTC -6)
Holy crap, this is typical season 1 badness. 0/5.
Sarjenka's Little Brother
Fri, Dec 15, 2017, 9:30pm (UTC -6)
I'm definitely out of step with most of Trekdom on this one.

I think the episode is fair heading toward good. I thought Clayton Rohner did a good job, and so did the woman playing his wife. Not riveting, but good.

The situation was serious and treated thusly. Whatever else you think about it, it spares you the awkward goofiness and vague multidimensional creatures that populated the first half of Season 1.

And I'm not why the de-aging angle is such a turn-off to so many people. I like stories involving rapid aging and de-aging. I think it's a great subject for sci-fi.

It's not "must-watch" Trek by any means. But I'm definitely more entertained by it than the average Trek fan.
Prince of Space
Tue, Mar 20, 2018, 1:47am (UTC -6)
Haha... look at Matt up there trying to take one of the dopier episodes of S1 TNG and turn it into some kind of political statement. That’s more misguided than even this episode’s premise, which is quite an accomplishment.

Oh well, I’m sure at the time it musta seemed profound or something. lol

Mooooving on, yes... this episode was largely a snooze fest and seemed to scream at every commercial break, “Why are we doing this?!?” It was plodding, dull, uninspired, and yet... mostly harmless.

Not the worst speed bump in TNG’s road to excellence by a long shot.
Thu, May 10, 2018, 6:59am (UTC -6)
Dismal and dreadfully boring right from the first moment. Don't bother waking me up if I fall asleep in the middle of this steaming pile of crap.
Cesar Gonzalez
Tue, May 15, 2018, 11:41pm (UTC -6)
Excellent episode. I guess I'm the minority here, but I found it very enjoyable from beginning to end.
Also liked Clayton's permanence. 3/4 for me.
Sat, May 19, 2018, 5:47pm (UTC -6)
This was one of those you either like or don't. Not that bad.
Thu, May 24, 2018, 3:09pm (UTC -6)
Honestly, I like this a lot.

The acting doesn't bother me, I like the camp factor of the old age effect- it reminds me of an over the top D/D npc.

Sure it's primitive, but it's still an Iran-contra allegory, and we needed that. I like how they were able to update the theme in the light of Reagan-administration atrocities.

Let's also point out that this is one of very few times where Tasha is allowed to be competent and effective rather than being used as a captive. that alone makes me want to watch it. By my count she has the following moments of efficacy: downing some mooks here, getting the drop on the Ferengi in Outpost, and stunning the aliens in Symbiosis with the followup conversation with Riker about how to address their shocking grasp powers. Compare this to being held captive in racist bullshit scenario Code of Honor, being depicted as unstable and provoking Q, being held prisoner by Q, failing to act against Korris in Heart of Glory... I relish the small moments when she can be showcased as successful and competent, rather than just being a pretty helpless face with informed abilities.
Tue, May 29, 2018, 10:30am (UTC -6)
Surprisingly very little goes on in this episode and I feel that this is an issue with Season 1 TNG in general -- as if the writers didn't know what to do with the cast. The first half of the show is basically about WTF is going on with Jameson -- it's not that enthralling and I actually think his wife puts in a better acting performance in a tertiary role. Karnas is a paper thin character. Not enough was made of Picard's scepticism about Jameson's plan.

Ultimately the payoff isn't worth the hour with a lot of Karnas/Jameson huffing/puffing. If Jameson is supposed to be portrayed as a brilliant negotiator or somebody we should respect etc., that doesn't happen as he reveals he violated the PD. At this stage I wonder what Picard can do to stop Jameson's plan (and arrest him).

This episode reminds me of "A Private Little War" where Kirk actually levels the playing field before Tyree's people get wiped out -- a vastly superior episode about the Vietnam War. But here very little analysis is done about the PD violation and instead most of the episode is focused on Jameson's reverse-aging. What's the allegory to in "Too Short A Season" if any?

In addition to a very basic plot (too basic) the acting performances for Jameson and Karnas were weak. It gets hard to care about the back-story when it is suppressed by Jameson's health for the most part -- just a poor choice by the writer. Even the moral conflict within Jameson isn't explored sufficiently -- we just get the picture that he'd do anything (putting his health at risk) to satisfy Karnas and free the hostages.

Falls just short of 2 stars for me so 1.5 stars it is. Nothing worthy here -- unambitious with poor acting although there was potential for a good story with an arms negotiation gone wrong (40+ years of civil war) and a Star Fleet admiral with a guilty conscience.

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