Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Time's Arrow, Part I"

2.5 stars

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

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79 comments on this post

Wed, May 11, 2011, 7:55pm (UTC -6)
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.
Wed, May 11, 2011, 9:00pm (UTC -6)
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.
Thu, May 12, 2011, 12:02am (UTC -6)
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.
Fri, May 13, 2011, 8:49pm (UTC -6)
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.
Fri, May 13, 2011, 10:10pm (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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.
Sun, May 29, 2011, 5:16pm (UTC -6)
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.
Thu, Jun 2, 2011, 3:45am (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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.
Fri, Sep 9, 2011, 7:23am (UTC -6)
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.
Fri, Sep 9, 2011, 7:27am (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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...
Fri, Sep 23, 2011, 5:17am (UTC -6)
@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...
Fri, Sep 23, 2011, 10:15am (UTC -6)
@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 (UTC -6)
@ 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".
Fri, Sep 23, 2011, 7:25pm (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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.
Fri, Oct 28, 2011, 2:34pm (UTC -6)
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.
Tue, Jan 17, 2012, 9:10am (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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.
Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 6:37pm (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
@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 (UTC -6)
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."
Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 3:20pm (UTC -6)
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.
Sun, Jan 12, 2014, 5:48pm (UTC -6)
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 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 (UTC -6)
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.
Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 3:30am (UTC -6)
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.
Sun, Jul 20, 2014, 3:38pm (UTC -6)
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.
Mon, Jul 13, 2015, 12:11pm (UTC -6)
Jammer, your review is exactly how I feel about the episodes. The Samual Clemmons character is annoying. The voice seems to be a sort of extrapolation and exaggeration from his folksy talk in some of his books. In this case less would be a lot more, make him sound a bit more like Andy Rooney, I bet that would have worked AND made him more of a believable character (also give the actor a good reference).
The full circle of Guinan-Picard was a great payoff and the highlight of the episode.
The period costumes worked great for all the crew and Guinan looked great.
The aliens themselves were hard to get into. I suspect Roddenberry wouldn't have liked the aliens either since he was a big advocate of showing alien's eyes. They are the weak point in the episodes. (Some might like that they were very different and I give them credit for trying but it was hard to get intrigued by them and to relate to them.)

A note about the blu ray disks, they are already made BUT it seems to me considering how much room is on a blu ray to put the second of the two parters on the last disk (and possibly the first part on the subsequent season) It is a bit annoying to have to change disks.
Sun, Aug 30, 2015, 12:48pm (UTC -6)
Well, that certainly was no "The Best of Both Worlds" or "Redemption." For an episode that deals with Data's possible death, time travel, soul-consuming aliens from the future, a look into Picard and Guinan's backstory and Mark Twain and is a season ending cliffhanger, there's a rather surprising lack of energy and excitement to "Time's Arrow, Part I."

Let me just say that I don't mind time travel stories in Trek. I don't even mind holodeck malfunction stories. So, I'm not going to hold that against the episode. In fact, most times when people start complaining about the overuse of time travel and/or the holodeck, it seems (to me anyway) to be nothing more than whining. Time travel isn't the problem here. Jammer said it better than I could with this - "'Time's Arrow, Part I' is all setup and absolutely no payoff."

Really, what else is there to say about it? It isn't bad, but it isn't good either. It's just another episode like "Hero Worship" and "Imaginary Friend" - mind-numbingly average, average, average. It really does seem like this was a one-part episode that was stretched almost beyond the breaking point to become a two-parter. Nothing really amounts to anything. I suppose I could point out how ridiculous the crew's reaction to Data's severed head was. Why are they so off-put by Data's matter-of-factness about the whole situation? He's an android people; you know he doesn't have emotions! Thankfully those scenes don't last long. I suppose I could point out how enjoyable Picard's statement of "Then I'll be irrational!" was. But when that truly brief moment is the highlight of the episode - well, you see the problem. Even the alien antagonists come across as fairly uninteresting, though the episode seemed hell-bent on making me think they were terrifying. The problem here (once again, just like with "Hero Worship" and "Imaginary Friend") is that I'm nitpicking. And that should probably be a major hint as to the score I'm going to give the episode.

As for the Twain character - well, a lot of people appear to either love him or hate him. For me, he was just like everything else in "Time's Arrow, Part I." I didn't think he was particularly bad (Twain was a rather larger-than-life guy in real life after all). But, I didn't think he was particularly good either. Nothing about the performance or the character himself made me hope to see more of him in Part II. In the end, he was probably an unnecessary addition to the story that really added nothing either way and could have been cut without, therefore, losing anything either way. Just another average piece in an average puzzle.

I feel kind of bad not having anything else to say about a season finale, but there it is.



Time for some more post-season number crunching....

7 - Redemption, Part II
8 - Darmok
7 - Ensign Ro
6 - Silicon Avatar
5 - Disaster
4 - The Game
6 - Unification, Part I
7 - Unification, Part II
3 - A Matter of Time
7 - New Ground
5 - Hero Worship
3 - Violations
1 - The Masterpiece Society
3 - Conundrum
4 - Power Play
8 - Ethics
5 - The Outcast
6 - Cause and Effect
8 - The First Duty
7 - Cost of Living
6 - The Perfect Mate
5 - Imaginary Friend
9 - I, Borg
8 - The Next Phase
6 - The Inner Light
5 - Time's Arrow, Part I

Average Season Score: 5.731
Average Series Score: 4.936
Final TOS Average Score: 5.150

Best Episode: I, Borg
Worst Episode: The Masterpiece Society

This season was something of a mixed bag. It's the first season since the abysmal depths of Season One to not give us any 10 out of 10 episodes. In fact, it only managed to deliver one classic episode (which I consider to be episodes with scores of 9 or 10) - "I, Borg." But, it's also the very first season of TNG (and the first since TOS Season Two) to not give us any 0 out of 10 episodes either. While it's a slight step down in overall quality from the previous season, that's not by much - Season Four had a score of 5.885 and Season Five gets a score of 5.731 - and it still managed to exactly tie (with 149 total points out of 260) the single best season of TOS (Season Two).

TNG is slowly but surely crawling its way out of the basement it dug for itself in its first two years and is slowly closing in on TOS's final average score.

I've seen a lot of people saying that TNG was really past its prime after Season Four. Well, that might be the case. I doubt Seasons Six and Seven will be able to match Season Four's high score. But, if this is TNG past its prime, I'll gladly take it. Because it is still damn fine entertainment overall.
Diamond Dave
Tue, Sep 29, 2015, 1:15pm (UTC -6)
Indeed a disappointing end to the series, and one in which there is no real cliffhanger, simply a wait a few months for the rest of the story to start.

What's such a shame is that the concept is marvelous - as a shock intro the revelation of Data's head is right up there. But really we then get into something that feels like a holodeck episode. That's not to say that there aren't some really nice touches - Data's acceptance of his mortality and how he communicates it is very well written. And how quickly he adapts to 19th century life is also a joy. But one wonders how the Guinan element is going to play out - yes, it's intriguing for the moment, but we have to wait to see how it's resolved and that's not really enough to bump up the score for this episode. 2.5 stars.


Fascinating. Looking back over the scores I gave this series we come out at an average of 2.69 - exactly the same as series 3 and a hair better than series 4. I was so surprised that I had to have another look to make sure I'd calculated properly. But on a more careful examination the answer is clear.

The first 16 shows average 2.43, and there's a lot of middle range episodes, with very few really good or indeed real stinkers. The last ten episodes average 3.1, with 7 of 10 episodes scoring 3 or above (including two 4-star shows) compared to only three in the first 16. So what we have here is a game of two halves, whereby the excellent end to the series lifts the average first half, which at least was consistently OK.
Wed, Nov 18, 2015, 4:35am (UTC -6)
Moonie, you said, "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"

I love this idea and I'll tell you my thoughts. I have heard people irritated at the conceit that Guinan was there when they all went back in time because it was too much of a coincidence, but I don't think so. This is when Guinan first meets them and Data tells her that he knows her from serving together on the Enterprise. She also learns that Picard is Captain of the Enterprise.

Therefore, when Guinan loses her home, she seeks out the Enterprise and Picard and gets a job there. I think that was intentional on her part--she knew that their lives were to cross. And after handsome Jean-Luc telling her they'd be romantic partners, she felt that was worth 500 years of waiting.

More directly to your question, Guinan tells us that she is on Earth to "listen," as her El-Aurian people do. Memory Alpha gets this wrong, in my opinion--they say she was on Earth to hide from her father. Based on her conversation with Data when she thinks her father has sent him, her father knew where she was and she simply wanted to tell him that she wasn't done listening. There was no hiding--she was simply irritated that she thought her Dad was worried about her and wanted to be left alone to continue her listening.

So that's my take on it. I think they handled this aspect really well. Time travel is notoriously tricky to do, but in Guinan's case I think they covered all the bases. The only thing I dislike is future Picard telling past Guinan that their relationship "goes far beyond friendship." The only way to interpret that is romantic and we know that's wrong. It would have been better for Picard to say something like "you will be the best friend I ever have."

Overall I really like this episode. I think Data and Jack London's relationship is a delight, and the Guinan bits are wonderful. I like Twain's take on society and his bravery. The rest of them interacting with 19th century society is ridiculous--why the hell is Beverly wearing those idiotic glasses? She has perfect vision and lots of people in the 19th century didn't wear glasses. But somebody on the costume staff thought it made her look old-fashioned, so granny glasses it is! The women's hair is also ridiculous--you don't need permanents to blend in with that time.

But the rest is great--Data's take on his mortality is wonderful.
Thu, Mar 16, 2017, 2:59am (UTC -6)
>I'm not a literary historian and have no idea if Twain was this much of a showboat and an eccentric

He was. Every bit of those words that you can think of, he was.
Wed, Mar 22, 2017, 10:22pm (UTC -6)
I'll admit I enjoyed this two parter despite the holes (when has an episode of Trek not had holes? As long as the episode is entertaining I can usually forgive them).

The 19th century scenes did drag a bit, especially when Twain was talking (was it really necessary for him to have so much dialogue?) but I appreciated a lot of the gags, and the way Spiner really played up being disturbed at finding the head (a much better likeness than the model from 1st season) piqued my interest enough that I actually jumped at the reveal. (I'm usually childishly entertained by the weird faces he's always making, but at the same time have to wonder why he's so much better at portraying subtle emotions than most of the other crew. It's always a bit jarring when he actually plays a scene straight and makes Data act as emotionlessly as he's supposed to be as a result.) The description of the aliens was much creepier in my mind than the lame way they actually appeared, but TNG aliens are almost exclusively humanoid so I shouldnt have expected anything different.

It was kind of a cop-out for Data's head to be "dead" this episode but able to be reactivated and immediately put back on duty in the next (it's been shown to be able to function fine while removed before so you'd think they'd have tried reactivating it and asking it what happened to it... No wait, that would draw too much attention to the paradox of it existing in two places at once, I guess). Picard being willing to fry the aliens for poaching Earth was a nice change from his usual hand-wringing about self-defense.

I wish there was more explanation of Picard and Guinan, is this really supposed to be the only basis for their "closer than lovers, closer than family" relationship? I was expecting some great adventure together, not a happen chance meeting with barely any interaction. And why do they automatically assume that Guinan is even older than she previously told them, when she could have time traveled there as well from a different point in the future? Anyway, like always lots of holes, but fun enough that I was mostly entertained.
Ross Carlson
Fri, Mar 24, 2017, 10:40am (UTC -6)
Recently re-watched this episode, in my top 5, and realized something that's always bugged me. Clemens mentions Mr. Whitley from the geological survey and Data says he doesn't know the man's name but he talks with several people in that office. Given the time period he was in certainly he would have been introduced by name or at somepoint he would have learned the names of everyone in the office. Name plates, on pieces of paper, conversation, etc. He'd only have to hear it once and he'd remember it perfectly forever. The way they play it and the line written would be more like a human would have probably heard it and just didn't remember as that'd be very common for anyone other than Data.

Anyone else notice this??
Fri, Mar 24, 2017, 1:49pm (UTC -6)
I have to note the similarities and differences between Data's desire for death in this episode and Asimov's character's desire for death in The Positronic Man (I believe that's the name of the story I'm thinking of? It's been years since I've read that story and even longer since I completely watched through the almost unwatchable TV adaptation, "Bicentennial Man". (I'm not a fan of Robbin Willliams, his way of speaking and acting in pretty much everything I ever saw/heard him in always made me feel very embarrassed by/for and very bad for him, as though he hated himself and was willing to do any humiliating or self-defacing thing to make me laugh. I felt like I was watching a man with little to no self respect/esteem torture himself for my amusement, it's very hard to watch. Given how things turned out I wonder if my feelings weren't too far off the mark, poor man.)

Data makes for a poor Bicentennial Man. Given what I remember of the story, in that one the robot chose to die so that he would be granted human status. In this episode Data is happy to learn he will die because it makes him feel closer to his human companions. In Asimov's story it makes sense, because the robot has done everything possible to make himself as human as possible, and dying from old age is just the final step. It makes less sense for Data to want to die, especially since his death is not a natural one (despite what he claims unless he's replacing/upgrading his parts as he goes along he will wear out and naturally "die" some time in the distant future) but shown to be a seemingly violent end. For all he knows he may be no more long lived than a humanoid like Guinan, not knowing the length of his life-span hardly means he's immortal and is a really illogical conclusion for him to come to. Even if he was "immortal" he's still obviously able to be destroyed, just like anything else. If existing indefinitely truly disturbed him enough that finding his own remains comforted him, he could have just as easily decided that one day he will have himself destroyed (I don't recall any of his programming making him unable to do so). There are species in Star Trek that do appear to live forever, like the Q, so fixating on having a death at all reflects his desire for humanity, rather than a desire for becoming "alive". It is an interesting look at the character, but really cements how odd some of his conclusions are.

@Ross I don't remember the exact lines, but it's possible Whitley was a secretary or the like, and thus while frequently talked to wasn't important enough to be introduced by name or was introduced by first name only. I'm not saying they didn't fudge it with Data (they do slip up and I think someone mentioned Spiner would ocassionally throw in some contractions just to see if they'd catch it (they didn't)) just that we could probably imagine a plausible explanation in this case.
Tue, Apr 11, 2017, 3:08pm (UTC -6)
"Redemption Part 2"-3
"Ensign Ro"-3.5
"Silicon Avatar"-3.5
"The Game"-2.5
"Unification I"-3
"Unification II"-2.5
"A Matter of Time"-2.5
"New Ground"-2.5
"Hero Worship"-2
"The Masterpiece Society"-2
"Power Play"-2.5
"The Outcast"-2.5
"Cause and Effect"-4
"The First Duty"-4
"The Cost of Living"-1
"The Perfect Mate"-2.5
"Imaginary Friend"-1.5
"I, Borg"-4
"The Next Phase"-3.5
"The Inner Light"-4
"Time's Arrow Part 1"-2.5
Average 2.88
Thu, Apr 13, 2017, 3:59pm (UTC -6)
I do really give a flying crap what Iceman thinks about a series I've watched for the last twenty years...............
Daniel Blumentritt
Sat, Jun 10, 2017, 2:12am (UTC -6)
{ And so the serviceable but uneven fifth season ends }

Tue, Oct 3, 2017, 7:00pm (UTC -6)
This episode was heavy with technobabble and it felt like time was being spent unnecessarily on meaningless things (Data talking to the 49er, the poker game, Mark Twain scenery chewing etc.) A slow-paced, pretty clumsy hour -- I'm thinking the 2-parter could be condensed into 1.

As in most 2-parters, part I poses plenty of questions but few offers answers -- like what are the 2 aliens that zapped the 49er? And did Data get forced into the time vortex? I had the feeling of being unsatisfied after the first part but not super excited about the 2nd part.

The set of San Francisco in the 1890s didn't work at all -- it actually felt too much like the buildings were more advanced. And this is on Devidia II, not Earth. Or does the time vortex on Devidia II transport them back in time to Earth? Maybe it does like in "The City on the Edge of Forever".

Picard didn't want Data as part of the landing party but is then forced to let him go down (for the phase-shifting BS) -- but then Geordi finds a way to accomplish the same effect so this strikes me as the crew making a mistake and then getting screwed for doing so.

2 stars for "Time's Arrow (Part I)" -- definitely very intriguing start with finding Data's head and him coming to terms with his morality. But then the episode wastes too much time on nonsense and heavy technobabble. There's something definitely sinister going on here but we don't get enough of an idea of what exactly it is. Part II could hit the ball out of the ballpark...or not.
Sean Hagins
Fri, Mar 23, 2018, 10:44pm (UTC -6)
Now, I want to say that I read no comments here before I left mine.

That said, this has always been my absolute favourite TNG episode (or at least one of them). But one thing always stuck out-if these aliens are going back to the 19th century, what are the chances that they came from the 24th? Why not the 25th? Or 23rd, or some other time. I mean Picard & co go to their planet, and there they are (well, out of phase, but still in their time!) That is an unbelievable coincidence!
Thu, Mar 29, 2018, 1:17am (UTC -6)
I thought this 1st part was quite entertaining.

The parts with Data and Jack Frost riffing was pure comedy.

Jack rounds up all of the supplies data asks for and sees him working on something crazy looking.

Jack: So what's it gonna be when its finished?

Data (not sure how to answer): What do you think it's going to be?

Jack: maybe a new kind of motor for one of those horseless carriage?

Data: That is a good guess.

Jack: Hot damn! You really think there money in those things? Ha! Isn't that what makes America great?

Data: To what are you referring?

Jack: A man rides into town in his pajamas, wins a grub stake in a poker game, and turns it into a million bucks? That's America!

This part had me LMAO.
Sean Hagins
Thu, Apr 5, 2018, 9:21pm (UTC -6)

Sorry, I have to say this-it's Jack London! Not Jack Frost! LOL!
Peter G.
Thu, Apr 5, 2018, 10:49pm (UTC -6)
"Sorry, I have to say this-it's Jack London! Not Jack Frost! LOL!"

I noticed but wouldn't possibly have been able to type the correction without giggling and falling off my chair.
Cody B
Sun, May 27, 2018, 10:46pm (UTC -6)
Judging this first half episode on its own without having scene part two, I’d probably give it three stars. Quite a bit better than what I was expecting
Tue, Jun 5, 2018, 7:31am (UTC -6)
I have to say that whilst a lot of the comments here I find myself agreeing with in retrospect and many years on, and yet this 2 parter is by far my favourite of any trek episodes. Its not that BOBW doesn't kick all sorts of rear ends, cos it does, and it's not like AGT was a let down (if you are gonna go out, go out kicking, I say, and did they ever), but there is so much Data in this episode that I can't help loving it. I very much enjoy "Thine own Self" for that reason also.

The devastation of the crew at the thought of losing Data mirrored my own, and frankly, it was handled better here than in the movies (do not get me started on Insurrection).

It's fun, its thoughtful, and it hits me in the feels every time.

Yes the sets in the past suck badly, yes the guy that plays Twain is overbearing (but he really does look the part and is a fantastic actor, just wish he was quieter, literally not shouting every line), yes I too wondered how realistic it was for even a very wealthy woman who looks like Guinan to be accepted in that society (be nice / horrible to think that would have made a difference), and I agree the bits set in the TNG present were poorly handled once the focus shifted to Data in the past, but I only cared what was happening with him, so I didn't pay that much attention to that. But if I had to only ever watch 2 episodes of TNG ever again (you all got shivers of revulsion at that thought?, I know I do) it would be Times Arrow every time.
Cody B
Tue, Jun 5, 2018, 7:53am (UTC -6)
I’m a bit ashamed to say I thought Patrick Stewart played Twain. I just looked it up since you said something about “the actor who played Twain”. I really thought it was Patrick Stewart lol
Tue, Jun 5, 2018, 10:58am (UTC -6)
@ Cody B-

I like that guy!

Madam GUINAN! You belong in MY TIME just as much as I belong in YOURS! This.. SPACE SHIP that travels the STARS (etc etc)

Tue, Jun 19, 2018, 10:43pm (UTC -6)
I have a soft spot in my heart for this episode, because I remember when it originally aired and how excited I felt watching it (then the loooong summer wait for part 2). For me, it still holds up quite well on rewatch. The reveal of "Data's head" is fun to see even if you know it's coming. The phase shift in the cave was very well done. When we finally meet the Devidians they (especially the woman) are just the right amount of creepy, and the ivory snake cane is a master touch. I love Star Trek dress-up and time-travel episodes -- Star Trek IV has always been my favorite for that reason -- and I thoroughly enjoyed the crew romping around in 19th Century San Francisco. The Mark Twain character didn't dominate Part I as he did Part II so he was more enjoyable/goofy than annoying in this one.

There are some great lines here, especially early on as the crew tiptoes in comical fashion around Data's death, and Brent Spiner had great comic timing in those scenes, especially "I am also fond of you, Commander." Then there's Troi in the cave -- "There's life here. A child. An old woman. Dozens more. Hundreds. Terrified." And Data in the cave narrating the Devidians' draining of life with scientific precision, which only increases the horror. Picard to Guinan: "I haven't seen such a complex operation since the Academy lab final in exochemistry. " And finally Troi again in the cave, "There is no life here. What I have sensed is more like an imprint. An echo of the last moment of life. Human life. They all died in terror ." These are all great lines and really build the suspense.

Jammer may be right that the episode is "all setup and absolutely no payoff," but when the setup is fun to watch, and the actors seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, who cares? Star Trek -- like most shows -- rises and falls with the characters. In this episode, they're all at their likable best. And for that, plus the suspense and elaborate build-up, I'd give 3.5 stars.
Tue, Aug 14, 2018, 6:44pm (UTC -6)
I remembered this episode fondly, but after recently rewatchung it on NetFlix I was surprised to find myself displeased with the portrayal of Twain, since in my memory that was something I liked about the episode.

When researching it years later, the portrayal of Mark Twain struck me as shallow and cartoonish.
Mon, Sep 3, 2018, 12:46pm (UTC -6)
A disappointing season.

S5 presents us with a handful of great episodes (Darmok, Cause and Effect, The Inner Light, Time's Arrow) and good ones (Ensign Ro, A Matter of Time, The Next Phase) that actually serve a purpose, at times fascinate, and belong in TNG.

But the rest are uninteresting, ridiculous, cheesily soap-operatic, and/or just simply TNG-pointless----with plenty of bad scripts, bad acting (much of it by Sir Patrick, even), intelligence-insulting, contrivances, After-School Special sermonizing, and Shut-up Geordi!! cop-out technobabble.
Sat, Nov 3, 2018, 10:42am (UTC -6)
This is the worst TNG season out of the good years (3-6). There are 3 episodes that I'd consider classic: "Darmok", "I Borg", and "The Inner Light". There are several others that I *really* like: "Ensign Ro", "Ethics", "The First Duty", "The Perfect Mate", and "The Next Phase". There are some pretty good episodes as well, including: "Redemption Part 2", "Silicon Avatar", "Disaster", "Conundrum", "Power Play", and "Cause and Effect". The rest of the episodes are mediocre at absolute best.
Peter G.
Sat, Nov 3, 2018, 4:45pm (UTC -6)
@ Iceman,

I personally have trouble making a distinction in quality between anything in S4-6. Actually I probably like S7 more than most also, but some of the scripts are weaker it's true. For S6 I'm probably in the minority in that I consider Redemption pt 2 and Unification to both be 4 star outings. Although they're clearly not Chain of Command or BoBW level amazingness they both share the legendary Trek mythology-storytelling that I find unbeatable. And I'm also probably in the minority in considering Conundrum, Power Play, Disaster, and Ensign Ro to always be "must watch" episodes when looking for something to turn on when I don't know what else to watch. They're not perfect but for some reason they're so compelling that I'll rewatch them pretty much any old time. And of course there's Inner Light and Cause and Effect, which are big winners for me.
Sun, Nov 4, 2018, 6:17am (UTC -6)
I consider season 4 the weakest out of S3-6. I'd put S3 top, for sure, but S5/6 are better for me than S4. Apart from BOBW II, Reunion, Data's Day, The Drumhead and Redemption I, most of the episodes are only OK.
Mon, Dec 10, 2018, 1:15pm (UTC -6)
When Guinan talked about Picard and her friendship with him, it was not dreamed for a second (by the writers back then) that this absolute tosh was the reason behind it.

It doesn't make one lick of sense that an alien woman whose homeworld was destroyed by the Borg would find herself living it up in Earth's past - living it up large. And her character in the present isn't even consistent with the past.

They shoehorned her there. No brains. No logic. Also, why the heck would Data have ended up there from where he was?
Sean Hagins
Mon, Dec 10, 2018, 5:51pm (UTC -6)

Remember, Guinan did not time travel. In the 19th century, her race was presumably carefree and prosperous. Watching and mingling with earth's cultures was probably just a casual pastime for her. (Her race was only attacked by the Borg in the late 23rd century)

I can see her doing this-apparently the El-Aurians didn't have a "prime directive" prohibiting this. At worse, Guinan thought she might be in a bit of trouble with her father, not her race's ruling government
Big Top
Tue, Dec 11, 2018, 10:29am (UTC -6)
Guinan says, "Did my father send you here? Because if he did, you must go back and tell him I'm not done listening..." The implication is that she's on Earth on some kind of fact-finding mission (something like collecting oral histories, perhaps). It's definitely a bit contrived that she happens into Data (helped a little by the fact that Data seeks her out on his own accord, plus the fact that a predestination paradox is at work in these episodes), but being mysterious, ancient and having had a lot of odd experiences are kind of Guinan's thing. Her use her is 100% consistent with her characterization.
Big Top
Wed, Dec 12, 2018, 7:43pm (UTC -6)
There is the minor issue that in "Q Who," Q implies that Guinan is an alias she is using, and a newish one at that. So it doesn't quite match that she's using the name "Guinan" here. I suppose you could rationalize that her prior encounter with Q was earlier than the 19th century.
Sun, Jan 6, 2019, 1:31pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G.-

Sorry for the two month delay. I don't really get the love for "Cause and Effect". It's a well told sci-fi tale, but it gets repetitive the first time through for me, let alone on re-watch. I'll take "Parallels" or "The Next Phase" over it any day (controversial opinion, I know).
Wed, Jan 16, 2019, 4:41pm (UTC -6)
I liked this one although it borrows hugely from TOS: City on the Edge of Forever .

so: Season 5-again a few very fair and good episodes ( Darmok, Inner Light eg) eclipsed by the mediocre.
I can't bear to think about episodes like The First Duty or I,Bore and that one with the Ferengi and Lwaxana Troi.
Fri, Apr 19, 2019, 10:52am (UTC -6)
Just watched this for the umpteenth time. I'm afraid the Twin character gets less and less bearable with each repeat viewing. Why people at that party actually stood around putting up with him is beyond my understanding. At least they didn't try to do Oscar Wilde.

From the opinions expressed over the years I have determined that the classic period for TNG lasted for seven seconds during the closing credits in an episode near the end of season three, but I can't work out which episode.
Fri, Apr 19, 2019, 10:53am (UTC -6)
' the Twin character'

...I meant of course, 'the Twain charcter'
Michael Wallis
Sat, Mar 7, 2020, 2:45pm (UTC -6)
An extended Guinan episode is always a recipe for disaster. She is perhaps the worst character in the Trek universe. But when added to the mix is a bombastic, annoying Mark Twain, it becomes a calamity. Twain is presented here as some sort of progressive curmudgeon who we are supposed to delight in as some kine of 19th century Gene Roddenberry. So very boring and predictable.
Picard Maneuver
Thu, Mar 12, 2020, 12:30am (UTC -6)
"San Francisco just feels too much like a Hollywood backlot."

It's an understandable sentiment, possibly brought out by overly tight framing to hide modernisms, but, believe it or not, it was filmed on-location at Olvera Street in historic Old Los Angeles.

As an aside, some rough critics in here! I don't think I could get this far into a show whose average quality to me was 4 or 5 out of 10.
Gavin Lloyd
Sat, Aug 8, 2020, 8:26am (UTC -6)
My one memory of seeing this as a child for the first time in 1993 (I think) was not the plot or wether Data would survive....but HOW IS PICARD IN COMMAND OF THE ENTERPRISE?? He’s just spent “40 years” living as someone else...and he’s back as if the last episode hadn’t happened. If I was thinking this, perhaps the plot wasn’t very good?
James G
Wed, Sep 23, 2020, 12:15pm (UTC -6)
I watched the first of this two-parter a few days ago, and the second part just now. I really didn't like it. But I'll summarise my thoughts about both parts in the comments for the concluding part.
Top Hat
Fri, Nov 20, 2020, 8:55am (UTC -6)
Time paradoxes aside, I've never understood the logic behind "We've determined that Data's will die on or somehow related to Devidia II." "Set course for Devidia II!" Why not have Starfleet send somebody else to investigate? You don't exactly need to consciously march into your own doom, do you?
Matt B
Mon, Jan 11, 2021, 12:13am (UTC -6)
I was greatly awaiting this episode in my rewatching. I remember it fondly from my first viewing 20 years ago. I did not disappoint. This is just behind BoBW in my rating of TNG 2 parters. I absolutely love these two episodes.

Yes this one is world building but the cliffhanger was good. Lotta good parts in this.
Matt B
Mon, Jan 11, 2021, 12:13am (UTC -6)
Forgot to say 4 stars absolutely.
Mon, Jan 11, 2021, 2:42am (UTC -6)
Felt a bit like an end of term panto to me - fun in various ways, but a bit thrown together. It was rather as if the team felt a bit embarrassed by the depth and impact of The Inner Light, and needed to lower the emotional temperature and establish that the show was setting out to be entertainment, not that Highbrow Stuff. But the contrast was a bit jarring.

As for the stuff about Picard being more mellowed in the rest of the series, which was seen as a decline, I'd see that as an intentional and fitting shift in tone by Patrick Stewart to reflect his "time" in The Inner Light.
Mon, Oct 11, 2021, 3:13am (UTC -6)
I agree 100% with Jammer’s review. A VERY uneven episode, which struck me as TNG trying to do their own version of City On The Edge Of Forever, but not very successfully. The Sam Clemens character was irritating, and the technobabble was off the scale. Too many things being crammed into one story.

It had its moments but 2.5 stars seems right.
Wed, Feb 16, 2022, 6:45pm (UTC -6)
@grumpy_otter (2015)

"[W]hy the hell is Beverly wearing those idiotic glasses? She has perfect vision and lots of people in the 19th century didn't wear glasses."

I think you make a probably valid point, but just to speculate, maybe she doesn’t have perfect vision. Maybe on the Enterprise she's wearing contact lenses, or maybe she had the 24th-century version of LASIK, perhaps called PHASIK. (I know, they likely have surpassed the need for contact lenses in the 24th century, although the Borg Queen seemed to be wearing them.) Another point is, how did she acquire those glasses? She, like the others, arrived in 1893 without (it seems logical to assume) any money. But if you go there, you have to start wondering how they acquired their 19th-century clothes. (See my other post about how pleased I was that Part 2 didn’t spend any time on setup — when we first see them in 1893, they have a place to live, they have era-appropriate clothes, deal with it.)
Mon, Mar 28, 2022, 2:03am (UTC -6)
@ Stef why do you say this episode is fluff, I'm curious?? Hope to hear from you..

pEOPLE Doesn't anyone else think thisbis a brilliant sci-fi MASTERPIECE..with unique original aliens and a fresh twist on time travel..What did people think was missing?
Mon, Mar 28, 2022, 2:32am (UTC -6)
I figure there are going to be a lot of rewatches of this in the upcoming week due to the new Picard Episode.

I remember loving this back when it first aired and I will be checking it out again during some free time this week. It was an interesting concept and well acted and I think over all it is better than what Jammer gave it credit for.
Tue, Apr 5, 2022, 12:02am (UTC -6)
This episode (and it's 2nd half) might not be all that great in the context of TNG but when I compare it to Picard, if this episode is only worth 2.5 stars, there's not a single episode of Picard that's even worth 1.
Thu, May 19, 2022, 3:00pm (UTC -6)
1. My first thought was: Why was Enterprise called to investigate the anomalous 18th-century findings? Did they REALLY have no-one nearer-by with the expertise and instruments!?! Good thing Picard was on the same wavelength that time so addressed that right away.

2. Data is able to immediately identify the eyeglasses and handgun; he also speaks French. Yet, many times over the past five seasons he was shown stumped by certain idiomatic expressions and had to have them explained to him. Seems legit.

3. How he ended up in late 18th-century Commiefornia is...really anyone's guess!

The bellhop's description of America ("you come in your pajamas, take some hustlers in a poker game, and turn it into a million-buck invention") is so sad thinking about it now. With Big Government in cahoots with Big Corporations, not a chance in hell. Ah, those days... Sad.

Anyway, interesting ep. I say three stars at least.
Thu, May 19, 2022, 9:53pm (UTC -6)
Michael - "3. How he ended up in late 18th-century Commiefornia is...really anyone's guess."

How's 7th grade treating you?
Fri, May 20, 2022, 12:32am (UTC -6)
"3. How he ended up in late 18th-century Commiefornia is...really anyone's guess."
"How's 7th grade treating you?"

Obviously 7th grade in a special needs class because this episode happens in the late 19th century. In the late 18th century California was still part of the Spanish Empire.

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