Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Time Squared

The Next Generation, Season 2
"Time Squared"
Airdate: April 3, 1989
38 of 176 produced
38 of 176 aired


While travelling to the Endicor system, the Enterprise makes a strange discovery: a lone Federation shuttlepod. There's no ship nearby that could have launched it. They bring it aboard, but the mystery only deepens. In every detail, it is an exact duplicate of one of their own shuttlepods, and on board is a duplicate Captain Picard. Despite Dr. Pulaski and Counselor Troi affirming that he is what he appears to be, but Captain Picard still thinks it impossible. An examination of the shuttle reveals that the shuttle is from six hours in the Enterprise's future, a future where Picard abandons the Enterprise to watch it be destroyed. As the Enterprise approaches the time the shuttle came from, will Picard be able to unravel this latest mystery?
"You know, I've always wished you could have been a taller man."


Kevin: The set up of this episode is pretty good. It's certainly a novel problem. One of the writers, Maurice Hurley, talked about how it was more interesting to have a time travel story with such a small jump instead a bigger, centuries long jump, and he's right in this case. The six hour interval makes the crisis immediate and more intimidating. Also, the idea of meeting yourself after having done something you think you would never do also raises all kinds of fun philosophical implications.

Matthew: I want to begin by addressing the teaser. Scenes of the crew "breaking bread" so to speak are nice and all, and this one gave us a reasonably funny Worf punchline (ha ha - Worf likes crazy food!). But Trek's treatment of food hasn't evolved much since TOS - how much "flair" and "expertise" does it take to scramble eggs with no seasoning and cook them on a skillet? Anyway, this show is all about atmosphere to me. It's the first really "mind bending" show, at least the first since "Where No One Has Gone Before," anyway. I love episodes that stretch the bounds of reality and raise metaphysical questions. Free Will, predestination, closed time-like curves, inscrutable space entities, and so on. Cool! I am predisposed to give an episode the benefit of the doubt if it has one or more of these nifty elements. This episode has them in spades. So the question is, does the episode hit a home run, deliver just enough on them, or does it squander them? I will argue that it delivers "just enough," and adds in some nice elements to boot (such as the lovely  continuity references to STIV, the Traveler, and the Manheim experiments).

Kevin: What drags this episode down are some pacing issues for me. After the reveal of the Enterprise's destruction (its first, I believe), the episode seems to drag. We're waiting for the bad thing to happen and when it eventually does, it literally holds the ship in place. This leads into my other problem, the vortex itself. The phenomenon is not really explained in any way, and Picard's solution is arrived at totally by intuition. Also, why was the Picard they found the one trying to get to the shuttle? If this were really a loop, wouldn't our Picard have to be the one to go? Otherwise the Picard they pick up would be far older than six hours ahead, depending on how many times the loop happened.

Matthew: There were indeed some story logic questions. Why would Duplicate-Picard be so fixated on leaving the ship, after having witnessed this strategy's horrific outcome in the previous loop? Why the heck would Troi counsel Picard to leave the ship, saying that it might divert the consciousnesses' attention, knowing that the ship was destroyed by just such a strategy? The "science" aspects of the show were a little wonky. What the heck does "out of phase" mean, and why don't all time travelers experience it (including those in many previous Trek tales)? Is it some sort of cosmic jet lag? Why would it cause stimulants to behave like depressants, and vice versa? Why would power "polarity" be the opposite if it's from the same universe? It seems as though the writers were mixing tropes here (an anti-matter universe a la "The Alternative Factor"), but I don't think it was devastating. The drama didn't really hinge on why things were different, but instead upon the doom of impending fate. It just would have been better had things been consistent.

Kevin: In the balance, I think this episode is a lot of set-up and not very much payoff. Maurice Hurley has said in interviews that it was his intention that Q was responsible for the vortex and that would be revealed in "Q Who" and it was cut at Rodenberry's insistence. Hurley accurately points out that without the tie in, the episode kind of makes no sense. They ripped out a plot point without replacing it. I liked the few scenes there were between Troi and Picard and Troi and Pulaski discussing Picard's mental state, but even that felt a little undercooked.

Matthew: It can be thought that the epitaph of a show like this is Picard's line: "A lot of questions, damn few answers." Surely, not much happens, and without the aborted Q angle, it's hard to take much from this (although I am loath to ascribe all strange happenings in the universe to Q). Picard meets his duplicate and is unnerved by it, but then he's gone and life moves on. OK - I can agree with this line of reasoning to a point, but only if it respects the journey it took to get to the non-answer. Is "2001: A Space Odyssey" a worse film for not serving up ready-made, easily digestable answers to the questions it poses?  Why did HAL go nuts? What was the monolith? Are the answers to these questions really more important than the answer to the question "how did you feel when you watched it," or "what did it make you think of?" To me, this episode is in the same vein (though not of the same quality). I find it more interesting to ponder free will and predestination than to know that weirdly named entity X was behind things. We've already seen that episode - it was called "Where Silence Has Lease." Did this story go far enough? No. It didn't really push hard on the dramatics of the idea - the solution was a bit pat (it utilized a trope quite common in Trek - go through the center of the scary thing!). A much better and more interesting solution would have been sending one Picard into the hole to get destroyed,  with one remaining on the ship to pilot it away - he sacrifices himself nobly, but leaves us with the question - which one was killed? This also would have bypassed a thorny ethical question - didn't Picard just commit cold-blooded murder in phasering his duplicate to death? It sure seems like the duplicate Picard was a fully conscious being with emotions, preferences, hopes, dreams, and the potential to live a long and complete life.


Kevin: Despite my issues with the plot set up, we do get several nice acting touches, and those scenes are carried by the strength of the character interactions. Picard's clearly unnerved by his doppleganger and it plays really well. I found Alter-Picard's confusion a little much. If nothing else, it never felt really like Picard. I understand the additional experiences would change him, but it didn't feel like a through line between the two iterations of Picard. I will say, I really liked the conference room scene. It was a nice ensemble piece, and their confusion and shock at the idea of Picard abandoning the Enterprise play well.

Matthew: I liked Stewart's acting choices in this episode. He portrayed the "groggy" Picard quite well, and his irritation and existential angst were well realized. I'd like to highlight the women in this cast in this episode. Sirtis and Mulduar played their roles effectively here. Their characters were tasked with asking hard questions about Picard's state of mind, and they played the scenes well. They didn't go overboard, but they invested the lines with urgency and import. Kudos to strong female roles! PS - Colm Meany proves that there are no small roles, only small actors. When he witnesses the duplicate Picard vanish (apparently the only reason he is there), he sells that line!

Production Values

Kevin: There's an interview with Dan Curry, I think, on the DVDs for season 2, discussing this episode, where he states the special effects axiom, "If you can't make it good, make it blue." I think he was being a tad hard on himself. This effect was certainly dramatic. I think it falls a little short of the mark because it looks like a fog effect layered over the film, moreso than other effects at this point in time. The interior of the effect was pretty good for me, though.

Matthew: I think the vortex is one of the better effects from Seasons One and Two, personally. Is it as good as later effects would be? No. But it sets a higher bar than previous effects. I never thought to myself"gee, that looks fake," as I did with some of the effects in "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Where Silence Has Lease." So I have a hard time seeing these as failures. They're just less than spectacular successes. And the composite shot integrating the vortex effect with the shuttle bay interior was GREAT.

Kevin: Aside from the Vortex, the only other effects shots were the shuttle disappearing and the split screen with the two Picards, and neither of them stand out as good or bad.

Matthew: This split screen was a step above Datalore's, and arguably better than some later stuff, because of two factors. One, they didn't try anything fancy - they just did your basic splicing of two shots down the middle of the frame in a symmetrical set (like a corridor). Two, the lighting of the sets was simple enough not to leave any obvious (or subconsciously irritating) visual inconsistencies. Later "duplicate" effects would utilize green screen techniques, which almost always look bad because of lighting differences. Random notes - there were some good, dark music cues here that added to the atmosphere. We see a wheeled stretcher to sickbay - guess they didn't have the budget for a levitating one. Riker's futuristic egg beater has only one wire - I guess it's not designed to aerate. We get some force field restraints in Sickbay. The new shuttle bay set is better than the original.


Kevin: This one gets a 2 from me. It's not a bad episode, per se. It just never comes together. The idea is nifty, but the absence of even the attempt at an explanation for the nature of the vortex or how Picard arrives at his conclusion is really fatal for me. The pacing issues would hold this at a 3 regardless, but essentially forgetting to adequately resolve your plot is almost inexcusable. The handful of scenes of Picard having an existential crisis are good, but not enough to surmount this problem.

Matthew: I kind of can't believe you gave "The Dauphin" a 3 and this episode a 2. This episode is way more entertaining, despite any flaws. Heck, you gave "The Outrageous Okona" a 2. I am mystified. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly disagree. I think this episode was tense and interesting the whole way through. It failed to deliver on its premise (later shows in a similar vein, like "Cause and Effect" would deliver). But this represents a step up in mind-bending sci-fi for the series. An evolution and improvement on an episode like "Where Silence Has Lease." Reaching and falling will always get more kudos from me than playing it safe (like, say, "A Matter of Honor" or "Loud as a Whisper.") The way I do it is this: if a show has a good sci-fi premise, it gets at least a "benefit of the doubt 3," since this show is at its core science fiction. Therefore, a basic, unspectacular telling of a sci-fi tale will probably be average, inasmuch as the episode embodies a core principle of Trek. To fall to a 2, this hypothetical episode must fall horribly flat, or do something really dumb in order to advance its plot ("Datalore" springs to mind). Whereas, if the show excels in one or more areas, such as atmosphere, acting, or effects, these factors may even elevate the show into 4 territory. This is what I think can be argued for here. There is a lot of good creepy feel here. There is some interesting psychological investigation into the idea of being duplicated. Fate and free will are explored. The effects are at least competent, and I would argue quite proficient. Patrick Stewart acts well, as do our principal female characters.

Thus, I give this episode a 4. Is this somewhat of a knee jerk response? Maybe. But I think it's justifiable. I would rather watch this particular episode of TNG than an episode of any other average show on television. It is that much more entertaining. It is fair to say that it fails to deliver on all of its conceptual promises. But it is still above average. Kevin, you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and my rating brings it to an unsatisfying 6.


  1. I think the process of this episode started out with someone of authority walking in to a room full of people (mostly the tech staff I'm guessing) and said: "Next week, let's blow up the F@&%ing Enterprise!!"

    Then everyone sat stoned face cuz of how long it took them to build the first one (and kind of second one), but eventually turned to hooting and hollering cuz the one thing every designer and techy likes to do is blow stuff up.

    Then someone said: "Well, we can't really get RID of the Enterprise (like the Yamato), so we'll need some kind of storyline that involves it not reaallllly happening - like a time loop yeah!"

    "OMG, and we can have like two captains and do a split screen!" says Techy Guy B. "It'll be a lot of set up but we can do it."

    And Mr. Bigwig agrees (presumably cuz he'd just been bitchslapped about the whole Royale revolving door scene & the Yamato exploding was popular, if not suspiciously recent) and decides to kick it down to the writing staff, who go: Aww F@&% ME! We don't know enough about time loops and alternate realities. We just got away from "paaaiin. loneliness. despaaair." Man, and Dave's out sick. Crap!

    And the muddled rest is future history.

  2. I hate this episode, as I do any episode that ends with the main characters' dialogue boiling down to:
    "The hell was that about"

    1. As evidenced by MY score, I am not this one's biggest fan. I think that while the basic idea could be thought provoking, the end result is super stilted.