Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Cause and Effect

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Cause and Effect"
Airdate: March 23, 1992
117 of 176 produced
117 of 176 aired


The Enterprise has entered an area of space known as the Typhon Expanse. They are the first Starfleet vessel to chart this unexplored region.... Or ARE they?

I'm sorry... I'm afraid I don't know your name.


Matthew: Brannon Braga enjoys a love-hate relationship with Trek fandom. There are good reasons for both. This is one of the strongest arguments in the former category. This episode is wonderfully inventive - taking the question of time travel causality loops and spinning it into an exciting tale with oodles of atmosphere, and even some decent character stories. As far as the sci-fi goes, we are presented with interesting quandaries. If you were repeating a moment in time, would you recognize it? "Groundhog Day," for instance, grants the Bill Murray character knowledge of the repetition. This story does not. What physical-mental mechanism could account for such a phenomenon, then? Having recognized it, could you do anything about it?  So there are two brain bending questions: Do humans have some extra-temporal perception, which accounts for deja vu (or nIb'poH, as the case may be)? Also, how malleable is time? This episode seems to posit that events can be changed. There are also fun technical questions such as "how does the Federation keep accurate time across great distances?"

Kevin: Like Yesterday's Enterprise, another awesome script, part of the success is how it turns time travel on its ear. It's not merely an excuse to do period costumes combined with unconvincing tension about preserving the timeline. The tension here is real and pervasive. We know from the teaser that the Enterprise in fact gets destroyed. I loved the little touches that both tied the iterations together and added to the sense of foreboding. Each time Crusher breaks the glass in her quarters, it gives this sense of futility to their struggle that's really quite upsetting. Especially in the last time through, when she realizes she's done it before and takes active steps to avoid it, and still does it anyway. I liked the way information passing through the loops had an internal if not overly explained logic. Between Geordi, Data, and Crusher, the blurred information from previous loops felt consistently displayed and realized. It both helped increase the tension, and it gave the solution an organic nature. I also like that the nature of what's going on is not shown to the audience too soon, unlike say Conundrum. We're all slack-jawed after the teaser, and then we see the Enterprise fine and dandy. Is it a flashback? We don't know yet. It helped reinforce the feeling of ill ease.

Matthew: What's especially nice about this story is that we get a lot of creepy notes for the characters. If you really did think you were stuck in a moment,  how would you feel? Dr. Crusher seems quite attuned to the feeling, and she is creeped the hell out. All of the characters get to display this feeling, and much to the delight of the audience, they get to figure it out, as well. The layering of repetitive scenes, in which the characters successively figure out a bit more each time, is really fun. Seeing the poker game play out completely differently each time was a really great storytelling device.

Kevin: I think this episode is a great example of the types of story the show has been telling for a few seasons now where an integral part of their success is their relationship with each other. Crusher has to have a certain rapport with the others for her feelings of foreboding to be given the benefit of the doubt to start them investigating. I always love it when the crew is trusting but appropriately skeptical. No one freaked out, but no one dismissed her out of hand. It really reinforces the feeling the Enterprise is a real place with real colleagues.

Matthew: If I had to pick a nit, it would be this - experiencing this loop seems to be quite upsetting to humans and other sentients (apparently Guinan is on vacation, but whatever). Well, what of the Bozeman crew? Have they been experiencing the loop for 80 years? Are they not absolutely stark, slavering, bluggo at this point? I actually think this could have been an interesting angle, but I understand why it might be left out. What I do want is a 5-second explanation of the differences between the two ships' experiences.

Kevin: I never assumed that the sum of the loops equals the time you are displaced, and time is portrayed as wonky enough that there's no reason to believe the two ships subjective timelines sync up. A few words to that effect could have been nice. It would have made the Bozeman's fate all the more wrenching if they could have conclusively established that from their perspective, they had only been through the loop a small number of times, meaning they never had a chance to figure it out for themselves.


Matthew: This is sort of the bottle show to end all bottle shows, at least in terms of acting. With the exception of a two line cameo at the end, our main cast has to do all the heavy lifting. Each actor is called upon to repeat scenes and offer subtle variations on them. The results are a success. Everyone telegraphs a sense of unease quite well, but also a competence in figuring things out. It was a well-modulated performance from all concerned, with no one breaking the mood. If anyone stands out, it has to be Gates McFadden for me. Of course, she starred in a very tonally similar episode with "Remember Me." But her work in letting us see her character's thoughts, all on her face sans dialogue, was superb.

Kevin: Her scenes in her quarters were awesome. Her theater roots really show here. The fragments of idle humming were great, and it didn't feel like she was acting at all. The look on her face when she breaks the glass for the final time was something right out of a Hitchcock horror film. The dread and foreboding really shined. The dialogue in the poker scenes was awesome as well. Like Crusher's scenes, it felt very un-acted, like real people spending social time together outside of work.

Matthew: Kelsey Grammer gets to live out an ultimate nerd fantasy - to do a cameo, as a Starfleet captain no less, on Star Trek. He does a fine job. He sells his lines without chewing scenery, and takes the material seriously. He does not disrupt the episode with his presence. There's pretty much nothing more to be said than that. Apparently, Kirstie Alley was wanted for the background character role on the Bozeman bridge. Is it wrong of me to feel kind of glad she wasn't available?

Kevin: Agreed. The man has gravity and he pitched it well. I would have loved a followup episode to see how the crew. If anyone is interested, the book "Ship of the Line" details the first mission of the Enterprise-E and involves the crew of Bozeman, and is a pretty good read.

Production Values

Matthew: This episode is a masterpiece, construction-wise. As much as one should praise Braga for the writing, I think equal praise should go to Frakes for his direction. He chose interesting camera angles to keep each iteration of the loop fresh, sometimes (as pictured below) using two camera angles of the same scene in order to save time. We get very effective steadi-cam work to emphasize the creepiness of repeating a deadly loop in time. So we get an interesting mix of re-used footage, and of course subtly different line readings from each iteration's repeated scenes.

Kevin: I loved how scenes like the poker game and the sickbay scene varied, but until the last time through the final moments on the bridge were the same scene just from a different angle. It really helped to drive home the futility of their plight. I didn't realize that Frakes directed this until long after I first saw it. His early efforts certainly established him as a competent director, but this should have won him some hardware, no two ways about it. This is a master class in complicated storytelling balanced with trusting your actors to deliver.

Matthew: The visual effects kick ass. The multiple angles of the Enterprise kit-bash explosion are great. It was a real zinger to end the teaser, and it never got boring thereafter. Also really cool are the collision and nacelle explosion between the Enterprise and the Bozeman. This is one of those episodes that really stands out for the model work. The Bozeman itself was a nice update of the Reliant model, now called a Soyuz-class ship.

Kevin: One of my favorites effects of the franchise is the light in the nacelle flickering blue before exploding. There's something about it that was just compelling. I am so glad they did not just overlay an explosion. It really made the episode, especially since the explosion features so prominently so early in the episode. I liked the changes to the Reliant as well.

Matthew: As far as displays went, I liked the Okudagram depicting the time loop. Less successful was the display in Engineering with all the "threes." It didn't look like a realistic display. Data's little armband doohicky was nice enough.

Kevin: I didn't quite understand how had the display been numbers other than 3s, how that would have been more useful for informational purposes. My one nitpick was I thought the Typhon Expanse cloud was a tad formulaic in that it was clearly a gas tinted blue, but it was not bad, it just wasn't transcendent, like the rest of the episode.


Matthew: This is a pretty easy call as a 5. The only question is how high on a best-of list it will climb. The writing was both clever as well as brain-bendingly satisfying. The acting was equal to the task, with standout performances by the entire ensemble. And the production was top-notch. When an episode built around repetition can itself be rewatched nearly endlessly with little diminishing of enjoyment, that really says something. If anything, it gets better the more times you see it. This is a true classic.

Kevin: I know I'm repeating a lot of what Matt says, but for this episode that seems appropriate. Like Yesterday's Enterprise, the episode marries an interesting twist on time travel with some genuinely compelling character moments. Top it off with what I am comfortable calling the best effects sequences of the series to date, and what you have is an awesome episode. This is a 5 from me as well, for a well-earned total of 10.



  1. Aw... man. I would have LOVED to have been in on this podcast! This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. That isn't to say that it's necessarily a top 10 contender, but it is a personal favorite. I've been known to be in the mood for Star Trek, and pop this episode in. This one over all the others.

  2. I think this episode is definitely in the top 10. No questions asked. It's always been one of my favorites.

  3. And I thought Matt would go with a Fraiser as opposed to a Cheers reference in the caption. Hmm.

  4. Yeah I love this episode too. Glad to see that is a podcast as well.

  5. Kevin - Top 10 of all Trek or Top 10 of just TNG? I may agree Top 10 of TNG, since this is one of personal favorite. But I don't know that it'd make a Top 10 of all Trek.

  6. To make top ten of all Trek, presumably it would have to rate somewhere in the top 3 or 4 of TNG. Does it? It's too early for me personally to make that kind of call.

    It seems like, at a minimum, Yesterday's Enterprise, Inner Light, and All Good Things occupy at least 3 of the top 4 or 5 slots. Is C&E number 4 then?

    There is SOOOOOO much great TNG though. Tapestry, BoBW, Cause and Effect, Remember Me, Hollow Pursuits, First Contact, Conspiracy, Contagion, Q Who...

  7. You're right. There is so much great TNG that is hard to make this top 5. Top 10 for sure. I have one tiny, tiny nit pick.......the tractor beam should have worked! Based on every thing we know about the tractor beams from the technical manuals, the Bozeman pushing back on the beam should have pushed the Enterpise back and out of the way. They had no impulse power and stablelizers e(ither off and or without power). That is why decompressing the bay pushed them out of the way (no stablelizers). Anyway still a great episode.

  8. How is that not Maura Tierney?