Monday, January 9, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Time's Arrow, Part 2

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Time's Arrow, Part 2"
Airdate: September 21, 1992
126 of 176 produced
126 of 176 aired


The entire senior crew (sans Worf, but that's fair, he got a lot of scenes in the Redemption two-parter), has followed Data to 19th Century San Francisco to stop the aliens who are harvesting human neural energy, and hopefully to find Data. Data meanwhile continues to work alone toward the same goal. Will they find each other? Will they be able to save the timeline? To save Data? Will Mark Twain be as crotchety this time around? The likely answer to all three is yes.

Counselor Troi reacts dubiously to Twain's suggestion that he show her his "mysterious stranger."


Kevin: This is definitely an action episode. We don't even get the minimal sci-fi discussion we did in the last episode about destiny and temporal causation or Data's mortality. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Like Redemption, Part 2 last season, the second half of the two-parter is more action oriented, and like Redemption, I think it largely succeeds. Overall, the episode is fun and well paced, and had a sufficient amount of whiz-bang without going too overboard.

Matthew: I agree that this episode is largely payoff of story ideas set up in the first episode, and I also agree that it succeeds (with a few notable exceptions). This is one of the more solid second parts in TNG (many others have fallen a bit flat, such as Unification, and Best of Both Worlds). So why is it successful? Well, I don't think it's really because of big sci-fi ideas introduced in this particular teleplay. Nor do I think it is because of big character developments (more on the Picard/Guinan whiff to come). I think overall it is because things are tied into a neat little bow that is fun to watch complete. There were loads of clever little touches, such as Picard sending the message in Data's head, using the 500 year old Data head to complete the current Data, Twain leaving his watch and revolver (two rather expensive items if you ask me) for the future to find, and so on. It pays off the sci-fi idea of the first episode - the timeline is inviolate. If you see it, it "happened" at some point along the way - past, present or future.

Kevin: I love the comedy ensemble stuff in the boarding house. Everyone got a little something to do, and it was all a riot. The scenes investigating the hospital were great too. The earthquake line was a tad on the nose. Couldn't work in a pride parade reference, Ms. Taylor? The chase scene when Data arrives with the horse drawn carriage should have somehow been too much, but I ended up liking it.

Matthew: Yeah, the comedy portions were what bumped this up in my eventual estimation. There were a few story logic problems that I'll get to, but they were pasted over almost entirely by how fun it was to watch the ensemble perform. Good actors acting like bad actors is usually pretty funny, and it remains so here.

Kevin: I enjoyed Mark Twain this time, even more than last time. His skeptical pushing against Counselor Troi's assertions was fun to watch and both actors played it well. The dialogue is the closest we get to any real philosophical discussion in the episode. I would have liked more substance in Troi's responses. Her answers boiled down to "No, really." I would have loved the writers to commit to an idea of how those problems are solved.

Matthew: Indeed, I take back a bit of what I said - this part of the story does introduce a sci-fi idea... one of the oldest sci-fi ideas there is, the temporally displaced man. This was a very clever reversal of Twain's own "Connecticut Yankee" story, and as you say, his dialogue with Troi was priceless.

Kevin: I enjoyed the solution of Data's head sitting in a cavern for 500 years before being put back on his body. It's a cute way around the idea of how to save Data's life. Sparing him from the explosion entirely would have felt like a cheat, and we can't kill Data (yet), so this solves both problems and has the elegant twist on the standard time travel stories that makes them enjoyable. My one major complaint is when Twain goes back to get Picard, the two timelines seem to run parallel. Picard seems to have a finite about of time to get back, and it's relative to Riker's assessment of how long he has waited. It's one of those things writers try to keep the tension, but doesn't work out rationally.

Matthew: This was my biggest logic problem with the episode, and it is one that plagues many a time travel story (e.g. Star Trek IV). There is simply no reason for a "hurry up" situation on one end of the time continuum to affect people on the other end. Picard could wait a year or a decade to send his message, and to travel back to the 24th century. My other story logic problem was the crew in the past - how did they acclimate themselves so quickly? Did they have a bunch of gold in their pockets to buy clothes with, to get a security deposit with Mrs. Carmichael? How in the hell did Riker get a police uniform, and Crusher a Nurse's outfit? The abrupt nature of their decision to step through the rift leads to questions like these, and they aren't even given a whiff of resolution.

Kevin: As for the Guinan storyline, the payoff was not as good as it could have been. It technically conforms to the "a bald man helped me when I was hurting" line of Guinan's, but somehow just isn't satisfying. He didn't take a bullet for her, and tourniquet a wound. He basically held her hand and waited for the ambulance. Beyond that, I would have liked a little exploration of how their "beyond friendship" relationship came into being. I like the idea of meeting out of order, when from Picard's perspective, the first time he met Guinan, she already had met him, and vice versa. It's a neat kind of spin on the idea of a fated relationship. The idea is mined pretty well in the new Doctor Who. I just wish there had been more there there.

Matthew: Kelly was very annoyed by this, and I, although a bit less annoyed, agree with her. Don't tease it for several episodes, finally put us in the place to realize it, and then take it away from us. I can't think that what we are given here counts as "beyond friendship." If it's going to remain mysterious, I'm fine with that. But don't play this Lucy-with-the-football game. Speaking of the cavern, when the paramedics rescue Guinan, did no one notice the severed albino head on the cavern floor?


Kevin: The main ensemble was good all around. The Shakespeare scenes were a riot. The little interactions with the citizens of San Francisco were nice. Gates McFadden gets a special nod for continuing to act like a competent doctor in the most insane get up. My problems with the plotting aside, Guinan and Picard's scenes were quite sweet, from when they met to when they said goodbye.

Matthew: I really liked the scenes between Worf and Riker. It was really cool that they were at odds on whether to destroy the cavern, and it was acted really well. Marina Sirtis also did a great job in her scenes with Hardin. She played her lines with a sort of limpid, naive earnestness that indicated better than any dialogue could the type of future they live in.

Kevin: Jerry Hardin is the star of this one. He's a hoot to watch, and watching him interact with the crew on the Enterprise is a treat, right down to his softening in the face of what he knows is in store for humanity. Michael Aron's scenes as the eventually revealed Jack London were also sweet.

Matthew: Hardin was a scene-stealer yet again, in the best possible way. His trenchant criticisms of humanity, combined with his skepticism and cynicism, were a wonderful foil to the TNG universe. I also agree that Michael Aron was good as Jack London. Really, everyone in the 1890s was good, from Pamela Kosh as Mrs. Carmichael, to Alexander Enberg as the reporter (he would later return as the Voyager regular Vorik).

Production Values

Kevin: The first part was apparently shot on location in historic sections of San Francisco, but this time around, they used Paramount's newly completed "New York Street" set, and I have to say it looks pretty good. I particularly liked the intersection where Data pulls up in the fire engine. It was large and detailed. According to Memory Alpha, the fire engine is real, and was on loan from a museum whose staff was swayed by two words: "Star Trek." That's my kind of fire engine museum.

Matthew: The location shots for the hotel room and the infirmary were really nice. When Picard was replacing gas lamp parts, everything looked authentic, at least to these 21st century eyes.

Kevin: The costumes were great, apparently enough to win an Emmy for them. I always found Jack London to be a bit of a hottie in his little bellhop getup. The episode also won for hairstyles. Seriously though, how does a sci-fi show pick up hardware for doing a period piece? Seems odd somehow.

Matthew: Counselor Troi's "best little whorehouse in Texas" getup was a bit much for me. But indeed, all of the period wear looked good (as far as we know anyway) and nothing stuck out in the way Data's awful vest did last episode.


Kevin: Like Redemption, I am going to give this a 4. We have above average production values, with some nice scenes for the leads and a truly awesome guest star. The novel solution of using the 500 year old head is just clever enough to make me not ding the episode too hard for the lighter plot elements. The episode was entertaining, and while not overly ambitious in terms of plotting, was certainly not overtly stupid in any place.

Matthew: Although there were some issues of story logic, they can be explained and forgiven without too much strain: the crew obtained cash and clothing off camera, and Picard only thought he had to hurry up, and was personally mistaken in the heat of the moment. And despite punting on Picard/Guinan, overall this was one of the strongest 2 part conclusions yet. The cleverness of the story and the charm of the actors (both guest and regular) lift this to a 4. That makes our total rating an 8.


  1. I have always wondered about Data's head and the durability of his circuits.

  2. It almost seemed that the crew treated 1893 as though it were a holodeck simulation. "I need to do this, so I shall become a policeman! It can't possibly have any real consequences."

    There seemed to be no thought that the police of the era weren't incompetent, and if they were arrested, there wasn't much they could have done to stop it. Well, aside from punching the officer and hoping like hell that a getaway car(riage) was on the way. Not the best thought-out plan they've ever had.

    Riker as a policeman, though, looked AMAZING. So did Crusher's nurse outfit.

    And... MISter Pick-ərd makes me giggle every time.

    I feel like Hardin's voice should grate on my ears, but somehow, it never does.

    I never get tired of this two-parter.

  3. I said it in the podcast - I have serious doubts about the local availability of souls for these aliens, such that this outrageously complicated and tenuous plan makes sense for them.

    But the episode is fun, no two ways about it.

    Sara, you should contact us if you'd like to write a "Why I Love Star Trek." I think your comments have established your bona fides :)

  4. *laughs* Haul out my participatory extrovert and the result is homework?

    I've been a Trek nerd since before I could walk and talk. I'll see if I can't come up with something for you.

  5. This episode and PT 1 are 5s for me.

    I don't disagree with any of the logical errors but for some reason they never bother me in this one even though they ruin other eps. It's just THAT MUCH FUN!