Monday, February 27, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Tapestry

The Next Generation, Season 6
Airdate: Febraury 15, 1993
140 of 176 produced
140 of 176 aired


Captain Picard is gravely injured on an away mission, and his artificial heart is severely damaged. He wakes to find himself surrounded by white light and face to face with Q, claiming that Picard is dead, this is heaven, and Q himself is God. Q offers the captain a unique chance: to go back and correct the mistake in his youth that caused him to need an artificial heart in the first place, and save his life now. Will Picard take it? What will the consequences be?
"I've only got an hour left on my medication, baby. Let's get bizz-aay."


Kevin: This episode has a pretty straight forward science fiction premise, the "what-if" scenario. I think where this episode succeeds is that it anchors that story in both several parts of established canon for Captain Picard, and the emotional relationships with his friends and colleagues, both past and present. The result rather than being just "Star Trek does It's a Wonderful Life," is an interesting look at Picard's character and past, and an interesting meditation on how our failures are as important as our successes in shaping our lives.

Matthew: One of the things I found most impressive about this episode, both as a teenager viewing it for the first time, as well as a seasoned Trek veteran who's now seen it at least a dozen times, is how well it both respects as well as expands continuity with its story. The wonderful thing about real and truly good Star Trek is that it can take an offhand mention from a previous crappy episode, in this case "Samaritan Snare," and create a superb episode that fills in the storyline hinted at by a line or two of dialogue. This really rewards long time viewers, and it demonstrates how easily possible, at least relatively speaking, it is to "refresh" or "reboot" a storyline without simply ditching everything that makes it special (I'm looking at you, Seasons 1-3 of Enterprise, and the Abrams movie). But more than just being a bit of fan service for the nerds, this episode also functions perfectly well on its own. A new viewer could watch this fresh and be entertained by the story because it has the novel "what if you could change your life" aspect, and the Bonestall Facility story is perfectly entertaining in its own right, with meaningful character interactions, twists and turns, and derring do. This is one of Ron Moore's finest efforts, because of this expert balancing act. Season 4 of BSG aside, this man clearly knows how to service a show's loyal fans while simultaneously writing a great hour of TV by non-fan standards.

Kevin: On the technical side, I like that the episode consciously chooses to avoid the standard timeline sanctity issues. It's a great line for Q about Picard's importance, and it dodges a set of problems that almost always bog down a time travel story. What also helped is that the backstory itself is fully realized. It was not just Picard got into a barfight. It was Picard was acting to help a friend and stop a cheater, but did so in a way that shows the lack of seasoning he would get before becoming a captain. Had we just had a straight up flashback episode, this story would still have held my interest, which makes tinkering with it even more interesting.

Matthew: Not to keep harping on continuity, but another thing I loved about this episode is how it makes being in Starfleet seem like a career, not just a whiz bang plot device for dumb action stories. It is seen as completely normal for alternate-Picard to have languished in the lieutenant grades for over a decade, and to have settled into a career niche. Starfleet officers are subject to performance reviews, internal politics, and sometimes simply a lack of advancement options, just like people in our workforce and military today. This is so refreshing and realistic, compared to the utter bullcrap we are asked to swallow in Abrams' movie. I will say that Picard doesn't seem to fathom how good he has it even if he's relegated to a role as a subordinate science officer on the USS Enterprise. I am sure Kevin agrees with me that a left nut would be an easy exchange for such a cool life, from our perspectives anyway.

Kevin: In a way, despite his omnipresence, this is not really a Q episode, per se. Q's motives seem at best ambiguous as to why he is doing what he is doing, but I think there is an argument to be made that Q on several occasions tries to convince Picard that he or humanity are not ready for the universe that awaits them, and I think the most successful Q outings tend to focus on those things, like Encounter at Farpoint, Q Who, and later All Good Things... In the end, Picard may have gotten something out of the experience, but its clear altruism was not Q's only goal. Overall, I find the ambiguity interesting rather than seeing it as a whiff on the issues by the writers.

Matthew: Indeed, Q's motives are mysterious, and I like this episode for Q more than almost any other. Instead of merely being mischievous, immature, and petulant on the one hand, or malevolent on the other, his motive here (and in other great Q shows like "All Good Things...") is somewhat inscrutable. We are tempted to view Q as benevolent, even friendly, here. But interestingly, although Picard can acknowledge the unique luxury he's been given, his experience with Q tells him in no uncertain terms that Q is not to be trusted, and the gift horse should always be scrutinized carefully.

Kevin: We also get some neat philosophical side trips in this episode. Does Picard think there is an afterlife, one that is just not run by Q? In a way, Picard choosing his "real" life over continuing to live at Lieutenant Picard is a form of suicide. It's a fascinating look into how Picard views quality of life issues. He seemed to support, in a distanced lukewarm kind of way, Worf's right to commit suicide when he was catastrophically injured, but that's not the case here. I also always enjoy watching Picard swallow his pride when Q has made a valid point. It was great in "Q Who? and it was great here. It really adds a layer of competence to his command that he can put aside his ego when the situation requires it.

Matthew: I do think that the second part of the "fantasy" could have been ratcheted up in tension and stakes for Picard if an older Marta Batanides had been present in his alternate life. The choice we're shown, between a "dreary man bereft of passion" and "Captain Picard, Ultimate Badass" is a bit of a straw man comparison. But this is a minor quibble, as what we did enjoy was still quite an interesting tweak on our expectation for Picard. I also found it somewhat odd that Picard is essentially committing suicide as opposed to living out his new life. I mean, in this society, he could feasibly have another 60 years of healthy living to do whatever he liked, such as study archaeology, marry and have children, and so on. It seems an oddly egotistical move for someone who has seemingly demonstrated such wisdom and growth.


Kevin: John DeLancie has never turned in a bad performance, but this definitely gets ranked higher in the list. He was really funny and really morbid by very quick turns. His prodding of Picard had just the right undertones of menace. Lastly, I also loved the bedroom scene between Picard and him. It always makes me laugh out loud, particularly when Picard clutches the sheet to his chest.

Matthew: Yeah, he's pretty much on automatic at this point. I don't mean that in a bad way - automatically superb is still superb. His line readings (e.g. "you're DEAD"),  as always, delight, amuse, and chill.

Kevin: Stewart turns in a great performance as well.  His scenes on the Holloway-Enterprise were great. There were just the right notes of creeping desperation in his voice at the idea of being stuck in this life.

Matthew: I liked that, from an acting standpoint, he did not try to act like a younger man, as opposed to acting like an older man who is reflecting on his past. It's not that I don't think Stewart would be capable of pulling off a "younger" role, but the make-up and costuming and story rearrangements that would have been necessary to accommodate this would have dragged things down.

Kevin: I want to give a particular shoutout to Sirtis and Frakes for this episode. It has to be hard to act like you don't know someone that you've known for six years, and to suddenly have to act casually dismissive of a character who is normally in a position of authority. They managed to do that while keeping their own relationship obviously intact. It's a little thing, but the little things like that really make a great episode. I also liked the camaraderie of the last scene between Picard and Riker, where he says he would like to meet the brash Picard.

Matthew: Ned Vaughn and J.C. Brandy were both quite good as Zweller and Batanides. They have to come in and give one-off characters a realistic, inner life that is interesting. Mission accomplished. I could totally identify with Zweller's indignance at being cheated, and the Batanides story felt organic and real. It was really fine guest casting, all told. I did not, however, dig Marcus Nash as the young Picard. His striking resemblance to Bill Pullman (and lack of same to Stewart) pulled me out of the scene a tad.

Production Values

Kevin: The Bonestall Recreation facility was nice and big and had lots of little nooks and crannies. The dom-jot table looked like a souped-up snooker table, and while I don't understand the rules, it looked neat-o. I like the uniforms as the midpoint between the TOS movies and the uniform Jack Crusher wears in Family. I also liked Picard's living quarters.

Matthew: Although I agree generally on the sets for the bar and the crew quarters, I think a matte painting or two of the facility would have really upped the realism. I get that they're in a sort of fantasy world created by Q, but if they had shown a few wider vistas, it might have gone some way towards cementing it as "real" to both Picard and the viewer. As pictured above, there was an attempt to do so in Picard's quarters. But it was so poorly lit, that it read as just some random lights.

Kevin: I like the choice to put Picard in a science division uniform. It's not a flattering color, and it was really jarring to see. One other really subtle but effective camera trick was the repeated use of a small camera shift to reveal Q is already standing there. There are no uses of the finger snap/flash effect and it helped maintain the quiet intensity of a lot of scenes. It really served the story and was technically very well executed.

Matthew: The wardrobe all throughout this episode really stood out in a good way. All of the extras looked good (eve the Antican and the Selay!), Q's various period costumes were detailed and amusing, and the altered movie uniforms really added atmosphere to the episode. The Nausicaans also looked really good, with some of the best latex appliances to date on the show. They were very similar to the Chalnoth on "Allegiance," but not distractingly so.


Kevin: No shock here, but this is a 5 from me. This is what Star Trek does best. It uses the science fiction constructs to tell a very relatable, very human story. Also the use of continuity is at its best: extremely rewarding to fans, accessible to casual viewers. So put those two things together and you have a pretty unimpeachable, awesome episode.

Matthew: I basically never tire of watching this episode. There is so much to reward fans of the show, and the basic entertainment value is sky-high. I think it's in a rare echelon of classic shows that do this, shows like "City on the Edge of Forever," "Yesterday's Enterprise," and so on. So yeah, I agree with the 5, for a total of 10.


Kevin's friend and guest podcaster Andrew is in town this week, so he was able to join us for a live podcast. Enjoy.


  1. It's like the haze filter was removed from this one on the Blu-Ray. A massive upgrade in clarity and color.

    1. It's also much more obvious in HD that the scene out the window is actually the matte backdrop of the facility that I wanted in our production notes above.There's sort of a brutalist modern high rise that is consistent with the TOS-era Starbase aesthetic.