Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: The Chase

The Next Generation, Season 6
"The Chase"
Airdate: April 26, 1993
145 of 176 produced
145 of 176 aired


When Captain Picard is approached by a mentor from his past, he is swept up into a galaxy-spanning mystery over the very basis of humanoid life. But he must carefully negotiate with his rivals for the prize, the Klingons and the Cardassians. He must also balance his responsibility to Starfleet with his desire to fulfill the dream of his intellectual father figure.

Unfortunately, the Chia have all long since died.


Matthew: This episode has science fiction ambition in spades, there is no denying it. It also has a nice character story. Come to think of it, it is paced well and has a decent mystery/political thriller element, to boot. Why am I so ambivalent about it, then? I think it is because the sci-fi story, though ambitious, fails to cohere into something satisfying intellectually. The idea that some progenitor race seeded the cosmos with life is interesting. But the mechanism by which they do so, and leave a message for their future spawn, is also unsatisfying. How could the genome they planted have "directed" the evolution of bipedal humanoid life, over the course of 4 billion years? The genome at such a primordial time was limited to unicellular life, and these progenitors could have no inkling what the forces on natural selection would be over such a time span on such disparate worlds. How could gene sequences contain a holographic message, plus adaptive instructions for rewriting the programming of a tricorder 4 billion years in the future? The mystery seemed far too easy to solve, as well. One would think that, with several hundred years of interspecies contact, and mating no less, that the genetic compatibility between the various races would have been noticed and investigated by now. Some indication of a greater passage of time would have been welcome.

Kevin: I agree that the science fiction plot's reach exceeds its grasp on this one. I think it could have been attenuated a little to not seem so facially implausible. Rather than directing evolution outright on all these worlds, maybe what would appear to be junk DNA could have been inserted into the genomes, like gene therapy today. It could have possibly had the unintended consequence of causing more humanoid species to develop than random chance would allow. It would have explained why it remained hidden so long, and made the mystery a little more subtle. There's a nifty bit in Carl Sagan's "Contact" where (SPOILER ALERT) it's revealed that pi written out in base 11 to sufficient number of digits creates a pattern of 1s and 0s that almost can't possibly be random, and the protagonist is left to question if its the signature of some creator or just a random pattern in the statistical noise of pi written out to a million billion places. Maybe that's the route they could have taken, and avoided the hologram problem. Imagine if all sentient life in the universe were discovered to contain an identical repeating strand of DNA. That chance of it being a random occurrence is virtually, but, importantly, not actually zero. Watching the scientific minds of the Federation try to wrap themselves around that occurrence would have been interesting. Would they simply rest on the infinitesimal, but still non-zero chance that it is happenstance, or would they take as proof of...something? That could have been a fun episode. The real pitfall of this episode for me is that this would have a radical impact on cultures everywhere. It's practically a mathematical proof that God doesn't exist, and I think that would have some fallout, but we never hear about it again.

Matthew: The other pitfall of such an ambitious story, which we also see in "Relics" with the Dyson Sphere builders, is that we really learn nothing about this race, and the "big idea" is really too big to develop in a satisfying way during the course of one episode of the show. I really think that the mystery should have been more archaeological in nature, should have culminated on their long dead world, and the mechanism by which the message was delivered should be some sort of artifact designed to survive for billions of years. The genome thing was just too hokey. The other aspect of the story that rang false was the sort of pappy, treacly message of oneness and togetherness. Yawn. They could have left us a message about how puppies are cute, and it would have had about the same impact.

Kevin: My mind was a little more blown by the resolution when I was 11, but I agree, it is a little too pat. Maybe they could have been a little more explicit. Vital, historically, to humanity's ability to wage war on itself is its ability to make its enemy into an "other." They're not like us, they worship a different god or break their eggs open on the other end or whatever. If there were proof positive that such distinctions were meaningless or non-existent, how would that change things? Sure, there would still be fights over limited resources and scrambling for power, but we tend to permit ourselves to treat "others" in a way we would never treat a neighbor, regardless of the conflict. It would have required a two-parter, and a hell of an overhaul, but I think there's some meat there. Take Chain of Command for example. Madred brings his daughter to his torture chamber to reinforce a lesson that humans are different and therefore it is acceptable to treat them that way, and Picard calls him on it, positing that learning to treat anyone that way eventually allows you to treat everyone that way. I think that point gets a punch in the arms if the distinction Madred were making between Picard and himself no longer had even factual, let alone philosophical validity.

Matthew: OK, all criticisms aside, the Picard end of the story really worked well. I loved the introduction of Professor Galen as an erstwhile mentor for Picard, if I do still have questions as to when in his career this mentorship occurred. The idea that Picard, who had little in common with his actual family, and then was forced to choose against an adopted intellectual father figure was really rich. Galen was written well, too, the perfect prickly academic who doesn't let his warmer feelings show through without a great deal of prompting. The discussion of the artifact he brought Picard was good, though I do have questions about how wide ranging such a field (Exo-Archaeology) would be for an individual to have a solid understanding beyond the level of a dilettante for more than, say, half a dozen worlds. I don't know of an archaeologist on Earth that could possibly specialize in all of our archaeology.

Kevin: If there were a field that would synthesize multiple worlds' histories, I always thought it would be an exo-anthropologist, someone who could attempt to make a grand analysis of all sentient life. Still the scene itself worked great, from Riker conspiring to surprise him to the Picard so easily shifting gears back into student.

Matthew: The interplay between the competing factions was enjoyable. I do wish, as I said, that they had been hunting physical artifacts. The notion of Klingons and Cardassians sifting through genomes, using pipettes and centrifuges, was a bit much for me to swallow. The Cardassian Gul butting heads with the Klingon Captain was fun to watch, as were the various twists and turns of their trying to sabotage each others' efforts. The Romulans swooping in at the end was fun, too. I kind of wish we had seen more of the Romulan commander, because he was given interesting things to say at the end - it made sense that the Romulans would be the most reflective about their genetic inheritance.

Kevin: I wish they had too, as the Romulans just walking in at the end felt a little tacked on. What power have we missed...oh right, the Romulans. Making them a focus earlier on could have led to an explicit discussion of their relationship with the Vulcans, and that could have had some interesting parallels.

Matthew: I liked the aspect of the episode of Picard going rogue and putting off Federation business to follow the leads. I would have liked this to be expanded. This would have solved my other issue of the mystery seeming too brief.


Matthew: Patrick Stewart does a fine job in this episode. When he expresses his enthusiasm for the Kurlan artifact, it is believable and genuinely emotional. His conflict with his mentor really plays well, and I empathized quite a bit with his character's story. It's nice that Stewart was given the chance to demonstrate his emotional range with quiet and uncertain moments, as opposed to strident speechifying.

Kevin: I liked Picard's interaction with Troi in this episode. It's again nice to see Sirtis get to do an actual job, and I always love when he pushes her away a little because it's great to watch them both navigate a very personal relationship in a very professional setting. It nicely communicated Picard's grief and made Troi look very professional by knowing just how far to push. I also love any scene between Picard and Crusher. Despite the structural problems of the mystery, watching them interact is always a joy.

Matthew: Andrew Lloyd, who was also the supercilious headmaster in Dead Poets Society, does a great job as Galen. I believed him completely in the academic role, as well as in his emotional relationship with Picard. I wish more of the episode had been given over to his character, perhaps on a dig with Picard. The three alien  antagonists were all good in their own ways. John Cothran was particularly good as the Klingon, with a nice humorous edge that leavened the episode a bit.

Kevin: I loved Gul Ocet and wish they had brought her back on DS9. She really nailed the Cardassian mix of ego and practicality. I liked Cothran as well. He makes some subsequent appearances in the video games, and its easy to see why. He really captured the Viking-style, lust for life Klingon that TNG created. And while she didn't get a lot to do, Salome Jens is always a welcome addition to an episode, if only for her voice.

Production Values

Matthew: The major optical effects were the biosphere destruction, the holo-projection, and the space battle. All of them looked pretty decent, especially the space battle. I wasn't a huge fan of the progenitor-alien makeup, it was reminiscent of the simplicity of Odo, in kind of a bland way.

Kevin: The biosphere shot looked really good, and I remember thinking "Well there's something new to worry about," when I first watched it. I liked the space battle stuff, too. I can't wait for the Bluray.

Matthew: The Kurlan artifact had a great look to it. There were several nice Okudagrams throughout the show, though I wish there had been more detail on the interlocking diagram of the gene sequences. Planet Hell was used to very good effect here, dressed up as a sere desert clime. I also want to make note of the really nice looking outfit on the Romulan Commander, which looked like something someone cool would actually consent to wear, as opposed to the upholstered monstrosity of the shoulderpad jacket.

Kevin: I liked the artifact too. It looked and moved and sounded like ceramic, though I'm sure it was not. It looked well aged as well. It always bothered me to see it left on Picard's table in the ruined Enterprise in Generations.


Matthew: There is so much to like about this episode, it is surprising that it ends up as a 3. But that's what happens to great concepts that end up half baked. No amount of great acting or nice space battles is going to paste over the gaping plot holes or the smarmy sentimentalism which are present.  But it still moves briskly and entertains despite its lack of follow through.

Kevin: I agree with the 3, for a total of 6. I suppose I'll always like an episode more for trying and failing than failing to try. You can't ding them for lack of ambition on this one. The emotional core of Picard and Galen and Picard and his crew hold this episode together to keep it at least in average territory.


We are joined on this podcast by Richard and Beth. Enjoy everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment