Monday, April 2, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Timescape

The Next Generation, Season 6
Airdate: June 12, 1993
150 of 176 produced
150 of 176 aired


Returning from a conference, Picard, Troi, LaForge, and Data encounter a strange phenomenon. Time appears to me moving at different rates in different places. Tracing the disturbances to their source, they find the Enterprise frozen in time and apparently in the middle of a battle with a Romulan warbird. Beaming to the Enteprise, what little information they can gather from the frozen crew and ship only seems to raise more questions than it answers. How will the four officers alone be able to save the Enterprise?


Kevin: This is one of those fun concepts that doesn't bear too much scrutiny. It's a step above the energy field in Rascals, but it's still a fairly deus ex machina device to get us to the fun part of the episode. The physics of the disturbances encountered by the runabout don't quite make sense. If the runabout were moving, wouldn't Troi have also been affected then the others, and how did the bubble cover only them for so long if they were in motion. These aren't fatal flaws, but they're still there.

Matthew: Yeah, this episode is one in which you sort of have to turn off one part of your brain (the plot-hole sensing neurological bundle) in order to let another part (The "Cool!" bundle) have a field day. There is a lot of cool stuff to be had in this Braga script, but it is oddly light on the kind of creepy substance he usually injects into his stories. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the earlier TNG episodes that featured a strange sci-fi twist, such as "Time Squared" or "We'll Always Have Paris." By this I mean that there is an interesting enough hook, and a lot of cool stuff going on, but something ends up being missing. As you suggest, Kevin, it seems that the major missing element is a certain level of cohesion and completion to the story. It is really cool to have the Enterprise blow up, it's cool to be on a "deserted ship" where no one moves, and so on. But in addition to most of these ideas having been done before, they also don't get a strong enough plot explanation that ties them together.

Kevin: Once we get to the Enterprise, I think we get a fun, atmospheric and nicely low-key mystery/adventure tale. The conceit of the frozen crew and ship is well mined, even if the skin-tight subspace fields are a touch too convenient. It would have been fun to see them try to really not interact with anything. The scene of Picard breaking down and Beverly being shot in sickbay are fun. I really liked the scene in the Romulan engine room. Geordi detecting the change was well played and it had some nice creepy tension. I thought they did a good job leaving enough clues scattered about to indicate this was not simply an attack without giving away the story too early. I do have a problem even in a humanitarian setting, letting the Romulans on the bridge. That always seemed off to me.

Matthew: What I really liked is how the expectations of both the characters and the audience are subverted by the actual plot. Of course we think that the Romulans are attacking the ship, have initiated the warp core breach, and are intentionally shooting Doctor Crusher. This was the best bit of Braga-esque (I think it's fair to call that a thing now) misderection and mind-screwing. The less effective bits revolved around the "re-animated" Romulans, who turned out to be... quantum... blob...embryo... crap, I don't know. This was essentially a re-use of two ideas: one from "The Next Phase" in which a few protagonists are stuck in a weird state, and an unexpected enemy turns out to be trapped with them; and the other from "Devil In The Dark," with a strange species protecting their young. Those episodes were much more clear in their intents and their implications, though. It feels like Braga was aiming for mystery here, but the unexplained aspects of the story are just unsatisfying when all is said and done.

Kevin: My other problem is I thought the eventual explanation, while actually fairly interesting, was left too unexplored. Why did the other alien disappear? Why did the warbird? Why did the second alien interfere with the plan to prevent the destruction of the ship? The thing is, despite my issues, I still think this episode has a lot to it. The teaser scene in the runabout was great, and felt really organic. Watching the crew work together to problem solve is always nice. The continuity nod to "Face of the Enemy" with Troi being sent to the engine room was nice, and as Marina Sirtis pointed out at the convention we saw her at, a nice uptick in respect for the character since she started wearing pants. This episode certainly has a certain life and energy that makes it thoroughly enjoyable to watch even if the plot is not as sophisticated as it could have been.

Matthew: There were lots of nice continuity touches, such as Troi using her "plexing" technique to relax, and Picard mentioning the Devidians from "Time's Arrow." As you say, the character interactions between our four animated protagonists were enjoyable, though I did feel the Picard stuff went a bit far. I suppose choosing the Picard character for the suffering of "temporal narcosis" was another attempt by Braga to subvert expectations and really drive home in an unsettling way how weird this situation was. In the end, though, I was more annoyed than unsettled that Picard was made to act in such an undignified way. Speaking of inconsistencies, at the very end of the episode, the Captain states that they successfully evacuated the Romulan crew. Huh? After they... disappeared? I get the feeling that this script saw partial re-writes, and that the results weren't edited together in a coherent way. Such is life at the end of a season, I guess.


Kevin: Episodes like this really benefit from where they fall in the series. The writers pretty much have to do no work for the interactions of the ensemble to carry a scene. Everyone with any amount of lines does pretty well here. The banter in the runabout was nice and authentic. Troi and Picard's reactions to Beverly's apparently imminent death with nuanced and effective. I always like it when Troi gets to be competent, and Geordi and Data nailed their technobabble scenes in the engine room.

Matthew: The runabout scene was really nice. I would have actually enjoyed an episode centered around their hijinks at the conference. Either way, I think Sirtis is the star of this particular show.  She really comes off as level-headed and quick on her feet, especially when she disengages Geordi's bubble to save him. Spiner gets some classic straight-man Data, playing the "explainer" quite well.

Kevin: The guest stars were just okay, but I think that might be a deficiency in the writing. That being said, they didn't really overcome the weak writing with the breathless slow motion "Noooos" all over the place.

Matthew: Yeah, perhaps it was because they were dressed as Romulans, but the... quantum space blob creatures... didn't really stick in the mind very well. Pretty mundane guest casting all told. None of these Romulans had the bite of a Susanna Thompson, Carolyn Seymour, or Andreas Katsulas.

Production Values

Kevin: This is where the episode really shines. The tableau of the Enterprise and warbird looked really awesome and I am eager for the Blu-Rays of this one. The freeze frame scenes were well achieved and I don't think anyone really flinched on camera. The effect of aging on Picard's hand was creepy, too. The green screening on the rewind scenes was well done.

Matthew: I really liked how the Enterprise scenes showed us the ship caught in mid-red alert. Freezing every alert light on the ship on "red" was really subtle, but played into the unreal, creepy feeling of the frozen scenes in a really effective way. The way the klaxon sounded in reverse was cool, too. The warp core breech looked ok, but there didn't seem to be much of a "breech" to accompany the gas cloud. I liked the space scenes, but yet again, I didn't quite understand where the energy transfer beam was emanating from on the ship.

Kevin: The rear of the runabout set was fun to see as was the Romulan engine room which looked of a piece with the rooms we saw in "Face of the Enemy." We still have the perm wig, but I've long exhausted of expressing outrage over that. My record on this point in unimpeachable.

Matthew: The runabout is a very cool set both inside and out, and it was used really effectively here for the conversation scenes. Does that dining room set convert to a crew quarters bunk, I wonder?


Kevin: And so we return to a familiar conundrum: how to rate the episode that is a little light on substance but overall, very entertaining to watch. I always look forward to this episode, but the lack of development of the nature of the beings nesting in the engine core does not quite overcome how awesome the time bubble scenes were. I am going with a 3.

Matthew: I think there was enough substance to carry an episode. What was missing for me was polish. Too many inconsistencies and questions drag this down from the really cool brain-bending temporal episodes that I really enjoy. But I agree with the 3, because this isn't bad enough to relegate to the lower echelons of TNG. It's fun to watch while it's on the screen, and then it just kind of leaves your head. Which sort of makes it like watching a new episode each time... except not really. Anyway, that's a 6 total.

1 comment:

  1. This is an episode where I think that if you saw it when it first came out you might wonder if Crusher was going to bite it. I have always liked this episode and agree that it is nice to see how big the runabouts actually are as well as the other really cool special effects.