Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Parallels

The Next Generation, Season 7
Airdate: November 29, 1993
162 of 176 produced
162 of 176 aired


Worf returns from bat'leth tournament and begins to notice a strange pattern of events. People and objects are subtly different from one moment to the next. At first he dismisses them, but as the changes become more severe, eventually finding himself married to Counselor Troi, it becomes clear that something is affecting reality or Worf or both.
You weren't like this before the beard!


Kevin: I love this episode. Now that I have that out of the way....There are two major elements to this story: the science fiction conceit of parallel universes and psychological impact of the changes or the perceived changes on Worf. Both are handled with deft hands and the appropriate amount of energy. I will start with the personal story with Worf. They ramped the changes perfectly to create the right atmosphere. It felt very similar to Cause and Effect that way. There, the episode layered multiple iterations of Crusher's deja vu to build tension. Here they use Worf's discomfort. The changes like the cake or Picard's presence at the party are just small enough to be noticed but then dismissed. The conversation with Crusher was genius. It reminded me of a Hitchcock thriller where the protagonist is being intentionally gaslighted. The conscious awareness that reality might be different than how you remember has to be really upsetting and focusing it on Worf was a good call. Data or Picard might have been more cerebrally curious sooner. Worf is such a straight man that where fooling with him with the surprise party gets a laugh, fooling with him in a more sinister way feels really creepy.

Matthew: I'm with you on enjoying this episode. One of the joys of the Star Trek format is that it so easily allows stories where the fundamentals of "reality" are shifted. In another type of show, it would have to be a dream, which robs some of the dramatic impact. The question is, how well, if at all, is the reality bending mechanic explained and employed, and what if anything do we learn about the characters? There needs to be a point to the reality shift beyond just "ooh, cool." Two glaring examples in my mind are the DS9 mirror episodes, and the Abrams trek movie. Neither did anything interesting with the reality shift, or told us anything interesting about the characters. They were both just pandering attempts to dazzle people and turn off their brains. Anyway, I do think this episode succeeds on both scores. The "quantum sum over histories" idea is a fun, somewhat speculative twist on then-contemporary ideas in quantum physics. That's another beauty of the Trek format - tickling our fancy with a fun story, but rooting it just enough in real science to give us something to investigate further.We've seen it before with terraforming, nanites, wormholes, and so on.

Kevin: The science fiction element here is just plain fun. We've explored it before with the mirror universe, but it felt more intellectually cohesive here. Explicitly stating that every variation that could exist does exist makes the idea of accidentally finding one in "Mirror, Mirror" less ridiculous. The scene of the multiple Enterprises was just a hoot and they peppered the alternate universes with tons of fan service, like Riker as Captain and Wesley at tactical. Thank you to whoever restrained the writers from commenting explicitly on his presence. The lack of commentary made it more credible in universe and more fun as a cameo. My only complaints are that I'm not sure why Troi was told her Worf might not come back, as given the shuttle full of Worfs would seem to indicate all of them made it back. It seemed like a cheap shot to increase the drama in the scene and justify the kiss. Also, Geordi's VISOR is a camcorder. It's an awesome camcorder, but that's it. How it triggers the shifts is a little odd, but it's not fatal by any means.

Matthew: Yeah, I'm fine with it insofar as it offers an unusual and non-obvious means by which the shifts occur. When you watch the episode again, you start to notice the changes more quickly. When an episode bears repeat viewing, that's the sign of a classic in the making. The multiple Enterprise scene basically justifies the episode alone. I'm assuming it was the image around which Braga constructed the episode. I do kind of wonder how there were no collisions. I mean, I know space is big, but could all those ships' courses have been so different? I do kind of dislike the solution, as it felt pat - fly back through in the opposite direction. Yawn. I would have preferred a more scienc-ey means of fixing things. I personally don't understand why all the Worfs would return to their correct realities at all. For one thing, where are these Worfs who never took the shuttle flight to Forcas III? Why were these Worfs, who would never have been exposed to the quantum fissure, replaced by the shifting Worf we know? For another, given the way that realities diverge, why would they all be in the right place at the right time? And speaking of fan service, this would have been a perfect opportunity to give us one more scene with K'Ehleyr.

Kevin: What anchors this episode and makes it so enjoyable is how they used the character histories to really have fun with the concept. Picard dying in "Best of Both Worlds," seeing Geordi dead, Dr. Ogawa, the list goes on. Even the scene in Ten Forward with Troi prior to the shifting was entirely necessary for the story, but it was a very sweet moment between the two characters that flowed organically form their history. Based on this episode, I find the proto-relationship in "All Good Things..." less shocking than Matt does, but regardless, they threaded continuity throughout the episode like pros and it made the parallel universes more fun and made the central problem of the show more engaging.

Matthew: The Worf/Troi scenes were funny, I'll give them that. We can discuss the relationship when it arises. For what it's worth, it does at least start out feeling organic here, given the dialogue about Troi playing a big part in Worf's recovery. And the last line "Champage" was really good writing. But things do feel a bit artificial during their "marriage" scenes. The great thing about all of the scenes, for whatever the characters, is that they tell us something about them. Riker loves his captain and misses him when he is gone. Worf is sexually repressed and has a strong streak of propriety running through him. Data is entering his expressionist phase. These kinds of developments keep the story from feeling cheap and exploitative, and make it really rewarding. A big question I have about this episode is whether it stands on its own. Could this be the first episode you watch, and get you into TNG? In the end I think it could, because for one thing, you get enough of the "real" history to compare it with, and for another, the character stories are involving enough to make you want to fill in the gaps by watching more.


Kevin: Michael Dorn has a pretty solid reputation as the straight guy, and he mines it well here. Like I said, there is something fun about seeing that stoicism face something darker than the usual comedy, and Dorn handles it well. Like Beverley in "Remember Me," he handled the development of the mystery in a way that is natural and flatters the character's intelligence. Well done, all around.

Matthew: For Dorn to carry an episode, he has to go beyond the "he is WITHOUT honor" stereotype that he's been written into so many times. He definitely accomplishes this. This Worf is in character to be sure, but is also relatable, sympathetic, and someone we want to root for. He plays the humor really well, but we also believe that he is becoming a bit unhinged at all the changes happening around him.

Kevin: The rest of the cast did a great job playing themselves in slightly different situations. I particularly liked Patti Yasutake as "Dr." Ogawa. The scene with alternate Riker seeing Picard was lovely and genuinely touching.

Matthew: We'll see Yasutake display her chops again in "Lower Decks." I kind of wish she had shown up on a future show. She wore the cardigan well. Wil Wheaton has kind of developed a double chin. I know that's not an acting note per se... but I couldn't help but stare at it. I think Frakes had a lot of interesting material, from bearded crazy man to mournfully shouldering the burdens of command. Sirtis was good but not great for me. I liked her best in Ten Forward. I just don't think she had (or will have) great romantic chemistry with Dorn - you know, probably the product of her building romantic chemistry with another actor for six years, and then having this ignored by the creative staff.

Production Values

Kevin: The scene of the infinite Enteprises was fun and I await the Bluray with zeal. The subtle and not subtle changes to the ship were well done and called back to "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Future Imperfect." Throwing in touches like Wil Wheaton and the Cardassian helsman were nice details.

Just because it rules...

Matthew: This episode is a detail nerd's dream. The green decal on the warp core was something I just noticed on this viewing. The random wacky silver doodads on the bridge underscore how nice the original design is. The "Future Imperfect" badges make another appearance, again in concert with the pips.

Kevin: The lack (thank God) of an optical effect for the transitions was a smart call. It kept the mystery from being solved too early and the cuts themselves were handled quite deftly. Like "Remember Me" and "Frame of Mind," the cinematography really contributed to the feel of the episode quite well.

Matthew: There are loads of artwork and optical effects in this episode. I don't know if you noticed it, but the party poppers at the beginning were each punctuated by a little phaser-like effect. I can't believe they sold the budget-master on it, but I appreciate it either way. The Argus Array images have us a neat look at Utopia Planitia and some starbases. We got an animated Okudagram of diverging quantum realities.  The multiple ship scene, as you say, was totally cool. The quantum fissure was a bit on the mundane ("make it blue") side of things, as was the explosion of the Borg-universe Enterprise. LeVar Burton had quite the nude scene as a corpse in sickbay - I guess that purple cloth tamped down any post-mortem... funny business.


Kevin: This is between a four and five for me. The science fiction elements are there and explored, if not entirely resolved. The character elements and the genuine "creepy" feel are quite strong. In the end I am going with a 5. Much like "Cause and Effect," I think this episode also successfully uses the science fiction conceit to construct a really interesting story that is anchored in really solid and moving character moments for the ensemble cast.

Matthew: I'm stuck on a 4 with this one. It's really good. But I think the TV logic of the Worf jumping and  returning is enough to knock it down a few pegs. I think it could have been done in a way that displayed a bit more complexity and "realism." The most obvious comparison show is "Cause and Effect," another Braga vehicle. So why is that one better? I think the creep-out factor was better developed, as was the science angle, though it was admittedly a bit more rudimentary. I also agree with you that the Worf/Troi stuff was pushing it as far as feeling organic - just the first Ten Forward scene would have sufficed for me. I applaud this episode's ambition and its totally cool bevy of fan service scenes. I just think it fell a tad short on internal logic. So that brings our total rating to a 9 - a definite highlight any way you slice it.

1 comment:

  1. I too have always liked this episode. I think the part that freaked me out even as an adult was the scene with the Enterprise from the universe where the Borg are in control. There was something so starkly chaotic but also horrifying. I can only imagine what it was like to have so few allies.
    I do agree that solution seemed a little too easy, but I always love the line thats what our data said too.