Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 1: The Neutral Zone

Airdate: May 16, 1988
25 of 176 produced
25 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is sent to investigate the disappearance of outposts along the Romulan Neutral Zone. En route, however, an oddity is discovered - a cryogenic ship from Earth's 20th century. Will these two events cause problems? Are they related at all? Should this have been two episodes?
Rats! If only my cryo-pod hadn't been compromised by this stupid window!


Matthew: This episode is an odd combination of parts. The Romulan plot with regard to missing outposts is a bit of housekeeping designed to set up the Borg in Season Two. While I appreciate this kind of continuity building, here the Romulan plot is largely inconsequential. The crew of the Enterprise talks over and over about how they know nothing, how they're worried, etc. Then, when they finally meet the Romulans, nothing happens. A few words are traded, and Gul Dukat says "we're back." Yawn. The much more interesting story is the cryogenically frozen humans from the late 20th century. Here we have avatars for basically every fanboy's dream, waking up on the Enterprise. The potential for science fiction and human storytelling is huge. How have things changed? How would a caveman deal with being transported to the present? How would we deal with waking up on a starship? Unfortunately, this plot is undercut a bit by the Romulan one. It feels like they had two scripts left in the hopper and one show to do them in. Both suffer as a result.

Kevin: I agree fully. Any one scene of strategizing is actually pretty well written and a credit to each of the crew and their ability to think and discuss, but given that we get three of them, it's repetitive and a little boring. We get it. We don't know them. They don't know us. Potential violence. There. I've trimmed about fifteen minutes from the episode.

Matthew: Despite the short shrift it receives, I really enjoy watching the cryo-plot. Fish out of water comedy works for a reason, and it works here. I empathized with the characters, and found myself bubbling with questions with respect to how they'd react, how things would change, and the like. Their friction with the crew was fun to see. This plot more than any other affords opportunities for one of Season One's major tropes: "That CRAZY 20th Century." Some are illuminating, others are just ridiculous. On the illuminating side, we get the VERY Roddenberry dialogue: "people are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. we've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy." This says a lot (or at least a fair amount) about the world being posited by TNG. On the other hand, we get Crusher uttering this little gem: "people feared dying - it terrified them." Bitch, PLEASE. Why would people stop fearing death after 2 or 300 years? What in the world could occur that would ameliorate this existential reality of human life? We get another sermon about drug use - Sonny Clemonds is "too afraid to live, too scared to die." We get a joke about "homemakers" - must be some kind of construction worker. These among many others are the "fish out of water-style" jokes we get. I enjoyed them despite a few facepalm moments. TV defunct by 2040? GMAFB.

Kevin: The sermonizing was pretty awful, but I think it's actually Rodenberry's actual position, not just a writing fluke. In season 3's "Bonding," Ron Moore said he had to argue to do that episode as Rodenberry argued children in the 24th century would understand death and not mourn as Jeremy Aster is depicted as doing. I love and respect Gene Rodenberry, but occasionally, he could go off the rails. That line is one of those times. Other than that, the cryo-plot is satisfying on the strength of some pretty well executed comedy and character moments. It's a credit to the writers that they make such empathetic and identifiable characters so quickly. We discuss this on the pocast, but my only complaint with this plot is I thought Sonny came off a little too precious. Other than that, this one hit on all cylinders. I was particularly affected by Claire's reactions.

Matthew: The Romulan plot gets one minor boost of interest with the line "matters more urgent demanded our attention, but we're back." I wish this had been followed up before the Romulans were destroyed by Nemesis and J.J. Abrams. Random notes: at a scene break, Picard enters from the right side of the alcove in his ready room. Since we know a replicator is on the left side, and a window further to the right, the only possible conclusion is that Picard was taking a work crap right before a meeting. When the humans are woken up, why does Picard want Security present, but not Counselling?


Matthew: I liked all three human guest stars, personally. I thought Offenhouse was a believable prick, Claire Raymond was easy to empathize with, and Sonny Clemonds was fun. The Romulans, on the other hand, were kind of non-entitles. But that was more a function of writing than anything else. Marc Alaimo and Anthony James delivered their lines well, they just didn't have much to say.

Kevin: Even though, as I said, I found Sonny a little over the top, that was the writing. All three actors delivered and it really makes the episode. Knowing what we know now of Marc Alaimo, it's a sin they did not give him more to do.

Matthew: Spiner gets the best stuff here. His line readings were funny and enjoyable. Frakes and Stewart, on the other hand, just come off as rather douchey. Marina Sirtis had some good counselling moments.

Kevin: Picard was too irked. Crisis or not, for both humanitarian and exploration reasons, he should actiely encourage Data's actions. Spiner had great chemistry with Sonny and it's always nice to see Troi be empathetic and professional at the same time.

Production Values

Matthew: There are two stars here - the model of the cryo-ship, and the Romulan Warbird. The cryo-ship looked really neat - it seemed like an early CGI model, and the design looked both realistic and interesting. The interior set was also good, with period-looking computers. The only things that seemed off to me were 1. the apparent use of artificial gravity, and 2. the cryo-pods. Why would dead people need windows, and light bulbs above their heads? And why in the world would there be an empty pod? Putting things in orbit is expensive.

Kevin: The interior was awesome. They cribbed just enough from NASA movies in the 70s and 80s to make the ship feel very real. The only sad design aspect implied about the late 90s is that 80s hair survives intact.

Matthew: What can be said about the Romulan Warbird? This is easily the coolest enemy ship design that TNG contributed to canon (the Klingon BOP was from the movies, remember). It looks totally intimidating, has loads of visual interest from every angle, and... it's green.

Kevin: Enough can't be said about the awesome awesomeness of the D'deridex class warbird. The two planes provide for tons of interesting angles. Something I have always loved about the big civilizations is the degree to which their ships reflect their philosophy. Clean, bright, and elegant Federation ships, powerful, forward-leaning Klingon ships, and sleek, menancing Romulan ships.


Matthew: Despite its sort of half-baked feeling, I am never bored when I watch this episode. I think it's a 3. Either story along might have risen to a 4 - but they're undercut by each other. Nonetheless, it's a fun watch.

Kevin: This is a 3 for me as well, for a total of 6. Offenhouse's obvious commentary isn't enough to tie together the plots. Even if the Romulan plot was flawlessly executed, the internal schism would still hold the episode back. Still, this was a lot of fun, and better than 2 out of 3 season finales of TOS.


  1. What is the deal with Synthohol. I get that we don't want people getting drunk but don't you think they could create a pill or a drink that people would take that instantaly cures all hang over ills.

  2. It makes no sense that they would not have a fairly simple medical antidote to intoxication, considering what we see hyposprays being capable of throughout the show's run. That being said, Starfleet probably wouldn't want crew needing to run to sickbay during a crisis to get un-drunk. And people even in this time period probably won't be self-medicating.

    So, sythehol would make sense. Except, if you can easily come out of its effects, why drink it at all?

    About the rest of this episode I have only one thing to say: Doctor Crusher's comment about 20th century humans being still being afraid of dying could possibly be THE worst line uttered through any part of TNG.

  3. Well what if as you leave 10 Forward you are given a drink or take a pill(like the mints at restaurants) that cure the drunkness. And I agree if the booze doesn't really get you buzzed whats the point.

  4. HD Highlights:

    The cryo-ship looks terrific on the Blu-Ray. Otherwise, it's a solid, unremarkable HD transfer.

  5. This episode is a riot and I could watch in a loop. I love the idea of transplanting 20th century people into the Trek universe. That Oppenheim guy and the country singer are hilarious. I wish they had made the entire episode about them and them discovering the 24th century.

    And why would anyone want to drink alcohol without its deleterious effects? I mean that is the whole point, right? Why else would anyone enjoy downing that corrosive tasting garbage if not to get a buzz? So strange.

    Now fattening food and desserts without all the real fattening effects, that would make much more sense.