Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 1: We'll Always Have Paris

Airdate: May 2, 1988
23 of 176 produced
23of 176 aired


On their way to a much-needed shore leave, the Enterprise intercepts a distress call from Dr. Paul Manheim, a mysterious scientist who has been researching time for over a decade. His experiments have begun distorting time over a vast space, and the Enterprise must intervene before the effects alter all of reality. More personal to Picard, however, is a reunion with a lost love, Manheim's wife Jenice. Will a specter from Picard's past diminish his ability to protect the future?

"Incidentally, captain, we are experiencing an optical effect right now."


Matthew: So, the drama in this story seems to want to be centered on Picard dealing with ghosts from his past. There is an extended and rather awkward scene with the counselor telling him as much on the bridge. Unfortunately, although we spend a lot of time on this thread of the tale, it is never developed particularly well. We never get a real feeling for why this woman means so much to him. It is boiled down to bland romantic platitudes about love lost. Future episodes would develop much better Picard relationships, whether with Beverly, Vash, or Nella Daren. We also get a bit of development of the friction between Bev/Picard. Beverly is obviously jealous when Picard reunites with Jenice. She also has a weird scene with Troi, in which she states flatly that she is "competing" with a ghost from Picard's past. Troi seems familiar with the issue - have they discussed it before? If it's an indication of friendship, great. But if it is an indication of Troi's actual job (which seems likely given her scene with Picard), it's kind of creepy.

Kevin: I agree that the romantic plot never quite developed. I think it's a two-part problem. First, I don't think that Picard and Jenice ever had any real chemistry. Individually, both did a fine job with the lines, but they didn't connect. It was like they were both acting on an empty stage and they composited the dialogue together. Second, it suffered a pacing problem. Picard's little jaunt on the holodeck seemed to slow the episode down. It also created so much buildup for when Jenice is finally aboard, that it almost can't but fall a little flat. I agree with what you said about platitudes. You could sub in any character and any other lost love and the lines would remain the same. Something like second season's "Emissary" will do a far better job of portraying the complicated regret of lost love.

Matthew: The science fiction aspects of this episode function almost as a B story. The kooky "Manheim Effect" scenes were fun, but felt a little slight. They didn't really establish what was going on - if the trio in the turbolift witness themselves, do they go away, since the scene progresses with the characters in the corridor? Do they meld together again somehow? Do they branch off into differing quantum realities or something? I also felt it was rather strange that Manheim discovers "other time dimensions" with their own resident "alien life forms." This is a rather Dr. Who touch, and it is left undeveloped. So in the end, it was a fun trifle, but not really a driver of the story. The romance has primacy here.

Kevin: Aside from the few visual gags, the plot fails to really materialize. Other episodes deal far more interestingly with the somewhat flexible nature of time. I think it would have been improved by discussing it more than general terms. "Extra dimensions of time" is practically a science fiction placeholder, like saying "the laws of physics don't apply."

Matthew: Question time - just how does antimatter close holes in space? Why does the French waiter speak English? What's with the (very scantily clad) chick in the holodeck? Does the holodeck have every restaurant everywhere on earth in its memory bank, and a ready stash of romantic cliche characters to populate them with? How can a "planet" be irregularly shaped? We have a definition of planet that includes spheroid shape (due to size and gravity) and a clear orbital path. Isn't it an asteroid or a moon instead? It is later called a planetoid, so I guess the writers had questions, too. The computer opens an exit when Jenice uses it as a question to Picard, not a command to the computer. Does the door open whenever the word is used? Does context have no role?

Kevin: It did bother me that the holodeck seemed to start a story-style program without being asked. Picard just asked for the cafe. Did the holodeck really intuit his broken heart and create an appropriate customer? As for the holodeck exit, we'll chalk that up to the ship's drama circuit. It knows what good storytelling looks like and adapts turbolift rides, communication relays, and automatic door sensors accordingly.

Matthew: Just a note on sexual mores - Troi is a patron of something called the Zanza Men's Dance Palace. You know, the one across from the Blue Parrot Cafe.

Kevin: I can't decide if I really want or really don't want to know what goes on there.


Matthew: Despite the weak writing regarding their relationship, Stewart and Phillips play their reunion pretty well, acting out well the idea that they are awkward at first but then slip into their old humor and conversational style. Gates McFadden also plays the jilted... whatever she is... quite well. So well, in fact, that it is a source of eternal irritation that their characters never got together.

Kevin: I agree on Crusher's acting job here. Like I said above, I think both actors did a good job, but it never gelled into a real relationship for me. It certainly wasn't bad, it was just short of the mark on making me invest emotionally.

Matthew: Marina Sirtis had a hard time with this script. It kept calling for her to be really nosy and awkward, and she never surmounted it with her line readings. Oh well. Spiner had some nice moments with his "funny descriptions" schtick.

Kevin: I always like it when she gets serious stuff to do, and this kind of emotional busybody-ness actually makes sense as part of her job, but it does seem like either the actress or the director couldn't decide if she should come off a friendly confidant or serious professional.

Production Values

Matthew: The Paris scene gives us a wealth of information about 24th century Earth. We get goofy transparent menus, a man playing some sort of plastic bong-tube accordion, a video phone with something like a holo-display, and a Paris matte painting that shows ultra-tall skyscrapers (Paris must have changed its zoning regulations), a giant tube running under he Eiffel Tower, and the obligatory hovering shuttles. As Picard exits, we get a very nice optical effect transition from the restaurant to the hallway, one of the best in the series.

Kevin: I liked the amount of detail in the Paris scenes, although overall, it just didn't do it for me. They were trying a little too hard to make it The Future. Of all the places on Earth to resist change, it would be Paris. It would have been fun to see a more old-looking city with more subtle transitions to the future.

Matthew: The ship's fencing gym (?) seems to be a shuttle bay redress. The fencing itself was perhaps a bit dramatic for real fencing. The video display showing hits was interesting. In Sickbay, it was weird to have a biobed in the middle of the floor, where the larger diagnostic bed usually sits. The planetoid lab looked pretty good, with yet another "Data dodges lasers" scene that worked well. The "fluorescent tube" security door doesn't open very wide at all - I guess Manheim only hired skinny grad students to help him out with experiments. The "Manheim effect" itself was pretty nifty looking.

Kevin: I would have liked a few pieces of other gym equipment in the room. It doesn't make sense to have a whole room just for this, right? The effect was pretty neatly done, both in the Enterprise and in the lab.

Matthew: As far as clothes go, we get a truly bad outfit on Jenice. The same-colored boots, the parachute pants, the awkward draping on the shoulders with exposed mid-back ... just a fashion disaster. The chick in the holodeck, on the other hand, was much more fun to look at. So I'll call it a wash for Theiss.

Kevin:  Yeah, I am sadly forced to agree. Jenice's outfit was an 80s travesty. Outside of baby pyjamas, I have never encountered a onesie that wasn't hideous.


Matthew: This episode has the elements of a better story. Had either thread been developed to a more thorough conclusion, this would be a 4. As it stands, I find it average. There is enough here to stave off boredom, and enough cool things to tickle the imagination just a bit. It simply lacks follow-through. I give it a 3.

Kevin: This is a three for me as well, for a total of 6. The romance never really takes off and the science fiction is a little thin, but the actors gave it their best shot and the graphic effects were nifty. This episode may have just been out of their weight class at this point. Later Picard romances that incorporate the things we identify as missing prove far more satisfying. Still, there is enough here in the details to keep me entertained.

1 comment:

  1. HD Highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    Predictably, the coolest shot of the show was the Mannheim (steamroller?) Effect in the lab. It looked really neat and totally crisp, even when there were 3 Datas on the screen.

    The space shots with the asteroid also looked very nice.