Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Conundrum

The Next Generation, Season 5
Airdate: February 10, 1992
112 of 176 produced
112 of 176 aired


Investigating a previously unexplored sector of space, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious alien vessel, that fires upon them. When they come to, the crew is shocked to discover that they have no memories of their personal identities or their mission. One of their apparent fellow officers, Commander MacDuff, pressures them to complete the one fragment of mission they can recover from the computer - destroy the Lysian alliance, a resident of these parts. Can they continue without the moral context to justify their actions?

Insert joke re: "Tromboner."


Matthew: This episode is a lot of fun. I doubt many would deny this. But fun alone does not a great Star Trek episode make, at least in my opinion. For me, the next question for evaluation then becomes - does it make sense? There are a raft of logical problems with this episode - the first being the curious specificity and ubiquity of memory and computer losses - in "Clues," for instance, there were random leftovers from an entire 24-hour period of intentional scouring by both the Paxans and the crew  - whereas the Satarran weapon seems to be far more effective, and in mere seconds. How could the Satarrans so effectively alter the memories of humans, aliens, and androids - not to mention the Enterprise computer? The corollary question to this is, how have the Satarrans not taken over everything, everywhere? How is it that a race with such a vastly powerful weapon isn't known by anyone? And with such a weapon, why didn't MacDuff simply place himself in the captain's chair - or just steal one photon torpedo? It would have been better if a peripheral character had been the mole, instead of a new character like MacDuff - then perhaps the familiarity the Satarrans seem to have with the Enterprise and its denizens could have been more explicable.

Kevin: The problem for me is the Satarran plot is just too complicated for its own good, even if I accept they are wildly advanced in some areas and backwards in others. Why not just zap the memory of the dude in charge of torpedoes and take the apparent one torpedo it would take to end their war. Also, how can they be completely unknown to the Federation but know enough about the Enterprise to snare it so effectively, or even know it exists. A cool dimension to the story could have been these people have been around for a while and zapping people's memories. A war has been going on for decades and no one remembers it because the Satarrans wipe the memory of whoever stumbles on them. That would be interesting and chilling.

Matthew: Just as far as the fun factor of the story, I wish the memory loss had gone on for longer. It would have been interesting to see people in odd, mismatched roles. Although I disliked how the Worf thing was handled, I can see the potential for a "someone else as captain" story.  This would have been a great chance for Troi or Crusher to try out command, as if they were just sitting in the chair for a shift and then assume they are captain. Maybe Data could have stayed bartender, Picard the helmsman, Geordi the Doctor, Riker the counselor, who knows what. It would have been super-cool for amnesiacs to be stranded on the holodeck, without knowing it. In some ways, Voyager's "The Killing Game" two-parter takes the basic ideas of this episode and does them at extended length - memory suppression by an alien force, plus really cool holodeck displacement.

Kevin: I enjoyed seeing everyone try to fit themselves in. I do wonder if Picard's natural ambition and commanding nature should have pressed a little harder against Worf, but I like that his first thoughts are to securing the ship and learning more, not necessarily taking charge. I would have liked to see how Geordi handled realizing he was blind. That could have been a neat scene.

Matthew: As a story type, this kind of tale is all about shuffling the characters up and seeing what they're made of without baggage. We see that Worf is aggressive, Picar is thoughtful, Riker is a cad, Ro is a horn-dog, and Troi is sensitive - not because of their personal history and station in life, but because of the way they are as people. I absolutely loved the Troi/Riker stuff, especially the book with the loving dedication - and I enjoyed how it was played against Ro. The final scene of the episode was really, really funny. But having been shown that this sort of memory mix-up could lead to romantic entanglements, I wished fervently that Picard and Crusher could have gotten together without the baggage and consequences that weighed them down for the rest of the series. Can you imagine them sharing a love for each other without all of the impediments that hold them back? A blithe, untroubled Picard, not weighed down by the labors of command - pitching woo with a diaphanous, care-free Beverly, untroubled by her own personal loss? I can.

Kevin: Normally I find the "they hate each they must really want to have sex" to be a tad annoying and trope-ish, but it read well here. I like that they were ballsy enough to make Ro physically attracted to him, not pining for him. I think that's what kept it from being stupid. I completely agree on the Troi/Riker front. This would have been a great opportunity for them to get back together, too. Stripped of their history, there is just a deep, comforting bond, and it would have been nice to see that have a longer impact.

Matthew: What I think elevated the story beyond a mere "Naked Now" sort of inhibition-removal was the ethical dimension. Can you follow deadly orders without sufficient moral context? It was really cool to see each character wrestle with this dilemma in their own way. Troi is immediately troubled. Worf is the last one troubled, but comes to the "right" conclusion in the nick of time. It might have been made even better if MacDuff's argument, that thousands or millions of lives might be endangered by prolonging the war, had been faked or emphasized somehow.

Kevin: This is definitely a good ethical outing. The debate being morality and practicality was well done between Picard and MacDuff. I enjoy the conciseness with which later TNG can discuss a moral question. It doesn't bog down the episode or engage in platitudes. We get a nice, efficient sketch of the two positions, both of which are treated thoughtfully and respectfully, and then we get back to watch our character actually deal with the problem. The result is that even in episodes that don't necessarily focus on ethical dilemmas still display them with competence.


Matthew: A big part of the fun of this episode is the obvious fun that the actors have stretching their legs, unbounded by previous character continuity. Both Worf and Ro get to be far less of the "wet blankets" they usually are. Dorn got the chance to command, was suitably arrogant, and then sort of childishly irritated when others interrupted him. His conflict, being wooed by MacDuff and resisting, was nice. Frakes and Forbes had decent chemistry in their romantic dalliance, but that chemistry was of course far outstripped by the rapport that Frakes and Sirtis have. The final scene of the two women busting Riker's balls was really good, and showed the comic timing of all three actors.

Kevin: It was great to see Forbes given the chance to do something other than scowl. I always enjoy watching Dorn wrestle with a question pertaining to his warrior nature. He plays it well and it elevates his character and Klingons in general beyond mere fighters. And I always love a chance for the Troi/Riker relationship to breathe because they portray it so damn well.

Matthew: Sirtis and Stewart did a really good job of showing their growing unease with the "orders" Starfleet had purportedly given them. Stewart's scene with Erich Anderson's Keiran MacDuff was very good, in which they jousted with argument and counter-argument. I would have liked that scene to go on for another minute or two. MacDuff was pretty good, but the performance was undercut by the music and the writing, telling us pretty much immediately that he was a bad guy.

Kevin: Sirtis is definitely a better actress than a lot of the writing gave her credit for in previous seasons. She pitched her growing unease perfectly, and I liked the way it made sense that she would organize the people in Ten Forward without being asked to. To Anderson's credit, he did a lot without a whole lot of backup. I would have liked to see him come back as an actual character.

Production Values

Matthew: There were a bunch of nice models in this show, including a destroyer which looke like a redress of the triangle ship, sentry ships that looked neat, and a great full detail look at the Edo God model. The Edo God model looks every bit as detailed as something like Spacedock, and it was really impressive to see without the blurring effects from "Justice." I wonder if it was souped up for this show. There were lots of neat Enterprise shots, too, with good new camera moves and well-done phaser effects.

Kevin: The Central Command was awesome, and beautifully shot. It looked like it could contain 15,000 people. The moving shot of the Enterprise taking out the sentry pods was great. It had lots of individual parts and movement, but almost no noticeable graininess due to the compositing.

Matthew: The Samarian Sunset was an optical effect for a drink. Let that sink in. I think this shows that the production staff was going all out to fill in the little details with cool stuff. We got another optical on the bridge, with a rear-view of the viewscreen, a detailed starfield, with actors superimposed. We got a shot of Picard in the ready room from outside his window, much like Best of Both Worlds part 2. There were just a lot of little things that added up - the horga'hn in Riker's quarters, the phaser effect on MacDuff which was similar to "Conspiracy."

Kevin: The attention to detail in Riker's quarters, even bringing up the trombone, helped make the episode more enjoyable. I would have loved to see Worf pick up Picard's copy of Shakespeare, assuming it was his. The number and quality of the little effects really marks how far we have come in the series.


Matthew: This is a 4 for me. I readily acknowledge the story issues. There were basic logic questions which nagged at me. But I was so entertained, that I largely forgot them, and none of them are world-breaking issues. It was a really inventive sci-fi plot that created lots of opportunities for fun. The actors ran with it, and the production values were up to the task. I always enjoy this episode when it comes up, and I never skip it. I think that says something about whether it is above average or not.

Kevin: I'm going with a 3. It is highly entertaining, but the over-complicated, not-quite-sensical Satarran plot is just a tad too much for me to be able to give this a higher rating. The acting cements this as a good episode, a more tightly developed problem would have elevated it to "great." That makes a 7 from the both of us.


1 comment:

  1. Ro and Riker being attracted to each other made total sense. Ro is the kind of woman Riker would be attracted to, imo. She is not just some bimbo, but smart, confident and forceful. she doesnt take shit and Ricker likes it that way. it felt very natural.

    I found the Worf taking command part hilarious. It is like no matter where and what he is, he is always stuck in this BATTLE WARRIOR BATTLE GRUNT loop. It's like all his microbrain could process and it was amusing. It became painful obvious why he is not in command. Worf is a soldier, a warrior, he is not a leader. never will be. Not even later in DS9 when he is given command of the Defiant.

    I found it strange seeing Picard at the helm taking orders. it was really odd. His personality didnt match that of someone in a lower rank.