Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: The Next Phase

The Next Generation, Season 5
"The Next Phase"
Airdate: May 18, 1992
123 of 176 produced
123 of 176 aired


The Enterprise races to respond to a Romulan distress call, sent by a small vessel whose warp core is threatening to breach. But when Geordi and Ro attempt to beam back home, there is an accident, and they are assumed dead by their comrades. Far from being dead, they have rematerialized on the Enterprise, having been rendered immaterial and invisible by some strange phenomenon. Now, not only must they discover how to rejoin the world of the solid and living, they must also prevent the Enterprise from being destroyed!

Hello.... is it me you're looking for?


Matthew: Beyond an attempt to tell an interesting sci-fi story, this episode also serves the purpose of elaborating on and softening Ro just a bit. I think it does a pretty decent job of this. We learn about Boryhas, the Bajoran spirits of the dead, and Ro's shaky faith in Bajoran mysticism. This is really nice for her character, and for the universe in general. Religion and its place in the Trek universe hasn't been discussed, well, basically at all, except for a few dismissive references to old superstitions. It's never been acknowledged as something hat might actually be important to anyone. I do wish they had gone further by contrasting her attitude with Geordi's, whatever it may have been (presumably a secular humanist science-centered attitude, but who knows?).

Kevin: I enjoyed the very natural way Ro's faith was incorporated into her character. It's not that hard to imagine someone who, while not necessarily believing the tenets of her faith on their face, is still not entirely being able to reject their inherent cultural pull. Overall, Ro has been the most interesting when she's most vulnerable, as it is inherently interesting to see a strong person deal with uncertainty, and she's at her least successful when she is just being loud or stubborn. So I think the episode's success owes a lot to how complicated a character Ro is portrayed to be.

Matthew: On the science fiction front, we get a riff on "The Tholian Web," combined with a sort of inverted ghost story. Like that TOS episode, we see the crew deal with the apparent loss of their friends. This was easily the highlight of the show. Seeing Data reflect on his best friend, and the crew grapple with how to remember their comrades, was really great. As for the ghosts, we are treated to a mystery over whether they're really dead or not. I wish that mystery had been drawn out a bit more. I think there could have been a lot of neat stuff if things had lasted more than two days. How and what would they eat and drink? If nothing, the starvation drama would have been interesting. How would it affect them, psychologically? Why doesn't Geordi go spy on Christie Henshaw in the sonic shower? I think this could have been an interesting opportunity to get each character some tail, too. Ro strikes me as a rather sexual character, given her tryst with Commander Riker. She could have propositioned Geordi, with him being the more sensitive and demure of the two.

Kevin: I agree. It would have been interesting to see them deal longer with their predicament without knowing they were really alive. Without veering into creepy predator territory for Geordi, we really could have seen some interesting stuff. The fake-out on Riker's eulogy could have been taken a step further. What if they had learned something they weren't supposed to? I enjoyed the sense of friendship the show portrayed between Geordi and Ro by the end, but I think it could have been fun to see their relationship changed by the experience.

Matthew: It's always fun to see the Romulans, and it's cool that this phasing cloak idea was reprised in "The Pegasus." I did kind of wonder where the Romulans were such that the Enterprise would be in a position to help them. Either way, Romulans double crossing humans makes for good drama, and the eventual reveal of the phased Romulan was cool. It raised technical questions, though.The Romulan meets his end by being pushed out into space through a bulkhead. OK... why don't people fall through floors and ceilings, then? If phased bodies can pass through metal, how can phased lungs metabolize oxygen? I think a sentence or two about the floors, with some proposed mechanism for gravity generation, would have been really good. It even could have provided a better "solution" to their troubles. Maybe the gravity plating could be called a Higgs Field Generator, and the fact that their bodies were still affected by Higgs Fields would tell them that they were still corporeal. We could have learned something about the ship at the same time as seeing the characters solve their predicament. I think this would have been an improvement on "anyon emissions" zapping them back.

Kevin: I basically lumped that all together and decided I couldn't think about it too hard. A few lines about the nature of the problem could have gone a long way, or it could have made it worse, so in the end, I'm not too bothered. The episode is entertaining and well paced, and that goes a long way for me. I did think about these problems, but I didn't get too wrapped up in them until the episode was over.

Matthew: Some questions - While I understand the necessity to demonstrate on screen the characters' ability to phase though objects, I question whether people who have walked around objects for thirty-plus years would so quickly get into the habit of walking through them. Can Counselor Troi sense individual life signs? Picard seems to think she can. How does Ro know how to overload a Romulan disruptor? Does the universal translator work while phased, allowing the Romulan to talk to our heroes? Why would only a level 3 diagnostic detect a muon wave? Is each type of diagnostic a separate suite of tasks, as opposed to an escalating series of tests? If not, that means that higher numbers mean more comprehensive diagnostics.

Kevin: Well, in Nemesis, she could apparently detect life well enough to aim, so that element could have been explored. My questions were more about the Romulan elements of the plot. If they were really testing a super-duper extra-secret engine and the Feds showed up, wouldn't they have self-destructed? Isn't the attempt to destroy the Enterprise a pretty blunt act of war? It doesn't derail the episode, but the Romulans are the most fun when the interstellar politics are clear and credible.


Matthew: As a Ro and Geordi spotlight, this episode of course leans heavily on the contributions of Forbes and Burton. Well, there has never been a doubt about Burton. But Forbes also really delivers. Her final scene, discussing the arrogance of having dismissed her culture's teachings, was really good - until the laugh to the credits anyway (it was held for about 2 beats too long). Burton yet again switches effortlessly between technobabble and dramatics. He is a total leading man.

Kevin: I thought the laugh-out was pretty good. As a sarcastic nerd, I often punctuate moments of genuine emotional import with a zinger. I liked the banter they had together. He seems to have gotten over his initial antipathy, but they are not friends, just colleagues. Still, the intense situation still produced some great scenes between the two.

Matthew: Stewart, Dorn, and Spiner all get juicy scenes talking about the departed. Dorn and Spiner in the shuttle scene were really, really good. When Data talks about Geordi being his best friend, it's genuinely touching. When Worf talks about the happiness he feels for a fallen comrade, it isn't so much moving as fascinating, creating a cultural divide between us and him. Stewart talking in the turbolift about Geordi actually made me feel a little verklempt, possibly because I knew how I would feel if someone had expressed that level of pride in me.

Kevin: This is something season 5 has gotten really, really good at. The actors who are on screen for only a few moments say something that is completely in keeping with their established characters and helps build the episode without pulling focus from the main story. Spiner nailed again the ability to inspire the emotions he can't have, and as always, it's a treat.

Matthew: The Romulans were good, especially Susanna Thompson. We haven't been keeping track, but I think she may be the sexiest Romulan. Yes, even sexier than the wonderful Carolyn Seymour. Thompson has a real life behind her eyes, and really enlivened an otherwise bit part. Another acting note - everyone did a really good job of not noticing the "phased" characters despite their being in the room. By the way, Shelby Leverington was good as Chief Brossmer. She almost made me forget that Chief O'Brien wasn't delivering the lines.

Production Values

Matthew: The ship is a re-use of the scout vessel from "The Defector." It's a nice design, and the exterior model shots, with energy beams and explosions, are done well. They're not best of breed effects, but they're more than adequate.

Kevin: I appreciated the choice of using the scout instead of a warbird. It made sense with the story.

Matthew: The real technical bread and butter of this show are phasing effects. While I'm not going to claim that the extra grain during a composited effects shot isn't noticeable, it is very subtle, and overall these are the best composited "not really there" effects we've seen.  The lighting was well done on the composited characters, making me suspect that two motion controlled passes were filmed for each scene - one with "phased" characters, one without. There was a particularly impressive technical shot, right at the end, where in one take, the camera passes around non-phased characters and sees the phased characters go from invisible to visible. Creative shots like that subconsciously tell the viewer that all is normal - it's when things get unusually static that people begin to suspect that something is up. Anyway, it was all pretty seamless.

Kevin: The show started as a bottle show, but ended up being one of the most expensive of the season, and it shows. More modern technology may have made these effects easier, but they really made the most of what the had. I was never pulled out of the moment by any of the effects, and a few of them, like the ones you pointed out, were really neat.


Matthew: Although I have caveats and extra wishes for plot and idea development, overall this episode is very brisk and entertaining. Had it gone for a more full-on "Twilight Zone" sort of vibe, it might be a 5. But as it stands, it has good character writing, excellent acting, and good effects. So I'll call it a 4.

Kevin: This episode is one of the quintessential breeds of 4. It's a fun, well-executed episode, but doesn't really reach for any of the big ideas that mark a 5. This episode is really fun to watch, and I always enjoy it when it's on. That makes a total of 8 from the both of us.


A note about the podcast. We tried (emphasis on tried) to have a guest podcaster, Kevin C. Neece from the Undiscovered Country Project, a blog discussing Star Trek from a Christian perspective, but unfortunately, about ten minutes in, he was phased out of our plane of reality by our malfunctioning cloaking device (read: his internet connection died), and we were unable to get the anyon beam online in time to get him back in the podcast, so that's why he disappears in the middle of the podcast. We will have him back for another podcast in the future. Until then, today's podcast is here for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

1 comment:

  1. Ergh! INCLUDE ME ON YOUR PODCASTS! This is another of my faves!