Star Trek The Next Generation: The Neutral Zone

Sonny: "What's this 'Neutral Zone'?"
Data: "It is a buffer between the Romulan Empire and the Federation."
Sonny: "Why does that make me nervous?"

Several Federation outposts near the Romulan Neutral Zone have been destroyed, and only one ship is sent to deal with it. Guess who? Meanwhile, two stereotypical caricatures and a woman are found frozen in an abandoned Earth capsule and brought on board by Data, whose reactions to the defrosted people were probably the best part of the episode.

This was the first appearance of Romulans in Next Generation, even though they were mentioned earlier in the season. (It's interesting that the Romulans are such memorable villains, but they appeared only twice in the original series -- in "Balance of Terror" and "The Enterprise Incident".)

Picard stated that he would rather out-think the Romulans than out-fight them, and that's exactly what he did. The agreement between Picard and the Romulan commander to cooperate when dealing with a mutual, powerful and unknown enemy was the most interesting development in an episode that was supposed to be a two-parter. Unfortunately, the conclusion was deep-sixed by the writers strike, and we never found out who or what destroyed the outposts. (Until we find out later in season two, and I won't say more and spoil you.)

So I was watching this episode that I didn't remember very well (season one doesn't occupy a prominent spot in my memory), the Romulans showed up, and I'm going, "Wait. Is that Gul Dukat?" And yes, it was Marc Alaimo playing Tebok, the first Romulan on Next Generation. Alaimo later played the first Cardassian character on Next Gen, too, before landing on Deep Space Nine as the long-running Cardassian character, Gul Dukat. In fact, the Cardassian make-up was originally developed for Marc Alaimo, who had a prominent neck. I really loved that the Star Trek powers that be kept bringing back actors they liked as different alien characters. (Alaimo also had a small part in "Lonely Among Us", earlier this season.)

Even though the Romulan plot was more interesting, the plight of the human popsicles took up most of the screen time. It was a good enough story idea that it should have gotten an episode of its own, but it was so poorly executed that it was occasionally cringeworthy. There was Ralph Offenhouse, a dislikeable Wall Street jerk who treated Picard like the inept captain of a cruise ship. There was L.Q. Sonny Clemonds of the exaggerated Texas accent, who died of alcoholism and spent most of his screen time trying to get a party started. Picard and Crusher treated both Ralph and Sonny with condescending superiority and disdain, as in hey, back in the 21st, people cared about money, got drunk and feared death. How antiquated.

Ralph Offenhouse was so intrusive and inquisitive that he got to witness the tense parley on the bridge with the Romulans. Ralph even correctly assessed that the Romulans were bluffing. (Vulcans never bluff but apparently, Romulans do.) And at least Sonny had the good taste to be interested in partying with Data, although he loses points for smacking Crusher on the ass.

Counselor Troi actually got to do her job for once counseling the third popsicle, Clare, who was the only one that seemed to care about the people and the life that she had left behind. Troi also did the practical thing by helping Clare discover what happened to her family, although I think I would have looked them up privately first before sharing the results with my patient. What if something terrible had happened to her kids?

I can't help but wonder what this episode and its second part would have been like if weren't for the writers strike. As it stands, "The Neutral Zone" makes for a poor and pointless season ender. I kept getting easily distracted while watching it, and later got distracted again while writing my review. That's never a good sign.

But hey, at least we got through season one. And we all know it gets a lot better.

Bits and pieces:

-- Stardate 41986.0. Around and about the Romulan Neutral Zone. The captain's log was posted by Riker. Was that the first time?

-- They actually gave the year in our terms, which was 2364.

-- Gorgeous Romulan warbird. Huge, too.

-- Clare's reaction to her first sight of Worf was amusing, a nice callback to the way 20th century people reacted to their first sight of Spock back in the original series.

-- Worf nearly walking into the capsule wall was almost funny. But are automated doors universal? So to speak?

-- Worf again detailed his hatred of the Romulans, because Khitomer. Tebok, the Romulan commander, countered by referring to Worf as Picard's dog.

-- Cryonics lost money because of power outages and defrosting, and didn't last long as a fad. Ted Williams will be sorry to hear that.

-- The screenshot that Troi showed Clare had the names of the actors who played Doctor Who. (Thank you, Memory Alpha.)

-- Peter Mark Richman (Ralph Offenhouse) has had a lengthy acting career guest starring on practically every classic television series ever made.


Picard: "Data, they were already dead. What more could have happened to them?"

Data: "Clare Raymond. Age, 35. Occupation, 'homemaker'. Must be some kind of construction work."

Ralph: "I need to make a phone call as soon as possible."

Picard: "That sounds like someone who hated life, yet he had himself frozen presumably so he could go through it all again."
Crusher: "Too afraid to live, too scared to die."

Sonny: "You know son, I just figured it was all a bunch a hooey."
Data: "Hooey. As in hogwash, malarkey, jive, an intentional fabrication."
I loved the way Brent Spiner perfectly mimicked Sonny's pronunciation of the word "hooey."

Sonny: "What do you guys do? I mean, you don't drink and you ain't got no teevee."
It's sad to think that television will only last until 2040. I'm going to theorize that it just moved online permanently. People need their stories.

Sonny: "Why don't you come back later on, and you and me'll find us a couple of low-mileage pit woofies and help them build a memory?"

Ralph: "This is the worst run ship I have ever been on. You should take lessons from the QE2. Now that's an efficient operation."

Sigh. Two out of four low mileage pit woofies,

Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.


Billie Doux said...

Programming note: Team Star Trek is taking a holiday break. We'll begin posting season two reviews on January 10.

Juliette said...

I watched this a few months back, but had no memory of it at all until I read your review, Billie. However, I hadn't noticed the gag with the Doctor Who actors - that is brilliant! Worth the price of admission alone. All same-sex couples presumably as well, since that's a family tree.

JimGfromWI said...

Wow, I never knew anything about that Doctor Who screenshot either - that's hilarious! These reviews bring back a lot of memories - I did not watch season 1 as it aired, for a number of reasons, but after season 1, it went on to become one of my favorite shows. Great job on the reviews, Trek Reviewer team! Hmm, got to come up with some catchy name there. Anyway, really looking forward to season 2 - and 3 through 7 - reviews. Keep up the great work! And Happy Holidays!

Monophylos Fortikos said...

I only recently stumbled across this site and its entertaining Trek reviews, during one of my periodic oscillations of interest in Star Trek. So many things I'd love to comment on but I think I'll keep myself restrained only to the most recent TNG reviews.

A few years ago I ploughed through a bunch of TNG episodes, trying to keep up with the TNG rewatch articles on "The Viewscreen" (which have sadly slowed in pace), and I had to agree with Torie Atkinson's opinion that the episode would have been more interesting if the "A-plot" involving the frozen 20th-century people were cut down from three survivors to just one, Clare. She was the only one of the three who wasn't treated completely as a bad joke, although she still gets lumped in with all the others as backward losers.

You know what? Sonny had a point there about what passes for entertainment in TNG. What entertainments we're shown during the run of the show are so limited in scope. Classical music recitals seem to make up about three-fourths of them.

Ah, well. "The Neutral Zone" was a fitting bookend to the first season of TNG, really: it began with an episode full of inflated and stilted proclamations about the 24th century's moral superiority, and ended much the same way.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks, guys. I wouldn't have noticed the Doctor Who names at all if they hadn't been mentioned at Memory Alpha. That's definitely one of the advantages of reviewing a classic show -- I can check around and see if there's something important or fun that I missed.

Monophylos Fortikos, thanks for your comment, and welcome to the site! I like The Viewscreen, too. I thought they did a terrific job with the original series. Even when I don't agree with their opinions and ratings (although I usually do), their stuff is exceptionally well written. It's too bad they haven't gotten further with Next Gen. Although by the time we get to where they are, maybe they'll have zipped ahead. They have a much bigger audience than we do. Darn it. :)

drnanamom said...

Farewell Season 1. Thanks for the review Billie. It is so obvious that the writers are trying to find their way during this season -lots of good ideas that just weren't executed that well and this episode is another example. The 'human popsicles' (that made me laugh) could have been used much more effectively. It was like having ourselves on the ship - well for some of us our younger selves. Oh well, on to season two!