Star Trek The Next Generation: Time’s Arrow, Part 1

“Poker?”

It’s hard to write a cliffhanger. Even harder to write a time-travel episode involving the possible death of a beloved character. Often in this kind of story, tone is the hardest thing to nail. So while this is a decent set-up and had some nice character moments. I don’t know if it works all that well.

The starting point is a little strange. The Enterprise is brought to Earth where Picard visits with an archaeologist in a well-defined cave in San Francisco that remained completely untouched since the 1890’s. Inside are a few bobbles from the 19th century, oh and Data’s severed head (you think he would've led with that one). I mean, this is really one of the thinnest set-ups I've seen on the show, and it rather defies logic. But setting that aside, finding Data's head is an interesting idea (if not somewhat shocking, which I believe was the point).

So the crew quickly solve the when and where, with Geordi and Data spouting out some serious technobabble. We also get some nice character stuff about the crew trying (and failing) to deal with the idea of losing Data. I especially liked Picard's attempt to protect Data which was sweet. Then there was Riker expressing his anger about the situation to Troi, and running into Data on the turbolift. What I found the most interesting was Data's take on it, that it gave him a sense or mortality for the first time, bringing him one step closer to humanity.

The stuff in the 1890’s was also strong, with Data pulling a Spock in "City on the Edge of Forever" building a futuristic machine using an anvil, or as Spock would say, "Stone knives and bearskins" and Data’s foreign persona French instead of Chinese (like Spock). He makes a quick ally in a kid working as the bellhop at a local hotel, and he makes money playing poker (instead of working in a soup kitchen).

What breaks the story from just being one long homage to "City on the Edge of Forever" is when Data discovers that Guinan is also in the past with him. Except this is the Guinan of the past, who has no idea who Data is. I loved when she played along when he mentioned that he came on a starship, since she is also an alien stranger in a strange land. Of course Samuel Clemens was there, and eavesdropped on their conversation (which probably breaks some kind of temporal laws with Data just outright saying to Guinan what her future would be).

The villains were probably the most disappointing, while intriguing in one sense, in that they were basically a riff on the Borg – alien creatures that ignore our heroes as they investigate them, siphoning humanity for their own ends. Except they were nowhere near as intimidating as the cyborg monsters. The glowy blobs looked terrible, and even though Troi was upset, I didn’t get a feeling of urgency from the crew about the threat to humanity (despite Picard putting up a front, they were all more concerned about Data). Leaving us on a cliffhanger built on unknown adventure rather than peril.

Bits:

The 49er was played by Jack Murdock, who wasn't a household name but was a familiar face, having played many 'Grandpa' roles throughout his career.

Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat) makes a small appearance as a gambler named Frederick La Rouque during Data's card game.

Jerry Hardin (Samuel Clemens) was on TNG before in the episode "When the Bough Breaks."  He also guest starred on Voyager. He was probably best known as the "Deep Throat" character on X-Files, but has been in dozens of television roles.

Quotes:

Troi: "How did he put it... (impersonating Data) 'As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent'."

Riker: "It's just that our mental pathways have become accustomed to your sensory input patterns."
Data: "Ah. I believe I understand. I am fond of you as well, Commander. And you too, Counselor."

Riker: "Your head is not an artifact!"

Geordi: "I never knew how tough this must be for you."
Data: "Tough? As in difficult?"
Geordi: "Knowing that you would outlive all your friends."
Data: "I expected to make new friends."
Geordi: "True."
Data: "And then to outlive them as well."

Data: "It provides a sense of completion to my future. In a way, I am not that different from anyone else. I can now look forward to death."

Guinan: "Do you remember the first time we met?"
Picard: "Of course."
Guinan: "Don't be so sure. I just mean... if you don't go on this mission, we'll never meet."

While a decent start, it would be difficult to judge this episode without the second part because it really doesn't stand on its own. Two out of four anvils and poker games.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I just rewatched, and I enjoyed this one. Mostly because I really love Brent Spiner and it was a lot of fun watching him (1) come to terms with his own mortality, and (2) deal with being stranded alone in 19th century Earth.

I wonder if the writers were suggesting that Mark Twain got the idea for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court from his accidental stumbling over the existence of time travel? I haven't rewatched part 2 yet so I don't remember if this comes up.