Star Trek The Next Generation: Time's Arrow, Part 2

"My god, it's an invasion!"

Not bad. But not great.

See, the thing is, Star Trek has done some amazing things with time travel, and "Time's Arrow" suffers in comparison. It's not touching time travel tragedy like "Yesterday's Enterprise" or "City on the Edge of Forever," or even witty and intriguing, like "Cause and Effect" or The Voyage Home. "Time's Arrow" is... fluffy. Nothing major happens. It's mostly about the cast in terrific costumes running around 1893 San Francisco. But I guess there's nothing wrong with that.

While "Time's Arrow, Part 1" centered on Data, "Part 2" was more about Samuel Clemens, played with crotchety perfection by character actor Jerry Hardin. Determined to believe the worst of these strange futuristic people, Clemens comes to the conclusion that our heroes are invaders and enemies of humanity, and he actively tries to prevent them from stopping the soul-sucking snake-handling killer aliens.

In fact, Clemens threw himself into the battle so enthusiastically that he followed the crew through a rip in time to Devidia II, and from there all the way to the Enterprise. It was fun to see Clemens slowly realize that the Federation was a force for good, and that alien crewmembers weren't enslaved. (And that Worf wasn't a werewolf.)

But that left us with a huge plot hole. How could they let a brilliant, famous man with so much knowledge of the future go back to his own time with his memory intact? They addressed this a little, when the reporter refused to take Clemens' ranting seriously because he thought Clemens was seeking publicity because he was writing another time travel novel, but it still felt like a mistake. And the bellboy turning out to be Jack London was just so predictable. It's become a television trope that if you meet an interesting minor character in a time travel story, it will turn out to be someone famous. Quantum Leap did it repeatedly, and a good bit better.

Plus, the motivation and disposition of the bad guys was never adequately explained. I honestly thought that the Enterprise crew would find a way to feed the aliens yummy artificial neural energy or something so that they wouldn't have to kill people anymore, which would have been very in keeping with the principles and philosophy of Star Trek. But no. And why were the aliens going back in time for their lunch in the first place? Did they ever explain this? Why didn't they find a local planet in the present day and eat the people there?

Where this episode succeeded was in finally giving us a backstory about Picard's friendship with Guinan, something they'd been teasing us with for years. I loved seeing them meet for the first time; Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg were wonderful in that scene. I also loved the knowing smile she gave him when he sought her out afterward in Ten Forward. Adorableness.

And the costumes! I'm not into fashion even a little bit, but the 1893 costumes were special: Riker's police uniform, Troi's fancy dress, Geordi's orange tie (and the way he kept hiding his VISOR), Crusher in the nurse's uniform. I particularly liked the shabby, more casual outfit that Picard was wearing; it suited him, so to speak. And best of all, I loved it when their landlady Mrs. Carmichael walked in on them and they all pulled out their Shakespeares and started rehearsing. That was my second favorite moment in the entire two-parter. (After Picard and Guinan meeting for the first time.)

Mrs. Carmichael called Picard a "silver-tongued devil." She got that right.

Bits:

— Stardate: 1893. The credits changed just a bit; the flashy Superman credits thing with the blue neon is gone.

— Samuel Clemens did indeed write a famous time travel novel: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

— So it was simplistic. I liked that the solution to Data's abandoned 500-year-old head was to simply pop it back on his body and tune him up. And I liked Picard sending them a binary message via the head using an iron filing.


Quotes:

Clemens: (to young Jack London) "Young man, I have a maxim that I have always lived by: no one is more qualified to write your story than you are."

Guinan: "Do you know me?"
Picard: "Very well."
Guinan: "Do I know you?"
Picard: "Not yet, but you will."

Clemens: "Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace and power is an end unto itself. And you're telling me that isn't how it is anymore?"
Troi: "That's right."
Clemens: "Hmm. Maybe it's worth giving up cigars for, after all."

Guinan: "I'll see you in five hundred years, Picard."
Picard: "And I'll see you... in a few minutes."

So it was fluff. It was good fluff. Three out of four 19th century costumes,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Heather1 said...

I have always had a fondness for this two-parter. I agree entirely with your assessment, Billie. Your conclusion is bang on... it's fluff. But it's fluff I always enjoy. I get such a kick out of Guinan meeting everyone, especially Picard, for the first time back in that time... their mutual recognition of each being from somewhere else... the inevitable smile from her to Picard after the mission is over... Data attempting to fix his situation much like Spock did in "City on the Edge of Forever" (but without the inevitable and looming tragedy). Simply put, I always find this two-part episode fun.

When they invite the landlady to help with the play and flatter her acting, I usually wonder why she falls for something so obvious... but... it's fun that she does.

On another slightly different note, I always get a kick out of time travel stories where travellers meet up and recognize one another (even the aliens in this episode). There's something almost "network of travellers" about it that appeals to me. I had originally written "community of travellers" but that implies a brotherhood of sorts; people brought together and who bond over common purpose. This was obviously not the case between the aliens and our travellers. But a network, to me, implies that this goes on, that travellers may be all around. And that idea appeals to me. This episode, even though it is total fluff, had much of that.