Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Time’s Arrow” (Part 1)

“Time’s Arrow” (Part 1)
Written by Joe Menosky and Michael Piller
Directed by Les Landau
Season 5, Episode 26
Production episode 40275-226
Original air date: June 15, 1992
Stardate: 45959.1

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is in orbit of Earth for a rare trip home. An archaeological dig prompted by the installation of new seismic regulators under San Francisco has revealed evidence of extraterrestrial life in the 19th century—the rock in the cavern has been altered by triolic waves, which wouldn’t occur naturally on Earth in the 19th or 24th centuries.

But that’s not the really bizarre part, nor why the Enterprise specifically was summoned. Amidst the various artifacts—a pair of glasses, a Colt revolver, a pocket watch—is Data’s severed head.

They bring the head back to the ship. Data verifies that it’s his head and not Lore’s, and that it’s been in that cavern since the 19th century. Riker, despite knowing Data for five years now, doesn’t understand how he can be dispassionate about examining his own head.

One way or another, though, Data is destined to die in 19th-century San Francisco.

Meanwhile, La Forge has determined some aspects of the alien species that was in that cavern. They are probably shapeshifters, and also immune to triolic waves. He also found a cellular fossil on one of the alien skin cells, and that fossil belongs to a creature found only on Devidia II. Picard tells Riker to lay in a course.

In Ten-Forward, La Forge and Data talk about what they’ve found. (La Forge asks if he wants to talk about it, and Data blithely says that he has no particular desire to discuss it. Then Data asks if La Forge needs to talk about it, and La Forge emphatically says, “Yeah!”) Data muses about the fact that he’s mortal, and actually finds the notion that he will die to be something that brings him closer to being human.

After Data leaves, Guinan comes over and La Forge fills her in. After he leaves, she smiles and says, “Full circle.” Because it’s been a while since Guinan got to be all mysterious and stuff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

They arrive at Devidia II. Worf reads no life signs, but Data’s picking up a temporal disturbance—which isn’t at all problematic given that Data’s death will have to of necessity start with time travel—and there are triolic waves on the surface that match those found in the cavern on Earth. Riker takes an away team down that includes Worf, La Forge, and Troi—and does not include Data. When questioned by Data on the subject, Picard says that this investigation started with Data’s death, and they’re trying to avoid it ending with that.

On the surface, Troi is sensing life: dozens of terrified humans. Data determines that there is synchronic distortion that puts what Troi is sensing out of phase. They’re in the same place, but not the same time. The only phase discriminator they have that is sensitive enough to make that phase shift is in Data’s positronic brain. So he has to join the away team.

After he beams down, he explains that, once he’s shifted, he’ll be just as invisible to the away team, but he’s adjusted his combadge so they can hear him, though they won’t be able to talk to him back. He phases out, and then describes what he sees: several life forms, which are ignoring him. They are bipedal, two-to-three meters in height, silver-gray skin, no eyes or ears, but a single orifice at the forehead. They appear to be ingesting energy pulses from an apparatus. He sees no signs of the humans Troi sensed.

Then he sees an ophidian held by a force field; two of the aliens free the ophidian, and Data reports temporal distortion. There’s a noise, a loud flash of light, and then the phase shifter Data was holding falls to the ground, visible. Of Data, there is no sign.

Data himself wakes up on a cobblestone street, surrounded by humans and horse-drawn carriages. Attempts to ask after two people with a “snake” are met with laughter. A newspaper shows that he’s in San Francisco in August 1893. A beggar assumes that Data’s “in the same boat,” and starts giving him advice on who to hit up. (Stockbrokers are cheap, sailors will beat you up, but a young man might try to impress his lady by being nice to a man down on his luck.)

From a bellhop, Data learns of a poker game. He sells one of the poker players his combadge (which contains gold) for three dollars, which gives him an ante. It isn’t long before he cleans up, giving him enough for a hotel room, clothes, and to give the bellhop a shopping list of stuff he needs to construct something that will sense the bad guys. (He tells the bellhop he’s an inventor.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

Meanwhile, the beggar is approached by a well dressed couple, who zap him with a blue beam that appears to kill him.

Back in the 24th century, they still need to find out what’s going on. Picard instructs La Forge to build a subspace field that will allow an entire team to be out of phase so they can do what Data did. (And they didn’t do this in the first place, why, exactly? Also, if Data’s positronic brain has a sensitive enough phase discriminator, why not use the one in the 500-year-old head that’s sitting in the lab?) Then Guinan informs Picard that he needs to be on the away team—if he isn’t, then he and Guinan will never meet.

In 1893, Data continues to build his scanner, though he allows the bellhop to believe he’s building a motor for a horseless carriage. (The bellhop, whose name is Jack, thinks that’s awesome. “A man rides into town in his pajamas, wins a grubstake at a poker table, turns it into a horseless carriage, and makes a million bucks! That’s America!”) Jack leaves him with a soggy croissant wrapped in a newspaper. Said newspaper has an article about a literary reception, complete with a picture of the woman hosting it: Guinan.

Cut to the reception itself, where Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, is ripping into a natural philosopher named Alfred Russel Wallace, who has allegedly revived the pre-Galileo notion that the Earth is the center of the universe. The character assassination is interrupted by Data, who needs to speak to Guinan urgently. Guinan doesn’t recognize him, and Data realizes that Guinan did not follow him back in time, as he originally assumed, but that this is a younger Guinan visiting Earth. He explains the situation to her—and, unwittingly, to an eavesdropping Samuel Clemens.

Riker has taken down another team, consisting of Worf, La Forge, Troi, and Crusher. La Forge has constructed a device that should allow the away team to phase shift into the same temporal plane as the aliens. Picard beams down, sending Worf back to be in charge of the ship.

La Forge activates the field, and they see what Data earlier described. The aliens are ingesting energy pulses. Those pulses, Troi realizes, are imprints: the last echo of life before they died. A portal opens, and two more aliens come in, carrying an ophidian. They deliver more life energy, then head back through the portal—and the away team follows them through.

To be continued…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Lore’s positronic brain uses a Type-L phase shifter, while Data uses a Type-R. If only they’d known that when Lore switched places with Data in “Datalore”….

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: When Riker is snappish and angry, Troi counsels him by describing Data’s definition of friendship, while also doing a good impersonation of Data (down to the head tilt): “As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent.” (Data used that same definition to Ishara Yar in “Legacy.”) A few minutes later, Riker throws that line back at Data, to which the android responds that he’s fond of Riker and Troi as well.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data is far more philosophical about his impending doom than his friends, who are cranky about it. Data also notices that people suddenly and awkwardly stop conversations around him.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Just to cheer everyone up, Worf tells Riker that they could all have died with Data in that cavern, since their remains would have long since turned to dust.

Syntheholics Anonymous: After getting pissy Guinan in “I, Borg,” things go back to normal as the ship’s bartender is all metaphorical and mysterious and stuff. We also get to meet Guinan when she was 500 years younger, and Whoopi Goldberg plays her beautifully, much more eager and curious.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

I Believe I Said That: “Couldja help out a 49er? I fell down a shaft, I got run over in a tunnel.”

“That is unfortunate.”

“It is most unfortunate. I require large amounts of whiskey as a linament.”

A beggar trying to hit up Data and failing.

Welcome Aboard: Jerry Hardin returns—having played Radue in “When the Bough Breaks”—to play Samuel Clemens, a role he enjoyed so much, he started up a one-man theatrical show, Mark Twain: On Man and His World, which ran on and off for fifteen years. Michael Aron is fairly clichéd in his role of Jack the bellhop (a role that will get more annoying in Part 2), while Jack Murdock is delightful as the 49er down on his luck.

But the most fun is the poker table. Besides veteran Lakota character actor Sheldon Peters Wolfchild as Joe Falling Hawk, we get two guys better known for appearing on Trek with makeup: Ken Thorley, between his two appearances as Mr. Mot the Bolian barber (“Ensign Ro” and forthcoming in “Schisms”), plays the seaman, while Marc Alaimo—an Antican in “Lonely Among Us,” a Romulan in “The Neutral Zone,” a Cardassian in “The Wounded,” and the future Gul Dukat on Deep Space Nine—makes the first of only two appearances on Trek without any makeup as Frederick La Roque (he will also appear sans makeup as a cop in DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars.”)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

Trivial Matters: Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, spent most of the 1890s staving off creditors, in part by doing lecture tours. He had moved his family to Europe by 1893 due to the cheaper standard of living, and a lot of his speaking engagements were on the other side of the Atlantic. It is, therefore, extremely unlikely that he was in San Francisco in August of that year.

Alfred Russel Wallace was an early proponent of evolutionary theory, and was actually a respected practitioner of the biological sciences of the time. He’s not known to have said much of anything about the Earth’s place in the cosmos, so Clemens ripping into him for it makes little sense. What’s amusing is that Wallace also was a supporter of mesmerism and spiritualism, even defending spiritualists against charges of fraud, and that is something Clemens would’ve gleefully ripped into.

The producers had not planned to do another season-spanning cliffhanger, but with the announcement that they were developing a spinoff series (Deep Space Nine), rumors started that TNG was closing up shop. So they did a cliffhanger to reassure viewers that TNG was also coming back for a sixth season.

Guinan’s statement to Wes in “The Child” that she never met Picard before reporting to the Enterprise is now confirmed to be a big, fat lie (on more than one level).

Make it So:Alors, nous sommes presque frères.” The diminishing cliffhangers continue, as this episode isn’t even worthy of a season-ending two-parter, and has to win some kind of award for least exciting cliffhanger ever, as we end the season with our heroes walking forward. Ooooh, scary.

This episode has a lot of great moments, but it doesn’t really add up to anything. Data and La Forge’s conversation about his mortality is very nicely done, as are Riker and Troi’s similar talk and Picard declaring to Data that, dammit, he’ll be irrational if he wants to. The poker scene is a hoot, watching Whoopi Goldberg play Guinan as the equivalent of an overeager 20-year-old is delightful, and Jerry Hardin leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as Clemens. (Though one wishes they had gotten Hal Holbrook, who has been doing one-man Mark Twain shows since 1954.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

It’s also very entertaining to watch Data totally own the 19th century. After all those original series episodes where Kirk and the gang struggled to blend in (e.g., the mechanical rice-picker bit from “City on the Edge of Forever”), it’s wonderful to see how easily Data manages to assimilate, without ever losing his innate Data-ness. (The bit where he hefts the anvil one-handed and then remembers that Jack’s still there is hilariously done.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Time's Arrow (Part 1)

Although, speaking of “City…,” I can’t have been the only one wanting Data to tell Jack that he was building a mnemonic circuit from stone knives and bearskins….

But the episode is entirely setup with nothing even remotely resembling a payoff. Adding Mark Twain to the proceedings seems forced (this will be exacerbated in Part 2 when we find out who Jack is), we’re blithely told that a dark-skinned woman would be running a literary salon for the hoi-polloi in 1893 San Francisco (admittedly, San Francisco was already a bastion of flamboyance and support of the arts in the post-Gold Rush years, so it’s possible, but at the very least, the newspaper report would describe it as being run by a “negress” or some other such description that modern eyes would view as racist), and Data’s odyssey feels less like it’s taking place in 1893 San Francisco and more like it’s on a Hollywood back lot. (Seriously, it’s a hilly port town, yet all the land is flat and we never once see water. It’s like setting a story in Venice and never seeing a canal.)


Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes Star Trek a happy 46th anniversary. To celebrate, check out today’s Google doodle. Be sure to make the tribbles fall out of the hatch in the transporter room….


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