Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Chase”

“The Chase”
Written by Ronald D. Moore & Joe Menosky
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Season 6, Episode 20
Production episode 40276-246
Original air date: April 26, 1993
Stardate: 46731.5

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is in the midst of a three-week exploration of a stellar nursery. Riker summons Picard to the observation lounge—and the captain finds the room darkened, save for one light on an artifact on the table. The lights go up, and Picard is reunited with Professor Richard Galen, the person who got him interested in archaeology back at Starfleet Academy. The artifact is a Kurlan naiskos, which Picard initially identifies as fifth dynasty, but Galen goes into full professorial mode. “Is that your conclusion, Mr. Picard?” (And it’s a testament to how highly Picard thinks of Galen that he allows him to use the honorific of “mister” rather than “captain.”) After some study, Picard realizes that it’s third dynasty and a piece by the mysterious Master of Tarquin Hill, an artist never identified by name, known only through the work. The naiskos is 12,000 years old.

Riker points out that Kurl is very far from Federation territory, and Picard adds that he thought Galen’s Kurlan research was complete, but he was apparently in the neighborhood.

Galen then encourages Picard to open it, at which point Picard is rapturous. There are small figurines inside, symbolizing the community of the Kurlan people, and the many voices that are inside an individual. Finding a naiskos with the figurines intact is exceedingly rare, and Picard is overwhelmed when Galen offers it to the captain as a gift.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

It turns out the naiskos is a bit of a bribe. Galen hasn’t been seen much, either at symposia or in the literature, and many of his scheduled appearances have been cancelled at the last minute. Galen explains to Picard over drinks in Ten-Forward that he made a discovery that was so spectacular that silence was his only recourse. He needs to prove his findings, and he’s close—three months, perhaps a year. He won’t tell Picard what it is unless the captain agrees to come along with him. Galen’s not a young man, and he could use some help.

Picard says he needs to sleep on it. The following morning, he meets Crusher for breakfast. He knows that he can’t do it—his responsibility to the Enterprise is too great—but he hates saying no to Galen. He also explains to Crusher that his and Galen’s relationship was very paternal; Picard’s own father never understood him, nor did Galen’s own children understand him.

When Picard turns Galen down, Galen rips into him. As far as Galen is concerned, he’s just a dilettante, where he could’ve been the finest archaeologist in history. Instead, he’s mapping stars like a Roman centurion patrolling the outer reaches. Galen leaves the ship after that, even though his rendezvous isn’t for another two days, as there’s nothing for him here.

The Enterprise completes the mission to the stellar nursery and proceeds to her next mission, though Picard is mopey. Worf then says there’s a distress call from Galen. His shuttle is under attack by a Yridian vessel. The Enterprise moves to rescue him, but while the Yridians are destroyed by Worf’s phaser fire, Galen himself is killed by a disruptor blast.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

La Forge and Data are able to reconstruct some of Galen’s shuttle computer, which has seemingly random blocks of numbers. Galen had been able to protect some of the data, but not all. According to the shuttle’s logs, Galen went to Ruah IV before coming to see Picard, but when they get there, there’s nothing useful. He had told Picard that his next destination was to be Indri VIII, and Picard orders the Enterprise there.

Indri VIII’s atmosphere is being consumed by a plasma storm of some kind that is wiping out all life on the planet. It’s an odd thing for someone to do—wipe out all life on a neutral uninhabited planet with no strategic value—but it prompts the notion that Galen’s numbers might relate to biological life. Narrowing the search to the biological database, the computer determines that the number blocks represent DNA fragments from species all over the galaxy, but have protein sequences that are uniform. When you link the protein sequences (which, in the case of the one in human DNA, is something that’s been part of life on earth for countless millennia), they form an algorithm. It’s incomplete, but it’s some kind of computer program that was apparently inserted into the primordial soup of at least nineteen worlds.

This, Picard realizes, is what Galen was looking for. Obviously—based on the Yridian attack on Galen and the destruction of Indri VIII—other people know about this. Picard then remembers that Galen had said he was “in the neighborhood” of Kurl when he picked up the naiskos that he gave Picard. He sets a course for the one planet in Kurl space still capable of supporting life, and they arrive to find two Cardassian ships.

While Picard speaks with Gul Ocett, a Klingon battle cruiser decloaks, demanding to know what they’re all doing here. Picard invites Ocett and the Klingon captain, Nu’Daq, on board the Enterprise to discuss their next move. Obviously, they’re all there for the same reason, and Picard puts his cards on the table that they’re all trying to finish Galen’s work. Nu’Daq admits to destroying Indri VIII’s biosphere after taking a biological sample from it, and Ocett makes it clear that if anyone tries to take a similar sample from the planet below, as she has already done, she’ll fire on them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

Nobody has all the fragments, so the only way to determine what the program is—the Cardassians think it a power source, the Klingons a weapon—is to combine the fragments they already have. They agree, but even combining all three gives an incomplete picture. However, they have enough that they might be able to extrapolate the location of the still-missing piece based on where the fragments they have came from. Because they have to compensate for billions of years of stellar drift, it’ll take a while to run that program.

Nu’Daq stays on the Enterprise, and he challenges Data to Klingon arm wrestling, at which Nu’Daq loses rather badly, and then he attempts to bribe Data into giving him the results of the program ahead of time.

The program finishes, and they discover that the missing fragment is at the Rahm-Izad system. Ocett then beams off the Enterprise and fires on both ships before heading there. However, La Forge detected Ocett’s attempt to tamper with the Enterprise’s defensive systems, and so they fed her false information and faked damage. The Klingon ship was less successful at pretending to be damaged, and can’t go anywhere, so Picard offers Nu’Daq passage on the Enterprise to the real source of the missing piece: the Vilmoran system. The second planet is dead now, but it used to support life. Picard, Crusher, Worf, and Nu’Daq transport to a spot where there’s some fossilized plant life.

The Cardassians show up—and so do the Romulans. A Romulan commander intercepted communiqués between the Yridians and Cardassians, and were there, under cloak, when Galen’s shuttle was destroyed. They’ve been shadowing the Enterprise ever since, and now are claiming the final piece of the puzzle.

Ocett threatens to destroy the fossilized plant. She, the Romulan, and Nu’Daq bicker back and forth, while Picard whispers a suggestion to Crusher to scan the bed of what used to be the ocean for biological samples. The final DNA fragment activates the program and emits a hologram from Picard’s tricorder of a humanoid woman, with no hair, small ears, and unformed features. Her people were the first life to exist in this part of the galaxy, and they explored the stars, but found none like themselves. They seeded the primordial oceans of life on many planets, which would result in life very much like them. It was hoped that the peoples of many worlds would come together in fellowship to see this message.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

The Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans are all greatly disappointed that they went through all this for a glorified “Kumbaya” moment—though the Romulan does later take the time to contact Picard with a message of hope before heading home.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Somehow, linking pictures of protein sequences can form a computer program that can alter a tricorder built billions of years after it was written. SCIENCE!

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi tries to cheer Picard up after Galen’s departure with a walk in the arboretum, which is cut off by Galen’s distress call. After Galen’s death, Troi tries and fails to remind Picard that he has duties as a starship captain that supersede a wild goose chase.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s arm-wrestle with Nu’Daq is funny. Nu’Daq’s attempt to head-butt Data afterward is hilarious, as the impact with Data’s very hard head sends the Klingon ass over teakettle. Data also proves difficult to bribe.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf fires on the Yridian ship, destroying it with one shot. It’s never explained how that happened, as Worf himself expresses confusion over it, and then the whole thing is forgotten.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher are still having breakfast together every morning. It’s adorable.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

I Believe I Said That: “As far as we know, it might be a recipe for biscuits.”

“Biscuits? If that is what you believe, than go back to Cardassia. I will send you my mother’s recipe.”

Ocett and Nu’Daq being pissy.

Welcome Aboard. Some fine actors in this: Linda Thorson, probably best known as Tara King on The Avengers alongside Patrick Macnee, plays Ocett—the first adult female Cardassian seen onscreen—while the venerable Norman Lloyd, probably best known as Dr. Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, plays Galen, while Maurice Roëves has gravitas as the Romulan captain.

Two others make their Trek debut here. John Cothran Jr. leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as Nu’Daq. He’ll be back on Deep Space Nine as another Klingon, on Enterprise as a Xindi, and in two videogames, Klingon and Borg (the former as yet another Klingon, the latter in his only human role on Trek). Salome Jens provides something of a warmup for her best-known Trek role as the female changeling on DS9, a role that recurred from season three all the way to the end.

Trivial Matters: Picard spends the entire teaser going on (and on and on) about how amazing the naiskos is, how rare it is, how valuable it is, how old it is, and how stupendously honored he is to be given it as a gift by his mentor/father-figure. So it’s kind of hilarious that, when the Enterprise crashes at the end of Star Trek Generations, Picard casually tosses the naiskos aside atop the wreckage.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

This is the first time humans, Cardassians, Klingons, and Romulans have all appeared together in a single episode. It’ll happen again a lot on DS9, especially once the Dominion War storyline kicks in.

This episode was shown before its airdate at the StarFest convention in Denver in April 1993 to a generally favorable response.

Two of the inspirations for this episode were Carl Sagan’s Contact and (in the early drafts, at least, before Michael Piller and Rick Berman asked Moore and Menosky to tone it down) It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Any resemblance between the ancient humanoid seen at the end of the episode and the Preservers from the original series’ “The Paradise Syndrome” (or Sargon’s people from “Return to Tomorrow”) is purely not-very-coincidental. Co-writer Ronald D. Moore has said that he deliberately left it open so that these were the same Preservers, but didn’t want to state it overtly.

There are apparently seventeen people serving on the Enterprise who are from non-Federation worlds. We know at least two of them: Worf and Ro. One draft of the script had Crusher testing Mr. Mot, which would have established that Bolians aren’t Federation members, either.

The Kurlans will be reference again, in Unjoined by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, the Trill portion of the Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book series, which establishes a link between the Kurlans and the Trill, and shows that the naiskos design was more than metaphorical… (Thanks to Christopher L. Bennett in the comments for the reminder.)

 

Make it So: “You are a monument, not to our greatness, but to our existence.” Until I had to for this rewatch, I have never watched “The Chase” since I saw it the first time. And the reason for this is quite simple: it’s not an episode of Star Trek, it’s a big-ass retcon pretending to be an episode of Star Trek. Worse, it’s an explanation for something that doesn’t even need to be explained. Given the limits of time, budget, and the fact that, y’know, all our actors are human beings, of course the aliens are all going to be at least vaguely humanoid. Even on a show like Farscape, for which the Henson Creature Shop created all manner of fascinating creatures, the vast majority of the aliens we met were people in makeup and/or prosthetics.

And yet, they decided to take an entire episode to explain it. I suppose it’s not as bad as Enterprise, which took two episodes to explain the smooth-forehead Klingons versus the bumpy-forehead Klingons issue, something that had already been perfectly well handled by a brief conversation in the “Trials and Tribble-ations” episode of Deep Space Nine, but still pretty ridiculous. Besides which, the original series already covered this ground, not just in the aforementioned “Return to Tomorrow” and “This Side of Paradise,” but in “Bread and Circuses,” with Kirk’s citation of Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development, and in all three cases actually built a story around it, rather than trying to make a glorified wink at the viewer be the plot.

Watching it again for the first time in two decades, therefore, I was reminded of what was good about the episode: Picard’s relationship with Galen, explicating the former’s love of archaeology (established way back in “Contagion”), but also making it clear that it’s always been a hobby. For Galen, though, it’s an obsession, and he resents Picard for not sharing it. I like that the episode wasn’t afraid to make Picard’s father-figure a flaming asshat. The Kurlan naiskos is a very nifty bit of sculpture, as well, and I like the philosophy behind its design, plus watching Picard geek out over it is an absolute joy to watch.

In addition, the guest casting is superb, from Norman Lloyd selling Galen’s churlishness and brilliance to the nicely understated Maurice Roëves as the never-named Romulan captain to the always-wonderful Linda Thorson kicking ass as our first female Cardassian gul. But the best part of the episode for me is John Cothran Jr. as Nu’Daq. Yes, he’s an obnoxious, stereotypical boisterous Klingon, but he so totally owns that he’s an obnoxious, stereotypical boisterous Klingon. He’s just having so much fun in the role that you can’t help but enjoy his performance. (Well, okay, I can’t help but enjoy it…)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Chase

Sadly, watching it again also reminded me of the bad parts, which are legion, most of them boiling down to how little any of it makes, y’know, sense. First of all, Worf doesn’t know how he destroyed the Yridian ship—and neither does anyone else, nor does anyone seem too concerned about the destruction of a ship full of people. And the whole story depends on the notion that protein sequences can be an algorithm for a computer program, and just the act of putting a graphic of them together on a tiny computing device is enough to create a magical hologram containing a shiny happy message of unity that’s mostly lost on its audience. That sound you hear is my disbelief dying of asphyxiation.

Having said that, the message is a good one, and very Roddenberry. But after all the ridiculous gadding about, I had to agree with Nu’Daq in the end: “That’s it!?”

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido hopes everyone had a great Thanksgiving and has at last digested all their food.

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