“Force of Nature”
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Robert Lederman
Season 7, Episode 9
Production episode 40276-261
Original air date: November 15, 1993
Captain’s Log: La Forge has borrowed Spot, Data’s cat, to see if he wants a cat of his own. It proves something of a disaster, as Spot breaks a vase, ruins a chair by using it as a scratching post, and coughs hairballs all over the carpet. Data points out, rightly, that this is normal cat behavior. La Forge feels that Data should consider trying to train the cat, which proves he’s never had one….
The Enterprise is searching for the Fleming, a medical transport that was lost in a region of space littered with tetryons. The only way to navigate the region is through the Hekaras Corridor—a narrow band of space free of tetryons. The Hekarans have reported only a Ferengi ship in the region. Since the Fleming was carrying bio-mimetic gel—which is valuable—it’s possible the Ferengi are engaged in some piracy.
Sensor efficiency is off, so La Forge and Data start crawling around Jefferies Tubes to figure out the problem. They also discuss cat-training methods, ranging from a phaser on stun to a piece of tuna in a shirt.
The Enterprise comes across the same Ferengi ship the Hekarans reported, but their engines and communications are down. However, they were playing possum, and fire on the Enterprise when it gets close enough. The DaiMon claims to have been defending himself; they encountered a Federation buoy in the corridor that damaged their ship with a verteron pulse. Picard agrees to send a damage control team over to assist with repairs, in exchange for information the Ferengi might have about the Fleming, which the DaiMon says he encountered days earlier.
La Forge interrupts one of Data’s cat-training sessions—which isn’t going as well as one might hope—to ask for help with the power conversion rates on the ship. La Forge is in competition with his Academy-mate, Commander Kaplan of the Intrepid, to see who can get their conversion rate highest.
The Enterprise finds a debris field that might be all that is left of the Fleming. While investigating, a small object emits a verteron pulse, just like what the Ferengi reported. Picard raises shields, but it doesn’t help—the pulse kills shields, warp engines, and all subspace systems. A small ship approaches and beams its two inhabitants into engineering.
Rabal and Serova are two Hekaran scientists who insist that the constant use of warp fields is destroying their homeworld. The Federation Science Council rejected their findings years ago, but Serova says that was a preliminary report. They’ve been mining the corridor with verteron pulses that only disable ships without harming anybody. They agree to assist La Forge in repairing the ship—since it was their mine, they know exactly how to fix it and can cut a day off the repair time—and remove the mines, and also aid in trying to locate the Fleming (apparently the debris field wasn’t that ship). In exchange for that, Picard agrees to have Data look over their report.
Serova’s studies show that constant creation of warp fields are damaging space in the region. Picard analogizes is to pacing over the same bit of carpet—eventually you wear it down. In this case, the fraying carpet will cause subspace to extrude into normal space, which would be bad.
However, Data says that there’s insufficient evidence to prove the theory. Picard and Data are both willing to get the Science Council to send a ship to do more detailed research. Rabal is grateful, but Serova just sees this as yet another delay. She returns to her ship and leaves without Rabal. She causes a warp core breach, which creates the very subspace rift she predicted—and also kills her. To make matters worse, the Fleming is now trapped inside the rift. It’s safe for now, but the Enterprise needs to figure out a way to rescue it without using warp drive, which would just expand the rift. Unfortunately, the rift is far enough away that it would take weeks to get there at impulse. Rabal works with Data and La Forge to try to figure out a way to get to the Fleming.
Data comes up with a solution involving a warp pulse and then coasting into the rift without actually using the warp engines. While he sets that up, La Forge talks to Rabal. La Forge wonders if he missed something, but Rabal assures him that he didn’t—what they needed was time, and Serova wasn’t willing to wait.
They engage the rescue, but while they’re en route, the Fleming engages their warp drive, not realizing the damage that would do. The Fleming is badly damaged, and the rift is now larger, so that the Enterprise’s momentum is no longer enough to get out. La Forge suggests riding one of the rift’s distortion waves out of the rift. The first time they try it, it fails, because there’s still time left in the act, but it does work the second time.
The Federation Council decrees that all Federation ships must limit themselves to warp five in order to minimize the potential damage.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Repeated use of greenhouse gases—sorry, warp drive in the Hekaras Corridor is apparently wearing holes in the ozone layer—sorry, subspace fields.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi doesn’t show up until the end, but she points out quite rightly that it is extremely unlikely that the Ferengi and Cardassians will obey this new speed limit.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf disables the Ferengi ship with little difficulty. He also is unrealistically optimistic that the Klingon Empire will obey the new speed limit, and more realistically pessimistic about the likelihood of the Romulan Empire so doing.
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s cat Spot suddenly becomes female in this episode. This is never explained, but it is sustained in “Genesis,” when Spot becomes pregnant.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Gates is at conn this episode, though she isn’t named, and all her dialogue happens off-camera so they don’t have to pay the extra playing her for dialogue, instead using prerecorded ADR of a female voice saying, “Aye, sir.”
I Believe I Said That: “How about a phaser? A low stun setting at just the right moment might do the trick.”
“Geordi, I cannot stun my cat.”
La Forge giving perfectly good cat-training advice and Data rejecting it out of hand.
Welcome Aboard: Lee Arenberg plays the second of three Ferengi he’ll play on Trek, having been Gral on Deep Space Nine’s “The Nagus.” He’ll return later this season to be the second person to play DaiMon Bok in “Bloodlines,” and he’ll also appear on Voyager (“Juggernaut”) and Enterprise (“Babel One” and “United”) as, respectively, a Malon and a Tellarite. (Lee’s also a friend of your humble rewatcher, and both of us will be guests at Farpoint 2013 next month.)
Michael Corbett and Margaret Reed create no impression whatsoever as Rabal and Serova, which is too bad, as more emotion and personality from either of these two might have made the episode more compelling.
Trivial Matters: The warp speed limit will be referenced twice more, in “The Pegasus” and “Eye of the Beholder” (just long enough for it to be suspended for the episode). It will be totally ignored after that, and never once referenced on either Deep Space Nine or in any of the TNG movies, and only mentioned once on Voyager. The tie-in fiction has more or less completely avoided it, too.
Earlier drafts of this story had La Forge’s sister coming on board, a followup to the disappearance of their mother in “Interface.” All that was left of that was one reference to said sister’s methods of training her cat.
This episode is the first time bio-mimetic gel will be referenced. Coined by science advisor André Bormanis, it will be used in several DS9 episodes, most notably “In the Pale Moonlight,” and a couple of Voyager episodes.
Make it So: “Hey, hey, don’t you spit at me!” It’s always dangerous when a “message” episode has the message as its starting point rather than the plot. It’s painfully obvious that the goal with this episode was to do an environmental piece and—just as “The Chase” was constructed mainly to explain all the humanoid aliens and failed as a story—it doesn’t work in the least.
The basic pitch for this episode had been banging around for a while, originally coming from former staffer Joe Menosky. Co-executive producer Jeri Taylor sent Naren Shankar and Brannon Braga to a breakfast meeting with an environmental watchdog group, and Shankar came back eager to tackle Menosky’s pitch.
Taylor would’ve been better off letting them have breakfast in the office. “Force of Nature” is a mess with no emotional core. We don’t even meet the two Hekaran scientists until halfway through the episode, and we’re never given any reason to give a crap about their crusade. Part of it is a failure of guest casting, but the script doesn’t give us anything, either—and you need one or the other. To make matters worse, there’s absolutely no sense of tension or danger—not to the Hekarans whose planet is supposed to be in danger (which we never actually see, and it’s a species we don’t know or care about), not to the Fleming (which we never actually see nor do we meet any of her crew). It’s all technobabble and images on viewscreens with nothing to connect to.
In fact, the only compelling parts of the episode are the bits with Data’s cat and La Forge’s semi-friendly competition with the Intrepid’s chief engineer. Unfortunately, those subplots are all front-loaded as filler while waiting for the plot to kick in, and are abandoned by the time our two scientists show up. And then in the end we get the unsubtle message spoon-fed with the warp speed limit in case we didn’t get the ozone-layer analogy that the script has been sledgehammering us with for the previous half hour.
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of short stories currently available in More Tales of Zorro, Tales from the House Band Volumes 1 and 2, Liar Liar, Apocalypse 13, V-Wars, and the new release Defending the Future 5: Best-Laid Plans. He’s also got two short story collections due out this spring: Tales from Dragon Precinct and Ragnarok & Roll: Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet.