Housekeeping note: Due to the combination of the Labor Day holiday and the fact that I will be at Dragon*Con 2012 (here’s my schedule), there will be no rewatch on Friday the 31st. We’ll be back in a week on Tuesday the 4th of September with “The Inner Light.”
“The Next Phase”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by David Carson
Season 5, Episode 24
Production episode 40275-224
Original air date: May 18, 1992
Captain’s Log: Responding to a distress signal from a Romulan ship that suffered a catastrophic engine explosion, the Enterprise zooms through space. Riker, Worf, La Forge, and Ro beam over—unarmed, over Ro’s objections—to effect a rescue. The Romulan ship’s adrift, and there are bodies everywhere. The ship’s generator is damaged beyond repair, and their replicators are down. The science officer, Mirok, appears to be in charge, since the captain’s dead, and he agrees to let La Forge and Ro beam back to the Enterprise with the generator to replicate a replacement.
However, something goes wrong with the transport, and Chief Brossmer loses the signal. They don’t rematerialize on the Romulan ship, and neither Data with sensors nor Troi with telepathy can find them. Unfortunately, they need to continue repair efforts, so Data and two engineers take a shuttlecraft over to assist.
The Romulan ship’s core is about to implode. The auto-eject system’s offline, so they have to do it manually. Worf and a Romulan release the clamps, and with Riker’s help then clear the doorway—but they can’t get the doors closed. Data shows up in the nick of time, with Riker giving him a “thank goodness you’re here!” look. Data calmly closes the doors with his soooooper android strength, and they eject the core. The Enterprise extends its shields to protect the Romulan ship. That crisis out of the way, Riker reports that he’ll do a full power survey. They’ll need to feed power to the ship to keep life support on and also provide a new core.
Picard heads to sickbay, oblivious to Ro lying on the deck. She wakes up and tries to report in, but her combadge isn’t working. Nobody seems to notice her at all, and when she approached the sickbay doors, they won’t open. She walks in when the doors open to let somebody else out, and inside sickbay, nobody notices her or reacts to her. She goes to Crusher’s office to see Picard talking to Crusher about the transporter accident and how they have to declare La Forge and Ro dead. Ro screams that she’s not dead, but nobody notices her—and then Picard walks right through her as she departs. When she tries to get Crusher’s attention by yelling, she also tries to slam her hand onto the desk, and it goes right through also. Then she watches as Crusher writes her death certificate.
The Enterprise starts a power transfer, bringing the Romulan ship’s systems back online. Data then reports that a diagnostic of the transporters showed an anomaly that he’ll need to check more thoroughly in Transporter Room 3. He also asks Picard if he may organize a memorial service.
The Romulans ask for a computer, which Worf considers an unacceptable security risk—however, Riker suggests giving them a 30-40-year-old computer core, which they’d already be familiar with, and therefore wouldn’t be a problem.
In engineering, La Forge is going through the same thing Ro did, unable to get anyone’s attention and walking through bulkheads. Ro finds him there, and he’s relieved to see her and that she can see him. They can also touch each other, but nothing else.
Ro insists that they’re dead, and La Forge insists even more forcefully that they aren’t. Why would he still have his VISOR—not to mention his uniform—if he’s dead? Ro thinks they should make peace with the people in their lives, but La Forge refuses to give up just yet. He goes to Transporter Room 3 where Data and Brossmer are discussing the problem. Data hypothesizes that the explosion on the Romulan ship did something to their cloaking device, causing it to discharge chroniton particles. Data is also detecting chroniton particles in the transporter room, which shouldn’t normally be there. It’s possible the chronitons caused the explosion that killed Ro and La Forge. Brossmer asks if there’s any danger to having chronitons on board, and while they pose no threat to the living beings, they could damage some ship’s systems. Data says he will create a means of eradicating them, but first he wants to take a shuttle to the Romulan ship.
On the bridge, Ro says goodbye, taking what she believes to be a final look at the conn console. (Somehow she touches the chair and console.) Riker and Picard come onto the bridge and head into Picard’s ready room, discussing the situation (Ro follows them in through the bulkhead). Riker says there were a lot of experimental engine parts floating around; he’s guessing they were testing a new warp drive and it blew up in their faces.
Picard tells Riker about the memorial service, and Riker says he wants to say a few words about Ro. This makes Ro extremely apprehensive, and she asks, “What are you going to say about me?” as he leaves.
Then she looks at Picard, trying make peace with him, and struggles. “I don’t believe this—I’m dead, you can’t even hear me, and I’m still intimidated by you.” She’s interrupted by La Forge (also entering via the bulkhead) who wants to take Data’s shuttle to the Romulan ship. She asks La Forge why he can’t just accept that they’re dead, and he sagely points out that, if she’s right, none of this will make any difference, but if he’s right, they’re alive and they need to figure out how to get their mojo back.
Data and Worf are taking a shuttle to the Romulan ship, and the pair of them discuss the memorial service, which is weird for Ro and La Forge who are sitting in the back, unnoticed. Data’s struggling with what kind of service to organize; neither traditional human nor Bajoran death rituals (“Please, not the death chant,” Ro moans) seem appropriate. Worf is no help, as Klingons view death as totally awesome.
On the Romulan ship, people are moving about working hard—except for this one guy who’s just sitting in a chair. La Forge shoves his head into a console, while Data talks to Mirok about the chronitons. La Forge is rather surprised to find a molecular phase inverter, something that could allow matter to pass through other matter. He then remembers a recent intelligence report that the Klingons were trying to combine such an inverter with a cloaking device, in essence creating a cloak that can allow you to hide inside something and be invulnerable to weapons fire. The Klingons never got it off the drawing board, due to multiple accidents, but the Romulans might be pursuing it—and had their own accident.
Ro and La Forge aren’t dead, they’re phased. Which means they can overhear Mirok talking to Varel, another Romulan. They’re concerned that Data will find the interphase generator, and so Mirok orders Varel to sabotage the power transfer by feeding muon particules into it. The particles will build up in the engine core so that the Enterprise will explode when it goes to warp. Now there’s a sense of urgency, as La Forge and Ro have to figure out how to warn the Enterprise.
As they walk off, the guy sitting in the chair finally gets up. Turns out, he’s not a douchenozzle avoiding work, as he walks through the generator—he’s been phased, too.
The pair of them go back to the Enterprise—so does the phased Romulan, unbeknownst to them. The muon buildup isn’t showing up on any sensor display.
They overhear Data working with Brossmer. Data has detected three new chroniton fields on board—which La Forge says makes no sense, as there’s nothing that would be generating new fields. Data decides they must decontaminate. Brossmer starts cataloguing the locations that have shown chroniton fields: sickbay, Transporter Room 3, bridge, ready room, Shuttle Bay 2, and main engineering. Data doesn’t see what they have in common, but La Forge does: they’re all places La Forge and/or Ro have been. Somehow, they’re leaving chroniton footprints behind.
They can’t focus the scan with the internal sensors, so Data sends Brossmer to the bridge to work the lateral sensor array. Ro goes with her, while La Forge stays with Data. To La Forge’s confusion, Data finds a chroniton field, not where La Forge is standing, but in a bulkhead. La Forge realizes that the chronitons are being created by phased matter moving through unphased matter. To prove it, he walks through engineering’s “workbench,” which Data decontaminates with an anyon beam. La Forge keeps walking through it after Data decontaminates, hoping the android will put it together. At one point, Data’s anyon beam hits La Forge’s hand, and it hurts. After that, he has a harder time moving his hand through the workbench, at which point he realizes that the anyon beam may be what’s needed to bring them back.
Ro follows Brossmer onto the bridge, and is rather shocked to see a Romulan there, holding a disruptor on her. He assures her that it works, as he was wearing it when he was changed. He orders her at gunpoint to take her to La Forge. She leads him down a corridor, through a doorway, then steps aside and delivers a nice roundhouse kick before running away. He chases her through deck 17, running through a bunch of people’s crew quarters. As they run through a romantic dinner between two crew members, the Romulan shoots his disruptor, which gets Ro in the leg, causing her to collapse to the deck. While they struggle, Data arrives, with La Forge in tow, having detected a massive chroniton field on this deck, much larger than the others. While Data talks to the person who’s cabin this is, La Forge runs to help Ro, bodyslamming the Romulan, causing him to fall through the outer bulkhead and into space. Conveniently, Ro still has the disruptor.
They head to the bridge. Mirok contacts them and says that all the work is done. They disengage the power transfer and Mirok says they’re back on internal power. When Picard says that he hopes this is the dawn of a new age of cooperation between their people, Mirok totally lies and says he hopes so, too.
To Ro and La Forge’s relief, Brossmer tells Picard that Data didn’t want them to use any major systems until the decontamination is complete, so they don’t go to warp just yet. Ro and La Forge need to go somewhere and create a butt-load of chroniton fields so that they’ll use a high-powered anyon beam that might be enough to make them visible at least for a second—so they have to go somewhere where there’s a lot of people.
Right on cue, Riker comes onto the bridge saying it’s time for the memorial service in Ten-Forward. Ro and La Forge join Riker and Picard in the turbolift where Picard reminisces about the first time he met La Forge and Riker says that he had trouble coming up with what he’s going to say about Ro. Ro remains frustrated and annoyed, wondering what the hell he’s going to say.
Data said earlier that he studied five thousand different funerary rites, and it seems “New Orleans” was one of them. Ro and La Forge enter to find a party. There’s a band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” (Riker joins them on trombone). Ro starts firing the disruptor all over the room—at one point grumbling that she’ll never know what Riker was going to say about her and shooting him through the head—while La Forge walks through things.
Sure enough, Brossmer detects a bigger field than ever in Ten-Forward, and Data orders her to decontaminate. It hurts the two of them for a minute, and they yell at Worf to see if he can see them—but while he does hear something, it’s not enough. Ro decides to overload the disruptor—which leads to Brossmer detecting a chroniton field 3000% higher than any other they’ve detected. Data orders the decontamination, and this time La Forge and Data make sure they’re standing right by Picard and Data when it happens. For half a second Data and Picard both see and hear a very faded image of La Forge and Ro, very quietly yelling that they’re right there and asking if they can be seen.
Data figures it out, being awesome, and orders Brossmer to set the anyon emitter to its highest setting. Ro and La Forge appear, to everyone’s shock, and La Forge immediately orders engineering to take the warp core offline. The ensign in engineering is freaked out a bit, but Picard assures him that it is La Forge and to follow his orders.
Then La Forge smiles. “Looks like a great party, mind if we join you?”
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Somehow, the interphase device enables someone to be sufficiently out of phase with reality to move through walls, doors, and other objects—but still are able to stand on a floor and sit down on things and fall onto the deck and stuff without falling through. Also they can somehow breathe, even though the air should just phase through their lungs. SCIENCE!
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf plays a big part in the repairs of the Romulan ship, showing a surprising lack of animosity toward the Romulans (though he does make a point of not giving them a current computer, giving them a Mac Classic instead of a Mac Air). He also admits to being less than helpful when Data asks him for assistance with coming up with a funeral. As established elsewhere (“Heart of Glory,” “The Bonding”), Klingons believe less in the tragedy of death and more in joy at the releasing of the spirit to the afterlife. He says he’s happy for La Forge (notably, he never discusses Ro, except to bitch about the Bajoran death chant).
Worf also spends no time at the tactical station, busy as he is with helping the Romulan ship, and later being in Ten-Forward for the funeral, so his station is run by Ensign McDowell.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data believes it is his responsibility to organize the memorial service as La Forge’s best friend, and he confides to Worf (with La Forge listening) that Data didn’t know what a friend was until he met La Forge. He also figures out what happened after the big-ass anyon field makes La Forge and Ro briefly barely visible, all the while being cheered on by La Forge (“C’mon, Data, put it all together, now!” “Oh, Data, please be right!”).
In the Driver’s Seat: Although Ro obviously plays a big role in the episode, she doesn’t actually fly the ship at any point—though when she thinks she’s dead, she stands by the console for several seconds as a sort of goodbye to it. Ensign Sousa (played by recurring extra Linda Harcharic) flies the ship.
I Believe I Said That: “We should develop our own interphase device. If it can teach Ro Laren humility, it can do anything.”
La Forge, tweaking Ro.
Welcome Aboard: The Romulans in this episode are all played by actors who will appear multiple times on modern Trek, though this is the first time for all three. Brian Cousins (the phased Romulan) will return as a Borg in both parts of “Descent” and a Takret named Paltani in the Enterprise episode “The Catwalk.” Susanna Thompson (Varel) will play Jaya in “Frame of Mind,” Lenara Kahn in the controversial Deep Space Nine episode “Rejoined,” and sub in for Alice Krige as the Borg Queen when the other actor was unavailable for Voyager’s “Dark Frontier” and the two-parter “Unimatrix Zero.” Finally, Mirok is the first of seven roles on Trek for veteran character actor Thomas Kopache, who will return as a holographic train engineer in “Emergence,” an Enterprise-B communications officer in Star Trek Generations, Viorsa in Voyager’s “The Thaw,” the Vulcan Tos in Enterprise’s “Broken Bow,” a Sphere Builder test subject in Enterprise’s “Harbinger,” and most notably as Kira Nerys’s father Taban in the Deep Space Nine flashback episodes “Ties of Blood and Water” and “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”
In addition, Shelby Leverington plays Chief Brossmer (presumably Colm Meaney wasn’t available) and Kenneth Meseroll plays Ensign McDowell.
Trivial Matters: Turns out that the Federation did its own secret experiments with phased cloaks, as will be revealed (to Riker’s chagrin) in “The Pegasus.”
The Romulans are seen using an interphasic cloak again in David R. George III's Typhon Pact novel Plagues of Night (which takes place a good fifteen or so years after this episode).
Two elements from this story are expanded in novels by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett: the story Picard tells of how he first met La Forge is dramatized in The Buried Age, and an explanation for why Ro, La Forge, and the Romulan didn't fall through the floor was provided in his Department of Temporal Investigations novel Forgotten History.
Picard comments to Crusher that Ro would’ve been a lieutenant commander by now if not for the incident on Garon II (mistakenly referred to as Garon IV), the reason why she was in prison prior to “Ensign Ro.”
Just as in “Power Play,” La Forge and Ro work comfortably and happily together despite La Forge having said in “Ensign Ro” that she didn’t belong on the Enterprise and that he wouldn’t turn his back on her.
While McDowell isn’t seen again on screen, he’s mentioned again as still serving in security in “Chain of Command Part 1,” and also is established as Worf’s deputy chief of security in your humble rewatcher’s comic book miniseries Perchance to Dream, filling in at tactical when Worf is incapacitated.
This episode was intended as a budget-saving “bottle” episode, but it wound up being very expensive due to all the phasing effects.
The Bajoran death chant that so terrifies Ro and Worf is seen in the Deep Space Nine episode “Battle Lines” when Kai Opaka is believed dead.
Make it So: “I’ve never been to a better funeral.” Once you get your mind around the ridiculousness of the premise—seriously, how do they not fall through the floor??????—this is a most excellent episode. It’s a good showcase for LeVar Burton and Michelle Forbes, both of whom perform magnificently. I’m especially entertained by La Forge’s complete unwillingness to accept that he’s dead, and how quickly he adjusts to walking through walls—the moment when he just shoves his head into the interphase generator is classic. Ro’s frustration with wondering what Riker’s going to say about her at the funeral is equally classic, especially in light of the events of “Conundrum.”
But it’s not just those two. Most of the crew gets a good moment or two—really, only Troi is short shrift, getting only to not sense that La Forge or Ro are anywhere around (apparently the phased cloak shields you from telepathy, too)—from Picard’s reminisce about meeting La Forge the first time to Riker’s taking charge of the rescue operation to Data and Worf’s excellent conversation about death rituals to Crusher’s resisting writing up death certificates. In general, the episode is a fine example of the community of the Enterprise, especially in the funeral scene (not to mention the use of Brossmer and McDowell, reminding us that there are other people on board besides the regulars).
The episode moves briskly, never getting so caught up in technobabble that the characters are forgotten, nor getting so caught up in character that the plot is forgotten. Just a nifty little story.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido looks forward to seeing folks at Dragon*Con 2012. Please come to one of my program items and tell me how much you love this rewatch.