“Cause and Effect”
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Season 5, Episode 18
Production episode 40275-218
Original air date: March 23, 1992
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise blows up.
Fade to black...
After the credits, the Enterprise is, somehow, calmly exploring the Typhon Expanse, the first Starfleet vessel to explore that region. Riker is hosting a poker game that also includes Data, Worf, and Crusher. It’s a five-card stud game which quickly gets down to just Riker and Crusher. Riker tries to bluff Crusher into thinking he has a straight, but Crusher calls it and wins. Then she’s summoned to sickbay to treat La Forge, who suffered a dizzy spell. He’s got the symptoms of an inner-ear infection, but no actual inner-ear infection. As Crusher describes the treatment, she has an odd feeling that she’s had this conversation with La Forge before and given him that hypospray.
Later, Crusher goes to her quarters and tends to the plants she keeps in her cabin while having a drink. After setting the glass down on her nightstand, she goes to sleep—and then hears voices. She reaches to turn on the light, and knocks the glass over, breaking it.
The next morning, after a meeting about the Typhon Expanse exploration, Crusher reports the voices she heard before going to bed, and apparently ten other people reported hearing the voices at the exact same time.
Worf interrupts the meeting from the bridge: they’re picking up a highly localized distortion of the space-time continuum. Ro reports that they didn’t pick it up until they were almost on top of it. Picard orders Ro to back off, but maneuvering thrusters aren’t functioning. Main power then goes down just as a ship emerges from the energy field on a collision course. Helm’s not responding and shields are down. Riker suggests decompressing the main shuttle bay to push the Enterprise back, while Data suggests using the tractor beam to push the other ship away. Picard takes Data’s suggestion, but while it keeps the other ship from a head-on collision, it does collide with the nacelle. This eventually leads to the destruction of the ship in exactly the same manner as we saw in the teaser, and the Enterprise goes boom.
Fade to black...
The Enterprise is calmly exploring the Typhon Expanse. Crusher seems distracted during the poker game—and then Riker somehow knows that Crusher is going to call his bluff, so rather than raise, he folds. Crusher is then summoned to sickbay to help La Forge, and she asks if she’s had this conversation with La Forge—and La Forge has the same sense that he’s done this before. But there’s no record of La Forge ever having dizziness.
Crusher returns to her quarters to tend to her plants and have a before-bed drink. As she goes to sleep, she hears voices. Reaching to turn on the light, she knocks her glass over, breaking it.
She calls Picard and they meet in his ready room. He gives her some warm milk, and he mentions having a similar déjà vu feeling when reading a book earlier—but he assumed that he’d just read it before and had forgotten. To be sure, he has La Forge and Data run a shipwide diagnostic.
The next morning, they discuss the déjà vu in the morning meeting, but they haven’t found anything—though Crusher does say that ten other people reported the same voices she did.
Worf interrupts with the report that they’ve encountered a localized disruption of the space-time continuum. Power goes down and a ship comes through the field on a collision course. Riker suggests decompressing the shuttle to get out of its way, while Data suggests the tractor beam. Events play out the same way, and the Enterprise explodes in a fiery conflagration.
Fade to black...
The Enterprise is calmly exploring the Typhon Expanse. Worf and Crusher both mention having a sense of déjà vu (Worf calls it nIb’poH) during the poker game. Crusher predicts every card that Data’s about to deal, and Riker and Worf are able to do likewise. Data declares this to be highly improbable. Crusher then calls sickbay to ask if La Forge is there. Ogawa says he isn’t—and then La Forge walks in.
Crusher examines La Forge and then summons Picard to sickbay, asking if he’s been getting a sense of déjà vu, and he says yes, he was, while reading. Rather than give La Forge the usual treatments for his symptoms, she checks his VISOR, which is picking up distortions in the local dekyon field and translating them as visual impulses that give him headaches and dizziness. La Forge goes off to run a few scans, see if they can trace the problem. Crusher heads to her cabin, not even bothering to change into her bedclothes. She starts to tend to her plants, then all but throws the gardening tool down. She starts to take a drink, then puts it down—not on the nightstand, but on the desk far from the bed. After turning the lights off, she hears the voices, and immediately records them with her tricorder. She calls La Forge in engineering, who says that sensors picked up something, too. She heads out to join him, grabbing her lab coat—which knocks the glass over, breaking it.
The voices came through to Crusher’s quarters just as there was a dekyon field distortion. Data listens to Crusher’s recording and determines that the voices are those of the Enterprise crew. But the voices aren’t coming from any ship’s system.
La Forge, Data, and Crusher work all night, and they come up with a theory: they’re trapped in a temporal causality loop, where they keep re-living the same batch of events over and over again. The voices Crusher heard were echoes from previous trips through the loop. For all they know, they’ve been trapped there for years.
Data has analyzed the recording, and found three segments that are crucial: Worf reporting that there’s a localized disruption of the space-time continuum, Data reporting impact in thirty seconds, and Picard ordering the ship to be abandoned. La Forge theorizes that the combination of the collision and the disruption Worf mentioned started the loop.
The problem is they may not figure out how to avoid the collision until it’s too late, and once the loop starts, they won’t remember any of this except as vague déjà vuish feelings. So they need to send a message into the dekyon field that Data’s positronic brain will pick up on a subconscious level. It can only be a word or a few characters, and they don’t know how Data’s brain will interpret it, but it’s the best they can do.
Crusher and La Forge open up Data’s head to make the adjustments. Just as that’s finished, they’re called to the bridge and red alert sounds. Events then play out the same way again, but this time, Data sends his virtual message in a bottle before the ship explodes.
Fade to black...
The Enterprise is calmly exploring the Typhon Expanse. Data deals the cards, with Worf and Crusher expressing the feeling of déjà vu. Crusher and Worf predict the cards that were going to be dealt—but this time, they’re all dealt threes. Then Data deals out the cards so that they all wind up with three of a kind.
Ogawa summons Crusher to sickbay to treat La Forge. They both remember treating him for these symptoms before, and she checks his VISOR, finding an odd phase shift.
Picard sits in his ready room, reading a book, and he frowns, flipping through the pages, realizing he’s read it all before. Crusher then summons him to sickbay and explains that they’ve found distortions in the local dekyon field that the VISOR is interpreting as visual afterimages. La Forge and Data start their scans, and when Data runs a level-two diagnostic on the warp subsystems, which all come up 3’s. That can’t be right, but Data’s been encountering that numeral a lot the last couple hours. Sensors pick up a dekyon field distortion. And then Crusher calls saying she heard voices; when she says she’ll be down, La Forge and Data hear the sound of glass breaking.
Cut to a meeting in the observation lounge, where Data plays the three bits of the recording Crusher made that are most critical. Data’s constant encountering of the number three is also an issue, and they’ve detected a dekyon field shift in Data’s positronic brain. La Forge says that if he wanted to send a message to the next iteration of the loop, that would be how he’d do it.
Ro interrupts with the message that they’ve encountered something. Again the distortion, again the loss of main power, and again Riker and Data’s suggestions. In each iteration of the loop, Riker has been standing right next to Data, where his three rank insignia pips are in Data’s peripheral vision. Data realizes that his suggestion won’t work and Riker’s suggestion should be tried instead. The shuttle bay decompression backs them off from the distortion and the other ship, and they get main power back. Picard asks Worf to check with a time beacon, and they learn that they’ve been stuck in this loop for 17.4 days.
Worf scans the other vessel, which is the U.S.S. Bozeman, a Soyuz-class ship—those ships haven’t been in service in ages. The Bozeman hails them, and Captain Morgan Bateson—wearing the uniforms we last saw in the TOS movie era—offers assistance. He also thinks it’s still 2278, and Picard has the lucky task of explaining to him exactly what just happened.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: A dekyon is a subatomic particle which is affected by temporal causality loop in ways that make it useful for the plot. Science!
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: I find it highly amusing that distortions in the space-time continuum are apparently sufficiently common in the Star Trek universe that Worf can identify one after two seconds of sensor scans. He also engages in some amusing semi-banterish behavior with Data during the poker game, muttering “I hope so” after Data assures Riker that the cards are sufficiently randomized after he shuffles them (which they aren’t in the final loop), and with Data being semi-snarky at him as he deals (“No help for the Klingon”), to Worf’s annoyance.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data’s the one who gets the subconscious message in the final loop, which is amusing, since he’s the only person on board who doesn’t get any sense of déjà vu.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher’s scene together in the ready room when he gives her warm milk, while she’s still wearing the pink ribbon in her hair she wore with her bedclothes, may be the single most adorable scene in the entire history of Star Trek.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ro’s back, and she gets to say the same five lines over and over again.
I Believe I Said That: “All hands, abandon ship!”
The last complete sentence Picard ever utters for 17.4 days.
Welcome Aboard: The big guest star here is the one-minute cameo by Kelsey Grammer, best known as Frasier Crane on Cheers and Frasier, as Captain Morgan Bateson. Michelle Forbes and Patti Yasutake also show up in their recurring roles of Ro and Ogawa for what amount to glorified cameos.
Trivial Matters: The producers tried to get Kirstie Alley, Grammer’s longtime Cheers co-star, to reprise her role as Saavik from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, serving as Bateson’s first officer, but the schedules couldn’t be worked out, so a female extra was seen standing by Bateson’s side.
Bateson has appeared extensively in the tie-in fiction. He was a major character in Ship of the Line by Diane Carey (in which the Bozeman inexplicably had an all-male bridge crew despite there being a woman standing next to Bateson in the episode), and also appeared in The Captain’s Daughter by Peter David (where Sulu turned down being Bateson’s first officer to help raise his daughter, which kept Sulu from being sent forward to the 24th century), the Department of Temporal Investigations novel Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett (which details his crew’s assimilation into the 24th century), the short story “Ancient History” by Robert J. Mendenhall in Strange New Worlds VI (which gives Bateson and Scotty a history in the 23rd century that’s revisited by the two time-displaced men in the 24th), and Destiny: Lost Souls by David Mack (where he gets to blow up a Borg cube).
The Bozeman was named after writer Brannon Braga’s home town, and would be referenced again in “All Good Things...,” Star Trek Generations, and Star Trek: First Contact, all coauthored by Braga.
The original plan was to make the Bozeman a Constitution-class ship, but making it a modification of the Reliant model from Star Trek II was more in line with the show’s budget.
To make the destruction of the Enterprise more effective, they actually blew up a model of the ship rather than simply superimposing an explosion over an intact model.
This episode has another mention of Picard’s aunt, Adele, and yet another of her cure-alls. In “Ensign Ro” it was ginger tea, this time it’s warm milk with nutmeg.
Make it So: “All hands, abandon ship!” Brannon Braga has come in for a lot of flak for his writing over the years, particularly his work on Voyager and Enterprise, so it’s easy to forget that he did some fine work on TNG, and this was his finest. Quite possibly the best use of the teaser-and-five-act structure you’ll ever see, this episode is also a perfecting melding of good writing and strong directing. One of the reasons why it works is due to Jonathan Frakes’s excellent filming of the episode. Not only is each repeated scene shot differently from its predecessors, but Frakes also uses fewer and fewer cuts and more long single shots as the episode goes on, which makes the repeated scenes go by much faster. It’s a tour-de-force of structured writing and clever directing.
Lots of little touches make it work, from the fact that Crusher can’t seem to avoid breaking the glass, to Picard silently flipping through the book that he’s already mentioned twice that he had déjà vu with, to seemingly innocent lines like Riker’s about Data stacking the deck having bigger meaning as the episode progresses, to the integration of the poker game into the plot for a change, to what has to be the best teaser in the history of Star Trek. I mean, c’mon, they blew up the Enterprise and killed everyone before the opening credits! That’s awesome!
This is an absolute triumph of craft from both Braga and Frakes, and just a fun episode, with the added bonus of Captain Frasier Crane at the end. I almost didn’t need to rewatch this one, as it’s one of my go-to episodes when I want to watch a Star Trek episode for the heck of it, and I have yet to tire of it.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido has the feeling that he’s written this bio before.