Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Adam Nimoy
Season 6, Episode 25
Production episode 40276-251
Original air date: June 14, 1993
Captain’s Log: Riker’s in sickbay with a very deep cut on his forehead. Crusher assumes it came from playing Parrises Squares or from Worf’s calisthenics program, but no: it was Spot, Data’s cat. Riker’s feeding him while Data’s gone at a conference, along with Picard, Troi, and La Forge. Since Riker hates cats (and the feeling is apparently mutual), this is truly the act of a friend. He’s then summoned to the bridge—Worf has picked up a Romulan distress call. They answer it, but with shields up and at red alert, just in case.
Elsewhere, the four who went to the conference on the psychological effects of long-term deep-space assignments are heading back on a runabout. The quartet gather for dinner and compare notes on the conference. Troi and Picard both had bad experiences, including Troi being very ineptly hit on, but La Forge enjoyed his symposium where he got to touch a plasma field.
In the midst of La Forge waxing rhapsodic about that experience, he freezes—so do Data and Picard. Troi is apprehensive, but then they start moving again as if nothing happened. Data and La Forge try to figure out if there’s a technical explanation. As Troi’s talking to Picard, she then freezes for three minutes, eleven seconds. La Forge compares the bioscan he took twenty-three minutes earlier to the one he’s taking now, and Troi has only aged twenty minutes. Picard orders Data to contact the Enterprise, but they’re not responding. The starboard nacelle on the runabout cuts out, the fuel and all reserves suddenly gone. According to the sensors, the nacelle’s been in constant use for 47 days.
When Picard goes into the back to check on the fuel-consumption logs, he notices that the bowl of fruit in the center of the table has gone rotten. When Picard goes to touch it, he screams in pain. His fingernails are now much longer, and his hand was metabolizing at a rate 50 times faster than usual. Data detects a spherical temporal disturbance in an area that includes both the table and the starboard nacelle where time is moving much much faster than normal.
They manage to escape the current disturbance, but sensors are picking up a minefield of temporal disturbances, and within each one time is moving at a different rate. La Forge and Data can maneuver slowly around them, and they head to the rendezvous coordinates. The Enterprise isn’t there, but La Forge picks up some metal. They navigate toward it, even as the temporal disturbances increase, and they find the Enterprise and a Romulan warbird, both frozen. The Enterprise is being fired on by the warbird, yet there’s some kind of energy beam moving from the Enterprise deflector dish to the warbird’s engineering section.
This is the focal point of the temporal disturbances, and likely the origin of them. Sensors can’t penetrate the disturbance, but if they beam aboard they’ll become integrated in that timeline and freeze. Picard suggests a subspace force field like the one they used on Devidia II, and La Forge and Data technobabble their way into making it work with the emergency transport armbands.
The fields will only last an hour, and they can communicate among each other. La Forge stays behind to monitor and beams Picard, Data, and Troi to the Enterprise bridge. Riker and another officer are down on the deck, there’s damage on the ship, and three Romulans are on the bridge, all armed. The ops readout indicates a power surge in engineering, and the tactical readout shows that security was sent to transporter room 3 and sickbay.
They split up (they can do more damage that way): Troi goes to sickbay and sees a Romulan firing on Crusher. As she leaves sickbay, one of the Romulans blinks and turns her head, which should be impossible. Picard goes to the transporter room, where injured Romulans are beaming aboard while Worf (operating the transporter) and two security guards are watching. Picard doesn’t understand—is this a battle or a rescue mission?
Data goes to engineering, and there’s a warp-core breach in progress. It’s also expanding. Time is actually moving, it turns out, but at an infinitesimal rate—a warp-core breach, however, moves much faster. Only Data can detect the expansion of the flashpoint, but it’s still happening. It’ll take nine hours to complete. According to Data, the second beam is a power transfer to the Romulan ship.
As Data’s talking, Picard starts giggling. Yes, really. He’s drawn a smiley face in the smoke from the warp core explosion. Then he stumbles, almost collapsing, then starts screaming. Troi calls for a beam-out. Turns out the fields don’t provide 100% protection—Data likens it to nitrogen narcosis suffered by deep-sea divers. In order to prevent this “temporal narcosis” from being a problem, La Forge says they should limit their exposure—no more than ten minutes per trip and, like divers, they should stick together.
Picard stays behind this time, in order to recover. Troi—who spent several days on a Romulan ship—leads the team to the Romulan engine room. According to their readouts, the ship isn’t at battle stations, but in evacuation mode. La Forge meanwhile detects feedback along the energy transfer that may be the cause of the breach. But the Romulans were trying to shut down the transfer. This is looking less and less like an attack, but that doesn’t explain Crusher being shot or Riker being down.
The engine is inactive, but that’s not possible, as Romulan ships use an artificial singularity that can’t be shut down. When they investigate it, they find an aperture in the space-time continuum. This would appear to be the source of the problem. Data is also detecting something organic inside the aperture.
Then the aperture fluctuates, and time moves forward normally. The Romulans can’t see Troi, Data, and La Forge thanks to the subspace force fields (though there is one Romulan who appears to see them). The Romulans try to shut down the energy beam, but can’t. On the runabout, Picard watches the Enterprise explode.
And then time moves backward, and everything reverses and goes back to the previous point. Data hypothesizes that his tricorder activated it. La Forge goes to check something, but notices one person he didn’t notice previously. That person then grabs La Forge, and they both collapse. La Forge is in neural shock and dying. Troi, showing some very quick thinking, removes the armband, which will slow down his personal timeline enough so that they might be able to save him if and when they fix this.
Data examines the Romulan—who doesn’t appear to be Romulan. They beam him back to the runabout, and Data determines that he may not be native to this space-time continuum. The alien awakens and explains that they incubate their young in a gravity well. They mistook the artificial singularity in the Romulan engine for a natural one. It deactivated the engine, causing the Romulans to send a distress call, which the Enterprise answered. The Enterprise power transfer harmed the young, and also caused the temporal disturbances.
The alien then dissipates before he can help them further, though he does reveal that there is one other of his kind.
Picard orders Data to do what he did before, only backwards: use his tricorder to scan the aperture but in a way that causes time to move backward and then forward instead of the other way around.
Data, of course, manages it, because he’s just that awesome. He sets the tricorder up on the Romulan ship to be activated remotely then goes to engineering. Picard is on the bridge, Troi in sickbay, armed and ready to save Crusher’s life. (So much for always sticking together.)
The other fake Romulan sees Data in engineering, tells him he must stop and grabs him—as before, they both collapse, but Data recovers more easily, and orders the power transfer stopped. Unfortunately, it’s already been started, so Data isolates the warp core with a containment field, but that’s only a temporary solution. Troi manages to save Crusher—it turns out that the Romulan was firing on the other alien, but the doctor got in the way—and Picard (after ordering La Forge beamed to sickbay from the Romulan engine room) remotely navigates the runabout into the power transfer beam, which cuts it off. The alien disappears from engineering, and the warbird disappears as well. (The fate of the Romulans still on board is never given, even though Picard claims that, somehow, everyone was evacuated.)
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Lots of fast-and-furious technobabble regarding temporal distortion and subspace fields, and other nonexistent stuff. My favorite is that the tricorder emissions just, y’know, make stuff happen without even a good made-up explanation. Data can do it by reversing the delta waves, apparently, which sounds way cooler than reversing the polarity....
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s expertise on Romulan ships from “Face of the Enemy” is referenced, and proves mildly handy. She also uses the same plexing technique she recommended to Barclay in “Realm of Fear” on herself after the first temporal incident.
If I Only Had a Brain...: At the end, Data does some experiments with time perception. He tests the aphorism “a watched pot never boils” by boiling the same amount of water 62 times, sometimes ignoring it, sometimes paying close attention, but it always boils in exactly the time his internal chronometer expects. Riker then suggests that he turn the internal chronometer off and try it—just so long as that doesn’t make him late for his shift....
I Believe I Said That: “Hello, Diane! I understand you’re an empath. I’m a very [winks] sensitive man myself. I’m doing a thesis on interspecies mating rituals. Would you care to join me in some ‘empirical research’?”
Troi impersonating Dr. Mizan’s impressively pathetic pickup line.
Welcome Aboard: Michael Bofshever is the only credited guest star as the male alien. Patricia Tallman isn’t even credited as the female one, even though she has a line of dialogue. Tallman—best known as Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5—is a stuntwoman who has played a bunch of roles on TNG, and also was Kiros in “Starship Mine.”
Trivial Matters: Although runabouts were specifically created and designed for Deep Space Nine, this one-and-only use of them on TNG was the also the only time the aft compartment was ever seen. Amusingly, the set design was done on TNG as part of their budget as a way of cutting costs on the sister show, but then DS9 never used the fershlugginer thing. Although all runabouts seen on DS9 were named after rivers on Earth, this one never got a name, though some shots show the registry from the Rio Grande due to this episode reusing some footage from DS9 (more of that budget-saving...).
Writer Brannon Braga named one of the symposium speakers (Wagner) after someone he dated once, and another (Vassbinder) after one of his high-school teachers. Vassbinder will be referenced again, in “Journey’s End” by Wes Crusher, and by Chakotay in the Voyager episode “Year of Hell, Part II.”
This episode is the second use of the emergency transporter armbands, last seen being used by Worf and Data when they rescued Picard in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”
Adam Nimoy directed this episode, one of two Treks directed by the son of the guy who played Spock, the other being “Rascals.” First directing little kids, then this very-complex-to-film episode—no wonder he only did two....
Make it So: “It was really quite hypnotic.” Brannon Braga allegedly tried to outdo “Cause and Effect” with this one. At that, at least, he failed—as one often does when one tries to outdo one’s best work.
Having said that, this is a fun little episode. This is generally thought of as a time travel episode or, less charitably, as a technobabble episode, and those are both true, but what it really is, truly, is a mystery. Why is the Enterprise performing rescue operations for a ship that’s firing on them? Is Riker okay? Will Crusher die? And why can two Romulans move about freely?
Only some of the answers are satisfying (Riker, for example, just fell down), but it’s fun watching them try to figure stuff out. And one of the things that makes it all work are the character and continuity touches, from Riker’s apprehension about Spot to the use of past experiences from “Time’s Arrow” and “Face of the Enemy.” The discussion of the conference is a truly magnificent scene, from Troi and Picard’s complaints to La Forge’s rapture about touching a plasma field. And Brent Spiner does some great comic work here, from his quickly getting out of the way of a backwards-walking engineer to his actually being hypnotized by Picard’s monotone impersonation of Dr. Vassbinder to his reaction to the water boiling at the very end.
Not one of the greats or anything, but a fun, thoroughly enjoyable episode.
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido needs to get this rewatch done so he can go see The Hobbit.