Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Neutral Zone”

“The Neutral Zone”
Written by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Glee and Maurice Hurley
Directed by James L. Conway
Season 1, Episode 25
Production episode 40271-126
Original air date: May 16, 1988
Stardate: 41903.2

Captain’s Log: Captain Picard has been summoned to a conference, so the Enterprise is hanging out. They find a capsule from late-20th-century Earth that has drifted and will fall to pieces soon. Since they’re waiting around for Picard in any case, Data asks to beam over to investigate it further. He and Worf beam over to discover that a) it’s inexplicably got atmosphere and gravity even though the former is unlikely to have lasted this long and the latter would be impossible with the tech of the time and b) it’s filled with capsules containing cryogenically preserved humans. Only three are still alive, the others either having had their seals broken or empty.

Picard returns and orders the ship to go to the Neutral Zone, warp eight. Two Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone have been destroyed. The assumption is the Romulans are responsible, though the Federation has heard almost nothing from them since the Tomed Incident 53 years, seven months, and 18 days earlier (according to Data).

Crusher, meanwhile, awakens the people in the cryo chambers. They all paid to have their bodies frozen upon death so that they could be revived in some future when what killed them was no longer fatal. They include Clare Raymond, a housewife, “Sonny” Clemonds, a musician, and Ralph Offenhouse, a financier. Clare is confused—the procedure was, it turns out, paid for by her husband—while Ralph wanted to continue living, and Sonny took a flyer on it, figuring it beat giving money to his ex-wives.

Data says that the cyronics fad died out by the early 21st century. Ralph and Clare have trouble accepting the reality, while Sonny just rolls with it—trying to score drugs from Crusher and looking to party with Data. (Once a musician….)

The Enterprise arrives at the Neutral Zone. The outposts have been destroyed, with no evidence of conventional weapons. Worf says that it is as if some great force has scooped it off the planet. The other outposts have similar damage.

Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone

A Romulan ship decloaks. It turns out that Romulan outposts along the Neutral Zone have been destroyed in exactly the same manner. They have no more clue who the responsible party is than the Federation. Picard proposes a sharing of information with the Romulans, to which the Romulans very reluctantly agree.

The Enterprise sends the 20th-century trio home on the Charleston, and set off for the next season.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi provides a profile of the Romulans that Picard finds useful, and she also helps Clare trace her family tree.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Clemonds takes a shine to Data and tries to get him to go partying with him, and even offers for him to be his sideman for his new, revived career.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf’s antipathy for the Romulans comes to the fore here, as he tells everyone on the bridge that the Romulans were responsible for the Khitomer Massacre that killed his parents.

Welcome Aboard: Gracie Harrison, Peter Mark Richman, and the always-delightful Leon Rippy do quite well as the time-displaced humans. Marc Alaimo returns, this time as the Romulan commander, and his distinctive voice makes Tebok quite menacing—ditto Anthony James as his second.

I Believe I Said That: “You and me can find us a couple of low-mileage pit woffies and help them build a memory.”

Sonny trying to convince Data to paint the town red.

Trivial Matters: Sonny asks if the Braves are “still findin’ ways to lose,” which made sense when the episode was written, but would not have made any sense coming from someone in the 1990s, since the Atlanta Braves won their division throughout the decade, including a World Series victory in 1995, and have remained a top team in the National League to the present day.

Obviously, the late 20th century came and went with no cryonics fad. And the world is probably a better place for it.

While the Romulans were mentioned in “Angel One” and “Heart of Glory,” this is the first time we’ve seen them on TNG.

The destruction of the outposts would be followed up on in “Q Who” in the second season.

Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Neutral ZoneRalph Offenhouse would return in the novels, Debtor’s Planet by W.R. Thompson, as the Federation ambassador to the Ferengi Alliance, and then later in the Destiny trilogy by David Mack and my own A Singular Destiny as the Secretary of Commerce for the Federation under President Nan Bacco.

Clare Raymond would return as a counselor for the Department of Temporal Investigations, helping time-displaced people adjust to a new era in Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett.

Greg Cox had pre-cryo appearances by Ralph, Clare, and Sonny in his two-volume The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, which takes place in the late 20th century.

The Tomed Incident was dramatized in the Lost Era novel Serpents Among the Ruins by David R. George III. Despite Data’s statement that there’d been no contact with the Romulans since that incident, there were a few, most notably the attack on the Enterprise-C shown in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone

Make it So: “We are back.” An episode that desperately wants to be a menacing return of an old foe at the same time it desperately wants to be a humorous fish-out-of-water tale, and doesn’t work in either regard. It’s fun to see the Romulans come back, especially as played by Alaimo and James, but they’re mostly just sitting there in an episode that tries to echo “Balance of Terror,” but which has none of that episode’s snap. Worse, the smug moralizing with regard to the three 20th century refugees is laid on a bit too thick. Plus, of course, watching the episode now when all its predictions about the rise of the cryogenics fad ten years in the future turned out not to be true 15 years ago in reality makes the episode look silly.

And ultimately nothing actually happens. It’s all setup, the payoff of which was scotched by the writer’s strike, finally haphazardly followed up on in one line of dialogue in the second season’s “Q Who.” Indeed, the writers strike of 1988 results in a lot of the issues with the last few episodes of this season (many of which could have been fixed with rewrites that weren’t possible) and affected the second season as well (shortened to 22 episodes and starting late).

Thus the first season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Next week, we start off the second season with “The Child.”


Warp factor rating: 4.

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s Star Trek fiction includes a dramatization of the Khitomer Massacre Worf mentions in this episode in his novel The Lost Era: The Art of the Impossible. His more recent novels are Unicorn Precinct, SCPD: The Case of the Claw, and the upcoming Guilt in Innocence, part of the Scattered Earth shared-world science fiction series. Go to Keith’s web site, which is a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter.


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