Plot Synopsis: Scientists find evidence of an alien presence on Earth in 19th century San Francisco, along with Data’s severed head, buried five hundred years ago.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser is brief but compelling: the Enterprise is recalled to Earth. In an old, unearthed cavern dating back to the 1800’s they found residue of triolic waves, and Data’s severed head! Plot A is about Data’s impending death, which impossibly must have occurred in the past. They find a cellular fossil native to only one planet, and head there. The crew is uneasy considering the prospect of Data’s death, and when he reminds Picard that one cannot “cheat fate”, Picard speaks for all of us when he says, “perhaps we can’t, mister Data. But at least we can give it a try.” An away team beams down to a cave on the planet and inevitably Data gets pulled into the past where he meets all sorts of interesting characters, including Guinan! In the cave Deanna gives an additional hook: she senses hundreds of terrified humans. After a mystifying and provocative meeting with Guinan, Picard goes on the next away mission and this time after a close encounter with some glowing aliens, they all step through a doorway into the past. It’s a well-paced episode where a lot is happening, and leaves us wanting more.
Favorite Scenes: There are some scenes that are provocative, and seeing Data’s severed head for the first time is one of them. Guinan and Picard’s talk at around the half-hour mark is another, and I feel like quoting from it. She tells him he has to accompany the next away mission to the planet, and Picard is surprised:
Guinan: You just do.
*Picard doesn’t respond*
Guinan: Do you remember the first time we met?
Picard: Of course.
Guinan: Don’t be so sure. I just mean, if you don’t go on this mission… we’ll never meet.
Later, Guinan and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) are verbally sparring a bit about humanity’s place in the cosmos, and she says something that has always stuck with me. I think it applies not just to humanity as a whole, but to each of us individually:
Guinan: Well, if the Earth is not alone and there are millions of inhabited planets in the heavens…
Clemens: Quite my point. Man becomes a trivial creation, does he not? Lost in the vastness of the cosmic prairie, adrift on the deep ocean of time. A single one amongst countless others.
Guinan: Some may argue that a diamond is still a diamond even if it is one amongst millions. It still shines as brightly.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard doesn’t have a lot to do except for a meaningful scene with Guinan. Riker is a driving force for wanting to get Data back. Deanna is somewhat useful, first pointing out possible life in the cave. Beverly mostly just shows up at the end and goes through the time door. Worf has even less than this, just a couple of lines. Geordi coordinates with Data to move the plot along in a couple of points, and has a good conversation with him. This is Data’s episode more than anyone else’s, and he has the most screen time. Data gets some character development here, as we learn more about how he thinks. It’s comforting to him that his life will come to an end, as his endless life is a reminder he is not human, and will go on living as all those he knows grow old and die. Guinan is an active part of this episode, in the present and in the past, and we learn she is over 500 years old. She also has a father! Jerry Hardin returns for a guest spot, turning in a spot-on performance at Clemens/Twain.
Blu Ray Version: If you pause around the 11 or 12 second mark, right when we see the Starfleet Academy re-use (from The First Duty), you can see Wesley Crusher walking off screen on the right and into the bushes. We can read the SLC on the inside of the antique pocket watch, referring to Samuel L Clemens. Put your player on slow-mo at the 4:24 mark, when the camera is panning to the right while Riker is talking. Look in the shadows to the left, and you’ll see a member of the production staff lurking there. The Devidians are touched up and look more clear and better defined (thought still not great).
Nitpicks: The promo for this episode is so overly dramatic that you need to see it. It’s funny. In the 16th minute as Data is adjusting for the ‘synchronic distortion’, Geordi has just finished explaining that any amount of difference in the time they occupy with the aliens would render them invisible, but Data doesn’t disappear until he hits the magic .004 setting. Back in Hero Worship Data said that androids do not lie. That can’t be true, since he lies his butt off in this episode!
Overall Impression: There’s a whole lot going on in this plot-driven episode, it is a promising first half. Time travel, Data’s apparent death, a mysterious Guinan pushing Picard into the past, even glow-in-the-dark time-shifted aliens feeding off people! It’s a pretty busy episode, but still not outstanding in my opinion. It’s interesting and well-paced, but it (along with Unification) is something of a dip in the quality of TNG two-parters to date. I’ll rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars on a good day.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Deanna quotes Data’s definition of friendship, which he gave way back in Legacy. The date that Data arrives in the past is August 13, 1893, as we read from the newspaper. Originally season five was not slated to end in a cliffhanger, however the shadow of DS9 was beginning to loom large, and there were rumors TNG would be ending. Berman and Piller decided to make it a two-parter so fans would get the message TNG would certainly continue. You may not recognize Marc Alaimo as the poker player in the 22nd minute. This is his fourth TNG appearance. The previous three were in Lonely Among Us, The Neutral Zone and The Wounded. Jerry Hardin, who plays Samuel Clemens, was previously seen prominently in When the Bough Breaks. Hardin loved playing Mark Twain so much he’d go on to create a one-man show about him! Brent Spiner and Whoopi Goldberg have both stated they really enjoyed this two-parter.
Want to know what the French translation is during the poker game in the 23rd minute? “My parents come from Burgundy. I was born in New Orleans.” To which Data replies, “We are almost brothers, then. I am happy to know you.”
Missable/Unmissable? I think overall it’s missable, but it’s a fairly good episode. That’s it for season five, as cliffhangers continue to be a tradition. We’ll see you next season!