Plot Synopsis: While investigating a 1,000-year-old alien derelict, the Enterprise gets caught in the same energy trap which doomed that vessel a millennium ago.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is interesting. Geordi is on a date on the holodeck that fizzles; Data and Wes play a bit of 3-dimensional chess; the Enterprise crew find a Promellian battle cruiser inside a large asteroid field, a relic from a famous battle 1,000 years ago. Plot A is about the booby trap, plot B is part of plot A and involves Geordi and Dr. Brahms. Picard leads the away team over to explore the ship and upon returning get ready to head out only to find their ship is being hit with lethal radiation, their power is being drained and they can’t go anywhere. Booby trap! Plot B gets going as Geordi is tasked with keeping the Enterprise from losing power and figuring out how to get out. He recreates the dilithium chamber on the holodeck and inadvertently conjures up one of the team that basically designed the propulsion engines, Dr. Leah Brahms, and we’re off and running. I supposed it’s debatable whether there is an actual plot B here, but Geordi and Leah’s interaction are a significant part of this episode and I think of it separately. In fact their chemistry here is such that she is brought back in a later episode. The tension steadily increases as the ship’s shields fail and things get more desperate. Geordi really shines here, it’s a pleasure from beginning to end.
Favorite Scenes: There are several in this episode. A scene that I’ve remembered all these years later is in the beginning of the episode, when Picard is preparing to beam over to the Promellian ship. Riker doesn’t want him to go as it might not be safe and Picard starts talking about how he used to build ships in bottles when he was a kid. Riker is totally lost. He gets to the transporter room where Data and Worf are waiting and reassures Riker one last time:
Picard: It is exactly as they left it, Number One. In the bottle.
*everyone looks mystified*
Picard: The ship in the bot–? Oh, Good Lord, didn’t anybody here build ships in the bottles when they were boys?
Worf: I did not play with toys.
Data: I was never a boy.
O’Brien: I did sir!
*pregnant pause*Picard: Thank you Mr. O’Brien. Proceed.
O’Brien beams them over, and Riker just stands there looking at him.
O’Brien: I did! I really did! Ships in bottles? It’s great fun.
In fact O’Brien’s former hobby was mentioned in the series finale, All Good Things. There’s another scene that, believe it or not, contains some good dating advice for all of us. Geordi is wallowing in the failure his date was, with Guinan:
Geordi: I just don’t get it, Guinan. I can field strip a fusion reactor. I can realign a power transfer tunnel. Why can’t I make anything work with a woman like Christy? It’s like I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say!
Guinan: You’re doing fine with me.
*Geordi scoffs*: You’re different.
Guinan: No, you’re different.
Geordi: But I’m not trying now!
*Guinan smiles a bit*: That’s my point.
The final moment that I love is when Picard relieves Wes from the Conn to personally take responsibility for getting the ship out of harm. I’m not sure if it would happen in real life or not, but it heightened the drama for me considerably, it’s maybe my favorite moment.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard gets some character development here, in a few ways. We learn more about him via the ship in the bottle conversation, we get to see his glee at being on a great relic from the past which further legitimizes his interest in history that was introduced in the second season, and he kicks some ass by taking responsibility and navigating the Enterprise out of the asteroid field by himself. Riker is involved and he contributes to the episode, but his function here is mostly to help out his captain and banter with him a bit. Data is used sparingly, and it’s primarily as an information bank, but it’s done in just the right proportion so he doesn’t lapse into the tired “answer man” as sometimes happens. Geordi is the primary focus of this character-centered episode. He comes across as essentially an ideal chief engineer, and as a guy who just can’t get it right with women. Poor sucker. In fact this is the beginning of a string of potential relationships that won’t work out, more than anyone else on TNG (except maybe Worf) he gets the shaft in the love department. He injects a lot of humanity and likability into what could have possibly been some dry scenes in the holodeck, just looking at engines. This episode does more for him than any previous episode and most subsequent ones as well. Troi, Wes and Dr. Crusher each have about three lines, they do essentially nothing. Worf does a bit more, but not a lot. Guinan gets some overlooked development here too, as we get a hint or two about her history with Picard. Little bits like this are sprinkled throughout the series. Here we learn she’s attracted to bald men because Picard “was kind to me once, when I was hurting. Took care of me.” In the episode Time’s Arrow part two Picard in fact does this, though it’s not clear if this is the event she was referring to. The Enterprise herself gets showcased here, taking a look under the hood and upgrading the engines 14% by her exceptional chief engineer. Too bad it was only temporary or they would eventually “burn out components.” Whatever! Susan Gibney is really good as Leah Brahms, and her chemistry with Levar is sterling. Colm Meaney isn’t in much of this episode, but he still has some lines and does a nice job.
Blu Ray Version: The Promellian battle cruiser looks great, and you can see an amazing amount of detail, far more than I recall seeing previously. A nice treat. There is something else that’s also a nice treat: the Blu Ray is so clear that you can tell Julie Warner is not only not wearing a bra in the intro, but that her top is somewhat see-through. Whoa, didn’t expect that much detail!
Nitpicks: Some really minor ones. In the 13th minute Picard is supposed to be so excited about having just toured an ancient battle ship that the rest of the crew notices and comments on it. Rather than giving us something akin to what he did back in The Big Goodbye in describing his first experience in the holodeck, he’s much more subdued here and doesn’t really sell it as well. I’d have preferred a bit more energy. In the 14th minute Riker is in the middle of a sentence on the bridge talking about readout problems, then he suddenly stops. This is presumably because he was being interrupted, but the editing here is poor and you have dead air for a little bit before anything happened that would actually interrupt him. Also, I don’t get why they had to destroy the battle cruiser, wouldn’t just wiping out the assimilators have done it?
Overall Impression: I love these kind of episodes. It’s more character-centered, and I love episodes that are. This isn’t the very best of Trek, but it’s one of my favorite episodes of season three and I always look forward to watching it. To me the heart here is Geordi; Levar Burton essentially taking the bulk of this episode on his shoulders and carrying it beautifully. It also shows us one of the best practical uses of a holodeck ever portrayed in an episode, which was one of TNG’s major original contributions to the franchise. Plus, can you imagine how awesome dates would be if we had a holodeck?? I love it. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The girl in the teaser who brushes Geordi off is Julie Warner, another actress who went from here on to a movie career. If you’ve seen Doc Hollywood, Tommy Boy or the TV show Family Law you should recognize her. You will see her again in Transfigurations, and she will definitely be wanting some ‘vitamin G’! You might think Data uses a contraction when he’s on the Promellian ship’s bridge, but his use of the term ‘its’ here is not a contraction. In an earlier draft of the script Picard was supposed to be the one involved with Leah Brahms–that would have just been weird. Michael Piller, the head writer has a good take on this episode. He says,
Picard should be on the bridge, not chatting with some woman. I said to myself, ‘It should be Geordi, because Geordi is in love with the ship and this is a story about a guy in love with his ’57 Chevy.’ That played into Geordi’s character, who’s always been a fumbling guy around women, but if he could just marry his car he’d live happily ever after. He gets to create the personification of the woman who created the engine he loves. It’s sort of a relationship between he and his Pontiac.”
If you’re at all interested in the piece of music the gypsy violinist is playing in the teaser, it’s Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms. Whoa, Brahms. What else…the birth of Worf’s son, Alexander, is supposed to have happened sometime around the stardate when this episode took place. Patrick Stewart is wearing the final version of the Star Trek uniform seen for the rest of the series. The seams have been removed, the shoulder pads are smaller, and there is an elastic waistband to the bottom of the uniform top.
Missable/Unmissable? This episode is recommended, as are perhaps the majority of season three’s episodes. The next one, another Geordi-centered episode, is arguably better.