Plot Synopsis: The Enterprise discovers a duplicate of Picard from six hours in the future.
Plot A and B Analysis: I really enjoy this teaser. We get to learn more about Riker and see some of the crew in more of an informal setting. I just think it’s an enjoyable character-oriented scene. Plot A revolves around the Picards, there is no plot B in this episode. The Enterprise finds a shuttle craft adrift in space, pulls it in and discovers a duplicate of Captain Picard. Troi reassures us this dude is actually Picard, which of course makes no sense. We learn that the shuttle is actually from the future which explains the Picards, and now the game is a time loop: what causes it and how to avoid it. This plot continues to be interesting right up to the end, an enigma that never gets fully explained. This episode does a lot of things right, however the ending needed to be a bit more than it was.
Favorite Scenes: Honestly the teaser is really nice, I liked it for the above stated reasons. I enjoyed the scene when Picard first opens the shuttle and tries to make sense of who it is he’s seeing. I also liked the conference they have about 20 minutes in. That is exactly what conferences are for, and how they should be used: they should be spaces for the characters and the audience to attempt to make sense of events, collate any new information and try to decide how to proceed. I also like the scene about 29 minutes in when Picard walks into the darkened shuttle bay and just looks at the shuttle. There are no words spoken, you just wonder what kind of thoughts and emotions must be going through his head as he contemplates his situation. It’s the kind of scene you aren’t very likely to see nowadays, the quiet moments.
Use of Cast/Characters: Wil Wheaton had this episode off. This is certainly a Picard episode. Patrick’s acting here is what makes this episode pretty memorable, along with the score. Try to picture Janeway or Archer acting their way through this and you’ll see what I mean. He plays his distress with complexity and subtlety, and it tends to increase as the episode progresses. I also like how he is shown going to Troi, then to Riker for input and even help. Riker’s job in this episode is mainly to be there for his captain in whatever way he needs, even if it’s just someone to bounce ideas off of. We do actually learn a bit about his mother and father in the teaser, which will be featured in a major way in the next episode. Data doesn’t have much to do except work with the shuttle. In fact this episode shows one of Data’s few weaknesses, shown in the conference: he doesn’t yet have the ability to proceed when he doesn’t have enough information. Everyone else there is contributing, but he cannot. Geordi has more to do than usual, working with the shuttle and running the briefing at first, then helping to amp up the pressure during the climax. Troi is useful here to inform us about the other Picard and spar with Pulaski a bit. She describes the other Picard as representing doubt, but what he really represents is failure. Failure to protect the Enterprise, whose lives he is ultimately responsible for. Pulaski has a little chunk of this episode, but her main purpose seems to be to remind the audience that she’s a newcomer, and doesn’t have faith in her captain yet. It’s important to recognize that the pressure he’s under can affect his ability to command, but setting up a dynamic where she is saying that and Troi is defending just serves to encourage the audience to perceive Pulaski as an outsider. It’s funny because having breakfast during the teaser was meant to help include her as part of the family. I personally think this episode helped to distance her from the audience. Worf is barely in this episode other than enjoying some eggs in the teaser.
Blu Ray Version: I think the vortex looks even better on Blu Ray, not appearing as flat as in the original. There were a couple of small bloopers that were fixed also.
Nitpicks: In the teaser, Pulaski says Riker is making omelettes, but what he ends up making are scrambled eggs. Those aren’t omelettes dude! Geordi does that ridiculous “transfer engineering to bridge” maneuver of the second season. I do have to admit, though, that having him on the bridge yelling out how difficult it is to maintain their precarious position did add tension. At the end, why kill Picard and then summon Pulaski? What did he want her to do?
Overall Impression: This is one of my favorite episodes from season two. I love the whole tone of this episode: there’s a kind of eerie tension throughout the whole 45 minutes which is really nice, and rarely repeated. I like the special effect of the vortex, it looks great. The score is great too, it compliments the episode very well. I like Patrick’s performance in this episode, and in contrast to the previous one everything here is dead serious. The only flaw is it needs a better ending. First it’s some unknown force, then we’re told it’s a life form, and somehow going through the center of it resolves the plot. Why? Did they kill it? How can a life form exist as a time loop? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess sometimes we’re better served by not having all of the answers but I just think something is missing here, there needed to be another piece for it to be satisfying. Still, I rate this episode a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: There is one possible answer to that question. According to Maurice Hurley, the head writer at the time, he intended for this to be a lead-in to Q Who? later in the season. Here’s his explanation:
The way it was originally designed, is that three episodes later they’re going through space and all of a sudden Picard finds himself stuck in a shuttlecraft in a flash, and he sees the ship falling in to the top of the vortex and exploding. He thinks he’s lost his mind; he doesn’t know what’s going on. Q appears and says, ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ Picard says, ‘You caused that and all these other things?’ Q says, ‘Ah, well, surprised you didn’t put it together earlier. Oh well, you are slow. Just a kind of calling card, something to do. Interesting, wasn’t it?’
Evidently Roddenberry put the kibosh on that idea for some reason. Hurley thought all we had now was a confusing ending. “Why would going into the vortex’s center save you? It doesn’t make sense. But it does if Q is pulling the strings.” So take what you will from that; I can see it being a nice idea. Finally, around the 31st minute Riker mentions Picard’s ‘Persian flaw.’ When I was a kid I had no frickin’ clue what that meant, or even if I’d heard it right! I still didn’t know until I looked it up. The “Persian flaw” that he refers to is the flaw found in all Persian rugs…left there on purpose by the rug maker to signify that man (unlike God) is inherently flawed. Kinda cool, though I don’t know how the average American viewer was supposed to know that.
Do you want to know how that vortex special effect was done? The short version of the story is, they used liquid nitrogen and a Hoover vacuum.
Missable/Unmissable? I consider this one of the better episodes of season two. It’s intellectually provocative and while not essential viewing, if you’re deciding which episodes you want to watch I recommend it. However I don’t recommend the next episode, which has a total of one good scene.