Thursday, November 10, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 26 (The Neutral Zone)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account..

The Enterprise is waiting for Captain Picard to return from somewhere. As the ship is waiting, an old Earth probe of some sort passes by. Commander Riker thinks nothing of it and is willing to simply let it fall into a star and be incinerated. Data, pointing out the opportunity to study something of Earth’s past, wants to go over and see what’s there. What Data finds is more than ordinary. He actually finds three cryogenically frozen humans. Before he can contact the ship for a decision, Picard’s shuttle comes back. Data makes the decision to bring the three people back to the Enterprise.

Dr. Crusher examines them and finds that all three are from the 20th century. They all died of problems that were pretty serious in our time, but are easily treatable in the 24th century. Both Riker and Picard question Data’s decision; the three people on the probe were already dead. Data pointed out that it would have been wrong to leave them there if they could be helped.

The problem is that the Enterprise is due to go to the Neutral Zone. This is an area between the Federation and the Romulan Empire used as a buffer; entry into the Neutral Zone could be considered an act of war. Several Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone have stopped communicating and there are reports of Romulan activity. It’s a dangerous mission, meaning that the three ‘survivors’ might have been just as well off on the probe.

For their part, the people brought back have varying degrees of difficulty. One is a housewife who’s distraught at the thought of not having her family any more. Another was a businessman who’s almost giddy at the prospect of how much interest he’s earned over the course of 370 years. The third was a country singer who’s just as happy to be singing in the 24th century as he was in the 20th. One venue is just as good as another.

Everything goes well with the Romulans, which is to say that neither the Enterprise nor the Romulan ship destroys the other one. The Romulans report similar instances of their outposts simply vanishing. (Both sides recognize that the other side doesn’t have the capability to do something of this magnitude.) The three survivors are told that they will be sent back to Earth to find new lives. Troi even helps the housewife find a few descendants. And so ends the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The episode, by itself, wasn’t much to look at. We never find out what happened with the three people from the probe or exactly how the probe got so far out. Apparently, it was lucky enough not to hit anything while it was drifting, but it’s amazing that no one else found them first. Also, it was mentioned that cryogenics was popular, but there’s no mention of other probes or ships other than the Botany Bay from the original series. I guess we’re just lucky that not all cryogenically frozen people turn out to be evil, genetically modified dictators like Khan. It would have been nice to revisit one or two of them in the series later on.

Also, how is it that Troi was only able to find one family for that woman? 370 years translates into 15 generations, give or take. Figuring that both of her children were to marry and each couple were to have two children, the number of descendants should be somewhere to the order of 30,000-65,000 people or more. Even if we were to figure far less, Troi should have been able to find quite a number of families. It seems possible that one of her descendants might even be on the Enterprise.

This episode was supposed to accomplish two things, really. First, it was supposed to bring back the Romulans. According to the episode, they had been missing for 50 years. Now, they were back and would be paying close attention to the Federation. The second thing was to set up the Borg. They were never expressly mentioned in the episode, but it would turn out that the cybernetic race was the real reason that the outposts disappeared. The Ferengi hadn’t shaped up to be the enemy that they were supposed to be, so the writers had to think of something else.

The acting was pretty good, but not spectacular. The writing was decent, but not great. The episode does set up later episodes, but could very easily be skipped. It’s a two-star episode. The only thing of any real importance that the episode does is to establish the year as 2364. I really can’t recommend this episode based on that alone. If you’re collecting the series on VHS, don’t waste your money on this one. (Actually, if you’re collecting the series on VHS, you might want to look into the DVD sets and a DVD player.) I suppose that it’s really a fitting end to the first season. It’s worth watching if it comes on TV, but it’s nothing remarkable.

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