Sunday, May 14, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 118 (Cause and Effect)

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

“Cause and Effect” starts with a severely damaged Enterprise colliding with another ship and subsequently exploding. Then, it goes to the main theme. The next scene in the episode has Commander Riker, Lieutenant Commander Data, Dr. Crusher and Chief of Security Worf playing poker. Riker bluffs, but Crusher calls it. Before it can go any further, the doctor is called to sickbay; Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is having problems with his VISOR, a device that allows him to see. Dr. Crusher is sure that she’s treated him for the same problem before, but his medical records indicate otherwise. Eventually, the Enterprise encounters the situation seen in the beginning of the episode and, as the original scene would indicate, the ship explodes.

Then, we go to what had originally been a commercial break. Watching the episode on VHS (or DVD) allows us the benefit of seeing the same scene we saw after the opening credits. The Enterprise is entering the same area of space and Riker, Data, Crusher and Worf are playing the same game. Similar events unfold, but the crew has a higher awareness of it and a feeling of deja vu. However, the ship explodes again and everyone is back to where they started. Finally, La Forge gets the idea to have Data send a message to himself in the next loop.

The message works; Data causes the number three to appear all over the ship. (For instance, when dealing cards in the poker game, he deals everyone a three then three of a kind. I’d imagine that it was important to have four people at the game for this reason.) Data eventually realizes what the message was supposed to mean and takes the appropriate action to save the day. The other ship is the U.S.S. Bozeman who set out around 80 years prior; to them, it only seems like three weeks prior. The anomaly sent them ahead eight decades.

It’s an interesting, if unoriginal, idea. Those that have seen “Groundhog Day” will recognize the concept of repeating days. (In this episode, they’re called causality loops.) The trouble with causality loops is that they call for a lot of precision. For instance, during the poker game, Data says that the cards are “sufficiently randomized.” How is it that with the exception of the final hand, Data says deals identical hands? If Data is correct, he should have dealt a different hand each time. (Also, it seems that La Forge enters sickbay at different times. I guess I can’t have it both ways.)

Speaking of Data, he correctly uses the expression, “Too rich for my blood.” Normally, I’d complain that he’s not supposed to be able to do this correctly. (At least, it’s always been one of the running gags in the show.) I can see it in this case, seeing that Data regularly plays poker. However, in the final loop, he states that the number three appears “an inordinate number of times.” (That’s the sort of error he normally makes when trying to use an expression.) He goes on to say that they’ve appeared 2085 times. (Coincidentally, 2085 is divisible by three, but the odds of that happening are only 2-1 against.)

When I first saw this episode advertised in the coming attractions, I expected a bigger role for Kelsey Grammer, who played the captain of the Bozeman. However, he has a very small role, appearing only at the end. (I’ll admit that I’m not the only one to say this.) If you are watching this episode just to see his performance, you can skip most of the episode.

This is a three-star episode. The acting is good and the story is well executed. However, the story is difficult to do. The constraints of having to work in a 48-minute timeframe limits the number of loops you can do and still have time left to tell some sort of story. Trying to pace it with the commercial breaks makes it even more difficult. Even with this in mind, I don’t feel that they did a terrific job with it. It wasn’t horrible, either. It’s worth watching if you can catch it on TV or if you get the DVD set, but I can’t say that I recommend buying the tape. 

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