Thursday, August 03, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 141 (Tapestry)

We all have moments in life that we wish we could do over.  Maybe you regret not asking someone out.  Maybe you botched an interview for a job you really wanted.  Usually, we get past it.  We come to realize that other opportunities came along or that we may have actually made the correct decision.  In the second-season episode, Samaritan Snare, Captain Picard has a malfunctioning artificial heart.  He tells Wesley Crusher that the replacement is due to a fight with several Nausicaans on a starbase.

This sets up the story for Tapestry.  While on a planet, Picard is struck by a weapon, causing the artificial heart to fail.  While on the operating table, he goes toward the light and is greeted by the omnipotent Q.  Q informs Picard that he’s dead.  Rather than show Picard around, Q gives him a choice.  If Picard wants, he can go back and fix a mistake.  Picard is ultimately taken back two days before the fateful fight.  If Picard can avoid the stabbing, he’ll be returned to the present with a real heart.  If not, he’ll die on the operating table.

This gives Picard a few days to talk to Q and explain what happened.  He was on the station shortly after graduating Starfleet Academy with two of his friends, also recent graduates.  One friend, Corey, was playing Star Trek’s version of pool when a Nausicaan challenges him to a game.  This leads to Corey losing and subsequently realizing that his opponent was cheating.  In the original timeline, a successful rematch causes the Nausicaan and his friends to start a fight.  Basically, Nausicaans are Trek’s version of Wookies.  You let them win for pretty much the same reason.

Picard is able to alter the timeline and is returned to his present.  The problem is that he’s now a lieutenant junior grade in astrophysics.  As per a promise Q made, almost everything else is the same.  Riker is still first officer.  La Forge is still chief engineer.  The only difference is that Thomas Halloway is now the captain of the Enterprise.  Picard calls out to Q.  He gets it.  The fight was an important event in his life.  It led him to take chances.  Nearly dying caused him to realize how short his existence could be.  He’d take dying as the man he was over living as the man he would have been.

So, Q lets Picard put things right.  Picard wakes up on the operating table with his fake heart.  In the final scene, Picard admits to Riker that it could all have been a dream.  Of course, most near-death experiences aren’t that involved.  If it was Q, though, that’s significant.  It would mean that Q actually did something meaningful for Picard, which would seem a little out of character for him.

This was an episode that I mostly understood when it first aired.  I got the basic message that what might seem like the wrong decision could have a positive impact on your life.  Picard was lucky to be close to a medical facility that was equipped to save his life.  I wondered why he’d take risks if it meant possibly dying again.  I got the whole life-is-short thing, but I think if I was stabbed like that, I might play it a little safer.

In a way, that’s sort of it. It wasn’t so much about not taking risks, but rather considering the consequences more carefully.  In watching the episode again, I’ve come to realize that it’s a false dichotomy.  You don’t have to go in guns blazing to win.  It’s not so much that standing up to the Nausicaans was a bad idea.  It’s more that doing it with fists was the wrong way to go about it.  It wasn’t that it taught him to take risks, but rather to temper his emotions.

My only issue is that it might have been possible to check to see what happened.  Some of the events were left altered, meaning that Picard could have asked one of his two friends what happened during those days.  Then again, Picard did manage to alienate both of them.  It’s possible that the conversation would have been too awkward, assuming they were still alive.

Also, it’s interesting to note that there was one small issue with what Q said about Picard not being that important.  In Time’s Arrow, Guinan mentions that he had to go on the mission at the end of Part I.  The events of Part II were, in fact, important enough that it could unravel history.  It’s possible that Picard is holding out because of this.  Q would have it in his power to rearrange history to have Captain Halloway be the important element on that mission, instead.  (I’d imagine that Q’s promise not to allow the rest of history to fall apart is because of nits like this.)

This was one of those episodes that hit it out of the park.  If you’re watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time and are thinking of quitting, this is one of the episodes that will make it worth watching.  In fact, if you do give up, this is one of the episodes you should skip to and just watch.  That’s how good of an episode it is.  I would even say it’s on par with Inner Light.

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