Episode no. 124
Season 1
Entertainment rating: C-
Tergiversation meter: -2


--"..round up the usual suspects..."--

FEATURING: Michelle Phillips (of "Mamas & Papas" fame) and Patrick Stewart, with Rod Loomis as Dr. Paul Manheim. DIRECTOR: Robert Becker. WRITERS: Deborah Dean Davis and Hannah Louise Shearer. STARDATE: 41697.9. EARTHDATE: 5-2-88.


THE SHOW: The main plot line is a bummer--the first of many failed efforts to match up Captain Picard with a romantic interest (that is, a woman, any woman, anything than looks good in a skirt and can act, "Call Central Casting, for godssakes! You mean there is not a single bimbo in all of Hollywood who can play next to Patrick Stewart??!!"). The subplots and some of the side-bits save the episode from being a complete stinker.

Starting with the teaser--wherein Captain Picard is advised that a "Paul Manheim" is coming on board, reacts with unusual emotion to this name, and the tells Counselor Troi to shove off, when she tries to explore the Captain's obviously troubled feelings--the minor scenes in this episode are the ones that hold our interest. Stewart is so good in this exchange with Sirtis (Troi), however, that the pay-off--who "Paul Manheim" is--comes as a disappointment. He's merely the guy who stole Picard's old love, Jenice. Ho-hum. We expect something more interesting than this because Captain Picard's reaction is so unusual and complex. Patrick Stewart isn't over-acting, in his rejection of Counselor Troi's counseling--he's just too good for this bad script. He conveys deep, subtle layers of feeling in this short little teaser scene--touchiness? guilt? shame? tragedy? embarrassment? Captain Picard's shields go up. He blows Troi out of the water, and crawls into himself. We are thoroughly intrigued. What is going on?

Well, not much, as it turns out. In an obvious steal from "Casablanca" (that's what Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman, when they finally part company at the airport: "We'll always have Paris"), the writers set up an old love story in which Picard's lover Jenice had gone off with another man, physicist Paul Manheim (the other guy, in "Casablanca," was also named Paul). A serious accident in scientist Manheim's pioneering time-space experiments--one that threatens the entire universe--has killed Manheim's assistants and has left Manheim half-dead. The Enterprise is called for help.

While Manheim--to whom Jenice is supposely totally devoted--lay dying on an Enterprise examining table, we have the bittersweet reunion of the old lovers, Jean Luc and Jenice. It is a badly directed scene, in which we feel that Jenice could care less about her dying husband. She and Picard step off to the side, and make eyes at each other. The director seem not to notice that her husband, the object of her loving devotion all these many years, is DYING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM!

Someone has to go down into Manheim's laboratory and shut off the experiment which is ripping time and space apart, and killing Manheim. The dingbat writers don't even see the possibilities, as to the romantic plot. (A rip in time-space, THE PAST, an old lover showing up, etc., etc.--all ignored.) Data is chosen for this dangerous task. He tells Captain Picard that he understands why he has been chosen, "...because I am expendable." The moment is sloughed off. In route somewhere else, Picard merely tosses off the line, "No, Data--it's because you are indispensable," and quickly explains why--that Data, with his perfect inner chronometer, will likely become less disoriented than a human being, within the time-space distortion.

It is typical of this episode that it cannot seem to focus even its good moments. What a thing for Data to say--that he believes himself to be "expendable"! It should have elicited a full stop, from Picard, a focus on Data, and a firm, unequivical statement that Data is not expendable, that he is a person, that his life is of equal value with other persons, and that his particular qualities make him indispensable for this mission. A huge issue is raised in this co-plot--Data's personhood--and, like the huge issue of Picard's past romantic life, it is hugely bungled.

Data's entry into the multiple time-periods created by the experiment is the best moment in the episode (aside from Picard's initial reaction to Paul Manheim's name). We see three Datas. He has to figure out which one he is, in the present reality. The special effects are excellent. And Spiner has a special gift for these tense, dramatic, space adventure scenes, in which super-alertness and quick action are necessary to save the universe.

Picard re-creates Paris--where he had waited in vain for Jenice, so many years ago--on the holodeck, and invites her there for a good-bye, after Data saves Manheim and the universe from destruction. Their dialogue is icky, as it is throughout the episode. Their "chemistry" is non-existent (oil and water). We don't care about them at all. Star Trek tries many other such match-ups for Picard, over the years--including many episodes in which Beverly Crusher makes goo-goo eyes at the Captain and he tries to be nice, and two episodes ("Captain's Holiday" and "Q-Pid") in which an anorexic, "jet set" type of female criminal named Vash (a sort of "intergalactic diamond thief") leads Picard around by the nose while he tries (slightly more successfully) to look interested.

Truly, it is a mystery why these "love interests" of Picard's come off as so artificial. Even Data creates more "chemistry" with romantic co-stars than does Picard. Picard is an attractive enough male character--very attractive, in fact. Stewart himself is an excellent actor. He carries whole episodes by his sheer acting ability. Why can't they find a match for him?

One problem is that they never look in the right places. They bring in guest stars, and guest stars rarely do well in Star Trek TNG, in any capacity. When they look to the crew for a romantic interest for Picard, they choose that simpering, icky, dewy-eyed Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), whose only equal on board the Enterprise, for insipidity, is her son Wesley. Picard's natural counterpart, the superfemme Counselor Troi, might have worked--if Picard's animosity toward her prying mental games had been kept up. Even though the Troi character is seriously flawed and the actor (Marina Sirtis) is not strong, Patrick Stewart might have been able to work with it, if the producers had allowed the Picard-Troi conflict to become full-blown. Think of the Worf-K'Ehleyr conflict/romance (in the "The Emissary")--and many another passionately embattled pair. But this was not to be. (Roddenberry had issued the edict that there would be no personal conflicts in the 24th Century).

The only guest star match for the Captain that ever creates sparks is the beautiful mesomorph in "The Perfect Mate" (wherein the Captain is completely done in by a natural empath, who is pledged to another man). Another woman who might have created a profound romantic tale is yet to come on board--the mysterious Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg. But Star Trek writers aren't up to a mixed-race love affair with such a powerful female presence--and it never happens. The sad part is that Stewart very likely would have risen to the occasion.

TERGIVERSATION METER READING: -2. They don't even sleep together. It's all just painful memories and agonized looks. Hardly a progressive message. And we come away feeling that Data is, in fact, in some way "expendable"--because of the off-hand way that Picard says he isn't. These supposedly advanced human beings, who have solved all of the old problems of the human race--they don't use money any more, they don't engage in personal quarrels--toss Data into the breach, and don't even thank him for it afterward.

Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).

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