Category Archives: 1988

“The Neutral Zone”

“We are back. And if we knew what ‘mic-dropping’ was, we’d do it here.”

In one of the weirdest story combos ever, the Enterprise happens upon a sleeper ship containing three humans who’ve been frozen since the late-1980s. Meanwhile, the Enterprise must head to the Neutral Zone to discover if the loss of several outposts was caused by the Romulans, who (ahem) have been unseen for several decades. Most of the episode is spent explaining the 24th century to the three humans while en route to the Neutral Zone. There, a Romulan warbird appears  — apparently, as part of an investigation into what happened to the outposts on their side of the zone, which met the same fate. As neither side has committed a transgression, the Romulans turn around and go home — but not before telling Picard and Co. that their absence is over. “I think all of our lives just got more complicated,” Picard says. Meanwhile, the three 20th-century humans are sent on a slow ship back to Earth, in search of low-mileage pit woofies.

“Say it with me. ‘Low-mileage pit woofies.'”

Why it’s important

Well, this is the first look at the Romulans since way back in “The Enterprise Incident”, other than a stray ambassador and appearance of blue ale in the movies. Their intentions to re-emerge change the math in a major way for the Federation, and started the Ferengi (clearly, the creators’ initial bad guys when TNG launched) on a glide path to comic fodder. Oh, and this is the first time in Star Trek where an actual date is attached to the “current” timeline. Data tells the 20th-century humans that it’s 2364 — even though, back in “Encounter at Farpoint”, he told Riker he graduated in the “class of ’78”. So, either Data is really, really old (he’s not) or the creators flubbed.

“Romulan ale? No, we’re gonna give you a cold glass of ‘shut the hell up.'”

What doesn’t hold up

The destruction of the outposts appears to have stemmed from a Borg attack. This is stated pretty clearly next season in “Q Who?” — in which the Enterprise finds planets with the same patterns of destruction, in a distant part of the galaxy. How the Borg were around the Neutral Zone and why we didn’t see them again (in Federation territory) until “The Best of Both Worlds” was never really explained.

Stranger still, the Romulans’ long absence sure seems at odds with what we learn later — and even some of what we’ve seen in the first season. Allegedly, the Enterprise was off to face some Romulan battle cruisers at the end of “Angel One.” Of course, we never learned what happened with that. But we know that the Klingons (who likely would have shared intelligence with Starfleet) had somewhat recent dealings with the Romulans, based on Worf’s dialog in “Heart of Glory”. In that episode, we learn that the Romulans attacked and destroyed Worf’s home colony (Khitomer) about 20 years earlier. We learn later that the Romulans and Klingons were allies prior to the attack. There are plenty of other things we learn in TNG, DS9 and Voyager that make this episode fall short (the Romulans’ attack at Narendra III, Picard’s statement that the Romulans have been working to destroy the Federation/Klingon alliance for 20 years, etc.) that don’t work at all with what we see in “The Neutral Zone”.

The real problem is that the creators decided to up the stakes in this episode by making the Romulans more mysterious than they really should have been (if only based on first-season mentions). This actually harks back to the introduction of the Romulans in TOS (“Balance of Terror”) when no one in the Federation had ever seen a Romulan. That didn’t make a ton of sense, either, because it relied on the premise that visual communication wasn’t possible in the 22nd century (when we know there was such communication in “Star Trek: Enterprise”). But at least in “Balance of Terror”, the idea that the Romulans hadn’t been around for a century held up.

Final thoughts

This is really a sloppy episode. The 20th-century human shtick actually isn’t awful — it gives Troi something to do and the interactions between Data and one of the humans is somewhat entertaining. But to mash that story up with something as big and important as the re-emergence of one of the Federation’s most notorious enemies? Who thought that was a good idea? I suppose it sort of works because the episode didn’t appear willing to have the Romulans actually do anything — except some saber-rattling — and something needed to fill the rest of the hour.

And, really, the Romulans’ re-emergence doesn’t amount to much for at least a year, as they only appear in one second-season episode (“Contagion”). Granted, what happens in the galaxy isn’t limited to what happens to the Enterprise, but we don’t really see much of the Romulans again until the third season. So, as far as being “back” …

Coming next week …

We already know Data’s fully functional. But is he a toaster?

“Heart of Glory”

“We never beat James Kirk!!!!!!”

The Enterprise finds a small group of Klingons on a crippled freighter who are actually renegades threatening “the alliance.” There’s no talk of the ice world of Hoth or X-Wings, so I’ll go ahead and guess the alliance in question is the one between the Federation and its former nemesis, the Klingon Empire. The renegade Klingons, of course, long for the “old ways” and threaten to destroy the Enterprise to prevent capture when a Klingon warship comes calling. Worf’s loyalty to Starfleet is tested (a theme we’ll see time and again for the next 12 years) but our favorite Klingon (belatedly, as we’ll discuss) does the right thing and saves the day by killing one of the Klingons who threaten the ship.

“Worf — it’ll be nice when you’re all paranoid in later seasons to the point where you wouldn’t let a major security threat roam the corridors of the Federation flagship. Something to think about.”

Why it’s important

The presence of Worf in TNG’s first season  had been an indication that things were somewhat copacetic between the Federation and the Empire — at least, compared with most TOS-era Trek. But this is the first episode that cements the bromance that we see for most of the next decade or so between the two powers. The ending of hostilities/formation of an alliance with the Klingons also becomes the major point of  “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, which premiered about three years after this episode, though it took place about 80 years earlier in the Star Trek universe.

Of course, this is the first episode to explore Worf’s backstory (what’s up, farming colony of Galt?) and details mentioned here pop up over the next decade. Lots of other Klingon items — the death scream, etc. — show up later, too. As noted previously, the Klingons really changed (beyond the forehead ridges) starting around “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and continuing through TNG and DS9. It’s an ongoing evolution, as we’ll discuss below.

How Geordi sees Riker. Time well spent, creators.

What doesn’t hold up

The episode paints Worf as a sort of unknown among Klingons. While his rescue by a human Starfleet officer and subsequent backstory are mentioned, his presence in Starfleet is a surprise to Korris and Konmel. That makes sense in this episode, but it’s odd given apparent high standing of the House of Mogh — named for Worf’s father — in future episodes. Wouldn’t the average American know if a Rockefeller were serving in the Russian navy?

Smaller details are off, too. Korris notes “the traitors of Kling”, which was either a bad idea for the name of the Klingon homeworld (called “Kronos” starting in “Star Trek VI”) or a strange term used as some sort of generic way to describe the Klingon people — i.e., “the traitors of man.” If the latter is the case, it’s odd that we never hear that kind of language again. Or maybe it’s just good that the term was put out to pasture.

From a character standpoint, Worf knew Korris and Konmel were up to no good pretty early in the episode — they admit destroying a Klingon ship — and his inaction nearly cost 1,000 people their lives. While this works dramatically, it doesn’t fit Worf’s paranoid/dutiful persona that we see in subsequent years, nor is it something we’d want to see from any member of the Enterprise crew (Picard asks Data about his loyalty in “Datalore”, when our favorite android is put in a similar situation). That said, the rest of the Enterprise crew is pretty chill about letting the Klingons have the run of the ship, given the odd circumstances surrounding their recovery from the freighter. Chalk it up to first-season rough spots, I guess. Keep in mind that Picard, a few years later, is actually hesitant to let three kids see the Battle Bridge. Maybe Picard trusts shady Klingons more than some kid who does a science project about radishes?

Final thoughts

This is a fascinating episode for a lot of reasons, but I love Picard and Riker’s reaction to learning that Klingons were on the freighter. It shows the schism between making the Klingons our new BFFs while still acknowledging the bad-dudes backstory. It’s interesting, too, because the portrayal of Klingons that we truly see starting in the second and third seasons — more snarling and animalistic — is fairly subdued here. The reliable Vaughn Armstrong puts in a good performance as Korris, but his portrayal comes across strangely (“I will speak only to my countryman — only to Worf!”). He sounds more Cardassian than Klingon.

Lastly, the whole thing at the beginning of the episode where the bridge crew can see from Geordi’s perspective while he’s on the freighter with Riker and Data was really odd. It had little to do with the rest of the episode, it makes Starfleet technology seem limited (are visual feeds that hard to pull off in the 24th century?) and it’s especially weird as we never see the crew try this again. It almost comes across as the crew wanting to see what Geordi sees rather than wanting to use a visual feed for the sake of a visual feed. And having a visual feed would have been especially useful to Picard in early TNG, when he often asks Riker-led away teams what they see. Having a visual record of the Borg ship in “Q Who?”, for instance, would have been pretty valuable.

Coming later this week …

The crew ends its first season by learning the term “low-mileage pit woofie.” Oh, and the Romulans are back.


“In a minute, I’m going to yell, ‘I said, Give me the brandy!'”

The Enterprise stops by the mysterious planet Omicron Theta, where Data was discovered more than 20 years earlier. Riker leads an away team and finds a planet devoid of life — and a secret chamber near where Data was found. The chamber (which wasn’t found with Data originally) contains a lab where our heroes find the components of an android identical to Data and piece together (TOS-exposition style) that the reclusive scientist, Dr. Noonien Soong, must have built both androids there. Back on the ship, the Enterprise crew puts the other android together, and he tells them his name is Lore. Lore is much more human than Data and incapacitates his “brother” in order to take his place and summon a “crystalline entity” — essentially a giant snowflake (in space!) that eradicated the colony — to attack the Enterprise. Wesley does his boy-genius thing and figures out that Lore is impersonating Data, which should have been pretty obvious to the adults. After the bridge crew tells Wesley to shut up about 10 times, he gets his moms to turn Data on (Not in that way! This isn’t “The Naked Now“) and the three of them stop Lore, by beaming Lore into space.

“Commander, I am not sure why you and Geordi think this is the lab of Dr. Noonien Soong. We see strange devices like these nearly every week.”

Why it’s important

The introduction of Lore and Data’s background is hugely important. It’s a key point in “The Measure of  Man”, one of the highlights of TNG. In the third season episode “Brothers”, we learn Soong is still alive when he summons Data (and, inadvertently, Lore) with a homing signal. At that point, Lore steals an emotion chip meant for Data, kills the elderly Soong in the process and escapes. He later uses the emotion chip to help a group of Borg separated from the collective by the Enterprise’s actions in “I, Borg”, becoming a sort of cult leader (in “Descent, I and II”). After temporarily turning Data in those episodes by using the chip, Lore is defeated by the Enterprise crew and deactivated, ending the threat to the Federation.

Data later employs the emotion chip in “Star Trek: Generations”, which complicates the investigation of a Romulan attack at the Amargosa Observatory. A cowering Data, overcome by emotions, allows Dr. Tolian Soran to escape, which leads to Picard’s efforts to stop Soran on Veridian III with the help of James Kirk. Kirk had been consumed by a time-traveling event (called the Nexus) during the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B 78 years earlier, in the opening of that film, and dies shortly after the confrontation with Soran. Data, as the movie ends, has adapted to the emotion chip and has emotions (more or less) in the next three films.

Soong’s research also led to the construction of the prototype android B-4, which Romulan Praetor Shinzon uses in an elaborate trap to attack the Federation and capture Picard in “Star Trek: Nemesis”. We also learn about Soong’s family in the Augments trilogy during the fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Arik Soong, an ancestor of Noonien Soong, began down the road of cybernetics after he deemed genetic engineering (based on the work that led to Khan and others in the 20th century) hopeless. Brent Spiner, naturally, played Arik Soong.

We also see the crystalline entity again in “Silicon Avatar”, Data’s “mother” Juliana Soong (who was on the colony and escaped with Soong before it was destroyed) in “Inheritance”, and learn more about Soong and androids in several other episodes. Generally speaking, exploring Data’s origins and capabilities was a major piece of TNG, and it really began with “Datalore”.

Shut up, Wesley.

What doesn’t hold up

This episode suffers from some first-season issues. How Data — who presumably would have done research on androids to learn more about himself — wouldn’t have heard of Soong, and how Riker, Geordi and Yar (!) would have (as shown during the lab scene) is hard to swallow. Beyond that, Data being so uninvolved in Lore’s activation was weird. It’s almost as if Data knew very little about androids — which makes almost zero sense, especially based on what we see later (like when he BUILDS an android in “The Offspring”). This would be like if Worf, who grew up separated from his origins, knew very little about Klingons — despite a strong interest in his origins. Wouldn’t Data have come across the name Noonien Soong in research on androids? Remember, this is an android who remembers everything he reads and can consume information at ridiculously fast speeds.

Moreover, it’s never made a ton of sense that Data spent more than 20 years in Starfleet (at Starfleet Academy and before his posting on the Enterprise) not learning more about himself (and why he’s still so unhuman/android-like by the time we meet him). It’s always been puzzling why the creators set Data’s discovery so far back in the Star Trek timeline. It sort of sets up his ascendancy through Starfleet to where he is a fairly high-ranking officer. But we know other characters — Riker and later La Forge — reached the rank of lieutenant commander in significantly less than 20 years. Riker was actually offered his own command less than 10 years after he graduated from the academy!

Back to this episode, there’s also the really annoying stuff with the bridge crew and Wesley. Wesley could have been more persuasive and Picard and Co. could have been FAR less dismissive. Wesley Saving the Day was an annoying trope in the early seasons mostly because of the execution of HOW he usually saved the day. Wesley spotting Lore as Data could have been pulled off in a much more believable method.

But the big problems really come down to the events on Omicron Theta. Here’s what we know (based on this episode and others):

— Humiliated after failing to build an android with a positronic brain, Soong (with his wife, Juliana, we learn later) moves to the remote Omicron Theta. While there, the two begin construction of androids, Lore, Data and prototypes including B-4 — who must have been stored elsewhere in Soong’s lab as the away team doesn’t find him, but Shinzon apparently does prior to the events of “Star Trek: Nemesis”. I guess the Enterprise crew was in a hurry/not very thorough?

— Lore is completed and alive for a while on the colony, but his emotions make him “twisted and cruel.” The colonists feel threatened by him.

— Soong decides to build an android without emotions (Data) and (at some point) decides to deactivate Lore. Before being disassembled, Lore contacts the crystalline entity, which destroys the colony, but not before Data is left outside (after Soong provides him with the colonists’ memories) and Soong and Juliana escape.

I’ve never understood how this sequence of events is possible, considering how efficient the crystalline entity is with its methods in “Silicon Avatar”. A colony of 400 or so people MIGHT have had a few hours to do anything before it was destroyed, unless something seriously slowed the entity down.

We’ll begin with the conceit that Data was under construction — perhaps near completion — BEFORE Lore was deactivated. Otherwise, there would have been no time for Soong and Juliana to build and test Data (there are lines of dialog in “Inheritance” about extensive testing) and disassemble Lore.

Then, you figure that as Data’s being completed, Lore contacts the entity — which might have been what finally prompted Soong to deactivate him. That makes sense if Soong learned of the communication well before the entity arrived, especially if he didn’t understand what the entity was capable of doing (or what, exactly, Lore contacted). Otherwise, why stay on the planet? Why not warn the other colonists? And, of course, how did Lore find out about the crystalline entity in the first place?

Shortly thereafter, Data is completed. Then, presumably, the entity arrives and scares the colonists enough that children draw pictures of the thing. Soong hurriedly uploads the colonists’ journals into Data, puts him on the stoop, possibly creates the hidden lab door (although that could have been done earlier) and escapes with Juliana before the colony gets destroyed. Lore (and B-4, presumably) are left in storage at the lab.

It just might work — if we didn’t know that the entity does its thing efficiently and should have made quick work of the colony. Or, if we knew what delayed it. Maybe it hovered for a while trying to find out what happened to its BFF Lore, but I sort of doubt it. It’s also odd that Lore, in this episode, knows that the entity was successful, even though he was on a shelf during the attack. I guess he just… pieced it together?

Other than that last note, we’re addressing continuity/logic problems that mostly aren’t the fault of “Datalore”. But it’s unlikely that we’ll review some of the episodes that cause issues with this one — so it makes sense to do our analysis here.

Back to this episode, Lore’s plan after he’s reactivated is sort of odd. Did he think the entity could remove all life on the Enterprise — leaving him (and maybe Data) as the only survivors? Or, did Lore figure he could somehow travel with the entity after the Enterprise was destroyed? The second option makes more sense, otherwise, Lore would have needed an escape plan when he drew the entity to the colony in the first place. Maybe he figured he could escape on the shuttle Soong used to escape?

Oh, and, finally, why did the Enterprise crew simply leave Lore floating in space? They had to know where he was. Couldn’t they have beamed him aboard and put him somewhere where he could do no harm? That certainly would have prevented some problems later (see above). OTOH, it’s odd that Picard, with his very real respect for life, wouldn’t have tried to save Lore.

Final thoughts

This is another step toward TNG’s improvement during the first season. The series was remarkably stronger after the first 10 episodes or so — even if it wasn’t quite as good as it would be in the third and fourth seasons.

Still, “Datalore” is somewhat campy, employing the “evil” version of a main character and using some B-movie camera angles and music. And Data’s final line to Picard, where he uses a contraction (like Lore) and has a facial twitch (like Lore) was sort of a cheap in-joke. Was it actually Lore who survived (thunderclap)?

Coming next week …

It WAS Lore who survived and now he’s taken over the Enterprise and turned Wesley into a torch! Just kidding — we’ll see some Klingon stuff, or something.

“The Big Goodbye”

“Says here that these holodecks will end up being deathtraps, Mr. Data …”

Picard is all stressed as he prepares to give a very elaborate greeting to a very protocol-driven (read: anal) alien species called the Jarada. Troi tells him he needs a break, so Picard checks out the upgraded holodeck — now capable of characters with more human interaction. He chooses to play the role of 20th-century American gumshoe Dixon Hill, a longtime hero. Picard is so amazed with the results after a brief visit that he returns with Data, Crusher and historian/redshirt Whalen (David Selburg). While they’re inside, the Jarada probe the Enterprise, messing up the holodeck, trapping our heroes and removing the safeties. Gangster Cyrus Redblock (Lawrence Tierney) shows up in Hill’s office and shoots Whalen. Realizing they’re cut off from the rest of the ship and in danger, Picard and Co. tell Redblock that they’re actually engaging in a simulation and — after Wesley and Geordi fix the holodeck — Redblock and one of his toadies exit (looking for new plunder) only to disappear. Data and Crusher then hurry Whalen to sickbay and Picard has a short discussion with a non-bad holodeck character who wonders whether his world will continue after Picard leaves. Picard tells him he honestly doesn’t know and heads to the bridge — where he does the weird Jarada greeting successfully.

“It’s really gonna be a shame when we replace you with the woman who fell down the elevator shaft on ‘L.A. Law’.”

Why it’s important

Although this episode has some first-season issues (which we’ll get to in a moment) it’s a huge moment for Star Trek storytelling in at least three ways:

1) It sets up the second-generation Trek’s version of the “parallel Earth” stories. Fortunately, it’s much more believable in TNG, DS9 and Voyager than on TOS because our heroes are actively creating 20th-century Earth scenarios, rather than randomly finding them on far-flung planets, like in “Bread and Circuses”.

2) It sets up the “holodeck accident” trope that became a fixture for the next 14 or so years. This had mixed results, from good episodes like “Elementary, Dear Data,” “Our Man, Bashir,” and “Worst Case Scenario” to awful ones like “Good Shepherd.” There were a lot of “meh” episodes thrown in, too.

3) But probably most important is the idea of holographic characters becoming sentient. That led to the successful “Elementary, Dear Data”/”Ship in a Bottle” arc in TNG, the somewhat successful Vic Fontaine stories in DS9 and, of course, Voyager’s best character, the Doctor.

It’s unclear how much of what happened in “The Big Goodbye” and later “Elementary, Dear Data” prompted Starfleet to design sentient holograms like the Doctor. But, it’s pretty obvious the Star Trek creators got the idea for sentient holograms in the early TNG stories. Either way, this episode lays a lot of foundation for later Trek.

“Yeah, Geordi. It would be pretty awkward if you had to look into this …”

What doesn’t hold up

The episode suffers from what I call “M*A*S*H Syndrome” — where main characters are put into positions simply because they’re main characters and not because people in their roles would realistically interact in such a way. It comes across as if the handful of characters played by the show’s stars only interact with each other — even though there are many more people around. Voyager was actually the worst series as far as this problem, but TNG had its share, too. The key scene in this episode is in the observation lounge following Picard’s first visit to the holodeck.

Simply put, having everyone in that scene was weird. Later TNG might have Picard telling Riker or Data or Troi about his adventure. But there’s no way Picard in the fourth or fifth season would take time away from the Jarada briefing for something like this. And there’s no reason for Wesley (who’s usually only in briefings in the series when he’s working on something with Geordi) to be in the scene. Wesley’s involvement later in rescuing Picard and Co. still could have happened.

This episode also is the clearest example of Picard and Crusher having feelings for each other that we see until the seventh season, as the whole ordeal in “The Naked Now” could be chalked up to the weirdness that happened to the entire crew. It’s frankly a little over the top here — particularly in the observation lounge (with the entire senior staff and Wesley present) and knowing where Picard comes down on romantic relationships with crewmembers.

Otherwise, there’s only really one big issue — why Geordi, Wesley or one of the other engineering dudes didn’t rush into the holodeck after it was fixed to tell Picard that the Jarada were waiting. It’s also odd that Redblock and his crony didn’t see any of Geordi’s team when they exited.

Final thoughts

To be fair, the above complaints don’t rank very high and “The Big Goodbye” was a clear step in the right direction after a lot of bad television in TNG’s first several episodes. As long as you don’t dislike holodeck stories generally, this isn’t a bad view. It was fairly original when it aired. And the Redblock character added some interesting wrinkles to the show’s final minutes, as he clearly was a well-conceived holodeck character.

Just as “Tomorrow is Yesterday” should be gently viewed as TOS’s first time-travel story, “The Big Goodbye” should be viewed as TNG’s (actually, all of second-generation Trek’s) first holodeck problem story. From that perspective — and compared with a lot of the dreck from early TNG — it works quite well.

Coming later this week …

We learn about Data’s backstory, off switch and inability to use contractions. But it’s cool. He’s fine …