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July 12 2024


An archive of Star Trek News

Time Squared

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 28, 2007 - 7:04 PM GMT

See Also: 'Time Squared' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Riker's attempt to impress his friends with his cooking is interrupted by a summons to the bridge, where the crew has picked up an automated signal from a Federation shuttlecraft. The vessel is drifting without power, and when Picard orders it brought aboard the ship, Riker discovers that it appears to be a duplicate of their own shuttle El Baz. On board is a duplicate Captain Picard, whom Pulaski reports is not only unconscious but out of phase with the Enterprise. Once Data and LaForge are able to restore power to the damaged El Baz, they learn that the double Picard and his shuttle come from six hours in the future. Most of the shuttlecraft's records have been destroyed, but its final viewscreen images show the Enterprise exploding inside a vortex. Picard's final log is accessible as well, in which he reports having witnessed the loss of the Enterprise. The captain tries to question his double in sickbay, but the Picard from the future cannot understand him and the captain becomes angry. When the Enterprise encounters the vortex without any warning, he doubts his own judgment, unable to understand how he could have left the bridge, let alone the ship, during a crisis. Worf suggests that they may be caught in a loop wherein they are doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, and Picard second-guesses his orders, wondering whether each is the one that will trigger the ship's destruction. Troi senses intelligence from the vortex when it fires jets of energy at Picard, believing that he is the "brain" of the Enterprise. The energy strikes the Picard in sickbay as well and he becomes conscious, determined to leave the ship as he did before, since the only alternative is to take the Enterprise fully into the vortex. Guessing that the double's rejected plan must be the correct one, Picard stuns the double and orders the ship directly ahead into the vortex. The second Picard and El Baz disappear, and a moment later, so does the vortex. When Riker suggests that perhaps it was all a shared illusion, Picard wonders whether it wasn't instead a second chance to make the right choice.

Analysis: This is very nearly a perfect bottle episode, set entirely on the ship and utilizing familiar characters in an innovative situation - quite a contrast to last week's "The Royale," which has a fun new set and fun new characters but can't seem to do a thing with them. Just as "Elementary, Dear Data" develops the theme of holographic intelligence and "The Measure of a Man" sets out the issue of android rights -- two themes that recur throughout this series -- "Time Squared" articulates the Mbius Strip theory of time travel in which the future can change the past or cause people to repeat the same mistakes over and over. It isn't quite as well-developed here as it will be in the ship-exploding episode "Cause and Effect" or the universe-twisting "Parallels," but "Time Squared" is still engrossing science fiction with terrific performances from all the regulars.

Though the story starts with Riker showing off his gregarious nature by cooking scrambled eggs for Data, Geordi, Worf and Pulaski (the humans can barely choke them down, while the Klingon finds them delicious), Picard is the character who gets the most exploration. Faced with his double from the future, he refuses at first to believe that the man is himself, though Troi assures him that the unconscious shuttlecraft victim believes himself to be Picard in every way. Once he receives evidence that this is not a clone or an alien double, that this is in fact himself from the future, he is unconcerned about risking the duplicate's life; when a stimulant nearly kills the second Picard in sickbay, Pulaski and Troi are much more concerned than the captain. He becomes furious with the second Picard for being unable to answer his questions even though Pulaski and Troi have assured him that the double is so phase-shifted that he can't understand or even recognize where he is. The behavior is so uncharacteristic that Pulaski considers removing the captain from duty, though Troi believes that such a reaction to doubts about his own decisions is healthy.

So we get a rare glimpse of Picard making tentative decisions and second-guessing himself, but we also get a rare glimpse of how much the responsibilities of command must weigh on him at all times. The wan, miserable Picard in sickbay is physically incapable of interacting with people out of phase with his time, but he also seems catatonic, crushed by excruciating grief and unable to function outside of the psychological rut created by his mistake. It's never entirely clear whether this is because of the way time travel works in the vortex or whether it is indeed psychological; the Picard who makes the decision to go forward into the vortex has never suffered the loss of his ship and crew. He is saved by his refusal to accept that he could possibly be the same man who left his ship during a crisis, though the energy blasts make him better able to understand why the other Picard made that decision.

It's a creepy storyline both as science fiction and as a man's glimpse into his own mind, underscored by a brilliant soundtrack with long stretches of silence. We're offered no explanation for what the vortex is or why Troi senses intelligence from it; the crew doesn't really have time to explore those questions in the haste to figure out whether escape from a seemingly preordained fate is possible. It's certainly one of the more bizarre life forms the ship encounters during its travels, and Picard ultimately sees potential benevolence in its actions - sending him back as a cryptic warning to himself - though he also tells Riker that he sincerely hopes never to meet such a doppelganger again. Every once in a while it's nice not to have all the mysteries solved in a pat manner, and this is one instance where the crew is very aware that there may be some conundrums in the universe beyond the reach of their current humanoid intelligence. If the ending is a bit frustrating in its open-ended progression, it's also unexpected for that very reason.

And what lovely character moments. Troi defends Picard's actions to Pulaski, who doesn't know the captain as well. The entire command crew hesitantly broaches the question of why Picard would have left the bridge during a crisis. Riker tries to second Picard's commands as if he suspects the captain needs his confidence bolstered, only to get caught being a yes-man when Picard tries to reverse his decisions. Worf happily wolfs down alien scrambled eggs while LaForge and Pulaski try not to gag on them. Riker reacts with agitation and even anger when he thinks Picard intends to leave the ship just as his double did, putting the well-being of the crew ahead of his concern for the captain. Picard shoots himself - well, the other himself - without hesitating, but then can't bear to examine the man himself and instead heads to the bridge to see out the crisis rather than giving commands via communicator. Even O'Brien's reaction to seeing the dead duplicate vanish, reported in a few terse words, is nicely played.

Next Gen was still producing some dud episodes at this point in its existence - "The Royale" is proof of that - but each week the crew camaraderie seems a bit stronger, the characterization more assured. All the elements that made this series great were already present and turning up a bit more week by week. It's really great fun to watch it all again in order, warts and all.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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