Lynch's Spoiler Review: "All Good Things..." [continued] [Spoilers]

Yow. After a synopsis that long, it seems the only syllable that's appropriate. Now, onwards to commentary (and no, it won't be another 400 lines; I haven't the strength).

I have to admit that when I first heard the initial rumors of this episode's plot, those being of the "Q returns to deliver a final verdict on the trial" variety, I wasn't particularly impressed by them. "Encounter at Farpoint" has always been a decent introduction to TNG's cast of characters, I've maintained, but the "humanity on trial" theme is one that's been used far too often for my tastes, and not one that worked all that well in EaF. As a result, my initial expectations were a little low.

As time went on and I heard more about "All Good Things...", my appetite got substantially more whetted, though. Picard time-jumping? A taste of what kind of future *might* be in store for the characters we've come to know? Ron Moore and Brannon Braga hopefully returning to form?

Fortunately, the latter was entirely true. While the episode had a couple of minor leaps in logic that I don't think are explainable by invoking paradoxes :-), I think "All Good Things..." was a fitting sendoff for the TNG crew, and certainly a storyline that merited a 2-hour "event".

So, the writing first:

"All Good Things" was a character-driven piece, I think, but had one heck of a plot driving it. Although the concept of the whole thing being Q's final test is a very slight annoyance, the paradox and the entire way in which Picard and company found out about it was absolutely marvelous.

First of all, in keeping with the nonlinear way in which the show ran, we didn't start at the beginning, but in the middle, while Picard was *already* jumping around. What's more, we could have seen that part of it from Picard's perspective, but I think it worked better seeing it from someone else's: Picard's frenzied manner lent an added sense of urgency to the whole thing.

As to the Anomaly [tm] itself, I have to admit that Moore and Braga not only came up with a great idea, but ran with it further than I was really expecting them to. "Anti-time" isn't an idea I've seen before, but is an interesting concept, and certainly something that's plausible-sounding enough to work very well in an SF setting. What's more, the thought of anti-time's effects propagating *backwards* in time rather than forwards is an excellent one on more than a dramatic level: one of the late Richard Feynman's great intuitive leaps was his decision to treat antimatter as a time-reversed state of normal matter: thus, a positron can be treated in any relevant equation or Feynman diagram as an electron that happens to be traveling back in time. (No, I don't entirely like or understand that concept myself. That's why I'm not in theoretical particle physics -- it's scary in there. :-) ) Given that formulation, it makes absolutely perfect sense that "anti-time" must in some ways be *time* propagating backwards in ... er ... time. Eep!

(It's also a nice touch that time and anti-time annihilation creates a major disruption in *space* more than in time. Cute.)

The logic of the paradox was well thought out on nearly all points, but I see a few points that I imagine will spark debate:

1) Why didn't the Pasteur see it initially, if it was growing as they went back in time?


2) Data said the three beams were all from the Enterprise, but the future one was created by the Pasteur.

Point (2) is undoubtedly a glitch, but I think (1) is extremely arguable. Since the Anomaly's effects were growing as it went further and further backwards in the timeline, I think it makes a lot of sense to propose that the cause/effect blurring also was more and more pronounced further back in the past. As such, the "we saw it before we created it" point may not be true at points *very* close to the Anomaly's creation; it may be a case then of not being able to see it until after you've made it -- which is what happens in normal time, after all.

The whole thing's a little head-spinning, but it works for me. One thing I would have done given the chance, however, and one thing that I think *might* have been done and then edited out, was fix (2) above, and there's an easy way to do it:

Suppose that the Anomaly cannot be stopped until it has been fully created -- something vaguely close to that was said anyway. In that case, no attempts to collapse it can be made until the future Enterprise returned to the Devron system, aimed a tachyon beam at that point for a few seconds, thus fulfilling its role, *then* work on collapsing it. That would have required maybe another 30-60 seconds of screen time to fix, and would have removed that objection to the paradox issue.

No? Well, thppth; I like it anyway. :-)

In any event, the plot points less related to the paradox were also very solid. Q's relentless taunting was its usual fun to watch (much more so here because he was in such deadly earnest; Q is at his best when he's at his most barbed), and the slow progress Picard made in pinpointing exactly what had been done was frustrating only because you were rooting for him so much. (For the record: yes, I *did* figure out that the only easy way to destroy humanity would be back at the source, but I didn't figure out much more than that until it was revealed.)

Q's continued reference to humanity's being tested, as I've said, were slightly on the annoying side, but primarily because they kept reminding me of "Encounter at Farpoint", which is not necessarily the best thing to be reminded of. However, that was virtually all made up for by the power of the exchanges between the two on every other matter. Q's demeanor back at the dawn of life was fairly chilling, and his tone taken during their final conversation was absolutely breathtaking. For once, I found myself not only liking Q as a foil for Picard, but liking him for what he was actually professing. The only other time I *ever* remember doing that was in "Q Who" when he rather pointedly reminded Picard that "it's not safe out here;" here, he made a more complex point (to me, at least), and made it in an equally stunning way. Extremely nice work.

On a related point, I'm sure most people noticed that Q's scoffing at what the Enterprise crew had accomplished over the past few years rather strikingly parallels a lot of criticisms that some elements of fandom have been lobbing TNG's way since day one: "where's the exploration? what's with all this character development stuff?" Now, while I'd be the first to say that some of the approaches TNG has used over the years haven't worked, I think Q's main point at the end is an excellent one nonetheless: exploration is *not* merely external, but can be internal as well, just as "good SF" is not synonymous with "hard science extrapolations that can lead to lots of gadgets going BING!"

Character-wise, everyone was written quite well, as befits a farewell. Although some characters had more to do than others (Picard and Data in particular), everyone did a good job with what they had. The regular characters all felt absolutely *right*, in any time period, right down to Picard slipping and addressing Worf as security chief instead of Tasha, and Bev yelling at *Picard* for challenging authority. Although some elements (like the Worf/Troi romance, which I still think is a bit forced) were ones I wouldn't have used, the reactions of everyone in and around the events we saw were in top form.

Onwards from writing to directing. First of all, if I'd been in Winrich Kolbe's position when he first saw this script, I'd probably have demanded danger pay. :-) All those transitions between time-frames had to be just the right combination of jarring and seamless, and had to be done just so in order to let the audience realize a switch had occurred when the time was right, and not before. That's not an easy task (hell, it wasn't easy to do in my synopsis above, and I'm working with a more limited medium and a smaller audience :-) ), and it's the sort of script that probably makes directors break out in cold sweats at night.

Kolbe pulled it off, and how. The only transition that didn't quite come off was the very first one, and that may have been intentionally more jarring in order to get us used to the idea that they were happening at all. Every other one that I can remember was utterly remarkable; while it was sometimes a shock to go from one place to another, it was never done in such a way as to keep the audience confused (assuming they were regular enough watches to notice cues like costumes to help keep track of past vs. present, at least). Excellent job on that front.

On the "regular scenes" side, Kolbe also did a good job, though not as spectacular a one as he did with the transitions. The Picard/Q scenes have already been mentioned as terrific, and here I'd also put in a mention of how eerie the appearance of the courtroom flotsam was in Picard's vineyards. My first thought was "wait a minute, when did David Lynch come in to do a guest direction?" when they first appeared, and it took a bit of time to convince me that that wasn't in fact the case. As for the truly "regular scenes", where the focus is on the characters, the best thing a director can do is let the scene speak for itself and get the hell out of the way, and from what I can see Kolbe managed to do just that. Praise all 'round for him.

That brings us to acting. Yow. I expect a lot of the discussion and praise will go to Stewart for his "Picard in three eras" tour de force, and rightly so; but I want to single out Brent Spiner a bit more. Picard, despite the years that had to jump on and off the character, is still fundamentally the same man in all three time periods. Sure, he's a bit stiffer in the past and a bit more crotchety (okay, a LOT more crotchety) in the future, but he's a very recognizable Picard all three times.

Data is in many ways *not* the same character in each period, however. The current Data is one we've gotten used to, but the past one is a throwback. That Data is the one that was extremely android-like and forced, thinking and acting extremely literally and being far more brazenly inquisitive than the current one (and one that made some people wince), and Spiner had to go a long ways back to recover that character. Meanwhile, the *future* Data is about as human as we can ever expect Data to get: his speech is utterly natural, his demeanor is far more relaxed, and he's one mellow 'bot. :-) Spiner had to project the Data he's developed for seven years to its ultimate for that role, which isn't particularly easy. He managed to do both, seemingly without effort, and I am even more impressed with his skill here than I've been in the past -- and I liked him a lot before, too.

All the regulars were quite good. Stewart and Spiner got the most to do, but Frakes's future Riker was about what I'd expect the Riker in that particular situation to be (and extremely reminiscent of the self-loathing Riker who appears in Peter David's novel _Imzadi_, another time-travel story). Sirtis got somewhat short shrift, but did a good job with what she had; Burton's future Geordi was an interesting fellow; and Dorn's big scene had to be when Picard outmaneuvered Worf *yet again* with appeals to his sense of honor.

As for Gates McFadden, I actually liked her present character a bit more than the future one, but that's primarily because of what I was reading as the character's _faux_ British accent in the future. I don't know if that's what it was supposed to be, or if (as friends have suggested) McFadden was just trying to age her delivery a bit -- but it didn't quite come off. The character herself was wonderful, and the accent only jarred in a scene or two; but it was enough to mar an otherwise excellent performance.

In terms of guest stars, there's not much to be said beyond the usual plaudits for John de Lancie (except, perhaps, a wish that this is the last we see of Q; I like the character a lot, but this is a nice way to say goodbye to him). Q was the mixture of mirthful and menacing that makes him as fun to watch as he is, and that's all that one really needs. Colm Meaney and Denise Crosby were mostly there as "look who we can bring back" conceits, I think, but both did a good job recreating their original characters back in the Farpoint era.

That said, we have the "other stuff" section. :-) Onwards:

  • On the FX side: that was one mind-blowing battle sequence. 3-D tactics? We've *never* seen that on television Trek, and only rarely seen it in the films (ST2 and ST6 in particular). The tactics were impressive, and the Enterprise's weapons systems seem ... pretty good then, too. :-) I want one.
  • Also on the FX side, the final entrance into the Anomaly was good, as was the destruction of all three Enterprises. (As Lisa put it, "ah, proof that Brannon [Braga] had a hand in the show." :-) )
  • I liked the idea of Tomalak returning one final time, but this way of doing it was one of the episode's real failures. It looked, quite honestly, like Andreas Katsulas got the call while on a long lunch break from doing "Babylon 5", and was rushed through the script and makeup without even breaking character as B5's G'Kar. *Not* impressive, I'm afraid.
  • Data holding the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge was a hoot. Not only did Newton hold the position at one time, but Hawking currently holds it now -- and given his interest in the show, I've no doubt that this was meant as a tip of the hat to Hawking.
  • I can't decide whether I liked the way around having to shave Frakes's beard for the "past Riker" sequences or not. As Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap put it, "there's a fine line between clever and stupid," and this was right on the border. :-) [Tufnel's sage wisdom would also apply to those who object to the "warp 13" references in the future because warp 10 is a limit: "these go to 11." ;-) ]
  • Denise Crosby's acting was fine, but that hairpiece needed work. In the final frenzy as the ship was being destroyed, I expected one of her shouts to be "and this small animal on top of my head is attacking my face, HELP!"
  • Name-dropping was very big in this episode, not too surprisingly. Here's a list off the top of my head that will no doubt have many additions:
    • Geordi's wife is named Leah and is now head of the Daystrom Institute. Gotta be Leah Brahms.
    • Picard's formal command orders were signed by Norah Satie. VERY interesting, given "The Drumhead".
    • The USS Bozeman was at the Neutral Zone in the present. That's the same ship as came through the time-rift in "Cause and Effect". [Bozeman is also Brannon Braga's hometown.]
  • Data's cats. 'nuff said. :-)
  • Lastly, there were a few places where we were reminded just a bit *too* much of Stewart's "A Christmas Carol" performance to keep straight faces. When Picard comes back and finds he's back when he started, our immediate response was "Christmas Day! I haven't missed it!" :-)
  • The final shot, of the whirling poker table to the turning ship, was beautiful. I wasn't quite moved to tears, but I was definitely moved.

That would seem to do it. So, a wrapup and then some final words:

Plot: A few minor logic goofs in the eye of the paradox, but a remarkably imaginative idea in creating it in the first place, and a hell of a triple-universe story.

Plot Handling: Utterly stunning. It'll hold up for a long time.

Characterization: Top-notch.

OVERALL: Well, objectively it's probably more like a 9 than a 10; but I've been here since October of 1987 (and reviewing since November of '88), and dammit, I'm allowed to be sentimental. A 10.

That's it -- and that's it for my avocation as TNG reviewer, as well. I mean, yes, I'll be doing a season-7 wrapup in a month or two and a series retrospective at some later time; and yes, there are movies to come -- but as an ongoing, weekly series, this is it. I would like to thank the makers of "Star Trek: the Next Generation" (and by that, I mean writers, actors, directors, producers, and everyone else involved) for a wild ride. Special thanks would go to the regular writers for the last three or four years -- Ron Moore, Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria, and Naren Shankar -- for their work on the show and their support and encouragement to this fan who's egotistical enough to think he can write :-); and to Michael Piller and Rick Berman, for keeping the show on an even keel in the past five years (or more, in Berman's case) -- it may not always have been the keel I'd want (or, at times, more like a keel-hauling), but you take the bad along with the good. Thanks to you all.

And another thank-you to those netters who've been such faithful readers of this ranting. Your comments have helped me improve my reviews over the years, offered me thought-provoking ideas to consider and to challenge at times, and kept me going over what's been nearly one quarter of my life, with all the attendant good times and bad. Without you and your continued interest, I might have stopped doing this any number of times -- with you, I never considered it. I thank you for your interest, your tolerance, and your enthusiasm. It means a lot.

To quote Tasha from long ago: "No goodbyes. Just good memories. Hailing frequencies closed, sir."

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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