WARNING: This article contains spoilers for this week's TNG episode, "Allegiance". Duck now, or forever hold your cookies.
Well, I'm on time THIS week, anyway.
I also thought the show quite good, though by no means perfect. It wins some points on mystery alone. Comments ahead, after this synopsis by your local station:
The Enterprise has just finished dealing with a plague, and Picard's relaxing in his quarters with some tea and a good book. Suddenly, he loses consciousness, a strange light washes over him, and he vanishes. By the time Worf and a team get to his quarters to check on the energy surge, the door opens and they see...Picard, with a glass of tea and a good book. Hmm.
Meanwhile, Picard awakens in a room that looks like half prison, half laboratory. Already present are Thall, a peaceful philosopher from Mizar, and a Starfleet cadet of the Belean race (the same race as "Conspiracy"'s Capt. Rixx, it would appear). Shortly thereafter, Enoch, a member of the savage and anar- chic Chalnan people, appears. Picard takes charge of the group to see if they can find a way out.
On the Enterprise, "Picard" is behaving somewhat strangely. He orders the ship away from its upcoming rendezvous with the Hood and towards a nearby pulsar, but at only Warp 2 (31 hours travel time), giving no explanation to anyone. He conducts sudden efficiency checks for no good reason. He pulls Counselor Troi out of the crew's poker game (grin!) to ask her for advance warning if the crew start losing confidence in him. Most interestingly, he invites Bev to dinner in his cabin, and says he's interested in extending their relationship a bit beyond friendship. He buys drinks for everyone in 10-Forward and leads them in an old Academy drinking song. As Riker says, "this isn't the Captain I know."
Things have gotten worse in the "cell". Distrust and suspicion have started to surface, and everyone starts thinking that one of the others is running an experiment on them from the inside. (This is accompanied by a couple of "rats- in-the-maze"-type tests, which the group passes, but without escape.) Eventually, Picard figures out the truth, and finds that the so-called cadet is an impostor.
The impostor reveals itself to be a member of a race of telepaths who are all exactly alike. As such, they have no concept of leadership and authority, and wanted to test that, both by experimenting on those three they kidnapped, and by testing the people who must deal with the doppelgangers. They return Picard to the Enterprise, just as Riker has removed "Picard" from command for ordering the ship too close to the pulsar. They briefly hold the aliens captive, then let them go.
Well, I managed to keep the synop short this time. I'm trying to keep them down to under forty-five lines or so from now on, so don't expect quite so much detail. Anyway, this show had good points and bad points, but mostly very good.
The overall concept of aliens kidnapping the crew for experiments has, as Mike Shappe pointed out to me not long ago, been done TO DEATH in Star Trek: "The Empath" and "The Cage" come to mind immediately, and there are certainly others. That much disappointed me.
However, the execution was carried out very well. Picard's ingenuity in ferreting out the impostor was nicely done (he noticed "her" reference to the events on Mintaka III, and, realizing that a real cadet probably wouldn't know that, tested her by referring to the recent plague, which Starfleet had classi- fied as secret.), and much of the suspicion in the cell seemed justified.
I also give the writers credit for keeping us (well, me, anyway) guessing for as long as they did. It wasn't clear until the end whether the intent was benign, hostile or neutral; whether the testers were testing the Enterprise crew with the impostor, Picard and the other captives, or both; or, indeed, whether there was an impostor at all. Most impressive.
The crew's reactions to the fake Picard were very believable. Riker summed it up very nicely when he talked to most of the regulars (I recall seeing Bev, Troi, Geordi, Data, and Worf there). He said essentially this: "We're currently on a mission with no purpose. This in and of itself is not cause for alarm, because the captain says it's important and we trust the captain. He is running sudden efficiency checks, for the first time in my tour of duty. Again, though, he says it's important, and we trust our captain. HOWEVER..." and he goes on to mention other things that were out of the ordinary, such as the impromptu song in 10-Forward. (Pat Stewart's singing voice, by the way, is...well...interesting. I don't know if I like it or not, but it's interesting.) The crew, and especially Riker, waited almost exactly the right length of time believable before getting really suspicious.
The scene between Picard and Beverly in Picard's quarters was priceless. Anyone who's been working on a Picard-Crusher story now has some good springboard material. Some may argue that "well, this wasn't the REAL Picard, so we can't trust anything he said", but since the double was working from Picard's memo- ries, it's at least plausible to say that he may be harboring some desires in his breast for the fair Beverly. Of course, they're not hidden any more, and Beverly's manner on the bridge at the close of the episode must be seen to be believed. Lotsa fun.
I enjoyed seeing, for once, a fair number of other races. Besides the new alien of the week who were conducting the experiment, we finally found out the name of the Belean race, and met both the Mizarians and the Chalnans, who I wouldn't mind seeing again (though the Mizarians were a little too Benzite- like to suit me). Nice to get a little diversity. Maybe eventually we'll get a Horta. Nah. Doubt it.
Finally, for all those who were sick of the alien experimenters getting off scot-free, it will be very fun to see Picard, with naught but a look, manage to get the two experimenters on his ship taken captive. Just a look to Riker, who silently presses a comm panel, which Worf sees and works with, and Picard's later statement of "now, Mr. Worf", and poof! up goes a force field. Now THAT's a well-oiled crew.
The references to the pulsar were a mixed blessing to my astronomer's mind. They were on target in referring to the dangerous radiation and magnetic fields close to the star, but they showed it as an optical pulsar, which most are not, and gave it a mass far too high according to ANY currently viable model (4.5 solar masses or so). (Trust me--I just had a course in the little buggers last semester.)
At any rate, this was fun, though not perfect. I preferred "Sins of the Father". On to the ratings:
Plot: 7.5. Way too overdone in past programs, but a bit back for Picard's deduction of the impostor's identity.
Plot Handling: 9. Nice work.
Characterization: 10. Them poker games just do wonders. :-)
Technical: 7. The neutron star gaffes brought it down.
TOTAL: 33.5/4===> 8.4. Nice work.
The Captain's pleasure planet is spoiled by...a Ferengi in a Hawaiian shirt?
Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy Major)
"The replica was convincing?"
"Very convincing...but not perfect."
"Not perfect in what way?"
"Well, sir--I find it hard to believe that you're that good a singer."
"Singer? pause I look forward to reading your report, Commander. At least, I think I do."
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.