WARNING: This post contains spoiler information regarding "Attached", this week's TNG episode. Unless you're attached to early spoilers, step lightly.
In brief: Contrived, but done with more grace than it had any right to be. Not bad at all -- but oh, those last three minutes are annoying.
Even with those last three minutes, it was reasonably good, but that final scene ticked me off. More (probably considerably more) after a synopsis:
The Enterprise is visiting Kesprytt Three to evaluate the Kes for possible Federation membership. Unfortunately, Picard and Dr. Crusher's transporter beam is diverted, sending them to a prison run by the more isolationist Prytt race. The Prytt accuse them of conspiring to form a military alliance with the Kes, and say they'll get all the information they need from the neural implants in both Picard and Bev. Before long, however, the pair escape the cell with the help of a nervous Kes spy.
On the Enterprise, meanwhile, the Kes ambassador, Mauric, apologizes deeply for not preventing the abduction and begins planning a rescue mission. Riker hedges, however, preferring to try a diplomatic solution first, despite Mauric's insistence that the Prytt absolutely cannot be reasoned with. Mauric asks to set up a "safe" base of operations on the Enterprise, and reveals himself to be very security-conscious once he reaches his quarters.
As Picard and Bev continue their escape (narrowly avoiding plumes of flaming gas), Riker manages to establish a link with the Prytt. However, the connection is immediately broken, because the contact was not authorized. Loren, representing the Prytt Security Ministry immediately calls back, livid, and threatens the ship if they don't stop their hails. Mauric, hearing about this from Riker, attempts to cheer him up by saying that his agents have freed Picard and Bev. They adjourn to his quarters to discuss the details, which involve quite a bit of cloak-and-dagger intrigue.
Picard and Bev, meanwhile, discover while traveling that the neural implants are allowing them to read each others thoughts and emotions, at least on a surface level. The experience is unsettling for both of them: stray, uncontrolled thoughts lead to tension until they each realize that the other cannot be held responsible for stray thoughts. What's more, when they attempt to separate and weaken the psychic link, they find that they become uncontrollably nauseous when too far apart. They continue their travels, and the connection between them strengthens as they begin to find out more about each other's hidden thoughts and fears. The situation changes, however, when they spot a Prytt guard standing watch by the path they mean to take. They decide to take an alternate route to the Kes border.
Riker and Worf go to talk to Mauric, who is very upset that Picard and Bev have not shown up on schedule to the rendezvous. He accuses the Federation of secretly allying itself with the Prytt, and insists on leaving the ship.
That night, Picard and Bev sit by a campfire, not far from the border. They talk, slightly ill at ease by the other's proximity, but all is well. At least, all is well until Beverly mentions Jack, at which point she picks up a wave of emotion from Picard. She is taken aback -- while she'd always realized there was an attraction between the two of them, she didn't realize its extent. Picard, for his part, confesses that he never intended to let anyone know of his one-time love for Beverly; after all, "you were married to my best friend." He admits that these feelings were the reason he didn't want her on the ship seven years before; he didn't know how he would react. Now, though, they agree that all is well -- he doesn't have those feelings any more. They try to settle down and get some sleep before the final run for the border.
As the dawn breaks on the planet, Riker takes decisive action, beaming Lorin up without permission and insisting that she, Riker and Mauric talk about the missing officers. As Picard and Bev near the border, with Prytt guards in pursuit, Riker blows his top, telling both in no uncertain terms that first, the Kes are far too paranoid and suspicious to be granted Federation membership, and second, that if Lorin doesn't help him now, the Federation investigation into the missing people will widen to an extent that would drive the Prytt government crazy. She agrees, and just as Bev is caught after pushing Picard through a hole in the force-field, Lorin orders them both returned to the Enterprise.
Some time later, after the implants have been removed, Picard asks Beverly what they should do about their new understanding of each other. Now that they've realized these feelings, he suggests, perhaps they should "not be afraid" to explore them. Beverly leans in and gently kisses him, but then responds, "Or perhaps we should be afraid. [...] I think I should be going now." They part, and Jean-Luc broods over the wash of empty space.
That should cover that. Now, for the commentary.
"Attached" went in with one strike against it immediately. That strike is something I alluded to when I saw the preview for the show. Namely, it seems that in this, TNG's last season, the Trek universe somehow "knows" that TNG is ending and is therefore rushing to create situations where everyone finds out everything about everyone before we don't get to see it any more. That's just silly. I said this to a friend and she responded, "It's Star Trek, Tim." I'm aware of that much; so sue me if I hope against hope that contrivances like this can be avoided. At any rate, the mere fact that this "hidden feelings" show was being done now, so close to the end of the series, suggested major contrivance that made me go in with a very skeptical attitude.
I was pleasantly surprised by most of it. The actual mechanics of the escape were, of course, fairly silly and tacked-on -- but when the show is so character-driven and when the character moments are good, I don't really care if bits of the plot are silly. So, for the most part, I can forgive things like the truly awful FX during the TNG version of the escape from the Fire-Swamp, and the serious distance goof late in the show. (That goof was this: Picard mentions when they turn off the road that the border is only 2 km away, yet later when they're by the fire, they apparently have "a lot of ground to cover" the next day. For people in the kind of shape Picard and Bev are, 2 km is probably twenty minutes away by a leisurely stroll.) The characters are important.
And, for the first time in a while, the Picard/Bev friendship really shone for me. Not so much the "moments" in the show (the number of times they emphasized how compelling or how intimate some thought was became extremely wearing, actually), but the little tidbits. The way Picard managed to completely tune out what Bev had been talking about at breakfast, for instance, is something that usually only happens with close friends. The exchanges between them that went unspoken were just as telling. I can't put my finger on everything that said to me "yes, these are people that have been good friends for a long time", but I got that feeling very strongly from the episode nonetheless. I more or less expected that I would, but it was nice to see that Stewart and McFadden did as good a job as I hoped they would.
I also expected the "unrevealed love" bit to be extremely melodramatic and fairly awful. There, fortunately, I was fairly pleasantly surprised. It did not, as I feared, come about suddenly, as a "gasp! I can read your thoughts! You've been in love with me for decades!" situation, which would have made my skin crawl. Instead, we had several good aspects to it.
First, it took a specific trigger to bring the issue to the forefront. They did a good job early on of establishing and mentioning all the clutter churning around someone's thoughts, and as such they needed something to actually provoke Picard to think about his feelings for Bev. Bev's reference to a past event with Jack served that purpose well.
Second, what was revealed, mostly, was a past love, not a current situation. This wasn't a sudden "omigod, we're in love after all" revelation -- rather, it was a vocalization of something that had been fairly well suspected anyway: that there was, in the past, some strong emotion between the two of them. That seems perfectly reasonable to me, and perfectly in character for Picard to cover up. Picard, after all, is a character who prides himself on poise and on reserve -- and his feelings of guilt over what he felt, more than anything he did, make superb sense for the character and were expressed extremely well. I like that, and I was also very relieved to find that there wasn't any other hidden secret (like, say, Picard having "let" Jack die and then agonized over it; that would be, well, pretty awful).
Had they ended merely with that revelation, I'd have been very impressed. Unfortunately, the ending lost a lot of ground. While Picard having had those feelings and felt uncomfortable about them is quite in character, I think that having him suddenly decide to throw caution to the winds once the feelings are revealed is not in character at all. It's something I might possibly expect from Riker (or, getting away from Trek, from lots of adolescents), but not from Picard. Even if he chose to do something about it, I think it would be a bit more subtle than the "so, what do we do?" approach. I simply didn't buy it. (The fact that the two did not, in fact, join up as a couple gets them back some of what they lost, however. Maybe, maybe in another half-dozen shows or so it can happen -- but not right away.)
As an aside, I found it interesting that although Picard's feelings were revealed, we never found out anything about whether Bev shares those feelings. It's implied a bit that she does (with the "mutual attraction" line and her agreeing in the ending about "those feelings"), but nobody ever comes out and says that Bev feels for Picard what he does for her. (As Lisa just said to me, Picard makes the stereotypically male assumption that anyone he's attracted to must be attracted to him...) I actually find that lack of mutual revelation a bit refreshing; nice touch.
That pretty much takes care of the main plot of the show. As for the Kes and the Prytt, I have to say that I enjoyed that plot a lot. It wasn't particularly deep or meaningful, but it was fun. We decided midway through the show that we had a planet full of clones of "MASH"'s Colonel Flagg and had a hell of a time laughing all the while afterwards. :-)
That should do it. I only have one short comment, so I'll make it here: Why wasn't Bev's analogy to Australia an apt one? I thought it seemed very apt, and I also wanted to hear the answer to the question. :-)
In sum, then, "Attached" is a heck of a lot better than I expected it to be. It was contrived going in and can't escape that, and the last three minutes keep it from being really strong, but it was a fairly good, introspective show -- and I can live with that.
So, to wrap up:
Plot: Goofy, but solid. Only the occasional bits of idiocy like the fire-jets really seemed out of place.
Plot Handling: Frakes does his usual excellent job directing. Nice work.
Characterization: Aside from some very forced dialogue and the entire ending, excellent.
OVERALL: Call it a 7.5. Not top-notch, but one of the better shows this season so far.
Warp engines are destroying the galaxy. I hate when that happens.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Is that a beard, or is your face dirty?"
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...