WARNING: Spoilers for the TNG episode "Homeward" are heading homeward at a rapid pace. Duck and cover, unless you want to be exposed to them.

In brief: substantially more preachy than it should have been, but not bad.

First, a disclaimer. As I think anyone not confined to an information-proof capsule orbiting a different planet has heard by now, LA suffered a major earthquake on Monday morning. Although I and everyone I know are fine (fortunately), it was a wee bit ... distracting ... to watch TNG last night while the building moved around us. Thus, my reactions may not be "normal", if they ever are. :-) [Many thanks to all those that have written with concerns, by the way.]

At any rate, time for a synopsis before I go into commentary. Onwards:

The Enterprise reaches Boraal Two after Worf's foster brother Nikolai sends a distress signal. They find that the atmosphere is being wiped out by plasmonic reactions, and that the planet will be dead in less than 38 hours. Worf, seeing possible signs of a deflector shield in caverns near Nikolai's observation post, beams down (after alteration to look like a Boraalan) to look for Nikolai -- but he finds not only Nikolai, but a group of Boraalans looking for Nikolai and Worf to save them as well!

Worf and Nikolai, pretending to return to the surface, return to the Enterprise, where Nikolai argues in favor of saving one Boraalan village, despite the gross violation of the Prime Directive everyone else believes it to be. Picard refuses outright to approve Nikolai's request to create an atmospheric shield, and orders Nikolai to stay off the planet, retrieving his research only via Enterprise comm-link.

Nikolai finishes his retrieval just as the final stages of the atmospheric dissipation commence, and leaves the bridge in disgust. Shortly thereafter, Worf's security grid picks up a power drain, and he takes a team to investigate. He finds a holodeck in use, and inside -- is Nikolai, who shows Worf that he's made a reproduction of the Boraalan caverns, and beamed the village up into it!

Worf, not surprisingly, feels that Nikolai's actions have brought them both complete disgrace. Picard doesn't even look on it that fondly, demanding to know what Nikolai possibly thinks they can do now. Nikolai suggests finding a new world to settle this village on, and altering the holodeck in the course of a "journey" to resemble this new world. With no other options presenting themselves, Picard grudgingly agrees -- but orders Worf to go back into the holodeck with Nikolai to keep an eye on him.

Nikolai and Worf prepare the Boraalans for their "journey", but problems quickly develop, as damage from the plasmonic bursts begins to destabilize the illusion created by the holodeck. Some quick thinking by Worf turns an appearance of the grid into "the sign of LaForge", an omen blessing their journey, and they prepare to depart. As the Enterprise heads for Vacca Six to resettle the Boraalans, however, the Boraalan chronicler, Vorin, accidentally finds the exit to the holodeck -- and exits.

He finds himself on the Enterprise, quickly making his way to Ten-Forward, where Troi and Riker help comfort him and put him at ease. Unfortunately, his mind is such that Beverly cannot erase his memory, leaving Vorin with some difficult decisions. Picard meets Vorin and explains the situation to him, but Vorin is unenthusiastic about resettlement. "How can we grow," he asks, "if everything that made us who we are is gone?"

As the Boraalan "journey" continues, Worf and Nikolai continue to argue, set off in particular by Vorin's departure. The arguments are a continuation of strife between them since their childhood: Worf sees Nikolai as wild and irresponsible, always looking for others to get him out of messes he creates; while Nikolai sees Worf as too much a slave to duty. Worf eventually stalks off. Later that evening, however, a Boraalan woman, Dobara, asks Worf to settle his feud with Nikolai and become part of the family -- after all, she points out, Worf will be the uncle of her unborn child!

The Enterprise reaches Vacca Six and is nearly ready to beam the Boraalans down, but by now the holodeck simulation is hanging by a thread. Picard leaves the bridge to find out if Vorin's decided what to do. Unfortunately, Vorin seems to be trapped without options: he can't tell his people the truth without ruining their lives or being considered a madman, and he can't live a lie. He asks for more time.

In the holodeck, Worf and Nikolai argue again, this time about Dobara and Nikolai's refusal to leave these people. Just as their squabbling reaches a head, the holodeck simulation begins to completely destabilize, creating a "reality storm" of sorts. Nikolai orders everyone into the tents to protect them from "the storms", and while they're there the Enterprise beams them down to the planet. They emerge on what appears to be the very campground they were just on, and are pleased to hear that the storms are gone for good.

Although the Boraalans' fate has turned out well, there are difficulties in the end. Vorin is dead, a suicide; and Worf has to deal with Nikolai's decision to stay with the Boraalans for good. In the end, he decides to leave Nikolai on Vacca Six, and says that he will tell their parents "that you are happy."

That should cover it. Now, some comments:

Even after watching "Homeward" twice, I'm just not sure about it. While I definitely liked seeing Nikolai finally make an appearance, and much of the Worf/Nikolai interplay was top drawer, much of the show just struck me as pedestrian. I just don't know, really.

First of all, while I've gotten into some serious debates on the Prime Directive in my years here on the net and enjoyed them, even I had trouble stomaching the very serious preachiness about it early on. In the very early mentions of it, I tended to agree with the claims being made while simultaneously wondering how many times it was going to get pounded on in the course of the episode. However, considering how often I agree with Picard, it's rare that I can say that a speech of his really made me want to hit the mute button -- however, his "these are the ramifications of the Prime Directive we all have to face from time to time" bit did just that. Ugh. Definitely the low point of the show.

Fortunately, once we got past the Prime Directive-thumping opening, the rest of it became a "how do we get out of this mess that we've already gotten into?" question. And, while I still prefer "Who Watches The Watchers" for shows of this type, "Homeward" did it reasonably well. The plan, at least in its broad strokes, mostly made sense (some exceptions will pop up later), and the other issues swirling around seemed to fit most of the time.

I suspect "Homeward" wouldn't have worked to the level that it did, however, were it not for Paul Sorvino. Even when stuck with dialogue like "You will have to kill me first!", he seemed pretty believable as Nikolai through and through. I could believe his ideals -- and what's more, I could believe he was Worf's foster brother and son to Worf's parents. Even little things, like Nikolai leaning forward onto his knuckles on Picard's desk when he argued his case, just seemed to fit. Grabbing him for the role was a major plus, and I'm glad he did it.

Despite the generally positive way I felt about the last three quarters of the show, however, there were several instances where I felt they ignored obvious outs that would have shortened the story. For instance:

  • If it would take a few hours with a shut-down holodeck to fix it, I see an easy option. Wait until they've gone to sleep, pump in some kind of tranquilizer to knock them out, then shut down the holodeck and do the repairs. I don't see a problem here -- it's not like engineering repairs still need jackhammers or something.
  • When Vorin has to go back to get the scroll, Worf was clearly concerned he might run into something. Okay, so Vorin won't leave without it -- why didn't Worf go back and get the scroll? He'd have seen the exit, yes, and been worried -- but that's a bit different than letting Vorin wander out.
  • When Vorin does get out, it might have made sense to try to convince him it was all a dream or a hallucination. It might not be easy, but simply giving up and saying "okay, you caught us, here's information that's centuries ahead of what you know, have fun." seems absolutely outrageous for someone who was willing to die for the Prime Directive a few years ago. (Given the time involved, I can see that Troi and Riker might not have thought about it -- but Picard shouldn't have gone along.)

Any one of those would have removed a fairly integral dilemma to the story. Thus, these three strike me as fairly serious mistakes, a la taking the pylon in DS9's "The Alternate" last week. They were stupid moves on the part of the characters, that were required to be stupid in order to make the story work. That cheapens the characters, in my view, and I can't say I'm thrilled about it.

So much for griping. The strength of "Homeward" was in the Worf/Nikolai arguments, and they worked just fine, not surprisingly. Although I find it a little hard to believe that someone that loose of a cannon would be placed in a position where he could compromise the Prime Directive so easily, that's not his fault, it's the Federation's, and heaven knows *they've* made mistakes far worse in their time. :-) Worf's and Nikolai's conflict felt real and sounded real, and so that part of the show was real for me. Much of the rest was window dressing and serious exposition (poor Bev, relegated to Dr. Philosophizing again -- eegh).

I should make an exception, though, for the big Picard/Vorin scene where Picard needs to know what Vorin will do. Although I've said before that I think Vorin ending up in the Enterprise proper and in full knowledge of the facts is incredibly silly writing, this scene worked about as well as any scene in the entire show did. Vorin reminded me a little bit of Tumak from DS9's "Sanctuary" -- only Vorin was written and acted well. His slightly hysterical laughter when Picard asks whether he'll be believed hit me harder than any other reaction I saw in the entire show -- right then, Vorin actually seemed like a desperate, uprooted man. Kudos to that scene.

That's it for the serious discussion. Now a few short bits and I'm gone:

  • Exactly what did Nikolai do to lock even Worf out of the holodeck? That didn't ring true...
  • On a technical point, it was always my impression that beaming things in and out of a holodeck was dangerous for some reason. If so, Nikolai's plan seems even odder.
  • After such an incredible job last time around, Stewart seemed very ill at ease for most of this show, particularly early on. His "okay, let's give it a try" sounded like someone doing a Stewart impression rather than Stewart himself. Ugh.
  • I noticed something interesting in the credits. Very often, there's a separate credit for story and teleplay, and that's nothing new. This time, though, the front credits had a teleplay listing and a "television story by" listing, and hidden towards the end of the end credits was a "based upon material by" credit. I don't recall seeing something like that before in TNG, and certainly not where the last credit is tucked quietly away like that. What gives?

That about covers it. I can recommend "Homeward" for much of the acting and for some of the problem-solving, but the problem-making is, well -- a problem.

So, wrapping up:

Plot: I've seen much better. Way too many kludges were needed to get this working in the first place.

Plot handling: Decent directing: nothing stands out as good or bad. The presentation of the issues was strictly by-the-numbers, though: no subtext got within a mile of this one.

Characterization: Fairly good. Picard was a bit off, but Worf and most of the guest characters were good.

OVERALL: 6. Watchable, but that's about it.

NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Phantasms". Data's nightmares are back...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
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"If I'd been more like you, we wouldn't have had so many problems."
"If you had been more like me, these people would not be here now."
                -- Nikolai and Worf
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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