WARNING: This post does, has, and will contain spoilers for the season finale of TNG, "Time's Arrow." Those sentients currently in this general temporal region not wishing to deal with these temporal anomalies called "spoilers" are advised to stay clear until the temporal states have properly aligned.  (Whew!)

Um...well, *that* was weird. Nice to have a real mystery to mull over for a summer, though.

Sure beats speculating on who the damned Blonde Romulan [TM] is, anyway. :-) I suppose I'll come up with some sort of commentary on this, but it won't be until after the synopsis.  Maestro...

The Enterprise has been called back to Earth to investigate evidence of extraterrestrial visitations to San Francisco in the late 19th century. The evidence consists of a sealed cavern with 19th-century relics, triolic radiation (which has never been used on Earth)...and as the greatest shock to everyone, Data's head. As the head is inspected (and verified as Data's, not Lore's), everyone is very edgy to be seeing this apparent sign of Data's death.  Everyone, that is, except Data himself, who is almost comforted by that fact, seeing it as a sign that he may not have to worry about outliving all of his friends. When Guinan hears about this, moreover, she becomes very thoughtful, muttering under her breath, "Full circle..."

Triolic waves are damaging to most organic life-forms in sufficient quantities, and many of those species immune are shape-changers, so it's hypothesized that the aliens visiting Earth might have appeared human. The trail (by way of a unicellular fossil) leads them to the planet Devidia Two; no life signs are found, but temporal anomalies are sensed, and triolic waves identical to those on Earth are also picked up. Riker takes down an away team which specifically excludes Data (a bit of "protection" Data finds irrational and useless, but accepts), and there Deanna senses traces of terrified life-forms; *human* life-forms.

Data finds traces of "sinchronic" disturbances in the area, which implies that whatever other life on the planet is out of phase with the Enterprise crew, if only by a fraction of a second. It is possible to use a subspace field to align the away team with the aliens, but the only phase discriminator sensitive enough for the job is in Data's brain. He beams down and uses a portable subspace generator to align himself with the inhabitants of the planet. He speaks to the away team (one-way only, unfortunately) of faceless aliens consuming energy globes. He finds a caged snakelike creature, which is picked up by two aliens. A temporal tornado of sorts arises, however, and with a blinding flash, the field generator returns, without Data.  

Data, meanwhile, awakes to find himself in 1893 San Francisco. After talking with a derelict for a short time, he seeks a room at a nearby hotel. Lacking money, however, he cannot get one, but he hears tell of a poker game going on in the hotel. He crashes this game, joins in, and wins enough money to keep himself going indefinitely. He befriends the bellboy (at least, after remembering to tip him) and hires the boy to get supplies for his coming "inventions." As the bellboy rushes off to collect these supplies, the derelict Data spoke to is approached by two well-dressed humans, one carrying a cane and the other a handbag. As he coughs his way to a possible death by cholera, one of the visitors raises her handbag, which emits a beam that strikes the derelict. He stiffens, and a small globe of energy leaves his body for the bag. They close the bag and walk off.

Meanwhile, in the 24th century, the mission continues over the crew's worries about Data. Geordi gets to work on jury-rigging a bigger and better field generator, and Worf points out that it could be the next away team's fate to die *with* Data in the past. Guinan, shortly thereafter, tells Picard in no uncertain terms that he must accompany the away mission; if not, she says, the two of them may never meet. Back in San Francisco, Data's mysterious invention is proceeding apace, but he comes to a halt when he sees an advertisement in the local newspaper. The ad is for a literary reception, hosted by a wealthy socialite:  one Madame Guinan.

At this reception, Guinan and Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) discuss the geocentric theory and the possibility of other worlds, but both are essentially on the same side of the argument. Data crashes the party and attempts to talk to Guinan. She shows no signs of knowing who he is, but when he mentions a starship, she quickly assumes an air of friendship and hustles him out of there. They talk in the back of the house, where he explains to her who he is and where he's from (he falsely believed she had come back in time to find him). Their explanation is interrupted, however, when they notice the eavesdropping form of Mr. Clemens...

Back in the 24th century, Picard joins the away team and sends Worf back to watch over the ship. The field is activated and tuned, and they find themselves seeing the aliens Data spoke of:  glowing...faceless...sitting... *feeding*. The energy globes, their "food", seem organic in nature, but Troi suggests that what she's sensing is traces of the last moments of people's lives, and that they all died in terror. Suddenly, a glowing "gate" opens, and two aliens come through, one holding a handbag. The bag is attached to an apparatus near the away team, and more globes pour into the device. The other alien is carrying a snakelike creature, who hisses, reactivating the gate. The aliens walk back through, presumably back to San Francisco.

The away team follows.

The gate closes.


Whew. As I said before, that was *odd*. Now, something a bit more concrete.

First of all, I have to say I'm relieved. My initial thought, waaaaaaaay back when I heard that "Time's Arrow" had been made a cliffhanger when it initially wasn't, was "Uh-oh. They've decided to tack on a cliffhanger ending to keep everybody glued to the set over the summer, and it's probably going to be rotten." Fortunately, that was not the case.  The result was actually more the other way around; the impression I had was that they had a show that they simply decided couldn't *fit* into one part, and thus decided to put it into two.

I cannot agree with this sentiment more; let everything find its natural length. However, that all requires that proper attention be paid to the second part; the setup's easier than the resolution, after all.

Some of this went a bit slowly for my tastes. In particular, the batch of scenes with everyone worrying about Data's apparent death did little for me. I completely understand why they were included, and including them was a good idea from a realistic sense; but for some reason they seemed to go on a little long for me. (Some of it was quite nice, though; I liked most of the Ten-Forward scene, for instance.) I'm not sure; maybe it'll pick up in future viewings.  

As I said at the outset, it's nice to have a distinctly *different* cliffhanger to end a season. In the past, it's been either "how the hell are they going to get out of this?" or "who the hell is THAT?", but the basic parameters of the situation were fairly clear. This didn't do that; here, we've got several mysteries at hand. Not only don't we know the answers,
we're not entirely sure what all the *questions* are. Now that's a worry I can sink my teeth into. I've got a few comments and speculations on that (some accompanied by or brought up by Lisa), but I'll leave them for a bit. (Those who feel particularly frivolous can try to guess which theories are mine and which are hers. :-) )

Characterization was just fine, but in pretty much every case but Guinan and Data, there's not much they needed to do. This was a very plot-driven show, so most of the principals basically needed just to stay in character, rather than develop in any real way. Certainly, they all managed that; and for a nice change of pace, Troi's talents were put to good use.  

The same *almost* applies to Data, but he at least had to stretch his talents for a new situation, which he did well enough. (The humor, unlike some other Data shows, was understated enough that it worked pretty well; I got a kick out of the "Ow." after he realizes he shouldn't be tossing the anvil around with the bellboy in the room. :-) )  In particular, it was nice to see his long-refined poker skills *finally* getting some practical use.

Guinan was the real enigma of the show so far as characters go, and we may see a bit of the mystery surrounding her clearing up after the dust settles here. This was almost a tease, though; a lot more questions have been raised than answered, and I hope we get a few answers next season. The only real *worry* I have about this setup is that there's a danger of the writers forgetting that (1) Guinan somehow has to hear about her homeworld's destruction about 100 years pre-TNG, and (2) Guinan's gotta run across Q a century before that, which is most likely not on Earth. Implying that she's been on Earth for pretty much her whole stay, if that ends up happening, would be a mistake in my eyes. (If anybody from the ST offices is reading, consider this a heartfelt reminder and plea; don't do any gratuitous retconning.)

Now for the mysteries. I see three main questions coming out of this show that need to be answered:

  1. What are the aliens doing?  What are their intentions, and how long have
    they been at whatever they're doing?
  2. How did Data get destroyed, and how will it be avoided this time?
  3. What's Guinan doing in 1890s San Fran?

I'd like to offer a few thoughts and/or speculation on this stuff, so away we go.

First of all, while it *looks* as though these aliens are some kind of soul-vampires, their intent may not be so horrible as we're being led to believe. Consider that we are told very explicitly, TWICE, that there's a cholera epidemic in SF at this point in time. (Once in the newspaper headline and once by Data, to the bellboy.) Cholera, to the best of my
admittedly limited medical knowledge, was a pretty painful disease, and it's possible people dying of cholera might have a certain feeling of terror as they breathed their last. Consider that the "forty-niner" who was harvested was coughing up a storm right before he died. It seems to me that while these aliens may be harvesting the TNG equivalent of souls, they might be taking advantage of an existing epidemic rather than casually slaughtering people.  (Of course, it's possible that they *caused* the epidemic, in which case all bets are off.)

I think it's pretty clear, incidentally, that the snake is disguised as the cane in the 19th century. Just in case you missed it.  :-)

I also don't think there's anything overly sinister in Guinan's warning to Picard that if he doesn't go on the meeting, they'll never meet. I imagine this is a nice time-paradox at work, actually:  if he doesn't meet her (for her first time) in the 19th century, she won't know him to seek him out and befriend him in the 24th. They probably wouldn't meet in the 24th century, because she wouldn't have any reason to.  

What I don't have much of a feeling for is exactly what Data is building. Either a time machine or something to penetrate these aliens' disguises, I'll wager, but I don't really know what or how. (Stone knives and bearskins, anyone?  :-) )

Obviously, Mark Twain is going to figure into this a bit (and nice work to Jerry Hardin for a much more entertaining Twain than I'd expected!), but I'm not sure how. What I'm concerned with there is whether his memory will remain intact. Unfortunately, the best resolution is an anachronism: in case anyone (at Paramount or not) had thought of this, _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_ came out well before 1893. Pity, as that would've been really nice otherwise.  

Let's see, what else can I ramble on about? Not all that much, I have to say. A few short takes:

--Okay, maybe I was exposed to too much Monty Python as a youth, but I hope I wasn't the only one who reacted to "Hotel Brian" with an immediate call for "Wewease Bwian! Wewease Bwian!"  :-)

--In the "Hey, I've heard that voice before!" file: three of the guest stars have been here before. Jerry Hardin (Sam Clemens) played the Aldean leader Radue way back in "When the Bough Breaks"; this is why I was worried about his Twain, but he surprised me. Ken Thorley (the heavyset poker player who doesn't like Easterners) is also known as Barber Mot, and Marc Alaimo (the more suave gambler) has been seen both as T-Bok in "The Neutral Zone" and as Gul Macet in "The Wounded". Well, regardless of how environmentally conscious the staff might or might not be otherwise, at least they're recycling actors. :-)

--I was initially a little annoyed at Data *talking* us through his encounter with the aliens, but since we got to see them in the end, he actually ended up adding to the weirdness with that. Nice recovery.

--Does anyone know if there actually *was* a cholera epidemic in 1893 in San Francisco, or if Twain ever involved himself in the arguments he mentioned? I'd be curious to know if there's any real background to all this.

--Guinan's *father*? This I've got to hear more about later.

--Another plea to the staffers. It's been rumoured that the resolution to this will involve Q. Please *avoid* this if you can. I don't see a need for it, and it smacks of a cop-out. Besides, his dealings with Guinan were *two* centuries ago, not five.  :-)

That's probably about it, really. All in all, this was a slightly quiet cliffhanger, but that's no problem. It was better than I'd expected it to be, and leaves a lot of room for three months' worth of hopefully interesting speculation. That's enough for me.

Numbers, then:

Plot: 9. Solid and mysterious; sounds good.
Plot Handling: 6. The pacing was a little uneven; it definitely slowed down in a couple of spots.
Characterization: 9. Nothing stellar, but everybody was good.

TOTAL: 8. Solid.

NEXT WEEK: A rerun, of course. Tune in in a few weeks for a summary review of season 5. 'Til then, adios.

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjuliet
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"This investigation began with your death; I'm simply trying to see that it doesn't end that way."
                        --Jean-Luc Picard
Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...