I realize that I’m cheating a bit by skipping to “Relics,” which happens to be one of my favorite episodes, but realistically speaking, this Re-watch will not conclude by the time Star Trek: Picard airs next Thursday evening on CBS All Access. As a matter of practicality, then, this will be my last re-watch post because I’ll cover “Children of Mars” next week as a prelude to Picard. If you’re a die-hard fan of the re-watch posts, don’t despair. I will be going back to the re-watch posts during breaks in Picard. After I finish with TNG, I think I might even begin an episode by episode rewatch of DS9 both because I love the series and because the themes of the series are relevant to today’s political and social climates.
Without further ado, let’s talk about the plot in “Relics”. While traveling to somewhere, the Enterprise picks up a distress signal from the U.S.S. Jenolan, a small vessel that was recorded missing over seventy five years prior. Dropping out of warp to investigate, the Enterprise discovers the wreckage of the Jenolan on the sphere’s surface. Riker, LaForge, and Worf beam down to the ship where LaForge finds the transporter locked in a diagnostic cycle, effectively protecting two patterns. One of the patterns is too degraded to save, but the other turns out to be one Captain Montgomery Scott whose quick thinking saved his own life, if not his compatriot’s. The Away Team returns to the Enterprise with Scott in tow, and Scotty wanders around the ship in awe of the leaps in technology that have occurred during his involuntary 75-year nap. He also attempts to make himself useful, but because his knowledge is a touch outdated, he succeeds mostly in annoying LaForge.
Captain Picard asks LaForge to take Scott back to the Jenolan to extract data, and while they’re away, the Enterprise continues on to investigate the Sphere. Being Star Trek, the Enterprise triggers a docking sequence and is dragged into the Sphere, where they uncover why the Sphere has been abandoned—the star inside it has become unstable. The Enterprise finds itself dragged toward the star, and LaForge and Scotty must not only deduce what happened to the ship but also rescue the Enterprise and her crew. Scotty rigs the Jenolan’s shields to wedge the Sphere’s docking doors open while the Enterprise escapes. After the rescue, Picard offers Scotty a shuttle on “extended loan,” and Scotty jets off into space in search of more adventures.
The episode’s thematic focus doesn’t exactly come across in the foregoing summary, but the primary question posed by the story is what happens to us when we’re too old? At least, Scotty seems to think that he’s become too old and too much of a relic (hence the episode’s title) to be of use. There’s a particularly poignant scene in which Picard discovers a very drunk Scotty occupying a representation of his own Enterprise’s bridge. Scotty sits there drinking something appallingly green and explains to Picard that time has passed him by. His time on his own Enterprise was the time of his life, and he concludes by bitterly demanding the computer to terminate the simulation because it isn’t real. He’s still as old and useless as he was, and those old days will never return. That conversation prompts Picard to make his request of LaForge, and the two ultimately save the Enterprise, using Scotty’s greater knowledge of the Jenolan’s systems.
When I first watched this episode, I had just passed my first decade, and while I understood the gist of the episode, I mostly just enjoyed seeing Scotty again. I can only imagine how my mother felt watching the episode unfold because at the time, she was dealing with her own mother whose attempts to remain relevant were just as frustrating to her and us, by extension, as Scotty’s are to LaForge. We laugh at the constant memes that float around social media about children serving as tech support for their parents, so I think it’s easier in some ways to identify with LaForge’s frustration. However, that’s not the episode’s point. What the story really wants us to understand is that these prior generations provided us the foundation for the technology we so much more easily manipulate. Scotty makes a point of reminding LaForge that he’s the one who wrote the regulations LaForge keeps citing, and his expertise saves everyone in the episode. Certainly, LaForge gets to work along with Scotty, and the episode very much wants us to appreciate that opportunity with LaForge. Still, Scotty saves the Enterprise, and in so doing, he finds a renewed sense of purpose and of self. The thematic premise of the script is therefore moving forward without losing sight of the good of the past.
Now, looking down the barrel at forty, I do live LaForge’s irritation at times when my mother needs something set up or my mother-in-law needs me to troubleshoot her computer from thousands of miles away, but I found myself looking more at the episode from Scotty’s perspective than I did twenty eight years ago. Part of me occasionally wonders if the best years of my life are behind me as the heroes in the stories I watch remain in their twenties, while I keep marching on. Scotty’s quest to find new adventures serves as a powerful reminder that really, it’s up to us to keep going, to search out “some work of noble note” that “may yet be done.”
Rating: Five cups of steaming hot Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- I’m shamelessly borrowing the title and the quotations from Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” It seemed appropriate
- They actually built the 1701’s bridge. If you’re interested, you can go to Ticonderoga, New York and tour James Cawley’s meticulously recreated bridge set.
- I give the best part of the episode—the holodeck scene—unfortunately short shrift in the body of this post. James Doohan and Patrick Stewart play the sequence beautifully, and I can’t recommend enough that you watch this episode just for that sequence alone.