I found myself torn with respect to which episode to revisit next, “Time Squared” or “Q-Who.” Both have their merits, so I’m going to diverge a bit from my original plan of doing four episodes per season and cover both. This week, we’re doing “Time Squared, ” and we’ll hit “Q Who” next Thursday.
With the housekeeping issues out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the episode. “Time Squared” is a Picard-centric episode in which the Enterprise comes upon a rather familiar shuttlecraft floating powerless in space. It turns out that it’s an Enterprise shuttlecraft, and that its passenger is none other than Captain Picard, the same Captain Picard who hasn’t left the bridge. Eventually, Data, Geordi, et al determine that this is a Captain Picard from three hours and change from the ship’s future and that this Picard is fleeing the destruction of the Enterprise.
Obviously, Picard Prime does not handle this revelation particularly well, and he desperately wants answers from Future Picard. Unfortunately, Future Picard cannot provide them because he is locked in some sort of fugue state that Dr. Pulaski attributes to his body clock being out of sync with the present time. Let me be clear, the Trek-science in this episode is a steaming, hot mess. No part of Pulaski’s conclusion makes any sense, but the plot needs Future Picard to be out of commission because otherwise, the two Picards would discuss their options and come up with a solution over tea. Fortunately, in future time-travel episodes, the displacement sickness silliness gets completely dropped.
However, despite the ridiculousness of certain plot elements, “Time Squared” somehow works as an episode, mostly due to Patrick Stewart’s acting range. Despite the general ridiculousness of having to thrash around on a biobed, Stewart pulls off Picard Prime’s anger, distress, and general fear with deft subtlety. When Worf asserts that Picard is not the sort of captain that would abandon the Enterprise in an emergency, Stewart allows just the vaguest flicker of doubt blip across his face. The script, unfortunately, inserts a scene between Counselor Troi and Dr. Pulaski to explain that Future Picard represents doubt, and honestly, the sequence is unnecessary. Marina Sirtis clearly has not yet grasped who Troi is, and as a result, her emoting is all over the place. Diana Muldaur’s Pulaski manages to radiate competence while simultaneously being given lines that undercut that competence.
At least the episode gives Troi and Pulaski something to do. Data and Geordi exist largely to provide info-dumps, and Worf, shockingly, comes up with the Moebius theory. Despite those tidbits, “Time Squared” really is a Picard story. Picard not only has to face his newfound doubt that he will break under pressure and betray his duty, but he also must find the solution to the dilemma facing the crew. His solution is brutal. Picard Prime shoots Future Picard and leaves him for dead, before going back up to the bridge to direct the ship into the vortex. Up until this point, the series has told us that Picard is a great captain, but it really hasn’t given us much reason to believe that he is. Picard gels as a captain in the moment he chooses to shoot Future Picard because Future Picard desperately wants to leave the ship, which Picard Prime has identified as being the wrong choice. He demonstrates the extreme lengths to which he is ready to go to protect his ship and her crew, and it’s a shockingly uncomfortable moment.
Most of the really good parts of “Time Squared” occur toward the middle; unfortunately, despite that fantastic moment, the episode’s conclusion makes very little sense. “Time Squared” reflects the full gamut of early TNG’s highs and lows. The first half of the episode is great; it’s plotty and features a great deal of frenzied problem solving while the score becomes increasingly creepy. Then, we get to the issue of the mysterious entity that wants to eat Picard-shaped snacks and who created the mysterious energy vortex into which Picard Prime will direct the ship, and this is where the episode goes off the rails. Everything is “mysterious” and “anomalous,” and the episode simply chalks it all up to Space Weirdness before sending the Enterprise on its merry way. Still, the episode is worth a watch because it represents an attempt to depict the horror of space.
Star Trek has always been good about showing viewers the wonders of space travel and puts grandiose words about exploring and meeting new life forms in the mouths of its characters, but there is a dark side to all of this. An unknown force reached out to subject Picard to this experience, and at no point do we ever find out the nature or identity of that unknown force. The episode leaves it to us to imagine what it is because our minds can conjure up far greater terrors than can be presented on a screen. “Night Terrors and “Genesis” also address the more frightening aspects of space travel, though in the case of “Genesis,” not terribly well. What “Time Squared” does is center that horror on Picard, and despite the moment in which you can actually see Patrick Stewart think, “I have done Shakespeare! Why am I now writhing on a bed, looking like an idiot,” Stewart never breaks his posture of barely constrained fear. If he had, he would have sunk the entire episode, as it is, he saves the episode from the clunky conclusion and makes it worth a watch.
Rating: A solid two cups of Earl Grey Tea and a replicated saucer.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Apparently, in the 24th century, the word “omelet” will come to encompass scrambled eggs. The scene in Riker’s quarters is random and yet charming. It has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but it is a great look at what life on the Enterprise could be like. I will admit that I’m not entirely certain why Riker treats making scrambled eggs as if it’s tantamount to producing a beef wellington, but hey, in a world of food replicators maybe it is.
- It’s good to know that even in the 24th century, cooking will still fall under women’s work. Thanks, Worf.
- I’m always glad to see Colm Meany, but really, I’m not sure why he’s there.
- I also wonder how much Hollywood tape was required to keep Troi’s costume in place. I’d never realized just how plunging that neckline was until I watched Marina Sirtis do…whatever it was the she was trying to do with her emoting.