Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Time Squared
James looks back at TNG's first real time travel episode...
This review contains spoilers.
2.13 Time Squared
The episode begins with Riker serving a meal for some of his fellow senior officers, when suddenly Picard summons them to the bridge. They've found a shuttlecraft floating in space. A Federation shuttlecraft!
With no mothership to be found, they take the shuttlecraft on board and slowly (rather too slowly) come to the realisation that it's one of the Enterprise's own – only their version is still in shuttlebay already! Things get even more confusing when they open the craft to discover an unconscious and barely-alive duplicate of Captain Picard!
The other Picard is taken to sickbay while Data and Geordi try to figure out where the shuttle came from. Although the usual power doesn't seem to work, they discover that by inverting the power they can reactivate the computers. As a result, they learn that it's from 6 hours in the future! Realising that the other Picard is from the future, Pulaski and Picard try to revive him, but for some reason the stimulants send him deeper into a coma, almost killing him.
Picard calls a meeting, and Data and Geordi display the logs they've recovered from the shuttle, which show the Enterprise exploding while trapped in a giant vortex. Picard is horrified at the idea that he might leave the ship, and resolves to avoid doing so. After discussing their options, the crew decides that they're probably caught in some kind of predestination paradox and decide to just carry on as normal while they wait for something to happen.
Pulaski eventually manages to wake the future-Picard, but he's confused and incoherent, although that doesn't stop regular-Picard from screaming in his face demanding answers, to no avail. Pulaski explains that as he gets closer to his "own" time he'll become more coherent because his body clock will align. Sounds like science to me.
As Riker and Picard discuss the philosophy of the circumstances, the Enterprise suddenly finds itself trapped in a vortex, with no warning! A probe they send into the centre is quickly destroyed. With the engines at maximum to prevent them being sucked deeper into the vortex, the crew attempts to figure out how to escape. Suddenly, scanning beams start to hit both Picards. Planning to buy time for the Enterprise, Picard suggests he leave the ship in a shuttlecraft. Hmm. Why does that sound familiar?
Realising that this was the mistake that future-Picard make, regular-Picard releases him from sickbay only to find him set on the same path he was on – attempting to leave the ship in a shuttle. Apparently the Vortex things he's the Enterprise's "brain" and leaving the ship might distract it long enough for the ship to escape. Knowing how that turns out, Picard's having none of it so he shoots his double in the chest with a phaser and runs off, leaving a traumatised O'Brien to watch over the corpse.
On the bridge, Picard insists they do the opposite of what his duplicate did and fly directly into the vortex. For some reason this works, and the Enterprise emerges back in normal space. Why? Who knows!? The duplicate Picard and Shuttle disappear, convenient, and Picard and Riker have one final chat about the situation. Picard mentions that they'll probably never know what was going on. And he's right, because they never will.
TNG WTF: I can't help wondering why Picard felt it necessary to shoot and apparently kill his doppelganger. True, the body disappeared when the time loop was resolved, but he had no idea that'd happen. Couldn't he have just put him in the brig or something? "The cycle must end!" isn't exactly strong justification.
TNG LOL: The whole opening scene with Riker serving an "omelette" which looks more like scrambled eggs to Worf, Geordi, Data and Pulaski is absolute gold, especially when Worf stops scoffing his down in front of his disgusted colleagues just long enough to deliver the terse verdict of "delicious". These are the moments of inter-character chemistry that the latter Star Trek series really lacked. It contributes absolutely nothing to the plot, but these glimpses of what the crew do in their down time are invariably some of the best scenes in any episode.
Time Until Meeting: 18:20. It comes late in the episode, but it gets double points for being called on-screen. "Are you alright, Captain?" says Pulaski, as they look over his traumatised duplicate. "I want a Staff Meeting in five minutes." says Picard. Brilliant.
Captain's Log: It's taken a surprisingly long time for TNG to get to its first actual time-travel episode (unless you count "We'll Always Have Paris", which I don't) especially when you consider that the latter years of TNG and its spin-offs were dogged by time-travel plots. This one really justifies itself by treating time travel as something genuinely uncanny, rather than an excuse to dress up in fancy clothes and affect an accent.
It's definitely a tense episode, and both Stewart's acting and the episode's unusually creepy score really sell the idea that this is an unnerving situation. It's great seeing the normally unflappable Picard being genuinely rattled, and his crew similarly thrown because of it.
It's a shame that the final act is a bit of a mess (future-Picard seems to have no free will because of… reasons…, and the Enterprise manages to escape the anomaly because of… more reasons…) because up until the point where Picard starts getting hit with an energy beam it's really tense stuff. The distorted image of Future-Riker in the shuttle bay just as the shuttle takes off is as creepy as TNG has managed to get so far. Not a perfect episode, but definitely a good one.
Watch or Skip? Watch. You don't want to miss Patrick Stewart demonstrating this amount of range.
Read James' look-back at the previous episode, The Royale, here.
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