Revisiting Star Trek TNG: We'll Always Have Paris

Review James Hunt 22 Mar 2013 - 07:30

Season one is back to its old incompetent, incoherent tricks again in this week's Star Trek: TNG look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

1.24 We'll Always Have Paris

Last week: Tasha Yar dies in one of season one's most memorable episodes. This week: Holo-France. I didn't remember it either.

Now, let's not be too hasty. The episode does begin with Picard fencing, which later becomes one of his many hobbies (alongside archaeology, horse riding, racquetball, and attempting to systematically frown at everything on the Enterprise). However, part way through the match, a moment of time repeats itself. Everyone feels it. Picard races up to the bridge, still in his fencing gear, and while they're trying to decide what to do the Enterprise receives a distress signal from Dr. Manheim, a time-scientist. Picard shifts uneasily, and not just because he's got a damp towel in his lap.

As they track the signal, Troi pulls Picard aside and advises him to work out his as-yet unrevealed personal issues about whatever's about to happen. He gets changed and, as ordered, heads to the holodeck, where he has created the future Holo-France of the episode's title. Specifically, a café where he was supposed to meet a woman many years ago. He has a nostalgic stroll and reminisces with some of the Holo-French, before realising that he's been tricked into psychoanalysis and bailing out before he's weakened by it, just like Armus was in last week's episode.

Reaching the planet, they beam Manheim and his wife, Jenice, onto the ship. Manheim is sick, apparently dying - but more importantly we discover that Jenice is Picard's ex. She gives them a bunch of exposition about Manheim's time-experiments which are causing the time-blips, and they're getting worse. She warns that the lab is heavily booby-trapped, so having recently lost his security officer on an apparently simple mission, Picard is naturally cautious. He sends only three of his most valuable men to investigate. Then they almost die in the transporter due to Manheim's security fields.

Manheim regains consciousness just long enough to explain his experiments in some kind of disoriented haze. Luckily Data knows what he's talking about, and realises that the experiment has to be shut down during one of the time-blips in order to prevent it spiralling out of control. Manheim lapses back into a coma, but Jenice provides them with the co-ordinates to successfully beam through the security grid. Manheim corners Picard to ask why he never met her in that café, and he gives her various explanations, none of which do anything interesting to the story. Troi visits Crusher and basically goes "ooh, awkward" over Picard's visiting ex. Crusher is justifiably annoyed (probably, in truth, because her son seems to have disappeared in the back half of the season. Come on, Wesley, the ship needs saving!) This conversation also adds nothing to the story, because Crusher and Picard don't share a scene for the rest of the episode.

Realising that maybe sending half of your senior staff to their probable deaths is a bad idea, Picard asks Data to go to the planet by himself because at this point in the episode, he's the only one who can make sense of the plot anymore. Data makes it to the planet, where he finds a glowing thing that's causing all the trouble. To stop it, he has to put a metal thing into the glowing thing at just the right moment. A moment before he does, time goes all loopy and splits him into Past, Present and Future Data. They all stand around confused trying to decide which of them is in the right place, before one shouts "it's me!" and drops his metal thing into the glowy thing, saving the day!

Back on the ship, Picard and Jenice meet in Holo-France hoping to achieve some measure of closure before she returns to her husband. Unfortunately she's too distracted by the wonder of the holodeck and spends all her time marvelling at that, apparently believing it to be some kind of magic. After that embarrassing display, Picard decides he's probably better off without her.

Back on the bridge, Troi makes an overt Casablanca reference, suggesting that the writers had aspirations for this episode far beyond what was realised, and the score uses the "whimsical" ending music to make us realise this is supposed to be a happy ending. OKAY THEN!

TNG WTF: This episode is relatively WTF-free, except for the bit at the end where Jenice tries to leave the holodeck and doesn't know how. "So much for my romantic exit," she quips, at which point the exit appears. So if you're ever in the holodeck and say "exit", the exit arch appears? Seems like bad design. Even Siri makes you press a button first.

TNG LOL: Riker's line: "We experienced some kind of loop where everything repeats itself" might not have been intended as a meta-commentary on season one's many repeated plots, but after twenty four episodes, it sure feels like it.

Also, Picard's line: "Enough of this self-indulgence!" shortly before he leaves Holo-Paris might not have been intended as a meta-commentary on the episode's meandering exploration of Picard's romantic past, but again, it sure feels like it.

Who's that Face?: Jenice is Michelle Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas, the group who wrote and recorded the song California Dreamin'.

Time Until Meeting: 27:05. A late exposition meeting so that they can try and straighten out what the hell's actually going on with the time blips.

Captain's Log: Well, it isn't flatly incompetent like the earliest instalments of season one, but it is a lot more tedious than you'd expect at this late point, even in season one. It's free of any glaring errors, except for the part where everything about the time plot has absolutely no logic to it. And the part where the Crusher/Picard/Jenice/Manheim love-quadrangle that it spends so much time on doesn't affect the rest of the episode in the slightest. Ideally, you'd have a ship-in-danger plot with the love-quadrangle plot as the counterpoint. Or, if you're being arch, vice versa. This episode seems to think both stories are the background material of the other, and there's no cross pollination of anything other than the characters.

It's doubly worse because there's a really good story to be told using time-travel to explore themes of regret, loss and separation, and I know because I reviewed it five years ago when it was an episode of Lost called The Constant.

Apparently, this episode was written in five days due to an impending writers strike and when they came to film it, bits of the script were missing. That probably explains why it's got orphaned conversations all over the place which serve no purpose in the episode and set up dilemmas which ultimately go unacknowledged. A lot of the character material is actually quite well-constructed and Patrick Stewart is acting the hell out of it, like a starving dog finally given a lump of steak – but ultimately it's an episode that doesn't even know what its own story is, let alone how to tell it.

Watch or Skip? Skip.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Skin of Evil, here.

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