Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Too Short A Season

Review James Hunt 18 Jan 2013 - 07:52

Our weekly TNG season one retrospective reaches Too Short A Season, starring The Trouble With Tribbles' Michael Pataki...

This review contains spoilers.

1.16 Too Short a Season

The Enterprise is diverted to Mordan IV, where Karnas (the already-traditional Star Trek "single person in charge of the entire planet" for this week) has a problem with some terrorists who have taken the Federation ambassador and his team as hostages. Karnas wants his old pal, Admiral Jameson – the man who brokered a hostage deal four decades ago – to come and sort things out. Jameson, now in his eighties, is crippled by a degenerative disease and futuristic-wheelchair bound, but agrees to come anyway. But only after he makes it clear to Picard that he's in charge. Look, he's got the ridiculous uniform and everything.

As Karnas and Jameson speak, Troi looks suspicious, which is our first indication that everyone's lying. Luckily, Jameson is a skilled negotiator and makes up a bunch of stuff to keep everyone off his back that Troi doesn't notice. Later, in his quarters, Jameson is hit by some unexplained chest pains that he writes off as a result of his "treatments". HMM!

Crusher is confused by the medical records Jameson gave her, so she volunteers to spy on Jameson to see what's going on. Apparently, she's noticed that every time the Enterprise has a high-profile visitor they're hiding some kind of dark secret. It's a bit like being in Scooby Doo, only the crooks come to you. When Picard offers Jameson the chance to pilot the Enterprise, Jameson shocks everyone by getting out of his future-wheelchair and walking, very slowly, to his seat.

But his indiscretion is his undoing! Everyone quickly realises that he's doing something very wrong and it soon emerges that he's taken an alien rejuvenation cocktail to restore his youth. Over the course of the episode, Jameson's bad makeup is stripped away to reveal his normal face, and his bad acting is stripped away to reveal his normal voice and posture. This involves a lot of shocking reveals where Jameson sits in the dark with his face in shadow until someone turns on a light. Seriously, it happens like nine times. At one point he has an entire video-chat with someone while sitting in the dark. It's ridiculous.

Unfortunately, the chest pains continue. It turns out instead of taking his magic drink twice a day after meals, he just drank the lot in one go. He's rapidly de-aging, and everyone knows where that leads: death, or pre-pubescence, neither of which is a desirable state.

Meanwhile, Jameson continues to chat with Karnas about the situation. It turns out there are no terrorists, and that Karnas took the hostages to lure Jameson back to the planet. It later turns out that Karnas still blames Jameson for the decades of civil war on Mordan IV, largely because instead of brokering a proper deal, Jameson just gave Karnas the weapons he wanted, took the hostages, then gave weapons to Karnas' opponents so they could shoot it out themselves. Then he falsified the reports and hoped no-one would notice.

After confessing all, Jameson decides that instead of giving Karnas what he wants (whatever that is – they still don't know) they'll just shoot their way to the hostages and get them out Wild West style. Picard, surprisingly, sees no trouble with this, and even accompanies his superior officer on the firefight. But it's a huge failure. The opponents' phasers are even set to kill! (Phasers, as we know, have four settings: stun, kill, cut through door, and heat up rocks.) They retreat, and decide to talk it out with Karnas instead. 

On Mordan IV, an incredulous Karnas struggles to believe that the man he's talking to is Jameson. Meanwhile, Jameson is near death. His body can't take the strain, and they try to make it look like he's getting shorter by giving him an extra-baggy uniform, even though he's clearly still about six inches taller than Patrick Stewart. Karnas accepts their explanation after being shown a slideshow, then changes his mind, then has a chat with Jameson and accepts the explanation after seeing a scar on Jameson's wrist, which is the one part of him which has magically not been rejuvenated (uh-oh, plot hole!).

Picard tells Karnas that the war was probably mostly his fault, not Jameson's, and Karnas disagrees. He grabs a phaser, intending to kill Jameson! Then changes his mind and says he'd have better revenge in watching him suffer. Jameson promptly drops dead anyway, after minimal suffering. Karnas releases the hostages, which he has no further use of.

Back on the Enterprise, Picard makes some glib statements about the futility of the quest for youth and points out that age and wisdom have their advantages too. Riker replies by calling Picard old ("Maybe one must have age and wisdom to appreciate that, Sir." but Picard doesn't notice, and they set course for Isis III. Everyone's grinning, despite the fact that they're leaving behind them a planet ravaged by decades of Federation-sponsored civil war, a dead Admiral, and a dead Admiral's traumatised wife. Ah well, can't win 'em all.

TNG WTF: So, Jameson confesses to causing a forty year civil war on Mordan IV by arming both sides, inadvertently causing millions of deaths, and at no point does anyone say "er, guys, hadn't we better arrest him or something?" Do they not have war crimes in the future? In fact, not only does Picard fail to shop Jameson to his superiors immediately, he basically replies "Buck up old boy, it wasn't your fault." Er, on what planet? (Well, Mordan IV, self-evidently.)

Oh, and at one point, Jameson decides they need to arrive at Mordan IV ahead of schedule, so he asks them to increase the ship to Warp eight, from Warp four. So apparently, a hostage negotiation isn't the sort of crisis you get to in any particular haste. Warp four's fine, we can get there whenever.

TNG LOL: Crusher: "He's hiding something."
Picard: "That's the kind of observation I would expect from Counsellor Troi."

Alright, Picard! Kick a woman while she's down, why don't you? Not only did Troi just have her arranged marriage go sour, she's also been absent from two of the last three episodes. Now you're making fun of the fact that a good thirty percent of her dialogue consists of those three words? Well, get used to it pal, you're going to be hearing that a LOT more over the next six and a bit years!

Oh, and given that it's the future, it's pretty funny to watch Admiral Jameson attempting to reach the control panels from his wheelchair and largely failing. Disabled access is not of particular interest in the future, apparently.

Finally, the abridged version of the moment that made me laugh so hard I had to pause the episode. As Jameson explains his rejuvenation to his wife:
Jameson: "I acquired two doses. One for me, and one for you. You have to administer the serum over the course of two years, I had to make sure it worked first."
Picard: "But when you realised you needed your strength, you took the whole dose at once."

What a romantic.

Mistakes and Minutiae: There's a golden rule in fiction: show, don't tell. Considering that this episode relies on us caring about the fate of a bunch of Federation hostages, it might help if we, er, actually saw them at any point. I know that's not what the episode's about, but given how much of Karnas' plan involved lying to everyone, why didn't the writers just say he made up the hostages? As it is, we're supposed to be worrying about the lives of some faceless nobodies who we literally never see. A very strange decision.

Who's That Face? Michael Pataki, who plays Karnas, is a returning Trek alumnus, having previously played Korax in Original Series episode, The Trouble with Tribbles.

Time Until Meeting: There's a reasonably heavy use of the conference room in this episode, but again, no meetings. Shambles. Absolute shambles. It's like they don't even know what Star Trek TNG is.

Captain's Log: This is another episode that actually has a good idea at its core and manages to follow it up in the actual fabric of the episode. The focus is on Admiral Jameson – the mistake he made four decades ago, and the way his regret is destroying him. The manifestation of that regret is the clock rolling back and giving him a second chance, and although that turns out to be represented by some rather dubious make-up and over-acting, at least the idea is good. They did the best they could with the technology they had at the time.

If anything's a problem, it's that the episode requires us to care about Admiral Jameson, a man who is fundamentally unlikeable. He's arrogant, lascivious, duplicitous and proud. When he confesses his regret about accidentally causing forty years of civil war to Picard, he gets a moment of humanisation, but then instead of facing the music, he decides to shoot his way to victory. Sigh.

Still, despite that, it's quite a good episode with a well-thought premise and a reasonably good execution. A shame they forgot to add any story for the main cast – not even a B-Plot where Data and Geordi rewire Wesley's replicator so it only creates left-handed versions of popular utensils in an effort to teach Data about practical jokes - but Jameson's story was just about enough to carry things. And hey, there's a proper action scene in it, with phasers and everything, it's been a while since we had one of those.

Watch or Skip? Yeah, watch. It's pretty funny (if unintentionally) and the mystery is at least compelling.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, 11001001, here

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Season 1 was hit and miss. This ep sat in the middle. I enjoyed the action and the youthing of the admiral when I was younger, and after the dull episodes like Angel One and Haven, this felt more sci-fi than soap opera.

I love these TNG articles. They're very well and cleverly written, and I've come to the point where I literally make myself a cup of tea before sitting down and reading them. Well done, sir.

these are currently my favourite feature on Den of Geek :)

Regarding the old man make-up "They did the best they could with the technology they had at the time". So true. Nowadays of course the old-man make-up is so realistic - just look at Guy Pearce in Prometheus. He barely looks like a middle-aged man wearing a stupid rubber mask.

I love these articles and look forward to them each week, I always find myself laughing. I grew up watching this series and its so close to my heart, I find that these articles tread the line between affectionate nostalgia and WTF/LOL moments really well. These articles remind me how ridiculous some of the plot lines were, but at the same time remind me how good the ideas were and how TNG always came up with high-concept sci-fi ideas. I'm really looking forward to the continuation of these articles and I'm almost sad that the episodes get better-written and produced as we go on! Thanks James, please keep it up!

Im watching TNG on UK SyFy every night - and enjoying the HD versions with enhanced SFX... I remember watching the original transmissions of the Episodes late 80's - had a convention friend in England who had a mate in New York who used to VHS record 4 episodes then the guy in UK would get them transferred from NTSC to PAL for the UK then ship them to about 30 Trek fans just for the cost of the tapes! (about £6.00 if i remember) My wife and I would drop everything and enjoy 4 episodes in row! Then when it was on in the UK months later on BBC2 I think? - we would watch them again! - Happy days! So watching these clean versions on SyFy is great and brings back those 4:3 TV memories - BTW love these articles Mr Hunt!

Wasn't this the episode banned by the BBC because it said something about Britain pulling out of Northern Ireland? When I watched the DVD quite recently that scene was missing... or does my memory deceive me?

agreed. Thank you for giving me another 'look forward to Friday' artcile to read.

IMHO, and with no disrespect to anyone, this stands alone to me as the single worst episode in the entire 7 year run of TNG. That being said, watching it for pure satire is so much fun. That makeup, and the TERRIBLE acting. Good lord.

Love these articles, please keep up the great work.

You're thinking of 3x12, "The High Ground". Although apparently it's been shown on terrestrial TV uncut now!

Hahaha! I'd watch an entire episode based on the Data/Geordi messing with Wesley's replicator gag.

Enhanced effects? I thought they just remastered the prints and recreated any video effects if they couldn't find the original element. Not had a chance to see them yet.

It's one of my season1 faves.

The story feels like it's taking "A Private Little War" and turning that story's plot on its head (regarding interference)...

... complete with Jameson being an allegory for you-know-who... Kirk, Captain James T. (or R., if you prefer the pilot...) Keep in mind, for Star trek V, Shatner wanted to use a "fountain of youth" concept for his movie (but chose "meeting God?" instead... this episode, as with the "Insurrection" movie, both show why using a "fountain of youth" idea is risky. A lot hinges on the concept and, despite the make-up early on, pretty much succeeds in making one feel for Jameson, despite his being a pompous jerk that goes against every moral fiber that 24th century life hypes up in later years. :)

And, absolutely, absolutely nothing about any hostages except out of the existing tokenism. That aspect to the plot felt a little "grafted on" or something, or because all of the focus was being generated toward the Admiral's condition and his feud with Karnas (which definitely DOES work and work wonders).

And I do wonder if there were any hidden rewrites done by others that would have diluted the story down...

For season 1, it's a very watchable episode - but it is season 1.

Season 1 was all over the map and not knowing what to go do with itself (Season 2 improves, but the introduction of Michael Piller would be the turning point). But by this point in TNG season 1's history, there were already improvements, which reflect positively in this script in terms of dramatic narrative, even if the points you raise are true (which they absolutely are).

Ditto - though the Red Dwarf X entries were rather excellent as well... :)

Season 1's sci-fi can be pretty good at times.

Compared to how soapy seasons 5 and 6 got, there's a lot of season 1 I prefer to re-watch...

Boring boring boring boring... the only minor point of note was that Karnas was left in charge of his planet despite taking hostages, and no attempt was made to show cosmic justice and have him die at Jameson's hands or something. It was a bit of a nod to the sort of thing that happens in contemporary politics. or am i reading too much into what was otherwise a bad episode?

James, you haven't written another one of these in over four days, I'm getting concerned...

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