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."
Jameson: "I TOOK BOTH OF THEM!"

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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