Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Neutral Zone

Review James Hunt 12 Apr 2013 - 08:01

James reaches the finale of TNG season 1, which sees the Enterprise go through a rainbow of alert levels dealing with the Romulans...

This review contains spoilers.

1.26 The Neutral Zone

At the start of the episode, the crew is waiting for Picard to return from a meeting (of course) at Starbase 718 when they stumble across an old ship form Earth. Riker, apparently uninterested in history, insists they "let nature take its course" but Data points out they've got nothing better to do and is allowed to beam on board with Worf. Although confused by the simple handle-operated doors, the pair discover a selection of cryogenics pods – some containing some well-preserved people! As Picard returns, they bring the pods back to the Enterprise.

Picard's first order is for the Enterprise to journey into the Neutral Zone! If you're confused, think of the Neutral Zone as a sort of space version of the Iron Curtain. And if you don't remember communism, the Iron Curtain was kind of like the M25, only for the USSR and Europe instead of London and the rest of the UK). Anyway, someone has been destroying outposts around the Neutral Zone, and they think it's probably the Romulans. Uh-oh!

Meanwhile, Crusher has thawed out the frozen humans, curing them of their previously fatal ailments. They're from the late twentieth century, or thereabouts. They are Sonny Clemonds, a substance-ravaged musician; Ralph Offenhouse, an evil eighties businessman (I think he has boneitis) and Claire Raymond, a woman who died of an embolism. Her occupation is listed as "homemaker" ("some form of construction worker?" ventures Data. Apparently in the future, looking after the family is not considered work.)

While the crew tries to figure out how to respond to the Romulans, if they meet, Offenhouse calls Picard and demands he get down there. Picard belittles his concerns, mocks his value system, and explains that he appears foolish in the eyes of others. Then Raymond spontaneously starts crying, so he asks Counsellor Troi to take over and runs off. Troi helps Raymond investigate her current living family, proving that episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will be much duller in the future, but the trade-off is that occasionally they find your frozen family members floating in deep space. Throughout all this, Clemonds is just stumbling around wondering where he can get a guitar and asking how to operate the TV, unaware that in the future, TV doesn't exist and that the only entertainment is the Holodeck, which might kill you, and watching miniature holographic women play the harp which we saw Riker doing once.

Back on the bridge, things are getting tense. They discover that outposts have definitely been destroyed, but in a strange way. Scooped off the planet! Ben and Jerry's Interstellar Empire is assumed to be the primary culprit. Picard, Worf and Riker argue over whether to go to Red Alert or not, before compromising on Yellow Alert. Because naturally, the correct colour of alert is the most important issue on the ship at the moment. Suddenly, a Romulan vessel decloaks! Picard refuses to shoot it, trying to avoid starting a war, and the gamble pays off. He moves the ship to Ochre Alert just as Offenhouse stumbles onto the bridge, having noticed that the situation had become tense. Riker orders him to be escorted away, but the security officers are distracted by the appearance of the Romulans (absolutely useless. Who hired these guys?)

Picard moves everyone decisively to Terracotta Alert as he and the Romulans circle one another's arguments, searching for weakness. It turns out they've also found some of their outposts destroyed, and having ascertained that it wasn't the Federation, they're willing to share information in the future. Picard is just about to step down to Tangelo alert when the Romulans casually mention that they plan to be a lot more active within the affairs of the Federation, having been absent too long. A cautious Picard declares Tenné Alert, reassuring the bridge crew with his fast action.

Finally, the Romulans leave. No-one knows what happened to the missing outposts but we'll probably (definitely) find out what happened next season. The Enterprise arranges passage for the three defrostees, and Riker says that it's a shame that they can't keep that around because it was like having a visit from the past. Primarily because that's exactly what's happening. Picard declares that the past is no good, and that humanity must move forwards, not backwards, upwards, not forwards, and always twirling, twirling towards victory, before announcing a state of Jonquil Alert, much to the bemusement of the crew. END SEASON ONE!

TNG WTF: Aside from the problem of how easy it is for anyone to just stroll onto the bridge (If you believe Picard, it's because in the twenty-fourth century, humans don't need security. They have SELF RESTRAINT.) the most baffling thing about this episode is everyone's apparent disinterest in the virtual miracle of several three-hundred-year-old individuals who have come back to life.

Admittedly, there's a difficult situation developing that demands more attention, but considering that the Enterprise is a science and exploration vessel, everyone except Data seems very reluctant to have anything to do with the defrostees. Riker doesn't want Data to bring them back. Crusher defrosts them because, in her own words, she's got nothing better to do. And Picard even goes so far as to complain that they were disturbed at all. "They were already dead!" he says, as if that's anything more than a technicality. In fact, Picard is particularly frosty in this episode. If they ever need to re-freeze themselves, they can just use his attitude to get the process started.

TNG LOL: It's hard not to be amused by Claire waking up after three hundred years, seeing Worf, then fainting again, but we know that was supposed to be funny because they play the whimsical variation of the TNG theme when it happens.

Something not intended to be funny is Riker's assessment of the Romulan's espionage capabilities. "The information [the Romulans] have about us is out of date." Says Data. "The positive side of that," says Riker, "is that they information they have about us is also out of date." Er, wait, what? That's not how knowledge works! As assessments go, this is roughly as sophisticated as burying your head in the sand to hide from an enemy. Someone needs to explain to Riker that information can potentially travel one-way.

Time Until Meeting: This is a GREAT episode for meetings. First there's one at 6:52, and while they're in that one, they organise another! That then occurs at 20:57. Twice the meeting = twice the TNG.

Captain's Log: Maybe I'm just feeling generous because it's the final episode, but I really liked this one. Sure, it labours its criticism of today's materialist, selfish, backwards society. Sure, it has Riker and Picard acting like the pursuit of knowledge is a distraction from the day-to-day business of improving yourself. And sure, the episode builds up to a big appearance by the Romulans and then wimps out of actually doing anything with them. However... wait, where was I going with this again?

I dunno. Something about this one seems charming. Picard's in a bad mood, Riker's in a bad mood, Data can't figure out why everyone's annoyed at his perfectly reasonable actions and the three people they defrost don't have context for anything and completely shatter everyone's comfortable twenty-fourth century boundaries. I quite like an episode where people are flexing a different character trait for a change. Even Troi manages to give Picard some actually helpful advice!

As legend has it this episode was supposed to be part of a two-parter that introduced the Borg, but a writers' strike and budget issues meant they were unable to do that. Obviously it feels nothing like a season finale. But it ends on a relatively optimistic note from Picard: "There's still much to do. Still so much to learn." If that doesn't describe the why Star Trek exists in a nutshell, what does?

Watch or Skip? At least we can end the season on a high. A definite watch!


And with that, we conclude our re-appraisal of TNG: season one. In the words of Captain James T. Kirk: it was… fun. There have been some highs, considerably more lows, and a lot of middle. And I'm not sure I'll ever get over watching Code of Honor. But still, more episodes were worth watching than skipping, and even on a bad day it's fun to spend time with these characters.

From now on things are going to be a little different. The original plan was to reappraise the Blu-Ray remastering of TNG season one and stop, but since we're all having fun I'm going to keep going as long as I've got the time and energy. However, the Blu-Rays are coming out faster than I can watch them and I'm struggling to deal with the prospect of twenty-plus episode of Dr. Pulaski. So from now on I'll be jumping around a bit. Still only reviewing remastered episodes, but no longer in order.

That said, I've currently got nowhere to go except season two, but season 3 is out at the end of this month so it'll open up then. With that in mind, feel free to suggest which episode I look at next. Anything from TNG season two, for now. Even Shades of Gray, you absolute lunatics. Oh, and if you've been at all amused this series of articles, please take a moment to look at A Brief History of Time Travel, the sci-fi audio sitcom I'm co-writing which is due out in August.

Right, that's the admin out of the way. See you back here next Friday for… well, whichever TNG season two episode gets the most requests, I suppose! Don’t be too cruel.

Read James' lookback at the previous episode, Conspiracy, here.

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The Outrageous Okona! Manhunt! Joking! Q Who is the obvious choice, how many episodes will you watch from season 2? Coz Measure of a man is quite gud i also remember Time Squared quite fondly too for some reason. You have to mix it up watching good and bad episodes, makes the reviews more fun!

"Apparently in the future, looking after the family is not considered work" - I'd say that misguided sentiment is already prevalent in today's society

Elementary Dear Data and Measure, Royal for a chuckle...

The original plan was to reappraise the Blu-Ray remastering of TNG season one and stop? Having read most if not all of these re iews I have only seen appraisals of stories not the Blu-Rays; remastering, sound, picture quality and extras etc... The difference in remade CGI effects between Seasons 1 and 2 being an example.

Start with The Child, just to start the season ..... then go random! In fact, doing the start, random middle, then end for each season before moving on to the next might be wise so you can cover off the hiatus 2 parters!

Maybe reviewing key episodes is the way to go for example the best/worst of season 2 and leaving average ones out. That way we get amusement from your reviews of awful episodes but also an appreciation of the good ones.

Excellent news that you will continue these great recaps!
Also of note with this episode: Data and Worf beam over to the satellite, and * then * Data reports there's oxygen onboard! Good thing, for Worf.
And also, Offenhouse, for all his bluster (why is it Picard and crew can show infinite tolerance to alien species and their ways, but not their own ancestors?) proves right in his assessment of the Romulans (his character is further developed in the novel Debtor's Planet).

I'd like to vote for A Matter of Honor, as it would be nice to follow the Klingon episodes through the seasons and because Riker going on Klingon Work Exchange is totally brilliant.

Oh come on man, these reviews are brilliant. You HAVE to do them all in sequence.

I'm waiting for you to review "Darmok". I think i'll be waiting a while though. :)

Kiazi's children. Their faces wet :(

I would like to see you continue in order, as TNG starts to get into the continuing story/character arcs in a few places. Elementary, Dear Data and the making of a conscience Moriarty hologram was perhaps the best scifi use of the holodeck.

Please please please continue to do them in sequence.

I understand not wanting to review every episode, but if you are just going to review the major episodes and your favourite, please do them in order. Just for your benefit watching them, you'll get far more out of them being able to see how the characters develop across the seasons

I would also like to add my voice to those requesting you continue to do the. In order. Please... Make it so.

Great stuff!

The ep was a little low-key for a season finale, but established a big unknown threat out there on the galactic equivalent of the far horizon ...

I fully understand the need to avoid much of Dr. Pulaski. It's a long slog till she falls down the elevator shaft. (Oh, wait, that was on LA Law.)

But one Season 2 episode that I believe is free of the good doc is Q Who. Which also follows on this very episode you just reviewed!

... I'd forgotten that Shades of Gray -- a clip show! -- was the Season 2 finale. That makes this episode look like an epic!

Season 2 is better than Season 1, but not much. The show doesn't really get good till Season 3.

>That said, I've currently got nowhere to go except season two, but season 3 is out at the end of this month so it'll open up then. With that in mind, feel free to suggest which episode I look at next. Anything from TNG season two, for now. Even Shades of Gray, you absolute lunatics.

Yes, and me!


Sorry, brah... you gotta keep going in order. That's what we're doing!

My favorite TNG episode!

Sokath, his eyes uncovered!!!

He mentioned the new effects and additions of the Blu-ray versions several times throughout the series.

I enjoyed the boneitis reference in this review more than anything in the entire episode. And then you dropped some Kodos on us! Well played!

Somebody strap James into the Clockwork Orange chair with the eye opening thingies and make him watch them all in sequence! If he tries to refuse then put "Code of Honour" on a loop. If he starts talking about 4 lights then it's probably time for a break.

Thanks so much for this wonderful series of reviews. Always the first thing I look for on DoG. Looking forward to the next series. Oh, and why the hatred for Dr. Pulaski? In my opinion Dr. Jar-Jar Binks would have been an improvement on Beverly Crusher :-)

I agree in sequence if possible lol... also I too do not understand the Dr Pulaski hate I actually prefer her to crusher lol. Then again its all down to personal preference lol.

In sequence, taking extra time to review episodes such as Outrageous Okona, Manhunt, The Dauphin, Shades of Grey & Up the Long Ladder please

hahaha really enjoyed this review, some utterly classic Simpsons lines. and the sweet inclusion of Offenhouse having Boneitis. Clearly he was too busy being an 80's guy to have it cured!

Darmok, and Jalad. At Tanagra!

Just wanted to add that I sincerely hope your writing talent and your rather marvellous ability to write something so side splittingly funny take you on to much success and happiness. I for one will look forward to your future reviews.

add me to the list wanting season 2 in order. I love these reviews. As someone who is waiting for the entire series run to be remastered and sold as a box set to save money(I got ripped off on DVD, because I bought each season @ $60 a pop the day they dropped, and a week after season 7 came out, Amazon had a complete series run box set for sale for $250, after I had paid $420 for the season sets). I want to continue to read these awesome reviews until I get em on bluray

I've loved reading these reviews, I'd love for hem to continue! There's another 6 series you know!!

It's fun going back to look at these early episodes, thanks for the recaps!

I'd go with Elementary, Dear Data, Q Who, Up the Long Ladder, or Peak Performance.

I'd forgotten Shades of Grey. Yikes. and The Royale. Not on the rewatch list.

Oh yeah, definitely. Although it's been so long since I saw most of the episodes that often, the ones I think are good were bad, and the ones I thought were bad are good! But yeah, no plans to specifically skip episodes, just mix up the order.

Yeah, what I meant was to use the remastering as an excuse to reappraise the episodes, rather than review the remastering process itself. I mention the blu-ray changes when I think they've been used to make improvements (or, in some cases, should have been...)

I certainly understand that feeling (and part of me would like to keep going in order) but for various real-life reasons I can't guarantee I'll continue this feature for another 6 months without interruption. The last thing I want to is leave it looking unfinished by stopping halfway through a series if I'm suddenly unable to continue with them!

Where possible, if episodes have genuine arc content I'll try to keep them in order (i.e. I'd review Elementary, Dear Data before Ship in a Bottle, and Q Who before any other Borg episodes) but to be fair, TNG is from an era when arc content was very rare, so I don't think I'll miss much by switching it up!

Haha! I appreciate the enthusiasm, but for various real-life reasons (vague, I know) I'll probably have to take a break towards the end of the year, so I don't want to leave it looking obviously unfinished if that happens sooner rather than later!

Nah, I won't just be doing my favourite (I did consider this, but rediscovering unfamiliar episodes is a big part of what's making this fun for me). I'll choose from the suggestions I get (as long as I'm still getting them, that is.)

I'll talk about why I don't like Pulaski more in my next review, but the short answer is that the chemistry with the rest of the cast just wasn't there (in my opinion!)

I hear a company was close to finding a cure, but he arranged a hostile takeover and... well, you know.

These are one of my favourite things on the site... Brilliant writing

Hmmm, I suspect Neil Gaiman will soon log on to this chat to tell us all off on your behalf (a la George R. R. Martin). Thanks for doing series one, it was something to look forward to and I will continue to look forward to further reviews. The best to you sir.

"Where Silence has Lease" would be a good one to start season 2 reviews of "the child" is a very forgettable episode for me apart from the part when Picard has to find Dr Pulaski in ten forward lol.

Fantastic article, as ever. Certainly brought a smile to my face on an otherwise craptastic day, cheers!

Great reviews! My suggestions are:

A Matter of Honor and Q Who.

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