Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 25): The Neutral Zone

Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.

For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Before setting off for a potentially dangerous meeting with the Romulan Empire, in the Federation’s Neutral Zone, to discuss the destruction of numerous Federation Outposts, the Enterprise recovers the bodies of three cryogenically frozen humans, brings them aboard, and wakes them up. Clare cries a lot about everyone she loves being dead. Sonny wants to get drunk and party – particularly with Data. Ralph wants to talk to his lawyer and to the degree possible, influence what is going on aboard the ship.

As the encounter with the Romulans finally occurs we learn that the Romulans have also lost outposts to the same force attacking the Federation – though they do not know who is behind it. Ralph wanders onto the bridge during the meeting and points out that the Romulans do not know who is behind the attacks and he thinks they are too arrogant to say so. Picard agrees. Eventually Picard gets an agreement from the Romulans to share information regarding what either side learns about these incidents.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

First Officer’s Log Stardate 41986.0

The Enterprise is on it’s way to pick up Captain Picard from an emergency conference to which he was summoned. Meanwhile, the ship’s censors have been monitoring an ancient capsule floating in its vicinity which appears to be from earth. Worf says that the capsule is on a trajectory to intersect, eventually, with a binary system wherein he says it will likely be destroyed. He suggests to Riker that they use a tractor beam to redirect its trajectory. Riker says not to do so and notes that it is only a piece of space debris.

Riker asks Worf how long until PIcard returns and Worf replies that the last communication indicated that it would be several hours. Data abruptly requests that Riker allow him to investigate the space debris, noting that the opportunity to study something as ancient does not come around often. Riker decides to allow Data to do this, after Data points out that they have the time, but he stipulates that Data be back before the Captain returns. He tells Worf to go with Data.

Once inside, Data notes that the capsule has minimal oxygen and operates using an ancient solar generator. Worf points out the vessel’s on-board computers are no longer functioning and Data states that he may be able to download the on-board disk drive onto the Enterprise.

Worf finds closed doors. Hilariously he walks into them and suggests that they are sealed with age. Data walks over to the door and uses the handle to open them. Inside, they find several pods that appears to be covered in frost. Data wipes the frost from the glass of the first and is able to see human remains inside. Data notes that the seal on the chamber is broken and that the corpse has decomposed. Data and Worf starts wiping the frost off the glass on the other pods. Worf finds a second decomposed corpse, Data finds an empty pods, and then Worf finds a human woman who has not decomposed. After some searching, Worf and Data find two more people who are frozen but not decomposed.

Picard notifies Riker that he will soon be returning to the ship. When Riker next calls Data to order his immediate return, Data tells him what they have found and requests to return to the ship with three containers. Riker tells him that whatever he does, he must do it quickly.

Sometime later, with Data and Worf back on the bridge, Picard also returns. He sets the course for Geordi and tells Riker that he wants a staff meeting on the observation deck. Geordi states that the coordinates given by Picard will take them to the Neutral Zone. Picard says that this is correct and he tells Geordi to travel at Warp 8 to get there.

At the staff meeting, Picard tells his officers that two Federation outposts in Sector 30 have been destroyed. He further tells them that there has been no communication with star bases in Sector 31 in some time.

Worf: Romulans?
Picard: That’s the assumption.

The staff begins a discussion about why the Romulans would begin acting aggressively now.

Picard: For fifty years, there is barely a whisper out of them. And now for no apparent reason they seem to be back with a roar.

Picard tells his officers that the Federation’s strategic decision is to send one ship to the neutral zone to investigate. Worf notes that this means they could get there and find themselves greatly overmatched Picard agrees that it is a gamble. Riker says that they have to assume this is a set-up on the part of the Romulans. Picard says that if force proves necessary, they will use it, but that will mean that they have failed. He says that the goal is to establish some sort of relationship with the Romulans. However, Picard says that the sentiment at Starfleet is that the Romulans may seek out a confrontation to see how far the Federation has advance technologically.

Picard asks Troi for a full profile on the Romulans. She says that there is little information on them but she says she will prepare what she can. Picard asks the computer for an estimated time of arrival to the neutral zone and the computer replies that they are 19 hours and 28 minutes from arrival. Picard tells his officers to reassemble in six hours. He tells everyone to stay sharp noting that he would prefer to out-think the Romulans than to out-fight them.

Picard visits Dr. Crusher. She tells him about the people from the capsule – a topic which he had not yet been filled in on. She reports that the chamber they were frozen in was falling apart so she thawed them out due to lack of alternatives. Picard asks about their condition and Crusher tells him that all of the people once frozen are now sleeping. She says that the people had conditions which were terminal at the time they were frozen but which are not treatable and minor. She tells Picard that the most surprising thing about the three people is that they were frozen after they died. This surprises Picard. She explains that cryonics was a kind of fad in the late twentieth century.

Picard asks Data to report to sick bay. After he arrives, Picard expresses frustration that Data brought the people aboard the ship.

Picard: Mr. Data, they were already dead. What more could have happened to them?
Data: I see your point, Captain, but at the time it seemed the proper thing to do.

Dr. Crusher says that the three are all alive, well, and ready to be awakened. Picard calls Worf to sick bay to serve as security.. They wake the woman first. She opens her eyes, smiles at Crusher and Picard. Then she looks at Worf and faints. Picard is amused by this and tells her “welcome to the twenty-fourth century.”

Sometime later, with the formerly frozen people all asleep, Data informs Crusher, Worlf, and Picard that he was able to retrieve information about the people they just un-froze from the ship’s computer. The woman is named Clare Raymond, age thirty-five, and her occupation is a homemaker. He speculates that this is likely some type of construction work. Clare is woken up once more. Data tells us that the man on the next table is named Ralph Offenhouse. He is fifty-five years old and a financier. Data says that they could not retrieve much of the third man’s file, though Data is aware that his name is L.Q. ‘Sonny’ Clemmons and that his occupation has something to do with music. Picard returns to the bridge and tells Riker to take charge of the guests until it can be decided what should be done with them. Picard tells Riker as he leaves to keep the guests out of his way.

Riker has a meeting with the recently resurrected. He explains that they are on the USS Enterprise. Ralph asks if that means the ship is American and Riker says no, it means the ship is part of the United Federation of Planets though he adds earth is a member. Ralph asks what year it is and Data tells him 2364. Ralph is in disbelief and asks about his heart. Dr. Crusher replies that his heart is now fine and she tells all of them that they are in perfect health. Sonny asks what ‘it’ is, referring to Data, and Riker answers that Data is an android. Sonny asks if that means Data is a robot and Data clarifies that there is a distinct difference between an android and a robot. Clare asks about Worf, next, and they inform her that Worf is from a race of people called Klingons. Riker says that explaining Klingons takes some more time.

Clare asks what is going on and Dr. Crusher tells her that roughly 370 years ago, she died of a massive embolism. Clare says that she does not remember any of that. Dr. Crusher says that she and the others were frozen. Sonny reminds her about cryonics and says it is a freeze you now and heal you later thing. Ralph explains that a lot of cryonics companies had issues with brown outs. The one they used relied on solar power, in space, to avoid those issues. Ralph guesses that his cryonics stock must be worth a fortune now but Data corrects him saying that cryonics was never more than a fad and did not continue much beyond the mid twenty-first century.

Ralph tells Riker that he needs to make a phone call to check on his portfolio and to let the bank know he is alive. Riker says that will be difficult at the moment. Ralph asks if he at least has a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Riker says, in reply, that they should take things slow for now.

On the bridge, Troi gives Picard what she knows about the Romulans. She says they are people of extremes. One moment they engage in violence beyond description and the next, tender. She says their race is related to the Vulcans but as the two groups evolved, their differences widened. She says the Romulans’ belief in their own superiority is beyond arrogant. She says that for some reason the Romulans have exhibited a fascination with humans and that fascination, she says, is what has kept the peace.

Troi: One other thing. They will not initiate anything. They will wait for you to commit yourself.
Picard: Counter-punchers. Thank you, Counselor. That is quote valuable.

Elsewhere on the ship, Data is instructing Sonny on how to order food. He initially orders a steak dinner but at the last minute scraps the order and requests just a martini with two olives. He winks at Data when he says the olives are for the vitamins. He takes a drink and says “whew!” Data asks if there is something wrong and he says that the computer makes just about the best martini he has ever had. Sonny is apparently from the American South because he asks how to turn the ship’s computer into a television. He wants to know if the Atlanta Braves’ game is on. Riker is confused about what television is and Data explains it. Data informs Sonny that television did not last long beyond the year 2040. Sonny asks Riker and Data what they do for fun.

Sonny: You don’t drink and you ain’t got TV. Musst be kind of boring, ain’t it?

Picard breaks in at that moment to tell Riker and Data to report to the bridge. Riker replies that they will at once. Ralph asks Riker, after, who he was speaking with and Riker reports that he was speaking with the captain. Ralph tells Riker that he would like to speak with the captain as soon as it is convenient. Clare chimes in asking what will happen to them. Riker and Data do not really answer as they leave but the three newly alive humans are left with the impression that they will eventually speak with Picard.

In the hallway, Data asks Riker what is to be done with them and Riker does not have an answer. Data says they are the most unusual humans he has ever encountered and Riker adds that from what he has seen of their guests, there is not much to redeem them. He says it makes him wonder how the human race survived the twenty-first century.

Picard and the bridge officers are now six hours from the neutral zone and having a meeting. Worf says he has been unable to establish any contact with Federation outposts or colonies in the area. Picard asks how many outposts are in the Sector and Worf reports that there are nine. Riker says that they should operate from the assumption that all of the outposts have been destroyed by the Romulans. Data adds that they should consider that since the Federation has had no direct contact with the Romulans for the last fifty-three years, it is possible the information that they have is out of data. Riker says that in turn, the information the Romulans have about them is also out of date. He suggests that the lack of information is the source of the Romulan aggression. He believes that the Romulans are assuming the Federation will send their best and that this encounter will inform them of what the best from the Federation looks like. Picard asks for a recommendation.

Riker: I’m not sure that I have a specific recommendation. Perhaps we should assume the initiative.
Worf: I agree with Commander Riker. This may be our only opportunity. We should seize it.

Data notes that if they assume the intention of the Romulans is hostile, seizing the initiative is a sound strategy. Geordi asks what their intention could be if it’s not hostile.

Just then, Picard receives a message to his communication device from Ralph Offenhouse – one of the unfrozen 20th century humans. Picard is angry and asks Riker if he gave the newcomers permission to contact him. Riker says he did not but speculates that they saw him use a comms device. Picard replies to Ralph that he is in a very important conference right now. Ralphs is not having any of that, though, and says he is sick and tired of being put off by Picard and his staff. He tells Picard that this is the worst-run ship he has ever been on.

As Ralph is yelling into the comms device at Picard, Picard walks into the room where the three unthawed humans are sitting. Picard tells him not to use the comms device anymore and tries to leave. He tells them that the ship is in a critical and dangerous situation. Ralph replies that he is sure the situation seems important to Picard but says that his own situation is far more important.

Picard, now angry, says that he does not think Ralph fully appreciates where he is, the situation he is in, or how much time has passed. Ralph says that he is aware of all of that and he also says that he has more to protect than a man in Picard’s situation could possibly understand.

Ralph: No offense, meant, but a military career has never been considered to be upwardly mobile. I must contact my lawyer!

Ralph is convinced that the firm where his lawyer worked is still operating. Picard tells Ralph that humanity has grown out of its infancy and is no longer consumed with wealth. Ralph tells Picard that it’s not about wealth, it’s about power. Picard asks him power to do what and Ralph replies that the power is about controlling his own destiny.

Picard: That kind of control is an illusion.
Ralph: Really. I should be dead but I am not.

Picard sees that Clare is crying. She tells him that she cannot stop thinking about her boys. Picard calls for Troi to report to the guest lounge. Just then, Riker calls Picard to say that they are approaching the Science Station. Picard replies that he is on his way back to the bridge. Picard runs into Troi in the hallway and asks her to get those people under control because they cannot afford the continuing distraction.

Troi sits down to talk with Clare who asks if Troi is the ship’s shrink. Troi repies that she is unfamiliar with the term and Clare says it does not matter. Troi says that Clare is feeling profoundly sad and she replies that she cannot stop crying. She tells Troi that she misses her sons. Then she thinks that she is here and they are gone. She cannot get over the fact that her husband decided to do this. Clare speculates that her husband could not get over the fact that she was gone so he had her frozen. She believes that he felt that if she was frozen, she was not really gone.

Clare starts crying again saying that she wishes she knew what happened to her children.

Clare: Did they get married? Did they have kids?

Troi suggests that they try to find out. She asks the ship’s computer. Clare is amazed and relieved that the ship might be able to tell her the information she is after. She thanks Troi.

Sonny visits Dr. Crusher’s sick bay looking for recreational drugs to use. She tells him that he has no medical need for them. He says it’s not about need, it’s about survival. He sees that Crusher will not help him so he asks her where he can find Data. She lets him know she will tell Data he is looking for him. On his way out of her sick bay, he tells her that she’s about the prettiest little ole doctor he has ever seen.

Troi and Clare succeed in finding out what happened to her sons. Clare sees the ten generations that followed them, also. Abruptly Clare states that everyone she has ever known is dead. She asks Troi if she can be alone and Troi leaves.

Data finds Sonny in his quarters. Sonny says he is going crazy in the room by himself and he suggests that he and Data put together a little party.

Data: A celebration?
Sonny: No, nothin’ that fancy. Just some folks, some suds, and some sounds.

Data asks Sonny about the fact he is adjusting more easily than the other two. Sonny says that it’s the same dance, just a different tune, and he asks Data if anyone might have a guitar he can borrow. While they are talking, Riker tells Data that they are in the neutral zone and to report to the bridge at once. Sonny asks Data what the Neutral Zone is and Data explains that it is the buffer zone between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. Sonny asks why the sound of that makes him nervous and Data replies that he does not. Sonny then says that they will not be inviting the Romulans to the party and Data says no, that would not be appropriate.

Picaard’s supplemental log states that they have arrived at the Neutral Zone and that now they have an opportunity to learn first hand what happened to the Federation’s distant outposts. Data reports that there is nothing left of Outpost Zero-Five and that censors indicate no evidence of conventional attack. Worf says that the Outpost was not just destroyed. He says it is as though some great force just scooped it off the face of the planet.

In the guest lounge, Ralph reports to the other two that he can tell something serious is happening on the vessel. Sonny tells him that even if there is something happening, the people aboard the ship do not need them ‘swimming in their soup.’ He suggests that Ralph relax and let everyone do their job. Ralph says he will not allow his own fate to be decided by others and he storms out to look for answers.

On the bridge, the next Outpost is like the previous one. Riker recommends going to red alert. Worf agrees and suggests going immediately to battle stations. Picard insists that they not make rash decisions, yet, because they are still investigating. Riker asks if they can at least go to Yellow Alert and Picard says that would be prudent.

As Ralph wanders through the hallway, an announcement is made that all decks are going to Yellow Alert. He wanders into an turbolift and wonders aloud to himself where the Captain might be. The ship’s computer answers him that Picard is on the main bridge. Ralph then tells the computer to take him to the main bridge.

On the bridge, Worf tells Picard that his censors indicate a disturbance. He says that it is large and moving but that he cannot get a positive lock. Riker recommends moving the ship’s power to shields and photon torpedoes. Worf announces that he now has a positive lock and says that the Romulans are uncloaking their ship. As they have this discussion, Ralph wanders onto the bridge from the turbolift.

The bridge discussion of the improved Romulan cloaking device leads to Picard saying that the Romulans were attempting to learn their intent. He says that the Romulans wanted to see if they would fire. Abruptly, Ralph interrupts and asks who they are.

Riker orders security to get that man off the bridge, now, and Ralph struggles against security. Just then, Worf tells Picard that they are back. We see on the main viewer that the Romulan ship has uncloaked. Ralph and the two security guards escorting him out stop to watch. Riker says that he never thought they would encounter a Romulan vessel. Geordi adds that the last time they encountered the Romulans was decades ago and that it cost thousands of lives. Ralph – who is still on the bridge – says that he can believe that.

Picard instructs everyone to remain calm. He orders hailing frequencies to be opened. Worf tells Picard that Romulans are without honor. He says that they killed in parents in an attack upon Khitomer when they were supposed to be Klingon allies.

Worf: They believe humans and Klingons are a waste of skin.

Picard tells Worf to control his emotions and to open hailing frequencies. Picard introduces himself to their vessel. Data reports that censors indicate that all of their systems are armed. Picard points out that they have not fired.

The Romulans reply. They inform Picard that they are in the Neutral Zone because their own outposts have been attacked and destroyed in the same manner as the Federation’s own. Worf speaks out and says that this does not give them the right to enter Federation space. The Romulans reply that they do not need permission. The Romulans say that once they saw the level of destruction, of their own outposts, they knew the act of aggression did not come from the Federation. Picard asks them who is resposible.

Ralph – who is still on the bridge – steps forward and says that the Romulans do not have a clue. He says that the Romulans are hoping Picard knows but they are too arrogant to ask. Riker turns and tells Ralph that he is out of line. Picard agrees but says that it is a correct assessment.

Picard proposes to the Romulans that they collaborate with the knowledge that whoever or whatever did this is more powerful than either of them. He suggests that they share what they learn for their mutual benefit. The Romulans agree on only this one issue. The Romulans conclude the discussion by telling Picard that more important matters caused the Empire to focus elsewhere. They say that they will neglect the expansion of the Federation no more.

Romulan Cmdr. Tebok: Your presense is not wanted. Do you understand my meaning, Captain? We are back.

Picard states that he believes their lives just became a lot more complicated. He next looks over his shoulder and instructs security to get Ralph off his bridge. Ralph leaves quietly this time.

Troi is with Clare again. She tells Clare that she believes she has found one of Clare’s relatives living on earth. She asks the computer to let them see Thomas Raymond. Clare says that the man looks like her husband. Troi states that the man is her great, great, great, great, great grandson. Troi suggests visiting the man when Clare goes back to earth. Clare says that she cannot because she will be a relic on earth. Troi replies that it is a start for her, at least, and that after all, this man is her family.

In a conference room, Picard tells his guests that he has arranged for a rendezvous with another ship bound for earth. Ralph asks what he will do – noting that his wealth is gone. Picard tells him that material needs are no longer an issue. Ralph asks Picard what the challenge of life is and Picard says the challenge is to improve himself. Sonny quips that everyone has forgotten everything he has ever done so therefore he will be a bit hit because all of his music will be brand new. He asks Data if he will be his sideman. Data tells him that the offer presents a certain fascination while Riker smirks in the background.

On the bridge, Riker notes that it will be a pity to not have the guests on board anymore. He views their presence as a visit from the past. Picard says that they will have a chance to acclimate to their present time period while on the other ship. He says that their ownn direction is forward.

Picard: There’s still so much to do, so much to learn.

Picard tells Geordi to set velocity at Warp 6 and then he says engage.

Roll credits.

REACTION:

Well, that’s a wrap on Season 1. I’ll have a Season 1 Review in a future post. I’ll stick to talking about this episode here.

After a whole season of build up and innuendo about the Romulans, we get to the big moment, and the writers decided that the B plot of this episode should be… 20th Century imbecile invades the bridge during the negotiation? Really? Ugh.

I did not love the B plot generally. People awkwardly adjusting to the future in funny ways was not a great fit for this episode. Mixing comedy and season finale tension just did not work. That said, I didn’t have much of an issue with Clare or Sonny. Ralph though… I mean… what? You wake up on a Starship, four centuries in the future, you immediately meet aliens and an intelligent android, and you are convinced that not only is your money / your investments / your lawyer / your life from the 20th century still around in some form, but you are also further convinced that you have some mastery of your own destiny in that environment?

Crying about the fact that your kids and everyone else you have every known being LONG dead… that’s rational. That’s relatable. That’s Clare. She was an interesting character. This might have been the wrong episode for this subplot but she did not distract much from the other things going on. Coping with the shock by looking for a way to party / get drunk / etc.? That makes it’s own kind of logic. Again, wrong episode for this comedy but it was funny. That’s Sonny. The Ralph character was just absurd, though. Absolutely nothing redeeming about the character at all. It ruined what might have been an otherwise good episode.

Let me sidetrack here with another talk about the ship’s security. I was hard on Yar all season but now I wonder if Chief of Security is basically just a ceremonial position within Starfleet because the ships do not actually really need security. Two young security officers were ordered to remove Ralph from the bridge. They did not… because he struggled slightly? Were they trained for something like that at all? I am supposed to believe that no security exists on the Enterprise, at all, to keep random people from wandering onto the bridge? Or from using the ships comms? The new Chief of Security, Worf, had to be told to get his emotions in check during the meeting with the Romulans? During a tense negotiation with a foreign power, when it became clear that security did not escort Ralph from the bridge – as they had been ordered – nobody removed him after he spoke up during that discussion?!

Can you imagine some random person showing up at the DMZ in the Koreas and interrupting a meeting between world leaders with his own thoughts?

Were there some positives from this episode? Yeah. I think the actual Romulan introduction was well-executed. They were sufficiently menacing. The fact that something else is out there, more powerful than both the Romulan Empire and the Federation is also a fun twist. The Romulans literally announcing “we are back” was highly entertaining.

Some positives notwithstanding, the bad by far outweighed the good in this one. It was a rough way to end season one.

One thought on “Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 25): The Neutral Zone

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