233. Time's Arrow, Part I
FORMULA: Data - head + The Voyage Home - 100 years
WHY WE LIKE IT: Data beats the locals at poker.
WHY WE DON'T: Hardly worthy of being a season finale.
REVIEW: After The Best of Both Worlds and Redemption, expectations are high for season finales, so Time's Arrow fails even more miserably. In fact, every TNG two-parter has a better cliffhanger than Time's Arrow, even when they fall into the middle of the season. It would have been so simple to move the discovery of Data's head to the end to create a tense twist, but no, the shock of that image is long gone, and the characters just file into the Devidian portal, la la la, and it's to be continued. No tension, nothing to really look forward to during the summer. Now, of course, we don't really have to wait months to see Part 2, so shouldn't I be reviewing the episode regardless of its place in the 1992 schedule?
Well, that doesn't really help it. The teaser with Data's head is appropriately shocking yes, and the discussion on predestination generates some interest. It's fun to see everyone treat Data as if he was terminally ill, and his lack of emotion regarding his own demise. Oh, and once you see them, the Devidians are pretty cool and creepy. But otherwise, the show has some serious problems.
First, about that predestination paradox. It just doesn't make sense. Either people have a choice or they don't. Seems like Data has no choice but to go down to the planet and get warped to the 19th century. He's the only one that can "see" the Devidians. Except that Geordi finds a way for everyone to see the Devidians later, so that's a big cheat. But what about Picard? Guinan remembers him from the 19th century, so she tells him he has to go. But he doesn't need to until she said this, so "in the original history" (to use a phrase), he probably didn't go, so then, Guinan never saw him there. See, she's taking the choice away, it's ridiculous. "If you don't go, we may never meet." What? Why? Did she seek him out later BECAUSE she met him in the 19th century? Has her life been one predestination paradox? Is this why she knows Yesterday's Enterprise to be "wrong"? Nothing is really explained to satisfaction and it just seems contrived to give Picard a role in the season opener.
The 19th century itself is replete with problems. It's a hoot seeing Data win a fortune at poker, but the entire century is filled with rather talkative clichés. Jack is an especially annoying mouthpiece for the writers, and while Samuel Clemens has some really well-written dialogue (possibly cribbed from his writings), the put-on voice is a little grating. The presence of Madam Guinan is probably not a good idea, even though I don't dislike the notion that this race of "listeners" routinely collects information on other planets. However, this is once again an obvious contrivance, doesn't actually shed light on the mysterious Picard-Guinan relationship and creates a noticeable anachronism. A rich, famous black woman in 19th century America holding literary receptions everyone wants to attend, and she didn't make the history books? It doesn't work.
LESSON: It's no use losing your head over... ah just forget it.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium: It's a mess, but it's got some good scenes here and there, mostly where Data is concerned. But it's the only irrelevant TNG season finale (excluding Shades of Gray which we should always exclude).