Friday, March 13, 2020

Star Trek: The Neutral Zone

Episode: "The Neutral Zone"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 26
Original Air Date: May 16, 1988

Image result for tng the neutral zone
via Wikipedia

On their way to the Neutral Zone to investigate destroyed outposts, our heroes encounter a derelict Earth satellite.  Aboard, they discover three cryogenically preserved human bodies.  Once restored to life, the three have the expected Rip Van Winkle experience in adapting to their surroundings.  The story has long-term significance for two reasons: the reintroduction of the Romulans for the first time on TNG and ominous allusions to the Borg.  Though we don't see the Borg and they are not mentioned by name, they are clearly the perpetrators of the outpost attacks.  With the Ferengi having failed to pan out as Starfleet's primary adversary, both the Romulans and the unnamed Borg would seem suitable candidates to step into the role.

A couple other points of note from the season finale:
  • This is the last episode for Gates McFadden until Season 3.  I'll have more on her departure next week but for now, it's hard to miss the significance of her getting a patronizing pat on the bum from Sonny (Leon Rippy), one of the cryogenic survivors, in her final scene.  The gesture speaks volumes.  
  • For the first time, we see that the replicator can produce a musical instrument, in this case a guitar for Sonny, a professional musician in his previous, 20th century life.


Thoughts on Season 1

General Impressions

Overall, Season 1 is weak.  A few of the episodes are worth watching, particularly for their implications for future stories.  However, the worst episodes are disastrously awful, even occasionally offensive.  Throughout, writing is weak and acting stiff.  Thank goodness for the already loyal fan base and the professionalism of Patrick Stewart holding the place together.  Otherwise, Star Trek: The Next Generation might never have survived beyond one season.

That said, a foundation had been set.  Character development and on-ship world building already far exceeded the original series while the moral parameters of Trek were still firmly in place. 

Favorite Episode: "11001001"

A tight story, beginning to end.  The Enterprise is hijacked by the Bynars who have been hired to upgrade the ship's computer.  They get everyone off the ship, save Picard and Riker, who was lured by a beautiful holodeck woman.  The Bynars, it turns out, are genuinely desperate and, in the end, we're able to forgive them.  There are other episodes that are more meaningful long-term but "11001001" is good old-fashioned solid Trek.

Least Favorite Episode: "Code of Honor"

In the midst of vital diplomatic negotiations, Tasha is kidnapped by Lutan, the leader of the delegation from Ligon II.  The writing is weak but what really made this one a stinker was the boneheaded idea to cast all of the Ligonians as Black actors in a "1940s tribal Africa" theme.  As such, what would have been merely tiresome became downright offensive.  The director was fired for the decision but the episode was still aired.  One of Trek's all-time worst.

Favorite Recurring Character: Q

Image result for q hide and q
via Wikipedia
As noted in my post for "Hide and Q," I actually don't like Q much.  But Season 1 truly sucks so the other candidates aren't so great either.  John de Lancie is, at least, an engaging actor so I'll give him the nod here.

Favorite Blast from the Past: Dr. McCoy

Bones returns for a brief cameo in the pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint."  His exchange with Data is one of the highlights of the episode - indeed, the entire first season.

Favorite Guest Actor, One-Shot: Gracie Harrison

Image result for gracie harrison
via Memory Alpha

Ms. Harrison played the part of Clare Raymond, one of the cryogenically preserved Earthlings in "The Neutral Zone."  Her reactions to waking up in the distant future - shock, sadness, frustration, ultimate resignation - are all perfectly relatable.  She's an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances - often the most interesting characters of all.  There's nothing over the top about her performance and that's why it works.  Simple, honest, human, effective - nicely done.


If only Riker would stop shaving, TNG might find its feet...


  1. I'm still amazed it made it past one season.
    Was tv really that bad at the time that this did so well?
    I think the late 80s were not great for television.

    1. The business model is an important consideration in this case. TNG was a direct-to-syndication deal, a new concept at the time. Consider the matter from the perspective of a local, independent television station being offered a chance at first-run programming with a respectable, guaranteed audience share. For them, Star Trek was almost a no-brainer.

  2. That's Marc Alaimo, later much better known as Gul Dukat in Deep Space Nine, as one of the Romulans. If you had done a traditional actor bio, I assume he'd've been your pick.

    It's funny, the whole episode is the season, and its contrast with the rest of the series, in a nutshell. On the one hand you've got people waking up from cryostasis (which at least in this case didn't actually chase after Khan's legacy), and on the other you've got the return of the Romulans, who would go on to have a major impact in series and franchise lore (still being felt in Picard, where the seeming link between the Romulans and the Borg suggested by this coalescence is finally made).

    In hindsight, probably would've been better building it entirely around the Romulans.

    1. ... Don't shame me too much but I haven't watched Picard yet. So much to catch up on with the earlier series!

      I like the Romulans. Both Romulan stories from TOS are outstanding, perhaps "Balance of Terror" being the best episode of all. More development for them in TNG would have been fine by me. That said, I like the Borg. Or rather, I love the ethical quandary the Borg present. They're also rather reminiscent of the Cybermen of Dr. Who in terms of real world parallels which is fun.

  3. For me it's the best episode of the season. In fact I got into a serious nerd argument back then over the implausibility of the Cryo-stasis satellite. I defended the idea saying a good writer could think of a workable explanation for not only the satellite but how it ended up lightyears from Earth.

    While the second season isn't considered much better, I personally thought several episodes were quite good.

    1. There's quite a lot going on in this story, combining a look back with a look forward. The Rip Van Winkle tale is interesting, particularly given the three survivors' very different reactions to the situation.

      The improvements in Season 2 are, for the most part, incremental. However, there are at least two gems that wear the "exceptional" tag quite comfortably. I'm not sure that can be said for any of Season 1. Even the best are merely "very good," possibly teetering over the edge of "great."

  4. Did not watch much of Star Trek but I must have watched one with Q. Did not like him at all.
    We are so used to wonderful cinema/TV we forget how TV used to look. Star Wars changed it all.

    1. Without a doubt, on-screen images live in a different realm from where they were 30 years ago. Have the acting and storytelling proceeded apace? There is so much more material on offer now. The quality runs the full gamut.