Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Neutral Zone [1.25]

As the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the destruction of outposts along the Romulan neutral zone, they intercept a ship carrying cryogenically frozen people from the 20th Century. The three survivors deal with culture shock and cause distractions to Picard during the very tense encounter with the Romulans. The Romulans claim that outposts on their side were also destroyed as well, and threaten the Enterprise crew that they are again going to take an active role in the galaxy.

Story by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Clee. Television story by Maurice Hurley. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley. Directed by James L. Conway .

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And so the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation closes off with a mysterious threat (whoever destroyed the outposts) and a new complication to the state of affairs in the galaxy (the return of the Romulans). With these two significant developments, it’s impressive that the episode still managed to be laughable and feel pointless. In retrospect, this is partly because both of the big developments turned out to be not that big a deal. The outpost destruction is attributed to the Borg in the middle of the next season, but it’s a minor throwaway line and doesn’t even fit with what we saw in that story. And though the Romulans do play a role in a number of future storylines, they were always a bit boring and one note, failing to hold attention as characters in the same way that Klingons or even Cardassians do. Keeping them as two moody guys on a viewscreen in this episode doesn’t help.

Of course, the real failing of the episode is the primary story of the three 20th Century survivors. They don’t contribute anything to the Neutral Zone (except for one astute observation made by Ralph Offenhouse, which Picard knew already anyway). Two out of three of them are silly caricatures of people, with only Clare Raymond coming across as a real person dealing with her situation. There is a halfhearted attempt to bring out a thematic relevance with them – showing how humanity has evolved and changed after all this time to becoming better more enlightened people – but that rings very contrived when the characters they are looking at are overall so silly.

In the end, it’s not a terrible episode, but it feels like a waste of time. Picard treats the three interlopers as a distracting nuisance, and we end up feeling the same as the audience. And the season ends on a note that hasn’t aged well after 25 years, as Picard sermonizes that their future is to be found not by looking to the past, but by going forward.

Fortunately, the future held, for the most part, better things.

Shout Outs to the Past:
After a number of references to the Romulans, this is the first time we see them, so it automatically reminds us of the far superior Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident from the Original Seris.

Setting Up the Future
As is already mentioned, the Romulans do make good on their threat and start becoming political players in future storylines. This is most noticeably seen in the build up to the Klingon civil war at the end of the fourth season, and in the Unification story in Season Five.

The destroyed outposts were apparently originally going to be tied into the parasites in the previous episode, but end up being attributed to their creative successors, the Borg, when we first meet them the following year.

There is a bit more backstory on Worf, with references to the Romulan attack on Khitomer. This will be played up on a lot later, including Worf’s hatred of Romulans.

Guest Cast
• Marc Alaimo, who plays Commander Tebok, went on to Star Trek fame in Deep Space Nine as Gul Dukat.

• Leon Rippy, who plays L.Q. ‘Sonny’ Clemons , was a regular in the TV series Deadwood and Saving Grace.

• Peter Mark Richman plays Ralph Offenhouse. He has had lots of appearances on television, including the soap operas Dynasty and Santa Barbara.

• Once again, Wesley does not appear, for the third episode in a row. His last appearance in this season was during the funeral scene in Skin of Evil.

• There’s quite a bit of history given here. We mention that it’s the year 2364. I don’t know if that’s the first time a particular current earth year has been mentioned on screen? It has also been about 50 years since there last was an encounter with the Romulans.

• A number of funny “awkward Data” moments to be seen here. The funniest is when Data describes Clare Raymond by saying, “Occupation: Homemaker. Must be some sort of construction work.”

• It’s absurd that nobody is attending to these people, even with all that is going on

• This is one of many times where Worf and others recommend battle stations, and Picard refuses.

Dialogue High Point
My favorite is a moment where Picard describes their mission to investigate activity along the Neutral Zone, including possible encounters with the Romulans.

If force is necessary, we will use it, but that will mean we have failed.

Previous Post: ConspiracyNext Episode: The Child
Season One SummarySeason One Essential Viewing

3 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Neutral Zone [1.25]

  1. I’m not as negative towards this episode as a lot of people are. I find it to be pretty standard quality for the first season. But it’s still not a great episode, and that says a lot about the quality of this season.

  2. I actually quite enjoyed this episode. I’ll grant that the 20th Century visitors are caricatures rather than characters, but I still found them to be believable. Seeing Offenhouse thrust into 24th century society brings up interesting questions: in a world without need, what would be the goal of living? Of course, Picard’s answer (“to better ourselves!”) rings characteristically hollow, but that doesn’t dilute the validity of such questions. And while the reveal of the Romulans is somewhat underwhelming on the surface, the way that Tebok and his first officer confront Picard adds more to the distinct Romulan character than a shootout would have. This was far from a perfect episode, but it was leagues above, say, Haven.

  3. I’d agree that a shootout would not have helped matters, but still I think two surly guys on a viewscreen do not a strong promise for the future make. However, having said that, I have to admit that now that I’m 5 1/2 years further along in my viewing, the Romulans have come across better than I recalled.

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