Picard and the crew grow suspicious of an apparent thirty second blackout that they have all experienced when they begin to discover clues that something more suspicious has taken place. Evidence points to the fact that they were actually out cold for about a day, and that Data (the only crew member not effected by the blackout) is lying to them. Eventually it is revealed that they encountered a powerful but xenophobic race who only relent from destroying the Enterprise on the condition that all records of their encounter, including everyone’s memories, are erased. The crew convince the race to let them try again, this time a bit more carefully, and ultimately succeeding.
Teleplay by Bruce D. Arthurs and Joe Menosky. Story by Bruce D. Arthurs. Directed by Les Landau.
Clues starts out as a strongly polished episode with a gripping premise and good pacing, but sadly ends up as a blithering mess. This was a bit of a relief to me as I was fearing for quite some time that I’d have to revise my long-held opinion and decide I liked the episode. I had a similar sort of fear when I was rewatching Time Squared, but fortunately in both cases I was able to come back to a familiar sense of dislike.
Clues starts off sort of dumb, with a not-very-funny Dixon Hill sequence, but then kicks into gear with that stark teaser image of the entire crew (except Data) being knocked unconscious. The tension in the story then begins to build effectively as the crew begin to realize that something unusual is going on, and as Data’s is thrown more and more into suspicion. The high point of all of this is Troi’s hallucination and temporary break down. Her description of what she sees, about looking in the mirror and not seeing herself, is very creepy and at this point the story really did have my attention.
Ultimately, it turns out that the script is working a lot harder at building a mystery than it is telling a story, something that is to its detriment. The closest thing we have to a character arc is with Data, who resolutely refuses to give any information away even when it seems like he will suffer for it. It is interesting to see him deal with the growing mistrust of Picard, Geordi and the others, and if the episode had given more attention to this dynamic, it might have made it more worthwhile in the end.
Of course, even that might not have been enough to overcome the dopiness of the eventual revelations. I guess it might have been possible to make a xenophobic race who have decided to destroy the Enterprise just because they’ve been discovered to exist into an interesting part of story, but these Paxans are not them. We never see them, we never learn anything about them. They are just conveniently crazy and conveniently powerful – precisely what we need for this set up. They aren’t characters or really even part of a story. They are just an excuse for a mystery.
Picard’s plan makes him look a bit weak as well as lacking in forethought. He clearly is just running away because he doesn’t know how he can stop the Paxans. This is a slightly jarring response from our lead character, not really consistent with how we see him respond to all the other semi-omnipotent beings we’ve seen him encounter. It’s not terrible or anything like that, it’s just again very convenient for contriving our plot.
And though Data’s willingness to let himself be court-martialled and even dismantled is commendable, it might have been nice to see him engage in a bit more creative thinking. By following Picard’s order to the letter, he actually puts the Enterprise in danger, and almost dooms the entire crew. You’d think he’d work a bit harder to keep this from happening, with the stakes so high – order or not.
Perhaps all of this could be forgiven except for the one absolutely critical mistake the episode makes, which is that the climax of the story is boring. We see the flashback where Picard manages to convince the possessed Troi to spare his crew by erasing their memories. Then we get to the “present day” scene where Picard again manages to convince the possessed Troi to spare his crew by erasing their memories. Watching basically the same scene play out twice is dull. And it’s sort of stupid since we in the audience can plainly see this is ridiculous – there is no way such a ruse can succeed. How is Dr. Crusher going to undo her space-moss’s growth? What if there is somebody else among the 1000 crew members who was performing a time-sensitive experiment? What if somebody sent some sort of transmission from the ship before they realized the trouble they were in? (For that matter, why didn’t Picard send some sort of report to Starfleet before he turns the ship around?) And what happens when Troi starts hallucinating and freaking out again? But of course none of this dealt with, and no other conclusion is developed instead, because there isn’t any time, and the episode doesn’t feel like it has the energy for it. Because that would actually involve telling a story.
On the positive side, this episode provides some nice and very human material for Dr. Crusher and Geordi, two characters who often get a bit neglected. Both characters get to be at the heart of the investigation into the strange situation that’s going on, and Geordi gets some good moments dealing with the apparent betrayal of Data.
Shout Out to the Past:
This episode includes the series’ final look at the Dixon Hill holodeck program.
We also see Nurse Alyssa for the second time, and she gains her first name (last name still to come).
Setting Up the Future:
• Well, there was that time when the insanely powerful Paxans were revealed not to really just be super shy, but actually gearing up for a full scale invasion of the Federation, and then Picard was court-martialed for not telling anybody about them, and…oh wait, that never happened.
• We see for the first time Worf leading some sort of Space Tai-Chi class that I believe will pop up again.
• Pamela Winslow plays Ensign McKnight for the first of three times.
• Meanwhile, Rhonda Aldrich plays Dixon Hill’s secretary Madeline for the last of three times.
• Picard is speaking in some sort of funny accent as Dixon Hill, which he has never done before.
• When Data is in command of the Bridge, he stands over the ops station in pretty much the same position that Riker often does.
• Both Madeline and Guinan only appear in the pre-credits trailer.
• Beverly has a hobby as an ethno-botanist. As you do.
• Fortunately for the sake of keeping the number of guest characters down, Ensign Locklin doesn’t say anything.
• Troi never wants anyone to help her when she is feeling sick.
• Marina Sirtis does well as the terrified Troi.
• It seems like Data is never really wrong. If there’s ever a conflict of positions between him and Picard, you can get your boots that Data will be proven correct.
• Toward the two-thirds mark, Picard makes a big deal of sussing out that they’ve had a missing day, but they’d pretty much already established that.
• “You did, sir.” Maybe the revelation that Picard gave the order was a big deal the first time you saw this episode? I can’t remember. It feels fairly predictable to me.
• “We crazy aliens are willing to kill you all for just discovering us, but you humans are so interesting (even though we hate you for not being us) that you’re worthy of a second chance. Oh wait, I mean a third chance. Uh, anyway, go ahead, let’s do this again. How many more chances will we have to give you? Seven? Seventy times seven? Anyway, uh, proceed.” Dumb.
• And on this inauspicious note, we are now more than halfway through Next Generation.
Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This episode could have been easily re-written to feature Captain Riker and Commander Shelby. Actually, it could have easily been re-written to feature Data and any other collection of people.
Dialogue High Point
My favorite line is actually Troi’s description of what terrified her so much…
I looked into the mirror, and it seemed a stranger was staring back at me from behind my own eyes. As if my face was a mask.