The Enterprise is destroyed by a strange anomaly in space. It then enters a time loop in which it re-experiences a several hour period over and over, with the crew unaware of the fact. Slowly, different memories and holdovers from the repeated timelines begin to seep through, and the crew become aware that they are trapped. They are able to figure out how to send a message to themselves, which allows them to break the cycle.
Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Jonathan Frakes.
For this post, I was watching Cause and Effect with my children. I have only recently been introducing Star Trek: The Next Generation to them, and they are very slowly getting a handle on the characters and the concept. Watching Cause and Effect, they didn’t blink at destruction of the Enterprise in the opening moments of the show – I don’t think they really understood the implications. But they were mighty confused after the first act, when we saw the timeline reset again. They actually thought I had purposely jumped back to the beginning of the DVD. I had to assure them that it was worth continuing to watch. And though I wasn’t watching it on DVD when it first aired decades ago, I can also remember feeling a halting uncertainty when the story seemed to restart – I assumed that it was probably okay, this was probably part of the story…but part of me entertained a bit of doubt.
Cause and Effect works quite well as an episode, telling an entertaining and intriguing puzzle of a story, which manages to keep interest and attention over its whole length in spite of repeating the same story beats numerous times. It reminds me a bit of Conundrum a few episodes ago, in that the things that really stands out is the episode’s premise, rather than any of the particulars. To this episode’s advantage, there are less glaring plot holes and forced suspension of disbelief in Cause and Effect. To its disadvantage is the fact that when you stop and look at it, there is little or no true dramatic tension here. If the crew keeps repeating things as we have seen, surely they will eventually reach a point where they all remember everything that happened to them the last time, and then will easily avoid the collision.
That niggling detail doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, though, since the characters themselves certainly experience the dramatic tension of what is going on (and we also have all those spectacular images of the Enterprise blowing up). The center of the story is Dr. Crusher, who is well used as the person who seems most alert to strange events that are taking place. It’s not a particularly notable example of character development, but the episode does highlight Beverly’s intelligence and perception.
The episode is directed by Jonathan Frakes, who demonstrates outstanding skills as a storyteller, keeping the potential tedious script breezy and enjoyable.
• Kelsey Grammer plays Captain Morgan Bateson, the episode’s only real guest star. He of course is famous for playing Frasier Crane in Cheers and its spinoff Frasier. He also played the Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand, and the voice of Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2.
Shout out to the Past:
If the many reports on the internet are to be believed, than there was almost a huge one if a hoped-for cameo by Kirstie Alley as Saavik had come together during the episode’s closing scene. As it was, we didn’t get that, but we did get to see those nifty movie-era uniforms again.
• Well, that’s got to be the all-time classic teaser – the Enterprise and all of our heroes die in a horrific disaster.
• Another poker game, this time with Riker, Data, Worf, and Beverly. Is this the first time Beverly has participated? It’s a cute scene, with her winning. Presumably, she knows Riker is bluffing because of the time loop, suggesting that in the original version of things, she lost. I ask again, what are these guys actually betting with, that makes her so happy to win?
• Beverly has to see Geordi in sickbay? Isn’t there another Doctor who could have looked after him? Maybe there were no doctors on duty, and she was “on call”?
• It’s a good thing that in every timeline, Riker always stands in that same position on the bridge!
• The bit with Beverly moving the glass, but still breaking it, is a very nice directorial touch
• Cute exchange: “I’d like to run an optical diagnostic.” “For an ear infection?”
• The sci-fi repeating events story is a classic one. We’ve seen it on The Twilight Zone, Groundhog Day, Stargate SG-1, and others. But this is the only one that I know about where nobody is aware of what is happening.
• Incidentally, this episode came out a year or so before Groundhog Day. I thought it was the opposite, but I was wrong.
• There’s a cool and interesting shot of the conference table at one point, from above.
• I thought it was strange that Captain Bateman and his crew hadn’t become more aware of what was happening after being in that time loop for 80 years! But then I read a reasonable theory that said that they hadn’t been in a time loop for all that time – instead they had encountered a time distortion that sent them into the future, where they crashed into the Enterprise, causing the time loop. That would mean they’ve only bee in it for the same length of time that the Enterprise was.
• Since the time distortion was localized, it’s possible that the Enterprise might have received some message or communication from Starfleet or whomever that would have alerted them that something strange was happening. It’s even possible that eventually, another Starfleet vessel would have turned up looking for them, alerting them to the fact that they’d been out of communication for weeks or months or whatever!
Dialogue High Point
Years later, the line I most remembered from the show was this one, thanks probably to Worf’s typically strong characterization:
I am experiencing nIb’poH, the feeling I have done this before.