Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Phase [5.24]

Attempting to help a Romulan ship in distress, Geordi and Ro are apparently killed in a transporter accident.  In reality, they have been sent out of phase, becoming invisible and intangible to the crew.  They must find a way to restore themselves to normal while also alerting the crew of a plot by the Romulans to destroy the Enterprise. 

Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by David Carson.

Previous Episode: I, Borg • Next Episode: The Inner Light

Comments:
It would be possible for The Next Phase to be a bit overlooked in the midst of the quality and import of the episode’s around it, but that would be a shame because it’s a solid episode that tells a fun, character-driven story with a healthy dose of action.   People being falsely declared dead in the Star Trek-verse is nothing new, but I believe this is the first time that the franchise that the trope is used to explore issues related to religion.  The human characters’ cosmology is kept unsurprisingly secular and vague, but with the alien Ro, there’s the chance for the show to at least touch on things like spirits and the afterlife.  This is of course something the franchise starts doing more and more, always with its alien characters.  The Bajorans especially became a channel for this sort of discussion, on Deep Space Nine.

Geordi and Ro are a bit of a random pair to star in the story, but a well chosen because of the storytelling opportunities they open up.  Not only do we have the contrasting world views to play off of, but also each provokes something different in their shipmates.  Geordi of course is the old friend, the trusted part of the family, the death that no one can really accept.  He is also Data’s closest friend, which gives rise to the whole “memorial service” subplot.  Ro, on the other hand, is the newcomer – the promising officer (albeit with a difficult past), whose career is abruptly cut short.  This gives us the chance for some nice hints on the whole Ro-Riker ambiguous relationship subplot (a shame that that ultimately does not go anywhere).  A quick

Of course, the other thing that the episode does is bring back the Romulans, for the first time since the Unification two parter.  There’s not really a “Romulan storyline” on the show anymore, but they now serve as handy go-to baddies for any story that features villainy involving a bit of sneakiness and treachery.  Thus they are useful here as it is believable, and even expected, for character and audience alike that, that they would try to destroy the Enterprise even after being rescued by them, and that such an event could take place without it necessitating an outbreak of war or any such inconvenience.

I have to give high marks to the direction of the episode, by future Star Trek: Generations director David Carson.  A standout moment, of course, is the revelation of the Romulan Parem’s phased state, which is done very impressively.  But also, I couldn’t help but to notice the way that Carson makes use of extras to make the ship seem crowded.  It sounds like a small thing, but often on the show, the ship can seem very sparsely populated, especially areas like Sick Bay and Engineering which you would assume would often be humming with activity.  But in this story, there is a steady stream of people passing back and forth in front of the camera, especially in the extreme foreground, which helps to highlight Ro and Geordi’s disconnected situation.

Guest Cast:
• Thomas Kopache  plays Mirok.  He’s had lots of TV roles, including in all the other Star Trek shows after this.  In Deep Space Nine he actually played Kira’s father.  He also played Assistant Secretary of State Bob Slattery on a handful of episodes of The West Wing.

• Susanna Thompson plays Varel.  She was the Borg Queen in four episodes of Voyager, and played the current host of Dax’s former lover in Deep Space Nine.  She’s also starred in Arrow as Oliver Queen’s mother.

• Brian Cousins, who plays Parem, will appear as Crosis on the upcoming two part episode Descent.

• Kenneth Meseroll, who plays security officer Ensign McDowall, was the voice of Derek Wildstar on Star Blazers.

Observations:
• Good opening moments, with the whole drama aboard the Romulan ship.

• This is David Carson’s fourth (and final) episode of Next Generation that he directed – all four significantly involved Romulans as characters or plot points.

•  It’s good drama that Picard and co have to just keep moving on with their mission to save the Romulan ship, without having the opportunity to stop and to deal with their grief, or even trying to rescue Geordi

•  The action sequences with this dramatic rescue are also effective

• Riker looks really strong when he helps Worf and the Romulan move that debris

• Data always seems to move so slowly when things are tense or there is a lot of time pressure

• Nice to see, for once, people listening to Worf’s security concerns.  Even Worf seems surprised when Riker agrees with him.

• Picard met Geordi before Encounter at Farpoint, but still after Riker did

• Cute moment when invisible Geordi apologizes to Picard for interrupting

• Data and Worf share a moment:  this becomes more of a thing as the series goes along – two outsiders sharing their perspectives on humanity.

• Nice bit from Data about his relationship with Geordi:  “I never knew what a friend was until I met Geordi. He spoke to me as though I were human. He treated me no differently from anyone else. He accepted me for what I am. And that, I have learned, is friendship. But I do not know how to say goodbye.”  Geordi’s connection with Data is not unlike his connection with Hugh from I, Borg.

• The effect of Geordi walking around Engineering leaving chronitons is almost perfect, but not quite.

• Some woman in a shiny space-towel

• Ro should really turn a differnt direction as she is running from the Romulan

• Picard, ever the diplomat.

• There is, of course, no explanation of how the phased people can walk on the floor

• Riker plays the trombone again

• Cute when Ro shoots Riker in the head

• 24 years later, the mild sparkly effect is only so-so

• Nice ending exchange:

RO: I was raised with Bajoran beliefs. I even followed some of the practices, but I never really believed in a life after death. Then suddenly I was dead and there was another life, and it made me feel like I’d been pretty arrogant to discount everything I’d been taught, you know? Now I don’t know what to believe.
GEORDI: Maybe we should develop our own interphase device. If it can teach Ro Laren humility, it can do anything.

Dialogue High Point
The best is Geordi, incredulous at the idea that he and Ro are dead:

Are you saying I’m sort of blind ghost with clothes?

Previous Episode: I, Borg • Next Episode: The Inner Light

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