Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Chase [6.20]

Picard’s old archeology professor comes on board the Enterprise and invites Picard on a mysterious expedition.  Picard refuses, but changes his mind when his professor is attacked and killed for his information.  The Enterprise then embarks on a quest to discover a secret message that has been secretly encoded into the DNA of life forms from many different worlds.  This brings them into conflict with Cardassians, Romulans, and Klingons who are looking for the same secret.  In the end, the message is from an ancient life form who claims to have been responsible for seeding the worlds with humanoid DNA, resulting in the many similar species found throughout the galaxy.

Written by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias. Directed by Jonathan Frakes.

Previous Episode: Lessons • Next Episode: Frame of Mind

The Chase is an episode that I didn’t really hold in high regard in my memory.  I think the revelation that the whole point of the quest was a message from ancient progenitor telling their children to play well together felt dramatically unsatisfying.  There’s something sort of forced about this, with this revelation, described as being the most profound discovery of our time, having absolutely no tangible consequences at all for the characters, the galaxy, or the program.  I think it reminded me of the film version of 2010, where the film forced in a message about Americans and Russians getting along (“Use them together.  Use them in peace.”), detracting in my estimation from the story.  It felt like an attempt to be profound which fell flat because it was based on an oversimplication of reality.

But having said all that, a review of The Chase reveals that it is quite a well done episode.  It has one of the farthest-reaching plots of any Next Generation story, in terms of the distance covered, worlds visited, races encountered, and ideas discussed.  And within all of that, it tells its story amazingly well.  Jonathan Frakes’ direction has always been good, and this time is no exception.  The guest cast is generally good, particularly Normal Lloyd as Professor Galen and also John Cothran jr. as the Klingon captain Nu’Daq.  And the regulars are not overlooked in the midst of all this plot.  Indeed, Picard demonstrates border-line (without ever crossing that border) obsessive characteristics that we won’t really see again until Star Trek: First Contact.  And Riker, Troi, Worf and Beverly all get good moments as well, although they are all quite understated.

With the ending, I don’t seem to be as bothered as I once was, maybe because my expectations were so low.  It’s easy to see this sort of story as a bit of a fan-theory to explain why there are so many humanoid aliens in the Star Trek-verse, and as such it’s not really worth telling on the program itself.  I also can’t watch it without being reminded of noted scholar & athiest Richard Dawkins, as the plot fits with the one form of intelligent design that I once heard him say he could potentially believe in – that humans were seeded by some alien life form that in itself had evolved into being.  All of these things are sort of annoying to me.  But in the end, the scene with the Ancient Progenitor is so short, and my expectations so low that the scene didn’t really bother me.  And Nu’Daq’s response is funny (“That’s all?  If she weren’t already dead, I’d kill her!), and the little scene with the Romulan at the end (“Well then, perhaps, one day,”) is kind of touching.

How is it that Professor Galen did such a good job keeping his discovery a secret from the Federation, but that the Romulans, the Klingons and the Cardassians all knew about it?

Guest Cast:
There are a lot of notable guest stars in this episode!

• Normal Lloyd plays Professor Galen.  He is well known as one of the leads on on St. Elsewhere, and had a part in Dead Poet Society.  According to IMDB, as of this writing, he is over 100 years old, and still acting.

• Salome Jens plays the human progenitor.  She became a major recurring character on Deep Space Nine as a Female Shapeshifter.  She also played a Guardian in the lamentable Green Lantern, and was Martha Kent on the syndicated Superboy series.

Maurice Roëves plays the Romulan Captain.  He is well known to me as Stotz on one of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever, The Caves of Androzani.

• Linda Thorson, who plays Gul Ocett, is well known as Tara King (the girl who replaced Emma Peel) on The Avengers, the 1960’s spy series.

Shout Out to the Past:
Picard’s interest in archeology has been referred to many times in the past.

Setting Up the Future
The statue Picard receives as a gift is later seen damaged when the Enterprise is destroyed in Generations.

“Graciously, Mr. Picard, you could accept it graciously.’

• As I’ve said before, Norman Lloyd as Professor Galen is really good, and the scenes with him and Picard and quite good, with some compelling interaction and good dialog.  I like his line when Picard asks how it’s possible for him to accept the gift:  “Graciously, Mr. Picard, you could accept it graciously.”

• I also like Galen’s line, “Dream not of today, Mr. Picard.”  Quiet poetic.

• Picard’s mild quandary about whether to leave the Enterprise to join Professor Galen is effectively played.  It’s a very nice scene with Beverly.  Picard says, “I’m not sorry for the path I chose.  But the Professor did not choose this figure at random.  The many voices inside the one.  You see, he knows that the past is very insistent voice inside of me.  The gift is meant to remind me of that.”

• There are also many well-directed moments in the episode – for example, the moment when Worf is confused by the phaser fire, followed by Picard standing up into frame and ordering the transporter room to beam Prof Galen to sickbay.

• Picard also has a good scene with Troi when he refuses her advice to relax:  “Counsellor, this is not simply a case of me taking the Enterprise and its crew on some wild goose chase to purge myself of guilt and remorse.  I will not Galen’s death to be in vain.  Now if that means inconveniencing a few squabbling delegates for a few days, then so be it.  I will take full responsibility.”

• 17 people on the Enterprise are from non-Federation planet

• Worf seems positively chuffed at being able to go to battle stations

• I’m not crazy about Linda Thorson’s performance as Gul Ocett, but I like the dialog between her and Picard when they first encounter each other.

PIcard:  I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise, and I see no reason why I should answer to you.  Cardassians have no claims in this sector.

Ocett:  I suppose not.  But my admittedly hasty estimate shows one Federation starship and two Cardassian war vessels.  Perhaps I have miscounted.

• Some fun line from Nu’Daq:  “It is an ancient weapon design of incredible power.  And the Klingon Empire will not allow it to fall into an enemy’s hands.  Or even a friend’s.”  Also, in response to Ocett’s comment that the secret might be a recipe for biscuits:  “If that is what you believe, then go back to Cardassia.  I will send you my mother’s recipe.”  He also gets a funny moment when he agrees to go with Picard.

Picard barks out a bit of Klingon, which Nu’Daq definitely responds to.

• Funny moments when the Klingon attempts to first complete against and then bribe Data.

• Stinkin’ backstabbing Cardassian!

• It’s a story of huge scope, deftly told.  And then, just to make it bigger, the Romulans show up!

• “Which would still contain the DNA” – Beverly explains things for the audience.

• I like Nu’Daq at the end as well.  “We die together, Brother!”

• Aaaaaand…everyone just leaves

Dialogue High Point
There’s lots of good dialog here, but I think my favorite is Galen’s angry response about Picard’s refusal to go with him.

What are you doing at this very moment?  A study mission.  You’re like some Roman centurion out patrolling the provinces, maintenancing a dull and bloated Empire.

Previous Episode: Lessons • Next Episode: Frame of Mind


4 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Chase [6.20]

  1. This is a well-told episode. The mystery is interesting, and the investigation is also interesting. But the ending does hurt the episode for me. It’s such a lame reveal, and it doesn’t feel like it justified all the build-up.

  2. There is a prevalent theory among Trek fans that these “progenitors” are actually the “Preservers” from the TOS episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

  3. xmenxpert – that’s a good summary: it’s a good episode with a disappointing ending. It would have been sort of funny of they’d made it overly obvious and just had the alien progenitor at the end say something like, “Well, I hope you all haven’t formed a bunch of empires that are always at each other’s throats or anything, because that’d be really disappointing.”

  4. David – I’ve heard that theory, but does it make sense? I haven’t seen The Paradise Syndrome in a long time but did the Preservers kidnap that native culture and transplant it to that other world? If so, the Preservers were alive not all that long ago, whereas the implications in this episode is that these aliens died a long long long time past.

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