Top Ten Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes #2
Star Trek: The Next Generation did not often have a running plot or underlying goal for most of its run, instead relying on stand-alone episodes to create very different scenarios and situations. Cause and Effect from the fifth season is one of those episodes. I think it copies the time paradox schitck from other television shows and movies, like in Groundhog Day or The X-Files. However, it is so different from the usual diplomacy shoot-em-up episodes that it works. It works as a mystery and it works as a drama.
This episode is about how the crew escapes a time loop, which the Enterprise gets stuck in as they go into unexplored territory. Time repeats itself like in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, each day the same as the last, with the reset button coming when the Enterprise is destroyed. During each loop, we see the crew starting to experience deja vu and it is like a mystery for them to solve. I like this focus.
The script goes to great lengths to make each iteration through the time loop different from the last. The crew has the same experiences, but start to feel they’ve done them before. Each of the actors adds a little something more to their scenes, and they say the dialogue differently each time to emphasize their nervous feelings. None of the scenes feel repetitive.
Some comedy comes from Data and most of the drama works well. The reactions from Worf during a poker game are pretty amusing, but Data’s dialogue during the whole thing is even more funny. The drama itself is pretty standard, although I never doubted the crew would find a way out of the time loop, which is the only downside to this type of setup.
Reportedly, the series producers borrowed miniatures and costumes from Star Trek VI to complete the effects for the show. The Enterprise encounters an old ship, which was stuck in the loop for much longer, so the crew looks like they are straight out of the early movies. The ship itself looks like the Reliant, Khan’s ship from Star Trek II.
The producers blew up an Enterprise model old-style, by filling it with explosives, and that’s the effect shown in the episode. Very little computer graphics were used and they show the explosion from different angles as the crew repeats things. I like the old-style models and miniatures. The show opening and many of the cut scenes are based around a studio scale model of the Enterprise. With this type of model, the camera can zoom in close for realistic shots that are not possible with computer graphics.
Kelsey Grammer had never appeared in a Star Trek related production before this episode. He plays the captain of the old ship, which keeps colliding with the Enterprise. Grammer’s career highlights were on Cheers up until this point. This was way before Frasier and the X-Men movies. He was floundering around at this time and probably only appeared because he knew people in Paramount, the production company for Cheers and Star Trek.
Patrick Stewart really has nothing to do in this episode, which is unusual for a Next Generation episode. Gates McFadden as Doctor Crusher is the real driver of this episode, as she experiences unusual things because of the time distortion. I think she does a good job. Usually, she just stands around and jumps in for a little dialogue here and there, but this time, she has more to do. She also has a bigger role in the next episode “The First Duty”, and throughout season 5.
All in all, I would say this is a great stand-alone episode, and I would complement the dialogue. All of the characters seem to have lines to contribute, except Michelle Forbes, who just sits around. The time paradox may seem like an overdone TV gag today, but I think it inspires a sense of mystery and intrigue that some other stand-alone episodes lack.
BEST PART: Gates McFadden
WORST PART: The predictable outcome