In which Kirk dies, Data feels, and Picard contemplates his own mortality.
Before I start, I just want to point out that this movie was released just before the episode “Defiant” and I will, to the best of my ability, treat the events contained herein as if they occur within that time window.
A bottle drifts through space with stately gravitas. It shatters against the hull of the USS Enterprise, registry NCC 1701-B. Kirk ran his ships through the wringer, and the Constitution-class refits are likely on their way to retirement. What with the Klingon war ending, a main warship is probably less in demand than a more multi-purpose cruiser. The reporters look excited, except for the ones wearing go-pros, that Kirk, Scotty, and Checkov are here for a symbolic handing-over of the reins. This is evidently before Scotty takes command of the Jenolan for his ill-fated discovery of the Dyson Sphere.
Captain John Harriman welcomes Kirk aboard and mentions casually just how old they are. While reporters subtly implicate the same (“Hey, you’re retired, what do you even do anymore?”) Pavel says hello to his best friend’s daughter, Demora. Kirk is still lusting after the Captain’s Chair when he meets her. Well, sees her for the first time in twelve years. Every shot and line is about age and obsolescence. I wonder what the theme of this movie will be? Kirk’s never made the time for a family in all this time, either. Kirk gives the symbolic order to get under way, and afterwards the reporters cease to care about him.
A note about the Enterprise B‘s design. It maintains, of course, the classic saucer-and-secondary-hull arrangement that is Starfleet’s hallmark. Maybe it’s the comparison to the Galaxy class, but this ship, a member of the Excelsior class but a subtle variation of the actual Excelsior, is not particularly graceful. There are some of the sleek curves of later ships, but they’re broken up by a lot of sharp angles – the nacelle pylons, the bulbous array around the deflector dish, the massive array of heat sinks around the neck. However, the recessed deflector dish implies to me a narrower beam spread, so it likely comes with an increase in power to cover the same lateral spread as the Constitution-class exposed dish.
The Enterprise-B is out for a quick jaunt around Pluto, but they pick up a distress call from the transport ship Lakul, which is trapped in an anomaly. It wouldn’t be an Enterprise without an unhealthy attraction to weird anomalies. The Lakul is one of two ships transporting El-Aurian refugees to Earth, presumably after their encounter with and utter devastation by the Borg. The Enterprise isn’t in a condition to mount a rescue, but they’re also the only ship in range. John Harriman only hesitates briefly before leaping to the rescue.
The anomaly is a bright pink ribbon of crackling energy superficially similar to the effects at the rim and the heart of the galaxy. It’s bad for ships. The Enterprise can’t tractor-beam them out- the tractor won’t be installed until Tuesday. Harriman is floundering, and one of the ships collapses. Harriman finally asks Kirk for advice, and Kirk orders the ship in closer so they can beam survivors off. They’ll deal with the possibility of getting out afterwards. Chekov recruits some reporters as nurses, and Scotty finds that the passengers of the Lakul are phasing in and out of existence. They rescue only 47 out of 150 passengers before the Lakul explodes and the Enterprise is up next. Aboard the Lakul is a raving man demanding to go back, and also Guinan.
Scotty has a plan – detonating a torpedo to get them out. There are no torpedoes, but someone in the Deflector controls could get a close enough effect. Kirk is almost ready to let Harriman do it, but goes himself instead. And nobody sends an engineering specialist. Presumably, they won’t arrive until Tuesday either. The deflector controls seem unnecessarily complicated in their access, but it gets the job done, I suppose. The beam goes off and the Enterprise escapes, but not before a beam of energy blows out the deflector dish and main hull. The Enterprise-B is equipped with atmosphere retention force fields, but that’s not going to help if you’re in the actual section that gets blown out to space.
So, point of order. Scotty’s present for Kirk’s death. Maybe when he came out of transporter stasis on the Jenolan he was hoping Kirk had pulled a Spock?
78 years later, aboard a sloop called the Enterprise, Riker, Crusher, and the rest of the senior staff are all dressed up in age-of-sail British naval gear, and disciplining Worf for the serious charges of performing above and beyond the call of duty and being a role model. Oh wait, this is a promotion and everyone’s just having a bit of fun. You have to wonder how many times they scanned the area before all getting into the holodeck, just in case. Apparnetly, though, this is the tradition, and everyone has to jump for the hat. You think they made Geordi do this all the way back between seasons 1 and 2? Riker doesn’t play fair, though, and drops Worf anyway. Data seeks to understand the humor, and pushes Crusher over the side.
Picard is brought out of his reverie by a personal message, which he takes on the Arch. It’s not good news. It is, in fact, devastating news. This does not prevent us from getting a visual gag of Geordi trying to look through a spyglass. This doesn’t last long either – the Amargosa Observatory is under attack. In an emergency, the senior staff don’t really have time to change out of their naval gear, but I imagine the rest of the crew are used to it. Also, this appears to be a new Bridge layout – there are some side seats that I don’t remember. One advantage to having the bridge as a hood ornament is that it might be modular for easy replacement, to update control systems.
Picard hands over the bridge to Riker to begin the investigation, he does not seem at all in the right frame of mind for this. The blasts are of a disruptor type that is common to Romulans, Breen, and Klingons, and none are particularly merciful to their victims. Worf and RIker find a survivor – the same guy who was raving on the Enterprise-B when he got pulled out of the ribbon. Tolian Soran is evidently another El-Aurian, but has no information about who attacked. They do find a dead Romulan, though.
Data and Geordi discuss the nature of humor, and how Data has completely failed to ‘get it’. Data’s finally fed up with waiting and coming close, and is ready to install the Emotion Chip. Growth is not possible without risk. Meanwhile, Picard still hasn’t changed out of his naval getup and is moping around in a darkened ready room, staring at the nearby star and delegating most of his responsibilities to Riker. Serious depression.
Data is taking the emotion chip for a test drive with a new drink Guinan picked up. Data tries again, and is elated when Guinan names the emotion of revulsion.
Picard goes down to Ten-Forward to meet Soran. He has a critical experiment he needs to run on the star, and is very intense about it. He says “time is the fire in which we burn” and Picard is stunned. Remember that Soran is an El-Aurian, which Guinan has described as a race of Listeners on more than one occasion. Something he’s said has rattled Picard. He also sees Guinan, and she senses him but doesn’t quite catch him. Sinister music!
The Romulans were there looking for Trilithium, which has the ability to stop all nuclear fusion within a star, and Riker tasks Geordi and Data with going to look for it. But Data is… compromised… at the moment. He’s giggling over a joke Geordi told during the Farpoint mission, the context for which I am struggling to grasp. Geordi’s found a hidden door, through the use of his VISOR, and Data can open it because of Android Magic. It’s full of probes with an odd configuration. But what I want to know is who installed the secret compartment in the observatory.
The emotion chip seems to be shorting out, and Data collapses for a moment. They can’t beam back immediately because of the dampening field. Soran shows up, punches Geordi in the face, and menaces Data with a gun that’s… I think the only way to describe it is pre-side-gripped. Data, having never confronted fear in the Academy or indeed ever, is paralyzed.
Troi shows up in Picard’s quarters to help, and Picard tells her about his brother Robert and his son Renee, and breaks down. The personal message which knocked Picard flat was that the last of his family died in a fire. Since Picard never had a family, Renee was as close as he got to having a son. Like Kirk, he never had the time. He’s also feeling his age, now more sharply since he’s the last Picard. But all this is not as urgent as the fact that the sun just died. Soran’s ‘experiment’ put it out (using the trilithium) and the resulting fallout will destroy everything in the system. Data and Geordi are still on the observatory, four light-minutes away from obliteration. Don’t think too hard about why you can see the shockwave, it’s not important.
Soran has help coming, and takes the time to engage in a shootout with Riker long enough for his Klingon allies to take him and Geordi out. The Enterprise makes it out, but I want to pause just to mention that Soran’s gun is pre-side-gripped to the outside so that he can hold it side grip and use the sight. I guess if it’s recoilless that’s not terribly detrimental. Maybe El-Aurian arm musculature make that more ergonomic?
Soran is intense enough to punch B’etor in the face. They’re in it for the star-crushing weapon, and Soran is holding the knowledge of how to make more of them hostage. Which apparently means he gets to give the orders and sit in the big chair. He’s headed to the Veridian system.
Crusher’s doing some research, and once again Riker is up on his historical mission logs. Guinan has some insights into Soran’s motivations – getting back to the energy ribbon. The Nexus, which is an access point to a place of perfect happiness. Probably a similar magisterium to the place the Traveler helped the Enterprise access. Coming down off of that has been hard for even-tempered Guinan, and Soran wasn’t so lucky. The good news is that everyone the Enterprise-B didn’t rescue is probably having a great time. Guinan’s final words of warning is that if Picard goes into the Nexus, he won’t want to leave.
To be continued…