TNG: S1E26: “The Neutral Zone”

In which when you gaze into the future, the future gazes back into you and does not like what it sees. Also, Romulans are jerks. 

It's a damn good thing Kerbals don't need to eat.

It’s a damn good thing Kerbals don’t need to eat.

We open on what looks like Earth technology out in the middle of space, and it does not look like it’s had a good time of the last 400 years. Apparently, Riker has no sense of history, since he is apathetic to the point of hostility towards Data’s request to beam over and check it out. The probe appears pretty spacious, though. Given the state of the computers on board (there is a disk drive and a tape deck) it’s rather surprising that there’s room to stand up. In fact, the probe appears to be full of cryotubes, at least some of which are filled with corpses. Mummies, really. But there are a few survivors. I would just like to point out what happened the last time an Enterprise beamed suspended personnel aboard from the distant past. We got a good episode and a great movie out of it. I’m all for this.

This has the potential to give us an unrivaled view of all the things in the 24th century that are taken for granted, but which an actual inhabitant would struggle to get used to. I suspect the opportunity will be squandered, but if there’s ever going to be a ‘three seashells’ moment, it’ll be in this episode. If you don’t know how to use the three seashells, then just swear a lot, you’ll be fine.

Picard beams back aboard, and seems to be in a foul mood as he orders the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone, and calls a staff meeting. It seems two outposts nearby have been destroyed, likely due to Romulan activity, the first in 50 years. This is somewhat similar in tone to the way they’re introduced in “Balance of Terror,” although this time the Enterprise has the primary mandate of opening diplomatic channels. If it comes to a fight, consensus among Federation analysts is because the Romulans want to see if the Federation is still too much to take on in a fight.

Since the stasis pods were falling apart, Crusher revives them (spoken casually, as if reviving someone from cryostasis is an established procedure) and treated for minor medical conditions which were once terminal – heart problems, emphysema, liver problems, and each had been frozen after the moment of death. Crusher does not even appear to be proud of having brought them back. It is the sort of minor miracle that paints a vivid backdrop of the Federation – there is still disease and malady (else why would there still be doctors) but vast swaths of fatal disease have been swept away. Recall that Leonard McCoy was alive 80 years after his service on the Enterprise under Kirk, and he was not a young man then. On the flip side of the coin, one wonders why humans are still allowed to age past their physical prime at all.

Picard is also not pleased that Data wound up saving these three, due to the timing of the other things that the Enterprise is doing at the moment. It is not, however, as if these three merit immediate and urgent personal attention from the captain – there’s a ton of room aboard the ship, a surplus of crew who can acquaint them with the 24th century, and (this time) a brig to throw them in if one of them winds up being Khan. Also, they came with toe tags so we know they’re not Khan. Clare died of an embolism and faints upon seeing Worf. Ralph died of cardiomyopathy at 55. L.Q. Sonny Clemens suffered from ‘massive chemical abuse’ and was once some sort of musician. Everyone present assumes that he hated his life. Recreational drugs are not just unheard of among Starfleet officers, but unheard of by Starfleet Officers. Picard is, at least, properly delegating all further dealings with them to Riker and telling him to keep the revivals out of the way.

So what would you do if you died of something we can’t cure and woke up on the USS Enterprise? How long before the culture shock of being welcomed to the 24th century by an android  was too much? The two men were expecting it, but Clare doesn’t seem to have been in on her preservation – her occupation was listed as ‘homemaker’ which the crew all think means ‘construction worker.’ Ralph, the financier, is very concerned about his wealth, which is awkward for Riker because the Enterprise does not subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I’d like to show you the faces of two people who see replicators for the first time but it appears that my Print Screen button is currently malfunctioning, so you’ll just have to deal with it. They are as surprised and amazed as you might expect.

Although the computer can fix a perfect martini, it cannot show the Atlanta Braves game because television doesn’t survive beyond the year 2040 – likely because of the Eugenics Wars ramping up. Karl demands to talk to the captain and speculates that with the magic of compound interest he should be able to buy the Enterprise while Sonny just wants to go out to the seedier areas of the ship with Data and pick up a couple of groupies.

Back to the other plot – Troi has given Picard a few speculations on Romulan psychology, and the command staff all weigh in on the way to deal with the Romulans before being interrupted by Ralph the Wall Street douchebag. He pisses Picard off so much that he’s very close to beating Ralph over the head with the fact that his wealth no longer exists. Instead, Clare is the collateral damage, so Troi is sent in to settle her down, and together the look up her children by full name, place and date of birth, and the Enterprise computer seems fully capable of tracking them down despite them being born in the Eighties.

Once again, the Romulans appear to have a superweapon at their disposal. The outpost they were investigating is completely gone,as if, Worf tells us, “some great force just scooped it off the face of the planet.” Well, we’ve seen an effect like that, when the Bandi outpost turned out to be a tortured space jellyfish and leaving only its resting hollow in its wake. Picard takes the ship to Yellow Alert, which does not appear to affect anyone in the corridors. As the Romulans decloak and Picard struggles with the decision to  fire on the Romulans, Ralph intrudes on the bridge and makes us all wonder why Riker doesn’t just order him beamed to the brig.

I really wish Print Screen was working, because there’s a great view of the Romulan D’Deridex cruiser. So I’ve had to steal the picture off of Memory Alpha’s archives. Here you go, enjoy my compromised artistic purity, you heathens.

It is composed of a dorsal and ventral hull connected at the aft tail, the two armored nacelles, and an enormous frontal beak. It is also big enough for the Enterprise to fit inside the hollow spaces.

It is composed of a dorsal and ventral hull connected at the aft tail, the two armored nacelles, and an enormous frontal beak. It is also big enough for the Enterprise to fit inside the hollow spaces.

The Romulans have come a long way from using Klingon hulls and painting birds underneath them. This is apparently what they’ve been building for the last 50 years, and it is pretty imposing as it decloaks to engage the Enterprise. Picard hails them over protests from Worf.

I want you all to watch this scene, at 38:21. I know I’m not going to get my wish, but that’s because you’re poops. Picard discusses tense diplomacy with two Romulans, one of whom has a very familiar voice to anyone who’s watched Deep Space Nine. The Romulans are also investigating their own destroyed outposts, and it takes Ralph the Wall Street Jerkface to point out that the Romulans have no clue what caused it, and the two sides agree not to blow each other out of the sky while they investigate what destroyed their outposts, before posturing some more and then leaving.
Picard has arranged to send everyone back to Earth, and Ralph asks what the challenge in life that he can meet will be since there are no such things as material needs on Earth. Post-Scarcity, at least at the heart of the Federation, and leaving aside all those pesky details like the late Yar’s failed colony world. But enough of that. Thus endeth season 1. Next up, an episode I vividly remember disliking.

2 thoughts on “TNG: S1E26: “The Neutral Zone”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S4E11: “Data’s Day”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S2E16: “Q-Who?”

Did we miss something awesome?