TNG: S5E17: “Cause and Effect”

In which the Enterprise blows up a lot. 

Remember back in the day when you could program a VCR to record something and then the network would change the time and you'd only record the second half of the show? Openings like this invoke the existential dread from those days.

Remember back in the day when you could program a VCR to record something and then the network would change the time and you’d only record the second half of the show? Openings like this invoke the existential dread from those days.

We open with the Enterprise starboard nacelle fluxing an angry red and venting plasma. Riker orders escape pods, the core overloads, and the ship goes up in bright white sparks and is obliterated forever. That was the end of Star Trek, and for the next two years it was just commercials for OXI*CLEAN.

Moments later, Data is calmly dealing a game of poker and assuring Riker that the cards are sufficiently randomized. He deals out a game of stud, and Worf has not been practicing his poker face. I thought guile was supposed to be a great virtue. And Riker does string raises shame on him. That’s the height of gaucheness. Several seemingly insignificant and unrelated things are getting focus – Geordi is in sick bay for dizziness, and Crusher has a moment of odd deja vu, and later experiences an odd sussurance when she’s trying to go to sleep. This winds up being a widespread phenomenon that others have reported. Soon after, they discover a localized space-time distorition right beneath them. They try to back the ship off, but the navigation doesn’t work, the shields won’t work, and the ship is now on a collision course. Riker sugests venting the shuttle bay and using the puff of air to move the ship. Data suggests the tractor beam, which seems like a better plan because how much thrust is a shuttlebay’s worth of air going to actually provide when stacked up against five million tons of vehicle mass? Picard agrees, the tractor beam knocks the ship but not all the way out of the way, it collides with the nacelle, and the ship explodes again.

Picard gives his log entry again and we see the same two paragraphs worth of plot again. This episode is really easy to write so far, although now Crusher’s deja vu and hesitation in the betting seem related. Plus how she knew Riker was bluffing. This time, Riker knows what she’s going to do, so it seems that the time loop is somehow leaving an imprint on the brains of the participants. This loop, it’s not just Crusher who remembers prior loops, but the computer turns up nothing.

Proprtiety is all well and good, but don't you have some off-duty clothes you could put on?

Proprtiety is all well and good, but don’t you have some off-duty clothes you could put on?

This time, when Crusher hears the voices, she goes to Picard. For some reason, they meet in his ready room. He’s wearing his grey uniform pajamas and she put on her uniform as well. She discusses the feeling with Picard, and it turns out he’s also feeling it. Data and Geordi do an analysis of the ship to see where the voices came from, and then the spatial rift thing begins to happen. I’m going to divert fromt he obvious. The time rift isn’t the cause of this, it’s got to be Ro’s haircut. The universe is trying to recover from this terrible mistake, and just can’t go back far enough.

Amusingly, the destruction of the Enterprise is shown from a slightly different angle this time.

This time, Worf notices the loop earlier, and Crusher can even predict the cards. They begin to predict other events. Looks like this episode is going to solve itself – Ro Larren will get a feeling that she should stop the ship before she runs it into the anomaly and everything will be fine. Also, it turns out that Geordi’s dizziness is because the VISOR is picking up the spacetime distortions and sending them as phantom images – Geordi can now correctly interpret visually the impression of a time loop, assuming the loop where the Enterprise survives is one in which Crusher runs this test.

Also interestingly, Crusher moves the glass she kept shattering, but events conspire such that she breaks it even in its new location. Coincidence, or perhaps a subtle indication that timelines have a certain degree of inertia, and events will conspire to repeat themselves through some unknown agency? It would explain how all the times Kirk found himself in the past didn’t create a radically different present.

Also I'm not sure how this diagram helps. Like, at all.

Also I’m not sure how this diagram helps. Like, at all.

Data and Geordi decide to analyze the voices. Given that Data has the stated capacity to listen to over a hundred different musical pieces at once (“A Matter of Time”) he should be able to sort out the voices if they’re at all coherent. And in fact that is what happens! There are over a thousand voices overlapping – those of the Enterprise crew. I love it when the exact correct thing happens. The analysis shows that the Enterprise is in a self-contained closed timelike curve – what Geordi calls a Temporal Causailty Loop. The actual thing where this could happen in real life is so cool it really doesn’t need to be dramatized at all.

Also implications that they discuss but can’t take the time to deal with right now – they could have been through this loop for years of external time. Fortunately, it’s leaking, and Data has been able to isolate enough to determine that there will be an upcoming disaster. Of course, now they have exactly enough information to skip second-guessing their decisions and go right to third-guessing – that is, reaffirming – their actions. The best option, since information can be preserved across loops, is to find out what goes wrong and send it through to the next loop. And if modulated correctly, Data’s positronic brain will pick up the signal ‘subconsciously,’ even though so far he’s the only person who hasn’t been affected by the echoes. I’m kind of cheesed by this and cannot adequately explain why.

"There's ALWAYS a boom tomorrow." - Susan Ivanova

“There’s ALWAYS a boom tomorrow.” – Susan Ivanova

The good news is, neither Crusher not LaForge have the feeling they’ve already modified Data, so it’s unlikely that they’ve already tried and failed at this course of action. Right on cue, the almost-Miranda-class ship pops out of the rift, Riker offers his stupid suggestion and is overridden, the ship goes into catastrophe mode, and Data programs his pulse beacon in the moments before ILM earns their millions again.

The poker game begins again. Only this time, Data deals everyone a three, and then everyone gets three of a kind. The events go again, and since many of the scenes don’t involve Data they play out roughly the same as previous times that the loop has been noticed. Everyone is on the lookout for weirness now, and Data runs  a diagnostic only to have it turn up nothing but threes. Three is coming up everywhere. Thousands of times, somehow. And Geordi correctly determines that it’s via the method he would use to send information across a loop.

Of course, they don’t have the context Data had when he sent the message yet, but it’s explosion time already, so it’ll happen this time or they’re probably doomed. Data figures it out in the nick of time – Riker’s collar pips are right near Data’s face – three pips, and Riker’s suggestion is somehow, crazily, enough to move the Enterprise out of the path of the ship.

80 years in a time loop and he still doesn't know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

80 years in a time loop and he still doesn’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

Turns out the Enterprise has been in the loop for 17 days, and the other ship is the Bozeman, a ship that’s been out of service for over 80 years, captained by Frasier Crane. It’s oddly comforting to see the old-style bridge, and Picard has the uncomfortable duty of telling him what year it is.

Also, the final shot really drives something home. Where the Miranda-class is a science ship and has a sensor pod on the roll bar above the saucer section, the Soyuz-class instead has a pretty beefly-looking turrent. This is a small battleship built in the days when the Federation was legit at war with everyone around them. It’s going to be an interesting adjustment for these poor people.

Did we miss something awesome?