TNG: S5E26: “Time’s Arrow: Part 1”

In which Data doesn’t understand time travel, does understand poker, and doesn’t understand time travel. 

The Enterprise is back in the vicinity of Earth due evidence of extraterrestrials turned up in a terraforming maintenance dig. There are a few artifacts from the 1800s and strange energy readings from the rocks. These are a result of ‘triolic waves’ which are not found on Earth or most other places because they harm living tissue. This is all interesting, but the real reason they called the Enterprise back rather than using a dedicated Earth-based research crew has to be pretty important, right? I mean, families aside, it is the most powerful battle platform available to the Federation and usually operates near the borders. It would have to be a pretty important…

I feel like I've already done the 'good head' joke.

I feel like I’ve already done the ‘good head’ joke.

Oh. Yeah, that might do it. Although I am somewhat surprised nobody told Maddox about this first. I mean, an inert Soong-type positronic brain may not be as useful to disassemble as a living one, but presumably there’s some value in it.

Now we are invited to think about the implications, as Picard and Riker are doing and Data is incapable of ‘worrying’ about. Slingshot loops, as we’ve learned from Kirk’s adventures, tend to be self-consistent  as far as anyone can determine, but there are plenty of technologies out there which allow for time travel alterations. Thus, we cannot say for sure that Data is going to die soon, only that without the knowledge available to him in the form of his own corpse, he would likely have been going to die.

Once again, lament the lack of proper grammar rules for time travel stories. Also, Data’s inability to remember time travel anomalies that occurred within the last five years. One would think that the cosmic temporal antlion incident would be sufficiently interesting to not have purged from his internal memory.

"Heh. I farted."

“Heh. I farted.”

From some other traces, Geordi figures out that the aliens might be shapeshifters and probably come from Devidia II, and then goes to find out whether Data is worried about his death. Data is taking a silver lining out of it, because it’s somewhat comforting that he’s mortal, and that much more human. Data gets called away and Guinan shows up to hear about them finding Data’s head. Guinan is somewhat less shocked and more satisfiedly cryptic about the whole situation than one might expect.

Look, I’m not saying that the Enterprise should have a full-time temporal theoretician on staff, but if they did they might be able to avoid all this mooning around about Data’s ‘inevitable’ death.

Anyway, they reach the planet and find a temporal disturbance. Don’t ask how. They sense the triolic waves or something, and send an away team which does not include Data, in order to keep him safe. Riker, Troi, Worf, and Geordi beam down to a cave system and Troi senses trapped humans somewhere nearby. They are trapped ‘out of phase’ with the Enterprise crew, a fraction of a second ahead or behind.

Which never really made sense to me. If that could make someone invisible to you, it implies that you only exist as matter during the Planck time you actually inhabit. If that were the case, one would suspect the same holds true for all other matter, in which case, those caves wouldn’t be there either. However, one cannot argue with the facts. Nor can one argue with fate – Data’s positronic brain contains equipment that will help communicate with the trapped humans and communicate back to the rest of the away team.

The countdown until someone makes fun of his pajamas begins now.

The countdown until someone makes fun of his pajamas begins now.

Data describes some weird tubeworm-shaped things that are consuming energy pods. There’s an implication that these energy pods are human ‘souls’ or whatever it is Troi senses. Then the weirdness happens and Data wakes up in the 18oos and gets a lesson in panhandling from an old ’49er while in his way to look for two people with a snake.

The pajamas crack happens pretty quickly as he starts looking for work and eventually alights on poker. The phrase “I am a frenshman” gets him past all sorts of social difficulties and the communicator gets him into the game. Not long after, his precise knoweldge of odds and long years of practice against Riker’s bluffing, Geordi’s ability to see through cards, and Troi’s ability to read her opponents wins him a stupid hat, ugly vest, and presumably all the money he’ll need for the duration of his stay. Of course, having screwed over the card sharps, he’s probably going to get mugged.

As is standard procedure for a science officer stuck in the past, he immediately begins to build something using locally available supplies. As he hires the bellboy to go out to get the supplies, we see the old prospector  get murderkilled by two mysterious people with a snake-handled walking stick and a valise that sucks out souls.

Five hundred years later, Picard and the senior staff discuss the loss of Data and the potential threat to 19th-century Earth. Geordi is going to have to jury-rig a thingy to duplicate the thingy Data made. Picard goes to talk to Guinan, who is performing advanced mixology. Really advanced mixology, but she has some words of advice for Picard. He has to go on the away mission for unspecified reasons. When someone Wise and Mysterious tells you that you don’t really remember the first time the two of you met, and you’re currently investigating a time travel-related mystery, it’s time to worry.

As I cannot hope to make fun even of a pale imitation of Mark Twain, I invite you instead to stare at that magnificent waistcoat.

As I cannot hope to make fun even of a pale imitation of Mark Twain, I invite you instead to stare at that magnificent waistcoat.

Due to his budding friendship with the bellboy, Data discovers that Guinan is going to be at some party, where she is being amused by the witticisms of Samuel Clemens making fun of someone who decided that Earth is the center of the universe. Samuel Clemens makes fun of people like a champion. Also, Guinan is clearly enjoying the self-effacing Twain speaking on behalf of humanity.

It probably bothers me more than it ought that Data cannot seem to wrap his head around the fact that Guinan in 1883 would have no reason to recognize him. However, since she isn’t human, she does pick up on it as soon as he mentions the concept of a starship. Of course, Twain overhears and we’ll get to hear this imitation for the rest of the episode as he gets increasingly clued-in.

Okay, I guess I’m okay with his assumption that she also fell through an anomaly. Also, she immediately assumes he was sent by her father to tell her to come home, and it’s incredibly frustrating that he interrupts her before we get to learn anything too solid about her backstory.

Back to the future (ha), where Picard has beamed down and given Worf command of the Enterprise until his return, because he needs to go down there in order to meet Guinan ever. After all, if Picard never meets Guinan, the entire Federation will die.

Some day I’m going to get a whiteboard, some markers, some magnets, and a bunch of string and actually map out all the timelines in this show.

Geordi has finished building the thingy, and are able to see the glowing things consuming energy balls. Troi is able to confirm that the energy balls are human ghosts, or echoes, terrified and screaming eternally before two more aliens show up to refill the ghost hopper. The snake-thing Data was asking about seems to be what triggers the temporal rift, and without any discussion, the away team walks through it and back to Earth’s past.

Did we miss something awesome?