In which Samuel Clemens gets more screen time.
When last we left our intrepid heroes, Picard, Geordi, Riker, Crusher, and Troi had all, without notifying the ship or even leaving a note, walked through a temporal rift after a couple of weird glowing soul-eating aliens with an anomalous snake, and Data has a fundamental misreading of time travel anomalies. Also, Mark Twain.
In fact, Mark Twain has not been inspired to write A Connecticut Yankee because of this, because he already wrote it. I appreciate that the obvious trope has been averted. Sadly, however, Clemens is not the forward-thinking progressive that embraces the future that one might hope. Rather, his plan is to expose Guinan and Data and kick them out.
And we’re just going to gloss over how the Enterprise crew got 19th-century money and clothing when they had no idea where they were going. Maybe they won it in a poker game too. Crusher denies the idea that so many people are dead of cholera, and her tricorder shows that the bodies have been depleted of ‘neurochemical energy.’ I’m not sure what that means. Maybe their beam depolarizes every neuron at once and sucks in the energy, I guess? Don’t think to hard about it, it’s alien tech. Also, apparently it’s such a delicacy that it’s worth opening time portals just to get at and oh my god Riker is a sheriff. Or a U.S. Marshal.
Geordi is avoiding questions about his visor by wearing dark glasses, and apparently they are ‘actors’ performing a play and getting by on promises of payment tomorrow.
In snooping around Data’s room/lab, Sam Clemens inadvertantly inspires Jack London the bellhop to go to Alaska. Then he hides from Guinan and Data when they arrive, but ineffectively and leading to a confrontation.
The crew are bumming around a hospital ward – Picard doing something with the gas lamps, Crusher masquerading as a nurse, and so on. The lamp thing is an early warning system for the aliens, and the crew are able to confront them, keep them from killing someone, but then get in trouble with the real constables. They get their hands on the cane-snake and slightly activate it.
Soon after, it’s Picard’s turn to be mischevious and cryptic and Guinan as they plan to go to the place where they found Data’s head to use the cavern to focus the time distortions. However, they are stopped by Sam Clemens and his magnificent white suit. Just then, the Devidians appear, and Data grabbing the stick back from them knocks his head off in near-fulfillment of the time loop. Now it has to stay there to be found five hundred years later, and meanwhile, Mark Twain jumps through the time portal as well, and gets beamed up along with Data’s headless body.
Okay, but seriously, though. Picard and Guinan are still in the past with Data’s head. There’s very little reason not to make a replica of Data’s decayed head and leaving it there after harvesting all the delicate pieces from his fresh head with just enough evidence planted to make things play out as before. Again, this is assuming that Devidian time-portals even have to be self-consistent. My only tolerance for this terrible grasp of time travel is that so many things have happened already that that it might be risky to change it now.
Twain has an opportunity to give his take on the mission of the Federation, and compare the Federation to the colonial explorations of the Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese. He makes some really interesting points about capitalism and explotation, and gives Troi the opportunity to explain that this isn’t how it is anymore. That said, he’s remarkably willing to accept her explanations that it Just Isn’t Like That Anymore.
In the past, Picard gets to have a conversation with the Devidian woman to find out the alien equipment, if destroyed, will blow up Earth. Worf is also determined to carry though this course of action, but since we know Earth isn’t destroyed in the 1800s, we know that doesn’t happen, so it’s a terrible way of escalating tension. Look, either you can change the past or you can’t.
In the future, Geordi finds a problem with Data’s brain that Picard, in the past, causes in the past. He programs in a message into Data’s head that is received just barely in time, and there’s a whole thing with Clemens going back and seeing redemption and whatnot, and more time crunching. This, as well, I can tolerate because it’s not their time machine and they don’t know how to operate it properly. Picard manages to come through momens after the torpedoes are launched, and they beam him up moments before the torpedoes hit.
The music swells with triumph as the Enterprise destroys what might as easily have been a hospital as a restaurant for the aliens, and never looks back. Humans are safe and that’s all that matters, evidently.