In which Picard’s timing is somewhat in focus, and everything is as it should be.
Worf and Deanna exit the holodeck. She’s wearing a sundress, he’s wearing… I don’t even know, but it has an easy-open pull-tab, so feel free to draw conclusions. It was a midnight walk on the beach. They’re going on dates, and Worf feels they’re getting to the stage where he, as Riker’s friend, has to let Will know. Suddenly, just before the kiss, Picard shows up in his dressing gown raving about the date, because he’s moving back and forth in time. It’s going to be one of those days.
Troi makes Picard some tea while he explains, but the dream is fading. He was in the past, then in the future, and it was very vivid, except that he has no solid sense of time. It was confusing, and then he finds himself on his vinyard in the middle of tying grape vines, when Geordi wanders by. Geordi has eyes now. It looks weird. I’m sorry, LeVar, it just does. They are older – 25 years since they were last on the Enterprise, and they spend a companionable few minutes tying up grape vines. Also, Geordi is married to Leah Brahms and they have the best MeetCringe story ever. Geordi came by from Rigel III because Picard has a degenerative disease, and dropping by is something that old friends do.
While walking back to his cabin, Picard sees some jeering medieval peasants. Presumably these hallucinations are part of the Irumodic Syndrome… or he’s about to time jump to when Tasha was flying him over to the Enterprise for the first time. He’s got a little deja vu as they approach the shuttlebay in the least optimal possible way.
We’re back in the present. In the present time stream, Picard can remember the other two, whereas in those moments he appears unable to do so. Crusher’s immediate scans find no physiological evidence of hallucinations or time travel, because that’s apparently something they can test for. Crusher calls him a drama queen, but does find a defect on a brain scan that might lead to Irumodic Syndrome in the future. I can only point to this scene, as I have to point to every other scene in this episode, as interpersonal gold.
Meanwhile, an incoming communication from Admiral Nakamura informs Picard about a massive Romulan fleet movement and an anomaly in the Devron system. Nakamura considers 15 ships sufficient to guard against a buildup of 30 warbirds, and sends the Enterprise along as well for investigative purposes.
Old Vinyard Picard is suddenly aware of his other timestreams, but he’s raving more than Present Time Stream Picard did, but Geordi still respects him enough to humor him. They go to find Data, but Picard sees the jeering peasants again on the way. When they get to Cambridge, where Data is a professor and living in the Isaac Newton residence. He also has grey hair and an air of pretension, but he’s still Data, and willing to consider the super weird nonsense that happened on a daily basis back on the Enterprise, where Picard has just arrived. The peasants are there too. Everyone is in their old uniforms too, which is nice. He’s making a terrible first impression, which is not, and winds up calling for Red Alert.
Still in the past, Picard sets up a security lockout so as not to risk changing the past, in case he’s not hallucinating. He asks Troi straight up if there’s a higher intelligence screwing with them that she can sense, but there’s nothing. Also, there’s a large spatial anomaly that’s just appeared in the Devron system, and the Enterprise is being diverted from Farpoint to there. Which means Riker won’t be on the ship, since he was at Farpoint, which means Frakes won’t have to shave for this episode. Oh, nope. Picard’s disobeying orders and going to Farpoint, because that’s how the past is supposed to go. He is, however, shamelessly using foreknowledge to build his team the way he knows it should be.
Picard is back in the present, and it’s becoming easier to remember things between shifts. And this time, Beverly found evidence of the shifts – in 2 minutes, Picard developed 2 days of memory. He now checks to see if the present was altered by the changes to the past. They haven’t been, but the anomaly is present in two time frames, and may be there in the future as well. But enough of that. Present concerns dictate a battle-readiness drill. Plus, Riker and Worf collide a little bit, very respectfully, over Deanna. On the bridge, Picard authorizes Riker to take command at a moment’s notice if Picard should have an attack, but Riker is a little distracted himself. As he and Beverly talk about the future and Picard reveals his biases when it comes to timeline preservation yet again, and then they take things a little past breakfast tea.
Back to the future, where Picard has fallen asleep waiting for some tests. Now Picard wants to get to the Neutral Zone to investigate the anomaly in the Devron system. Of course, nowadays there’s no Neutral Zone because the Klingons took over the Romulan Empire and are once again hostile to the Federation. So Picard calls in some favors, starting with Admiral Riker. He says there are no anomalies in the Devron system and won’t let Picard take a ship. But the Klingons have been allowing medical ships through, so Picard asks for the USS Pasteur, commanded by Captain Beverly Crusher Picard.
Now, at this point, I’d like to highlight something. Picard’s doings in the Farpoint timeframe have not affected the Season 7 Timeline. So it is an interesting test to see if Beverly remembers the S7 stream if and when Old Picard brings it up. If she does, that would be fairly strong evidence for Picard to be certain that the S7 stream is the ‘real’ one.
I digress. Next step is to get clearance to cross the border, so they’re going to ask Worf, who’s either a planetary governor or a member of the Klingon High Council, or both. Beverly is humoring him, but he’s earned the credit. It’s hard to say for certain if the future timeline includes the events of this episode or not, because it’s been 25 years and honestly how would you pick this weirdness out of any of the other weirdness over the last seven years?
Back to the past, Picard is looking for Q’s net. It’s not there, and Picard demands that Q show himself, and then starts ranting, to the confusion of the crew. When Past-Picard goes to his ready room, however, Present-Picard (you can tell by the uniform) finds himself back in that courtroom, surrounded by the jeering peasants which are now all too familiar. He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaack.
Q berates Picard for being so linear and they rehash the arguments of seven years ago, when Q accused Picard of being a representative of a ‘barbarous, savage child-race.’ Picard demands answers, and Q scolds him and hints that there’s a puzzle here that he wants Picard to figure out. This is one of those episodes I really, really wish I could watch again for the first time. He also offers the answers to ten yes-or-no questions, and as all trickster gods do he gets really pedantic about what counts as separate questions.
According to Q, the trial never ended, which explains so much about the last seven years. Space can’t be as full of weird explosive nonsense as it seemed to be or all of the ships would just be gone. It’s been Q the whole time. Of course, Q’s disparagement of humanity’s performance in that time conveniently forgets that one of Picard’s crew turned into an energy being, but apart from that he makes some good points – very little of what Picard has been up to has been paradigm-shifting. And because Humanity has been stagnating, the Continuum is going to blink them out of existence. Or he’s going to allow Picard to do it, as he is already doing.
Verdict delivered, Q returns Picard to the Enterprise and explains the situtation, where they briefly discuss the predestination paradox, and Picard cottons to the idea that Q moving him around through time is giving Picard the tools to save humanity. Data likens the relationship to master and pet. Jean-Luc is not amused, but the future Mrs. Beverly Picard very much is.
Arrival at the Neutral Zone reveals the two sides at a standoff. Right as the Romulans respond, Picard shifts to the future and into a discussion with Worf. Worf no longer has pull with the High Council, and refuses to let them pass because the region is dangerous. Picard wheedles his way into a reversal, and Worf makes his presence a condition. Beverly gives Jean-Luc a chance to say ‘Engage,’ which leads to Picard in the past switching over to the Devron system and skipping the Farpoint mission, and fielding concerns from Troi. They even manage to stitch in some old footage of Riker.
Back in the present, Picard winds up talking to Tomalak, his old buddy, and they banter a little and it’s totes adorbs. They reach an agreement and they’re both concerned enough that nobody even bothers posturing (much). He approaches in the past and present “simultaniously” and the anomaly is larger in the past, and not there at all in the future.
If you’re watching this episode for the first time somehow, pause now and figure it out. Also, I envy you.
If you don’t get it, don’t feel bad. Your efforts have been hindered by the anomaly not behaving the way it should. It’s like the VFX problem with the Picard Maneuver. It’s very hard to handle things like relativity and nonlinear time correctly because they’re just so counter-intuitive.
More immediately, the Klingons have dispatched several warbirds to search for them. Picard asks for a more thorough, nonstandard scan, and Data comes up with an inverse tachyon pulse to scan for temporal phenomena. Picard doesn’t agree with Picard’s time limit, and questions her captaincy on the bridge of her own ship. They have a spat in her ready room which must necessarily end with her reminding him that he has brain damage. Of course, then Q shows up to reassure Picard that he’s not crazy, and to feed him hints. Hints like “you’re not alone. There’s three of you here.”
The anomaly is, in the present, outputting about ten times that of a main sequence star. Picard brings back Data’s plan to fire a reverse tachyon beam into it, although back in the future, that was just to try and find it. The Enterprise fires up the beam, and Geordi’s visor starts reacting to the result. It seems that the anomaly is now radiating some form of energy that starts growing Geordi new eyes. Other crew are reporting old scars healing themselves. Given this, you’d think Ogawa would be more worried that it’s going to mess with her pregnancy. Then again, that baby survived Barclay’s Protomorphosis Syndrome, it’s probably immortal.
So yes, the anomaly is leaking anti-time, which is colliding with normal time and annihilating. In a switch to the past, Picard seamlessly instructs Data to make the reverse tachyon beam, but he still doesn’t understand why it’s bigger in the past, because apparently he’s more into Shakespeare than he is into Arthurian legend. Q makes a lousy Merlin anyway.
In the Future, the Klingons have found the Pasteur, and open fire. The shields keep it intact for a time against two Klingon attack cruisers, but aren’t good enough to prevent a dramatic chase. The Klingons aren’t interested in talking, or even in the Pasteur‘s surrender. Good thing they’re saved by Riker in an Enterprise that’s loaded for bear and refuses to conform to 2-dimensional space battle conventions. Evidently the Federation is marginally better equipped for a war with the Klingons this time – this is still a Galaxy-class, but with a third nacelle and a zettawatt phaser array instead of a yacht. . Sadly, the Pasteur is done for, but Riker saves everyone. Picard pleads with eight-pip-Admiral Riker to stick around, but Beverly tranquilizes him back to the present.
Geordi’s eyes are rejuvinating as is- I have never been less happy to be right- Ogawa’s uterus. The fetus just started growing younger and split apart into… uh… its constituent parts. Newly galvanized, Picard focuses harder on collapsing the anomaly, and Q shows up to taunt him with not having the answers. He takes Picard to Earth, 3.5 billion years ago to show him the primordial ooze, and the anti-time anomaly, which is now filling the entire quadrant. Oh, and fun fact: if it’s pumping out anti-time as the organic chemicals seeded by the Precursors are learning to self-replicate, that same protolife is going to start learning how to… whatever the opposite of self-replicate is. Collapse back into a single copy of the lucky amino acid and dissolve, I guess. Which is why it’s really super-important that probably-Q is insulating Picard’s timeline, because if he weren’t then the anti-time anomaly would ‘already’ have ended all life on Earth before it began, and also ended the universe some 11 billion years before that, where it must also have disrupted the evolution of the Q, assuming they come from this universe. Don’t think too hard about it, a wizard is helping.
Now back in the Farpoint timeframe, Data and O’Brien puzzle over making the scanner for the anomaly, but looking inside will require some experimental equipment that’s only made it on board within the past seven years. Q is paying attention and shifts Picard to where he can use said scanner. As it turns out, their tachyon pulse is converging with two other tachyon pulses which are also coming from the Enterprise-D. Stunning. Picard wakes up in the future, full of vim and with a plan for what to do next.
In the future, Starfleet tried to decommission the Enterprise and Admiral Riker told them to go screw. He’s also been feuding with Worf for over 20 years, presumably over Deanna, who is dead now. It’s very tragic and full of emotion, but these maudlin reminiscences are interrupted by Picard’s ravings. Data gets it – the anomaly was created when the Pasteur‘s beam went out. Only if that were the case, then it should have been there and the Pasteur scanning it with their beam should have closed it when viewed in regular time. Also, check out the science officer in the background overhearing Data talk about temporal dynamics and deciding that he’s off-duty and doesn’t want to be in the same room as this kind of talk in case someone makes him help. People hate time travel.
So they go back to the Devron system to see the initial formation of the anomaly they’ve already created that only travels backwards in time. Guhhhh, no. And there it is, opening in forwards-time before traveling backwards and being held open by the tachyon pulses. So Picard orders the pulses shut down. Easy. Except that it was open before they started using the pulses and it’s still open now. Put it this way – turning off the drill doesn’t repair the hole. It’s like a balloon, and something bad happens.
Instead, they’re going to have to take the Enterprise into the anomaly and use the shields to caulk the breach. This causes some consternation in the Farpoint timestream, when the crew hasn’t had time to come to trust Picard yet and has only seen him acting crazy, so he has to give a Speech. It works, because even if they don’t know him, he knows them. Back in the present, Data’s one step ahead of the time-traveler, and the three Enterprises steer into the anomaly at the same… time.
With all three ships present (and note that the orientations don’t line up between time frames) the anomaly starts collapsing, and Enterprises start exploding, in order form past to future. Q shows up to taunt Picard, but the anomaly disappears just before the future Enterprise explodes.
Cut to Picard, awaiting death, waking up in the courtroom. His first concern is for the integrity of the universe, then for the safety of his crew. Q is upset that Picard doesn’t take his leap in understanding of reality more seriously, but isn’t that, at the end of the day, the point? I’d like to think that what’s being said here is that the strength of humanoid intelligence is that once a thing is understood, it can be studied or ignored, but what’s important is the next challenge. The next mystery to unravel. Oh, also Q was rooting for Picard the whole time, and was the one who wanted to help. The trial never ends, but as it turns out, Q was on our side the whole time.
We end with Picard, in his dressing gown, interrupting Deanna and Worf’s goodnight kiss once he’s reassured that the anomaly is never going to actually happen now. He’s had a chance to fill his senior staff in about one possible course the future could take – where Deanna dies, Worf and Riker hate each other, and everyone else gradually loses touch. Picard has decided to throw any vestiges of a Temporal Prime Directive to the wind to make sure that doesn’t happen. The senior staff are just sitting down to Poker when Picard shows up and asks to join. He never has before, and wishes that he had, but there are always chances for new beginnings.