As drama? Very nice. The philosophy of the ending? Everything I went into teaching to fight.
Well, after last week, when I found it difficult to get any emotions stirred up at all about DS9's "Vortex", I'll say this for "The Chase": I definitely had a lot of reactions to it. More (far more), after the usual synopsis...
While the Enterprise is on a routine study mission, Picard receives a surprise visit from his old mentor and virtual second father, Professor Galen. Galen brings him a gift -- a 12,000-year-old artifact from the Kerl system -- and then says that he's on an expedition, and intends to take Picard with him.
In Ten-Forward later that day, they talk, trying to make up for a thirty-year interruption in their relationship. Galen acknowledges that the past decade of his life has seemed very mysterious, with almost no publications or public appearances. When asked what he's been doing all this time, he cryptically asks Picard about "mycopaleontology", a study of fossil relics on the microscopic level. He claims to have made a discovery so monumental that when he announces his findings, "they'll hear it halfway across the galaxy." However, he refuses to tell Picard what those findings actually are, saying that the "price" of that information is agreeing to come with him. The expedition, given limited resources, would last from three months up to a year. Galen says that he needs Picard because he doesn't want his own age and "inadequacies" to prevent the completion of the work. When Picard hedges, citing responsibilities, Galen insists that his responsibilities to _history_ are far more important. Picard promises to sleep on it.
The next morning, he tells Beverly at breakfast of the previous night's conversation, telling her that although he couldn't leave the Enterprise to join Galen, he very much regrets having to hurt Galen a second time by saying no; it reminds him too much of the first time he did so, when he joined Starfleet instead of becoming an archaeologist. "In a way, I wish he'd never come on board the ship..."
He finds Galen in his lab a short time later, and finds that Galen is planning the future of the expedition and assuming Picard will come. When he declines as gently as he can, Galen becomes bitter, comparing Picard to "a Roman centurion exploring the provinces." After this and other equally strong statements, a crushed Galen asks Picard once more to come with him. When Picard says that he cannot, Galen decides to leave the ship immediately in his shuttle, not waiting for his transport.
A short time later, a preoccupied Picard prepares to take the Enterprise to a diplomatic conference on Italia Seven, when suddenly Galen's shuttle sends a distress call that is quickly cut off. They find a Yridian destroyer attacking the shuttle and fire on it, accidentally causing it to explode. While Riker and Worf ponder that, Picard goes to sickbay and orders Galen beamed directly there. Unfortunately, Galen's wounds are too severe, and he dies after telling Picard he was too harsh in his judgements.
What records could be salvaged from Galen's shuttle are examined, and a number of protected files are found. Unfortunately, they contain only blocks of numbers, the meaning of which is unclear. Further, the Yridians (and thus, presumably, their employers) were after those files, which means those employers may have a far better idea of the numbers' meaning. Picard, finding that Galen had last been at Ruah Four, orders the Enterprise there.
Ruah Four seems to be a dead end, with no sign of any great past civilization. Galen's next stop was Indri Eight, which from all records also hosts no past or present civilization, but Picard orders the ship there anyway. When Troi attempts to suggest that Picard is delaying the diplomatic conference for no good reason, he angrily disagrees: "Counselor, this is not simply a case of me taking the Enterprise and its crew on some wild goose chase to purge myself of guilt and remorse! I will not let Galen's death be in vain. Now, if that means inconveniencing a few squabbling delegates for a few days, then _so be it_; I will take the full responsibility."
Alas, Indri Eight proves no more helpful, as the Enterprise arrives just in time to see a strange plasma reaction completely destroy the planet's biosphere. The motive for such an action is a complete mystery, but Picard theorizes that Galen's files might have been linked to organic matter somehow. He sets the computer searching for a pattern in those files, limited to organic matter data only.
A pattern turns up. The blocks refer to a series of nearly two dozen fragments of DNA, each from a different lifeform across the quadrant -- and what's more, the fragments seem chemically _compatible_. When the representations are linked according to where the compatibilities match up, the pattern is undecipherable, but according to Geordi is clearly *not* natural.
In fact, the pattern appears to be part of a molecularly coded computer program. Further, Beverly notes that since the fragment from human DNA has been in earth DNA since the earliest life-forms, the program must have been created approximately four billion years ago. Since no other DNA in Federation records contains the common element, Picard sensibly reasons that the remaining pieces must be outside Federation space. They begin checking the non-Federation people on board the Enterprise, and also realize that Indri Eight's destruction means that other groups are aware of the program and its possibly dangerous implications.
The search of the crew turns up negative, and no one can think of any way to proceed, until Picard has a flash of insight. Remembering that Galen mentioned being "in the neighborhood" the previous year when he picked up the Kerlan artifact, he suggests checking out that area. The only workable planet in that area is Loren Three, and they head there as fast as they can.
When they get there, they find some heavily armed company. Two Cardassian warships are there, led by Gul Ocett. Ocett tells them to withdraw until the Cardassian work is finished, but both are interrupted by the sudden arrival of a Klingon ship as well. Picard invites Ocett and Nu'Daq, the Klingon captain, to the Enterprise to discuss the situation.
On board, he gets them all to acknowledge their knowledge of Galen's work and of the program. While the Enterprise has a good number of pieces, the Cardassians have one from the planet below and will fire on anyone attempting to get one themselves -- and the Klingons have the fragments from Indri Eight. After some debate over what the eventual purpose is of the program (Nu'Daq believes it to be a weapon, Ocett believes it's a power source), Picard convinces them to share their fragments and let them all be combined on board the Enterprise, with the results to be seen publicly and simultaneously by all three parties. Grudgingly, they agree.
After the merging, however, the program is _still_ incomplete, prompting great frustration from Nu'Daq. However, Picard remains optimistic, suggesting now that the pattern might be one the original designers wanted to be easy to discover. He tells Bev to analyze the pieces by location, extrapolating back to account for four billion years of stellar motion -- with luck, the final piece will fall into place. She begins, but the program will take several hours to run.
During that time, Nu'Daq attempts both to wrestle and to bribe Data, with each having equally dismal results for him. Geordi, meanwhile, discovers something very strange in the defensive systems and calls Picard to check...
Later, the analysis is complete, and all gather in the lab. The pattern is very simple, and Bev says the missing piece is in the Ramazad system. Ocett *immediately* beams out of the lab, and the Cardassian ships begin firing on the Enterprise and on the Klingon ships, targeting the propulsion systems.
However, both are prepared, thanks to Geordi's discovery of Ocett's sabotage. Riker orders the inertial dampers turned off to make the attack "look good", but then everything returns to normal as soon as the Cardassians leave. Nu'Daq's ship, unfortunately, did sustain very slight damage, and rather than take the delay he accompanies the Enterprise to the _real_ site of the missing piece, Vilmora Two.
The planet no longer supports much life, but once did, showing evidence of an ancient ocean. A small pocket of vegetation is located, and Picard, Bev, Worf and Nu'Daq beam down near it. They approach it, but are intercepted close to it by the newly arrived Cardassians, and then all *three* groups are stopped by a party of Romulans, who have been covertly dogging the Enterprise's footsteps ever since Galen's death.
Ocett threatens to destroy the vegetation rather than let anyone else get the information, and she and the Romulan captain begin negotiating. As they and Nu'Daq argue, Picard and Bev surreptitiously scrape off a piece of fossilized vegetation from the rock face they're standing near, hoping it's still viable. It is, and the program begins to run, altering the tricorder to project an image. All arguments stop, as the tricorder projects the image of a humanoid figure. This figure looks out into empty space, then delivers a statement:
"You're wondering who we are ... why we have done this ... how it has come that I stand before you, the image of a being from so long ago. Life evolved on my planet before all others in this part of the galaxy. We left our world, explored the stars, and found none like ourselves. Our civilization thrived for ages -- but what is the life of one race, compared to the vast stretches of cosmic time? We knew that one day we would be gone, and nothing of us would survive -- so we left _you_. Our scientists seeded the primordial oceans of many worlds, where life was in its infancy. The seed codes directed your evolution toward a physical form resembling ours: this body you see before you, which is of course shaped as yours is shaped, for you _are_ the end result. The seed codes also contain this message, which is scattered in fragments on many different worlds. It was our hope that you would have to come together in fellowship and companionship to hear this message -- and if you can see and hear me, our hope has been fulfilled. You are a monument, not to our greatness, but to our existence. That was our wish: that you too would know life, and would keep alive our memory. There is something of us in each of you, and so, something of you in each other. Remember us."
The image fades, and Nu'Daq and Ocett are outraged, both at the lack of "substance" in the program and at the very implication that their species could have anything in common. The parties return to their respective ships.
A short time later, as the Enterprise conducts minor repairs to make up for the extensive high-warp traveling they'd been doing, Picard and Beverly discuss the recent events, noting that Picard has left Galen a wonderful legacy. Picard only regrets that it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Bev leaves to start her day, and Riker signals Picard that the Romulan captain is hailing him. Picard receives him.
"Captain, my ships are leaving orbit for Romulan space. Until our next encounter..." "Until then." "It would seem that we are not completely dissimilar after all -- in our hopes, or in our fears." "Yes..." "Well, then -- perhaps, one day..." "One day."
The Romulans leave, and Picard cradles a figurine from Galen's gift to his breast, lost in thought.
Whew. Well, I'm glad that's over. :-) Now, time for some probably equally-long commentary.
I'm going to split this up into two parts, because the two reactions I had were completely opposite in direction and comparable in intensity. So...
I. "The Chase" as TNG Drama
Here, I've only a few minor negative points -- on the whole, "The Chase" was a nice thing to watch. A race to untangle a mystery, with some spot-on performances by most or all of the regulars, enough action to keep the shoot-em-up watchers happy, and nice performances by important figures from all three major non-Federation races -- who could ask for more?
Pacing-wise, "The Chase" fairly crackled. Jonathan Frakes, once again, is to be commended for rarely letting a camera stay still. :-) It never seems too surprising that no one stops to think seriously about what the program might be, because everything's moving along so fast that _we_ certainly haven't. We occasionally got a slight breather here and there, such as the Data/Nu'Daq scene in Ten-Forward (which was absolutely hilarious), but that's all they were: breathers. Even the "revelation" speech, which is a rather large single speech (about four minutes of just _one person_ talking), didn't seem dull; there were enough viewpoints of the humanoid and enough stunned reaction shots to make it all very watchable indeed.
One of the best series of scenes had to be those centering on the Cardassian attack. We all knew the computer results would be a big deal, and we expected something big would come of it. And guess what? Something did, but Picard had already anticipated it and beaten Ocett to the punch. This is the sort of high-stakes strategizing Picard has been shown to be *very* good at in the past, and everything fell just as neatly into place here.
The pacing was a bit slower in the early bits leading up to Galen's death, but that was probably by design, given that until then there was no time pressure inherent in the show except the constraints of doing a show that runs 45 minutes. :-) Here, too, everything ran about as long as it had to without overstaying its welcome. Well done.
In terms of writing, "The Chase" had several stories in one. The first was Picard managing to disprove Galen's final accusation, that "as a scholar, [he was] nothing but a dilettante." The second was "the chase" -- regardless of goal, the idea that _somehow_, here was a contest the Federation couldn't afford to lose. The final one was the mystery causing the chase, and in the end answering the long-standing Trek question of "why is everybody humanoid?"
The first story was primarily setup -- once the chase itself begins, nothing about Picard's underlying motives is really mentioned until the very end. However, Picard is very clearly edgy throughout all of the show: if you watch, his eyes are darting around much more than usual, he's cutting people off much faster than usual (such as Troi in the ready room, but I'll get to that), and he's always moving. A great example of this is right after Galen's death: he has to *get up and pace* to think out the next move, which seems very rare for the captain we know. Intriguing.
The chase sequence itself succeeds more due to the directing and acting than to the writing, but that's the function of chase sequences: once you've set them up, they stand or fall on execution. These did: just when you thought the rules had been firmly established, they changed. They go to a planet that should work, *but* it gets destroyed before their very eyes. The Cardassians show up -- but wait, so do the Klingons just to mix things up even more. They finally reach the planet and are caught -- not only by the Cardassians, but then by the _Romulans_ as well. The chase, as it was meant to, piled the suspense ever higher until the viewers start getting fidgety (or their heads explode, but that's much rarer :-) ). Good job.
Then comes the mystery. This was a two-part question in itself. The first was "what was Galen doing?", and was answered once they'd figured out the number blocks. The second was "what does the program do?", and was the Big Mystery [TM] that had everybody wondering. The first mystery is the only case where it seemed the characters weren't quite thinking clearly -- after all, since Picard knew Galen's work centered on microscopic _fossils_, maybe doing pattern searches related to _life_ was a logical choice even before Indri Eight was destroyed. Apart from that, though, everyone said and did everything right, which is what we needed.
The second mystery was handled far better. Although I'd have preferred a little more discussion about what everyone thought it might be, I've already noted that there wasn't really time to do so within the context of the show. Most of the second mystery was primarily backdrop for the chase, and as such proved a wonderful goad.
The reactions to the revelation were done to perfection. The Cardassians and Klingons, usually depicted as the more "primitive" of the four empires, responded with the expected utter disgust, right down to Nu'Daq's "if she weren't dead, I would kill her!" Great. Picard's reaction was pure Picard, and the really intriguing one was the Romulan reaction. Looking back after the final scene, it's interesting to notice that he seems the _most_ intrigued by the alien's statements, and that he's the only leader who doesn't say _anything_ after it's over. The message there might well have been taken to heart, which makes one wonder about how this will affect future Romulan-centered stories. Interesting.
The performances, in almost all cases, were superb. After I got over my shock of seeing Norman Lloyd (Galen) playing someone sympathetic [my strongest memories of him are in "Dead Poets Society", where he is a decidedly *un*sympathetic character], I very much enjoyed seeing him and Stewart playing off each other. I found it very easy to think of them as teacher and student, or almost father and son. The leaders of the "other three" races were all classic: Nu'Daq was a very animalistic Klingon, with just enough sophistication not to make a mess on the furniture :-) ; Gul Ocett had the very common Cardassian trait of refined, almost _snobbish_ sliminess; and the Romulan leader got to be smug. None went too far beyond that, but none had to -- this wasn't their story.
It *was* Picard's story, and Stewart continued in a line of very strong performances that can carry a show on their own. I can't speak for anyone else, but I found the scene where he had to turn Galen down utterly wrenching, in part because I expected he'd decide to go and take the Enterprise with him to shorten the time. Having recently done my utmost to persuade someone to follow in my footsteps (i.e. leave school and go into teaching, or more to the point accept an offer to do so :-) ) and failed, I already had a slight understanding of Galen's point of view -- Picard's actions have now given me a little more.
Stewart also truly shone after Galen was killed (and during, for that matter -- those eyes almost looked panicked when he was being beamed aboard). I've already mentioned his surprising lack of patience, but his lack of introspection is equally interesting. Under normal circumstances, Picard really might have stopped and thought about Troi's implicit criticism -- this time he just bit her head off without so much as a by-your-leave. It was *very* atypical of our friend the captain, and extremely interesting to watch. Finally, his grief and near-loneliness after fulfilling Galen's dreams were very visible in that final scene, and in all the right ways.
About the only performance that had a few difficulties was that of Gates McFadden. In particular, the two scenes in Picard's quarters felt off-key, and I think it's because McFadden didn't hold up her end. I realize that both times, the character was basically a sounding board for Picard, but even so we needed a little more reaction than a flat "and then what?", which was the sort of thing we got.
Now, a few short comments on "The Chase" as a show before I get into part 2:
-- A computer program using organic life? Which one of Ron Moore and Joe Menosky is the Douglas Adams fan? I was half convinced the number 42 had to show up *somehow*. :-) (Actually, I'd bet my right arm that Okuda has it sitting in the number blocks somewhere...)
-- (Thanks to Lisa for this one.) An _extremely_ nice and subtle point that you can take from the show is in the figurines. Yes, an individual may have "many voices" inside, leading to many-in-one; but after the revelation, the whole skein of the TNG universe can also be looked at as one-in-many! Interesting? I think so...
-- A writing oops: they checked all the non-Federation people on the Enterprise and *didn't* have the Klingon cell in place? This is the second time this season people seemed to be forgetting that Worf *is* a Klingon... try something beyond the ponytail, Dorn. :-) :-)
That sounds like enough. (More than enough -- this may be my longest review to date.) Now, on to my other response: =========================================================================== II: "The Chase" as a depiction of science
My reaction here is about the revelation _itself_, and about some of the reasoning leading up to it.
By way of prologue, and by way of pre-answer to some of the responses I know I'm going to get: Yes, I'm well aware that TNG is fiction. A television show. That's not the point. Also, much of this reaction comes out of my own upbringing and my own background, and so is likely to vary very wildly for anyone else. If you like, think of this as saying more about me than about the show (though I believe otherwise, and hope that this section gets taken seriously). That said...
I find the reasoning in the conclusion extremely flawed, and flawed in such a way as to make my skin crawl. Having genetic material seeded throughout the galaxy is fine, and having it coincidentally make everyone human is reaching, but fine.
Having anything seeded once to reach a particular "end product" is NOT fine. At all, and I'll explain why:
(No, this won't be a genetics rant -- I'm not a geneticist and never will be. This is a general evolution rant that turns into a philosophy-of-science rant. If you don't give a damn about it, too bad -- I do.)
Evolution is only "goal-oriented" up to a point. That point is *survival*. If a trait helps a species survive, it stays in; if it doesn't, it tends not to. One cannot start with one initial condition and expect to "engineer" anything without controlling the natural environment as well. For example, I could think of a few hundred species of dinosaur that would object to calling humanity evolution's end product had they not been wiped out by a chance meteor collision 65 million years ago. Unless you're claiming these aliens also did *that*, you can't argue that the "humanoid" traits stayed in by design, because were it not for that collision, we almost undoubtedly *would not be here*.
That's the technical side of it. That's a problem, but it's not what's got me ticked off. What has me ticked off is this:
Implying that anything is an intentional "end result" of evolution is a classic example of something called the "grand design" fallacy. Geordi even references it in the show, when he asserts quite confidently that the pattern they're seeing COULD NOT have occurred randomly.
To be blunt, that's utter bullshit.
Things that are so improbable as to be "impossible to occur randomly" happen every time you shuffle a deck of cards, or if you look at who lives through a particular day and who doesn't. Having whatever combination of DNA each one of us has is a one-in-something-incredibly-large shot.
This is a rotten, rotten abuse of statistics. Yes, there's a very low probability this thing might have happened. But there's a very high probability that *something* would happen, and if we just happened to get such-and-such, that's the way it works.
This kind of fallacious reasoning is one I've seen used in arguments to justify creation "science", and things like Von Daniken's horrible "ancient astronauts" claptrap in the 1970s. It is a _fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of probability and of science_. Period.
I know, I know. "Lynch, it's fiction -- who cares?" I care. It's _science_ fiction, or so everyone keeps saying -- and as a friend of mine put it, "There's a difference between cheesy science and bad science." Technobabble glitches that use technical-sounding words wrong is cheesy science that makes you react the way you would to a bad pun. This is BAD science, and is in fact exactly the type of rancid critical thinking that I went into teaching to fight.
The grand design fallacy is a step below evolutionary "manifest destiny", saying "Oh, gee, this is all so unlikely that it was *meant to be* this way." The number of directions that argument could take is frightening -- who's to say that the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs wasn't "divine retribution that was meant to be"?
In fact, I consider the message coming out of the show to basically BE creationism, except that instead of "God" in the "theory" you get "extremely powerful aliens".
As a scientist, a humanist, and an atheist, I find that claim utterly repugnant -- and I can't remember the last time I was this furious at Trek in any form.
For pity's sake, this is a show that _boasts_ about trying to have good science, and has a very reputable, very intelligent science advisor on board in the person of Naren Shankar. Either he wasn't around when this story was broken, he spoke up but was overruled, or he _didn't notice_. I'm going to hope it was the first possibility -- if it was the second, then start *listening* to the science advisor on occasion, and if it was the third, I don't want to know unless there's something major I'm overlooking. (The fact that he's an engineer and not a biologist is one thing -- but neither am I, and I recognized the fallacy as poor thinking when I was an undergraduate.)
I think I've said all I feel I need to on the topic. I do apologize for those who don't want to read my philosophizing in the middle of a review, but I considered this entirely too important to ignore. It's been days since I saw "The Chase", and my teeth still grind when I think of this.
So, that said, on to the numbers. Against my better judgement, I'm going to stick with the tripartite system of Plot/Plot Handling/Characterization for now, but be extremely wary of them.
Plot: 9 : The former number is as drama, the second is with the incredibly poor thinking included. Plot Handling: 10. No complaints. Characterization: 9. A little off for Gates being flat here and there; otherwise brilliant.
TOTAL: 9.5, OR 7. Use the latter number if you agree with me about the latter half in any way.
Riker's mind snaps -- or does it?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: email@example.com UUCP: ...!firstname.lastname@example.org "How can I accept this?" "Graciously, Mr. Picard. You _could_ accept it graciously." -- Picard and Galen -- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Technical design, graphic design, interactive features, HTML & CGI programming by Andrew Tong. || All materials Copyright © 1987-1995 by their respective authors. || Document created: June 5, 1994 || Last Modified: November 09, 2010