I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.
“Force of Nature”
Look, this plot is pretty convoluted so you can read a really lengthy summary here. Basically, some scientists work to show that high levels of warp are causing some kind of distortions across the universe, which are bad. In the end, the solution of limiting warp speed across the board was offered and accepted, and the Federation shares its findings with other people groups.
Subspace emissions telescoping emitter proceed along the warp flux capacitor field.
I have now summarized a large portion of the episode. Seriously. It is insanely full of technobabble to the point where it just becomes completely meaningless. Yes, it was meaningless to begin with, but at least most episodes put the technobabble to some kind of purpose. Here, it seemed clear they knew they were talking about a charged topic (climate change) and decided to layer over it with so much obfuscating nonsense talk and hand-waving that they could appeal to the silliness of it all to say they didn’t mean it.
Another poor choice was to come to the conclusion that all ships would limit themselves to Warp 5 going forward. The moment they said this, you as a viewer knew it would never stick. It was the kind of one-off writing choices that seems epic at the time but cannot be consistently applied to the universe. Indeed, as I looked up the episode in the fantastic book Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (a book that covers every single episode with plenty of backstory about how they were made and insights from writers, etc.), I find that the writers themselves discovered that it was the ideal driving the story rather than the story leading to the conclusions.
It’s not a bad thing to have current issues imported into a science fiction show, however, and the core of the episode is actually pretty enjoyable. It was a journey of scientific discovery, however incomprehensible it was made behind the nonsense words. And, realistically, isn’t that what Star Trek is supposed to be all about? It’s weird because this is an episode that is, on its own, solid. As a one-off, it wouldn’t have been too bad. But it just doesn’t fit into the rest of the Star Trek universe. It’s a misfit, but one that was ultimately more enjoyable than it probably should have been.
Grade: B- “Technobabble. Climate change. Technobabble.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “The premise of warp destabilizing subspace seemed a bit out of left field, but the crew’s solution was good.”
Juliana Tainer and her husband come aboard the Enterprise. Juliana claims to be Data’s “mother,” having helped Noonian Soong (there are at least 3 common spellings of this name on the internet, by the way), her husband, construct him. Data is initially skeptical, but she seems to have memories only someone with such intimate knowledge could have, and her story seems to check out generally. However, Data’s suspicions are confirmed, in part, when it turns out she’s an android. She doesn’t know this, however, as a holochip from Soong explains to Data. Data must decide whether to tell her or not, and he decides against it, allowing her to achieve a humanlike life he can never fully attain.
Data has a mom! …and she’s been turned into an android to support a mad scientist’s desire to perpetuate his wife’s existence with artificial life.
Seriously, though, this was quite an enjoyable episode. It created a genuine sense of foreboding–you felt the whole time Data’s “mom” had a larger story to her–but it took it a different direction from the nefarious plots or galaxy-changing revelations that have become the norm at this point in the series. Instead, it turns out that the only thing that is amiss is that the woman is an android made by a lonely genius.
The episode also played upon the moral issues that might come up with just such a scenario. Would you tell her that she’s an android? Is it right to do so? Is commitment to truth a higher good than the mental comfort of others?
These are not easy questions to answer, and Data’s answer is, ultimately, to conceal the truth. Interestingly, this may have been the most compassionate thing he could have done–a truly human action. Data’s character growth, again, shines in this episode.
Grade: A- “Frankenmom.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a good character-development episode for Data, but lacked a sense of urgency for the story.”
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