Season One - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Neutral Zone

Written by Maurice Hurley, Deborah McIntyre, Mona Clee, Hannah Louise Shearer, Tracy Torme, Hans Beimler, and Richard Manning
Directed by James L. Conway

Our mission is to go forward… an it’s just begun…

As the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation comes to a close, it almost seems as if the actors have finally become used to the characters they are portraying. Nowhere is that more evident than in the season finale The Neutral Zone.

While waiting for Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) to return from a conference, the crew encounters an ancient Earth vessel. The android Data (Brent Spiner) and Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) beam over to explore the ship, for in the orbit it is currently on they are sure it will be destroyed. Once over there, they discover that the ship once held cryogenically frozen humans from the late 20th Century. Not all of their capsules have survived the almost four centuries since then.

As Picard returns, Data makes the decision to bring the three humans whose environment was not corrupted back to the Enterprise. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) fixes the conditions which had killed them and they are revived.

Meanwhile, Picard has returned with news that all is not well in Starfleet. Many Federation outposts and starbases along the border of The Neutral Zone have been out of contact. Since The Neutral Zone represents an area of space between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, the immediate suspicion is that the Romulans have attacked.

As the Enterprise investigates, it becomes clear that the destruction is on such a magnitude that the Romulans could not have been responsible. How Picard and his crew can figure this when there has been no interaction with the Romulans for 50 years is beyond me. They state flat out that there is “limited information” known about them. It seems almost as if the information gathered during the “Captain Kirk” era of the original series is all they can go on. If one looks at the difference in weaponry on Earth in a period of 50 years, we can see an amazing progression, so why could this not be true of the Romulans?

While all of this is going on, the three humans from the 20th Century are attempting to adjust to their new surroundings. One was a housewife who is finding that she has to face life without her husband and two sons. One was a businessman who is having trouble facing a life where all the capitalistic values he held firm to have disappeared. The other is a country singer who just seems to take the changes with a shrug and wants to find the nearest party.

The visitors from the 20th Century make for some lighthearted moments during the show. When the businessman compares the Enterprise to the QE2 – a cruise ship – and Captain Picard realizes it, Patrick Stewart’s incredulous expression is priceless. When the housewife first sees a Klingon and faints, then refers to him later as “the guy with the … head” it brings some levity into what would otherwise be a very intense episode.

Anyone who’s watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will enjoy seeing Marc Alaimo who portrayed the Cardassian Gul Dukat on that show portray the Romulan Commander here. The Romulans have ventured across The Neutral Zone after their own bases were similarly destroyed. Picard strikes a bargain with him to share information, as both of them realize that the other party is not responsible. However, in a way only Alaimo can manage, he manages to menacingly announce that the Romulan Empire is back. We know that the Federation is not going to enjoy another 50 years of silence.

The drawing in of the Romulans into the series is a great idea. Since the Federation is now on peaceful terms with the Klingons, another villain is needed. The Romulans are a good choice since they are familiar to Star Trek viewers.

This is another episode like Coming of Age which sets up a two-parter to be concluded later on in the second season. Not a season-ending cliffhanger in the typical sense, it does give good air time to most of the characters and allows us to see just how comfortable they are in their roles. It shows promise for the future of Star Trek: The Next Generation without hitting us over the head with it.

There is still so much to do… so much to learn…

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  1. Interestingly, Gene Roddenberry eased off from his stated policy that Star Trek: The Next Generation would not feature any alien races – at least not in a major way – from The Original Series. Worf, of course, was the one exception, but Roddenberry nixed any idea of having too many familiar species in TNG. That’s why we rarely saw Vulcans in the early years, and that’s why the Ferengi were initially touted as the “new adversary power” to the Federation.

    It’s a good thing that he eventually saw fit to include Romulans, and that later we saw that the Klingons had factions that longed for the pre-Khitomer Accord days. The fact that not everyone was sold on peace with the Federation seemed to me – even then – more believable than if everyone had joined hands and started singing “Kumbaya.”