Season Five - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cause and Effect

Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

The teaser opening of this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation contains a spectacular effect of the Enterprise being blown apart. Just watching Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) scream the order to abandon ship, followed by that particular shot, I could tell I was in for an exciting ride.

Immediately after the title sequence, it’s easy to assume that the story is flashing back to what events led to the opening teaser. The Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn), Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden), the android Data (Brent Spiner), and Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) are playing a game of poker. There is a bit of deja vu on Dr. Crusher’s part, but it doesn’t seem too eerie to her until she leaves the game to attend to Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) who is complaining of a headache and dizziness. Dr. Crusher thinks she treated Geordi for this once before, yet he has no recollection of it. When she returns to her quarters, Dr. Crusher hears voices. Her report of this occurrence is not the only one.

As the crew continues their journey to an unexplored part of space known as the Typhon Expanse, a phenomenon appears in space. Soon after the Enterprise’s main propulsion system fails, and a mysterious vessel appears. This vessel collides with the starboard nacelle of the Enterprise, and viewers see the spectacular opening sequence.

And then we are treated to a Groundhog Day-like repeat of everything.

Much like that movie, the crew of the Enterprise is stuck repeating the same series of events over and over again until they get it “right”. In this case, however, they do not have recollections of previous events. Instead, the feelings of deja vu intensify with each repetition.

This is a remarkably well-done episode. Jonathan Frakes had another directing turn coming up, and lucked out again, much unlike Patrick Stewart. One has to wonder after the debacle that was Star Trek: Insurrection was it just that he luckily drew high-quality episodes, or was he truly gifted?

Watching the scenes repeat over and over again with just slight variances as it dawns on the crew what is happening kept me on the edge of my seat. I can imagine how hard filming this was, having to do the scenes four times, each time just slightly different. It’s fun watching the scenes and looking for the differences as well as the similarities, waiting to see which clues will trigger the realization that they’ve done it before.

Gates McFadden is really the featured character here if I had to say there was one. She is the first to begin to put things together. Her performance is fantastic, probably her best one of the series. It’s a part that makes me wonder why she wasn’t given meatier roles more often in the series. Most of the remaining cast proves that this is truly a great ensemble a cast as they work well together and are each given a distinctive role to play. As the same scenes are played over and over, it really gives an appreciation to the acting abilities of the cast that they are able to keep the characters exactly the same each time, except for the slight variations called for by the script.

Unlike the movie Groundhog Day, the Star Trek universe has a name for this phenomenon; it’s called a Causality Loop. While this is a terrific episode, I rather liked just not knowing why it happened rather than having an explanation.

Much was made of Kelsey Grammer’s guest appearance in this episode. If you tune into it just for that, I’m sorry to say you’ll be disappointed. His role as Captain Bateson of the U.S.S. Bozeman is actually only a brief appearance. He can’t be too competent of a captain, either, since the Bozeman was stuck in the Causality Loop for ninety years, compared with the Enterprise’s seventeen days.

This is one of those episodes that often makes it onto fans’ top-10 lists, and it’s a fair assessment. It’s got some terrific action, suspense, and acting. I highly recommend it, and you don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy it.

Previous episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outcast

Next episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The First Duty

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