Written by Naren Shankar and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Lederman
In most television shows, when the episode is designed to send a “message”, the most effective way is very subtle. Usually there’s a moment near the end where it relates to a current event or issue that the light goes on. If it’s well don, it makes you think. If it’s poorly done, then it’s easy to dismiss, especially by those who don’t believe the same message the episode is trying to send.
Unfortunately, Forces of Nature is neither subtle, nor well-done.
The Enterprise is dispatched to search for a medical ship gone missing. The area of space where the U.S.S. Fleming was last known to be is one with an abundance of tetryon particles which wreak havoc on the navigation systems of ships. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) suggests that the Ferengi might have stolen valuable cargo the Fleming was carrying.
Once the Ferengi ship is located, it gives the appearance of being dead in space; unable to move with limited power. However, the Ferengi soon begin firing on the Enterprise and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) soon realize they were being lured in close to the ship. After a series of discussions, Picard manages to negotiate helping the Ferengi repair their ship in return for access to sensor logs which may reveal the last heading of the Fleming.
This intricate story is actually all filler for the main story, which begins about twenty minutes into the episode. Once the Enterprise begins heading off in the tetryon-free corridor toward where they believe the Fleming will be found, they encounter a probe which disables the Enterprise the same way the Ferengi vessel was found. The ship is then boarded by two aliens (Margaret Reed and Michael Corbett) who maintain that the use of warp engines are destroying their world. Their goal is to get the Federation to prohibit the use of warp engines in the corridor, and for their own world to give it up as well. Still, most of what they believe is a theory and there has been no concrete proof that what they are saying will happen is actually going to happen.
Sound a little like the global warming argument? Unfortunately, it’s so poorly done that no one is going to take the message seriously. Even the most die-hard Star Trek fans aren’t going to have that a-ha!!! moment and decide to trade in their SUVs for more economical and environmentally-friendly vehicles (in fact, I’d like to take a poll of what vehicles the cast and crew in this episode were driving at the time). No one is going to convert to solar energy because of what’s seen here. The message is too much a doom-and-gloom one, essentially saying that if you don’t immediately cease all use of fossil fuels we’re doomed to destroy ourselves instead of saying a few small changes can make a big difference.
The writing not convincing, and unfortunately the actors don’t seem to suit what is being said either. The scene where Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) wonders if he dismissed the aliens claims because he took them as a personal insult lacks any real emotion on his part. It’s like he’s trying to force some sincerity out of lines he just can’t believe he has to recite.
The only parts that work to a degree are the scenes between Geordi and the android, Data (Brent Spiner), as they talk about his cat. This secondary story is supposed to provide a little comic relief from a serious issue, but even this comes off as a silly diversion.
Force of Nature is definitely in the bottom five of Star Trek episodes. It’s poorly executed, and it’s a good thing the writers chose to drop the subject from any subsequent shows in the Star Trek universe.