In the twenty-fourth episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, there are no words to describe this experience. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
What the hell was that episode?
I’ll admit right from the start that this did not go as I expected it would. That’s both to its benefit as a story and to its detriment. It’s a bizarre concept, executed in a manner that seems to focus solely on how awkward everything can be, and resolved in a way that highlights the experience over everything else. It’s not a bad episode at all! I’m just… I DON’T KNOW, Y’ALL. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO FEEL EXCEPT RELENTLESS DISCOMFORT.
Let’s start here: The idea behind this episode is brilliant. I can’t believe this is the first time we’ve seen the transporter create an exact copy of a person. What’s so fascinating about this is that each Riker shares the exact same life up to that point eight years prior when Lt. Riker got stuck on Nervala IV. Can a person change much in eight years? For the most part, both people had the same experience in life, so I think this story aims to tell us that, in the end, they’re really not all that different. Which is clever! It’s an interesting concept! It unfortunately makes for a very weird visual experience because…well, doubles are rarely used in fiction in this way. That’s why I think the subversions of the trope both work and don’t at the same time. They make this episode a constant surprise, but it’s such a slow pace, you know?
I’ll elaborate. I think it’s admirable that “Second Chances” is almost entirely a chance to do a character study on Riker and Deanna Troi. I greatly appreciate the fact that this episode spends so much asking both those characters to consider whether or not they made the right decision eight years ago. It’s a painful process, and we watch them struggle with their growing regret, or their burgeoning attraction, or their certainty that they did the right thing. And we get more backstory on these two in the process!!! It’s fantastic, and I think that it only adds to the depth of Riker and Troi.
At the same time, it’s not exactly an easy thing to watch. I spent most of “Second Chances” wincing and grimacing because everything was so relentlessly awkward. Obviously, it had to be. How do you deal with this? Both Rikers are real, and there’s literally no precedent in existence to cope with a situation like this. Does Lt. Riker get a job in Starfleet? Did he technically never leave Starfleet? Are they to be treated as two separate people who just happen to have similar service records? Do they keep Riker onboard the Enterprise or is that too weird to even deal with? HOW DO YOU ANSWER ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS?
Truthfully, you do it carefully. And even then? That doesn’t make this process any easier for everyone involved. That’s especially the case for Deanna, since Lt. Riker arrives in her life, ready to rekindle the romance that he’s been waiting eight years for…which she already moved on from. You can’t just restart something like that. You can’t erase your experience. At the same time, this story recognizes how unfair that is to Lt. Riker. He didn’t get to live out the life that Commander Riker has, and it’s clear throughout this that he resents it. While I honestly didn’t see these two versions of Riker as behaving all that differently, I think it’s very clear that one man is not the other. Lt. Riker isn’t used to the discipline of command, and his resentment easily spills over into every conversation he has with Commander Riker. Commander Riker isn’t exactly all that tolerable of his other half either, but only when Lt. Riker is in his presence. It’s fucking odd! I can’t blame him for feeling weird, given how HORRIBLY WEIRD I felt, and this wasn’t even happening to me!
The plot involving the data down on the planet wasn’t interesting at all, though, and I don’t necessarily think it was supposed to be. I honestly thought it was a set up to get Lt. Riker out of the picture. He’d either choose to remain alone at the base, or he’d die there while trying to retrieve the data. EXCEPT NEITHER THING HAPPENED. Neither! Lt. Riker survives, takes a job on another ship, and SURPRISES ME IN THE PROCESS. So, there are now two Rikers in the Star Trek universe? Holy hell, I can’t believe they actually did this. Granted, he’s still out of the picture; we’re not going to see him on the Enterprise, which I’m okay with. I don’t even know how they’d deal with that. Plus, I don’t think he should have stayed, given how much pain it caused Deanna to be thrust back into this dilemma again. In the end, she moved on years ago. She wasn’t going to go back.
Seriously, what a weird episode.
The video for “Second Chances” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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