In the eighteenth episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation, this episode should have been a disaster, BUT IT WASN’T. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Seriously, this should not have worked. Granted, when “Cause and Effect” came out, I believe that Groundhog Day hadn’t even been released. That would make this one of the more unique episodes of the show when it aired. Yet even when you discard that, you’ve still got an episode of this show that eschews the tropes and patterns you usually see in stories like this. It’s like The Next Generation knew there’d be a hundred billion shitty knock-offs for decades to come, so they just set the standard for everyone else.
Why does this episode rule so much?
The Cold Open
What a bold-as-all-hell, cruel thing to do to people watching this show. Like, I had a ridiculous reaction to this shit, and I can’t imagine if you were watching this in real time and tuned in to catch The Next Generation live and THIS IS WHAT YOU GOT. Well, I imagine you’d be pleased afterwards, but STILL.
I didn’t figure this was a time loop episode until the start of the third one because I assumed we’d get some other context for that cold open. That could not have been what actually happened, right? But then I’m watching the inevitable end. Again. And again. And it always seems to lead to that place. If that’s the case, how do you not bore viewers? How do you keep interest?
The brilliance here is in the details, many of them small and subtle. The show changes camera angles. Words are changed here and there. And throughout it all, there’s a growing sense from the whole crew that something is deeply, deeply wrong. I worried that we’d be getting a repeat of “Remember Me” when it seemed like Dr. Crusher was the only character aware of the time loop. Instead, with each new loop, more and more characters begin to question their perception of reality and the events that unfold around them. Through this, we get one of my favorite tropes ever: characters all working together to solve a mystery.
AND WHAT A MYSTERY. Y’all, I can barely believe how satisfying this ending is, too. The journey itself is certainly fantastic, despite that we’re dealing with four or five repeating sets of scenes. It should have been boring, but I was on the edge of my seat with each new loop. What would be different? Who would predict the next moment first? Could they stop the inevitable end to this loop even while they were aware of it happening? It’s all in the details, and that’s what made this so frustrating. Every time we got to that final scene on the bridge, I kept waiting for someone to remember that Data’s suggestion wasn’t going to work. And every time, NO ONE DID, and then I had to watch the Enterprise explode and WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS.
That last loop is a marvel of storytelling. I love that right off the bat, these characters are all ready to properly predict what’s going to happen, and IMMEDIATELY, the writers are all, “NOPE NO YOU ARE NOT.” It’s a brilliant move because it’s so jarring. We think they’ve figured out the pattern – which they have, by the way – but are then reminded that something else is going on. Granted, it was obvious the number three had something to do with the message Data sent at the last second in the previous loop. But it felt so ambiguous and useless that we’re left to float in our own dread. Nothing was changing. Dr. Crusher still knocked over her glass, Geordi still felt sick, and they still came upon the tear in the space-time continuum too quickly to pull away.
I actually found it entirely reasonable that such an obscure clue would work for Data because… well, he’s Data. He would be able to instantly interpret all possible solutions to the clue, including the one standing right next to him. It works for me, especially since we finally find out what the hell that ship is that comes out of the tear in space.
A SHIP THAT’S BEEN MISSING FOR LIKE 90 YEARS. Look, I was horrified at the crew being stuck in that loop for seventeen days, but being sent NINETY YEARS INTO THE FUTURE? Oh my fucking god, this is HORRIFYING. And that’s it. That’s the end. The Enterprise escapes the loop, and they get to bring these missing people home. (One of who is Kelsey Grammer????) The ramifications of that are left unexplored, so I found “Cause and Effect” to be a pretty haunting episode. Goddamn, this was so good!
The video for “Cause and Effect” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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