I’m not going to check the stats sheets to see if this is true. But, it feels like every time TNG disappoints me with a weak episode—such as Episode 5.17 “The Outcast”—they follow it up with one that I absolutely love.
How’s that for a lead? Nothing buried there. I love Episode 5.18 “Cause and Effect.” It’s on my All-Time Best Trek list, for sure.
If you’ve watched the series, you remember this one. The Enterprise is caught in a time loop for whatever technobabble reason, where they are forced to relive the same day. Over and over. As the ship approaches a temporal distortion, another Federation vessel is emerging from it. The evasive action chosen each time—-using the tractor beam to push the vessel away from them (Data’s idea)—is unsuccessful each time, ending in a collision that destroys the Enterprise. This resets the loop and the day starts over again.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a science-fiction take on the movie Groundhog Day (one of the comedies that made my 10-List, by the way) until you realize that this episode first aired in March 1992, when Groundhog Day‘s release was still nearly a year in the future. Sure, it’s possible that someone on the TNG writing staff knew the premise of the movie and made a preemptive strike, I guess. That doesn’t really matter. Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution of the idea that gives it value. TNG did this one right.
By the way, this episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes, who played Will Riker. That makes this even more impressive to me.
The teaser itself ends with the destruction of the Enterprise. It doesn’t get any better than that. I didn’t have to sit through commercials while watching the episode on Netflix; however, if I had been watching this episode as originally televised, I would have stuck around to see what happened after the commercial.
We get some recurring events in the coming scenes. The poker game between Dr. Crusher, Commander Riker, Lt. Worf, and Lieutenant-Commander Data. Dr. Crusher is called to sick bay to treat Geordi LaForge, who is having a dizzy spell that almost led to his fall into the warp core. As Dr. Crusher is getting ready for bed later, she hears strange voices. The rest of this sequence plays out pretty much like the teaser, ending in the destruction of the Enterprise. Again.
We get another iteration of the day. This time, at the poker game, Dr. Crusher is experiencing deja vu and is able to predict which cards are about to be dealt. She uses her tricorder later to record the strange voices she is hearing. When Data analyzes the recording, he is able to determine that they are the voices of the crew. They learn they are in the temporal loop. Data has the idea to send himself a message, using his positronic brain, if they are doomed to repeat the time loop again. They are, and in the final moments after the two ships collide, he sends the message before the Enterprise is destroyed. Again.
The loop begins again. This time, when Crusher is guessing which cards are about to be dealt in the poker game, she is wrong. The first four cards are all threes, and then each player is dealt three-of-a-kind in their hands. Data notices an unusual occurrence of the number 3 in ship’s operations throughout the day. When they are about to collide with the new ship again in this loop, Data notices the three command pips on Riker’s uniform and realizes that all the 3’s have been a result of his message from the previous loop. Instead of using Data’s tractor beam idea, they use Riker’s idea to decompress the main shuttle bay instead. This works, and breaks the cycle.
When the crew computes how much time they’ve spent in the time loop, they figure that they’ve lost 17 days. The ship that came out of the temporal rift was the USS Bozeman. It turns out that they’ve been in a loop for more than 90 years. By the way, the Bozeman is commanded by Captain Morgan Bateson, played by none other than Frasier Crane himself, Kelsey Grammer. Even if I didn’t already love everything about this episode, this might have pushed it over the top for me.
This one is a no-brainer for me. 4 out of 5 stars.