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Too Short a Season
The Enterprise-D becomes a glorified taxi service for an Admiral who de-ages himself to death in a rather humdrum drugs overdose story
There's a hostage situation and an octogenarian Starfleet Captain is called in to negotiate. They beam him aboard in Captain Pike's hand-me-down wheelchair along with his wife, and zwoosh! Off we go to the planet Mordan IV to meet the terrorists. Dr Crusher is suspicious because his medical records are two months out of date and the Admiral’s miraculous recovery from a supposedly terminal disease has her borrowing Troi's catchphrase: "he's hiding something". Picard is on the ball and calls her on it. He's not captain for nothing! Jameson starts becoming frisky and chases his wife around their quarters. It seems he managed to get hold of some magic anti-aging plot devices for him and his wife, which he has bogarted, sending him rocketing back to his youth.
In a private transmission with Karnas, the leader of Mordan IV, it is revealed that there are no terrorists, and it is Karnas himself who is holding the hostages... and that he has a grudge to settle with Jameson. He’s probably upset that he spends most of the episode appearing on a viewscreen. Anyway, Dr Crusher inevitably discovers that the anti-aging process is unstable, and Picard learns the backstory... it seems that Jameson followed the Ronald Reagan school of terrorist negotiations - arming everyone and triggering a forty year civil war. The now-spritely Jameson beams down with an all-action away team who get into a fight with extras wearing welding visors for some reason. Karnas threatens to start executing the hostages so they pop over to have a rather dull confrontation before Jameson pops his clogs and we can all go home.
The Iran-Contra affair served as a major inspiration for this episode, a scandal for the Reagan administration that had come to light earlier in the same year that this episode was written and filmed. It's not a bad concept, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired... the problem is that the "alien de-aging drug" occupies the front-and-centre position in the storytelling
'Iverson's Disease' does a fair bit of work in the story, and gives Dr Crusher something to chat to the captain about other than viruses for a change. I find it odd that the writers don't spend any time establishing a good wording for the de-aging treatment - 'herb and drug combinations', 'alien de-aging drug'... it never quite gets a clear name. The planet it hails from, Cerberus II, is a nod to the guard dog for the underworld in Greek mythology, which probably seemed like a clever reference for escaping death by aging.
There's a brief mention of 'steelplast' as the name of the material that Yar and Worf cut through with their phasers... we will never hear from this substance ever again.
The episode is built around Clayton Rohner's performance as Admiral Jameson, although Marsha Hunt as his wife Anne gives a much stronger performance, despite getting fewer lines and a largely subordinate role in the script. Obviously, the 70 year-old Hunt is a more experienced performer than Rohner, who was only 30, but it's hard not to believe there are actors of that age who could have delivered a more powerful performance in the role of Admiral Jameson.
Much more satisfying is Michael Pataki as Karnas, an actor who we had seen in classic Trek as Korax, one of the Klingons in "The Trouble with Tribbles". He gives us a lovely menacing performance here, despite it being very much from the John-Colicos-as-Count-Baltar-in-1970s-Battlestar-Galactica school of bad guy acting. Colicos also played a Klingon in classic Trek - Kor, the very first appearance of a Klingon, in fact - and we'll catch up with him later in the same role in DS9, but that’s light years away from where we are now.
There's really not much for the Enterprise crew to do in this episode, though. It's a mystery to me why the script gives so much time to the guest stars and so little for the main cast... D.C. Fontana, who rewrote Michael Michaelian's draft, usually has a much better eye for this sort of thing. The high point is Yar and Worf cutting through a wall with their phasers, which is literally chewing up the scenery.
That said, it’s nice to see Yar doing something almost useful for a change.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
I have to say, the music in this episode by George Romanis (his only Trek score), is dreadful... but to make up for it, there are some absolutely gorgeous Okudagrams, that is, panels and displays designed by Michael Okuda. This colourful DNA image above is perhaps my favourite...
...although this picture of the tunnels on Mordan IV has a pleasing simplicity to it.
Let’s welcome back the green planet matte painting we last saw as Selay in "The Last Outpost"... have to make these expenses pay themselves back! Unusually, we get a second planetary matte when we arrive on Mordan IV. This is the first appearance of this planet, but don't worry, she'll be back twice more this season.
And welcome back also to the aging make-up that we used on DeForest Kelley in "Encounter at Farpoint, Part One", used here as a visual effects centrepiece for the episode. I imagine there was a lot of time spent in make-up for Clayton Rohner. It’s not the last time we’ll be using this bag of tricks either, as it will be back again in season two.
Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda made a really lovely kit-bash studio miniature of the surface of Mordan IV that you're supposed to be able to see through the window of Karnas' office. Can you see it…? Can you heck. What a shame. See for yourself! You can very nearly see one of the towers behind Picard’s elbow…
Finally, let's enjoy Karnas' 'Wall o' Weaponry', which is entirely made up of guns…
…although, in a brief foreground shot, we also get to see two eagles that Q was using to decorate his courtroom back in "Encounter at Farpoint, Part One".
As usual, when a TNG plot lets you down, you can still enjoy the props.
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