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The Neutral Zone

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 3
Disc No : 1.6 Episode : 25
First Aired : 16 May 1988 Stardate : 41986
Director : James L. Conway Year : 2364
Writers : Deborah McIntyre, Mona Glee Season : 1
Guest Cast :
Anthony James as Subcommander Thei
Gracie Harrison as Clare Raymond
Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
Leon Rippy as Sonny Clemonds
Marc Alaimo as Commander Tebok
Peter Lauritson as Thomas Raymond
Peter Mark Richman as Ralph Offenhouse
Moral :
Romulans : They're back, and they're more smug than ever
YATI : When Picard orders security to get Offenhouse off the bridge, they start to escort him out, then stop when the Warbird appears and spend the next few minutes gawking at it while their prisoner further disrupts the proceedings. This seems like a serious lack of professionalism to me.
Great Moment : Definitely the huge Romulan warbird sweeping in menacingly towards the Enterprise.
Body Count : An unknown number killed on the Neutral Zone outposts, although it's not clear that this happens in the episode. Ditto for the two dead on the sleeper satellite.
Factoid : Data claims that it is 2364 in this episode, and this line is used as a reference point to calculate many, many other dates in Star Trek.

Although they are never seen, this episode introduces the Borg as they prove responsible for scooping up the Federation and Romulan outposts.


Plotline

The Enterprise encounters a primitive Human ship carrying a cargo of cyrogenically-frozen people from the late 20th century. Finding three of the people still in a recoverable state, Data beams them back to the Enterprise for revival. Meanwhile Picard announces a vital mission; several of the Starfleet outposts along the Romulan Neutral Zone have apparently been destroyed, possibly signalling new activity from that long-dormant power. The Enterprise has been ordered to proceed to the area to investigate... and possibly to prepare for war.

The revived Humans are Claire Raymond, Ralph Offenhouse, and L.Q. "Sonny" Clemonds. As the ship proceeds on course the three struggle with the reality of finding themselves in the 24th century; Offenhouse especially can hardly grasp the idea that all of his carefully planned long term business investments are now gone in a future in which money simply does not exist. Raymond struggles with the idea that her husband and children are long dead, whilst Clemonds seems largely unaffected by the idea of being in the future - his only real concern being the unavailability of recreational drugs.

The Enterprise arrives at the Neutral Zone to find the outposts literally missing, as if some great force had simply scooped them up off the surface of the planets they were located on. As they investigate Offenhouse bursts onto the bridge, demanding to talk to Picard. A Romulan approaches as security take him in hand, barely detectable through its cloaking device. Picard holds his fire and the ship vanishes from sensors; he concludes that it had deliberately let itself be found as a way to test Picard's intentions. The huge vessel decloaks before the Enterprise and hails. The Romulans reveal that their own outposts have also been destroyed. Offenhouse correctly realises that the Romulans are as much in the dark as Picard is, and are hoping he might know the answers but are too arrogant to ask. Picard proposes that both ships work together on this issue, and the Romulans agree before returning to their own space. Before leaving they send a final warning; they are unhappy with Federation expansion during their absence, and are now back for good. Picard muses that his life just got a lot more complicated.

The three 20th century Humans finally begin to adapt to their new surroundings; Offenhouse talks to Picard about the challenges of a future without capitalism, while Raymond locates her own descendants with Troi's help and resolves to go and meet them. Picard arranges for another ship to take them on a leisurely trip to Earth, giving them plenty of time to adapt to life in the 24th century.

Analysis

Not the greatest of episodes, this one is all set up for a "Balance of Terror" style confrontation between Picard and the Romulans... but it never happens. Instead that turns out to be very much the B story, while the 20th century Humans provide the main material. It is amusing to watch them flounder in their new surroundings; not a comedy episode as such, but more than a few smiles are provoked.

For all that it is the B story, the reappearence of the Romulans provides the most lasting contribution to Trek lore. This is the first episode we see the D'Deridex class Warbird, and a suitably big and menacing beast it is. It's also nice to see the Romulans shown as more cunning, calculating villains rather than the "let's go to war!" approach so common to bad guys.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 12,667 Last updated : 12 Mar 2013