This is the earliest Next Generation story to put time travel
front and center in the plot, and it easily proves that the
Star Trek franchise continued to be largely clueless with the
concept. My lasting memory that this tale made no sense
whatsoever still stands after my latest viewing.
At best, I think the writers were trying to come up with something
as creepy and powerful as the early Twilight Zone episode
"Judgment Night" from 1959, in which a confused German passenger
is haunted by a vague déja vu of doom while
on a British boat crossing the Atlantic in 1942.
"Time Squared" doesn't manage to come close to the level
of excellence found in Rod Serling's piece.
I shall draw attention to three big problems with "Time Squared",
all of which I think need to be tackled head-on before this
story could have a chance of rising to become half-decent.
The first and most prolific is the large quantity of
"second guessing" that most of the crew spend way to much time
engaged in. As elsewhere, this kind of thing provides
low quality drama, as characters argue positions without
being able to cite anything convincing that backs them up.
This easily dissociates the audience from the characters,
preventing them from investing in them emotionally.
The writers basically need to figure out what is actually
going on, ensuring that it is something that will provide
an honest, engaging drama, and let the characters figure
out what is going on fairly early in the show, so that they can
spend the remainder of it engaged with something interesting.
Far too many dialogue scenes in this story are poorly constructed,
with characters unable to articulate the ideas that are consuming them.
The duplicate Picard may have a fairly legitimate reason for being
inarticulate for most of the episode, but near the end, when his
faculties are coming back to him, he is still unable to say a
single thing that makes any real sense.
Part of the lack of sense in this plot stems from the fact that
the writers never really show how the events of the episode
form the endless loop of time that seems to be stronger
than any other idea they put forth about what is going on here.
All we ever get is a visit from an alternate (parallel?)
Picard from the future who made a mistake that cost him his ship,
and HE seems to be about to make the same mistake again.
Nothing that unfolds on the character level
ever suggests that our Picard will loop back and become him,
or that he also encountered an alternate Picard before
he made his fateful initial decision.
The looping concept will be done fair justice in the
season five episode "Cause and Effect". Meanwhile,
"Time Squared" is a very poor substitute.
The second major problem is the inexplicable violence of the
Captain's last minute solution to the episode's "trick question"
plot. Now if it had been Kirk vs. Kirk concluding this episode,
I suppose we should expect them to get into a brawl, and rip each
other's shirts off before coming to a solution.
But this is Picard up against himself, for cryin' out loud.
Talking eloquently is his style, his trademark. How could he
not have found his solution that way? Instead it looks as though
he's shot his double dead. And Star Trek's values once more
go down the toilet when challenged by time travel.
Our third problem is the magic wand clean up that later takes place,
which sees the double of Picard and the El-Baz shuttlecraft
disappear into thin air as the Enterprise sails out of its danger
zone. In other words, the writers could no longer account for
the existence of these doubles, and copped out. It's all made
additionally ridiculous here by having O'Brien come down to the
shuttlebay to watch and report it to the others, when none of them
should have been able to expect this, and neither does it seem
a prudent way for them to spend their time during a shipwide
emergency and dangerous flight.
A side comment I want to make is on Riker's
omelette-making scene at the beginning, in that it seems to have
little to do with this episode, and everything to do with being
a partial set-up for the next episode "The Icarus Factor"
concerning Riker and his father.
If so, fair enough. But it does make this episode's
main plot feel even more empty and lost, as though it didn't
have enough quality content on its own.
It is another curiosity that when Picard and Riker put their
heads together to try and figure today's puzzle out, they
mention the Traveler from
"Where No One Has Gone Before" (TNG season 1)
as though that story had something to do with time travel,
which it never definitively did. They also mention
Dr. Mannheim's work from the episode
"We'll Always Have Paris" (TNG season 1),
completing the list of Next Gen. stories to feature time travel,
yet fail to note anything that the Federation has previously
learned from Captain Kirk and crew's exploits. Surely the
Federation formula tested in
"The Naked Time" (TOS season 1)
and later used to save the Earth in
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
would be an obvious avenue for alternate Picard to have used to get
to this crew? Or does Starfleet protect such dangerous secrets
with some form of conspiracy? Not too unbelievable, considering
how much they fear "alterations of the past".
Well, unlike other Star Trek time travel flops, "Time Squared"
never remotely approaches the kind of popular emotional
thread that has made fan favourites out of other episodes,
so this one is probably regarded as a bit of a stinker by all.
If so, it actually does deserve it.
Enough said. Next episode, please....
and the Season Two rankings
can now be found on their own page.)