Cause and Effect
(Star Trek - The Next Generation 5th season episode)
Brannon Braga entered the Star Trek universe
in Next Generation's fourth season and gradually rose
in the ranks to become one of the most important modern writers
in the franchise. The earliest trademark of his that
I became aware of was an affinity to throw some kind of
time travel or temporal dynamic into his stories, and
as this continued it seemed to become more and more locked
in the silly side of the issue, unable to grow beyond the
"City on the Edge of Forever" single-line-rewrite model.
However, he was more creative about it when proving himself
in his earlier efforts. Indeed, after contributing to about
half a dozen other scripts, the fifth season's
"Cause and Effect" is the first story in which Braga can
take full writing credit. On the surface, it looks like
a time travel story caught in a loop. But in another sense,
it's time travel in perception only, and is really more about
what it's titled after: "Cause and Effect".
Sound weird enough? Well, Braga puts an unknown distortion field
(think "cloud") in space to trigger his temporal dynamics,
something he will do more and more often, and because it's
a sci-fi unknown, he can have it do to time whatever he wants.
Hard to argue with.
In fact, the premise for this story is quite cool, and produces
a fascinating episode. In every way, this story succeeds in doing what
season two's "Time Squared" episode
attempted and failed, while
also overpowering the chronic historysis featured in the
Doctor Who story "Meglos" (no. 111).
One of the earliest caveats I might bring against the episode
is the unlikelihood that a person either can or will make
all the same choices to produce identical outcomes if given a
chance to go back in time and do things over.... which Braga
neatly takes care of from the outset by demonstrating that
Data's "sufficiently randomized" card deck deals out the exact same
hands to all the poker players each time the loop restarts.
Brilliant. All the same, events outside of a certain radius
are most definitely not in this loop, so you have to wonder if
some outside influence wouldn't be able to force events into
a slightly different shape..... food for thought.
Anyway, there clearly is room here for the characters to make new choices
as they go on, plus the sense that certain habits and personality
traits pretty much take over by default unless they exercise their
power to choose. All very good.
There does arise the danger of boring the audience when asking them
to sit through identical scenes over and over, but this danger
never really goes too far, as many creative ways of making
variations are made use of.
The Next Generation has by now learned to rotate main character
status amongst the ensemble cast, and for this episode, we zero
in on Dr. Crusher as the prime experiencer in the loop. Sometimes
the differences between one loop and the next are merely her subtle
emotional reactions, which she plays quite well throughout.
But her primary function in the story is a bit limited to detecting
the problem ahead of the others and spearheading the team's
emergence into awareness. Once there, she is happy to hand the
lead over to Data and Geordi to figure out the details,
and Picard and Riker to decide what to do about it, and she
winds up with less and less to do near the end of each loop.
By the time we get to the final loop, Data has really taken over
the main character spotlight, although at such a late stage,
he won't quite overshadow Crusher as the main character.
And by seeing the loop through his eyes this time, the shift
in perspective goes a long way to keeping things interesting
for the audience.
18:58 of Dennis McCarthy's score for "Cause and Effect" is available here:
Star Trek - TNG
The Last Outpost / Too Short a Season / Gambit
3-disc Audio CD set
Find out more....
It's very refreshing to see that, as soon as the characters become
scientifically aware of the loop, the concept of idle second-guessing
comes up and gets quickly nipped in the bud by Captain Picard.
Excellent move! This also helps to keep the quality of the script
All in all, I think we have to give Brannon Braga good marks
for his first solo Star Trek script. It is definitely one of the
memorable winners of the Next Generation's fifth season
(even if, like me, you don't always remember which season it's in).