Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cause and Effect   Rewatch 
May 17, 2021 8:16 AM - Season 5, Episode 18 - Subscribe

The destruction of the Enterprise near a distortion in the space-time continuum causes a temporal causality loop to form, trapping the ship and crew in time and forcing them to relive the events that led to their deaths.

It's funny. I feel like we've discussed this before, and I remember giving you a link to Memory Alpha.

Story and script
  • Writer Brannon Braga came up with the story of this episode while thinking of ways to avoid standard time travel cliches. "I love time travel stories and I don't know who doesn't. We wanted to do a time travel story that had never been done before," Braga recalled. "Being trapped in a time loop is one I've never seen before." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 241)
  • Due to the nature of the episode, the production staff were careful to make each iteration of the loop unique. Braga commented, "In a way, doing the same scenes over was comforting; it was fun to come up with different takes and to think how I could get that glass to break each time. It wasn't until I got to the final draft that I thought to have the glass break over the intercom on that final loop through. So it was finding those little nuggets and pathways and weave through as we were structuring it. That was a terrific challenge." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 241)
  • Taking the decision to incorporate the Enterprise's destruction as the climax of each time loop enabled Braga to begin the show with, as he described it, "the ultimate teaser." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 195))
  • Herb Wright noted, "It's a helluva challenge because when the audience has seen it once and you show it to them the second time, the temptation for them is to jam the button on the remote. The challenge is how do you keep them excited, motivated and involved and wondering what the fuck is going on. And in the teaser you're starting off and you've destroyed the ship so if that isn't going to get you to tune back in, I don't know what will." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 242)
  • Director Jonathan Frakes recalled, "When I got the script to 'Cause and Effect', I thought it was joke from Brannon Braga. I read Act One. I read Act Two. I read Act Three. I read Act Four. I read Act Five. And I said, 'You guys are screwing with me! C'mon!'" (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 249)
  • To ensure that the episode would not be misinterpreted as a clip show, Rick Berman instructed Frakes not to reuse any footage and ensure every loop was filmed in a different way. As such, some of the scenes in this episode were shot using multiple cameras in order to prevent having to shoot the same shot twice at different angles. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 242) Frakes recalled that it was a great challenge, particularly for scenes set on the bridge. "I'd watched a lot of directors by then, and directed a few episodes, so I knew all the possible bridge angles – and I think I used all of them." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 249)
  • The TNG staff wanted Kirstie Alley, who played Kelsey Grammer's Cheers co-star Rebecca Howe, to reprise her role as Saavik as the female bridge officer standing next to Captain Bateson on the Bozeman, but scheduling conflicts prevented this from happening. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 195))
Visual effects
  • Originally, the USS Bozeman was going to be a Star Trek: The Original Series-era studio model of a Constitution-class starship, and co-producer Ronald D. Moore, a fan of The Original Series, even went so far as suggesting constructing a TOS-era bridge set for it. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (3rd ed., pp. 218-219)) These plans were abandoned due to the costs of creating the necessary ship, props, and costumes. The ship was changed to the Soyuz-class, a slight modification of the USS Reliant miniature, with sets and costumes reused from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (3rd ed., p. 195); Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 248) Therefore, the existing Miranda-class model was reused, with several add-ons to give it a different appearance. The modifications were designed by Greg Jein and Mike Okuda. The class was named for the Russian spacecraft. (Star Trek Encyclopedia (3rd ed., p. 457)) Okuda made use of the fan-produced Ships of the Star Fleet, Volume One (pp. 84-85) to make annotations on one of the blueprints for the adjustments, eventually seen on screen. Subsequent episodes of this and other series – "Relics", DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations", VOY's "Flashback", and ENT's "In a Mirror, Darkly" – included recreations of sets and costumes from The Original Series-era.
  • For this episode, it was felt that the special occasion of the Enterprise-D's destruction warranted a more realistic and impressive explosion. At the time, the standard technique was to superimpose footage of an explosion over stock footage of a physical studio model of the ship in post-production. In this case, four break-away models were filled up with pyrotechnics, and blown up while shooting from multiple angles. Typically, the debris of such models was discarded after use, but in this case the debris was gathered up on a hunch by Effects Supervisor Gary Hutzel. Hutzel recalled, "[W]e blew up a model for the Enterprise, by dropping it from the ceiling of the sound stage toward a high speed camera while timed charges went off to blow it up in mid-air. I went around with a cardboard box and picked up all the pieces of the model I could find, because I knew they would come in handy someday." The debris was later reused for the destruction of another Galaxy-class vessel, the USS Odyssey, in the DS9 episode "The Jem'Hadar". (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26, issue 6/Vol. 26, issue 1, p. 109)
  • This is the only episode where the Galaxy-class main shuttlebay was featured. Ed Miarecki's company, Science Fiction Modelmaking Associates, was contracted to construct a maquette of the bay. "This set miniature, built in five days, featured a hangar door, which worked like a roll-top desk, and was powered by a cordless electric drill. The two Shuttlecraft in the scene were named for the shows producers, 'Berman' and 'Pillar' [sic]." Miarecki also created three more tiny Type 6 shuttlecraft and one more Type 15 shuttlepod to go with his maquette. Despite being a significant feature of the Galaxy-class, the maquette, built around a wooden frame, never made another appearance. The maquette, measuring 9×48×57 inches was eventually listed as Lot 6779 in the It's A Wrap! sale and auction where it sold for US$3,050 on 17 February 2008.
  • This is the third episode in which we see a Galaxy-class starship destroyed, namely, the Enterprise-D.
  • Alyssa Ogawa's last name is first mentioned in this episode. Her first name was established in TNG: "Clues".
  • The Bozeman's "era" of 2278 would be set halfway between the events seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The wardrobe of Captain Bateson also establishes that Starfleet had switched to the red jacket uniform at least seven years before the "first" time the uniform was seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • This is the first reference to ejecting the warp core; while it is mentioned many more times, the procedure was not seen on screen until VOY: "Cathexis", which marked the first of several times the USS Voyager ejected its warp core. The USS Enterprise-E ejected its core in Star Trek: Insurrection.
  • This is the first episode to feature Ensign Ro's new hairstyle.
Poster's Log:

I've praised the cold open for S4E15 "First Contact" before but this episode is, hands down, the best cold open in the series. The Big E blows up in the first 30 seconds? Heck, yeah, I'm coming back after the credits.

I've never been a fan of using a slowed-down camera to make motions look faster ("The Naked Now", I'm looking at you) and this episode's version, as Data shuffles the deck, is particularly bad.

Data seems a little hot on the trigger reminding Crusher that it's her turn to bet.

The shot of the Bozeman coming through the temporal rift is gorgeous and a huge upgrade from the "emerging from the fog" look of the Enterprise-C from "Yesterday's Enterprise".

"... two thousand eighty five conspicuous examples of the number three". 2085 is, itself, a multiple of three.

The Enterprise has been looping for 17.4 days (also a multiple of three). Online stardate calculators place stardate 45652.1 at 4PM that day, giving us us 15 hours between the poker game and the 0700 meeting the next morning. The Enterprise and Bozeman went through 28 loops, give or take.
posted by hanov3r (28 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This was a surprisingly short episode! Super baller way to end the series, though. Which is up next, DS9 or Voyager?
posted by phooky at 8:23 AM on May 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm very fond of this one. It gave the OfBrazil household what might be its most frequent TNG reference: Picard's rushed line read of "ALLHANDSABANDONSHIP!"

It must've taken me ten years to realize that the only bit that actually got re-used here was Picard's opening captain's log.

The shot of the Bozeman coming through the temporal rift is gorgeous and a huge upgrade from the "emerging from the fog" look of the Enterprise-C from "Yesterday's Enterprise".

Absolutely, yes. More gorgeous and more dramatic.

Supplemental Addenda:
Unseen members of Cpt. Bateson's crew
Frasier meets Voyager on the Trek 30th anniversary show in 1996 (David Hyde Pierce was born to wear that uni)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:40 AM on May 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Great episode, though I've seen it so many times I sometimes feel like I am caught up in the loop myself.

Troi's line "we've got to get out of here" is kind of strange, it feels like they put it in just so that she'd have at least one line in the episode.
posted by skewed at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2021

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere included Explore Typhon Expanse, a decent Kli/Rom Space mission. Later upgraded to contain a built-in Romulan Outpost. A good one to solve with that handiest of Romulan scientists, Dr. Telek R'Mor.

The original set also featured Temporal Causality Loop(just ok) and the tournament-banned Raise The Stakes which followed the pattern of ante cards in Magic: the Gathering and went away just as quickly.

Frasier in Space here can complete Explore Black Cluster on his own. 4 Cunning though? Ouch. As U.S.S. Bozeman was mentioned in the First Contact film, it got a featured in its set as a slow anti-Borg ship.

Alternate Universe offered Senior Staff Meeting, an enticement to solve the more-risky space missions, which imperil your ship, verses holding back some resources when solving planets. Pretty darn good.

Holodeck Adventures featured All Threes and Data, Keep Dealing, ridiculously awesome draw engine cards which you'd see in virtually any deck. I may have gotten multiple booster boxes of this set just to make sure I had plenty.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:58 AM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

This week's two-fer theme is Ship Go Boom, albeit to very different effects; the next one is maybe my favorite Wesley episode, and this one is also great--kind of a slow-burn Groundhog Day, only they only gradually come to the awareness that they're looping. It was especially effective for me because I've had déjà vu all my life; every now and then, I'll swear that whatever I'm doing or experiencing at the moment I've already dreamed about. (And it's never really anything important; if I ever do dream about winning lottery numbers, you'll know because I'll write my memoirs, Don't Bother Buying This Book, Your Brother-in-Law Will Two Days From Now, in my expansive-yet-cluttered study in Stately Jack Manor.) Data's connecting the threes to Riker's pips is a bit of a stretch--Data has three pips on his collar, just not all the same color--but I'll allow it because the plague of treys adds to the general freakiness.

Troi's line "we've got to get out of here" is kind of strange, it feels like they put it in just so that she'd have at least one line in the episode.

That reminded me of Chekov's "Botany Bay? Botany Bay? Damn, we've got to get out of here!" from TWOK, likewise just a little too late.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2021

This contains the obligatory scene in which upon discovering a time-space anomaly, somebody suggests turning the ship around or reversing course and someone else says "for all we know that's what causes us to blow up" and somebody else says, "we can't afford to second-guess ourselves."

I don't know how often it happens in this series, but it sure seems like a lot, maybe because it gets repeated a couple of times in this episode.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Greatest Generation had previously praised the Frakes-directed episodes for the artsy things he does with the camera, although it hadn't much caught my notice while watching previous episodes. While watching this one, I was pleased with how the camera angles changed with each iteration of the time loop, and I guessed it might be Frakes at work.

This was my favorite episode of the season so far. I thought it was really tightly put together and I really felt the tension of being in a trap of deja vu. (I still have two episodes to watch in this season, and if the IMDB ratings are to be believed, Cause and Effect's ranking might get toppled yet.)

In the climactic part of each loop, I kept thinking that the problem was they engage the tractor beam too late--given a few more seconds they would have steered the Bozeman far enough away. So it was frustrating that Data didn't just do it without asking permission first (like he has a few times before) instead of "Captain, if I may have your ear for a moment...and I hope I'm not interrupting..."
posted by polecat at 10:40 AM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

It wasn't until I got to the final draft that I thought to have the glass break over the intercom on that final loop through.

It doesn't really make sense given that Crusher at that point doesn't know anything about the ship blowing up, but given the pause and the tone of her voice on the intercom after the glass breaks, It almost reads as if she's thinking, "No matter what we do, the glass breaks. No matter what we do, the ship blows up". It would have been haunting if they managed to squeeze in that bit with the glass after they decode the audio and find out their fate.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

"No matter what we do, the glass breaks."

The glass breaking bit here reminds me of one of the most fucked-up Choose Your Own Adventure books I ever read (pretty sure it was The Mystery of Chimney Rock) where you go into this spooky room and there's a spooky old lady in there and if you pick the wrong page, you clumsily shatter her drinking glass or a mirror or something and she won't let you leave the room until you clean it up, but when you choose the "Clean up the broken glass" page, it loops you back to breaking the glass again, and you can't ever leave and I always got the closing instrumental of "Hotel California" in my head.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

I had to tape TNG when I was a kid because my sister had dibs on the TV for 90210. I was SO UPSET when I watched this Sunday morning because I thought the VCR had somehow messed up. After the second loop I started fast-forwarding to try to see if it ever “fixed itself”. So I missed all the little changes... derp.
posted by sixswitch at 11:57 AM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The third member of my top three! For some reason, I'd always thought it clustered more closely near my other two, and I've been waiting eagerly to rewatch it and have avoided watching it for too long, knowing it was coming up. I love time loops, just love them, but I've always been surrounded by people who, especially after Groundhog Day became a hit and every single genre TV show was required to have a time loop episode, absolutely loathed them and so I internalized all the hate and never spoke about my love for them. It's funny now to realize that this actually came before Groundhog Day, and that it's not one of the subsequent mandatory derivations. (I think most people I know tend to do that, as well--lump this in with all the shows that felt they had to do a time loop episode because the movie was such a hit.)

I'd so internalized people's hatred of loops that when I had a great idea for a fanfic in a newly huge fandom at the time, I sat on writing it for a long time, but when I couldn't stop thinking about the story, I decided to watch all the time loop episodes of shows that I had access to to see what they did with them, and it's kind of fascinating in that pretty much every episode, including this one, structures the loop so that they have to solve some kind of problem of varying severity to break out. Within that structure, sometimes the severity of the problem gets worse with some of their solution attempts, but all of them are about solving a problem to get out of the loop. Groundhog Day didn't--Phil only gets out of the loop when he's become a good person who thinks about others and not himself. And it was interesting to see how much people hated that aspect--I would read reviews and backgrounds about all these TV series, and they always seemed to believe they needed that "terrible problem-->solution-->break loop" structure and felt that was superior to the nebulousness of Groundhog Day, whereas I loved that about the movie the most. Possibly it felt more necessary because of the time contraints of broadcast television, who knows, but it's intriguing that those TV episodes weren't so much about the personal growth of the characters.

As much as I love this episode, I never have really bought the three pips thing, it just doesn't seem enough of a leap someone could make in that amount of time, but I'm willing to accept that Data's magic positronic brain has enough handwavium in it that it could work. Especially since everyone is so thrown for a loop (I'll see myself out) by hearing those three snippets of previous events, I could see some lingering traces of wonkiness working for that. I especially like their choice of hearing the glass break over the comms.

My favorite part is when they're predicting each card, I just really love how wigged out they get, even Data is troubled. And that makes it so enjoyable when they think they're predicting the cards, but they get them wrong, and then the threes start coming up. The poker game and Geordi's visor were such clever ways of showing that something was off-kilter; I also really loved the eerie voices in Crusher's quarters. That, for me, is one of the best things about time loops, that eerie sense of déjà vu and that troubled feeling of "how the hell do I stop this." My boyfriend at the time haaaated this episode, but it really just catapulted me into being a time-loop lover for life.

Nice explanation of the power of threes, hanov3r!
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:30 PM on May 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, I've just noticed that tags get de-duplicated, so my tag joke of "timeloop groundhogday allhandsabandonship timeloop groundhogday allhandsabandonship timeloop groundhogday allhandsabandonship" never made it to the post. le sigh dramatique
posted by hanov3r at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2021 [8 favorites]

Warp core breach explosions have always been so underwhelming.

Am I just noticing for the first time Crusher's uniform having undergone its shift from blue to a shade of green?

Another instance of Crusher in sick bay at night. She's not even on duty, they call her in to check out Geordi.

Those shots of the camera looking directly at Riker and then at Crusher... I would have liked to have seen a ship between them even for a little while. Their relationship has always interested me going back to Farpoint.

Beverly trades her pink pajamas for her uniform to go visit Picard, but she has that thin little ribbon in her hair still. Very cute. Gates does a great job in this one. She can be very effective when she's not stuck playing, "I'm right."

This episode has one of the more effective moments of Data doing his thing when he turns his head back and forth as he listens to the voices and analyzes them. It doesn't involve any effects and Brent isn't doing anything really unnatural.. It's just very Data-ish.

I think they had the second-guessing conversation the first time in "Time Squared."

I agree the resolution with the number three is weak, specially when Data draws it out by looking hard at Riker first and then announcing what he's doing. In previous iterations, the collision took place almost immediately after Worf tried the tractor beam, so there really isn't time for Data to just take a look at Riker and consider things.

Over all, this one has far more pluses than minuses. The time loop is a lot fun. It is one of my favorites.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:53 PM on May 17, 2021

This was my first time watching this episode, and the more I chew on it the more I like it. This may be my favorite episode of TNG thus far. It's just so well-built and paced, and I can't even imagine what it would have been like to watch it as originally broadcast. [Enterprise explodes!] [Three minutes of detergent advertisements] [Enterprise explodes!] [Doritos advertisement] [Honda civic advertisement] [Enterprise explodes!] [Sunny D advertisement]

I nearly lost it when Worf, despite having been raised by and working with humans, uses the Klingon word "nIb'poH" followed by an awkward explanation instead of just saying "deja vu". I love it when he pulls this shit. "Commander, please ugHoS; that is, come in." "I have begun the ritual of du'mOHk, whereby food is prepared." "This sandwich has filled me with luHp'ka, a sense of satiation."

(I will admit to experiencing a bit of Edge of Tomorrow Tom-Cruise-getting-wrecked-style schadenfreude every time the ship went boom. "A bit" being the Klingon term for "a lot".)
posted by phooky at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

Cause and Effect is one of those episodes that I feel like I've seen the most (like I keep count!). It's one of the better mid-series episodes, where everything seems to gel and it doesn't have the usual BermanTrek problems. Hell, it's even a Ro episode, which doesn't hurt. The only quibble I have about Cause and Effect is the Bozeman. It's Season Five and they're still using the Miranda model (the model that would not die, just wait for DS9). Bad enough. But they morph it into the Soyuz-class (which is actually pretty cool looking, but that's not the point). But I do love those scenes. The Enterprise bridge becomes all dark and dangerous. And then the Bozeman itself is backlit by the distortion and is very mysterious looking. And then Frasier Crane himself (!!!) is on the overused guest bridge set (another quibble, sorry).
posted by Stuka at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2021

When my kids get old enough to watch Star Trek, when we get to this episode, I'm just going to shut off the TV after the cold open and tell them, "and that was the end of Star Trek."
posted by phooky at 1:45 PM on May 17, 2021 [10 favorites]

Am I just noticing for the first time Crusher's uniform having undergone its shift from blue to a shade of green?

One thing that I've noticed, watching the HD version of TNG on my super-duper 21st century TV that is not a lot smaller than the original Enterprise's viewscreen, is that often the reds on Picard's and Riker's uniforms don't match, and it kind of bugs me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:11 PM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have noticed lately that watching on Netflix, the HD transfer (or whatever you call it) for TNG is incredible, much better than most of the early 90's era shows available on streaming. DS9 and Voyager look markedly worse to me, fuzziness that doesn't resolve even in close-up shots.
posted by skewed at 2:27 PM on May 17, 2021

Thanks to Patrick Stewart's pronunciation and the fact that I wouldn't know the term "causality" for a few more years I thought that a "Korzality loop" was just Star Trek's way of describing what had happened in the episode. I must have watched the episode at some later time when I knew the term because I did have an aha moment when I finally understood what Picard was saying.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:28 PM on May 17, 2021

(pretty sure it was The Mystery of Chimney Rock)

It was! I forgot to write down what page it was, but that haunted me too, and I saved it:

"You bend over and pick up the pieces as fast as you can, putting them on the dining room table. When you bend down again for the rest of the pieces there seem to be as many as there were before. Wondering what's going on, you pause and glance around the room. Standing only a few feet away, watching you intently, is the tall sharp figure you recognize from the picture hanging in the hall -- Mrs. Bigley!

"I'm sorry I broke your cat," you exclaim. "I'll pay for it."

"Yes, you'll pay for it," Mrs. Bigley replies softly.

You resume picking up bits of broken china cat, but each time you bend over you see as many as there were before. No matter how fast you work, you are unable to pick them all up. Gradually, you realize that you are under the witch's spell, and that you must keep trying. . . and trying. . .

There Is No End

Typically the bad ends will have "The End" so this was.. different. Also, this was a book for kids.
posted by curious nu at 2:39 PM on May 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

TNG was shot on film, and IIRC for the DVD release (which projected to sell HUGE) they went back to the film masters. This meant basically redoing most of the special effects, which is why it wasn’t done for DS9, Voyager, etc.
posted by sixswitch at 4:17 PM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think they had the second-guessing conversation the first time in "Time Squared."

I think it happens again in “All Good Things…”
posted by Servo5678 at 4:52 PM on May 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

What a *checks notes* The Worm Ouroboros situation.
posted by ckape at 7:40 PM on May 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

Very interesting article about DS9 and Voyager missing out on HD, pretty sad. Thanks Halloween Jack.
posted by skewed at 8:36 AM on May 18, 2021

When my kids get old enough to watch Star Trek, when we get to this episode, I'm just going to shut off the TV after the cold open and tell them, "and that was the end of Star Trek."

They cried and cried, but deep down I'm sure they thought it was a really funny joke. I thought about loading up the rest of the episode, but it was getting pretty late.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

When my kids get old enough to watch Star Trek, when we get to this episode, I'm just going to shut off the TV after the cold open and tell them, "and that was the end of Star Trek."

I am reminded of a similar prank involving Toy Story 3.
posted by hanov3r at 11:27 AM on May 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

You know what this episode means, right?

It means that, during that final loop, Data was going around, all sneaky-like, tossing 3s around all over the place without even realizing it.

I imagine he took the time to put on a fake moustache and cat-burgling mask, even if he had no idea why, because Data is nothing if not extra.
posted by meese at 10:59 PM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

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