Star Trek: The Next Generation: Time's Arrow   Rewatch 
June 14, 2021 9:47 AM - Season 5, Episode 26 - Subscribe

An engineering team finds evidence of an alien presence on Earth in 19th century San Francisco: Data's severed head, buried five hundred years ago. (Season finale)

It's just that our mental pathways have become accustomed to Memory Alpha's sensory input patterns.

Story and script
  • Rick Berman and Michael Piller had originally decided not to end the fifth season with a cliffhanger, but the development of the spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine changed that. Piller remarked, "Because of all the attention DS9 was getting and the rumors that TNG would be shutting down, we wanted to send a message that this show was alive and well and continuing to grow". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 205))
  • Throughout the season, the writing staff considered a story where Data had to pass himself off as a humanoid on a planet for a lengthy period of time. They were unable to make it work, as they could not come up with a plausible reason why the Enterprise was not coming back. The idea was finally used when someone suggested time travel. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 249)
  • A number of different time periods were considered, including the 1930s, '60s, and '90s. The latter was rejected as having "been done" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 205))
  • While debating the setting, it became a running joke among the staff that Data would go back in time to save John F. Kennedy from assassination. Coincidentally, the producers received a spec script with a very similar premise only two weeks after this episode's script was completed. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 249)
  • The late 19th century was finally chosen by Rick Berman, who came up with the idea of Data meeting Mark Twain. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 249)
  • Joe Menosky suggested involving Guinan, which intrigued Piller. He remembered, "I said if she was alive, what if that's where she met everybody and what if that's where the relationship with the Star Trek group started and she met Picard. Ultimately that's where Picard helped her out of trouble back then and she came back to find him before he met her, knowing she was going to be on the Enterprise to complete the circle." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 249)
  • Before writing the episode, Menosky spent time studying Twain's writings, particularly his essays and lectures, to find his "voice". He remembered, "People thought I actually was quoting him, but I was just writing the way I thought he would speak." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 266)
Cast and characters
  • Michael Piller tasked David Livingston with approaching Whoopi Goldberg to confirm her availability. Goldberg loved the idea, and committed to both parts. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 249)
  • Marc Alaimo gives his last TNG performance in this episode as the poker player, Frederick La Rouque. His next Star Trek appearance is as Dukat, his most famous character, in "Emissary", the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Jerry Hardin plays the role of Samuel Clemens, which is the real name of the writer Mark Twain. He can also be seen as Radue in TNG: "When The Bough Breaks" and as Dr. Neria in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Emanations". According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 215) , Hardin had never played Twain before, but became so enamored with the character after these two episodes that he created a one-man touring show about him.
Production
  • This is the last episode in which the flying title "Star Trek The Next Generation" appears.
  • The San Francisco exterior scenes were shot on location at historic Pico House and along Olvera Street, the restored area near the first mission in old Los Angeles. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 205))
  • For a brief moment, a member of the production staff can be seen behind a wall in main engineering at the beginning of the episode. This is the fourth time on TNG where a production staff member was accidentally filmed. The first was a camera operator in "The Naked Now", the second two boom operators in the episode "Angel One", the third one boom operator Bill Gocke in the episode "Unification II", the fifth was June Abston Haymore in "Birthright, Part I", and the sixth an unknown boom operator in the episode "Journey's End".
  • The beacons used to erect the large force field were previously seen in "Power Play".
  • The severed Data head used in this episode was seen again in "Phantasms" and was later used as the severed head of a Borg drone in VOY: "Unimatrix Zero".
  • Data is incorrect in identifying the 1873 Colt .45 cavalry revolver as being double action. It is in fact, single action as the hammer must be cocked manually before the trigger can be pulled to fire the weapon. Double action revolvers can be cocked and fired by simply pulling the trigger.
Continuity
  • Data's definition of friendship as quoted by Deanna Troi is a word-for-word restatement of Data's own description of friendship as related to Ishara Yar in the Fourth Season episode "Legacy".
Poster's Log:

Data refers to "decomposition" when trying to date when his head was separated from his body. What components does he have that would "decompose"?

Data's realization that Geordi needs to talk about his coming 'death' is a very human moment for the android and a good milestone in his character growth.

The "guerrilla war" conspiracy theory Crusher and Worf concoct will, of course, be echoed in an ENT storyline.

Worf immediately jumping to "maybe we ALL die with Data" is endearingly Klingon of him.

The last shot of the season: Our Intrepid Crew climbing through a hole in spacetime to an unknown destination. TO BE CONTINUED...
posted by hanov3r (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This one stood out when I first watched it because of Guinan and Picard's story. I still tear up when I see the last scene of Part II where Picard joins Guinan in Ten Forward and they just hold hands without saying anything.

It's interesting that Jerry Hardin turned this into a one man Twain show. He does such a good job I think I assumed it was Hal Holbrook playing Twain the first time I watched it.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:29 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Investigate Time Continuum from Premiere is a mission with the very specific requirements of Guinan, Data, or the Time Travel Pod we saw a few weeks ago. This style of mission requirement mostly went away, it's generally better to have missions more than two people in your deck can solve....especially since we had to wait like 3 years for Guinan to be in the game at all. Beh.

Devidian Door lets you invoke the idea that you can show the card later to play a personnel anywhere you want right now...and you forefeit the game if you fail to produce the doorway later. This provides insane flexibility of course. You could build a deck where you send, say, The Emissary to a planet in the Gamma Quadrant and play your whole game without an Outpost/Headquarters.

Data's Head takes its image from this episode and its function from 'Disaster'. Cute.

Madam Guinan can't solve ITC, above, but she does counter provide a counter to various cards with the AU icon. In contrast with Devidian Foragers, which makes your AU personnel stronger.

Feast on the Dying from Second Edition provides a general use way of using cards from your discard pile, a lightly conceptual sorta time travel. It's handy.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:33 AM on June 14


It seemed like a bit of a let-down after the incredible episode that it followed, and I was initially a bit put out at Riker having a problem with Data facing his apparently inevitable death with equanimity--Will, you've met Data before, right?--but this wasn't a bad ep. You're right in noting that Data does realize that La Forge needs to talk it over, and maybe the whole point of Riker being upset that Data isn't upset is that he wants some sort of reassurance that Data isn't just passively accepting the likelihood of his demise. (Which should have already been very clear to Riker--hello, "The Measure of a Man"--and also raises the issue of whether Riker expects Data to perform emotions even if he doesn't really feel them, and the implications thereof, but anyway.) So, it evolves into a bit of a mystery, with Creepy Aliens being all Lifeforce-vampire-like. Trek has been to the well of the crew needing to go back in time, get money, work with the existing technology, etc. so many times that (per the Memory Alpha citations above) it became part of breaking the episode, and therefore it's as much a tribute to past installments of the franchise as much as anything; Data disassembling his phaser and making it part of his very Edisonesque set-up is a bit of a call-back to Spock doing the same in the 1930s in "The City on the Edge of Forever".

My one gripe--and I'm probably in the minority here--is that I wasn't crazy about Jerry Hardin's Mark Twain. I do like Hardin's other work, in Trek and elsewhere (he's got a really impressive IMDB entry), but I think that he could have dialed it down a bit; to me, it feels very one-man-show-ish (and therefore not surprising that Hardin did just that after this ep). I wondered if anyone had made a recording of Clemens before he died in 1910, and, tantalizingly, he'd apparently experimented with doing some ur-audiobooks on Edison wax cylinder records, but they've since become lost in time (as it were); the best we've got is an actor who knew Twain when he (the actor) was a child, and did his own one-man show of sorts; here's him as Twain doing "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." There's also footage of Twain himself right before he died. (Of course, none of this might have been available thirty years ago.) Speaking of Jerry Hardin, something that I didn't realize was that Melora Hardin, who played Jan Levinson on The Office, is his daughter.

Data refers to "decomposition" when trying to date when his head was separated from his body. What components does he have that would "decompose"?

I don't know, but it's not unprecedented that some tech components are very much shorter lived than others; there are certain types of music keyboards, for example, that have some foam rubber inside them that basically liquifies over time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:57 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I'm almost completely fine with the ridiculousness of this 2-parter because (A) the show has had enough inarguable successes so far that it's earned some slack, and (B) it's obvious early on that this is all about fun. I say "almost" because I have to question using this as the season-ending cliffhanger, but it's not like that's an actual complaint or it sticks in my craw or anything.

My one gripe--and I'm probably in the minority here--is that I wasn't crazy about Jerry Hardin's Mark Twain.

He did go just slightly overboard, yeah. Very tough acting challenge, though, especially given the obvious lightness of the episode, which may well have trickled down into the direction.

That said, I've studied Twain a bit and I have to say that, writing-wise, much of his characterization in this two-parter is pretty spot-on. Read some of his later stuff and you get an unmistakable picture of a severe misanthrope. (Real history actually therefore conflicts a bit with his characterization toward the end of Part II, but no need to dwell on that now. More inconsistent is the plot-convenient "nosy neighbor" stuff, but OTOH, Twain was nothing if not imaginative, so even his strange scene at the beginning of Part II is at least plausible as far as I'm concerned.)

Guinan Headwear Watch:
Too overwhelming to be covered by any but the experts, so let's Fashion It So (do not miss this one)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:05 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]


While debating the setting, it became a running joke among the staff that Data would go back in time to save John F. Kennedy from assassination

I wonder if this is related to Gene Roddenberry's pitch for nearly every Star Trek movie in which the TOS crew should go back in time to save JFK. Apparently he just kept pitching it despite the studio telling him no again and again.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:08 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


If this is for part II as well, I'll sound off now.

I don't like "Time's Arrow" because as I have noted before in other posts, I prefer Picard and Guinan's relationship to remain shrouded in mystery. Maybe the almost mystical elements that have gotten built up in my mind up to this point come into being later after they meet again for the first time (from the standpoint of Picard), but its beginnings here just seem so ordinary.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:48 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


If this is for part II as well

Part II will be here Thursday.
posted by hanov3r at 11:49 AM on June 14


the best we've got is an actor who knew Twain when he (the actor) was a child, and did his own one-man show of sorts; here's him as Twain doing "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." There's also footage of Twain himself right before he died.

Two observations:
Based on the vocal recording: Jimmy Stewart as Mark Twain could have been surprisingly close to the mark.
Based on the video: I can cross 'actual Mark Twain smoking a stogie and also upstaged by a hat' off the 'things I never thought I would see' list.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:58 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


These two parts always seem to show up on the Worst lists, and I've never understood why; they're not that bad and a lot of what annoyed my the first time I watched them didn't seem to bug me this time. Maybe I'm mellowing with age, I don't know, but I doubt it. It might have to do with the pacing, which is really odd, and this time around I found myself wanting to FF through a lot of the shipboard stuff and just itching to get to the second part and wrap things up.

And yeah, Will, get over yourself.

My main objection is always Hardin's Twain. Like, I'm fine with it being accurate and a strong portrayal and whatnot, but dear god, that voice. After a few minutes of any conversation where he says more than a few sentences, I start feeling like Quint is raking his nails down the blackboard. It's just so awful. And I like Jerry Hardin! I've seen him in tons of stuff and I'm always happy when I do! But just...that godawful voice. It's a bar that's very difficult for me to clear and be able to just enjoy the story.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:43 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


That was Jerry Hardin (who will end up being cast as Deep Throat in 'The X-Files')? Had never recognized him, but once it clicked, that was totally Hardin.

Loved the costumes in this ep. Shoehorning in Jack London, maybe not so much.

Spiner/ Data's ears figuratively perking up once he heard "poker" was hilarious.
posted by porpoise at 1:04 PM on June 14


I liked the goofy mood of this episode, and I especially liked Twain's speech about Wallace and religion and extraterrestrials. It did seem to fit Twain's misanthropic attitude, and it seemed decently true to debates and speculations that people would have had at that time.

FWIW, both Adam & Ben on the Greatest Gen thought Hardin's performance was terrible. I don't quite agree, but I thought the accent was really hammed up to much. Maybe this corresponds to how some people in Virginia talk? I don't think it sounds like Missouri, which I don't think is where Twain spent most of his life, anyway. Perhaps the real Twain would put on an accent for some self-conscious folksiness, but if the YouTube link is to be believed, it doesn't seem like he did.

I liked this ep pretty well, but after it sets us up with so much intrigue, the payoff in part 2 was mostly disappointing.
posted by polecat at 1:11 PM on June 14


I enjoyed part one quite a bit, which I was surprised at because I remember it being quite bad. But it’s just silly—if they hadn’t done it as a season finale I’d probably not had the same expectations and enjoyed it more. Oh, also I think part two makes no sense at all, so that kind of brings this down a bit in retrospect.
posted by skewed at 3:02 PM on June 14


It wasn't until I listened to The Greatest Generation that I picked up on that Data lowkey has a deathwish, but he really does. Despite personally interacting with many immortal living entities Data got it in his positronic head that unless he dies he will never have truly been alive, so his response to finding out he will definitely die at some point is both what you'd expect from an "emotionless android" but also what you'd expect from death-obsessed Data in particular.

And yes, this episode (and the next) is more silly than bad. It's half making excuses to get our heroes to go to Old West San Fransisco and half our heroes hamming it up in Old West San Fransisco.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:39 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Hrn-nnNNRRrrrrr!

As the proud product of a suburban American elementary school, I was subjected to a wide variety of Samuel Clemens (Clemenses? Samuels Clemens?) in my youth. There were animated Samuel Clemens, claymation Samuel Clemens, folksy re-enactors on classroom VHS and full fledged field trip community theater impersonators. I've seen some pretty lousy Twain in my day, but this fucking guy, ugh, this fucking guy. The makeup is awkward and creepy, the accent sounds like he's gnawing on the inside of his cheek, and that goddamn obnoxious nerd-grunt is just. the. worst. I'm just going to flat out say it: I think this is hands down the worst Samuel Clemens I've ever seen.

And yet: he's only the second-worst Samuel Clemens to appear on Star Trek. How can I resolve this apparent paradox? Tune in next episode!
posted by phooky at 5:45 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


phooky, I agree with you. Jerry Hardin makes Clemens sound like Yosemite Sam.
posted by zadcat at 8:16 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


My one gripe--and I'm probably in the minority here--is that I wasn't crazy about Jerry Hardin's Mark Twain.

The problem with anyone playing Mark Twain is that they will immediately be compared to Hal Holbrook's characterization of Twain (first performed in 1954!), which is a no-win situation for a performer. The expectation from the audience will always be for one to perform a clone of Holbrook's Twain, as that has been ensconced in the hivemind as the ur-Twain. So, you kind of have to hit certain marks to assure the audience you're doing "Twain", which tends to shove your performance into near-over-the-top territory.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:47 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes, when "Trek goes back in time to San Francisco" was still a baby trope.

In my mind this two parter gets linked to Yesterday's Enterprise, and not just because they're both time shenanigans episodes. Specifically, the alternate timeline from Yesterday's Enterprise, had it not been resolved by sending the Ent-C back, would not have been likely to have resulted in Data ever being sent to Guinan's past with the crew following to find him. So Guinan's sense of the altered timeline being wrong would have been partially informed by that memory.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:54 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I find people's quibbles with this episode interesting. I liked it when it first aired and I still like it now. I'm not a huge fan of the aliens themselves, but the rest of it I like a lot.
posted by wierdo at 6:01 AM on June 15


So Guinan's sense of the altered timeline being wrong would have been partially informed by that memory.

That's a good point, she would have gone from "I'm on the Enterprise because I met Picard in the past and I know it's my destiny to be here" to "I don't know why I'm here at all this doesn't make sense" which IIRC is something she voices in Yesterday's Enterprise.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:03 PM on June 15


It's interesting that Jerry Hardin turned this into a one man Twain show. He does such a good job I think I assumed it was Hal Holbrook playing Twain the first time I watched it.

I’ve always found it great that the other role genre fans know Hardin for is as Deep Throat in the first season of The X-Files. Holbrook of course played the Watergate Deep Throat in All The President’s Men. Weird. Eerie.

The problem with anyone playing Mark Twain is that they will immediately be compared to Hal Holbrook's characterization of Twain (first performed in 1954!),

It’s been observed that Holbrook played Mark Twain longer than Sam Clemens did.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:17 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I think my position on the Mark Twain performance is this: the performance itself isn't that bad, but the production's assumption about just how much of that performance I want to see was really off. It would've worked in much smaller amounts, I think, and if it didn't seem like everyone else was thinking, "oh, you lovable rapscallion! The audience is going to just eat you up!" whenever he was on screen.

As for the episode itself? I first saw it as a child, and it absolutely blew my impressionable little mind, so it's impossible for me to not love it
posted by meese at 6:35 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I also think Data's ability to construct a high-tech device out of 19th century components has caused generations of people to vastly overestimate their own abilities to replicate technology if transported to the past.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:53 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


It’s like working with stone knives and bear skins.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:37 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]


It seems uncharacteristic of Picard to assume the time travelling aliens are a threat. He's right of course, but there's not really any reason to think so when he does, especially for a guy who doesn't assume ill intent on people who are literally shooting at him and his ship.

I always liked this one. It's a bit like an above average Doctor Who episode what with the time travel and pseudomagical monster of the week. Data just going with the Frenchman thing is great, and cajun Gul Dukat!
posted by rodlymight at 8:50 PM on June 15


I also think Data's ability to construct a high-tech device out of 19th century components has caused generations of people to vastly overestimate their own abilities to replicate technology if transported to the past.

I was just a kid when I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and it is very dimly remembered, but Wikipedia seems to tell me that a big part of the plot is that a time-traveling 19th-century Yankee is somewhat successful at bringing big technology to 6th-century England. Which, (and sorry to jump ahead to the next episode) makes it even more weird that Clemens, having so recently written said book, would decide to single-handedly try to take on future people who he knows have spaceships, androids, and people from other planets.
posted by polecat at 9:25 PM on June 15


I also think Data's ability to construct a high-tech device out of 19th century components has caused generations of people to vastly overestimate their own abilities to replicate technology if transported to the past.

Per polecat's mention of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, it helps if the person in question (Hank Morgan in Twain's book) is an engineer, specializing in munitions. It also matters quite a lot as to when, exactly, one is going back to, and what sort of technology already exists; Twain's Camelot has iron (and plate armor, which is anachronistic, at least for the eras that the Arthurian myths are usually set in), which is nontrivial to produce. Ryan North (author of many fine comics, including the recent run of Squirrel Girl) wrote How To Invent Everything, which assumes no technology whatsoever. (The original Kickstarter included a bandanna that had some of the main points and tips summarized on it; I really should carry mine with me, you know, just in case.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:13 AM on June 16


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