Star Trek: The Next Generation: Time's Arrow, Part II   Rewatch 
June 17, 2021 2:44 AM - Season 6, Episode 1 - Subscribe

A meddlesome Mark Twain (Jerry Hardin) interferes with the Enterprise crew's efforts to save Earth's history, and Data's severed head, from shapeshifting psychic vampire aliens. Picard nevertheless manages to squeeze in a Shakespeare scene.

If I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a fan wiki I wouldn't a tackled it and ain't agoing to no more:

• The staff found breaking the story very difficult. As with previous two-part episodes, the first installment had been developed without any consideration of how to conclude the story. Jeri Taylor recalled, "This one was a nightmare. It was just awful to try to get the story going. Even when we finally went to script, we kept changing the story so it was a matter of going back and wrenching out sections and restructuring and plugging in other things and then taking all that away again. It was probably the most troubled episode of the year."

• René Echevarria remembered, "We basically boxed ourselves into a corner with 'Part One' and it prompted very hilarious arguments about time travel and how it worked, 'That's not how time travel works, you idiot', with huge accusations and people falling back on primary sources like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. 'That's the way it works, you can go meet yourself!' and all sorts of preposterous stuff."

• When writing the teleplay, Taylor was inspired by the historical fiction of E. L. Doctorow.

• Taylor sought to reduce the amount of technobabble compared to the first half. "We wanted to stay away from that. I think that in a sense, we might have gone too far, because I'm not sure that a lot of it was ever explained. I think it might still be mystifying to people – just what were those aliens up to and why were they doing it? Every time we started to get into all of this long stuff again, we decided we'd just go with the fun.

• According to Production Designer Richard James, a museum loaned out a horse-driven fire vehicle for the first time thanks to "the power of the words Star Trek."

• "Time's Arrow, Part II" was filmed at the same time as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot episode "Emissary".

• Alexander Enberg (the reporter), who is the son of Jeri Taylor, later played Taurik in "Lower Decks" and the recurring character of Vorik on Star Trek: Voyager for several years.

• While Whoopi Goldberg was usually only available for filming for a limited amount of time, she agreed to take on an expanded role here as she enjoyed the concept.

• In "Booby Trap", Guinan tells Geordi La Forge she is attracted to bald men, because, long ago, one was very kind to her. In "Ensign Ro", Guinan tells Ro Laren that an old man helped her (Guinan) out when she was in serious trouble. Both references are seen here, when Picard saves her life in the 19th century.

• Ronald D. Moore regretted that more wasn't done with the 1890s period. He also felt that Mark Twain's involvement was too perfunctory. "To take that sort of historical figure and put him on the starship for an episode felt like there should be more than just one walk through the corridor with Troi. Unfortunately, there was so much story to tell that the needs of the show forced you into really moving that into a sidebar and just playing a scene here and there."

- Samuel Clemens, on seeing Worf

"I suspect that even time travelers are vulnerable to the Colt .45."
- Samuel Clemens

"Your weapons will only amplify the time distortion. You will annihilate your own world."
- Devidian woman

"I'm glad I have the chance to thank you."
"For what, sir?"
"Why, for starting me out on the greatest adventure a man's ever had. And for helping a bitter old man to open his eyes and see that the future turned out pretty well after all."
- Samuel Clemens and Data

Poster's Log:
Well, it doesn't take particularly deep analysis to guess that the writers struggled here. The proceedings are still fun and entertaining, and we get a couple moments of good character stuff, but, well…like half an hour in, we're ready to ACTUALLY start the season.

Still, I for one never skip "Time's Arrow," if only because it's the closest we'll ever get to more Back to the Future movies. And there are plenty of moments that I always get a laugh out of, such as Hardin's reaction to passing the Bolian in the corridor.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The fact that our crew changed history here w/r/t Twain's attitude about the future is never addressed again; I guess we have to assume that he got back and decided to keep his mouth shut. Our crew changing the past and leaving it changed will be addressed in other cases, such as the events of First Contact coming back to haunt the Bakula Enterprise and the events of DS9: "Past Tense" being quickly referenced in a later DS9 episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As with previous two-part episodes, the first installment had been developed without any consideration of how to conclude the story.

This baffles me to no end. I can't even imagine how you could write a story which is intended to be split across two episodes without mapping the story arc(s) out across both episodes first. That would seem like Storywriting 101, to me. I guess that's why I don't make the big money.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:17 AM on June 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

When I read "shapeshifting psychic vampire aliens" I thought " Wait a minute!"

But, that is what they were. It sounds less convincing written on paper.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:13 AM on June 17, 2021

I wonder about that too, Thorzdad. Maybe it's sort of a challenge to themselves, to get the ol' creative juices flowing? Or maybe they don't know for a fact who will still be in the cast and crew after the break? I dunno.

Like the first installment, I liked this one OK; like other time-travel eps, there are some pretty standard beats that get reused here--Twain's reaction to (I'm pretty sure) Mr. Mot and Worf are not unlike TOS time-travelers or denizens of past eras seeing Spock, or other TNG characters meeting Worf. When Twain was waving the revolver around, I expected Data to block him with his own body, as he did in Star Trek: First Contact (itself a call-back to the T-800 absorbing bullets in Terminator 2). Aside from my previous comments about this version of Twain, my only real issue was that I kept expecting the omnipresent reporter to be someone I'd heard of, like the bellhop being Jack London--I didn't recognize Enberg at all.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:17 AM on June 17, 2021

"primary sources like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" may be my new favorite phrase.

There's something pure about the humor in and around Mrs. Carmichael. "MIS-ter PICK-erd" (does Q call back to this in "Tapestry", or is that just coincidental?), the slapstick blink-and-you-miss-it of Geordi and Data rushing past each other to their marks, Deanna gingerly correcting the orientation of Geordi's script; it's all good fun. And we get the return of Brent Spiner's "Bob Wheeler" voice, for those of us who remember his recurring "Night Court" character.

Unfortunately, I don't think the rest of this one lives up to the promise of the first half. It's the "Bill and Ted Face the Music" of "Time's Arrow" episodes.
posted by hanov3r at 7:52 AM on June 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

This is the where the Clemens characterization really disintegrates. It's just all over the place. The writing is a mess, but I think the worst moment is when he suddenly finds himself on a starship where everyone is using military rank and chain of command and wearing uniforms and talking about blowing up some aliens, and he suddenly decides that the future is hopeful because an attractive woman says two sentences to him in an elevator. Just... really? What is this character supposed to be? Why are they using Clemens here in the first place?

Which brings me to Jack London. Where the hell did that come from? Was Jack London famously annoying? Was there any indication earlier that this was going to be a particular literary figure? How? Wha--why? He could as easily have been all "I've been dreaming of moving to England" and Clemens could have said "Young man, chase that dream, write about trolls and goblins and such" and he could have been "By golly I will! Someday you'll hear about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien again" and it would have made exactly as much sense.

It's such a bizarre characterization that not only is it in the running for the worst TV Jack London-- an award for which as far as I know there is no competition-- but it overflows the bounds of Worst London and spills over into the Worst Clemens competition, just by dint of that one interaction.

Jack London is the worst Samuel Clemens on Star Trek.
posted by phooky at 8:34 AM on June 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

I liked the scene where the hotel worker's cousin calls him up and says "Jack! Jack! It's your cousin Marvin. Marvin London!" Or maybe I'm misremembering.

Anyway, my favorite bit of this is where we find out that Data was the original Silicon Valley techbro.

I was also very happy that they added in the last bit about making sure Ms. Carmichael got the money for the rent, I was very worried up until that point.

In retrospect, they probably flew a bit close to the sun here. Time travel episodes tend to fall apart toward the end, two-parters tend to fall apart toward the end, and combining the two created a pretty huge mess. Still, except for the growing fatigue over Hardin's Twain accent, it was fun enough, glad I rewatched.
posted by skewed at 9:00 AM on June 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

"Jack, listen to this!" [holds up telephone receiver to howling wolf]
posted by phooky at 9:49 AM on June 17, 2021 [13 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Just as this episode is a sequel, so too are many of the cards here sequels to previous cards:
Ophidian Cane is an enhancer for last episode's Devidian Foragers and Devidian Door. In, turn, it recieved a sequel in the final 1E set in Empathic Touch, which ended up taking an image from a film not-yet-made at the time the card was created, how's that for time travel?

Samuel Clemens' Pocketwatch is a semi-sequel to Horga'hn, only less effective. Pass.

They made it possible to connect last episode's Data's Head to....Data's Body providing you with a Non-Aligned Data that can exist alongside a regular one. Cute. Note the '911' photoshopped into the background?

Samuel Clemens is kind of a followup to Kova Tholl: a Non-Aligned Civilian with Diplomacy who scores bonus points in a round-the-corner fashion. A bit better though, because you control when you show a D. Door.

The Play's The Thing
from Second Edition adds the Past, Future, or Alternate Universe icons temporarily to a slew of your personnel, extending the function of utility cards like One Man Cannot Summon the Future and Fitting In.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:36 AM on June 17, 2021

Ooohhh, that MA stuff explains a lot, doesn't it? They talk about all the stuff that had to happen in the episode and what they left out, but the pacing is so bizarre that I wonder if they ever even edited the script or just churned it out and threw it at the actors--there's just this weird flurry of activity in some scenes, and then others (Geordi discovering Picard's message in a bottle in Data's old head is freaking glacial, the scenes with the landlady might be cute, but they suck the life out of the episode, the Clemens-talks-to-reporter stuff is completely unnecessary) seem to have no energy or take up too much space that could have gone to some decent explaining. (A friend in the industry tells me that it sounds like a badly run writer's room if they're not breaking full stories.)

It's actually a steep learning curve for modern people to drive a horse team with a carriage, and you can tell Spiner had no opportunity to learn to do it. I'm amazed it didn't go careening into the sets--those horses were well trained.

I enjoyed the alien sort of fritzing out and Picard's attempt at a conversation with her. While I do wish there'd been some more attempt at an explanation, I mostly just wish we'd had a chance to see more effects like that.

(I have residual trauma around talking about the failed second halves of two-parters: I used to watch Dr. Who with friends and one time, after the third of a three-parter, the hostess asked me what I thought and when I said, not bitterly but more in a musing tone, that I thought their multipart episodes tended to start well and fall apart, and that I was a little disappointed in the denouement but it was still fun enough, she and a couple other people flew into a rage and started screaming at me to the point I left in tears. Hopefully, no one will fly into a rage at me here but I still get twitchy. Second halves are just...fraught, man.)
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:38 AM on June 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

kitten kaboodle, I'm so sorry you were treated that way for expressing your opinion. I hope you feel better treated her in the TNG rewatch.

Second halves are just...fraught, man.

It's worse with TNG, I feel, because so many of those two-parters are season ender / season premiere pairs. The first part HAS to be amazing (in the eyes of the writers, et al) because they didn't know if the audience was going to come back[1]. The second half? Well, we've got eyes on it now, so it's ok if it's just a mediocre Trek story.

The mid-season two parters (like "Unification" and "Chain of Command") are more... "even" between the first and second parts because that first part didn't need any more hype than a regular episode did.

[1] In retrospect, of course, how could they NOT know we'd come back?
posted by hanov3r at 11:27 AM on June 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

The mid-season two parters (like "Unification" and "Chain of Command") are more... "even" between the first and second parts because that first part didn't need any more hype than a regular episode did.

That's a really good point! (I'm super excited about getting to Chain of Command this season, omg.) It's mostly only the ones designed to act as cliffhangers at season's end I can think of where I end up feeling so disappointed. Which I think makes the lack of coherence so mind-boggling to me; as a writer, knowing that I have extra time to craft something, to really go over it with a fine-tooth comb and perfect it, is a gift and it's irritating to think of how they squandered that time here. It's really not a bad story, it's just drawn that way.

One of the things I really liked about Leverage was the fact that the showrunner hated cliffhangers (I was never the Leverage fanatic as my other fan friends, but I just finished a rewatch in anticipation of the new series and was reminded how much I appreciated the showrunner's dedication to this in his different series). I know we've discussed this before here--the belief in television that cliffhangers keep people excited--but mostly I think they just irritate large swathes of their audience. Casual watchers are never a guarantee to come back for the resolution, and big fans have expectations that you'll stick the landing, which the writers rarely do. Who shot JR is a bullshit question and if you're expecting me to care after four months of unrestrained summer fun, you'll be disappointed.

And thanks so much for your well-wishes--I definitely appreciate a more reasonable place to talk about these things, because I do love to talk about these things.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:59 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The mid-season two parters (like "Unification" and "Chain of Command") are more... "even" between the first and second parts because that first part didn't need any more hype than a regular episode did.

I should probably note that I feel that the mid-season two-parters are generally weaker overall than stand-alone episodes, with the exception of "Chain of Command". I may feel differently about "Birthright" and "Gambit" when we get to them than I did on first watch, but I doubt it.
posted by hanov3r at 12:17 PM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm sure I've seen Time's Arrow more than a time or two. And thinking about it, I can recall not just the broad strokes, but most of the specifics of the episode. But overall, Time's Arrow is not a particularly remarkable episode for me. On its face, it isn't a bad episode. But looking beneath the surface, it's like the writer's needed to fill out a two-parter so they took a list of ideas and put them in a blender:

"Let's do an episode where Data loses his head, LITERALLY! :D :D :D And the crew has to go back in time and have fun undercover! And let's throw in a lovably obnoxious Mark Twain! And maybe Jack London shows up in a couple scenes too! And Data will play poker and win big because he's a freaking android! And and and, the big reveal will be how Picard and Guinan meet cute IN THE PAST!!! And Guinan knew about it the whole time!!! OMG, this is gonna be good!!!"
posted by Stuka at 1:17 PM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed it, definitely has problems, but it's largely fun EXCEPT It's weird that the resolution of the alien plotline is just "Kill 'em all" right? They couldn't have gone down there with phased phasers and stunned them or something? Not that long ago they were trying to open talks with the Crystalline Entity! The aliens don't seem to be enough of an existential threat like the Borg to warrant the violence as solution, just doesn't feel Trek. I guess that's the chaos in the writers room showing.
posted by rodlymight at 7:08 PM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Second halves are just...fraught, man.

It totally sucks that you had this experience, transferring critique of the media to you personally is just...shallow.

And to be equally shallow, is there any argument in favor of serialized storylines in television at all when they often lead to malarkey on the order of Time's Arrow Part 2 at best? It's Rise of Skywalkers all the way down.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:30 PM on June 17, 2021

We are there. A lot of the crew is looking old. One thing I noticed! The final seasons are here.

Part one spent quite a bit of time detailing the wear and tear that Data's head had taken in the cavern. Interesting that Geordi was able to just reattach it and it looked brand new. Weren't components inside worn down? Maybe Data's head will wear down five hundred years sooner? I wish they had messed up his hair at least for the final scenes after he got back to the Enterprise.

A cavern a mile beneath the Presidio they said at one point. Right!

Killing the aliens was just... Ugh. I had forgotten about that part of it.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:53 PM on June 17, 2021

Not a fan of this episode/two-parter, for all the reasons everyone else has pointed out already, especially the Mark Twain portion. His voice was nails-on-the-chalkboard irritating, and the characterization was nonsensical by the end.

Ok, so, I wrote an essay on Huckleberry Finn for my high school AP English course that I was very proud of. Because, when I read the book for class, I was baffled by the ending -- there's such character growth for Huck over the course of the book, leading up to his "I guess I'll go to hell then" decision to help Jim get free, but then there's this whole deeply unfunny slapsticky section at the end when Jim has been captured and Tom Sawyer shows back up and Huck reverts right back to being Tom's sidekick. And then it's revealed that Jim has actually been free for some time (because his former owner died? freeing him in her will or something? I forget). It was such an infuriatingly awful section of the book, and it seemed so strange to me that it was so at odds with how mature the characterization had been previously. But eventually it struck me that it was not at odds -- that it was in keeping with Twain's profound pessimism/cynicism about human nature; that Huck saying "guess I'll go to hell" wasn't going far enough, because while he was willing to put his feelings towards Jim above the law, he wasn't able to make the full leap of realizing that the law itself was wrong. So when Tom showed up and started bossing him around, he went right back to his old ways. And that Jim had been a slave so long that he didn't know what freedom was, and had to have it given to him rather than taking it. I don't know, it's been over 30 years since I read the book or wrote the essay, but I remember so well how exciting it was when I felt that I'd cracked it.

I've never seen an adaptation of Huck Finn that kept in that comic sequence at the end -- I wouldn't want it there either, since it would be nigh impossible to do it in a way that was actually funny and not depressing (and racist as all hell), but, I think that TNG Twain suffers from that same cute-ification/sanitization issue. Like, there was some discussion of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" in the part 1 thread. I read it back in high school too, out of curiosity after watching the Bing Crosby movie adaptation. And, yeah, that's another Twain story that has been adapted for the funny/fish-out-of-water elements while ditching the serious side. That story is profoundly hopeless, a reaction to the horrors of the carnage of the Civil War, as the Yankee ultimately brings 1800s-modern warfare to the Arthurian era and wreaks absolute devastation.

So, yeah, Twain was not a utopian. And if a walking tour of the Enterprise could turn him into one, it would have drastically changed his writing afterwards, like alternate-timeline-level paradoxically different. I guess it's in keeping with the 'Time's Arrow is TNG doing Doctor Who badly' opinion on this episode, which several of the TNG podcasts have mentioned. Compare this to Doctor Who's use of Van Gogh or Dickens for example.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:04 AM on June 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

Speaking of Huck Finn adaptations, one that I regret not having seen was the production of Big River that, in addition to having John Goodman in the cast, also featured Rene Auberjonois and Bob Gunton, who played Captain Maxwell in "The Wounded." That would have been something to see.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2021

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