Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Chase   Rewatch 
August 23, 2021 11:05 AM - Season 6, Episode 20 - Subscribe

Picard tries to finish his old archaeology teacher's monumental last mission: solving a puzzle that leads Humans, Romulans, Klingons and Cardassians to the secret of life in this galaxy, revealing the origin of humanoid life.

If you can see and hear me, our hope has been fulfilled. Memory Alpha is a monument, not to our greatness, but to our existence.

Story and script
  • "The Chase" was inspired by Carl Sagan's novel Contact, in which clues to the nature of the universe are discovered in a long calculation of π (pi). (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 243))
  • Ronald D. Moore remembered, "Joe Menosky was intrigued with this notion of why there's a common humanoid ancestry for all the bipedal races we've encountered in Star Trek. Why was the show filled only with people with bumps on their foreheads? We looked to give that an answer. And I was fascinated with the notion of something being written into the very fabric of their genes, that there was a code in there waiting to be established." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 302)
  • It took over a year for Menosky and Moore's premise to be written into a workable script. Early drafts were in the manic mood of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but were shelved for being "too cartoony". The original story involved a Vulcan scientist not personally involved with any of the characters. Along with the Klingons and Romulans, this version also included the Ferengi. As Moore recalled, "Riker beams over into this cramped little tiny shuttle, where everyone's yelling and trying to find things and the guy's dead. And then they zip away, and we're off an running with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It would have been a lot more comedic." Michael Piller and Rick Berman felt this lacked sufficient character – that there was no real motivation for Picard to join in the chase. It was only with the addition of the death of Picard's mentor that Piller and Berman were sold on the idea. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 243); Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 276)
  • Moore stated that he'd considered, but intentionally did not specify, that the Ancient humanoids were the Preservers from TOS: "The Paradise Syndrome". He added, "but this could be them and be internally consistent." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 244))
  • Director Jonathan Frakes was disappointed at not being able to shoot outside. "I think it does look like 'Planet Hell', but that's the way it goes. The money was being spent across the street [at Deep Space Nine]. I don't think it's a secret." However, set designer Richard James noted that it was impossible to shoot outside, as the crew had been unable to find a salt flat without vegetation, as the episode demanded. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 277)
Cast and characters
  • Salome Jens went on to play the recurring role of the Female Changeling in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. John Cothran, Jr. went on to play Telok in DS9: "Crossover" and Gralik Durr in ENT: "The Shipment".
  • Several sources, including the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 243), state that this episode marked the first appearance of a Cardassian female on Star Trek. This had already occurred in "Chain of Command, Part II", where Gul Madred's daughter, Jil Orra, appeared. Ocett is, however, the only female with a rank of Gul ever mentioned or seen in any episode of any Star Trek series.
  • As noted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 243), this episode marks the first time that Humans, Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians appear in the same episode.
Poster's Log:

I always assumed Galen's "If I had a starship..." line was going to result in Picard offering the Enterprise's services to complete his mission.

As much as I love Nu'Daq, his pronunciation of Klingon words sounds off to my ear.

The Data / Nu'Daq interaction is fun but really feels like a second or third season thing. By now, we the audience are very aware of Data's physical abilities.
posted by hanov3r (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Norman Lloyd previously on MeFi; he died at age 106 (!) this past May. A Guardian article and a Variety article.

This one aaaabsolutely makes my top ten TNGs. So much great stuff: an Indy plot! our first (grown-up) Cardassian woman! Nu'Daq, my favorite Klingon besides Worf! a tender Romulan moment! a weird sci-fi mystery! and a canonical answer to the "why all the forehead aliens" question.

About the only serious flaw IMO is the clunky-ass expository line where Nu'Daq explains what Geordi did offscreen. Give that line to Geordi and you save a lot of time and…clunk.

The Kurlan nyskos artifact returns at the end of Generations when, in touring the wreckage of the -D, Picard unceremoniously drops it into a pile of rubble. The only way I could think to reconcile that with his apparent awe over it in this episode is that, in the intervening years, somebody found like a million of those. But then LOW recently confirmed that they're at least still collectible, so now, I dunno.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:19 AM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Like Cheeses said, this episode gets points just for trying to address why there are so many intelligent alien species that look similar and are apparently also biologically compatible.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2021

About the Kurlan thing, I figured that Picard came to his senses about being keeping a possibly unique cultural artifact as a gift, had it replicated and sent the original to a museum or other legitimate custodian. That whole scene made me anxious, are they supposed to be archaeologists or treasure hunters? Also, Picard was handling this 10,000 year old artifact as casually as something from Pier 1 Imports.

Anyway, this episode is pretty silly and a lot of fun, you can see some rough edges from the mad-cap antics made it through the final draft--the scene between Nu'Daq and Data is a complete non-sequitur, and there was never any explanation why the single low-power phaser shot from the Enterprise destroyed the Yridian ship.

I get this one confused with The Gambit, which I also enjoy.
posted by skewed at 12:03 PM on August 23, 2021

This one aaaabsolutely makes my top ten TNGs. So much great stuff: an Indy plot! our first (grown-up) Cardassian woman! Nu'Daq, my favorite Klingon besides Worf! a tender Romulan moment! a weird sci-fi mystery! and a canonical answer to the "why all the forehead aliens" question.

These are all reasons why I wanted to like this episode more than I did, as well as because, WRT the common origin of sentient humanoids thing, I think that this premise would have made for a much better Star Trek V than the one that we got. But... (fair warning: I'm going to get pretty nitpicky here, even for me):

- Galen just sort of plops down this ancient artifact--which, general collectability aside, he and Picard take some pains to establish as truly exceptional--and lets Picard play with it and keep it. Huh? Doesn't that, you know, belong in a museum, to quote everyone's favorite fictional archaeologist? Then he expects Picard to just instantly get up and go with him. We know that JLP can in fact be called away with very little notice (see "Chain of Command"), but that's for official missions. And that leads me to the next big mystery...

- Why is Galen being so secretive about all of this? Surely there must have been a lot of speculation about common ancestry for the galaxy's humanoids, given how they can have children with each other, even if they have different-colored blood. Even if he doesn't want people to beat him to his discovery, he should be able to share it with Picard, who's been privy to some of the Federation's deepest and darkest secrets. And, speaking of secrets...

- Why do the other seekers assume that the secret is something strategically or economically useful? Granted, other ancient civilizations have left behind tech that's potentially very useful, the Iconians for example, but that's stuff that they were actually using. Why would the ancient humanoids go to all this trouble to deliberately seed their DNA message among different worlds and then make the big secret, I dunno, plans for a gun that fired Omega particles or whatever? A better solution might have been what was briefly bruited about near the very end: some races don't like the idea of having a common origin with other sentient species so much that their goal wouldn't have been to discover the secret, but to suppress or destroy it. (This is also part of a certain VOY episode.)

- Something else that gets passed over quickly: the real wonder of the message is that it seems to be part of a computer program that, if not a full AI, has a great deal of sophistication, given that it not only runs on a tricorder developed billions of years after its creation (and, by implication, would also run on devices created by the other civilizations), but actually reconfigured the tricorder to be a holoprojector. That's some pretty amazing coding.

- Also not developed to their full potential were the other captains. I get the appeal of Nu'Daq, but he did destroy the biosphere of an entire planet, and I also question his challenging Data to a duel; I think that a Klingon would be as likely to duel a shuttlecraft. (Hmm... BRB, pitching a story idea to Lower Decks.) And, even though Gul Ocett is AFAIK still the only female Cardassian officer in canon (not counting the ones in the recent Lower Decks ep, for reasons that I won't spoil), she was also kind of underwritten IMO. Also wishing that, if they're going to give the Romulan captain the lines that they did at the end, they'd introduced him earlier in the plot, somehow.

So, I'm gonna file this one under the ten percent rule. It's got some great bones, and wouldn't need a lot of work to fix.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Why do the other seekers assume that the secret is something strategically or economically useful?

Blame the Yridians who sold them the information about it and probably hyped the sale by claiming it was a thing they knew would be important to the buyer.
posted by hanov3r at 12:18 PM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

The set-up and the episode as a whole were let down by the ending. I probably echoed the other captains saying "what, this is it?" when I first saw it. I guess within the confines of the Star Trek universe there couldn't be anything that changed the status quo, so a note showing the various races shared heritage isn't that bad of a lesson, and it did explain how all of these aliens that evolved on different planets were able to have offspring with each other. We do see all the races coming together to fight against the Dominion in DS9 but I don't remember there being any nod to this episode.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:03 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

"This body is our gift to you. Except for the nose. We aren't really proud of the nose. We hope that you, who are listening to this message, end up with better noses. Do you have hair now? Ha ha, just fooling, this is a recorded message. I can't hear you! But wow, yeah, whew, I hope you got hair."

I don't know about this one. This feels like one of those wacky mix-ups at the dream factory and oh no, the solid classic sci-fi premise accidentally got pumped into the Uh-Oh More Trouble With Tribbles Sci-Fi Hijinx vat. There's been a terrible accident! Your script is now half serviceable world-building, half goofy Herbie Goes Genetically Manipulated Bananas in Space. Maybe the zingers this bickering Cardassian/Klingon couple are tossing off will distract you from the fact that your surrogate father was just killed! Zowie, this entire planet's biosphere was just destroyed off in an act of horrifying mega-genocide! Ha ha, the Klingon captain just tried to head-butt an android! Make up your mind, Frankenstein.

I think it is thematically appropriate that Moore references the The Paradise Syndrome, in which Kirk falls down a manhole, bonks his head, and gets amnesia. It's that kind of episode, really.
posted by phooky at 1:23 PM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

this entire planet's biosphere was just destroyed off in an act of horrifying mega-genocide

The planet was "uninhabited", described as "... covered by deciduous vegetation, unexplored, with no apparent evidence of civilizations, either present or past ..." and "... possess[ing] no animal life whatsoever ...", so maybe not 'genocide'.
posted by hanov3r at 1:58 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

"The Chase" is one of my least liked episodes, mainly because I don't like the premise. I have no problem with, "we're all the same." But TNG is at its worst when it cheats or is just lazy. In "The Chase," the Terrans, the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, and every other species in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, or whatever, don't have everything in common because they all love and they all hate or some other grand idea. No, they all simply have a common ancestor. Not only do I think that is a cheat or lazy writing, but it's really too sweeping for my preference.

On the other hand, Galen's lines, "What are you doing at this very moment? A study mission. You're like some Roman centurion out patrolling the provinces, maintenancing a dull and bloated Empire," has always stuck with me. I don't know if TNG intended to comment on its own show or not, but that is a spot on distillation of what the Enterprise has been up to, more or less, for the last five or so seasons.
posted by Stuka at 4:48 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't think I'd ever watched this, so I gave it a shot after the "it explains why everyone is a biped with a forehead variation" comments.

This may be one where I'm just a bit too familiar with how things work to suspend disbelief, but it's total nonsense. You could insert a DNA fragment into 4 billion year old prokaryotes, sure, but it would have no impact on how natural selection works by the time you get to the Cambrian let alone sapient life. Humans and cnidarians are close cousins; humans and klingons are not.
posted by mark k at 5:45 PM on August 23, 2021

"... covered by deciduous vegetation, unexplored, with no apparent evidence of civilizations, either present or past ..."

See? Unexplored! Can't find a civilization if you're not looking! *plugs fingers in ears* LA LA LA "DOES IT HAVE TO BE COMPLETELY LIFELESS?" LA LA LA IT'S FINE

sorry, but this is the same crew that has to have a soul-searching debate about consciousness and intrinsic rights every time Windows throws up a sufficiently complicated error dialog
posted by phooky at 6:18 PM on August 23, 2021 [7 favorites]

*deep breath*
Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

From Premiere we got Kurlan Naiskos, which made your ship crazy strong under very specific circumstances, fit to hunt enemy Outposts and Borg Ships. Federation PADD and Medical Tricorder are basic stuff. Missions include the super easy Excavation (and version II), the deck-defining Hunt for DNA Program(which could score you more than half your points needed to win, if you met its difficult requirements) and the later support Uncover DNA Clues.

Personnel of all four of our original border colors occur, including Galathon, played by the late great Maurice Hurley. There's Tarus, for your Romulan space deck. Klingon players get Nu'Daq, and Feds get Richard Galen. Ocett is Non-Aligned, cuz there weren't enough Cardassians in the original game license for a whole affiliation. Nu'Daq also has a ship, as I've said once before, STCCG players observe a trouble free philosophy, Haakona Maht-H'a-ta.

A lot of these returned in Second Edition. Excavation, Hunt for DNA Program(still very much a defining card), Uncover DNA Clues, Galathon, Nu'Daq, a proper Purple Ocett...I.K.S. Maht-H'a now shares the galaxy with the other captain's ships, Bralek and Trolarek. There's also some more faction specific support cards: Common Ground for TNG, Lying in Wait for Romulans, and Standard Cardassian Procedure for the Ferengi. No, just kidding about that last one. Though if the fan community ever does a Vidiian affiliation for Second Edition, I'm sure they'd have some Cardassian teamups...
posted by StarkRoads at 6:26 PM on August 23, 2021

Renegade Cut's interpretation of the use of the Kurlan Naiskos in Generations is possibly worth considering as an alternative the received wisdom (maybe popularized by red letter media, if I recall? youtubes upon youtubes...) The broader point he's making about whether adherence to canon is what makes things 'good' is maybe less important to us here, several interesting alternatives have been presented in-thread about why Picard might not value the object seen in the film. The idea that it's just...not what he was looking for at the time, so he set it aside in favor of retrieving his family photos, makes sense with the themes of that story.
posted by StarkRoads at 6:41 PM on August 23, 2021

It always cracks me up how like...almost orgasmic Picard gets over artifacts. I was thinking about the things I obsess over, appreciate, hunt for, and I don't know that I ever react to even the most spectacular discoveries of coveted objects the way he does to anything archeaological. That's a man who loves his hobbies, I guess.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 7:43 PM on August 23, 2021

I recall being heads over heels over this episode when it first aired - but I've not seen it since.

What a letdown. In the intervening years, if I had only picked up a tenth of what I now know about biology, it'd still all so much bs technobabble. As mark k mentioned, DNA and selection doesn't work that way. So much wrong with all the rest of it, too.

It takes a lot to completely remove all DNA from an entire planet - you'd have to completely disintegrate it. Surely there are microscopic organisms deep in the crust that are recoverable. Also, just because the Cardassians threatened anyone from going planetside to collect samples - couldn't the Enterprise just, you know, beam some up? Etc.

It's kind of hilarious, though, that all the captains went "feh" and took off.

Knowledge/ proof like this would surely stir up all kinds of kooks as well as people of good faith that there'd be multiple competing cultural revolutions in this quadrant of the galaxy. At least.

Then again, it's common knowledge that there are viable interbreeding between many of the spacefaring species - surely that'd be a strong hint already that there were genetic seeding shenanigans going on. Also, most food between systems is compatible. Almost everything seems to share the same chirality, also. Anyway, it's all super goofy.

Gorsh, that universal translator really is something, ain't it?

The stylistic choice for the female Cardassian was delightful, though. Ruby red lips were kind of an odd choice, but the makeup on the forehead medallion and on one specific segment of the shoulder ridge felt like some thought went into it.
posted by porpoise at 8:50 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Regarding why Picard does what he does with the Kurlan nyskos artifact in Generations... I think the set designers just grabbed all the Picard-related props they had and used them without much thought to whether it made sense in continuity.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:59 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Norman Lloyd previously on MeFi; he died at age 106 (!) this past May. A Guardian article and a Variety article.

I missed his obit thread for reasons, but note that his first acting credit on IMDb is from the week before WWII started. It is listed as a TV movie, which I think of as a sort of late-sixties-and-on thing, but I guess that’s how they classify it when you essentially point a camera at a stage play.

But the episode itself? It was... okay. I think it was grander in ambition than in execution. The idea of a message being hidden in, well, in us was impressive (if conceptually lifted from Sagan) but ultimately it came across as a bit of housekeeping: This Is Why All The Aliens Look Like Us.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:30 PM on August 23, 2021

The stylistic choice for the female Cardassian was delightful, though. Ruby red lips were kind of an odd choice, but the makeup on the forehead medallion and on one specific segment of the shoulder ridge felt like some thought went into it.

So I've kind of wondered if the blue spoon is makeup or genetic. It's _awfully_ consistent in future episodes, to the point where it's sort of noticeable by its absence in one or two episodes where a female Cardassian doesn't have the blue spoon.
posted by Kyol at 6:44 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Pretty sure that it's makeup.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Dejar and Gollek have some extra blue on their neck, but in different patterns. Makbar andMila don't. Ziyal and Seska, who are in their own ways cut off from Cardassian society, don't have a forehead marking. It's probably reasonable to read the blue as a personal expression thing.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Look, I'm not saying Memory Alpha is unreliable or anything, but maybe let's just say it sometimes fails to address the real issues. Which is why every episode should probably include a link to the relevant Fashion It So post above the fold, because we were about to let this thread fizzle out without a mention of CARDASSIAN PIGTAILS. Can we talk about those pigtails for a moment? They are very much "fuck you I will wear my hair however I want" pigtails and I love how it's just hanging out there.
posted by phooky at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

It would be a very Star Trek plot to have a planet "covered by deciduous vegetation, unexplored" "possess[ing] no animal life whatsoever" and then when the Enterprise goes there, they discover it has sentient plants.
posted by RobotHero at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2021

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