Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S1 E25 "The Neutral Zone"

Go To

Welcome to the 24th century."
Captain Picard, after the awakening Clare faints upon seeing Worf
"Alright, it's been 400 years, so you'll be seated for a while."

Well, Picard is away, so Riker gets the Cool Chair, and the Enterprise has encountered an old space capsule from Earth. Worf suggests they grab it with a tractor beam, but Riker would rather let it be destroyed. Whoa, who switched their personalities? Data decides to investigate it with Worf and they find some Human Popsicles onboard, three of whom are revivable. At this point, Picard comes back and wants to get underway, so Data and Worf bring the frozen people onto the Enterprise. Back in command, Picard orders Geordi to plot a course for the Romulan Neutral Zone. At a staff meeting, we learn that the Romulans have not had any contact with The Federation for decades. Picard explains that the Federation has lost contact with its outposts along the Neutral Zone and Starfleet is sending the Enterprise to investigate. Their orders are to avoid a military confrontation if possible.


Meanwhile, Dr. Crusher has the people from the capsule asleep in Sickbay. She explains to Picard that those primitive twentieth-century morons were scared of death. Seriously, that's how she says it. Apparently, the twenty-fourth century is just so perfect that no one fears death anymore. Anyway, these people were placed in cryogenic freeze after dying of then-terminal illnesses, but now they have been easily saved by Dr. Crusher. The capsule with their bodies was placed in space to avoid the risk of a power loss. Picard berates Data for saving people who were technically dead, because now they're alive and have to be treated like living beings. You know, maybe twenty-fourth-century people suck a lot more than they think. Riker is delegated the task of introducing their twentieth-century guests to the Enterprise. They have some other names, but hell, we're just going to call them Gilligan, Mr. Howell, and Mary Ann (their actual names are Sonny Clemonds, Ralph Offenhouse, and Clare Raymond, for the record). That way we don't have to explain their personalities. Just imagine that Ginger, the Skipper, the Professor, and Mrs. Howell were the people on the capsule who didn't survive. Much like the real Mr. Howell, our version doesn't seem able to comprehend the fact that all the money he had where he came from is now meaningless. Gilligan wants to watch television, but Data replies that television went out of style in the twenty-first century, no doubt because of YouTube. He asks what people do for fun in the twenty-fourth century and apparently no one thinks to introduce him to the holodeck or the other numerous forms of entertainment on the Enterprise-D.


Picard calls Riker and Data to a meeting. On the way, Riker self-righteously talks about their guests as though they were the scum of the Earth, never mind that Mr. Howell has only been mildly annoying and the other two have done nothing other than not instantly know how the twenty-fourth century works. At the meeting, Riker suggests the Romulans are seeking a confrontation with the Federation to find out how advanced they have become since they broke off contact. Mr. Howell interrupts the meeting on the com-panel, demanding to see Picard and ranting about how much better the service was on the QE2. Picard meets with him and Mr. Howell complains about needing to check his balance and how this is clearly so much more important than whatever Picard is doing. Picard responds by delivering a pious lecture about how awesome the money-less Federation is. At this point, Mary Ann starts crying, so Picard sends Troi to handle it. Troi walks in on her crying and observes that she is sad. It turns out that Mary Ann is upset because her sons and everyone else she knows are long dead. Troi cheers her up by looking up her family tree and discovering the existence of a living descendant who looks exactly like her husband. Meanwhile, Gilligan is sitting alone bored in his quarters, having apparently still not been told about any of the forms of entertainment on the Enterprise. Data stops by and replicates a guitar for him.

Finally, something actually happens with the Romulan plotline. The Enterprise reaches the outposts and finds them destroyed as expected, but not in a way which suggests the Romulans were responsible. Meanwhile, Mr. Howell tells Gilligan and Mary Ann that something is up. Gilligan replies that it's none of their business, but Mr. Howell knows better and decides to wander around the ship until he finds Picard. Eventually, he walks into a turbolift and asks to be taken to the Captain. Mr. Howell steps onto the bridge just as a Romulan ship is decloaking. Picard decides to hail them, but Worf replies by reciting his Backstory and explaining that Romulans suck. Picard still decides to hail them and it turns out one of the Romulans is Gul Dukat with different makeup. It seems the Romulans have the same problem, as their Neutral Zone outposts have been destroyed as well. Picard suggests they work together to find out what happened. The first Romulan agrees, but then the other one says, "Forget that, we're Romulans and you suck. Goodbye." And then they fly away.

Picard dumps Gilligan, Mr. Howell, and Mary Ann on a ship headed for Earth, and the episode ends with the destruction of the outposts still unexplained. Later on in "Q Who", we get a throwaway line implying that the as-yet-unmet Borg were behind the attacks, but that's it. Basically, this episode, which caps off the largely mediocre first season, is appropriately enough one big Anticlimax. Things will get better, but it will take about another season or two.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: Wesley does not appear, though a scene in which he talks with Sonny about music and shows him the replicator was scripted, establishing where Sonny gets that guitar from and how he knows his style of music is unknown in the 24th century.
  • And the Adventure Continues: After Riker muses that their 20th-century passengers are "like a visit from the past."
    Picard: That would take us in the wrong direction. Our mission is to go forward, and it's just begun. [...] There's still much to do. There's still so much to learn. Mr. La Forge, engage.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The survivors from the 20th Century are found aboard a cryogenic satellite that was built to remain in Earth orbit. Despite not being designed for long-distance space travel, this satellite somehow broke out of Earth orbit and in less than 400 years drifted all the way out to a star system near the Romulan Neutral Zone. Also, despite being a solar-powered craft that spent hundreds of years in the interstellar void where there isn't exactly a lot of radiant light, it arrived at the end of its journey with all of its most important systems still powered up and functioning. In the original script, Data and Worf state it must have been moved by some kind of alien influence, an idea revisited in "The Royale". One non-canon novel says this was the case with the cryonics satellite too.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ironically, the three survivors got exactly what they wanted from the cryogenics (or in Claire's case, what her husband wanted) only to find themselves in a frightening future where they didn't fit.
  • Characterization Marches On: Picard, later established as a keen amateur historian and archaeologist, is entirely uninterested in the defrostees, despite the unique chance to learn about historic Earth life at first hand. Admittedly, they arrive at the worst possible time, with contact about to be re-established with the Romulans, but it still seems jarring with the character as later established.
    • Picard would also later come to be characterized as empathetic and caring about others. The Picard here is, if anything, callous to the point of hateful, borderline snapping at a traumatized woman who's broken down sobbing in front of him because her crying is annoying him.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Ralph figures that after 400 years, his accounts should be loaded beyond measure. Too bad the Federation's post-capitalist economy put the kibosh on that.
  • Cool Starship: The Romulans arrive back on the scene with a massive and very badass-looking Warbird.
  • Cryonics Failure: Some of the cryo-pods clearly malfunctioned, leading to a Peek-a-Boo Corpse moment when Data wipes off the frost from the first. Also discussed by Ralph, who mentions cryonics companies going bankrupt because of power failures. This was why they were placed in a cryonics satellite that used solar power instead.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The Romulan Warbird from this episode is much larger than the Enterprise. Future episodes show that they're about the same size.
    • Also, as the synopsis dryly points out and places like SF Debris love joking about, the crew not only seems really stuck up about the superiority of their century but even make some weird comments like death not being that big a deal anymore. This is all down to Roddenberry being on his extreme futurism kick, and as soon as Gene had to fade into the background, these elements were pared back substantially (viewer criticism of these attitudes even at the time didn't help, either).
    • The Romulan uniforms have sashes with the TOS-era Romulan logo on them. Starting with season 2's "Contagion", Romulan uniforms would have harness-like belts with the 24th century Romulan raptor logo.
  • Finger-Tenting: The Romulan played by Mark Alaimo poses like this.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The three revived cryogenic patients.
  • Future Imperfect: From the defrostees' point of view, and you can't blame them. They wake up and are treated as nuisances by everyone, get told off for treating the Enterprise as if it were a cruise ship when it honestly looks like one, and no-one takes five minutes to explain roughly whats happened during the last 400 years?! They also don't show them much in the way of entertainment, or even how to access an encyclopedia so they can get back up to speed. Furthermore, from their point of view, the people of the future act so condescending and pretentious towards them, you really can't blame Ralph for throwing some of that bile right back!

    In the crew's defense, they're also gearing up for the possibility of a Romulan incursion, and the senior staff doesn't really have the time to focus on holding their hands. Though assigning a junior officer (from a department not likely to be focused on if conflict breaks out) or even Wesley to catch them up to speed probably wouldn't have gone amiss.
  • Housewife: Data looks up Clare's occupation as "homemaker" and believes it is "some sort of construction work."
  • Human Popsicle: The medical variety; all three were frozen immediately after death in the hope that they could be revived once medical science had caught up with their ailments. They succeeded, just several hundred years later than they were expecting.
  • Identical Grandson: Clare remarks that the computer's image of her great-great-grandson looks exactly like her husband.
  • Innocuously Important Episode:
    • The B-Plot about how outposts on both sides of the Neutral Zone are vanishing, seemingly scooped up? Yeah, despite this episode being not altogether that impressive, this is the first time in Star Trek that the Borg's influence is felt. This episode (and the similarity to how the outposts disappeared) is later talked about in " Q Who".
    • The Romulans are back on the scene after decades of seclusion. Much intergalactic meddling will ensue.
  • Insecurity System: Either these three civilians from the 20th century that the officers treat as loose cannons have been given special clearance, or anyone on the Enterprise can simply wander onto the bridge just by asking to see the Captain.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Happens with Ralph twice. First, he sure isn't being unreasonable in demanding to be brought up to date after nearly 400 years in cryostasis as explained in Future Imperfect. Second, towards the end, Ralph doesn't know a thing about Romulans, but he gets their intentions better than Picard.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The Enterprise has a crew complement of roughly 1,000, with many of those personnel being scientists (plus at least one schoolteacher for the kids and a barber), whose services during a possible confrontation with the Romulans would not be considered very essential. Couldn't they spare a botanist or a geologist or again Wesley to wrangle the throwbacks while the more relevant crew is busy?
  • Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: The behaviour of the unfrozen cryogenic survivors falls neatly within gender stereotypes: Offenhouse is a power-hungry rich guy, who's extremely concerned about the fate of his vast fortune; Raymond is a housewife, who only seems to care about what happened to her kids and their descendants; while Clemonds is laid-back musician, who's not at all fazed by the 24th century, as long as he can score some drugs, have parties, and hit on women.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: Ralph has this view regarding the 24th century society (what little he knows of it), since he was a financier, a job the moneyless economy of the Federation has no use for. Picard tells him that the challenge is to "improve yourself" (what this means isn't explained).
  • Noodle Incident: The "Tomed Incident," which was the last time until now that The Federation and the Romulans confronted each other.
  • Obvious Beta: With the writers' strike looming, the crew desperately pulled a first draft script off the pile and filmed it without any of the fine-tuning that usually happens on TV shows. And boy, does it show.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Captiain Picard gives several of these to Ralph Offenhouse, who is widely considered the least sympathetic of the three and a living example of what was wrong with the era that he came from. After a full episode of condescension, Picard finally reaches out to a lost, distraught and humbled Offenhouse who has finally come to terms with the reality that his way of life is obsolete and that capitalism is not just dead, but also considered backwards and neanderthalic.
    Ralph Offenhouse: But what's the challenge?
    Picard: The challenge is to improve yourself; enrich yourself. Enjoy it.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Dear lord, the main cast were complete and total jerks to three survivors who woke up in a world where everything they knew was gone, and the viewers are supposed to side with them? Picard even seemed to question Crusher's judgement when she revived them. (As if a doctor worth her degree would consider anything else for a patient she was capable of curing.)
  • Shout-Out: Look closely and you'll see that Clare's descendants include fellows by the names of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker, as well as Kermit T. Frog, Miss Piggy, Mary Richards, and Lou Grant.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Ralph, one of the revived patients, consistently behaves as though he's the most important person on the Enterprise, although in fairness, all he really wants is for someone to explain what the hell has been going on for the last 400 years.
  • Straw Loser: The three 20th-century people only exist to be lectured at about how much they suck for being 20th-century people. Riker even comments (extremely disdainfully) that he can't see how humanity survived that era if they were anything like these individuals. Although canonically the years they were put into stasis coincide with the start of the Eugenics Wars, which would then be followed with over twenty five years of World War III! Things didn't start to settle down again until the end of the 21st Century. So, given their knowledge of history, it would not be surprising for the crew of the Enterprise to regard people from that era as being virtual barbarians. Their generation almost did destroy themselves. However, in the episode itself the reason for his view isn't made clear, making him come off as oddly and uncharacteristically contemptuous.
  • Totally Radical: All of Sonny's lines were written by someone who really thought they knew how country singers talk. He knows where the bear sits!
  • Unfazed Everyman: As Data mentions, Sonny adapts to his situation much better than Ralph or Claire.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Dr. Crusher is fairly condescending when she describes how people in the 20th Century "feared death" from what are now easily curable ailments.
  • We're Back: As the Romulan Commander says (and the rest of the series would prove), they certainly are.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: One of the cryogenic chambers Data and Worf discover is empty, but we never find out what happened to the whoever was inside it.
  • What Year Is This?: Ralph asks this question, and gets the answer 2364 (quite possibly the first time an episode of the franchise establishes a Gregorian calendar year).
  • Wham Line: Romulans have been noticeably absent and unmentioned for the entire first season of the show.
    Romulan Commander: We are back!