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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S5E26 S6E1 "Time's Arrow"

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This is how the two-parter starts. And that's before they meet Mark Twain.
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Original air date: September 21, 1992

The Enterprise is called back to Earth to investigate an unusual artifact in San Francisco, an ancient pocket watch and Data's head, apparently left untouched for five centuries. While examining it, Geordi notes that it has a microscopic life form on it native only to the planet of Devidia II. Picard sets a course to investigate. On the way there, the crew grapple with the apparent revelation that Data will at some point travel back in time to the 19th century and die. Data, however, is comforted that his life will have a conclusion, like any other life form.

At Devidia II, Picard orders an away team down to investigate some temporal disturbances. Troi detects invisible human life forms in the caverns. In spite of Picard's best efforts to exclude him, Data is needed to complete the survey. Data uses some Applied Phlebotinum to phase himself to where the humans are. He describes reptilian aliens feeding on the humans' energy near a trapped "ophidian" (a snake). But then Data gets caught in a temporal distortion opened by the aliens and stops communicating.

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Data awakens in 19th century San Francisco, which is in the midst of a cholera outbreak. Convincing the locals that he is a Frenchman to excuse his strange outfit and mannerisms, he quickly sets about building a temporal device using the money he earns from playing poker. He spots Guinan's picture in the paper and rushes to meet her at an event she's attending with Samuel Clemens. Data assumes that she's traveled back to meet him, but she's actually just her 500-year-younger self. As they discuss the future, they realize that Clemens has been listening to their entire conversation, blowing Data's cover. Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, the crew prepare to use their own phlebotinum to jump back in time to rescue Data. Guinan tells Picard in no uncertain terms that he must go back in time as well, or less he and she will never meet.

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At the beginning of part 2, we have Clemens trying to spread word about time travelers in their midst as Data and Guinan go about their temporal business. Meanwhile, two Devidians are lurking in the neighborhood sucking the life force from the vulnerable population. The Enterprise away team has established themselves as an acting troupe as they look for signs of Data and the Devidians. They quickly deduce that the Devidians are using the cholera outbreak as a cover for their life-sucking.

The Devidians arrive at the hospital where Crusher is staking out, and she summons the crew back for a big brawl. They drive off the Devidians and steal their snake-topped cane, which is some sort of temporal device. The brawl attracts the police, and they're chased away, but the temporal disturbances have alerted Data, and he arrives just in time to spirit them to safety. Guinan meets Picard for the first time, and he assures her that they will become "more than friends." The united group studies the cane and realizes that it can return them to their time if they get back to the temporally anomalous cave. They all depart, not realizing that Clemens is in hot pursuit.

In the caverns, Clemens tries to arrest the group for interfering with the timeline, but the Devidians arrive and attack. Data and a Devidian fight over the cane, which emits a blast of energy that blows Data's head off. A temporal gate back to Devidia II opens, through which one of the Devidian escapes. The crew follows, along with Clemens, leaving Picard behind with the unconscious Guinan, one injured Devidian, and Data's head. Picard questions the Devidian and learns that if the crew attacks their cavern in the 24th century, it will destroy the Earth through the temporal connection. Picard uses an iron filing to adjust Data's positronic brain to send a message into the future.

Clemens arrives in the 24th century and reclaims his pocket watch. When he's beamed aboard the Enterprise, he's amazed but horrified, assuming that militarism and the enslavement of other species now reign, while simple pleasures like cigars and chivalry are forgotten. Troi explains how the 24th century is actually pretty amazing, which eases Clemens's concerns. Meanwhile, Geordi tries to reattach Data's 500-year-old head to his body but has trouble. Eventually he finds and removed the iron filing from Data's head. When Data comes back online, he relates Picard's message to not attack the Devidians. Geordi has Riker call off their impending attack just in time.

Due to Techno Babble, the ship will need to adjust their photon torpedoes to attack the Devidians safely. Meanwhile, they have to send someone back to get Picard. Only one person can go back this time, and Clemens volunteers. He arrives in the cavern with the snake cane and explains how to use it. Guinan bids farewell to Picard for 500 years, but for him it will only be a few minutes. Picard jumps back to his own time and gets beamed away just before the Enterprise's torpedoes annihilate the Devidians. The day is saved. In the 19th century, Guinan is carried away in a stretcher, and Clemens remembers to leave his watch behind so that he will find it again in the past.


Tropes:

  • Artistic License – History:
    • Mark Twain's response to Alfred Russell Wallace is a little misplayed here. Wallace only made the mistake of thinking man was the pinnacle of evolution, as if evolution had a goal. He never thought man was the center of the universe. Additionally, Twain's real response was a more scientific reaction than the spiritual one given in the episode.
    • Jack London never worked as a bellhop, and Samual Clemens was actually touring Europe during the time the story takes place.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: A major plot point revolves around aliens using a cholera epidemic as cover for killing people by feeding off their energy. However, the episode misunderstands a few things about cholera:
    • Dr. Crusher declares that a large-scale cholera outbreak is unlikely on the grounds that the disease "just isn't that virulent." While person-to-person transmission is rare, cholera has historically been transmitted by contaminated drinking water caused by inadequate, unsanitary water infrastructure; large-scale but fairly-localized outbreaks were common (including in late nineteenth-century San Francisco). Perhaps they were all caused by the aliens?
    • The writers also seem to be thinking of cholera as a respiratory disease. When Jack the bellboy clears his throat because Data hasn't given him a tip yet, Data advises him to watch his cough because of the epidemic. However, coughing isn't a symptom of cholera, which is an intestinal disease and more likely to cause diarrhea and vomiting. Data is probably aware of this and is just trying to get Jack to scram. SF Debris speculates that the disease was originally tuberculosis, since the 49er had the symptoms of it (shivering, coughing, and so on), but for some reason it was changed to cholera.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Riker tells the suspicious policeman he has the utmost respect for the law, then lays him out with a haymaker.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": The landlady stumbles through a line as Titania, which the crew hails as acting genius to get into her good graces.
  • Bilingual Bonus: When Data says he's French, one of the gamblers speaks to him in it, and Data replies. Both of their dialogue is left untranslated. What the gambler says is his parents came from Burgundy, while he was born in New Orleans. Data then comments that they're almost brothers, and also he is new in town.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Data says that one of his components is toxic when in contact with human skin, causing Twain, who nicked the component and was hiding in the wardrobe, to reveal himself — though in this case, Data probably wasn't lying and didn't know Twain was hiding there.
  • Bluff the Impostor:
    • Twain attempts this on Data. He fails.
    • Likewise when Data pretends to be a Frenchman, one of the gamblers talks to him in French. Presumably because of his Omniscient Database, Data can speak it fluently.
  • Bookends: The two-parter begins with the discovery of Data's dismembered head in the present. And the two-parter ends with a shot of Data's dismembered head in the past.
  • Call-Back:
    • Guinan had earlier stated that a bald man was kind to her once. Here the camera brings special attention to Picard taking off his hat after he saves her.
    • When Guinan asks if they're friends in the future, Picard says that what they have goes beyond friendship.
    • When Clemens follows the crew to the future and onto the ship, Riker calls security. Clemens asks if Riker's afraid he'll go around stealing things. The last time the Enterprise hosted a visitor from the past, precisely that happened.
    • Data's definition of friendship, as quoted by Troi to Riker, is drawn verbatim from the episode "Legacy" (although Troi wasn't present in the scene where he said it, we can assume he must have said the same thing to the counselor at some point).
  • Change the Uncomfortable Subject: Lampshaded by Data, who says people have a habit of changing their conversations when he enters a room after finding about his "death" — just as Riker and Troi just did. If he had his emotion chip installed, one would get the impression he was getting annoyed at it. Troi certainly gets that impression, and apologizes for being rude.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Data puts all of his "poker night" skills to good use.
  • Cliffhanger: Season 5 ends with Picard leading the rest of the crew through the time vortex.
  • Cool Shades: Geordi has to switch his VISOR out for a pair of these as part of his nineteenth-century disguise. They even have decorative elements on the frames that conceal the blinking red lights on his temples.
  • Conqueror from the Future: Mark Twain believes Data is this trope.
  • Dark World: The Devidians' 'out of temporal phase' state is treated like this.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Due to some Politically Correct History, the only acknowledgement of racism in the 19th century is when the police officer takes the ophidian cane from Geordi and suspiciously notes that it's a "gentleman's" cane.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: The plot is kicked off by finding the Data's head in San Francisco, but he's not actually upset by this, and is instead glad that he will have a death rather than live forever.
  • Evil Gloating: When Picard tells the injured Devidian that his people will destroy their habitat in the future to protect Earth, she tells him — with obvious relish — that they will simply destroy their own world by doing so. This backfires, though, as Picard is able to send the crew a warning via Data's head.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Data and the rest of the crew acclimates pretty quickly to the 19th century. Data uses his poker earnings to establish a headquarters and begin building advanced technology. The rest of the crew manage to pass themselves off as locals, though they're reduced to some chicanery to make up for their lack of cash.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Picard encodes a message on Data's head using an iron filing to tap it out in binary code.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, when Geordi tells Guinan about Data's head being found in the cavern, her reaction hints that she knows more about this than she's letting on. As Geordi leaves, she murmurs to herself, "Full circle."
  • Funny Foreigner: Data is assumed to be a Frenchman due to his odd appearance, despite having no accent. He decides to run with it. A policeman also calls him albino due to his very pale skin.
  • Grandfather Paradox: The Enterprise almost unleashes one until Data stops it—Riker was planning to destroy the Devidian base with photon torpedoes, unaware that the explosion would propagate through the time portal and end up destroying 19th-century Earth.
  • Have We Met Yet?: Picard and Guinan. This is the ultimate outcome of some Foreshadowing in an earlier episode where Guinan said she had known Picard for a long time.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • In 1893, while putting up monitors in gaslights, Picard tells a guard it's to proof them against earthquakes. The guard scoffs at the notion of an earthquake in San Francisco — since the last one hit almost 30 years prior — but 13 years later...
    • A brief one when Clemens is brought up to the Enterprise and asks if they've ever spotted Halley's Comet. Clemens was in fact born exactly two weeks after the comet appeared in the sky in 1835. He wrote in his autobiography that he hoped to die the next time it was sighted, and did so in 1910, the day after the comet passed by Earth once again.
    • Bellhop Jack London mentions going to Alaska.
  • Hope Spot: Picard asks if the severed head is somehow Lore's, but Data rules this out immediately.
  • Hustling the Mark: Jack chuckles at Data "pretending" to be a French moron and hustling three of the biggest card sharks in San Francisco. Of course, the poor sharks had no idea they were dealing with someone who can count cards better than any organic being, has the ultimate poker face and can stack a deck without anyone realizing it. Riker might be able to win against Data consistently, but for these Old West hustlers, Data represents an Outside-Context Problem.
  • I Am One of Those, Too: In the past, Riker poses as a policeman. He tries to bluff a real policeman by saying he just transferred from downtown, only to learn that the cop actually works downtown.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) gets involved, and the hotel bellboy turns out to be Jack London.
  • Inflation Negation: Data tips Jack $1. In 2019 money, Data gave Jack almost $30. No wonder Jack immediately offers his services to anything Data wanted.
  • It Will Never Catch On: At one point, Jack asks Data if he thinks there's really money in "horseless carriages."
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: While Data getting sent to the past was an accident, it's the rest of the senior staff (save Worf) who willingly go back. It's just as well, as Twain's reaction to seeing Worf is to exclaim "Werewolf!" Meanwhile, Guinan instructs Picard to go to maintain a Stable Time Loop.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship: When Data's head is found among 20th century relics on Earth, the crew attempt to comfort him about his destruction. Rather than being morose about this, Data is delighted that he will have a "death," as his expected longevity means that so many of his friends in Starfleet will have lived and died that he will be unable to remember them all properly; whereas having only a limited few close friends means that Data can cherish them much more dearly.
  • Newspaper Dating: Data does this to tell both where and when he is.
  • Nice to the Waiter: While it takes some prompting for Data to understand, he pays a dollar as a tip to Jack, which is like tipping $100 today. He also lets him keep the change when buying the materials he needs.
  • Of Corset Hurts: It's never explicitly brought up, but in a subtle touch, Troi and Crusher both uncomfortably feel their sides while dressed in period costume.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Data sits down at a poker table with the most disreputable-looking bunch of 19th-Century gamblers you've ever seen, trades his communicator for a three-dollar entry fee, and starts dealing. Data's next scene is returning to his room with period-appropriate clothing and a briefcase full of cash, with young bellhop Jack in tow, gazing at him in admiration. It's worth noting that Data can stack the deck faster than the eye can see, and they did let him deal. Under the circumstances, it's plain to see how the mark became the hustler.
  • Oireland: Mrs. Carmichael has a nice, thick Oirish accent.
  • Politically Correct History: Guinan (a Human Alien who is played by Whoopi Goldberg and thus is indistinguishable from a human of African descent) is depicted as a wealthy and popular socialite in 1893 who goes to parties with white people who don't seem to have a single problem with her. Her fond interactions with Mark Twain make more sense, as he was a huge backer of Civil Rights for women and African-Americans. In addition, San Francisco was more tolerant than the rest of the United States... of everyone except Asians. Furthermore, Guinan, an El-Aurian, may be using More Than Mind Control to assuage any prejudices towards her, too.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Data's head is found to still be in working condition after about half a millennium underground, with a postmortem-programmed message still recorded and intact inside. Which was programmed using an iron filing. Not only was the head still working, it was returned to service and seems none the worse for its advanced age, throughout the remainder of the series and movies!
  • Really 700 Years Old: Guinan looks no different in 1893 than she does in 2368. However, she does act like a teenager who used her parents' car without permission when she thinks Data is sent from her father.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Data has trouble communicating with Jack the bellhop because of his unnecessarily complicated language. He repeatedly refers to the snake creature as an "ophidian."
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Data looks rather spiffing in 19th Century threads.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Data explains his odd appearance and behavior by claiming to be French, which is also the excuse of the Coneheads.
    • Picard tells their landlady in the past that they are a theater troupe working on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is appropriate since that play has a subplot about a poor, sketchy theater troupe working on a play.
    • Clemens notes that he's familiar with time travel and has written a novel about it, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. He suspects that the time travelers are up to as much mischief as his own character.
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • Picard leaves the watch behind, along with the other artifacts they discovered at the start of the episode.
    • Clemens is about to take his watch with him, but after realizing it was found in the cave hundreds of years later, he puts it back down. The way he acts about it has the air of someone leaving a souvenir for newly made friends.
    • The crew also leave Data's head behind. Data now wears his original head, five centuries older than the rest of him.
      Guinan: (looking at Data's head) What's that?
      Picard: (knowing smile) It's history... fulfilling itself.
    • Guinan instructs Picard to go on the away mission before all of this. She even smiles and murmurs, "Full circle" when finding out about the mission.
  • The Slow Path:
    • Data's head stays hidden in the mine for five hundred years.
    • Picard's farewell to Guinan. She says "See you in a few hundred years", and Picard muses for him it'll only be a few minutes.
  • Stock Footage: An establishing shot of Starfleet Academy is recycled from "The First Duty".
  • True Companions: The two-parter focuses a good bit on Picard and Guinan's friendship, and Data's with the rest of the Enterprise crew.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Geordi predicts that the Devidians are shapeshifters, and he's correct. They pass themselves off as severe-looking humans in San Francisco.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?:
    • Surprisingly, Data doesn't, though for two good reasons. One, he doesn't want to outlive his friends, and two, mortality brings him closer to his goal of being human. He does mention how some people would think that Living Forever Is Awesome.
    • When Picard wishes he had time to talk more with Twain, Twain smiles and tells him to read his books - everything he is is in them (hinting at Twain's "immortality".)
  • Wild Card Excuse: The answer to any question about Data's strange appearance is that he's a Frenchman. Everyone immediately understands (it helps that he can speak French as fluently as English). This may double as a Shout-Out to The Coneheads.
  • Write What You Know: In-Universe, Jack pesters Mark Twain to collaborate on a writing project. He then mentions he's going to Alaska, and Mark quickly gives him this advice, though mostly to get Jack off his back (Jack takes his advice).
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Data tells this to Picard. Regardless, Picard still wants to give it a try. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
  • Young Future Famous People: The bellhop turns out to be Jack London. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), however, is already famous at the time.
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