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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.
The Enterprise is called back to Earth to investigate an unusual artifact - which turns out to be Data's head, apparently left untouched for five centuries. While investigating the cause behind this, Data enters a portal which leads him into 19th Century America. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew discovers that shape-shifting aliens are kidnapping human life energy from that time period and feeding on it.


  • 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.
  • 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 figures this out because she finds a large-scale cholera outbreak 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?
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    • 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.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Riker tells the suspicious policeman he has the utmost respect for the law, then lays him out with a haymaker.
  • 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.
  • Book-Ends: 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:
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Data put all of his late night ship games of poker 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 in the plot for no good reason at all (you could replace him with a non-famous 19th century person, and the story would still be pretty much the same), and the hotel bellboy turns out to be Jack London. There's no evidence that the two writers ever met in real life, and Clemens wasn't even in San Francisco when this episode takes place-he was touring Europe at the time. London didn't work as a bellhop either-he signed on with a ship and went to sea the year this takes place.
  • 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 socialite in 1893 who goes to parties with white people who don't seem to have a single problem with her. In fact in the episode she's extremely well-liked and respected by pretty much the entire town. Probably helps that Guinan is a highly-empathetic, centuries-old alien with experience to match, so she might just be that good at making friends. It doesn't hurt that she's best buddies with Mark Twain, who 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.
    • Doctor Crusher bows to the realities of the time period and goes undercover as a nurse rather than a doctor.
    • Geordi mostly plays the trope straight, with one subtle aversion: When the crew is confronted by the cop, he gets more suspicious because Geordi's holding the cane. In the 19th-century cop's mind, thievery is the only possible way a black man could come into possession of a "gentleman's" cane.
  • 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 a steel file. 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.
    • Data's head is now this.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Data looks rather spiffing in 19th Century threads.
  • Shout-Out: Funny-looking guy from space mistaken for French? Where have we heard that before?
  • 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, a couple of 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 a few 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".
  • Talk to the Fist: "I just want you to know that I have the utmost respect for the law."
  • 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.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The people of 19th century San Francisco seem rather blasé about "a man with gold skin in his pajamas appearing out of nowhere", as Phil Farrand put it. Then again, we ARE talking about San Francisco...
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Devidians.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mark Twain thinks Data and Guinan are up to no good. He's written downbeat stories of time travelers in the past, and thinks Data, an inventor, will corrupt the 19th Century as the fictional inventor corrupted the 6th.
  • 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 who turns out to be Jack London. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), however, is already famous at the time.

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