Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Time Squared”

“Time Squared”
Written by Maurice Hurley, story by Kurt Michael Bensmiller
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Season 2, Episode 13
Original air date: April 3, 1989
Star date: 42679.2

Mission summary

Riker decides to cook scrambled Owon eggs the old-fashioned way for his friends, but it turns out that while food prepared by the computer might lack “flair or individuality,” the resulting “artistry” is not necessarily palatable. Only Worf is disappointed when their meal is interrupted by an urgent call to the Bridge: sensors have picked up a signal from a Federation shuttlecraft out in the middle of nowhere, with one human aboard.

They intercept and pull the unidentified craft into their shuttle bay, only to discover that it’s one of their own—the El-Baz, shuttlecraft 5. What! Impossible! They already have one of those. When they open her up, they summon Captain Picard to take a look, because there’s another Picard inside. Inconceivable!

The duplicate Picard is unconscious and displaying some odd life signs, so they cart him off to Sickbay (literally) while Data and La Forge tinker with the extra El-Baz, which shows damage from an antimatter explosion. Man, what could cause an antimatter explosion out there? The only ship around is the Enterprise

In order to access its logs to find out what happened to it, they have to charge up its drained battery, but their first attempt shorts out as if they’ve plugged in the wrong AC adapter. As usual, the answer is to reverse the polarity. Data patches in a “variable phase inverter” and it works, even though it shouldn’t.

Pulaski’s having some of the same trouble with the Other Picard. His body has the opposite response to the stimulant she gives him, causing his life signs to drop to dangerous levels. Data and La Forge provide a crucial piece of the puzzle: The El-Baz’s chronometer indicates that the shuttle and its passenger are from six hours in the future. Pulaski manages to wake Other Picard, but he’s disoriented, frightened, in horrible pain, and unable to communicate with them. Picard insists he remain conscious in this condition and calls for a staff meeting.

The Bridge crew watches the distorted, fragmentary shuttle log recovered by La Forge, though Picard is wary of spoilers. The sequence of images is disturbing, showing the shuttle departing from Enterprise into an energy vortex surrounding both vessels, mere moments before the starship is destroyed. A portion of the Captain’s personal log sums things up nicely: “I have just witnessed the total destruction of the USS Enterprise with a loss of all hands, save one. Me.” Ominous, much?

No one can understand why Picard will have abandoned the ship in three hours, least of all himself. There’s nothing between them and their original destination, the Endicor system, that would indicate a timey-wimey vortex that would ruin their day like this, but they conclude it’s more or less inevitable. Oh well.

RIKER: When we brought the shuttle and the other Picard on board, we committed to a sequence of events which may be unalterable.
PICARD: Yes, this is not a rock on the trail which once seen can easily be avoided. This is much more complex.
WORF: There is the theory of the mobius. A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop from which there is no escape.
LAFORGE: So, when we reach that point, whatever happened will happen again. The Enterprise will be destroyed, the other Picard will be sent back to meet with us and we do it all over again. Sounds like someone’s idea of hell to me.
RIKER: Well, I know this much. We can’t avoid the future.

To hell with that, Picard says. They’re gonna try, dammit. They just need to figure out what they did last time and then not do it. That should be as simple as making an omelet!

As their rendezvous with destiny approaches, the Other Picard seems to become more responsive. Pulaski explains that his body clock is catching up with the present, or something. Picard is intent on getting answers from his future self, but Counselor Troi asks him to back off. He’s being awfully hard on the guy, who is barely aware of his surroundings. It seems Picard is disgusted with the man he’s going to become in just a couple of hours and what he represents. Pulaski warns Troi that she will declare the captain medically unfit for duty if his judgment becomes compromised by the unrelenting weirdness.

Picard and Riker mull over their predicament, reminiscing about methods of time travel used in previous episodes, including the old slingshot around the sun at warp 10 to go back in time trick. None of them seem to apply, so Riker recommends Picard just…wait for it. Good advice, particularly because only a second later, an energy vortex opens up right under the ship and starts reeling them in. Picard’s log is illuminating: “We have apparently intersected with something.”

It takes all their power just to maintain their position. Troi detects some primal consciousness in the vortex, which zaps Picard—both of them—with an electrical blast. Realizing that the vortex is only after him, as the “brains” of the operation, Picard decides to leave the ship and give Enterprise a chance to escape. On the way to the shuttlebay he swings by Sickbay to pick up his future self, who is now coherent, mobile, and single-minded in his intent.

Picard talks to himself about the best course of action, second guessing his decisions and desperate to do whatever it was he didn’t do the first time.

OTHER PICARD: I have to leave. There’s no other way.
PICARD: There must be.
OTHER PICARD: One. But it would never work.
PICARD: What is it? What would never work?
OTHER PICARD: I have to leave.
PICARD: What was the other choice? We can’t fight, we can’t escape, we can’t go forward.
OTHER PICARD: No. No, we can’t go forward. That would destroy the Enterprise.
PICARD: Was that it? Is that the other choice?
OTHER PICARD: I must leave.

Everyone knows that to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs, so Picard kills the Other Picard with a phaser, effectively preventing him from leaving the ship and avoiding a causality loop. Then he orders the ship straight into the heart of the vortex.

Unbelievably, that works. They emerge from the vortex, back on course as though nothing had happened. The Other Picard and duplicate El-Baz vanish like a bad dream.

PICARD: A lot of questions, Number One. Damn few answers.
RIKER: Maybe none of it was real. Perhaps we were all part of a shared illusion.
PICARD: Or maybe he was thrown back in time, so that we would be able to take another road. Make a different choice. Well, they say if you travel far enough you will eventually meet yourself. Having experienced that, Number One, it’s not something I would care to repeat.
RIKER: I’ll be on the Bridge, sir.


Huh. Well. By now you know I have a soft spot for time travel puzzles and inexplicable duplicates, but this episode might be a bit too wibbly-wobbly even for me. I love the setup for this episode—the drama over how Riker’s omelet turns out is one of the most engaging teasers we’ve seen yet. What? Wasn’t that the point of the show? If only the commander had replicated the meal instead of cooking, or used fresher produce, none of this ever would have happened. And the biggest question of all is: Was that supposed to be breakfast or dinner?

The B-plot, about the identical shuttle turning up with a double of the captain inside, that’s pretty cool too. The problem is, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and by the end of the episode, no one really knows what happened, if anything. Everyone also seems incredibly slow on the uptake: Riker has to read the name and number of the extra El Baz—twice—before he gets it. And why wasn’t it broadcasting its call letters along with the distress signal?

When it became clear that the shuttle was somehow negative and the Other Picard responded as if he were from Bizarro World, I thought we had another “The Alternative Factor” on our hands (abort! abort!), or at least some kind of mirror universe mischief. But no.

A slightly out-of-shift version of Picard from six hours ahead is a solid idea, but the concept of him somehow catching up to their time is sheer ridiculous technobabble. (Yes, I acknowledge that we’re talking about time travel here, but at least try to sound plausible, okay?) I was also astonished at how Riker seemed so certain that there was nothing they could do to stop it all from happening again. We’re doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

I liked that Picard had to confront the possibility that his future self at best had made a mistake and at worst was a coward who had abandoned ship. The scenes where he watches himself suffer, and allows it to happen, are truly discomfiting. I’m actually surprised they didn’t delve into his history with the Stargazer more, but there’s only so much room for character development and background in one episode, and Riker called dibs to air out his daddy issues, which are conveniently relevant to the next episode. Putting Picard completely out of his element and forcing him to question his every decision is really compelling stuff, but it was ultimately all for naught. I was most shocked that he out and out killed his double, when surely stunning him would have done just as well.

I appreciated the crew gathering to “break bread,” something they managed more successfully on DS9 (Sisko’s a better cook, too) and even Enterprise; they’re continuing to build a nice sense of camaraderie that often carries the show through even the worst episodes. I was also amused to see O’Brien taking all these strange events in, considering that a similar sort of thing eventually happens to him in DS9’s “Visionary,” only his future self comes out ahead in that one.

With the unresolved plot threads that the vortex might be somewhat intelligent and is after Picard in particular, and all the other seeming coincidences and niggling difficulties in the plot, I have to rate this one a resounding “meh.”

And I’ve only just realized for the first time that the title is a pun. Too little, too late.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: Nothing to see here, move it along.

Best Line: Picard: “Somewhere out there something will happen.” (So bad it’s good?)

Trivia/Other Notes: Okay, maybe the episode title isn’t a pun. It was originally called “Time to the Second,” written as “Time²”.

This episode was originally intended to set up the episode “Q Who,” where it’s revealed that Q has just been messing with them, because of reasons. Yeah.

A deleted scene at the end of the episode would have given us more of “Ion Chef” Riker, who prepares an Alaskan stew for his friends that everyone likes–except for Worf.

This is the first of many times that the Enterprise-D is destroyed on TNG.

The El-Baz is a budget-conscious shuttlepod, rather than a full-size shuttlecraft.

The El-Baz is named after NASA scientist and professor Farouk El-Baz.

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 12 – “The Royale.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 14 – “The Icarus Factor.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.