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Gaze not into the abyss lest you accidentally write a book

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    July 28, 2015 @ 11:50 pm

    I'm so glad you like this because I love it. I remember watching this for the first time and, even then, thinking it a vindication of the idea that attention to continuity details can be wonderfully effective dramatically as long as they're there for that purpose rather than just being there for the sake of it. I found this a very moving story, for some reason. I think there's something about the idea of slowly, painfully awakening from a kind of hypnosis induced by doing the same things over and over again, and fighting to get oneself to a point where one can break out of that continuum… I also love the moments of the uncanny when Beverly demonstrates foreknowledge, and the foreknowledge seems to spread throughout the group around the table. The sense of shared, communal fright combined with growing realistion is very powerful to me somehow. A perfect example of how something that is superficially very conceptual can reach out and touch the emotions, both political and interpersonal. The sort of thing that really only TNG was in a position to do at the time, and which Frakes aces owing to his attention to detail.

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  2. K. Jones
    July 29, 2015 @ 7:06 am

    It is a little 'clever', but I really think Cause and Effect might be the most accessible bit of 'clever sci-fi' ever done. Frakes' mastery of minutia is obvious from the very beginning of the second loop. It's a strong episode for him, though a bit more of a "pretty good" Riker episode.

    But this thing is all about Crusher. And I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn't remembered it as such. I remembered very well that it does pass the torch here and there and show us the other experiential points of view. But it always comes back Beverly and she's in almost full science explorer mode here, making a great case for why we don't always need Data over-analyzing everything for us. Not only that, but this is an episode where she and Geordi once again get to solve a mystery together and they're rapidly proving to be the most fun duo on the program. Probably precisely because of the lack of testosterone involved.

    But Dorn and Stewart really low-play their bits, too. When Worf catches up he Dorn puts some nice subtle concern into the usually stoic and kind of gruff Worf. Picard's Aunt Adele stories continue wonderfully in a scene so resonant that I still to this day am trying to perfect my own steamed milk recipe. Laren is underserved, and so is Deanna, though Sirtis does something interesting with Deanna's reactions the closer they get to the anomaly.

    One huge thing with this episode, though … the general lack of Guinan is really, really noticeable. Their on-board fate witch whose extrasensory ability to detect changes in the fourth-dimension far exceeds their own, is very conspicuously missing, and it ends up being up to the Enterprisers themselves with their limited human senses to figure out the mystery.

    Somebody probably quite obviously thought while writing; "well, if Guinan's there she's just going to explain the mystery immediately."

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  3. Ross
    July 29, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

    One thing I feel now that I'm older and more literate is that this episode, in its structure and style, kinda feels more like a take on Rashomon than a Groundhog Day sort of time loop. In fact, it kinda feels more like Rashomon than the one that's straight-up doing Rashomon on the holodeck.

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  4. David Faggiani
    July 30, 2015 @ 12:01 am

    I was, of course, waiting for you to get to this one!

    Kinda surprised you resisted doing a 'gonzo' entry for it 🙂 Maybe one where each draft of your review is then repeated, a little more nuanced and tight each time…

    I remember watching this episode with my family in a motel on some holiday as a kid. We tuned in for the teaser, and 60 seconds later, when the Enterprise has exploded and we go to credits, we were all looking at each other in feverish, excited, baffled shock! Terrific memory.

    So, I'll be the one to say it. Resolution involving number of pips on Riker's jacket… bit lame? Could it not have been something a bit more meaningful that got them out? Kinda love it in a Dadaist way, of course!

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  5. Froborr
    July 30, 2015 @ 2:52 am

    Or hiding threes throughout the post, that would've been a nice low-key bit of gonzo.

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  6. Froborr
    July 30, 2015 @ 2:54 am

    Gahhh how much do I love that one poker scene, where they're calling the cards just before they're dealt? Classic unheimlich, just this mounting sense of worrying otherness from such a tiny thing…

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  7. Ross
    July 30, 2015 @ 3:19 am

    It took me a long time to get on board with the solution too. I'm still not hugely satisfied with the resolution hinging on the idea that "3" was a good way to communicate the key piece of information. The best I can make of it is to presume that, given just how limited his bandwidth was, Data reckoned that he had to be cryptic enough that he wouldn't be able to act on the information until the key moment, because he didn't want to risk the timeline diverging early, since that might invalidate his solution. So his message is essentially the answer to, "What was I looking at when the thing I need to do different happened?"

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  8. David Faggiani
    July 30, 2015 @ 6:59 am

    Agreed!

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    July 30, 2015 @ 7:06 am

    Of course a big reason why I didn't do a "gonzo" essay for this episode is because the structure would have been obvious: I either repeat the core argument five times a little different each time or put references to the number 3 everywhere. That would have been expected, and thus boring and predictable. I try not to be boring and predictable.

    Another reason, however, is that I'm still burned out after the essay on "Darmok" that kept me up all night for a week. That's probably as "gonzo" as I'm going to get on this blog for a long time. Though there is an essay with an unorthodox structure on the docket for next season.

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  10. elvwood
    July 31, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

    This is one of the episodes I remember very clearly. For me at least, it hit the balance between timey-wimey cleverness and emotional engagement much better than, say, Doctor Who's The Big Bang, which I kind of admired in a puzzle-box fashion but couldn't really relate to (until the end section with the wedding, after most of the twists were done).

    Fascinating that it was done multi-camera – I always assumed they'd just redone the scenes very carefully. There was a time when Doctor Who was considered behind the times for shooting multi-camera…

    Because of my "casual viewer" status when I was watching these, I never picked up on who did what in production. But I certainly appreciated the direction in this one! Well done, Mr. Frakes.

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  11. Daru
    August 31, 2015 @ 9:53 am

    You knocked it on the head Jack, my feelings exactly and well worded.

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  12. Daru
    August 31, 2015 @ 9:57 am

    "Even if you know going in that the crew is stuck in a causal time loop, that doesn't diminish at all the profound surrealist joy you get of watching the same series of events repeat themselves"

    This is one that I can watch again and again, a perfect balance of the strange and the intimate with some great shooting from Frakes and memorable image and character moments. Lovely stuff.

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