13. Time Squared

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I was going to write about how I didn’t like this episode, but I saw myself doing that and I realized it would be a mistake. So I shot that other me with a phaser set on stun (killed the poor guy unfortunately), and came up with several new ways to see this episode.

As an Allegory

In Groundhog Day, I love the scene where Phil says, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and everyday was exactly the same and nothing you did matter?” To which Ralph responds, “That about sums it up for me.”

Phil is talking about something supernatural, but Ralph is talking about something that can and does happen to all of us. He’s talking about getting stuck in a rut. It’s here we realize Phil’s dilemma is our own. What do we do when we’re stuck in a rut? How do we get out of it?

Let’s imagine Time Squared is a lesson along these lines.

We have a man divided. Picard Two (P2) made a bad decision and is going to make it again, and Picard Prime (PP) doesn’t want to make the same mistake. It’s like anyone who has gotten in a rut by doing the same thing time and again, by accumulating bad habits.

Those habits come from how we live our lives. They are the parts that make us whole. Yet if the habits continuously lead us down roads without turns, then those parts and by extension WE are the problem. To change, the only solution is to change the parts, which means we must be different people. Thus we must bring our old selves to an end and bring about the birth of someone new.

This is what Picard Prime did. He examined P2 and the decision he made, which PP knew was wrong. PP also saw P2 was set on the course, and could not consider any other options. So PP had to kill P2, which meant he had to metamorphosize into a new person who wouldn’t make the same bad decisions.

As a Knuckleball

Knuckleballs are this type of baseball pitch that is notoriously difficult to hit, but also hard to catch. They’re slow, but they change directions randomly, moving up and down and side to side. If a catcher reaches forward to for it, it’s likely to change directions, and she’ll miss.

The way to catch it is not to reach forward, but to wait, and only move your glove up or down or side to side.

We can look at Riker’s suggestion this way. PP and Riker have a brainstorming session about how to deal with a problem that hasn’t happened yet. They don’t know what it is, but they know it will destroy the Enterprise.

Riker says PP’s strength is seeing a changing situation and taking a definitive preemptive step. In other words, reaching forward for the ball. Now PP is under serious stress because he can’t go with his strength. As PP puts it, he has to sit down, shut up, and wait.

That’s what he does. He watches P2 until the last moment when he doesn’t have to reach forward to stop him.

As Opposite Day

In the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” George Costanza decides his every instinct is wrong, so the opposite of what he thinks he should do is the correct course. And that’s basically the plot of Time Squared.

The crew knows they’re about to make the wrong decision, resulting in everyone’s death. So PP must do the opposite of whatever P2 did. Or whatever he would naturally do.

The opposites keep going from there. PP is the opposite of how he usually is. He is filled with doubt and behaves irrationally when he is screaming at P2.

Riker is more in command than PP. He orders the tractorbeam and the stand down from red alert. He orders PP to bring Data to the shuttle bay. He even almost grabs PP’s arm to force him to stay in the shuttle bay to look at the damage on the shuttle.

Plus everything has the opposite effect on the shuttle 2 and P2. The shuttle has no power, and the power inverter has the opposite effect. To restore power, they have to invert it away from the way they usually would. P2’s body clock is out of synch with time, so stimulants have a depressing effect that almost kills him.

Plus PP probably shot P2 with a phaser on stun, but because it was Opposite Day it killed him (shout out to Alexander aka Mr. Picard to whom this insight actually belongs).

As Eye Candy

The visual effects are amazing. Easily the best I’ve seen yet during this rewatch, and that includes the recycled shots from the movies. The care taken in arranging the shots and movements in the special effects are notable.

Here I mean the vortex, the light blue cloud that funnels down like a tornado in a field of stars. The light blue approaches the color of the Enterprise’s gray, and the darker blue lights on the nacelles flashing in the center, draws the eye. The scale is impressive.

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In a bird’s eye shot, we see the vortex behind the Enterprise, a tunnel of energy with a center as bright as the sun, but blocked by the ship. When the ship turns into the tunnel at the end of the episode, the lights become leading lines, the bright center light is replaced by the Enterprise.

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Even when PP shoots P2, and P2 slumps in doorway of the shuttlecraft El-Baz, he’s arranged across the right third while on the left we see the vortex, a massive purple and blue and white storm on just the other side of a suddenly fragile seeming forcefield. The white core of the vortex and the angle of the shuttle craft are aligned perfectly to form a line from the front of the shuttle through P2’s head and into the core.

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Or how about how the Enterprise starts to slip down into the vortex? The gracefulness of the motions is wonderful. All of it is real artistry. Forget everything else about this episode and just enjoy how it looks.

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As an Exercise in Form

If we can talk for a moment about the paint instead of the painting, I’d like to talk about some things that at first struck me as heavy handed and even sloppy, but that I started to suspect might be a part of the storytelling that encourages the viewer to share some of PP’s feelings.

I mean the music, the shots, and the lighting.

The music in Time Squared is loud and intrusive. It’s melodramatic and sounds better fit for the first season. But where it’s often trying to create tension where there was none in the first season, here it’s amplifying the emotion Picard was feeling. Plus by coming to forefront as much as it did, it stimulated a natural nervousness, which is exactly what PP was feeling.

There were a lot of strange shots that did the same thing. Like the first shot of Geordi being called to engineering. The camera’s too closed, and he’s posing.

There’s a high angle shot of the shuttle bay that makes it look huge but also makes it look like a set.

The low angle shots of Data in the conference room, Data in the shuttle, and even a worm’s eye view of Geordi.

These shots are startling because they’re unusual, and they make the viewer feel a certain nervous energy. Or in other words, they make us understand how Picard feels.

The lighting does too, but the lighting, all harsh and overexposed, is something else. It almost represents PP’s state of mind. It’s unusual, uncomfortable, too hard and ugly. It’s even hard to look at.

But the moment PP takes the decisive action and shoots P2, thus changing himself and bringing his state of mind back to calm, the lighting becomes normal, just as his mind did. This is at the 41:06 mark on the DVD.

The net result is a negative feeling while watching, a feeling that matches the main character. The unfortunate thing is I suspect a lot of people don’t want to have negative feelings while watching a show. I suspect that might make people hate this episode.

A Short Note about the Beginning

That was strange and unrelated to the rest of the story.

A Little Bit Longer Note about the Beginning

First I want to say, it’s annoying they don’t know the difference between omelets and scrambled eggs. But did anyone get the feeling this was background for a future episode? The beginning of next week’s episode with a vortex interruption? Next week will we be back on course?

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. Strive to be better
  2. Examine yourself and change when necessary
  3. Don’t get locked into one way of thinking
  4. There are times when it’s better to sit back and wait
  5. Solve problems together

Does it hold up?

Yes.

The special effects alone still hold up.

I know a lot of people must be unhappy about the fact the rules of travelling back in time are different here than elsewhere. PP mentions Manheim’s experiments and the Traveler.

Manheim’s being different is easy to forgive. No one was travelling back into time. The times were occupying the same space, so clearly no one’s biological clock is going to get screwed up. Nor is Opposite Day going to occur.

The traveler however does move between times. Shouldn’t he have suffered a disoriented body clock?

Maybe it’s just the act of traveling through this particular vortex, but the fact there still needs to be some explaining isn’t great.

But otherwise we again have a simplified plot, characters used well, and interesting use of storytelling devices. A little frustrating to watch, but ultimately a challenging piece of art.

 

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