Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 5, Episode 18 – ‘Cause and Effect’
Original Airdate: March 23rd 1992 Directed by: Jonathan Frakes Written by: Brannon Braga
As far as strong series episodes go, I’d argue there are little stronger than that of ‘Cause and Effect’. An old adage in scriptwriting (at least the one I paid attention to in university) is the best scenes drop in as late as possible, get their point directly across and leave as soon as possible. I don’t recall who said that originally, but I suspect whoever they may be, they’d have been proud to the nth degree of this example.
Time travel, twisting stories are fairly common in the history of the Star Trek franchise. What is substantially less common are original takes on the format. That is not to say there were none, there are numerous examples, particularly The Next Generation season two’s ‘Time Squared’, another underrated episode in a largely panned season such as last week’s ‘Deadlock’ from Star Trek Voyager’s Season Two. ‘Cause and Effect’ achieves its originality and does so in large quantities.
It is a credit to the then blossoming directorial efforts of Jonathan Frakes that ‘Cause and Effect’, which is heavy on time paradoxes is so coherent. It’s a fun fact to point out that after the original airing, people called into tv stations to report they were mistakenly replaying the first act over and over. However, even an untrained eye can see that while the same scenes are repeated, subtle difference sneak in until the revelation of the time loop the crew are caught in becomes apparent.
The coherence is a strong endorsement of Frake’s directorial efforts so much so to the point where if I see his name after the ‘Directed by …’ credit on any new show, I know we are in safe hands. There have been 801 episodes and thirteen films at the time of writing and rarely does Star Trek (or any franchise for that matter) balance every character and provide an excellent story at the same time. TNG had a large cast and a relatively brief run time of 45 minutes so it can be difficult to fit everyone in and give them a moment to shine. Something ‘Cause and Effect’ does very well.
A great example is Gates McFadden, her scenes are exceptionally brief, but she somehow becomes the conduit of the show’s narrative, her confusion mirroring the audience’s journey. In the poker scene with Worf, Data and Riker, the acting on display as well as the directing is so strong and director Frakes knows his cast and sets so well, the result is a scene which is genuinely eerie to watch, and each time reveals a little more information. This serves ‘Cause and Effect’ (and arguably the franchise as a whole) well and genuinely creepy Star Trek is not something that is in plentiful supply. It goes without saying that Sir Patrick Stewart’s performance is extremely on point here as it always is. His repeated scream of “ABANDON SHIP” in futility seconds before the Enterprise explodes, is particularly fear inducing.
In the 29 years since ‘Cause and Effect’ first aired, some effects have aged approximately seven decades in the ensuing years. OK, I exaggerate but this is particularly evident in the explosion of the USS Enterprise multiple times across the episode. It is evident it is a not particularly well-detailed model with a firework lit inside, also the preceding fire creeping onto the bridge to envelop it is badly comped in too. Both these are forgivable as with a weekly show budget and its time constraints, post-production is not exactly conducive to a great result. It’s also a shame that you can still see the wires holding the ship in place during a time when it could be easily airbrushed out. Additionally, while I suspect the tried and tested technique of filming fire reflected in glass was not utilised here, the technology behind a convincing CGI fire was not in existence until nine years later when utilised in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Which needless to say, had a slightly larger budget than a weekly show on first-run syndication in 1992.
In conclusion, while results may vary, I really enjoyed the time it took me to watch ‘Cause and Effect’. I would recommend it highly if just for its unique take on the well-trodden time travel story. One which I am sure I have seen copied time and again (pun unintended, but I point blank refuse to apologise for it – In fact, I’d argue that it is Star Trek Voyager’s answer to this classic) but I have significant trouble thinking of where also used it. Perhaps the film ‘Memento’ but apart from that, it really speaks to the unique factor of ‘Cause and Effect’.
‘Cause and Effect’ is a great watch and a welcome distraction for 45 minutes and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Overall, a solid 7 out of 10.
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