The Good: Acting
The Bad: Plot, Lack of character development, Redundancy
The Basics: Given this poorly scripted, horrible episode that's utterly lacking in interesting characters, it's amazing Star Trek The Next Generation was renewed for a second season.
It's something impressive to consider that Star Trek The Next Generation survived its first season and was renewed for a second one. On the strength of its first season finale, it's nothing short of a miracle. "The Neutral Zone" ends the first season with a whimper, the likes of which will not be seen in the "Star Trek" franchise until "Star Trek Voyager's" abysmal first season finale.
"The Neutral Zone" is a disappointing rewrite of two episodes of Star Trek, "Space Seed" (click here for that review!) and "Balance Of Terror" (click here for that review!). So, the episode begins with the Enterprise finding a derelict ship that has people in suspended animation. They are rethawed and cause problems for the crew. As well, the Enterprise is sent to the Romulan Neutral Zone to discover why various Federation outposts have been destroyed. There they encounter a Romulan vessel equipped with a cloaking device and they learn that the Romulans are breaking their isolation to be a menace to the neighborhood again. We also, incidentally, learn that the Romulans are not responsible for the destruction of the outposts along the Neutral Zone (we don't find out who the real villains are until late next season).
The episode succeeds only in that the actors all make it through the hour without looking like they're presenting the worst script to come down the pike for quite a while. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner stand out as convincingly portraying Picard and Data throughout the episode. The guest actors tend to do fine, adequately playing characters who find themselves drastically out of time and space, shocked by being alive and the changes in the universe since they were put to sleep.
What fails to work is the plot. It's obvious, it has been done and it's troubling how the producers present this episode as something new. The problem is "Balance Of Terror" was essentially a cowboy episode and the whole "philosopher kings in space" aspect of Star Trek The Next Generation makes that whole half of the episode not stand up. That is, it seems like the writers are trying to retell the same story with diplomats instead of gunslingers and it loses all its soul here. Likewise, the sleeper ship plot worked well in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed" because the Enterprise unwittingly wakes up a villain. "The Neutral Zone" attempts to do the same thing, but the closest to a villain that they wake up is a businessman and a nuisance. It hardly resonates with the same villainy as Khan.
Even for people who have not been fans of Star Trek and know that "The Neutral Zone" is a complete rip off, it fails to please. The characters who are reawakened are uninteresting, the Romulan menace doesn't seem terribly menacing and while it's nice to see Counselor Troi doing her job, it's hardly good television.
If you're getting into Star Trek The Next Generation, watch this episode before "Conspiracy," (click here for that review!) then use that episode as the season finale. At least that way, you would have enough to entice you back to the second season.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.