The Good: Plot, Concept, Acting, Minor character development
The Bad: Real purpose, Lack of major character development
The Basics: When Picard's old archaeology mentor returns, the Enterprise is drawn into a search for genetic clues to piece together an ancient puzzle.
Throughout its early years, the general criticism against Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation was that all of the aliens looked essentially the same. There were almost no aliens that didn't have two arms, two legs and one head. There were variations, of course, but the majority looked pretty . . . human. The practical reason for this was that the producers of Star Trek were essentially limited to human actors for their "alien of the week." As a result, they are bound by the bodies the actors they can find have. In "The Chase," a more satisfying, in-story explanation is presented.
When Picard's former mentor from the Academy stops by, Picard's interest in archaeology comes back alive. Dr. Galen is demanding but seems to believe in Picard. He implores Picard to join him on his current archaeological mission, but refuses to say what it is. When Picard turns him down, he leaves the Enterprise furious, but soon hails the ship when his small vessel is attacked. Galen dies and Picard, filled with guilt and wanting to do justice to his mentor while learning what was so important that the Uridians had Galen killed, vows to complete his mission. Galen, it turns out, was collecting genetic samples from nearby planets and processing parts of them to form a larger puzzle, which he did not know what it was. Picard takes on the mission but almost immediately, he and the Enterprise are besieged by Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians, all of whom want the missing pieces to the genetic puzzle.
The real disappointment of "The Chase" is that outside Picard, none of the characters grow. As well, Picard's important character growth all comes at the beginning of the episode where we learn just how important archaeology truly is to him. Professor Galen brings up all sorts of feelings in Picard that he articulates with a great deal of sobriety. But as he gets closer and closer to the answer that Galen never lived to see, his demeanor does not change and the plot, the hunt, rules the piece.
Moreover, all of the guest characters are archetypes, not individuals. Galen is every cliche about the demanding taskmaster of a former mentor. The representatives of the other races that are hunting down the clues for the genetic puzzle are all the same and pretty much a caricature of the greedy shopper or desperate hunter. They all pursue the clues relentlessly and with the same sense of hatred for the others doing the same. Yet, despite the very end, none of them truly come alive. This is especially frustrating in an episode that is attempting to give a complex answer to a question that is ultimately based entirely in practicality. And the reason all aliens look the same in the Star Trek universe is the real reason this episode was made.
But the explanation is a surprisingly good one. More than simply the weakly conceived Preservers from the Star Trek novels and barely mentioned in the series, the idea of a genetic puzzle that reveals the similarities between all of the known races, linking together the galaxy in a single community is a clever one. Moreover, it's perfectly plausible in a populated universe such as the Star Trek universe that an ancient race would want to endure and the reconfiguring of their DNA throughout the cosmos is just plain clever.
The idea that the genetic program, which ought to be a symbol to the civilized cultures of the galaxy of their unity, could be so divisive is a wonderful plot. The hunt for the key to what the genetic puzzle will reveal is clever and well-executed. Despite the characters being flat, what they do is engaging to watch. That some go to extreme lengths, like destroying the atmosphere of a planet to eliminate the DNA on the surface, is believable and clever.
And even if the characters do not grow so much, the actors do seem to give it their all. While it begins as a big Picard story, it quickly comes to use the entire ensemble cast. Patrick Stewart bears the brunt of setting up "The Chase," and he adds a melancholy to Picard that has not been present at any point before now. Gates McFadden gives a great performance when Dr. Crusher actually comes into the story to help explain much of the technobabble. McFadden gets her mouth convincingly around many difficult lines. Brent Spiner, as well, supports Stewart well as Data.
"The Chase" answers a pretty basic question in the Star Trek universe, but it manages to do that very well. It makes a great deal of sense and it plays out in a way that is less predictable than most episodes. While most appreciable to fans of the franchise, "The Chase" is quite accessible to anyone who likes a good hunt/chase story. Excellent for anyone who likes science fiction in general.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!
Check out how this episode stacks up against other Star Trek franchise episodes, movies and DVD sets by clicking here! There, you will find episodes organized by rating (best to worst) and clicking on them brings you to their review!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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