The Good: The actors try hard to take it seriously
The Bad: Pointless Beginning, Horrible and Obvious Environmental Lecturing, Pointless Thesis, Lack of Character
The Basics: When the Enterprise crew encounters aliens who insist that warp travel is destroying the fabric of space, the viewers disbelieve and never rewatch.
If you ever want to watch a good fight, walk into a Star Trek convention and ask a few people what the worst episode of any of the specific Star Trek series' was. For Star Trek The Next Generation, you could get some geeks seriously duking it out over the pointless differences between the few real duds the series had. Often, the much-maligned, philosophical first season episodes of the series suffer or the poorly-written second season writer's strike episodes. However, despite how bad "The Royale" (reviewed here!) from that second season was, the argument could be made that the worst possible Star Trek The Next Generation episode was from the series' final season. I argue, for I am a geek, that "Force Of Nature" is the worst episode that Star Trek The Next Generation ever produced.
The Enterprise is zipping through space, looking for a lost starship, when it discovers a Ferengi vessel in the area. Concluding that the Ferengi are responsible for the loss of the Federation ship, the Enterprise pursues and eventually learns the Ferengi are victims of some sort of damage to their ship and not responsible for the disappearance of the Federation starship. The Enterprise resumes its search and ends up being boarded by Rabal and Serova, two scientific terrorists who believe that warp fields are damaging the fabric of space irrevocably. Serova sacrifices herself to create a warp rift in space to prove her point, revealing that warp fields may be tearing apart space as we know it.
This dimwitted episode has so much wrong with it that it seems just to start with what it does right. The actors seem to take it seriously. That's about all. None of the main cast give enthusiastic performances and Brent Spiner seems unusually bland as Data, while LeVar Burton tries to make Geordi somewhat tormented at the idea of warp fields being destructive and instead, he comes across as confused. The guest actors are Margaret Reed and Michael Corbett, who play Serova and Rabal respectively, are uninspired, lack any real vocal inflections to convince us they are passionate, and are otherwise insipid. Even Patrick Stewart, who seems to be making an effort to be a considerate, somewhat cautious Picard, fails to sell us on his mourning the damage to the galaxy his exploration might have done.
The real problem with "Force Of Nature" is it's a disgustingly obvious message trying to be cleverly disguised as something new and different. It fails. The whole idea of warp field pollution damaging the fabric of space is a thinly veiled metaphor for the burning of fossil fuels damaging the Earth's atmosphere. The problem is, they are disanalogous problems. In an effort to make an environmental issue episode, the writers picked a terrible execution. It makes no sense that warp travel would damage space; the principles established in Star Trek are too well-conceived to have such a flimsy argument made against it. The writers are fishing for an environmental issue and this one comes across as just plain silly. If warp fields were truly as dangerous as the alien scientists in "Force Of Nature" argued they were, visible damage would already have occurred in a dozen locations within the Federation alone. Moreover, the cautious nature of the Federation and its origins by the super-intelligent and logical Vulcans would seem to preclude the possibility of using a propulsion method that had even the potential of being destructive. As I said before, it's fairly ridiculous.
The other huge problem with the episode is that it takes a long time to get going. The whole Ferengi chase aspect is a drawn out sequence clearly designed to kill time. The theory of the alien scientists is not enough to hold down an entire episode and as a result, they do not even appear for over twenty minutes of the episode. Until they do, the dimwitted pursuit of the Ferengi vessel is the plot and it is boring.
"The Royale" has a redeeming feature; it's good for a single laugh as Picard and Troi sit down to read the novel on which the pocket universe is based; "Force Of Nature" lacks even that moment of enjoyment. Instead, it is thematically heavy, with a noble goal, but the worst execution of any idea Star Trek The Next Generation ever tried. And that's saying a lot. You don't have to be the Alpha Geek to see that. Were it possible, this lame episode would rate a zero.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode, film and DVD set reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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