Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Ghost Story, Star Trek The Next Generation Style Is "The Next Phase!"

The Good: Clever Premise, Good Acting, Interesting Character Development
The Bad: Well, why DON'T they fall through the floors?!
The Basics: When Ro and LaForge fall out of phase, they learn of a Romulan plot to destroy the Enterprise and the Federation and must work to let their friends know!

Sometimes when Star Trek The Next Generation innovated, they did great things. They managed to take several standards and put out great pieces, from psychological thrillers ("Frame Of Mind") to invasion stories ("Conspiracy") to romance ("The Perfect Mate") to comedy ("Q-Pid"). Star Trek The Next Generation had a way of making a distinctive piece out of material that had been done or overdone. In "The Next Phase," the series took on the classic ghost story.

When the Enterprise encounters a damaged Romulan scout ship, they render assistance and promptly lose Ensign Ro and Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge. As the crew of the Enterprise mourns the loss of their officers and saves the Romulan ship, Ro and LaForge awaken on the Enterprise, but no one can see or hear them. Geordi soon realizes that the two of them have somehow been pushed out of phase, that their type of matter is able to pass through all other matter, kind of like the difference between gaseous and liquid states. Fearing the implications of a Romulan phasing device that would make Federation shields and defensive networks obsolete, Ro and LaForge work to return themselves while being hunted by a Romulan in the same predicament.

The reason a ghost story where people pass through walls and cannot be seen by anyone else works is because we don't know what ghosts are or how they exist. There are certain aspects of disbelief that may be suspended under the guise, "It's a ghost, so it can do that." The problem in "The Next Phase" is that Ro and Geordi are not ghosts. Therefore, their ability to pass through walls and objects ought not to be limited to walls. So, why Geordi and Ro (who still seem to be victims of gravity) do not simply get sucked through the floors of the ship to the source of the Enterprise's gravity is a mystery that is unsatisfactorily resolved. Indeed, the writers shirk from even addressing this rather important issue.

Outside that rather glaring flaw, "The Next Phase" is a great episode. Instead of being some form of ridiculous "this is how we should live our lives" type ghost story, this becomes an interestingly plotted show that has a problem and solution that are closely related.

Add to that, this is a good use of most of the characters. While Ro is convinced she is dead and attempts to make amends, Geordi becomes closely involved with Data's investigation of the phenomenon and seeing the two working together, though separately, is intriguing. Add to that, Riker's comments on Ro and Data's attempts to make a worthwhile memorial to the fallen officers is both funny and realistic.

The episode hinges on two performances, those of Levar Burton and Michelle Forbes. Burton does a great job at playing LaForge as energized and enthusiastic in a way that he has never done before. Unlike prior episodes where Geordi has to solve a problem ("Galaxy's Child," for example), here Geordi seems in control and competent at the least. His solution to the problem is great and it reminds us that Geordi has a purpose. I suspect much of Burton's performance as Geordi is simply Burton expressing appreciation for being used. He was easily the most neglected talent on Star Trek The Next Generation.

But this is also Michelle Forbes' time to shine. Forbes has played Ro as angry, acerbic, seductive and outright mean. Here she has the chance to employ her acting abilities to infuse Ro with deep remorse. She manages to take the emotions far beyond the simple lines given to her and convey a very genuine sense that Ro is sorry for her mistakes and even the life that she's had. She gives a performance that reads as very true for anyone who has ever had a regret.

If you're not a fan of science fiction or action films, there is little to recommend here. "The Next Phase" is part political thriller, part conspiracy drama, part action/chase story and it comes together quite well because it is focused on the characters. Anyone who enjoys immersing themselves in a place other than Earth will find "The Next Phase" a nice distraction.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fifth season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode or movie 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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