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Star Trek TNG - Season 1 - Episode 26

Star Trek TNG - 1x26 - The Neutral Zone

Originally Aired: 1988-5-16

Picard tries to prevent war with the Romulans. [DVD]

My Rating - 10

Fan Rating Average - 5.43

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 55 6 4 5 16 16 19 19 21 38 33

- Why is Riker so disinterested in the ancient Earth spacecraft? Isn't finding stuff like this exactly the kind of thing starfleet is out there for?
- How does Picard make it into the 20th century people's quarters so quickly? Did he beam outside of the door?

- This episode is a candidate for my "Best Episode of TNG Award."

Remarkable Scenes
- Worf walks into the door on the ancient space vehicle expecting it to open.
- Picard, seems busy and annoyed: "What is it doctor?" Beverly: "It's the people from the capsule." Picard, confused: "Capsule, people, what people?" I just like the way he says that. Like he's in a rush or something. Then when Beverly says she thawed them, Picard says, "You what?" But then listened to her and accepted it.
- I like how Beverly explains how their conditions were terminal in the 1900s but not in the 2300s.
- Picard getting pissed at Data for bringing up frozen people and Data standing his ground.
- The 20th century girl's reaction to seeing a Klingon for the first time was silly, but Picard's line shortly after became famous. "Welcome to the 24th century."
- Data: "Her occupation: homemaker. Must be some kind of construction work."
- I like the question and answer regarding the Enterprise being an "American" ship.
- 20th century music man: "What is that?" Data looks behind him, oblivious to the fact that music man was talking about Data.
- Troi's briefing to Picard on what Romulans are all about is great.
- I absolutely love Data talking about how TV becomes obsolete by 2040. A TV show predicting the fall of TV! Then of course music man's shallow reaction. "You don't drink and you don't watch TV, your life must be boring." So true of people's interests today.
- Riker talking about how the unfrozen people have no redeemable qualities.
- The second Romulan briefing is just as impressive as the first. Everyone is alert, the discussion is intriguing.
- Picard: "Data, identify. What is the Q.E.2?" Data: "It was a passenger liner which traveled mostly Earth's Atlantic ocean during the late 20th and early 21st centuries." Picard: "He's comparing the Enterprise to a cruise ship?" Picard was obviously annoyed at the fact that the guests weren't aware of the fact that the Enterprise was the flagship of the Federation.
- Picard to Offenhouse: "We are in a very serious and potentially very dangerous situation." Offenhouse: "I'm sure whatever it is seems very important to you. But my situation is far more critical." What arrogance! Picard: "I don't think you are aware of your situation or how much time has passed." Offenhouse: "Believe me, I am fully aware of where I am and when. It is simply that I have more to protect than a man in your position could possibly imagine. No offense meant, but a military career has never really been considered to be upwardly mobile. I must contact my lawyer." Picard: "Your lawyer has been dead for centuries." Offenhouse: "Yes, I know that. But he was a full partner in a very important firm. Rest assured that firm is still operating." Picard: "That's what all this is about... A lot has changed in the last 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy." Offenhouse: "You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power." Picard: "The power to do what?" Offenhouse: "To control your life. Your destiny." Picard: "That kind of control is an illusion." Offenhouse: "Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not."
- No surprise but the rest of Picard's scene with the 20th century people is great.
- I love the doctor trying to keep from getting pissed at music man in sickbay when he asks for drugs and sexually harasses her.
- Data's scene with music man was good too. I like how directly he explained 24th century politics to him. Music man: "What is that neutral zone?" Data: "It is a buffer zone between the Romulan Empire and the Federation."
- I love how Picard kept refusing to be as aggressive as Riker and Worf wanted toward the Romulans.
- The Romulan ship decloaking is absolutely thrilling.
- Worf's outburst and the revelation that his parents were killed at Khitomer by Romulans.
- Picard's discussion with the Romulans onboard the Romulan ship was fantastic.

My Review
This episode makes an interesting statement regarding freezing a person after his or her death to preserve their life woven together with a thrilling, mysterious, edge-of-your-seat Romulan plot. I like how everyone assumes Romulans are responsible for the outposts being destroyed only to discover later that they were not responsible. The military tension on board is very like the Red Scare and fear of Communism, which of course this episode is supposed to represent, like many early Romulan episodes. I also like how the previous hostile history with the Romulans makes diplomacy with them now a carefully played complex chess match. Virtually this entire episode is one great moment after another, and we even get some valuable character development along the way, such as a bit about Worf's past. The frozen people and Romulan plots compliment each other very nicely in many ways too. For example, by uncovering these people out of time, the characters get a chance to tell us how much the Federation is an improved version of us. And Picard only reinforces this in his dealings with the Romulans. A great show.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From DSOmo on 2007-06-09 at 3:52am:
    - Why does the Enterprise just hang in space waiting for Picard to return in the shuttle? Why doesn't the Enterprise warp over to get him? It can travel much faster than a shuttle, and as it turns out, speed is of the essence. As soon as Picard reaches the bridge, he sets a course for the Neutral Zone at warp 8!
    - When Offenhouse wanders onto the bridge, Riker orders Security to have him removed. The Security guys do rush over and grab him, but then they get mesmerized by the decloaking Romulan ship. What kind of military discipline is this?
    - While Riker is talking to the recently thawed humans, Picard pages him. Riker gets up from his chair, walks over to a companel, touches it, and responds. Riker is notorious for not touching anything when it comes to communications. And why would he get up and walk over to a companel when he could just slap his chest? Obviously it is a plot contrivance to allow Offenhouse to see how they work so that later in the episode he can bother Picard.
  • From carsonist on 2009-03-28 at 10:14am:
    I was proud of myself for recognizing that the Romulan you see on the left is the actor who later plays Gul Dukat. He still has the same speech patterns.

    In all, a good episode.
  • From onlinebroker on 2009-09-21 at 6:39am:
    Best episode in season 1, but the end feels a bit weird. So the romulans didnt destroy the outpost, who did? Nobody cares and they just leave? Weird.
  • From thaibites on 2009-12-02 at 11:05pm:
    BORING...we needed less losers from the past and more Romulans.
  • From Roland on 2010-04-16 at 5:42pm:
    This episode, IMO, sets the stage for the introduction of the Borg
  • From rpeh on 2010-06-20 at 4:58pm:
    One of the most overrated episodes. The whole thing is so rushed, you have to assume it was originally intended to be a two-parter and got cut down later on. Beyond comic relief, the frozen humans offer nothing and the only purpose of the Romulans is to come out with that awful "we're back" line.

    In brief: the humans serve no real purpose; the Romulans serve no real purpose... so what is the purpose of this episode?
  • From Bernard on 2010-06-21 at 2:36pm:
    I agree completely with rpeh. This episode is decidedly average. There is some talk of the palpable tension when the Romulans make their appearance? Well someone must have forgotten to tell me about it because there is little tension in this episode about 21st century humans trying to deal with waking up 300 years later. While that is an interesting premise it it very rushed and wasted on this episode. As is the reintroduction of the Romulans. They do not threaten, or hint at aggression. There simply is no 'game of chess'. They simply appear near the end to huge hype and there is no payoff at all.

    Overall I would say the fan rating of 6.5 is a pretty good indicator, I'd give it a 5 or 6.
  • From linearA on 2010-09-03 at 12:58am:
    I was bothered by the preachy talk about how people in the 24th century no longer fear death. Still, I was able to overlook the episode's shortcomings, and I consider this the first top-notch episode.
  • From CAlexander on 2011-03-27 at 11:49pm:
    I don't rate this episode very highly, but it did have its moments. When I first watched this episode, and saw the huge new Warbird uncloak in front of the Enterprise, I thought it was pretty cool. The Romulan plot had some definite suspense. But most of the episode was dedicated to the cryogenics plot, which totally clashed with the Romulan plot; the suspense was broken up by silly 20th century antics. Also, the suspense is something of an unfulfilled promise. Of course it sounds interesting to say "The Romulans disappeared mysteriously, nobody has seen them for 50 years, and now they are back!" It sounds like a teaser to make you watch a TV show. But when nothing interesting is really ever made of the premise, it is hard to give it any brownie points.

    Some of the 24th-20th century clashes are interesting as far as how they develop and explain the Star Trek universe. Picard's statement about how the purpose of life in the 24th century is self-improvement, not survival or making money, is particularly memorable to me. But primarily the screen time was spent with the 20th century humans annoying the Enterprise crew, which I didn't find entertaining.
  • From Jeff Browning on 2011-10-20 at 11:17am:
    This episode fleshes out one of the main themes of TNG: the idea that life is no longer about acquisition of material wealth, power, fame, or any of the other external status symbols that we strive for, but is instead about internal things: Intellectual, artistic and spiritual pursuits.

    That is, as long as the pursuits are not in the form of organized religion, which is generally panned by TNG. But I digress.

    The idea that the Federation manages without a concept of currency is commonly expressed in TNG, as it is here. This seems rather preposterous, frankly. Currency is required for any kind of reasonable economy, and in places like Utopia Plenetia we see huge works going on. How is this managed? How does the Federation manage to obtain valuable commodities like dylithium from other races without some form of currency? In Voyager where the crew is frequently running short on stuff, they resort to barter, a rather inefficient way of organizing economic transactions.

    The Ferengi certainly have a currency in the form of gold-pressed latinum, but this is a symbol of how they are less evolved.
  • From Helium on 2012-02-19 at 12:46am:
    I think the next time I get a sales pitch from my ISP attempting to sign me onto a TV contract I will quote Data "That particular form of entertainment [will

    become] extinct in the year 2040". I really hope he is right. I hope on demand video and OLED screens 3D or whatever is coming will evolve to make TV (and pushing ADS 24/7) completely obsolete. I also hope that our species does in fact survive the 21st century. I often think that with so many Offenhouses, perhaps we will evolve into the Ferangi or perhaps even the Borg (although that would take much longer than a mere 300 years).

    Anyhow I am getting slightly off topic. I LOVE this episode. There is so much to ponder. So many reasons to fall in love (again) with the United Federation of Planets. It makes me want to raise the flag, go to Starfleet Academy and put on a tight fitting jump suit. Alas I will not live that long however, after viewing this episode one can only hope we live up to our potential as a species. Let us all prove to Riker we can indeed survive the 21st century.
  • From doulos23 on 2013-12-24 at 1:32am:
    I believe at the core of whether this episode is liked or not has a lot to do with one's personal agreement with the Roddenberry-ian philosophies or not. It is no secret that Gene's vision was of a techno socialist Utopia. It is an easier pill to swallow the pedantic lecturing of so-called "unevolved" selfish 20 Century man if one agrees with the "promise" of such a future - and one is forgiving of Anvilicious programming. I love Trek, but caricatures are straw men no matter your personal worldview.
  • From Amine on 2015-05-15 at 10:00am:
    What's with the judgment of cryonics? What a condescending reaction they all had, especially Riker with "no redeeming qualities"... how dehumanizing! There is a contradiction in them doing medicine at all and then scorning people for staying alive in this way. And Picard essentially wanted Data to murder those people in the beginning of the episode. Bizarre.
  • From tigertooth on 2017-03-18 at 1:41am:
    As others have indicated, I felt the two plot strands didn't mesh together well and neither was very satisfying. We spend most of our time with the unfrozen people, but then never really resolve their plot. Instead the climax goes to the Romulan plot, but given the fact that the destroyed colonies are never mentioned again, that's unsatisfying as well.

    There were elements in both plots that could have been developed better and made into good episodes (probably separate episodes), but as it is, this is kind of a mess. Not terrible by any means -- probably in the top half of 1st season episodes -- but not that good.
  • From Mike on 2017-03-29 at 12:43am:
    Riker: "It's a pity we can't take them ourselves. Having them on board is like a visit from the past."

    Picard: "That would take us in the wrong direction. Our mission is to go forward..."

    This is an odd thing to hear Picard say when you realize, after watching the entire series, that he almost became an archaeologist and it's still his main hobby.

    What is believable though is the behavior of the 20th century humans. My favorite is Offenhouse, only because he represents so many of the things you hope humanity will indeed eventually move away from as imagined by Star Trek.

    The impending encounter with the Romulans looms over this episode nicely, building tension that doesn't disappoint. Best of the first season by far.
  • From Axel on 2018-06-12 at 8:08pm:
    Re: Jeff Browning

    Currency and exchange are based on the idea that you have a scarce amount of one resource or product, and abundance of another. While this includes luxury items, its foundation is necessities: clothing, food, shelter, energy, medicine, etc. All economic models are based on the notion that these items are scarce, finite, and require labor to obtain.

    In the future Earth (though not all of the Federation), the idea is that there no longer is scarcity when it comes to necessities. Food and clothing can be replicated. Energy is presumably all drawn from renewable sources. Technology has made medicine, transportation, communication, and shelter all readily available. Automation has replaced human labor in many areas.

    If all necessities are taken care of and nobody risks going cold or starving, then what will people do with their time? Will they sit around, lazily mooching from their Eden, growing fat, dumb and happy? H.G. Wells "Time Machine" believed so, which is why you had some humans eventually evolving into the Eloi. Star Trek believes something different. It imagines that, free of the pressure to compete for resources or hoard wealth, people will pursue those interests and goals they otherwise would have: history, art, music, science, etc. As we see from the Picard and Sisko families, some people like to live the old fashioned way, resulting in restaurants and wine that everybody enjoys. Others want to explore the galaxy...hence Starfleet. The collective goals and ambitions of humanity benefit the entire civilization. Is it lofty? Perhaps...but then again, it's not hard to imagine replication technology, automated labor, and renewable energy eventually providing many of our needs even within sight of our own time. And how many people are stuck in jobs they hate because the job market doesn't reward them them for doing what they've always wanted? Would those people honestly sit around and watch TV all day, if they didn't have to work? Perhaps some would...but I do believe enough would pursue something that you could base a civilization on it.

    I know I'm going off on a tangent here, but I get the idea that's what this episode is trying to say. The 20th century human Offenhouse can't contemplate how this new economy works, and Picard tries to offer him a summary of the path he can take. It's the Roddenberry vision: a future where every kid learns how to read, none go hungry, and there's no need for money. It's either that, or we end up like the Ferengi :)
  • From C on 2019-01-13 at 5:16pm:
    Wonderful episode.

    It’s interesting that some commenters here apparently have less trouble suspending disbelief related to the speed of light than the necessity of currency.

    Highlights why this episode is so good. Humans have a long way to go before we’ll be starfleet material.

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