Picard, Riker, Troi, Crusher, and LaForge have all time-traveled back to San Francisco in 1893, hoping to find Data, and tracking the sinister Devidians who have been preying on cholera victims of the time. As the away team struggles to maintain a cover, Data and Guinan struggle to avoid the nosy Samuel Clemens, who has learned of their true nature and is certain they mean Earth harm. Everything culminates in a subterranean cave where Data's destiny to lose his head is fulfilled, Clemens is transported into the future, and Guinan is critically injured. Will everyone, friend and foe, end up in their proper times, and will history unfold as it must?
Season 6 marked a milestone and a turning point for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The milestone was largely ceremonial, as the Enterprise-D had now passed beyond the (unfulfilled) "five year mission" of the original Enterprise. The transition was behind the scenes, as the staff was working to bring the next Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, to the screen. (Its two-hour pilot, "Emissary," began filming at the same time as "Time's Arrow, Part II.") Michael Piller, who had led the writers of The Next Generation for three straight seasons, took over the Deep Space Nine writing staff. Promoted into his place as The Next Generation showrunner was Jeri Taylor.
Taylor started her tenure by taking this first script for herself. She had story notes left by Part I writer Joe Menosky, but he had left for a sabbatical and wasn't there to wrap up the cliffhanger himself. Unfortunately, the convoluted time travel tale, with all its dangling threads that had to be resolved just right, took up a lot of Taylor's time. It was time she'd later regret she hadn't spent bonding with her team early in the season, breaking other stories with the newly added staff writers. As a result, she vowed that the staff would never again head to break on a cliffhanger without having its follow-up script completed first.
Unfortunately, for all Taylor's efforts to ensure that the time travel made sense, the narrative itself is rather inert, dramatically. The lack of tension and urgency is apparent right from the beginning of the episode. Time has passed since last we left our heroes, and a lot has happened to them... yet none of it is particularly important. We don't know how the Enterprise crew got set up in the past with an apartment, period clothes, and cover identities. The biggest obstacle they face is not the supposedly menacing aliens that are kinda-sorta eating "souls," but a busybody landlady demanding her rent. Similarly, Data's threat is not impending headlessness, but a nosy Samuel Clemens, who has so little credibility as an adversary that not even people of his own time believe his stories of "aliens among us."
Indeed, virtually no tension develops at any point in the episode. Essentially, our heroes spend the first half of it confirming that the Devidians were up to no good (which, duh, they pretty much knew at the end of Part I). In the end, the crisis is resolved by firing one photon torpedo. Granted, there's a little technobabble about how it has to be a special torpedo, but my point is that the Devidians never offer any kind of resistance. They're a candidate for the most pushover adversary in all of Star Trek, and for a race with the ability to time travel, that's a serious disappointment. Not even the U.S. military proves the slightest obstacle to the plot; even though the subterranean cave where the climax occurs is said to be on a military base, everyone sneaks in there without trouble. Samuel Clemens actually sneaks in twice, and then brings in a team of doctors to save Guinan, all apparently without raising any questions.
Speaking of Samuel Clemens being where he shouldn't, the episode takes a rather odd turn once he travels to the future. Suddenly, no one much seems to care how much he learns about the future. Yes, it all gets to where the story needs to go, with Clemens' suspicion giving way to support of these evolved future humans. But the behavior of the Enterprise crew seems a bit odd.
It's an episode big on references. We learn that the bellboy Data befriended is actually Jack London. There's also a fun moment when Samuel Clemens asks about Halley's Comet; in life, the real Clemens was born two weeks after the comet's closest approach to Earth in 1835, and he predicted his own death when it returned in 1910, which indeed happened one day after its closest approach.
The episode is also big on paying off references, attempting to unify all the snippets we've heard over the years about how Picard and Guinan first met. In "Booby Trap," we learned that a "bald man" was once very kind to Guinan. In "Ensign Ro," she said an "old man" once helped her when she was in "serious trouble." But the biggest problem with this subplot isn't its minor contradiction with "The Child," where Guinan told Wesley she'd never met Picard before coming aboard the Enterprise. The problem is that Picard doesn't really seem to do much. He stays with Guinan when she's injured, which isn't nothing, but he provides her no medical aid. Basically, Guinan is being awfully charitable to credit Picard so much here; it seems as though she would have lived anyway.
- The young reporter who interacts with Samuel Clemens is played by Alexander Enberg, who would later play two Vulcans: Taurik, in TNG's "Lower Decks"; and Vorik, a recurring character on Voyager. Enberg is the son of sportscaster Dick Enberg and TNG writer-showrunner Jeri Taylor.
- In my review of Part I, I noted a missed opportunity to not at least mention race in the context of the 1890s. There is a brief allusion to it here in Part II, when the cop accuses Geordi of having gotten hold of a "gentleman's cane" that implicitly can't belong to him.
- Writer Ron Moore lamented the fact that the writers didn't do more with the 1890s time period. But he spoke of an idea -- dropped for time and budgetary limits -- that would have had the crew in the past for months before the start of this episode, with Picard having set up a restaurant. I don't think still less tension in the episode would have helped at all.
- Although the San Francisco scenes in Part I were actually filmed on location, the Part II scenes were filmed right on the Paramount lot. The studio had built a "New York Street" set over the summer break, and Star Trek made a few modifications to it to set it in the 1890s.
- This episode won two Emmy Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Series, and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series.
- The Blu-ray release of season six includes a few deleted scenes from this episode. In a nice character moment, Dr. Crusher deals with the sexism and lack of medical knowledge in the 1890s. In an unneeded, redundant scene, we see Troi question the patient she later refers to in the episode-as-released. Lastly, in an overly long and unnecessary scene, we see Riker walking the beat as a cop, trading surreptitious words with Picard.
- You know, I have to go back to the Guinan-Picard subplot here, because something is bothering me. If Guinan knew she was destined to meet a future Picard, it takes a lot of the power out of the moment in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" where she said she was willing to let Picard go to beat the Borg. She apparently knew all along that he was going to survive!