Monday, November 30, 2015

TNG Flashback: Attached

The writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation knew that the seventh season would be the show's last. You can at times recognize their effort to touch on any dangling threads from earlier seasons while they still had the chance. A major one in the eyes of many fans was the romantic tension between Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher. This gave birth to "Attached."

The Enterprise is evaluating an unusual petition to join the Federation, from a faction on a planet that has not yet achieved a unified global government. The Prytt, enemies of the petitioning Kes, abduct Picard and Crusher, implanting them with devices to probe their minds for purposes of interrogation. But when the two are able to escape captivity, the devices reveal an interesting side effect: the two are increasingly able to read each others' thoughts. As they struggle to contact the crew, they're also forced to confront long-hidden feelings each has kept hidden from the other.

This episode was written by Nicholas Sagan, son of the famous Carl Sagan. Interestingly, it was a separate movie script he'd adapted for Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game that got him noticed by showrunner Jeri Taylor (even though that version of the film was never made). Sagan pitched to both Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation, but it was reportedly the last of 12 ideas for the latter that finally stuck: physically chaining together Picard and Crusher in a prison escape. The idea of the telepathic link came from a different, uncredited writer, but was so well incorporated here that Sagan won himself another episode later in the season, and ultimately a permanent position on the Star Trek: Voyager staff.

There are some interesting ideas at play in this story, including the feuding factions of the planet Kesprytt and the non-violent (though still invasive, to be sure) means of interrogation through mind reading. There are fun moments in revisiting Picard and Crusher's breakfast tradition, and Crusher's piercing the veil of Picard's apparent certainty in his decision making.

But ultimately, that's all just window dressing. It basically doesn't matter that the Kes and the Prytt are too paranoid to be believably under consideration for Federation membership in the first place. It doesn't matter if Riker ultimately deals with them in a rather trite way. This episode really exists to give longtime fans one scene: the campfire conversation between Beverly and Jean-Luc. And that scene is fantastic.

The campfire scene takes its time. It starts with innocuous conversation about breakfast before moving into philosophical talk of fire, and then finally the weighty matter of the relationship between these two. I think some fans felt it a bit of a cop out ending that Picard and Crusher decide that their past feelings for each other are indeed just that -- past feelings. But the way they talk in this scene feels incredibly honest for both characters. Both are too loyal -- in their lives in general, but here to a deceased husband and best friend in particular -- to have ever voiced their feelings.

The episode ends with an almost melancholy scene of restrained flirtation between the two characters. Jean-Luc gently challenges Beverly not to be afraid of exploring their feelings; Beverly rebuffs him by suggesting they should be. I wish that this had been the final word on the matter; the fact that their relationship comes up again in the finale (albeit in an alternate future) seems to me to rekindle the "will they/won't they" dynamic that's quite definitively addressed here.

Other observations:
  • It's surely no coincidence that this episode was given to Jonathan Frakes to direct. Such a big moment for two main characters could only be handled well by someone who'd spent plenty of time with those characters and the actors who play them.
  • It helps that several scenes in this episode were actually filmed on location. Even though the pivotal fireside scene was filmed on a set, the daytime exterior shots leading up to it helped set a more realistic stage for it.
  • This is the last time the "captain's jacket" is ever seen on the series. (He even takes it off during the escape and leaves it behind, in a probably unintended bit of symbolism.)
  • It's not just Picard and Crusher's back story together that's referenced in this episode. Crusher's fear of heights, established in "Chain of Command," also comes up.
There are certainly weak elements to this episode. But if you've come this far with the series, then the parts of this hour that actually matter to you are quite satisfying. I give "Attached" a B+.

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