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Star Trek TNG - Season 7 - Episode 09

Star Trek TNG - 7x09 - Force of Nature

Originally Aired: 1993-11-15

Synopsis:
Warp drive may be destroying the universe. [DVD]

My Rating - 0

Fan Rating Average - 3.17

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 46 29 10 20 10 19 13 7 3 7 9

Problems
- Much of this episode drowns in technobabble, but Data's idea to "warp coast" through the rift is simply ridiculous. Warp speed without a warp field? WTF is that? If it were possible, every ship would already be doing this. Furthermore, how was Data planning to beam away the entire crew at warp anyway?

Factoids
- This episode is the winner of my "Worst Episode of TNG Award" and is therefore a candidate for my "Worst Episode Ever Award."

Remarkable Scenes
- Geordi describing his little "contest" with the Intrepid.
- Data attempting to train his cat.
- Serova killing herself to prove her theory.

My Review
This episode is very annoying. The idea that warp drive destroys the universe is simply ridiculous. Even if the Federation agreed to throw away warp drive altogether, what incentive is there for the Klingons, the Romulans, or any other race ignorant or uncaring of the danger from continuing to use it? The resolution in this episode is simply ridiculous too. A warp speed limit does not solve the problem, and nobody obeys the speed limit anyway. The implications of this episode are largely forgotten in future episodes, by necessity of course. Sure, a few episodes reference this one slapping the fans in the face that it's still canon, but I just can't accept it. There are rationalizations floating around about how new engine designs such as that used by Voyager allow ships to use warp "safely," but again, what about old ships still in service? What about ships used by other races? This episode just unleashes far too many cans of worms to be considered acceptable.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Pete Miller on 2006-05-27 at 11:36pm:
    I felt really stupid when I JUST noticed in THIS episode that you can pull chairs out of the science and engineering stations on the bridge. I had seen people sitting there before, but never really thought about where the chairs came from. You learn something new every day....

    I give this episode a zero not because of its non-canonness, but rather because of its purely political agenda. The fact that it is not taken into consideration in future episodes only proves the point that it is a standalone episode meant to promote a liberal environmental agenda. The warp drive is a metaphor for cars putting out exhaust, and the "rift" is a metaphor for the hole in the ozone layer. Putting restrictions on warp speed is like putting emission restrictions on cars. I would think star trek would be above trying to give Al Gore a pat on the back in the early nineties, but I guess I overestimated them.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2006-06-16 at 12:57am:
    In response to the other comment. I hope that environmental concerns someday become less political. The automatic knee jerk reaction of placing all environmental movements on the "left" is rooted in bogus thinking. There are religious organizations that are organizing themselves into environmental groups. They believe that we are all caretakers. I advise that people take this under consideration before they post political rants on Star Trek websites.
  • From Wing Fat on 2007-10-02 at 12:24am:
    I agree that this episode is terrible and completely motivated by political agenda. The whole basis of Star Trek is the exploration of space. Why would you want to suddenly say that the technology that allows that to happen is bad and has to stop? You wouldn't, that's ridiculous. I kept expecting them to discover something they overlooked and find the whole theory was wrong after all, but they didn't, and when it gets to the end and Picard gives his "I was destroying the very thing that I loved" speech I felt, as a Star Trek fan, that I had been slapped in the face.

    Star Trek has always tackled social issues, but if you want to point out the evils of polution do it in a more direct manner by having a mission to a planet that's poluted. You don't say "space flight is bad and needs to be stopped" when your show has always been about what a wonderous adventure space flight is.
  • From JRPoole on 2008-10-29 at 10:50am:
    I don't want to defend this horrible episode, but I do want to cast my lot with the person above who lamented that environmental issues are always political. The fate of the planet is (or at least should be) bigger than any political agenda. If you're interested in this kind of debate, I suggest E.O. Wilson's execeptional book "Creation." It's basically an open letter to a hypothetical Southern Baptist minister. Wilson, who, as an evolutionary biologist, is an agnostic, argues that conservation and taking care of the planet are issues that should be shared by both Christians and atheists alike. I like it because it'a an attempt to bridge the gap and stake common ground, something that people on either side of the political divide have seemingly lost the ability to do.

    As for this episode, I agree that it deserves a zero. There is a lame attempt in a handful of later episodes to make in canonical, but it just doesn't stick. The agenda is heavy-handed, especially Picard's moralizing at the end, the whole thing is just plain dull. Trek has always been on the forefront of social commentary, and, as a general rule, it does a good job. Episodes like this one, though, are so thinly-veiled that they become annoying, much like the TOS episode featuring the half black/half white mime makeup aliens. I know that's a fan favorite, but I've always thought it was a really lame, overly obvious comment on race relations, much like this dreadful episode is a really lame, overly obvious comment on fossil fuels.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2010-01-14 at 9:20am:
    Regardless of my response from years ago, I think that both sides can agree on one thing: this episode sucked. I think the wrting staff wanted to do an environmental episode, but didn't have a lot of good ideas. In the series, space travel was always made out to be a wonderous thing that helped humanity grow. Now it's a bad thing?

    There was another episode where there was a planet with huge amount of air pollution. The race living on this planet created technology to take the pollution out of the air, but it could hardly keep up. It didn't go into any more detail than that. I can't think of what episode that is, but I think it could have been an "environmental episode" if the had fleshed it out more.
  • From Paul on 2010-08-19 at 7:54am:
    It would have been better if it was only in this small region of space there was a problem (as opposed to the whole universe). Initially I did think this was the case, that the rifts were limited to the vicinity of the alien planet, but then at the end of the episode they start talking about universal warp drive limitations. Shame
  • From Florian on 2011-01-09 at 6:40am:
    I don't see why there is so much hatred against this episode. Basically, I think the central idea is quite witty; it is another real-world problem transferred to a futuristic setting as seen in many successful episodes before. It is not uncommon in our world that many decades after the initial enthusiasm, a new technology turns out to be not that beneficial to our health or environment at all. Reacting to the newly discovered problem takes its time, particularly when the technology is meanwhile perceived as indispensable. Obviously, this always leads to a certain amount of denial before habits are changing. After the initial skepticism, this episode complies with the spirit of TNG's more enlightened mankind that the crew quite quickly accepts that habits must indeed be changed, a process that would probably not happen within the same generation in our current world. As an example, some 50 years ago highways were being extended and increasing car numbers seen as a sign of progress, while environmental concerns were considered the opinion of radical minorities. As opposed to that, only nowadays hardly anyone in their sane mind would actually doubt that car emissions do some harm and must be reduced or avoided in the future; emission restrictions for motorized vehicles, speed restrictions along environmental protection compounds and reducing/rerouting highways so as to preserve or regrow forests are commonplace and it has become totally natural to leave your car in the garage if you can reach your destination by bus or train, unless there are any heavy goods to transport.
    Along the same lines, it is interesting how exactly the fundamental concept that makes the whole Star Trek universe possible as it is is questioned. After all, nature is not an intelligent being (unless we want to consider some esoteric claims) and cannot be reasoned with. No matter what other benefits space travel might bring, this will not reduce the problems caused by warp engines. Thus, reducing the deteriorating effects by imposing a warp speed limit is a straightforward step, even if not all warp-capable species will obey to those rules right away (after all, some third-world countries still polluting the air is not an argument against reducing pollution in the own country - somewhere, a start has to be made). Unfortunately, this is where the episode starts to turn irrelevant, as the speed limit is mentioned a few times later, and that's it. As stated in the episode, the speed limit may be ignored in the precise event that there's an emergency, which is exactly the one situation that we usually see when Enterprise is running out of time. So, the speed limit mostly affects all the off-screen vessels. Another, similar problem is that warp speeds and travel times have always been the archetype of a plot device on Star Trek, so realistically, the speed limit cannot have any deeper impact than being mentioned every now and then. For that reason, it might have been better to make another technology rather used as a tool than as the base of the adventures the culprit, such as phasers, tricorders or the transporter (which could all be replaced with more environmental-friendly, but more cumbersome alternatives).
    Plot-wise, the episode somewhat trickles down and fails to really build up much suspense. Particularly for a problem of this scale, it might have been beneficial to build up the story over several episodes (which was of course not yet usual in the days of TNG). As it is, all we have seen about the problem is a new colorful anomaly. The alien scientists refer to geological problems on their homeworld, but as we don't even get to see the homeworld, we have to take their word for it. Therefore, I'd give this episode a score of 3/10 points.
  • From Robert Koenn on 2011-06-27 at 9:39am:
    Well I rated it a 2 mainly because of technical inconsistencies. It was obviously a blatant plot line written to express an analogy with pollution in our world. But the worst part for me was that the plot line was basically ridiculous and only used for this episode while not be followed up with on future episodes or series in the Trek universe. I thought initially it only applied to this region of space as well and that might have made it more palatable but in the end it seemed that it was for the universe. There have been other episodes that stressed morale significance and I found some interesting as applied to our countries reaction to 9/11 with a much more enlightened view but this was a very poor plot line to express environmental concerns. I wonder if it was simply a vain search for a plot line or the writers coming up with an absurd plot line to stress a point.
  • From Dstyle on 2013-09-09 at 4:45pm:
    The Enterprise spent quite a bit of this episode being bumped and jarred through subspace rifts and whatnot, which reminded me of an obvious yet easy to forget fact: the set is not moving, the camera is. So when the Enterprise gets hit by enemy fire or a subspace distortion wave or is just having a bumpy ride, all of the actors are sitting there bouncing in their seats, which is a pretty funny mental image to have. You're welcome. :)
  • From Bronn on 2015-08-02 at 12:53am:
    I have a tough time with this one. I'm sympathetic to environmental issues, and I get Trek wanting to create an environment aesop. I like that there isn't a cheap solution because that would diminish the struggle of environmental concerns in the real world: we can't just invent a magical device that solves all our energy problems without any side effects.

    What harms this episode is that it's picking on one of the necessary plot devices that underly the series. We like Star Trek, so we obviously just want to enjoy our entertainment without thinking that we're contributing to the destruction of reality just wanting to see our heroes go on adventures. We're not going to receptive to saying, "Well...guess they should all stop exploring and go home, then." It'd be like an episode of the Dukes of Hazard where someone tells the Dukes that they should trade the General Lee in for something more fuel-efficient. Viewers of the show aren't receptive to that message.

    Moreover, the Enterprise itself is a pillar of eco-friendly ideas. Recycling on a starship is taking to its greatest extreme. I mean, Geordi is talking about energy efficiency of 97.2% on the ship: If we had a process that could do that, we'd solve so many real-world problems!

    A better message would have been to say it's a problem with the anti-matter, which is the real source of energy on the Enterprise, and go with Geordi's plot of efficient energy use which is part of the subplot. If you say that Anti-matter reactions are producing small amounts of radiation, you can call the Enterprise crew out on the little ways they can save energy so they're using less, which is a MUCH better real-world environmental message. Have someone wonder if their ship really needs to be so big that they have these lush individual quarters as nice as small apartments. Turn the lights off when they leave a room. Save cups and plates instead of producing new flatware everytime you replicate a meal. It would have been EASY to make little continuity nods to that sort of thing in DS9 and Voyager. And then, it wouldn't be the magic tech creating a magic problem that's contrived to be very important here but will never matter again.
  • From Mike on 2017-04-23 at 11:01am:
    I think where this episode went wrong was in attempting to suddenly make this a problem for the entire galaxy. Initially, it sounded like something that was affecting subspace in the corridor and therefore any warp restrictions would just be in that one sector. Had they stuck with that, they could've gotten the environmental message across and been able to avoid any problems with canon. As the episode itself points out, there's no indication other warp-capable species will all abide by this or even agree with the findings. And, like I say, why this affects Federation warp travel everywhere and not just in the Hekarans' own sector is never made clear.

    I get the sense it was Picard's reaction at the end that really soured a lot of people on this one. He basically makes it sound like the entire Star Trek endeavor is destroying the universe, which is a true overreaction. La Forge's reaction fitted the episode a bit better. He's confronted with warp engines-a think he's been working on his whole life-being responsible for destabilizing a particular area of space purely by doing what they do.
  • From Captain Obumico on 2021-08-22 at 12:05pm:
    Agreed, I like episodes that annoy conservatives (who strangely never want to conserve the environment) as much as the next guy, but they should have done it without the lame warpspeed limit.
    I see the whole thing not as a climate change analogy, but about the CFC ozone layer thing in the 90s.
    That also got resolved despite conservative resistance and without speed limits :D

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