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Early Words

Banes at 12:00AM, March 28, 2024

It's just, like, my opinion, man

I've been rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation lately, and so much of what I loved about it on first viewing holds up beautifully.

Watching a series which is almost all standalone episodes is interesting, too. There's a basic premise of this crew traveling through the Galaxy and exploring, consistent characters and relationships, but each story has to set itself up, have conflicts and crises to deal with, and then pay off in a conclusion that makes sense and hopefully has some kind of emotional resolution. Not every episode concerns itself with character-based things or emotional resolution, especially in the earliest episodes.

Anyway, I've been struck by the setup section of some of these episodes - before the real problem or jeopardy of the plot kicks in, there will be some kind of dialogue or hints of what the story will eventually be about.

Warning: Spoilers for several episodes of a 30 year-old TV show!

The Schizoid Man:

In this one, a roboticist/scientist ends up putting his consciousness into Data's body and “possessing” him. Data the android is completely transformed into this doctor, until the heroes are able to get the invader out. A pretty far-out execution and premise actually. But it was interesting that the comedic scene that starts the episode is Data summoning his friends to his quarters, and stepping out to reveal himself with a full beard. Pretty funny visual and early-Data character stuff, but what Data talks about with altering himself in some way and becoming more human - this is a comedic version of what actually happens to him later.


A 200 year old Sarek (Spock's Dad) comes aboard the Enterprise D to do an important Ambassadorial diplomatic mission. Picard is thrilled to meet this legendary Ambassador, and is disappointed when Sarek doesn't seem to be available for some of the events that have been planned. Picard talks about the fact that he'd selfishly wanted to learn about Sarek, get an insight into his thoughts, share stories of his experiences…

It turns out that to keep Sarek together mentally during the mission, Picard will have to mind meld with Sarek and literally share his thoughts and identity, in a way. It will be very difficult for Picard.


The Enterprise passes through a wormhole which knocks out the entire crew. Data tells them they were unconscious for ten minutes. But strange clues begin to add up, suggesting that their missing time was a lot more than that, and something sinister may have happened.
And by way of setting up this story, there is a lighthearted scene on the Holodeck, where Picard and Guinan act out part of a noir detective adventure and talk about the “fun” of following clues to solve a mystery.

I took the examples from Star Trek, because that's what I've been watching lately, but this kind of thing is EVERYWHERE. I was just taking a look at the masterpiece Silence of the Lambs again, and it's got consistent themes all over. Lecter digging into the psychology of Clarice in a scary way right at the beginning…well that's just the beginning of what's to come. In a smaller way, there's also the setup of the killer's night-vision goggles early on. That will figure in to the ending as well. Part of this subject we're talking about has to do with setting things up - ideas, props, certain topics - so we're prepared for them and can get the full impact of a great ending, rather than just being confused.

It's not thematic, exactly. It's not setting the tone of a story. It's not foreshadowing, exactly - though it might be close to that I guess. But the dialogue and activities that happen before the real story kicks off - that stuff can suggest what's going to happen later in the story - I think it gives a
certain coherence to a piece of writing. It helps a story hold together, somehow. I think it prepares us in a subtle way for the story we're going to be experiencing, and makes it more effective.

This stuff is usually only noticeable on repeat viewings - I find it satisfying to pick up on it on a rewatch/reread.

See you next time!


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dpat57 at 5:59AM, March 28, 2024

They were very good at plants & payoffs, little seeds that grow into something big... also, motifs giving subliminal nudges, any of which might re-appear in other episodes to give a sense of familiarity in a growing universe. All very clever.

PaulEberhardt at 1:49AM, March 28, 2024

The one thing I hated about these episode teasers was that they were followed by commercials and then the title credits, creating an endless break that was nevertheless too short to visit the bathroom - but that wasn't Star Trek TNG's fault. Nevertheless, I always appreciated these little works of art so much I watched them anyway, instead of just switching on five minutes later, and it was for the same reason you're talking about here, Banes. 🖖🏼

marcorossi at 12:18AM, March 28, 2024

Some manuals - well, Save the cat, - have this idea that at the beginning there should be a picture that relates to the theme, and before the action starts (in the early first act) some character should introduce the theme.

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