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Too Short a Season

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at June 29, 2007 - 4:20 PM GMT

See Also: 'Too Short a Season' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When Federation members are taken hostage on Mordan IV, the Enterprise is ordered to ferry Admiral Mark Jameson to negotiate with planetary leader Karnas for their release. Jameson known Karnas from past dealings and insists that he will command the mission, which both Picard and Crusher find troubling because the admiral is both extremely ill and erratic in his behavior. However, Jameson soon seems healthier and in fact appears to be younger, foregoing his wheelchair and taking on the appearance of a man half a decade younger than his age. When his wife and Picard both demand an explanation, he explains that he took a double dose of a controversial alien de-aging treatment, which is making him grow young twice as fast but is also making his condition unstable. The reason for his desperation is that 40 years earlier, when Karnas took hostages and demanded Starfleet weapons, Jameson met his demands and armed the other side as well in a misreading of the Prime Directive that led to a 40-year civil war on Mordan IV. Karnas wants revenge, but when he sees the admiral in the throes of agonizing death as his body tries to return to childhood, he agrees with Picard that the past is over and the hostages should be freed.

Analysis: "Too Short a Season" isn't one of The Next Generation's best-executed episodes, but it has a solid premise that would have fit in on the original series and good acting from the regulars and a young guest star buried under what has to have been one of the more difficult makeup jobs to work with on the series. Clayton Rohner enters the venerable position of Evil Admiral here - how many times was Kirk forced to take a senior officer aboard, only to have his mission sabotaged by the very expert who was supposed to be saving the day? In this case Jameson's perfidy is internal as well as external, for not only did he make a mistake and lie to Starfleet at the cost of millions of lives, but he sabotaged his own integrity, quite literally, by taking an overdose of an experimental drug. Like Commodore Decker in "The Doomsday Machine", he wants to relive the past and get it right this time, but he's obviously a bit mad and refusing to accept assistance from the Starfleet captain who has the same goals in mind.

The hostage storyline and the medical miracle storyline never quite come together, which is frustrating because the latter gets short shrift both scientifically and ethically. For how long have people been searching for a way to take years off their aging bodies? Jameson abuses the magical formula he has been given by grateful aliens, taking his wife's dose as well as his own, but what's lost in his suffering from this overdose is that the formula works. Works! I don't care how enlightened the people of the 24th century are: there are still those who would kill for this. Probably not Beverly Crusher, who can see first-hand the toll it takes on the body, nor Deanna Troi, who can see first-hand the toll it takes on relationships, but there are plenty of other people on the Enterprise who can see Jameson and what's happening to him. There must be hundreds of more interesting stories than the dragged-out hostage drama that this Fountain of Youth fable could have been a vehicle to tell.

But we get what we get, which is a not-unexpected revelation that the reason for the current crisis is Jameson's bungling of a similar crisis decades earlier, resulting in a scenario much like the one Kirk seemed to know he was setting up in "A Private Little War": what happens when you arm both sides equally is not usually stalemate followed by peace negotiations, but stealth attacks, terrorism, resentment, reprisals, as much all-out warfare as can be waged at any given time. Clearly Jameson is not a student of history. It's a bit hard to root for him, both because of this short-sightedness (and the many, many years he has spent covering up his actions) and because of his testosterone-addled solution: take a drug, march in and solve everything with force, with the bonus side effects of getting to be young again, enjoying sex again, feeling like a man again ("I was useless to you," he tells his still-aged wife, who had been looking forward to a quiet retirement). It's not a terrible human drama but it only barely touches on the myriad of issues raised by becoming young again and getting to do it all over.

For much of the episode, actor Clayton Rohner is stuck trying to emote through many layers of not-the-best aging makeup, which definitely hampers his plausibility and forces him to overact while the admiral is supposed to be over 60. Once he's playing in his own body, the performance becomes more modulated, but then both Karnas and the actor playing him seem over-the-top by comparison, which wouldn't be a problem in a Kirk-era villain but makes Karnas' sudden renunciation of his revenge and willingness to negotiate without a grimace quite implausible. Not just Jameson but the entire Federation is arguably as responsible for the civil war as the people of Mordan, though Picard keeps insisting that they must take some responsibility; fine, but how is it possible that no one at Starfleet noticed enough missing weapons to wage wide-scale war, nor checked up on the planet after Jameson left with the hostages? (Yeah, the US didn't check up on Iran much after the Ayatollah shipped off the hostages in 1980, but Picard's in the 24th century, and as we've seen has better, safer ways of dealing with such messy situations.)

Against the backdrop of such messy politics, what could have been a compelling human story gets lost. We don't have time to explore Jameson's guilt and self-condemnation because he must spend too much time simply convincing Karnas that his newly-young body is really him; we don't have time to explore the effects on his marriage because his wife sounds rather selfish whimpering that she just wanted a quiet retirement while people are in mortal danger on the planet below. Like the dead end that Jameson leads the away team into, which wastes valuable time, the storyline gets caught in too many dead ends and must circle out of them instead of progressing.

All the same, "Too Short a Season" retains enough of an original series feel to be enjoyable, and there's a lovely balance among the cast, perhaps because in this episode about artificial youth, Wesley Crusher is kept far out of the way. I wish that in a later story, someone had dropped in on that mysterious planet where Jameson found the secret to reliving his youth. There's a terrific story to be told in there.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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