In the sixteenth episode of the first season of The Next Generation, the crew picks up an aging negotiator to help navigate a hostage situation, only to find out that both parties have an ulterior motive. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Good lord, this was so fucked up.
I do want to make sure I think about an episode like “Too Short a Season” with the context of when it aired in mind. One of my initial thoughts was that this was something I’d seen before, but this episode aired when I was FOUR YEARS OLD. I feel like there was a Twilight Zone episode that touched on this? (I own the newly-released Blu-Ray boxset of the series, but haven’t made it through season one in my re-watch.) So, like a lot of my reactions to The Original Series, I had to accept that maybe at the time, there really hadn’t been many stories like this at television.
At the same time, I’m watching this in 2015, and guess what? Aside from the terrible make-up, I think this story held up incredibly well. There’s a few reasons for that, and I SHALL DISCUSS THEM.
Honestly, y’all, I thought this whole episode would be about the negotiation with Karnas. Admiral Jameson’s skills were so hyped by Karnas that I was eager to see why Karnas requested his presence. He had to be damn good that he would summon him as soon as he found out he was still alive. I didn’t think they were necessarily friendly with one another, but I got the sense that they had some sort of working respect for the job. For example! There was that scene early on where Picard asked Jameson how he could glean so much information from Karnas’s brief statement. To me, I read that as history. These two had worked out a negotiation before; it made sense to me that they’d be able to read between the lines well.
Then the show provides another sleight of hand: Dr. Crusher. When she reveals that Jameson’s medical records are two months old instead of two days old, it’s very easy for anyone to assume that he’s much worse off than he’s let on. Prior to this, he collapses in his quarters, clutching his chest in pain, and it damn well looks just like he’s having a heart attack. A-ha! I thought to myself. I’VE FIGURED IT OUT. His health was rapidly declining, but he wanted one last glorious mission with his old buddy Karnas before he left this world. I mean, what other option was there? He had a degenerative disease that had no cure; it seemed so simple to me!
HAHAHAHAHA OH, MARK.
I didn’t understand the full extent of what was going on until a later scene with Dr. Crusher. Again, perspective matters so much in how you interpret things, so allow myself to demonstrate that to you. I believed that Jameson was hiding his deteriorating state, therefore I viewed everything up to the big reveal through that lens. When Jameson got out of his chair to assume command at the conn station (is that what it’s called???), I thought he was being deliberately stubborn, as if he needed to prove to those on the bridge of the Enterprise that he was physically capable of being there.
And then we get that scene in his quarters and HOLY SHIT, I WAS WRONG, I GOT IT COMPLETELY BACKWARDS. He’s getting impossibly better. Not just better, BUT YOUNGER. HOW? HOW???
There’s a haunting synchronicity between what Jameson did years ago and what he does in the present, and to me, that is what makes this episode as disturbing as it was. (Well, Clayton Rohner also did a fine job with this transformation, so he deserves credit, too!) When we finally find out that Karnas was lying about the terrorists – he himself is holding them to goad Jameson into coming to him – we discover that Jameson is a selfish, single-minded asshole. When he came to Mordan IV, he chose a course of action that set into motion a bitter civil war that lasted FORTY FUCKING YEARS. He didn’t consider that giving arms to Karnas AND ALL OF HIS RIVALS would still count as breaking the Prime Directive. LIKE, CLEARLY IT DOES. Actually, now that I think about it, he probably did know this, since he purposely hid the truth in his reports to the Federation. He knew he’d get kicked out, and he lied about it.
So then, when we look at how he behaved towards his wife regarding the Cerberus II drug, we can see the exact behavior. He saw a solution to his problem of Iverson’s disease, he pursued it, and then he made a rash, disastrous decision to take both his dose AND HIS WIFE’S without asking if she was okay with it. Well, of course, he never even asked her in the first place how she’d feel about growing younger, and I appreciated that this episode gave her the voice to say that, you know? Her perspective, however brief, did matter. She got to tell him that he FUCKED UP. And he did! Gloriously so! He destroyed his own body for some last-ditch effort to rectify what he’d done forty years prior. Which… he couldn’t have done that anyway. How do you undo decades of violence that you caused?
Normally, I’m not much of a fan of episodes fizzling out, but I think it works here. Jameson doesn’t get to save the day; he dies knowing that he upset his wife and that his actions were deplorable. Karnas… well, he doesn’t get in trouble, does he? Like… the Enterprise just leaves him alone, right? Perhaps that’s because of the Prime Directive, too, but it’s left unsaid. Regardless, I was able to look past the bad make-up job and enjoy “Too Short a Season” for what it was.
The video for “Too Short a Season” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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