March 23, 2021

023: TNG: Too Short a Season

Terrible makeup, a flimsy script, and invaluable leadership lessons.

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Too Short a Season (Season 1, Episode 16). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard.

We examine Personal Accountability and the need to trust your staff. We also answer the questions: what should you do when data changes?

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Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. Let’s get right into it. Season 1, episode 16 of the Next Generation, Too Short a Season
The Enterprise is at Persephone V to pick up Jim Henson’s interpretation of an elderly person. I’m sorry – this makeup is just…it’s really bad.
Enterprise shares a transmission from Karnas, governor of Mordan IV stating terrorists have taken a Federation ambassador and his staff hostage. They are demanding a Federation negotiator and Karnas wants it to be Commander Mark Jameson, who is now Admiral Mark Jameson; that’s the guy they’re here to pick up. They have 6 “earth days” to get there. That’s so thoughtful of them to put it in “Earth” time. What if the captain of Enterprise was Andorian, or Vulcan? Would they have been thoughtful enough to put in their time? Ah, 80’s sci fi rearing it’s unique head here…
Long story short, Mordan IV had a 40 year civil war. 5 years before that, Jameson successfully negotiated a hostage situation. So, he agrees to bring his wife, Ann, along and join the Enterprise’s mission. Because, why wouldn’t you bring your family into a potentially hostile situation, right?
We get a disappointing glimpse of accessibility in the 24th century as he beams over and is using a wheelchair. But there are only steps to get on or off the transporter pad. Hope he’s comfortable…he’ll be spending a few days there, I guess.
He says that he will be more than an advisor on this mission, but he will be senior mission officer; controlling the away team once they arrive. Picard reluctantly agrees.
Somehow, they get him off the transporter pad, maybe his wheelchair has jets on it or something; I do love how it matches the décor on the bridge. I wonder if that was a design choice or if he has different chairs based on where he’s going.
Lots of discussion on the situation on Mordan IV. Troi thinks there is more to this than meets the eye; sha says Karnas is a strong leader that has unified the planet. She feels he should be able to handle this himself.
Dr Crusher interrupts because, apparently, they run medical exams on people when they come on board. He looks a little nervous about it, and Troi picks up on his feelings.
More and more discussion on the situation. Jameson is overly confident in his abilities. Picard asks a lot of questions of him, trying to make sense of this situation that just doesn’t pencil out.
Weird dialogue in here that, honestly, doesn’t track well. Jameson has a weird quote: “Peace is the prelude to war.” Wow, if that’s not cynical and defeatist view, I don’t what is!
Anyway, Jameson sees Karnas as a possible threat in the negotiations as well.
In his quarters, he tells his wife that he is enjoying being back in the saddle again. He suddenly has extreme chest pains, but he stops Ann from calling for help; says it’s happened before.
Crusher reports to Picard. We learn he has Iverson’s disease which causes a terminal degeneration of muscles and motor skills. She’s uncovered some untruths that he said in his exam and is concerned. Picard says he’s 85 and it may be due to his mind failing.
Really?? We’re going to point to dementia in a person that’s 85 in the 24th century where, at least we’ve been told, humans live much longer and are healthier? I don’t like it.
Either way, Picard agrees that Crusher can remain on the bridge with him during the mission in case anything goes down.
Picard offers the Admiral the conn as they approach a star system. He stands up and walks to Geordi’s station…unassisted. Dr Crusher is shocked as he says he’s started some new therapies that seem to be effective.
In the ready room, Crusher calls BS. There are no therapies and no known cures for Iverson’s disease. What they observed is simply not possible.
Jameson is in the dark, reviewing Karnas’s message. Ann comes to him and he stands up; starts kissing her – getting frisky “heading to the bedroom”. She’s excited he’s doing better, but gets worried quickly; says he looks 20 years younger. He has another bout of chest pains and she immediately calls to sick bay.
Crusher doesn’t have specifics yet, but can tell he’s ingested something, an unknown substance, that has cured Iverson’s disease “there’s no trace of Iverson’s.” Picard aggressively tells her to figure it out, but quickly backs it off to be a little more cool, “Get me some answers, Dr.” She agrees and then, then she rolls her eyes!
Season 1 TNG Picard is a lot more aggressive then the Picard we all tend to think of. In this scene, it looks like he’s starting to work on that, realizing he has been too authoritative and directive. But, the damage has been done! Crusher already has an opinion of him as a leader. His small attempt to correct his misstep was met with her rolling her eyes! I love it!
But I think what she’s really rolling her eyes at is him telling her to do what she’s already been doing. When Picard tells her to get some answers, what did he think she was doing? Did he think she found some clues and indications of a medically impossible development and she was going to call it a day? Did he think she didn’t know what to do next?
How insulting!
Seriously, who does this guy think he is? In this discussion, who is a trained scientist? Crusher. Who is a medical doctor? Crusher. Who would have a professional curiosity about this first time discovery? Crusher.
You know who I didn’t mention? Yeah, Picard. Him telling her how to do her job and then walking off would be like me telling a surgeon to watch the stitches before they operated on someone. Just insulting.
This happens every single day in the workplace. Some manager checking in with an employee and telling them how to do what they are already doing. Trust your staff to do their jobs. If they’re in training, or doing something for the first time, yeah, give them direction; clue them in to the next step. But don’t ‘put your stamp on it’ just so you feel like you contributed something.
Bad form here, Picard. All you did was make Crusher feel incompetent and eroded her trust in you.
Picard goes to confront Jameson, who looks like he’s in his 50’s. He’s walking around, exuding confidence. He explains he got a drug from Cerberus 2 that can potentially de-age people; a fountain of youth. Takes about 2 years for it to work. He got a dose for him and one for Ann. When the hostage situation came up, he got overly excited so he took all of both doses, trying to shortcut the 2 years.
So, we have an old Admiral, at the end of his career with one more shot at glory that takes a dangerous shortcut so he can live it up again. Ann calls him on it and I love her for it! “Did you think about me at all?” he never talked to her about this and just did it on his own. She’s disgusted with him.
Jameson reaches out to Karnas to get more info. We learn there is history between them. And, apparently, there aren’t any terrorists at all. Karnas has the hostages, and his whole purpose is to get Jameson there “even if you don’t have much honor.”
He shares this with Picard. He pulls rank and puts together an away team for an armed rescue mission. He comes up with a plan, on his own, using maps and blueprints from his time on Mordan 4 in the past.
Dr Crusher and Troi meet with Ann. They let her know that Jameson isn’t stabilizing, his body and DNA are a wreck. They’re not sure he’ll survive long and wanted to let her know.
Jameson is in the Observation Lounge, looking 35 years old. Picard gently questions him, tries to get more context. And he gets it! So, when Jameson negotiated for the hostages 45 years ago, he actually gave Karnas weapons in exchange for them; never reported that to anyone. But, his conscience got in the way, so he gave the rivals weapons as well. He’s responsible for the 40 years of civil war. He lied to Starfleet about and has covered it up all this time. He sees this as his chance to make right on his mistake.
As the away team prepares to beam down, he reminds Picard he is in charge, “I’m the senior mission officer.” But Picard says he’s still captain of the ship and beams down with them. They end up in the tunnels, exactly as Jameson planned. Data tells him the scans don’t line up with the maps Jameson used. He ignores Data and continues with the original plan.
Shockingly, things don’t go well. They get stuck in a dead end and Karnas was expecting them! They beam away just as they get overwhelmed by his security teams. A fun firefight! Yar and Worf really shine here! Plus, we get some shots of those super fancy, early TNG phasers…
Just as they beam away, Jameson has another bout of the chest pains. They’re getting worse and he ends up in sick bay this time.
Karnas is understandably fired up. He gives them 10 minutes to beam Jameson down, regardless of his condition, or the hostages die. I wonder if those are Earth minutes… He’s in bad shape, sweaty, weak. But looks like he’s maybe 21 now. Jameson says he’s going to die anyway, let him go down and hopefully save the hostages. Picard agrees, but he and Dr Crusher go down with him.
There is, an embarrassing, amount of time spent with Karnas not believing Jameson is Jameson. He has another chest pain attack which prompts Picard to ask Ann to beam down. You know, because Karnas is about to unleash hell so why not invite an elderly civilian into the fray?!?
Picard does his best to negotiate at least an understanding with Karnas, but he only wants revenge.
Ann holds, and tries to comfort Jameson, but he is fading fast. Karnas grabs a phaser, points it at Jameson…but has second thoughts. He says allowing him to suffer is a more suitable punishment than killing him. Jameson looks into Ann’s eyes and, in a brief and shining moment in this episode, professes his love for her, “I see golden hair.” He then quietly passes away. And Karnas…Karnas wishes him peace, “Your long night is over”. What?? He was just going kill him! Wow.
Well, Karnas agrees to free the hostages and to cooperate.
On the bridge, Riker and Picard reflect on the value of age and wisdom “hope you don’t need it.”
<<Red Alert>>
Wow, the early seasons of this show really went all-in on mid-80’s sci fi, didn’t they? I can’t not bring up the sound design, lighting and overall ambience that is direct from 1987. Kind of nostalgic for a guy like me!
On the look of this, I’m pretty sure they used the same makeup for Jameson as they did McCoy in Encounter at Farpoint. That was bad enough. But, here’s the thing. Jameson is what, 85 years old here? McCoy was 137!! 50 years older than Jameson, walking and looking the like a healthier version of the Admiral here. I realize continuity wasn’t what it is today, but, seriously. Not great.
Not an offensively bad episode, but I understand why I didn’t really remember any of it. So much talking and so little actually happening.
I honestly think the core concept of the show, wanting to go back and make something right that caused untold devastation is good and interesting. But this got wrapped up in a halfway fountain of youth story and spent so much time, well, talking about itself that we didn’t get a good look at this concept; that said, I’m absolutely going to talk more about it in the Command Codes!
I have every confidence that Clayton Rohner is a good actor; he has a long resume, including a minute in Ozark! But wow, this was not a good role for him, at all. Overacting, an almost comical impersonation of an older person, and a character that can’t decide if it wants to right or wrong or just relive past glory all make for a, well, less than stellar performance.
I really enjoyed the firefight down in the tunnels. It looked good and everyone was really into it. I even liked that Picard insisted they keep their phasers on stun even though Karnas’s team had set theirs to kill. Nice touch.
<<Command Codes>>
When they were in the tunnels, Data immediately told Jameson that his intel was flawed. Jameson just blew him off and stuck to his original plan. To put that into context, Jameson is going off of what he remembers from 40 years ago. 40 years!! You’d think someone with a service record like his, that led him earning the rank of admiral, would understand that things change; especially over long periods of time. His decision to ignore new data – from Data – almost cost the lives of the away team.
We encounter this in our lives as well. Let’s say you’re planning a project, a significant one, maybe implementing new software or a new product line. First, we’ll assume you’re practicing good project management and you are actually planning. But, if you’ve ever done this before, you know the time between planning and execution can be long. I’ve been on some projects that have a few months between those phases to others that have taken many years. In both situations, things change, and you must adapt to those changes.
As an extreme example, let’s say you’re going to open a new store. You develop floor plans, put together foot traffic flows, research telecom options, POS systems, all that. You’re ready to execute but the person responsible for leasing the building ran into problems and ended up leasing an entirely different building. It has a dramatically different layout and 80% of what you’ve planned won’t work anymore.
Now, the fault isn’t with the person handling the lease; they updated you with this info 9 months ago. You just ignored them. Well, that’s what Jameson did here.
When you are leading projects, or work teams, or even daily operations, you need to pay attention to the facts, to the data. If it changes, you need to be able to change with it. In the context of this episode, had Jameson listened to Data and aborted the mission immediately, Karnas wouldn’t have had any cause to escalate the situation so suddenly and violently. There could have been a very different, and much more peaceful outcome had he just listened and adapted.
So now let’s talk about the big part of this episode. Jameson, rightly, blames himself for the 40 years of civil war on Mordan IV. Now, to be fair, Karnas totally could have stood up and worked for peace; he’s to blame as well, but none of that would have even been an issue had Jameson not trafficked in and supplied weapons.
This episode is about him nearing the end of his life and wanting to make right his biggest regret. The guilt from what he did, and then hiding it and lying about it have haunted him for half his life. In the end, though, he can’t make it right. Millions were killed in the civil war, Karnas still rules over the planet. Plus, he endangered the Enterprise and the hostages in his approach to doing this.
This story screamed two words at me. Personal Accountability. When we are accountable for our actions and our behaviors, we can make things better. When we hide them, or make up stories, things just get exponentially worse.
Instead of a work related example, I want to use a parenting example. Kids do some bad stuff, yeah? A lot of it, innocently; they just don’t know – we talked about addressing that in the Learning Curve episode recently. But it is a very different experience when they are honest about the bad stuff they do. That gives parents the opportunity to teach.
When my kid was in pre-kindergarten, she came home from school one day with some pokemon cards. We had never bought her any pokemon stuff at that point in her life. So, we asked her about it. First she said a classmate had given them to her. Then the story changed and the cards had just fallen into her backpack. If you have kids, this likely sounds familiar.
Well, I didn’t have to call anyone from Law & Order or a Bene Gesserit Truthsayer to know we were being sold a bill of goods. We asked questions, prompted her to change her story and encouraged her to tell the truth, which she did. Eventually. At that point, though, we felt compelled to discipline her, but not so much for the pokemon cards. We disciplined her for lying.
Now, had she just told us what had happened, we would have had her return the cards and we would have helped her write an apology to her classmate. Instead, it was a whole, unpleasant ordeal.
I hope that’s a relatable example.
Ok, now let’s go work related. If you are a human, like me, you’ve made some bad calls in your career. Said the wrong thing, blew off an assignment, skipped a meeting, hired the wrong person for the wrong reason, fired someone inappropriately, lied about work on a project, inflated a cost, fudged a budget report…you get the picture.
Mistakes will happen. And, the dirty secret not a lot of people will tell you is that some of those mistakes are intentional. Motivation for those can range from laziness to malicious intent, but, regardless, some mistakes are made on purpose.
The thing about mistakes, especially on work that matters, is that someone will eventually know about them. Now, our human nature, our first instinct, is likely to lie. To cover it up or blame someone else. The sad thing about that, other than the obvious, is that now you’ve taken a situation and possibly exponentially exacerbated it. Sorry – I just wanted to say exacerbate. It’s a fun word.
While some of these mistakes are intentional, most of them are not; in fact, I’d say the vast majority are honest mistakes.
So let’s say you recently closed a large and exciting deal with a customer that a partner brought to you. Those are the best, right? Everyone wins when you work with your partners. A few months later, the customer asks about some other services. Normally, since a partner brought them to you, you engage the partner and work with the customer together. It’s that partnership that makes deal like these work.
But you don’t engage the partner. You just take care of them, and, in the process end up moving some items from the first deal onto your paper as part of the refresh.
Now, we’ll assume this was a mistake on your part. You were in a hurry and excited to work with a big customer like this. You just accidentally overlooked the partner agreement that a lot of people worked on.
Awhile goes by and everything seems to be ok. Until the partner checks in with the customer and they talk about the great deal they just inked with you.
Uh oh
In the blink of an eye, you have VPs, SVPs and even a C level executive involved. You can either own it, or try to bury it.
Jameson would have tried to bury it! And then a valuable relationship would fall apart and your company would, at best, be wiping egg on if its face.
So, you own it. You just take personal accountability for what happened. Don’t hide anything.
Now, the focus isn’t on what went wrong – the focus is on making it right. That is a huge distinction! When people look for what went wrong, they’re looking backwards, trying to make sense of a thing that has already happened. And while there is value in that in terms of an after action report or a review after the fact, if it happens in the moment of the crisis or the issue, there is literally no good that can come from it.
When people focus on making it right, they’re looking forward. In fact, in this example, it’s an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the partner. You can demonstrate integrity, honesty and accountability which build trust. Which, when you think about it is incredible! You’re in a situation where you inadvertently violated their trust, but from that, you can actually build more trust. And the key to that is taking personal accountability.
Ideally, Jameson wouldn’t have supplied weapons to the factions on Modran IV, but he did. Had he told Starfleet that was what had happened, had he taken personal accountability, they could have intervened and brought their full forces to resolve the situation or to at least stave off the violent, never-ending civil war. Instead, though, he never told anyone, and millions upon millions died, and passed away, carrying the guilt of that.
There are endless articles and videos on personal accountability. I want to encourage you to explore them. It’s a rich topic and one that I look forward to exploring again in future episodes.
<<Hailing Frequencies>>
I want to know – what did you think of this episode? Should I have focused on more on the fountain of youth story? Do you have any examples to share where you, or someone you knew took personal accountability and averted disaster? Let me know! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in The Quest for Youth, a k i n. And thank you all for sharing this podcast, I really appreciate it!
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
We have a Discovery Episode!! Point of Light from season 2 came up, but if you remember, because of the season long arcs for Discovery, we’re just going to take the next one in order when the Computer gives us a Disco episode. So, we’ll be watching the 4th episode of the 1st season, The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry. The second longest episode title, so far, in all of Star Trek!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!