Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "Too Short a Season" (February 8, 1988)
The U.S.S. Enterprise is assigned to visit Persephone V to pick up the elderly Admiral Mark Jameson (Clayton Rohmer), who suffers from Iverson’s Disease. The starship is to ferry the Admiral to the planet Mordan IV, where terrorists have captured the Federation Ambassador and staff and are holding the officials hostage.
Meanwhile, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns that Jameson shares an unusual history with Karnas (Michael Pataki), the current leader of Mordan IV. Forty-five years ago, Jameson negotiated another hostage release with Karnas…one that led to decades of civil war on the planet.
There is another way to gaze at the episode, however, and one that may actually make “Too Short a Season” far more enjoyable, and intriguing in terms of its value to the Trek-universe. In particular, this episode might be interpreted as a critical response to the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, and his diplomatic career, specifically, in the original series.
Consider, first of all, the admiral’s given name in “Too Short a Season:” Jameson.
That’s “son of James,” literally (as in, James T. Kirk).
Secondly, the Admiral is an elderly man at the time of The Next Generation, much as Kirk would be, were he still alive at this point.
The last person (and Admiral) we saw in such old make-up was actually one of Kirk’s crew: Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) in “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Kirk’s era is visually represented not just by another elderly Starfleet admiral, but by the presence of several; movie (Kirk) era phasers displayed in Karnas’s office on the planet. These phasers are symbols of Jameson’s crime (trading weapons for hostage), but also symbols of Kirk’s epoch.
Furthermore, “Too Short a Season” involves this elderly Starfleet officer putting aside everything -- personal life, ethics, and regulations -- to once more take command of a mission. Again, who might that character sound like? We can look back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) to view Admiral Kirk railroading Admiral Nogura, Commander Decker and Starfleet Command to once more take “the center seat” during a crisis.
In other words, Jameson created a “balance” of forces, so-to-speak, so the Prime Directive would not violated. Frankly. I don’t believe the nature of this story is a coincidence. This is much the same narrative (and solution) that Kirk himself utilized in the second season episode “A Private Little War.” There, he realized that two sides in a planetary civil war conflict needed to be armed equally, so the normal evolution of the planet would be maintained. Bones warned him that if he provided weapons to the Hill People on that planet, the conflict could go on for years, much as it does on Mordan IV in “Too Short a Season.”
We also know from later episodes of The Next Generation (such as “Unification”) that 24th century Starfleet Command (and even Picard) look back upon the 23rd century era of Kirk as the age of “cowboy diplomacy.”
Jameson, with his similarities to Kirk, seems intentionally another cowboy diplomat; one who believes that he can “change the rules” to achieve a victory. That belief catches up with him in this episode, and Jameson must face his own no-win scenario: his death because of a bad decision (taking the untested, and dangerous medicine).
Also, like Kirk, Jameson prefers to lead his own away missions/landing party teams. One could easily imagine Kirk saying that “there is no substitute for a little personal reconnaissance,” for example. Where Picard is a deliberate thinker and intellectual, Kirk and Jameson -- representing a different century -- are men of action.
I realize that there are fans out there who see this story as simply another “evil Admiral” story (like “The Drumhead’s” Admiral Satie, or “The Pegasus’s” Admiral Pressman), but I would submit that “Too Short a Season” is actually a critique of -- and response to -- the career of the franchise’s first protagonist: James T. Kirk. His methods are held-up here as being moored in ego and vanity, not morality. His playing fast-and-loose with the Prime Directive is also commented upon, through Jameson’s parallel story.
When one considers the real-life context of the first season of The Next Generation, the episode becomes even more compelling.
This was the era of the Iran-Contra Scandal, when the Reagan Administration traded guns for hostages, the very crime that Jameson committed on Mordan IV. Oliver North was the man behind that plan, and some people considered him an American hero. Ironically, William Shatner played Ollie North (“The Mute Marine”) when he guest-starred on Saturday Night Live, at the time (also the episode of his famous “get a life” appearance). The message of “Too Short a Season” seems to be that sometimes “heroes” take short-cuts that they come to regret, or that the ends don’t always justify the means.
Finally, I'll simply note that Clayton Rohner's performance in this episode has sometimes been criticized as being over-the-top or campy. Again, those are terms that have sometimes been applied to Shatner's Kirk. So perhaps there is an opportunity here to re-evaluate the actor's performance in terms of the franchise's history, and first captain.
So, “Too Short a Season” is either a thoroughly conventional and rather undistinguished episode in the canon, or something deeper: a commentary on heroism in the age of Iran-Contra, and a response, even to the age of Captain Kirk, in-universe.
Next Week: “When the Bough Breaks”