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The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a strange time-hiccup, and traces the phenomenon to the work of Dr. Paul Manheim (Rod Loomis), a disgraced scientist, and also the husband of Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) old flame, Jenice (Michelle Phillip).
Years earlier, Picard failed to show up at a rendezvous with Jenice at a café in Paris, fearing that if he saw her again, he would not have the wherewithal to return to Starfleet and continue his career. Now, after all these years, he has the chance to make amends.
The localized time distortion, however, is growing stronger, and is dubbed “The Manheim Effect.” Data determines a way to stop Manheim’s time experiment, which opens a door-way to another, alternate universe.
Fortunately, his attempt is successful, repairing the space-time continuum, saving Manheim’s life, and giving Picard and Jenice the opportunity to have their café meeting, decades later, courtesy of the holodeck.
“We’ll Always Have Paris” is not widely remembered as either a particularly strong or notably weak episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).
In general, I agree with the consensus that it is a relatively average show. In terms of the Next Generation’s positive momentum at the end of the first season, it is actually something of a set-back, however. “Heart of Glory,” “Arsenal of Freedom,” “Symbiosis,” and “Skin of Evil” are all notable and inventive episodes, for a number of reasons. After “We’ll Always Have Paris,” two strong episodes follow: “Conspiracy,” and “The Neutral Zone.” In this company, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” is pretty forgettable.
Part of the problem is that Michelle Phillips, a good, charismatic actress, is given an impossible role. Jenice is Picard’s lost love, and apparently feels the same way about him. Yet she also loves her husband, and through the bulk of the episode, he is in sickbay, dying. Given this fact, it’s natural that her mind is not fully on resolving the Picard subplot. I understand that the intention was to make a romantic episode, but the episode feels anti-romantic. There is no passion between the two characters, or those who play them.
Picard is obsessed with the relationship (and his behavior ending the relationship), but Jenice is obsessed with reality, and her husband’s well-being. Early drafts of the script reportedly had Picard and Jenice consummating their relationship. Thank goodness saner heads prevailed. Had Picard and Jenice slept together in the course of these events, Picard would have looked like a cad and an opportunist, and Jenice would have appeared uncaring towards her husband. The structure of the story, with Jenice caught between Paul and Jean-Luc, simply doesn’t permit for a real sense of romance.
Also, just how many men (and Starfleet officers) in the 23rd and 24th century left their partners/lovers behind without saying goodbye, to pursue their ambition of Starfleet Command? In Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) left Ilia (Persis Khambatta) without saying goodbye, to follow his Starfleet ambitions. Then, in “Encounter at Farpoint,” it is established that Riker (Jonathan Frakes) left Troi (Marina Sirtis) on Betazed, without saying goodbye, to pursue his career. Now, we learn from “We’ll Always Have Paris” that Picard did the same thing, missing his date with Jenice so he could stay in Starfleet and climb the ladder to a captaincy. So, are all men cowards, or what?
There are some good individual moments in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” though not any that stand-out, across the whole series. It’s nice to see Picard fencing in his off-time, giving us a sense of what the captain likes to do when not on the bridge. In later episodes (“Pen Pals,” and “Starship Mine”) he rides horses, instead. Finally, the closing set piece with Data avoiding booby traps in the lab, and sealing the time rift are visually-impressive, and a lot of fun.
“We’ll Always Have Paris,” but the question is, do we want it? The episode is okay, but I can’t imagine picking it to be in either the top fifty, or bottom fifty episodes of the series. It’s just a thoroughly mediocre viewing experience, and a modern re-watch doesn’t reveal any perspectives or ideas.
Next week, one of the early TNG greats: “Conspiracy.”