“I thought Brannon was fucking with me.”
It’s easy to see why Star Trek: The Next Generation That reaction was given to actor Jonathan Frakes when he first read the author Brannon Braga’s script for “Cause and Effect” 30 years ago. Neither the series nor TV in general had ever tried anything like this before.
Frakes had the challenging task of both appearing in and directing the deceptively simple episode of season five, in which Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of Enterprise-D are stuck in a time loop. The loop results in the crew dying again and again as their ship explodes on contact with another spaceship, the very old USS Bozeman. With each time loop comes Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) to play detective as she leads the crew’s efforts to escape the loop.
The result is a captivating, exciting hour Star Trek unlike anyone before or actually since. “Cause and Effect” not only wrote TV history when it aired on March 23, 1992, it also found its way quickly to the top of many fans’ favorite charts Star Trek episodes.
According to Frakes and Braga, it was not something the production had anticipated. Braga’s script was seen as a gamble as it challenged the proven episodic formula that has fueled the franchise since the original 1960s series.
In honor of “Cause and Effect”, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, The Hollywood Reporter revisited the episode with Braga and Frakes for a deep dive into the creation of a sci-fi classic.
“I was originally a staff writer at the time, and I pitched for [the late TNG showrunner and executive producer] Michael Piller a Rashomon-style idea I wanted to make, ”says Braga THR about how he came to what would end up being “Cause and Effect”.
Braga had always wanted to tell the same story from several points of view, one that would unfold several times. But he could not quite figure out how to extend that core to a full hour of television before it dawned on him, “Why not just tell the same story over and over again? It seemed like something I have not seen before. “
In the beginning, there was some doubt that anyone would ever see it.
“We weren’t really required to travel in time at the time,” Braga recalls. “[Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry, who was still alive, was not a big fan of time travel, because I think he felt it was a bit of a science fiction cliché. And he had done it with [the classic Original Series episode] ‘City on the edge of eternity’. ”
Braga got around the strict mandate by arguing that time travel does not just have to be traveling back in time to the past. One could be forced to repeat it, by being caught in a time loop. That realization brought the episode closer to the green light. And it did not hurt that Braga and Ron Moore, the couple who would later write together TNG the series finale, “All Good Things …”, had a somewhat favorable status for the staff, allowing the out-of-the-box idea to push itself past the very specific parameters that Piller and executive producer Rick Berman had about, what could pass to one Next Gen episode.
Despite Braga’s cache as one of the series’ strongest writers, the introductory script for “Cause and Effect” was met with some apprehension.
“The early reactions to the script were similar to the reactions the audience had when they saw the episode, which was confusing,” Braga recalls. “Because you’re reading that script and you’re thinking, ‘Wait a minute. There must be a mistake here. The actions just keep repeating. Is this a joke?'”
In fact, after the explosive teaser that sees Enterprise blow up, Braga opens each subsequent action in the script by repeating the exact same (or similar) dialogue from other actions. (Contrary to many people’s beliefs, the episode was not just an easy “cut and paste” affair for the author, which is quickly apparent if you read his script.)
The timeloop format confused the audience to the point where viewers, infamously, sued their local affiliates running the syndicated episode, believing the repeated actions were a mistake.
How that design would unfold visually fell to Frakes, who was lucky with this episode after three previous directorial efforts on TNGwhich includes such memorable hours as “The Offspring”, “Reunion” and “The Drumhead”.
“At first, I did not really understand that what Brannon was trying to do was different Rashomon history, ”says Frakes. “It was a development almost on the way [the characters] understand what was going on. “From there, Frakes said it was like an” advanced director test “on how to record the same scenes in different enough ways where the audience did not lose on the new information that each loop provides.
“There are only so many shots you can make,” Frakes explains. “So stylistically, we tried different things for different scenes – and JP Farrell, who cut the episode – deserves a lot of credit for making these sequences work. We had a plan to shoot each scene more than one way. … We wanted to shoot the champion from both sides of the room.But I really enjoyed the challenge.Once I realized that [Brannon] was not fucking with me, it was fun. “
Frakes even discovered a shot TNG had never done before.
“I think during the preparation I was with Doug Dean, he was my first [A.D.], and we record one of the many scenes in the conference room, the observation lounge set, ”Frakes recalls. “And we got an overhead picture of the meeting room that we had not used before. I said, ‘What if we go all the way up there?’ And [Doug] said, ‘Well, no one has gone there.’ To which I was like: ‘Oh, the better!’ ”
Frakes and his crew also found ways to shoot the familiar set from new positions, such as filming a master from Riker’s side of the bridge, or starting from the station manned by Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes). In an important loop, Frakes even borrowed from the most famous film director ever.
“We did a lot of these Spielberg-style push-ins and close-ups. We started with Crusher first finding out. [Michael] Dorn (Worf), as he finds out during a poker game. And then Picard, later in a scene, we push in on him by reading a book when he realizes that he has read that section before, ”says Frakes. “So there was enough kind of signature, visual metaphors to [the characters] find out and agree on what was going on. “
One of the hardest things for Braga was just cracking how the characters figured out their exit strategy from the loop.
“The two most challenging things about the script,” Braga remembers, “were how to physically get them out of the time loop. That was the biggest obstacle. And the other thing was that the crew explained to themselves and thus the audience what the hell was going on here. . “
For the former, Braga turned to his best resource: his fellow writers in space.
“It was Michael Piller, Ron Moore, Joe Menoski and Jeri Taylor. I remember I was in the room and I needed help. ‘How the hell does it fix itself?'” Braga can not remember if it was him or one of his colleagues who figured out that Data (Brent Spiner) saw the three straight pips on Riker’s collar and used it to send a message to a future loop, but he remembers that “we had an amazing staff of writers and we helped each other. “
Unfortunately, Braga was pretty much alone when it came to the second hardest part of writing the episode: the Briefing room scene. Here, Geordi (LeVar Burton) explains to his shipmates that they are trapped in a very Trek-ian “timed causality loop.” Ironically, Braga found himself in a time loop where he rewrote the scene over and over again.
“It was my first big ‘technobabble’ scene, so it could not just sound cool. That should sound plausible. It should solve all the clues that had accumulated, ”says Braga. “Beyond all the explanation, you also have to have your own voice with you. You try to pepper in some cool or shocking moments, like when Picard asks how long we’ve been in the loop, and Geordi responds with something along the lines of ‘it could be year.’ But Piller made me rewrite that scene so often. I remember working on that stage during the Christmas holidays that year. “
The episode culminates with Picard facing the same two choices to get out of this mess that got him into it: To avoid a collision with the spaceship Bozeman, he can follow Data’s proposal to use a tractor beam to push Enterprise out by the way, or go for Riker’s advice and decompress the main shuttle bay so the explosive reaction can kick them out of the way. Thanks to Data’s message of “three” throughout the ship, the android knows that it’s his option that judges the ship, so he goes with Riker’s shuttle bay plan and rescues the crew. Originally, this climate sequence ended with a visual gag: Glimpses, just like after pictures, of all the previous times Enterprise and Bozeman crashed.
“It was cut in the budget,” Braga says. Which was the original concept for Bozeman to be depicted as a ship from the Kirk era The original series, with her crew wearing classic serial uniforms. Instead, “kit-based” production Reliant spaceship model from Khan’s peace to create Bozeman. They also corrected the Enterprise-D’s battle bridge set to look somewhat closer Khan- era of the 1980s, and deployed the crew members on Bozeman Khan’s peacestyle uniforms.
The final scene of the episode depends on a surprising cameo from a future TV sitcom legend: CheersKelsey Grammer as Bozeman’s captain, Bateson. Grammer’s cast as a captain who has apparently been stuck in this loop for at least 90 years is one of Frakes’ favorite stories from the production.
“This was beforeFrasier“, says Frakes.” Before he got his spinoff, he was just a member of [Cheers] ensemble. And they shot that show just around the corner from us because we were on the same plot. And Kelsey, he was a Trekker. A big Star Trek fan. And he asked to be on the show, just like a number of actors who were fans, just like Whoopi Goldberg did. That’s how I understood it. It was only a day of footage and I had no idea. But it was fun to shoot. ”
“Fun” is a word that both fans of “Cause and Effect” and its creators often throw around when discussing this landmark episode of the series, which after three decades is still an excellent and popular part of the franchise, which is currently is underway on over 800 episodes.
“When you write it, you have no idea that it will be what it is today,” Braga explains. “I mean, Frakes did a fantastic, store job of instructing it, but I could never have foreseen that we would talk about this 30 years later. You just do not know. You’re not sure if it works, which might be a good sign when doing something new. But it was unclear to anyone whether the audience would accept it or not.