161 – Force of Nature

Grade: C-

Force of Nature (1993) on IMDb


Geordi LaForge encourages Data to have his cat trained. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is trying to find the USS Fleming, which has been lost in an area with fields of tetryon particles. It turns out that the ship is disabled in an area of space where warp drive is destroying an inhabited planet.

Side question: if it’s possible to disable entire ships by emitting tetryon particles, shouldn’t the Federation look into that as some kind of weapon? Oh, nevermind. In episodic Star Trek, details like this are never used anywhere else.


So far this season, this is the weakest episode of the year. Maybe there will be others that are weaker than this one, but this is pretty bad. Star Trek has never been afraid of teaching a lesson, but sometimes these kinds of episodes just don’t work as well. I believe it has to do with the focus of the episode – is it on the story or the moral? The best lessons that Star Trek teaches are organic to the storyline. In other words, while Picard and crew are out saving the galaxy from something, the plot developments tell us something about ourselves. When that lesson is too obvious, the episode is weak. When the lesson is subtle, the episode is much better. Force of Nature spreads it on way too thick and the lesson gets in the way of the plot.

At one point, LaForge says that if these people don’t use warp drive, they’ll be extremely isolated from the Federation. I’m not sure exactly what that means, because without warp drive, everyone is isolated. Maybe he means just these people will be isolated from everyone else since they won’t be using warp drive.

Toward the end of the episode, one of the characters says, “our climate is already beginning to change.” It really bothers me when people use the words “climate” and “temperature” interchangeably. They don’t mean the same thing. I know it’s a small nit-pick, but I would have preferred it if they had said the temperature had changed.

I also didn’t like the female scientist who was so adamant and inflexible as to make her completely unappealing. She ends up killing herself just to prove she’s right. Honestly, I think we could all see that from a mile away, so it’s not really a spoiler for me to tell you this if you haven’t seen the episode. But it’s regrettable that the writers couldn’t create a more reasonable scientist and come up with a better way to prove her point.

One other thing that really bothered me about this episode is that though it could have been the start of something really interesting, it turns out to mean absolutely nothing. The Federation supposedly decides to set a Warp Speed Limit of 5, which means it will take a lot longer to travel around. Warp 5 is basically 214 times the speed of light, while warp 9 is 1,516 times the speed of light. So what used to take them 5 days at warp 9 is now going to take them 1 month at warp 5. So what happens now? Well, of course since this is Star Trek Next Generation, this has absolutely zero long-term effects. The warp speed limit is never talked about ever again and this whole episode is forgotten.

All of that work to convince us that we shouldn’t pollute our own planet and I guess that’s enough. Who cares if the story sticks? Well, the writers really missed a great opportunity here. Right after this episode, they could have invented some other kind of space travel that wouldn’t damage this planet. But no, they just simply forgot about the whole thing. What an absolute waste.

So in summary, this isn’t a very good episode. That isn’t to say that the message should be ignored – but just that it could have been done better.

Of Note

Speaking of things that don’t have lasting consequences in Star Trek, even Data’s cat is involved. The last time we saw Spot, he was a male cat. Remember that Worf promised Data, “I will feed him.” In this episode, however, Data and LaForge refer to Spot as female. Strange.