Allegiance #166

Mysterious beings kidnap Picard from the Enterprise, transporting him to a chamber with three other prisoners from different parts of the galaxy. Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise, one of the beings assumes Picard’s form and engages in increasingly disruptive behavior. “Allegiance” is a serviceable episode written as a budget-saving showcase for Patrick Stewart (the entirety of the episode takes place on standing Enterprise sets and one small new one). Much of its entertainment value derives from watching Picard’s doppelganger slowly ratchet up his odd behavior until the Enterprise crew is on the verge of mutiny. Picard’s fellow prisoners are well-drawn characters—a beastly, carnivorous anarchist (Reiner Schöne), a stuffy pacifist (Stephen Markle) and a fearful, obedient alien Starfleet cadet (Joycelyn O’Brien)—all defined through elaborate makeups that earned Michael Westmore an Emmy nomination.

Given the episode’s relatively static situations, the music for “Allegiance” is moody and subdued, with a simple motive infrequently pointing up the eeriness of Picard’s imprisonment and his double’s odd behavior. Jones chooses moments to make the score more active—the savage accompaniment to “Esoqq’s Arrival” to compound the carnivorous alien’s threatening appearance, and the busy electronic figures of “No Escape” as the prisoners attempt to override the controls to the door to their cell. But for the most part, Jones’s music is understated, allowing the actors to propel the material rather than the music. Even the climactic cues—“Mutiny” and “Experiment Over”—are subtle and textural, albeit clever and judicious in the way that they build suspense over lengthy dialogue scenes.

Jones’s strongest contribution to the episode is “Night Strings,” a warm and lengthy romantic cue for the ill-fated dinner between Dr. Crusher and the Picard doppelganger—dropped from the finished episode. As in “The Naked Now,” Jones used the occasion to deepen the romantic chemistry between the two characters, and just as in “The Naked Now,” the producers ultimately opted to leave the scene unscored. Jones still regards the cue as one of his best, and for years it (along with “Klingon Tea Ceremony” from “Up the Long Ladder”) graced his demo reel. “I got to write some really classically romantic music. I can write a melody—that is one thing that I can do.”

The composer had better luck with “I Only Gag When You’re Near,” a seductive jazz-trio source cue that has the biggest impact of any music in the completed episode. After a lengthy, verbal game of cat and mouse between Crusher and “Picard” over dinner ends with the medical officer telling Picard that she is satisfied with their current platonic relationship, Picard responds by rising, turning on some piano lounge music, and asking Crusher to dance. It is a uniquely uncomfortable scene and the lounge cue plays as a cringe-inducing punch line. Again, Jones turned to established players for a jazz trio and allowed them freedom to improvise from his material. “With Mike Lang, when you do the trios, I write a lead sheet and I might write the basics of the bass line, but this is Chuck Domanico, the best bass player of all time, and this is the best stuff since Bill Evans. I’d put the monitors up, so the players could see what was happening on screen, like maybe they’re getting closer together, so they could respond to that.”

Ménage à Troi #172

Co-written by Gene Roddenberry’s assistant Susan Sackett—and guest-starring his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry—“Ménage à Troi” unfolds during a diplomatic conference at Betazed, where a lust-crazed Ferengi captain kidnaps Counselor Troi, her mother Lwaxana (Roddenberry) and Riker. Lwaxana Troi had been introduced in the first season of the show as a nettlesome, Auntie Mame-style comic character, an annoyance to her long-suffering daughter, and a romantic foil to the uncomfortable Picard. Like the original series, The Next Generation was better at incorporating character-based comedy into otherwise serious episodes than it was at all-out farce, and “Ménage à Troi” does not fully commit to either approach. Frank Corsentino had played the more sinister Ferengi character Damon Bok in the first-season episode “The Battle”; Ethan Phillips (Farek) would later play Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager. This was another episode hyped in TV Guide for ostensibly racy content, this time for a scene in which Troi and Lwaxana are beamed out of their clothes to a different location inside the Ferengi ship (because the Ferengi regard clothing on females as perverse).

Ron Jones had become adept at providing a light comic touch for The Next Generation’s occasional wrap-up jokes—playful moments that quickly segued into Enterprise “fly-by” music as the episode ended. Nevertheless, he recognized the danger of overdoing music and he wisely kept his score for “Ménage à Troi” low-key, handling would-be comic moments as gingerly as possible (“The Kiss,” “Oo-mox”). With “The Best of Both Worlds” (and its large-orchestra requirements) around the corner, Jones took the opportunity to save money on an episode for which over-scoring could be a problem, using a reduced orchestra of 24 players: 2 basses, 4 French horns, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 EWIs, 4 keyboards and 4 percussion.

For the Ferengi, rather than give them a full-on melodic treatment, Jones took an approach similar to the simple motive for the Mintakans in “Who Watches the Watchers,” but this time twisted the idea into a comic riff (played electronically and by flutes) that underlines the squeamish interaction between Lwaxana and Tog (“Tog’s Proposition,” “Play Along With Tog”).

Jones chafed at the Lwaxana Troi character (this was the only “Mrs. Troi” episode he would score)—as did many fans. “Who knows what’s funny in the future?” he laughs as he recalls the job. “I thought it was a terrible episode. Actors are actors—it should be based on the story and they were catering so much to her and winking to the audience.” He remembers that having the boss’s wife do her annual episode basically set everybody on edge, and with one cue in particular, “Tog’s Proposition” (when Tog first approaches Lwaxana in Ten Forward), he simply could not please the producers, even though he recorded four different versions: M12 (0:52, disc 10, track 11), M12AltA (0:22, a shorter version of M12), M12AltB (0:04, the closing tag only of M12) and M12AltC (0:24, disc 13, track 40). For the first and only time on the show, he rewrote the cue and recorded it at a pickup session three days later: M12AltD (0:52, disc 13, track 41). Ultimately, the finished episode used just a four-second tag (M12AltB), essentially leaving the scene unscored.

Jones did create some of the most overt comic scoring of the series for the episode’s broad denouement, as Picard claims to be madly in love with Lwaxana Troi in order to scare away the Ferengi. After beaming onto the Enterprise bridge, Mrs. Troi sits on Picard’s lap while he struggles to contain his revulsion (“Convincing”). Jones’s music occasionally evokes that of Aaron Copland. “They allowed me to fill the space,” he acknowledges. “If you have the space, you can make music. It’s almost a hoedown kind of a thing—that was a take-back to my Hanna-Barbera days. That was like a Smurf cue. Then the end is sort of DuckTales.”

Despite its strained comedy, the episode did provide Jones with some interesting opportunities for stand-alone cues: the pastoral treatment for “Betazed Garden”/“Abduction” and the ethereal synthesizer approach for the Enterprise engaged in space mapping (“Gamma Nebula”).

The emotional centerpiece of “Ménage à Troi” is a “B” story about Wesley Crusher preparing to leave for Starfleet Academy, but eventually receiving a promotion from Picard instead. The score’s strongest melody is a warmly emotional theme for Wesley and the possibility that he may leave the Enterprise (“The Message”), music that provides the episode with a surprisingly lyrical finale (“Real Ensign”).

Brothers #177

Jones’s first episode following “The Best of Both Worlds” is one of The Next Generation’s most unique hours—not entirely successful, but unquestionably emotional: Data reunites with his enigmatic creator, Dr. Noonian Soong, and dangerous brother, Lore, who double-crosses his “family” and steals a chip meant to allow Data to feel emotions (a storyline continued in the TNG feature films).

The oddly structured episode front-loads all of the action: Data is seized by a long-range homing signal that compels him to take control of the Enterprise (in the midst of a medical emergency involving a sick child) and fly it to Soong’s remote planet. Two action cues, “Data Takes Over” and “Cascade Sequence,” pulse with rapid-fire synthesizer lines that seem electrified with the power and mystery of Data’s behavior—on the one hand, Data has become a threat to the ship, but on the other, the audience is so conditioned to like him that we practically root for him as he outwits the rest of the crew. With Jones’s cues buzzing about, it feels like something magical is afoot.

Once reunited with Soong and Lore (who was also “captured” by the homing signal) in Soong’s laboratory, the episode becomes an intimate, dialogue-heavy affair sporting bravura performances from Spiner in all three roles. (The technical requirements of the split-screen work were so demanding that Rob Bowman returned to direct—Bowman had otherwise left the series after season two and this would be his last work for the series.) Here, Jones’s cues play softly but no less emotionally as Data is—almost cruelly—given several gifts that are almost immediately lost to him: of learning his father is still alive, of a chip that would allow Data to experience emotion, and of a reconciliation with Lore. In the end, Lore steals the chip and fatally wounds Soong, leaving Data to bid goodbye to his creator forever.

As always with episodes centering on Data, the character’s innate innocence and decency—yet inability to experience emotion (which is all too real to the audience, and, one senses, to the character)—give plenty of opportunities for emotional underscoring. A descending three-note theme tinged with melancholy and loss anchors Jones’s score, successfully hiding some of the limitations of the split-screen mise en scène.

“I didn’t think the acting was that spectacular,” Jones admits. “I’ve always liked Brent Spiner and thought he was the best actor next to [Patrick Stewart] and really worked at a high level, but in the context of the story, it felt very boxed in, very puppet-show like, and the camera just sat there. Bowman was trying to ‘see’ cinematically but the story seemed trapped in a box.” Nonetheless, Jones’s score succeeds in deepening the emotion between father and son, making all the more precious the brief time the characters share together.

Behind the scenes—and you would never know it from the finished episode—the “Brothers” score was a technical fiasco, one that damaged Jones’s relationship with the producers (the episode had been personally scripted by Rick Berman) and hit the composer in the pocketbook. If the electronics in this score seem particularly vibrant and “alive,” it is because Jones replaced the string section of the orchestra with a cutting-edge Synclavier—an expensive (upwards of half a million dollars) synthesizer from New England Digital. The Synclavier was not played live, however, but rather “slaved” with MIDI from a MacIntosh computer. Unbeknownst to everyone involved, the technical setup utilized a chip not designed for locking to picture; the 5:44 “Data Takes Over” exceeded the system’s ability to stay in synch and it crashed—after which, it kept crashing and, with only half the score in the can, Jones had no choice but to cancel the rest of the session and call a second session on his own dime.

“Who would have known that there was a chip inside that wouldn’t allow us to lock to picture?” Jones asks. “We were on the cutting edge of synching electronics, because that was kind of a voodoo area back then—you had to have a black, blank synch tone back then because there was no lockable system. Somehow the Mac that drove this whole thing didn’t have a chip in it that allowed us to translate that synch.” Jones was so furious with the company’s lack of design foresight (the Synclavier’s programmers seemed surprised that anyone would try to use it for film scoring) that he canceled his contract and returned the machine—a lengthy, litigious process.

Jones’s wife Laree remembers the panic and dark mood that descended on the Fox scoring stage. “I was running the Synclavier at the time, and it was a six-minute cue, but the Synclavier starts to slow down after four or five minutes. Anything that was over five minutes was going to crash the Synclavier—we had to restart it over and over and over and we couldn’t get it to work after that. We probably got 90 minutes of the session done, so we did get some cues.”

To complete the recording, Jones paid for a new session out of his own pocket four days later, finishing the score in the nick of time before the episode’s satellite upload. There is no definitive log of which cues were recorded at which session: the initial, aborted date at Twentieth Century Fox (with a 27-piece orchestra) or the redo at Evergreen Studios in Burbank (18 pieces). Cues slated with an “R” (revised) definitely came from Evergreen session, while only the original Fox date had trumpets and trombones—so cues containing those instruments (like the large action pieces up front, and “Wrong Data” at the climax) were done at Fox. Laree remembers that for the redo, the musicians only charged single scale out of sympathy for the Joneses’ predicament—nonetheless, it was an expensive bill.

“If you have a sliding scale from ‘don’t care’ to ‘care too much,’ if you get into the ‘care too much’ side of things, you’re going to cause problems,” Ron Jones reflects. “But if you’re going to dare to accomplish anything, you’re going to get into that area. People don’t understand that you have to weave through a narrow corridor of all these likes and dislikes and possibilities and still get the job done. I like Bernard Herrmann because even though he was a dick, he accomplished things, and he achieved some things that became the standard. But he slammed himself on the rocks so many times that Hitchcock wound up hating him and everyone hated him for it—but he could die and in his last gasp as he was having the heart attack, he could say, ‘Great, I did it!’

“I was presented with a really cool show and I’m grateful for that. And I believe that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to try to do the best thing possible and that involves risk. There’s no forgiveness, because you’re trying to churn out a product and there’s no safety valve.” — 

Season Four »