the story: Picard, Guinan, Ro, and Keiko are de-aged.
similar to: "One Little Ship" (Deep Space Nine), "The Counter-Clock Incident" (The Animated Series), "Before and After" (Voyager), "Too Short a Season" (Next Generation)
my thoughts: This is one of those episodes I have a real conflict with. On the one hand, it's the rare episode that reverses one of the franchise's favorite tropes (characters aging). On the other, it's akin to episodes like "Genesis" (Next Generation; characters devolving), "Threshold" (characters evolving), and "One Little Ship" (characters shrinking). On the other hand, it's actually got its own tradition ("Counter-Clock Incident" from The Animated Series, "Before and After" from Voyager, and "Too Short a Season" from Next Generation itself).
But "Rascals" remains pretty unique, in that it literally features young actors taking the place of established ones. To me, it's as tough a concept as "Threshold" has always been ("Threshold" is routinely listed as one of the worst episodes in the whole franchise). I can easily stomach "Threshold." "Threshold" is, ultimately, less of a gimmick episode and more of a concept episode (what happens when you pass Warp 10?). "Rascals" has to live and die, ultimately, on its own merits.
The young actors as a whole are pretty terrible. This was the last era in which casting directors could get away with this sort of thing. By the end of the millennium (Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense), they'd starting looking for real talent. The actor playing the young Picard is particularly egregious.
What makes this worse is that it's such a pivotal character episode. It's the last regular appearances of Ro and both O'Briens in the series, and one of Guinan's last (before two appearances in the movies, Generations and Nemesis). It's insane that this moment is all but ruined by having child actors perform the roles for the majority of the episode.
And yet, and yet...It's good for Ro's character, and good for Keiko's. It positions the O'Briens for how they would interact throughout Deep Space Nine, and is the first time we see Ro as meaning anything as an individual since, basically, "Ensign Ro."
And we get that nice little scene where the young Picard pretends to be Riker's son.
So as you can see, I have a conflicted relationship with "Rascals." I group it most with "One Little Ship" because it's an absurd gimmick of an episode that really shouldn't work, and yet it kind of does. The worst, in the end, that can be said about it is that Alexander, in a whole episode filled with other kids, is once again reduced to being relatively pointless in an episode where he should have been one of the most important characters. Anyway...Let's just move on.
criteria analysis: franchise -
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)
Michelle Forbes (Ro)
Brian Bonsall (Alexander)
Hana Hatae (Molly)