the story: Scientists claim that warp drive is an environmental menace.
what it all means: Boy o boy. Fans really pick their spots when naming the worst episodes/movies/ideas in franchise lore. "Force of Nature" rarely seems to come up in the conversation, but like "Phantams" earlier in the season, it certainly merits consideration...
As with most episodes/movies fans despise," the problem resides mostly in the idea (although execution often plays a heavy hand): just go back and read my plot summary above and try and see for yourself what the problem might be.
Okay, let me spell it out for you: having the basic concept of warp drive questioned is like having an episode question tricorders, or communicators. Sure, one of the running tropes of the franchise is questioning transporters, but Star Trek could technically get by without them. It couldn't without warp drive. You see the problem?
The '90s were a watershed moment in the environmentalism movement. You wouldn't have the concept of climate change without the ideas discussed in the '90s, when great strides were made in at least addressing the worst things man was indisputably doing to nature. We've since entered territory where things are a little less clear-cut, and "Force of Nature" kind of epitomizes that. Simply put, we're now kind of putting into question whether humans are more menace than friend to the planet, on an existential level. "Force of Nature" does the same with Starfleet, whether or not it realizes it.
It's a brave and foolish subject to tackle, and the episode has been questioned in the past, but it apparently has been easy to overlook in more recent years. This is oddly troubling. The whole franchise very early on developed a reputation for fearlessly tackling the most difficult issues, and usually not having too much of a problem sounding right about them. Here it's such a difficult subject, and handled so clumsily, it's hard to know what to make of the episode, even two decades later.
So I will exercise the rare privilege of giving the final verdict up, and merely noting that it's worth considering in the greater Star Trek experience. Otherwise I'd be very much inclined to outright dismiss it, the way fans can sometimes find it so easy in such matters.
- franchise - This big idea is at least worthy of Star Trek's highest ideals.
series- The series should really have been able to do better, though. character- Some half-hearted attempts were made to ground the story. essential- I'm inclined to say this is the opposite of essential.