Plot Synopsis: After Captain Picard recieves a dark warning from an old friend, the Enterprise returns to Earth to stop an alien invasion from taking over Starfleet Command.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is good: on the way to do some scientific research Picard gets a secure message from one of his oldest friends, who says he should divert from his mission to meet him. “Something is beginning. Don’t trust anyone.” Plot A here has to do with the conspiracy, there is no plot B. Picard meets three other captains, one of whom is an old friend, on a remote planet who tell him there may be something wrong with Starfleet Command itself, unusual orders are being given, people are changing somehow. Picard doesn’t really believe them, but upon returning sets Data to the task of analyzing Starfleet orders over the past six months. Before Data determines anything the Enterprise discovers the remains of his friend’s ship: all dead. A few minutes later Data shares the results of his research with Picard and Riker: “I believe it is a clandestine attempt to control vital sectors of Federation territory.” Things continue to get ratcheted up as the Enterprise returns to Earth itself to confront Starfleet Command. The tension in this episode remains fairly consistent throughout and builds to an action-packed climax and an unsettling ending. It doesn’t ultimately fulfill the promise of the beginning, but it’s never boring. I guess that’s a compliment in season one?
Favorite Scenes: The scene on the planet in the beginning is really nice, where Picard’s fellow captains are warning him to be careful. The final scene with Remmick is very memorable. There are some cute lines in this episode. Here’s one that makes me smile, when Troi is talking about taking a moonlight swim and Data reminds her she can already do this on the holodeck:
Troi: Data, it’s just not the same. Have you ever been for a real moonlight swim?
Data: *astonished* One can swim in moonlight?
Troi: How about you, Mr. Worf?
Worf: *shakes his head* Swimming is too much like…bathing.
Use of Cast/Characters: Wil Wheaton had this episode off. Picard gets plenty of screen time here, as does Riker; they work well together and it’s nice to see. Patrick just has a great sense of how to exude command presence, and his decisions in general seem logical and even courageous. Riker is the consummate first officer here, giving feedback to his captain and backing him up. Data has a role to play but doesn’t get a lot of development, it is pretty funny to see him try to laugh for the first time. Worf gets into a fight with an old man in this episode, and goes down faster than a Chinese prostitute. Get used to it, it’s going to happen a lot more often. Geordi has a few lines but his main purpose seems to be getting thrown through a door. Doctor Crusher is the unsung hero of this episode: she single-handedly subdues an admiral and comes up with the plan that saves the day, which is rare for the entire series. Troi doesn’t have a lot to do other than having some lines in a couple of scenes. Better than nothing I guess.
Blu Ray Version: The planet should look familiar, as it’s the same one we saw back in Home Soil. Many graphics flashing by on the viewscreen appeared in previous episodes such as The Naked Now, The Last Outpost and Datalore. Pause it to see things like Roddenberry’s great bird of the galaxy. Take a look at the debris we see in the 17th minute. The debris field was punched up a bit for the Blu Ray version, rather than the shapeless chunks we saw in the original version. Also, if you have a really good TV you’ll be able to see a lot of in-jokes during the data accessing by Data in the 26th minute, such as the USS James Fennimore Cooper being commanded by Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce who received an order from Captain B.J. Hunnicutt. The USS Minnow is commanded by Jonas Grumby, who was also captain of the ship in the TV show. Finally, virtually all the shots of Earth from orbit have been color-corrected. They’re more accurate (sometimes using actual footage) and IMO more beautiful.
Nitpicks: There’s a black card right next to Data’s head for quite a while in the 6th and 7th minutes of this episode, and occasionally throughout. Why in the heck does “Admiral Quinn” attack Riker when he was supposed to be going after Dr. Crusher, then compound it by attacking Worf when he’d already thought up an excuse that might have fooled him? Dumb, didn’t need to go down that way. In general Worf doesn’t get much credit for being a security officer in this episode.
Overall Impression: This episode is the second half of the first story arc in TNG, following Coming of Age. For me it’s always been an enjoyable episode, but it certainly has its share of flaws. Overall the first half of the episode is superior to the second. The tension present and subtlety of the aliens sets them up well, but then they sort of turn into stock villains by the end. Indeed the last 15 minutes of this show really have an original series feel to them. Still there is some fun action in this one, and the very end of the episode has the right amount of creepiness to it. This has the distinction of being probably the goriest episode in Star Trek history. You’ve got folks getting killed, people’s heads exploding, monsters bursting out of bloody rib cages, etc, it’s something that would never have been allowed if they had to deal with a network; maybe the last example of the risks TNG took in the first season. I really think this should have aired as the last episode of season one, both because of the open ending and because it’s clearly stronger than the next episode. Overall I rate this episode 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This episode has the added distinction of being aired on my birthday, May 9th. 🙂 Although this episode concluded in an open-ended sort of way, the show never returned to resolve it. The chair that Remmick is sitting on is the same one Jameson used in Too Short A Season. The footage of Starfleet HQ exteriors were taken from Star Trek IV, which is probably why they don’t look quite as clear here. According to Jonathan Frakes, some of those meal worms did pass his lips. This episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.
Missable/Unmissable? If you saw Coming of Age it’s certainly worth it to see the payoff they had planned. Watch it, it does have some of the best action in the first season. It’s certainly better than the next and concluding episode of season one.