Plot Synopsis: An obsessed scientist arrives on the Enterprise to perform a once-in-a-lifetime experiment. Accidentally released nanites, however, threaten both the experiment and the ship itself.
Plot A and B Analysis: The first teaser of season three does everything it’s supposed to: we open on an obviously older Wesley–with make-up to cover his plenteous zits–who’s overslept and is summoned to the bridge. Once there we see a spectacular shot of two stars, one of which is absorbing the matter of the other, and a scientist who’s life work will see fruition in just 18 hours. The Enterprise starts to launch his “egg” which will study the impending nova when suddenly the ship loses control and starts drifting dangerously close to the stellar matter itself. Then we get treated to an all-new intro, starting in a nebula instead of our solar system. Plot A has to do with the scientist and their nanite problem, there is no plot B. The crew is able to get control of the ship but the computer says that there was “no control malfunction recorded.” The newly-returned Dr. Crusher finds a food slot malfunctioning and the mystery continues. Wesley and Stubbs get to know each other and talk about how they’re both geniuses, and then the ship falsely reads a Borg ship and goes generally crazy. It’s Wes’s fault of course, his science experiment with his nanites getting loose is why the ship is acting screwy and Dr. Stubbs starts to lose it, as his life’s work is put in more and more jeopardy. He snaps and kills a bunch of nanites and it’s us versus the machines. Things resolve themselves rather quickly and a bit too tidily for my taste here.
Favorite Scenes: The best scene is probably the soliloquy that Dr. Stubbs delivers as he talks about baseball and how the “brand new era in astrophysics is postponed 196 years…on account of rain.” A following scene where Beverly talks to Wes seems pretty genuine and holds up.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard, Riker, Data, Troi, Worf and Geordi are mostly just place-holders in this episode. They don’t do a lot, and what they do here is no different than what they would in every other episode, you could practically write their lines yourself. Please note though, that both Geordi and Worf have been promoted, the former to Lieutenant Commander, the latter to full Lieutenant. Wesley is being used in the first episode of the season, pretty ballsy for a show that had trouble using him much at all last season! He seems to have matured, both as a character and as an actor. He gets a new haircut and he deals with problems that guys in late adolescence have, not ‘awkward teenage stuff’ which seems to have been his deal for the first two seasons. It’s a welcome change as far as I’m concerned. Doctor Crusher of course returns in this episode and she has a new haircut too, and it is really good to see her back. She’s written more as a mother here and has a couple of nice scenes with Wes. Guinan is in this episode and has one or two scenes that don’t really do much, but we do learn some more tidbits about her past. Don’t worry, better stuff with her is coming. Most of the episode is taken up with Ken Jenkins as Dr. Stubbs. Ken does a pretty good job as a guest star, and he does have some good dialogue given to him.
Blu Ray Version: The improved resolution and effects here are just great, every scene with the stars are just gorgeous! This is really how Star Trek is supposed to look.
Nitpicks: They still haven’t figured out how to have Geordi in engineering, he needs to be on the bridge to be involved, apparently, and we see him on the bridge half the time. During Dr. Crusher’s nanite presentation you can clearly see her shadow, cast from a stage light on left. About 32 minutes in Picard is talking to Data on the bridge and leans over grabbing his knees to listen, and it’s a pretty terrible look for him; it’s brief and uncomfortable and I’m glad it doesn’t happen again. It does seem kind of thin that Wes is the first one that ever considered putting two nanites together to see what would happen. Also, AI’s seem to be pretty easily achieved, don’t they? If it happens this easily here, just about any computer program or programs could do it. This seems in direct contradiction to the enormous effort and genius that came together to create the only other known AI in existence, Data. Well, until the Exocomps, but that’s a later episode.
Overall Impression: The overall quality of the presentation of this episode seems higher, more polished. The problem I have is this episode seems to be all about the guest star. I’m typically not a big fan of shoving the cast aside and focusing on the guest of the week, and this episode is no exception. However, the fingerprints of Michael Piller, the new writer, are being felt as the characterization is brought more to the forefront, it just happens to be Dr. Stubbs’ character that gets most of the benefit. This episode has some parallels to Home Soil, with the ship being at the mercy of some small form of life, but at least in this episode the crew has a trump card. This episode suffers from it’s attempted subtexts: it can’t make up its mind whether to be about scientific responsibility or the mother-son relationship. It’s a very pretty episode to watch, both for the special effects and the nice cinematography that will become a hallmark of the show from now on, but the ending is wrapped up a little too quickly and easily for me, with the nanites just forgiving Stubbs and then everything just ‘works out’ in the last five minutes. I rate this episode 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: First things first, this is not actually the first season three episode made. While it aired first, the next episode was actually filmed before this one. I don’t know why they did that. The cast finally have new uniforms! No more one-piece spandex spine-crushing death traps; these have a higher collar, are two pieces and are made of wool gabardine for greater comfort. This is actually a transitional uniform, with two vertical seams down the front, and it will be gone after a few episodes into the season. This episode is where I first learned the term “wunderkind,” and I remembered it. It stuck for some reason, maybe because I wanted to be one, like Wesley. This episode also marks the beginning of the “Picard Maneuver.” If you watch, almost every time Picard sits down in his chair he jerks the top half of his uniform down, after a while the rest of the cast started referring to this and the nickname stuck! This is one of only two episodes where we see the actual computer core of the Enterprise.
In the scene where Stubbs is imagining a baseball game, that particular game is from the 1951 National League tiebreaker between the Dodgers and the Giants. In fact it was the baseball elements of this episode, particularly the baseball soliloquy of Stubbs’ that helped get Piller his job. The egg in this episode is actually a re-use of the viral containment pod from The Child.
Missable/Unmissable? It’s nice to see the return of Dr. Crusher and the cast back again, and it’s certainly a pretty episode, but there’s not much that’s particularly special here. Skip it if you like, the next one’s better.