Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 36: Contagion

Now there's something you don't see every day

Now there’s something you don’t see every day

Plot Synopsis:  The Enterprise and a Romulan warbird are attacked by the same computer virus that claimed the USS Yamato – one of the same class as the Enterprise.

Plot A and B Analysis:  The teaser here starts out ok and ends pretty dramatically, with the destruction of the Yamato and the sudden appearance of the Romulans. Plot A concerns the Iconians and the Romulans, there is no plot B. The Romulans deny destroying the Yamato, and soon after Geordi verifies they were not responsible. Picard downloads Captain Varley’s logs and after reviewing them is convinced he was close to finding the Iconian’s home planet, an ancient and legendary race possessing technology that Picard can’t let the Romulans get a hold of. He assumes the Yamato’s mission, but shortly thereafter the Enterprise herself starts to have the same kind of malfunctions, and the Romulans aren’t far behind. The plot here is fairly tight and well-paced and ends in a satisfying way, with Picard leading an away team for once. Some good tension based on a race against time.

Favorite Scenes:  I like the trip Geordi takes in the turbolift when trying to warn the captain to destroy the probe; it’s a wilder one than he counts on, and it does deliver an increase in tension. Later on Geordi is being electrocuted and Data tosses him away a bit too hard–there are a funny couple of lines that follow. There’s a good quote here that I like:

Riker: Fate. It protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.

Picard has a quote which is so very true, about how history gets written: The victors invariably write history to their own advantage. This is one of those precepts that, to a mind that applies them, can help you consider the bias in our own history books, something that just about any history professor will back up. There’s an excellent book on the subject of bias in American history books which I’ve linked to for those interested.

Romulans!

Romulans!

Use of Cast/Characters:  Picard gets significant development here, as we first learn of his interest in archaeology which will be referred to off and on for the rest of the series. It’s a good addition and fits in well with his personality. This is also the earliest episode where Picard orders Earl Grey tea, which will be an even greater recurring theme throughout TNG’s run. He leads an away team, and the circumstances that arrange themselves to get him down on a planet make a lot more sense than the ones contrived in a previous episode. Riker has some things to do, such as take charge of the ship after Picard leaves and we get some more exposure seeing him in command–he does a decent job. This is the episode where we learn about Data’s “self-correcting mechanism.” I honestly can’t recall how often it is used in future episodes, but I think it is. It ends up providing the key to beating the alien program and he effectively becomes the problem-resolver twice for this episode. Geordi is also used quite a bit here in his role as chief engineer. It’s good to see actually, he gets some mileage out of this episode and even saves the ship at one point. Troi has some use, she has one exchange with Picard early on and then works with Riker and reminds us there are a thousand people to worry about, not just the bridge crew. Wes has one scene in this episode and a few lines on the bridge, but at least he’s getting used again after doing nothing for the first half of the season. Worf doesn’t actually do a lot, but it feels like he does because he’s a part of some bridge action and is part of the away team. Dr. Pulaski even has a scene and doesn’t screw it up, so that’s good. Carolyn Seymour plays Romulan sub-commander Taris pretty well, doing a competent job. She shows up again as a Romulan in the episode Face of the Enemy. It would’ve been even better if she was playing the same character, but oh well.

Blu Ray Version:  Yay, another good-looking planet in this episode! The quality of the video varies widely in this episode, sometimes crystal clear, occasionally about the grainiest I’ve seen yet. The footage of engineering starting at about 16:54 was originally shot for Where No One Has Gone Before. Want proof? Freeze frame at about 16:56, and on the lower left side of your screen you’ll see the reflection of Wesley from when he was sitting there in that episode. The guys could’ve digitally cleaned that up if they had caught it. The surface of Iconia at 28:54 is a new CG creation that is faithful to the original, and looks even better.

Nitpicks:  There are some of those black cards in the back of the bridge in the teaser here and throughout the episode. In the teaser the Yamato is having massive malfunctions and has already lost an engineering team, but evacuating any non-essential personnel would be premature? Sounds reasonable to me! Why are Varley’s logs in visual format? Every log I’ve ever seen has been audio recording only. Also, the Romulans can just tap into secure Federation logs from other starships? It’s a contrived explanation for how they get the “contagion” also. I’ve always found it strange that Data keeps getting the Iconian translation wrong, but then he gets everything right when he gives Picard instructions on how to detonate the Iconian power source. Maybe he learned the language when he got zapped? Finally, I’m not thrilled about Data’s self-correcting mechanism providing the answer to the Iconian virus. I think it’s because it seems kind of obvious how you purge a virus, but back in the late 80’s nobody really knew much about viruses anyway I suppose.

Picard and Data having fun on Iconia

Picard and Data having fun on Iconia

Overall Impression:   This is one of the episodes I really liked from season two when I was growing up. I liked the Romulans, the ancient and mysterious Iconians, and the cool portals once the away team got down to the planet. In fact walking through gateways is really the premise behind the Stargate franchise. Watching it this time it’s not as compelling as it was in my teens and 20’s, but I like other things about it. This is probably the best use of the ensemble cast since The Arsenal of Freedom and I still like watching them deal with the Romulans, whose ships frankly look awesome. Ah heck, this is still one of my favorite episodes from this season. I’ll rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

Behind the Scenes/Trivia:  This episode was actually conceived by a Star Trek fan who’s a computer programmer–that makes sense given the computer-centered problems in this episode. The gateway technology here is mentioned again in a DS9 episode and in a series of books based around the concept. One of the images in the Iconian gateway was actually Toronto City Hall.

Missable/Unmissable?  This is one of the better episodes of season two, and it’s recommended if you like seeing the entire ensemble cast being used. The next episode is fairly weak in comparison, there’s a lot of inconsistency in this season.

Previous:  The Dauphin                                           Season Two Menu                                       Next:  The Royale
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