Plot Synopsis: Commander Riker fights for his life in sickbay after he is infected by an alien parasite on an away-mission. Dr. Pulaski soon discovers that the only way to save Riker’s life is to force his mind to relive painful memories.
Plot A and B Analysis: In this teaser Riker has been jabbed in his calf by something while on a jungle planet. Dr. Pulaski beams down to check him out, and after returning to the Enterprise he loses all feeling in his leg. You’ll be wishing for that same level of numbness in your head for the duration of this episode. Plot A deals with Riker’s memories, there is no plot B. Data and Geordi beam back down to the planet to collect a sample of what bit him; it turns out to be a vine and it’s probably the best scene in the episode. By that I mean it doesn’t completely suck. Unfortunately the rest of this show does, as after Riker loses consciousness the exploration of his memories to stop and destroy his infection is obviously a clip show. At the end, for some magical reason, feeling scared makes the infection die. Big surprise, Riker survives and you can start kicking yourself for putting yourself through this episode.
Favorite Scenes: The only scenes that might be considered good are those that are unintentionally funny, such as watching the actors try to deliver their lines believably. There aren’t even many of those.
Use of Cast/Characters: Michael Dorn and Wil Wheaton had this episode off; they were the lucky ones. Picard isn’t very bright in this episode. While Data is explaining that the plants on the planet are predatory, Picard just seems mystified and continues to ask for more explanation. His dialogue is terrible, obvious and pointless. Troi gets the majority of lines in this episode, but that’s not a good thing–they are just as bad as Picard’s, but I suppose Marina was used to it by this point. If anything she comes across as annoying, and not too bright either. I lay that completely at the feet of the script; if you watch her purely as a performer, she really is trying to do the best she can with what she’s been given. Pulaski is the other half of this show, and her characterization here seems mostly smart, but occasionally she still needs help from Troi to make a decision. I feel sorry for Brent Spiner, because he actually had to go through the hours of putting on and taking off make-up for the very few scenes that he has. Geordi does a little something too, but nobody really cares. This is ostensibly a Riker-centered episode, and is the only character-centered episode in which the character has to only do a tiny bit of acting. This was probably the easiest acting Frakes ever had to do, he just lies there pretending to be unconscious for most of the episode, occasionally grimacing for the camera while getting paid more than any of us ever will. His character comes across pretty well I suppose, as facing death with humor.
Blu Ray Version: The planet here looks fantastic, particularly in its first shot. As you may notice, the planet is actually Earth–you can see the Gulf of Sidra in the Mediterranean Sea just as in The Icarus Factor. It appears to be modified a bit later on though, which is good.
Nitpicks: Ugh, well the whole plot is a nitpick, but I’m not going to try to fit it all here. First of all, how ridiculous is it that your emotions alone can control an infection? I don’t recall if I thought it was BS when I was 14, but it pretty clearly would be to a modern audience. My other nitpick has to do with the brain talk we see Pulaski and Troi engaging in, about endorphins. There aren’t positive and negative endorphins, the only kind of endorphins are the kind that reduce pain and produce a natural high. What they’re talking about are neurotransmitters in general, not endorphins. The neurotransmitters that helped cure Riker was epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Anyway it’s the kind of thing only I would care about, so don’t sweat it.
Overall Impression: It’s difficult to imagine a weaker way to end a season than this one. First, fans of the show were getting four less episodes than in a typical season, and unlike the philosophy today which is to have a big payoff or a cliffhanger at the end of a season, TNG seemed here to be taking the opposite tack: let’s see what we can do to reduce the chances folks will want to see season three when it starts. This will be the only episode where I fast-forwarded through most of it to write this review. Back in the 80’s and into the 90’s most shows would have at least one clip episode, but that doesn’t excuse it or make it any more palatable. As those who have read the majority–or at least some–of my reviews have seen I tend to have high standards for TNG. Even if this wasn’t TNG though, who likes a clip show? Nobody! Some folks say this is the worst Star Trek episode ever. There’s certainly a good case for it, but for me I would rather watch this episode than a couple of others if we’re talking about all the episodes Star Trek has ever aired. In fact there’s one toward the end of next season that qualifies. This is however, clearly one of the prime candidates for worst episode of the series, and I rate this episode 0.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Rob Bowman, the director of this episode said the producers came up to him and said “look, we gave you extra money for the Data episode and the Borg episode, now do us a favor and give us a three-day episode.” Quid pro quo like that must be fairly standard. There were clips from 17 previous episodes in this one. Evidently the entire jungle was supposed to come to life in the scene where Geordi was extracting the thorn from the vine, but it all had to be cut due to budgetary constraints. By “budgetary constraints” I mean Paramount being unwilling to pay for much of anything at all. If they wanted to cut the budget why did they even construct a whole set for the planet’s surface anyway? Most folks consider Family to be the only episode where there was not one shot of the Bridge, but actually this is the first episode where that’s the case. There are a couple of shots in the clips of previous episodes themselves, but I don’t count that. There was no filming on the bridge for this episode.
Missable/Unmissable? There is absolutely no value in this episode, and no reason to see it at all. Miss it.