Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Contagion”

“Contagion”
Written by Steve Gerber & Beth Woods
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Season 2, Episode 11
Production episode 40272-137
Original air date: March 20, 1989
Stardate: 42609.1

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise responds to an urgent distress call from their sister ship, the U.S.S. Yamato from inside the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Yamato is suffering catastrophic failures all over the ship. Captain Donald Varley went into the Neutral Zone, investigating a legendary ancient species called the Iconians — he found their homeworld, on which technology still remains, but then the ship started falling apart. They’ve already lost an 18-member engineering team.

Riker offers to offload nonessential personnel from the Yamato, but Varley says that that would be premature — an idiotic statement, made more so by the ship blowing up a few minutes later when the magnetic seals on the antimatter decay.

A Romulan ship decloaks half a second later, requesting the Enterprise leave the Neutral Zone. Sub-Commander Taris does not take responsibility for the destruction of the Yamato, but points out that she’d have been within her rights to do so. Picard refuses to leave until he investigates the Yamato’s destruction, at which point Taris cloaks her ship.

Picard reads through Varley’s personal logs. The captain found an artifact that enabled him to figure out the location of the Iconian homeworld, smack in the middle of the Neutral Zone. The Yamato was scanned by a probe that they eventually destroyed. Shortly afterward, they started having the system malfunctions, and asked the Enterprise for help.

Varley expressed concerns that this was a design flaw in Galaxy-class ships, but La Forge eliminates that option in short order, realizing that it was the probe that did the trick. He figures this out about four seconds before the Enterprise arrives at what they think is Iconia, and barely is able to warn them in time, as the Enterprise is suffering from similar malfunctions.

The Iconian probe has inserted a computer program into the Yamato — which came over to the Enterprise when they downloaded their sister ship’s log—that rewrites the ship computer. It’s responsible for the malfunctions that destroyed the Yamato and that are tearing the Enterprise to pieces. (Obviously La Forge hasn’t downloaded the latest version of McAfee…)

Picard, Data, and Worf beam down to Iconia, where they discover the secret of the Iconians: they had gateways that could transport them instantly to other locations on other planets. Realizing that this cannot fall into Romulan hands, Picard plans to destroy the gateways — but the console attacks Data, infecting him with the same program. Worf uses the gateway to return to the Enterprise with the malfunctioning Data, hoping examining him can help La Forge fix the ship.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Data shuts down so completely, La Forge thinks he’s dead. Then he wakes up, with no memory of anything that happened since the console whammed him. This gives La Forge the idea of doing the same to the Enterprise: shutting it down, purging, and restoring the systems from the protected archives from a point prior to when the Yamato logs were downloaded.

Down on the planet, Picard blows the gateway up so that it’ll stay out of Romulan hands. He escapes through the about-to-explode gateway to the Romulan ship. Taris is peevish, as the autodestruct is on and she can’t turn it off. O’Brien is able to beam Picard out, Riker transmits La Forge’s repair to Taris, and everyone goes on their merry way.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi points out that Taris is frustrated by her ship malfunctioning, something that is blindingly obvious just by watching her talk. She also more helpfully points out that people on the malfunctioning ship need something to focus their attention away from the ship falling apart around them, and Riker suggests she organize an evacuation of the ship.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The entire episode focuses on a computer virus that hits the Yamato and the Enterprise, making everything malfunction on both ships, the former enough to destroy it. I’m guessing this means that Starfleet uses Windows rather than Mac….

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf mostly gets to stand around and ask dumb questions so Picard can provide exposition. But apparently he can keep time in his head, which is handy.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data manages to reconstruct the Iconian language, though his knowledge is imperfect, as he mistakes the operating system for the gateways for manual override. It could happen to anyone.

I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator: Pulaski is in one scene where she whines about the technology not working, then has to explain a splint to one of her staff. The idea that technology-free medicine isn’t taught at Starfleet Medical is a bit scary, honestly.

The Boy!?: Wes gets his first taste of death on this big a scale, and has trouble dealing with it, talking with Picard about it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Welcome Aboard: Carolyn Seymour makes the first of two appearances as a Romulan commander. When the actor was brought back in the sixth season’s “Face of the Enemy,” it was apparently decided to make her a different character in the belief that Taris likely didn’t survive long after this episode. It’s not clear who does more to make Donald Varley unimpressive and incompetent, the writers or actor Thalmus Rasulala, but I’m more than happy to give them all credit.

I Believe I Said That: “Fate—it protects fools, small children, and ships named Enterprise.”

Riker when they just miss being fired upon by the Romulans.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Trivial matters: This is the episode that introduces two of Jean-Luc Picard’s affinities: Earl Grey tea and archaeology. Your humble rewatcher was once told by the episode’s co-writer, the late Steve Gerber, that he was inordinately proud of that. Gerber was also the writer of the magnificently subversive Howard the Duck comic book in the 1970s (also the basis of what many considered the worst movie of George Lucas’s career prior to 1999).

The other co-writer, Beth Woods, was the computer tech at Paramount, who allegedly had to explain the concept of computer viruses to Gene Roddenberry in order for him to approve this script.

This is the first time seeing the Yamato for real, after being shown an illusory version of it in “Where Silence Has Lease.”

Another Iconian gateway would show up in the Gamma Quadrant in the Deep Space Nine episode “To the Death,” and Worf’s experiences in this episode would prove useful there. The gateways were also the basis of one of Pocket Books’s multi-series crossovers, 2001’s seven-book Gateways, which included a contribution from your humble rewatcher, the DS9 installment, which was entitled Demons of Air and Darkness, a phrase derived from this episode.

La Forge makes reference to Bruce Maddox from “The Measure of a Man” in this episode.

One of the gateway destinations is Toronto City Hall.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Make it so. “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Whenever you call tech support, the first thing they tell you is to turn it off and turn it back on again. So it’s frustrating to sit and watch this episode, where it takes La Forge most of the hour to think of that solution.

The episode is clumsily written, with too much urgency given to a vague theory, for all that it turns out to be true, wrong-sounding dialogue from Picard (particularly his first line to Varley and his last line to Riker), terminal incompetence from Varley, out-of-the-blue moral relativism from Picard regarding the Iconians, and a solution that may not have been as blindingly obvious in 1989 as it is in 2011, but damn.

There’s also no resolution to the entering of the Neutral Zone by three different ships. In the end, the Enterprise just buggers off, having destroyed property in the Neutral Zone, and the Romulan ship lets him go unconvincingly.

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido told the engineering crew’s side of this particular story in one chapter of Many Splendors, a Star Trek: Corps of Engineers story that was reprinted in What’s Past. It’s one of many works of Star Trek fiction in his repertoire. His latest novel is Guilt in Innocence, which is part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept that he is co-authoring along with Aaron Rosenberg (author of several Corps of Engineers stories), Steve Lockley, Steven Savile, and David Niall Wilson. Find out more about Keith at his website, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his twice-monthly podcast, Dead Kitchen Radio.

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