Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Gates McFadden
Season 7, Episode 19
Production episode 40276-271
Original air date: March 21, 1994
Captain’s Log: We open in sickbay. Ogawa is removing cactus needles from Riker’s back (a date in the arboretum gone horribly wrong) while Barclay is being the world’s worst patient. (At one point, Crusher tartly reminds Barclay that he promised not to look up things on WebMD, er, that is, Starfleet’s medical database before seeing her.) Barclay has a flu that his immune system’s having trouble with due to a dormant T-cell, so Crusher gives him an artificial T-cell to help fight it off. Data comes in with Spot, who is very pregnant—and Ogawa announces to Crusher and Data that she is also with child. (She already told Powell, the father.)
The Enterprise recently upgraded their tactical systems, and Worf is running tests on them. One of the new torpedoes misses its target and veers off into a dense asteroid field. They can’t go in after it with the big, glunky Enterprise, so Picard and Data take a shuttle to retrieve it. Since this might take a few days, Data leaves Spot with Barclay in case the cat gives birth. Barclay is the only person on the ship besides Data whom Spot likes.
Worf starts behaving irritably and crudely, even more so than usual, while Troi, who joins him for lunch, is very thirsty and in the mood for salty food. Worf tries to get some rest, but he can only sleep on the floor on the ripped-out stuffing of his bed.
In engineering, Barclay is moving and talking a mile a minute while Riker is getting forgetful and La Forge is getting tired very quickly. On the bridge, Troi is freezing cold and raises the temperature and humidity both. She runs to her quarters to run a bath, and doesn’t even bother to undress before climbing in. Worf—whose hair is coming out of its ponytail—comes after her and declares that he must be near her, going so far as to bite her. They both report to sickbay, where Troi just gets colder and colder (and thirstier), and Worf has gone nonverbal—but when he does open his mouth, he sprays acid onto Crusher’s face. Ogawa has to put the doctor in stasis before the venom paralyzes her. Worf escapes, and they can’t find him, but he’s spewing acid all over the ship, which is damaging several systems. Riker’s attempt to alert Starfleet Command fails due to his inability to remember his access code.
A couple of days later, Picard and Data return with the errant torpedo. The Enterprise is two light-years away from their intended position and adrift. Life signs are indeterminate. They dock the shuttle manually and discover that main power is offline. As they travel the darkened corridors of the ship, they hear animal noises. They find reptilian skin that has been shedded during molting—but it’s human shaped. They investigate Troi’s quarters, which are hot and humid, and they find her face down in her bath. Data’s scan determines that she’s turning into an amphibian—and she’s also been bitten by a Klingon.
When they reach the bridge, they find only the body of Ensign Dern at conn, who has been ripped apart by something with claws. Data finds 1011 life forms on board, all exhibiting the same DNA flux as Troi. They also find a Neanderthal Riker in the ready room, whom Data is forced to stun. Data’s examination of Riker’s DNA shows a synthetic T-cell that is rewriting the crew’s DNA—and Picard has been infected as well.
Since the ship’s computer is damaged, they go to Data’s quarters, where he has a computer with an independent power source. They find Spot, transformed into a lizard—but she has also given birth to perfectly normal kittens. It’s possible that amniotic fluid or something else in the placenta that provides immunity to a fetus also holds the key to stopping the virus. So they need to find a pregnant crew member, which they happen to have one of in Ogawa.
Before they can locate her, though, they need to fix the ship—a warp nacelle has malfunctioned. They go to engineering, where Barclay has transformed into an arachnid and covered engineering in webbing. Once that’s done, they locate Ogawa, who has turned into a simian, but whose embryo is unaffected. Data thinks he can use her amniotic fluid to synthesize a retrovirus. However, Worf—who is a massive proto-Klingon with an exoskeleton—is trying to break into sickbay to get at Troi. Picard distracts him by spraying amplified Troi-funk in the air to lure Worf away while Data works on the retrovirus. (I was going to add that you can’t make this up, but somebody actually did….)
Picard—who is transforming into a marmoset or lemur or some other itty bitty primate and who is therefore scared of pretty much everything—leads Worf on a merry chase through corridors and Jefferies tubes while Data works on the retrovirus.
Once everyone’s restored (except for poor Ensign Dern, whose death has been completely forgotten once Picard and Data leave the bridge), Crusher explains that Barclay has an anomalous genetic something-or-other that mutated the artificial T-cell into this virus. I just hate when that happens….
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Apparently, introns contain the DNA sequence of life forms that are utterly unrelated genetically to humans. Go fig’.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is transformed into an amphibian, which can possibly be explained by her Betazoid heritage (which goes strangely unmentioned, with Data going so far as to say she’s no longer human, when she was never entirely human anyhow).
If I Only Had a Brain…: Once again, the Enterprise would be doomed without an artificial life form on board, as Data is immune to the T-cell virus and is able to save the day by, basically, doing everything. (Okay, Picard gets to distract Worf, but aside from that…)
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is the one we get to see transform in the most detailed manner, watching him bounce around his quarters like a crazed chimp, and then turning into a massive, nasty creature who may or may not have been responsible for killing poor Ensign Dern.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Troi and Worf have apparently started dating, since the transformed Worf’s mating instincts are directed at her, and nobody is particularly surprised by this. Also, they were planning to have lunch together in Ten-Forward, a date for which Troi dressed in civilian clothes.
Ogawa’s sex life with Powell is pretty healthy, given that she’s pregnant. The same can be said for Spot, though Data does not yet know which of the seventeen male cats on board is the father of her litter.
Riker also had a date in the arboretum that was turning quite romantic up until the part where he rolled over into a cactus. Oopsie.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Dern gets a couple lines of dialogue, and then gets to be the only crew member who doesn’t transform by virtue of being killed (by Riker? by Worf? by someone else?) before he can change.
I Believe I Said That: “He transformed into a spider, and now he’s had a disease named after him.”
“I think I’d better clear my calendar for the next few weeks.”
Crusher and Troi on Barclay.
Welcome Aboard: The only main guests are the recurring roles of Patti Yasutake as Ogawa and Dwight Schultz, making his final TNG appearance as Barclay, though he will show up in Star Trek: First Contact and half a dozen episodes of Voyager. Carlos Ferro gets to be an honest-to-goodness redshirt as Dern.
Trivial Matters: Ogawa now has the pips of a junior-grade lieutenant, following Crusher recommending her for promotion in “Lower Decks.” It’s unclear if she and Powell have gotten married yet. Not that it matters, but TNG in particular has been almost embarrassingly traditional in its portrayal of familial relationships, so to even hint at having a child out of wedlock, as it were, is depressingly radical.
Crusher tells Barclay that it’s tradition to name a disease after the first person suffering from it, which is a tradition that obviously won’t start until some time in the next four hundred years, because medical tradition up until now has been to name diseases after the discoverer, not the victim.
Barclay is transformed into a spider in this episode; in “Realm of Fear,” he comments to O’Brien that he never minded spiders, which is probably a good thing, considering. That episode also introduced Barclay’s hypochondria, which is on display here in spades.
With this episode, Gates McFadden became the first female cast member to go behind the camera in Trek history—though not the last. Most notably, Roxann Dawson (Voyager’s B’Elanna Torres) has become a top television director after helming a dozen episodes of Voyager and Enterprise. However, this is, to date, McFadden’s only directorial credit (which is too bad).
Make it So: “My capillaries are shrinking!” This episode is a lot like “Sub Rosa.” It tackles a subgenre that TNG didn’t really do that often (then it was Gothic, now it’s horror), it’s generally considered one of the show’s worst episodes, and what redeeming features it has are due entirely to Gates McFadden. In “Sub Rosa,” it was her performance; here, it’s her directing.
I’d love to see what she could’ve done with, y’know, a good script, but she does superlative work. This is a very well-directed little horror piece. She does an amazing job with lighting and camera work, as there are a lot of distinctive visuals here that add to the atmosphere: amphibious Troi in the bathtub, Neanderthal Riker peering over his left shoulder after chowing down on Picard’s fish, the jump-in-your-seat moment when spider-Barclay (does whatever a spider-Barclay can!) leaps against the glass scaring the crap out of both Picard and viewer, and the fact that we never really get a good look at proto-Klingon Worf, just shadowed hints that make him all the scarier.
Sadly, all of this fine work by McFadden is mostly lipstick on a pig. Calling this script dumber than a box of hammers is being horrendously unfair to encased construction tools everywhere. This is another example of Brannon Braga’s love-hate relationship with evolutionary biology that we saw in “Identity Crisis” and will see again in Voyager’s “Threshold.” Introns don’t do what the script says they do, evolution doesn’t work the way the script says it does, and there’s no way that a “de-evolving virus” could possibly turn a person into a spider or a marmoset. (If it was really a “de-evolving virus,” all the humans would look like Riker or Ogawa.) This is a story that definitely puts the “fiction” in “science fiction,” ’cause there sure as heck ain’t no science here.
(This episode also continues with TNG’s recurring theme of “don’t leave Riker in charge of the Enterprise,” since that leads to things like the chief engineer being kidnapped by doofuses, the ship being taken over by a handful of Ferengi in two clapped-out Birds of Prey, utterly failing to rescue Picard and leading to Paul Winfield’s cool character getting killed, and now this. Though we should give him credit for rescuing Picard from the Borg…)
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido (who will be at Lunacon 56 this weekend) has two new books out, neither of which are actually SF/F: the novel Leverage: The Zoo Job, based on the TV series about criminals who help people, and the baseball book In the Dugout: Yankees 2013, which he co-edited with Cecilia M. Tan, all about New York’s American League baseball team.