Written by Michael Wagner & Michael Piller
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 3, Episode 1
Production episode 40273-150
Original air date: September 25, 1989
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is observing a binary star system. A neutron star draws matter from a red giant, and every 196 years, there is an explosion of stellar matter. Dr. Kevin Stubbs, a renowned civilian scientist, is on board. For the past twenty years, he has been constructing a large-scale probe he calls “the egg,” which has been designed to examine this explosion, specifically study the decay of neutronium expelled at relativistic speeds from the massive stellar explosion.
However, just as they’re about to launch the egg, the ship starts going all binky-bonkers: inertial dampeners fail, shields won’t raise, engines won’t respond. They manage to use manual override to start the engines and shields — but it’s the first of dozens of malfunctions, which endanger the ship’s ability to function. At one point, the tactical console reads a Borg ship on approach.
Wes is concerned that his genetics homework — which involved two medical nanites working in tandem, and which got loose when he fell asleep while pulling an all-nighter — is responsible for the malfunctions, especially when La Forge finds lesions in the computer core. With his mother’s help, he soon learns that his fears are justified — the nanites are self-replicating, and the two have evolved into a civilization.
La Forge, Data, and Wes try to find ways to remove the nanites safely, but Stubbs sees his life’s work slipping away — if they miss their window, there won’t be another for two centuries, after all — so he wipes out an entire section of nanites with a gamma-ray burst.
The nanites turn nasty after that, going after the ship’s life-support system, and later going after Stubbs directly.
Data figures out a way to communicate with them, and allows the nanites to enter his own structure to serve as a conduit. The nanites have become sentient explorers. Stubbs apologizes for his actions, placing himself at the nanites’ mercy. The nanites accept the apology and say that the ship is too confining. Stubbs pulls some strings to find them a planet, the nanites put the computer back together so Stubbs can conduct his experiment, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The nanites are supposed to work independently. Wes’s experiment is for them to work in tandem, and it leads to their reproducing and improving their capabilities, eventually becoming sentient. Heckuva leap, that. But apparently they’re allergic to gamma rays.
Also, Data says there hasn’t been a catastrophic failure of a starship computer on this scale in seventy-nine years, conveniently forgetting the one that happened on his own ship in “Contagion” the previous year.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: At one point, Stubbs pointedly asks Troi to “turn off your beam into my soul.” Not that it helps — Troi confirms that his entire self-worth is tied up in this experiment.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf, on several occasions, finds himself agreeing with Stubbs, though coming from him it makes more sense and sounds less smarmy, since he’s concerned with the safety of the entire ship and its crew, not just his own experiment....
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data volunteers to let the nanites invade his body, which Worf rightly points out is a huge risk, but Data insists that it would be a useful gesture toward peace.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher pick up right where they left off. They only have one scene together, but the chemistry between them remains powerful even after a year.
The Boy!?: Wes is reunited with his mother for the first time in a year, and things are awkward between them — more so when Wes snaps at Crusher that she hasn’t been there. Of course, that was just the guilt talking: in fact, Wes is responsible for the damage to the ship, an amusing reversal of his oft-cited role as the ship’s savior.
Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan unusbtly likens Wes’s nanite experiment to that of the title character in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. She also talks with Crusher about Wes.
Welcome Aboard: Ken Jenkins is suitably snotty as Stubbs, though he doesn’t quite pull it off. The script calls for someone with what Troi refers to as a studied self-portrait, but Jenkins tries a bit too hard.
I Believe I Said That: “See? Now that is healthy for a boy his age — I mean that as a doctor, not as just a mother. It is so good to see him having fun for a change, with an attractive young woman…who obviously looks at him with extraordinary affection. [pause] What do you know about this girl?”
Crusher going from enthusiastic doctor to worried mother over the course of a few sentences.
Trivial Matters: Without any kind of fanfare, Worf is promoted to full lieutenant, La Forge is promoted to lieutenant commander, and Pulaski has transferred off. With a bit more fanfare, Crusher returns after a year at Starfleet Medical.
Some of what Crusher did during her year away was mentioned in the TNG novels Reunion by Michael Jan Friedman and A Time to Sow by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, as well as the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Oaths by Glenn Hauman. Her last act as head of Starfleet Medical was to send Pulaski to Bajor on a mission that was shown in the novel Double Helix: Vectors by Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
While Pulaski will never be seen again onscreen, she also shows up in the TNG novel Vendetta by Peter David, the S.C.E. eBook Progress by Terri Osborne, Marvel’s Deep Space Nine #3 comic book by Mariano Nicieza, and finally your humble rewatcher’s TNG novel A Time for War, a Time for Peace.
This episode sees the debut of the high-necked, looser uniform jackets, replacing the one-piece spandex uniforms — though extras and those without speaking parts still are stuck with the spandex until the fourth season. In an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show shortly before this episode aired, Patrick Stewart said succinctly, “The new uniforms don’t hurt.”
Maurice Hurley departed after the end of the second season as co-executive producer and head of the writers room. Initially, he was replaced by Michael Wagner, but he didn’t last long. On the strength of his draft of this episode, as well as Wagner’s recommendation, Michael Piller was hired for the job. Piller and Wagner worked together on the short-lived but excellent science fiction series Probe.
One touch of Piller’s is Stubbs’s love of baseball, something Piller would later inject into the Benjamin Sisko character on Deep Space Nine. During the episode, Stubbs mentally re-creates the final inning of the third and final game of the 1951 tie-breaker series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, which ended with Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world,” a home run that completed the Giants’ tremendous comeback from being thirteen-and-a-half games out in early August. However, the nanites attack Stubbs before Thomson can hit his homer in Stubbs’s head.
Stubbs makes reference to an unauthorized biography of him, a rare peek into life outside Starfleet on Star Trek.
Make it So: “The egg that Stubbs laid.” There’s nothing actively wrong with this episode, but nothing really stands out about it, either. It’s nice to see Wes endangering the ship instead of saving it for a change — it’s Data who really saves the day here — and it’s very nice to see Crusher back in the doctor seat. The episode also looks great, as Kolbe does an excellent job using the malfunctioning ship to create atmosphere and extreme closeups to good effect (starting with the opening shot of Wes asleep in the medical lab). And it’s hard to complain too terribly much about an episode that references both Frankenstein and Gulliver’s Travels.
But the episode feels like it’s unfinished. Wes creates an entire species, and it’s fobbed off in a log entry at the end. For that matter, Wes creates an entire species that almost eats the ship alive, and there are absolutely no consequences to him.
It’s good to see deserved promotions to Worf and La Forge, it’s very good to see Crusher back — for starters, Gates McFadden and Wil Wheaton continue to have superb chemistry — and it’s extremely good to see the crew no longer wearing the unitards, but the episode itself is kinda nowhere.
Warp factor rating: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a story coming out in November called “Ragnarok and Roll” that will be in Tales from the House Band, edited by Deborah Grabien. His most recent critically acclaimed novels are Guilt in Innocence, part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept, and the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.