Feb 7 2012 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Transfigurations”

Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Tom Benko
Season 3, Episode 25
Production episode 40273-173
Original air date: June 4, 1990
Stardate: 43957.2

Captain’s log: The Enterprise is scanning the Zeta Gellis cluster. They pick up a ship that crashed on one planet, with one survivor with fading life signs. Riker leads a team that includes Data, Crusher, and La Forge. The survivor has suffered severe brain damage, and is only made stable enough for transport after Crusher temporarily links his nervous system to La Forge’s. She beams him back and manages to save him, though the brain damage has left him amnesiac. Crusher is barely willing to take credit for his recovery, as he has spectacular healing processes. What concerns her are the cells that have nothing to do with his injury that are also mutating.

Riker was only able to salvage a storage capsule from the pod, and there is debris in orbit that indicates a ship that was destroyed by energy-weapon fire.

Within 36 hours, the patient—whom Crusher has dubbed “John Doe”—is no longer in critical care. Within a month, he is able to walk, albeit only across the room, slowly, with assistance from synaptic induction bands. But he still has bouts of pain and his cells are still mutating.

A few days later, he’s walking around on his own. When O’Brien comes in with a disloacted shoulder from kayaking on the holodeck, John instinctively touches O’Brien’s shoulder, which heals it. He has no idea how he did this.

Data and La Forge have been struggling to figure out how to read the information in the storage capsule. La Forge hits on scanning the molecular structure of the capsule itself, which turns out to be navigational data. They’re able to extrapolate it against existing astronomical data to project his course back. It’s a star system they’ll arrive at in three weeks over the course of their normal mission.

When Picard shares this with John, he is adamant that he not return home. He still doesn’t have his memories back, but he knows that “we” were trying to escape their home—the first revelation that there were others with him. He can’t recall why, but he knows he can’t go back home.

A ship shows up on long-range sensors heading straight for them at warp 9.72. They don’t respond to hails, and will intercept the Enterprise in ten hours.

John continues to have bouts of pain, accompanied by a glow across his chest. After one particularly nasty attack, he is overwhelmed by the need to leave the ship. He runs out of sickbay and heads to a shuttle bay. While Worf is attempting to restrain him, he glows again—so much so that the glow knocks Worf over the railing and onto the deck below, breaking his neck. John is able to heal Worf the same way he healed O’Brien. He can’t explain exactly why he tried to steal the shuttle, but he has a tremendous urge to get away—not least because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else.

The alien ship arrives. Its shipmaster, Commander Sunad, identifies himself as Zalkonian, and John as a criminal whom they thought was dead with the other three criminals he escaped with. John recognizes Sunad as someone he doesn’t trust. Troi adds that Sunad and all the Zalkonians on his ship are scared to death of John.

John is willing to surrender to Sunad to protect the Enterprise, but he also believes that there’s more at stake here.

Picard tries talking to Sunad, but he refuses to accept Picard’s words and attacks the Enterprise with a Super Suffocation Weapon (seriously, he pushes a button, and everyone on the Enterprise can’t breathe). John is able to heal everyone on the ship from that weapon, but Sunad just arms conventional weapons. John, however, remembers everything now, because it’s television, and amnesia always goes away at the episode’s climax. His powers enable him to transfer Sunad from his own bridge to the Enterprise bridge, and then he explains: the Zalkonians are on the verge of a metamorphosis into beings of energy, but Zalkonian society views them as diseased, insisting that the transfiguration will kill them. They’ve gone so far as to kill anyone showing signs of the mutation. John is the first to achieve the change, which he does in front of everyone, turning into an orange-y glow-y being.

After Sunad refuses to let John near him as an orange-y glow-y thing, John sends him back to his ship and he buggers off as fast as he can. John thanks Picard and Crusher and then disappears in an orange-y glow-y ball of light to live happily ever after.

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi points out the anger Sunad has for John, which even she states is obvious, and then adds that they feel fear as well. She also plays devil’s advocate (along with Riker) when discussing what to do with John, pointing out that the Zalkonians are genuinely confused as to why Picard is even hesitating to turn John over.

If I only had a brain…: A missed opportunity: Data was the only one not affected by Sunad’s Super Suffocation Weapon. Might’ve been cool to have John’s healing not work on that, and have Data and John go against Sunad all by themselves.

The boy!?: Wes—in his shiny new red uniform—only has two scenes, but one is a charming-as-all-heck dinner with his mother and he and Crusher discuss John.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: La Forge goes from thumphering like a moron in the presence of Christy Henshaw to necking with her in a turbolift. One hopes that when he takes her to the holodeck, he has better programs this time. The change between those two events is the neural link he and John shared, which had a positive effect on his confidence.

Crusher and John also develop a close friendship that really feels like a romance. In the dinner scene with Wes, Crusher talks out all the pitfalls and dangers and confusions and whatnot involving doctors getting close to their long-term patients. (John basically lives in sickbay for more than a month.)

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf tries (and fails, see below) to advise La Forge on how to pick up women, and then later takes credit for his greater success with Christy. He also is killed and resurrected by John.

I believe I said that: “You must let her see the fire in her eyes.”

“But what would I say?”

“Words come later. It is the scent that first speaks of love.”

“Thanks, Worf. That helps a lot.”

Worf giving La Forge the worst advice ever (you can’t see La Forge’s eyes, and humans don’t have the olfactory capacity of Klingons), and La Forge sarcastically expressing gratitude

Welcome aboard: As I’ve said before in this here rewatch, romance-of-the-week episodes like this rise and fall on the backs of the guest stars, from spectacular success like Suzie Plakson’s K’Ehleyr to dismal failure like Matt McCoy’s Devonani Ral. Mark LaMura’s John Doe isn’t quite as transcendent as Plakson, but he’s pretty darn good, with tremendous charm and gravitas, and an excellent rapport with Gates McFadden. (He pretty much sold me when he first starts walking after overconfidently stating he was ready to go, then stumbling badly after one step. Crusher says they should proceed again more slowly, and John mutters, “Much more slowly.” It’s a lovely moment.)

Julie Warner reprises her role of Christy Henshaw from “Booby Trap,” and this time things develop more pleasantly between her and La Forge. (Warner joked in an interview once that she was cast because she’s shorter than LeVar Burton; they were willing to have an interracial relationship, but not one where the woman was taller than the man, a challenge when casting for someone alongside the 5’7” Burton.)

Charles Dennis sneers a lot as Sunad. We also get our first nurse with a speaking part in Patti Tippo’s Nurse Temple.

Trivial matters: This is the second script by Echevarria, following The Offspring.” His position on the writing staff was solidified after this episode.

Sunad was named after story editor Richard Danus. (Spell it backwards....) Nurse Temple is a play on Nurse Chapel from the original series (played by Majel Barrett).

The scene with John transformed into an orange-y glow-y thing was done with minimal post-production work—LaMura actually wore a fluorescent orange suit that glowed on the special film they used to shoot the scene.

O’Brien’s love of kayaking, and his tendency to throw out his shoulder while doing so, will continue to be a recurring theme on Deep Space Nine.

This episode has the longest in-episode time span since Pen Pals,” which also took approximately six weeks.

Make it so: “Less talk. More synthehol.” A perfectly delightful little episode. It’s especially nice to see a case where magical 24th-century medicine doesn’t fix everything immediately. The plot is fairly standard, but it proceeds at a nice, leisurely pace. Things happen slowly, not because the episode drags, but as a natural outgrowth of the story. Plus it’s nice to see the crew taking leisure: Wes and Crusher’s dinner, O’Brien’s kayaking, La Forge and Worf sharing drinks in Ten-Forward, La Forge dating Christy, and so on. And I have to admit to really getting a kick out of Sunad’s complete lack of interest in establishing relations with the Federation. Not all new life and new civilizations actually want to be sought out, after all. The Super Suffocation Weapon was also kinda awesome.

Mostly what makes it work, though, is a fine performance by Mark LaMura. He’s incredibly charismatic and likeable, which helps complicate Picard’s decision later on as to whether or not to turn him over to Sunad.

The one downside of the leisurely pace is that it makes the rushed ending all the more frustrating. We find out the truth about the Zalkonians in a rushed exposition dump from John, and then it’s over.


Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido wants to know what love is. He wants you to show him. He also wants to make note of the fact that ”Transfigurations" is an incredibly difficult word to type when you touch-type, and you should all feel really really sorry for him. Also? Buy his books....

Justin Devlin
1. EnsignJayburd
Owing to the fact that he Force-choked the entire Enterprise crew, they should have named Sunad "Redav" instead (Vader spelled backwards).

I agree that there are good moments here, but I grow tired of aliens with mondo super powers (except the Q). Especially ones that turn into orang-y glow-y balls of light (or in this case bi-pedal, walking, talking light bulbs). Matt LaMurra's performance was very good and that alone saves this episode from being a bad one. All in all, though, I consider "Transfigurations" run-of-the-mill TNG.

@krad, where on Earth did you come up with a word like thumphering? Catchy...
Sean O'Hara
2. Sean O'Hara
I don't think Worf's advice is all that bad, even if the specifics don't work for humans. He's just trying to say that Geordi's losing the game before he even opens his mouth -- he needs to show women that he's passionate about them instead of awkwardly saying, "Garsh, Ms. Hanson, you sure are purty. Wanna go hold hands on the holodeck then retire to my quarters to review technical manuals?"
Sean O'Hara
3. don3comp
I remember enjoying this episode. I will say that as I read Keith's plot summary, it made me think, "gee, this reminds me a bit of the Jon Pertwee story, "The Mutants" from "Doctor Who" (which I also happen to have liked). That story also ended with an alien transforming into an energy being after being persecuted by the authorites. (The "Trek" version has a slight visual effects edge.)

The advice given to would-be writers for the series was always "concentrate on the characters," and this episode certainly is a textbook example of how to do that. One could argue that the pace gives the audience a last episode to breathe before the intensity of "The Best of Both Worlds."
Sean O'Hara
4. Brian Eberhardt
Wes for the win in this episode. Put your hand on the dislocated shoulder. O'Brien not feeling pain anyways.

Synaptic Induction Bands, another good Trek idea that shows up for one episode then disappears.

'The Super Suffocation Weapon was also kinda awesome.' Yes, it was. John Doe saving the crew that quickly seem to kill its awesomeness.

Sudan's total disinterest in the Federation and kill everyone with the mutation made him a bit of a fanatic. It is a shame that he didn't come back as a repeatable villian with a large chip on his shoulder for 'Captain Pickles', Dr Crusher and the Federation.
Sean O'Hara
5. Christopher L. Bennett
@4: "Synaptic Induction Bands, another good Trek idea that shows up for one episode then disappears."

They were used again in "Ethics" as part of Worf's rehabilitation from his spinal injury. They were actually called motor assist bands or units; synaptic induction was a technique Picard suggested for restoring John's memories, but Crusher said it wouldn't work because his neural network conformed to no known pattern.

While I'm not fond of the "people evolving into glowy energy beings" cliche of sci-fi, which is both thinly veiled mysticism and a complete misunderstanding of how evolution works, I did like the way it was handled here, as the basis for an allegory on intolerance. And yes, it was one of TNG's better romance stories too.

And it is very cool how they did the special effect for glowy orangey John.

I did find the use of the "John Doe" alias to be a bit too 20th-century. Indeed, I know now that it's even more parochial than I thought, since the "John Doe" placeholder name is mainly an American and Canadian usage; even though it originated in England around the 14th century, it's been obsolete in the UK for over 150 years. (Apparently the rest of the Anglophone world uses "Joe Bloggs," and other countries have their own equivalents.) It just screams "These are fictional characters written by and for 20th-century Americans" rather than "These are members of a futuristic, multicultural, multispecies civilization."
Keith DeCandido
6. krad
Christopher: I think they should have called him "Fred."

Also to Christopher: thanks for your comment in "Pen Pals" about the duration of time in the episode, which is what made me think of mentioning it here.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Keith DeCandido
7. krad
Double post, sorry.....
Sean O'Hara
8. freezeframe
John Doe's white jumpsuit is really awesome. I bet it's super comfortable and not embarrassing to wear at all.
Keith DeCandido
9. krad
I love how in the picture at the top of the article it looks like John Doe is spitting at La Forge.....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido, who doesn't pick the photos, mainly because Chris is awesome at it
Sean O'Hara
10. Christopher L. Bennett
@6: "I think they should have called him 'Fred.'"

After looking at the links in Wikipedia's "John Doe" article, I'm thinking maybe they could've called him "Nomen Nescio" (Latin for "I do not know the name"), which is a fairly generic "John Doe" equivalent used since Roman times. Still a bit Western-centric, but not quite so linked to a specific culture and era.
Margot Virzana
11. LuvURphleb

Love is...
Seeing a ship flying thru space
Knowing warp speed can bypass hyperspace
Puking on eggs except for that klingon
Fighting the borg with nothing to lean on
Seeing the upside to skintight Clothes
Falling in love with a damn sexy nose
Regaining humanity with the help of an android
Always exploring that black starry void
Learning to rhyme and learning to reason
Learning weird metaphors for every season
Winning the battle for price of a game played
Watching the stories where beloved heros are made
Seeing the galaxy fall under trial and tribulation
Viewing the dark side of our dear federation
Able to explore all that we dont know
Able to engage and just boldly go.

(i kind of jumped around the whole series. Forgive my five minutes to write poetry; it was fun)
Chris Lough
12. TorChris
@9. Thanks, Keith! Our prod. assistant Emily gets the kudos for the pics in this one, though, and she did a bang-up job. In particular, the one of LaForge and Worf in Ten Forward had me on the floor.
Andrew Love
13. AndyLove
I liked this episode, but it fits into a pattern for Star Trek, in which aliens gaining extra abilities and powers is generally a good thing, but humans gaining extra abilities is always bad. After a while, the pattern begins to grate...
Keith DeCandido
14. krad
Nomen Nescio would've been good.

Fred would've been better.

---Keith R.A. "Fred" DeCandido
Sean O'Hara
15. critter42
I generally give that a 6.

Not a bad episode, but once I saw BoBW (part 1), I always got this vibe watching this episode afterward that the principals were holding back a bit, like they were preparing themselves for the season finale. Maybe that's me projecting, but there it is.
Sean O'Hara
16. JMH
@11, If nobody else is going to mention it, I've got one thing for you.
Will you marry me? I'm entirely semi-serious.
Sean O'Hara
17. Etherbeard
Seeing the crew take some leisure time is especially effective in retrospect. We know what's coming next.
Dante Hopkins
18. DanteHopkins
I loved this episode. Its a nice quiet episode that is a nice contrast for the next episode. This episode ultmately had the core principle of Star Trek: seeking out new life forms. John's remebering everything and then departing is handled well in my opinion. John remembers his reason for being and can't just hang around the Enterprise, tempting though I'm sure it may have been in light in his rapport with Crusher. The ending is heartfelt and sad, but beautiful, especially accompanied by the beautiful score as John flies out the dome and into space. I agree with Keith on the 7 rating.
Sean O'Hara
19. Solid Muldoon
Ten hours at Warp 9.72? How much distance would be covered? Just how far do the Enterprise sensors reach?
Sean O'Hara
22. JohnC
Minor quibble, but a few episodes ago Data's daugher Lal delivered one of the most emotionally poigant lines of the season with "Thank you for my life." That same line was recycled here with John saying it to Crusher. Same writer, and as krad notes, this was his second script for TNG. It's a great line, but to recycle it so soon and so obviously is a bit much. (He even paraphrases it again in John's closing lines.) I think Julie Warner is just the cutest thing in the galaxy, although when I saw her (as Henshaw) with Giordi I couldn't help thinking that she was cheating on Tommy Boy. Love the scene with Worf making disgusted faces listening to Giordi getting his geek on instead of cruising babes, then ending it with the "Less talk, more synthahol" punchline. Finally, @8 - completely agree! Just watching that scene made me want to readjust my boys...

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