Written by Timothy DeHaas and Brannon Braga
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 4, Episode 18
Production episode 40274-192
Original air date: March 25, 1991
Captain’s Log: Five years ago, an away team from the U.S.S. Victory investigated the disappearance of 49 people from an outpost on Tarchannen III. Three of the five members of that away team have recently deserted their posts and at least one was seen heading toward Tarchannen.
The other two members of the team are Susanna Leijten, the away team leader, now a lieutenant commander — and La Forge.
They find the shuttle that one of the team, Lieutenant Hickman, stole, but Hickman himself isn’t responding to hails. He approaches Tarchannen III too fast and the shuttle explodes. However, Worf detects two more shuttles on the surface — Riker beams down with Data, Worf, La Forge, and Leijten to one of the shuttles, which turns out to be the one stolen from the Aries by another of the Victory away team, Mendez. They find no life signs — but Worf is certain they’re being watched, and La Forge found Mendez’s uniform abandoned in the Aries shuttle.
Leijten sees tracks and wanders off to follow them without saying anything. La Forge tracks her down, and she’s sure that Mendez and Brevelle are still alive, she can feel it. But when she starts to walk away again, La Forge asks where she’s going, and she starts going crazy. La Forge beams her up, and Crusher determines that she had a histamine response to something and her blood chemistry is all messed up.
Leijten is eager to get back to work — and also gesticulating nervously and generally acting all nervous and jumpy, though whether it’s nerves, anxiety, or the same thing happening to her that happened to the other three, nobody knows. La Forge manages to calm her down, and they go to the bridge, where Data reports alien skin cells on the uniform left behind, and also that the footprints Leijten found match no known Tarchannen life form.
Leijten and La Forge try to figure out what happened on the original mission to cause this. They go over the old Victory logs, trying to determine if there’s some kind of commonality, something they all touched or ingested or something. But Leijten grows weary of doing that, insisting they beam down to the planet. Then she has a seizure and collapses — which is when La Forge notices the strange markings on her neck and the fusing of her fingers together.
Crusher and Ogawa work hard on her, but nothing seems to be working. She’s become oversensitive to light, and her immune system is running rapid. Crusher finds alien skin cells on Leijten that are almost perfect matches for what they found on Mendez’s uniform. The Victory team weren’t abducted — they were transformed. And La Forge is next, but there’s no way to know when it’ll happen. La Forge wants to continue his analysis, with the computer tracking his movements in case he gets the urge to leave the ship.
Leijten’s continuing to change, responding oddly to light, her body temperature’s dropping, and the rate of transformation is increasing despite a T-cell inhibitor that should slow it down. She’s being changed into something chameleonic, which may explain why they can’t be detected on the surface.
La Forge re-creates the events on Tarchannen III on the holodeck after he notices an odd shadow that doesn’t seem to have a source. He uses the computer to extrapolate what the figure might be — but before he can examine further, he collapses and starts transforming.
Crusher finally finds the source: a parasite in Leijten’s thymus that has latched onto her immune system and is altering her DNA. The doctor is able to surgically remove the parasite, but it’ll be a few hours before they’ll know for sure if Leijten will revert to normal. Meanwhile, La Forge needs to get to sickbay — but the computer (which was supposed to be monitoring him) can’t find him. Riker and Worf take a security team to the holodeck, only to find La Forge’s uniform and VISOR. An invisible creature — whatever La Forge changed into — invades the transporter room and beams down.
Data theorizes that ultraviolet light can be used to find La Forge, and he modifies an emergency beacon to find La Forge’s absorption spectrum. Leijten, however, wakes up, having changed most of the way back, and insists that she’s the only one who can locate him. The natives of Tarchannen reproduce this way, by inserting the parasite into a host that transforms into another one of their kind. (It’s unclear how they reproduce when there aren’t convenient aliens around.) Data’s UV light makes them all visible — they run away, but one responds to Leijten’s voice. That’s La Forge who’s still trying to fight the transformation. Leijten manages to convince him not to run away and to come back to the Enterprise.
Picard leaves warning beacons in orbit and on the surface. Brevelle and Mendez’s transformation was too far gone for them to be rescued, not to mention the original 49 members of the outpost from five years earlier, so people need to stay away from Tarchannen III.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Crusher and Ogawa determine that the Tarchannen natives undergo mimetic changes under light — but the leap from that to being sensor blind is rather a big one, since sensors are far more all-encompassing than just the visual spectrum. For that matter, it’s never adequately explained how something invisible to sight and to sensors can cast a shadow....
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data insists that he feels no anxiety regarding the danger La Forge is in, but after prompting by Crusher, he admits that he is greatly motivated to solve the mystery of what happened to the Victory team. That insistence that he feels no anxiety is belied by his great look of concern in the climactic scene on Tarchannen when he’s holding up the UV light while Leijten convinces La Forge to come back to the ship.
What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: As with “A Matter of Perspective” and “Booby Trap,” this episode gives us a nice practical application of the holodeck, to wit, as a research tool. La Forge uses the holodeck to re-create the away team mission from five years earlier and more closely examine details like the odd shadow.
In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Graham makes her lone appearance, and looks for all the world like a college student out of her depth.
I Believe I Said That: “Not Bogrow!”
“The one who always used to drive you crazy? You always thought he was so full of himself.”
“Well, I decided that I prejudged him unfairly. And then I decided that I’d been right in the first place.”
La Forge and Leijten, catching up on past relationships.
Welcome Aboard: Maryann Plunkett is excellent as Leijten, imbuing the character with a distinctive personality and doing a fine job of acting like one of La Forge’s old friends — their scenes together are very convincing best-friend interactions.
Patti Yasutake returns as Nurse Ogawa, getting a last name this time. Miss Universe 1990, Mona Grudt, appears as Ensign Graham and seems horribly out of her depth (to be fair, that’s likely due to English not being her native language; Grudt was the first Norwegian to win the title). Amick Byram plays Hickman — he’ll return as the image of Troi’s father in the seventh season’s “Dark Page.” Stunt coordinator Dennis Mandalone plays the transporter chief, Hedrick, a rare case where the stuntman actually gets dialogue. (He was likely cast due to his ability to be knocked down by a special effect when the invisible, transformed La Forge beams down to Tarchannen III).
Most amusingly, two of the Tarchannen aliens are played by Brian Phelps and Mark Thompson, the hosts of the syndicated radio morning show The Mark and Brian Show out of Los Angeles. Besides appearing in the episode in purple-veined suits, they also interviewed Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, and Marina Sirtis for their show while on the set.
Trivial Matters: The uniforms and phasers used by the away team in the archival footage of the Victory mission five years earlier all match those used in the first season — the “unitard” uniforms and the “car-vac” phasers. La Forge is also wearing the VISOR he wore in season one.
La Forge’s time serving on the Victory was established in “Elementary, Dear Data.”
Leijten was given a full bio in the Starship Creator CD-ROM game.
The reproduce-by-changing-the-DNA-of-an-alien well would be dipped into again on the Voyager episodes “Favorite Son” and “Ashes to Ashes” and the Enterprise episode “Extinction” (which was directed by LeVar Burton).
Grudt was the reigning Miss Universe when she appeared on this episode. She joked during the pageant that she was the “beauty queen from Hell,” as she was born in Hell, Norway, which I only mention because, well, it’s awesome. Grudt was also the last Miss Universe to accompany Bob Hope on his USO tour.
This is the first full script by Brannon Braga (he collaborated on “Reunion”), a staff writer/intern starting this season, who would go on to become a co-producer of TNG, work his way up to executive producer of Voyager, and was co-creator and executive producer of Enterprise.
Make it So: “You’re worried about Geordi, aren’t you?” I always liked this episode, though it’s not one I’ve ever felt a great urge to rewatch — on the other hand, if I stumbled across it, I’d enjoy watching it. I like the insight into the characters’ lives before they appeared on the show. Too often, television characters behave as if nothing ever happened in their lives prior to the show’s beginning, so this kind of plot appeals to me — as does a male-female pairing that isn’t romantic. La Forge and Leijten have a best-friend/sibling-like relationship that is a welcome change from the norm. (Depressingly, an early draft of the script had the two of them romantically involved in the past, but it was decided that, so soon after “Galaxy’s Child,” it was a bit much. Classic case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.) It helps that Burton and Plunkett have excellent chemistry; their scene in Ten-Forward is a delight.
The mystery is somewhat compelling, mainly because of the ticking clock regarding La Forge. Unfortunately, the climax only works because La Forge is stupid — after promising to alert Crusher the minute he exhibits symptoms, he proceeds to exhibit symptoms and not alert Crusher — and because the script can’t stay consistent — La Forge says he’ll let the computer monitor him, so why doesn’t it bleat at Crusher or Picard or Worf or somebody when he basically disappears? More fundamentally, why did they let La Forge be alone at all? The minute Leijten took ill, they should’ve put a security guard or a medtech (or both) in his hip pocket. There’s a thousand people on that ship, there’s no excuse, none, for leaving La Forge alone at that point. (Hell, Data even offers to help, and La Forge inexplicably refuses.)
Also the alien method of reproduction doesn’t make sense. If the Tarchannen natives have to transform someone from another species, what do they do when there aren’t handy-dandy outposts built on their world? How did such an impractical method of reproduction develop? (This lack of basic understanding of evolution will continue to dog Braga’s scripts.)
Not a great episode, but not a bad one — a decent science fiction TV story with some nice background on one of the main characters.
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that it’s the nominating period for the Parsec Awards. You should totally go to their web site and nominate the podcasts he’s involved with: The Chronic Rift, The Dome, HG World, and, of course, Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast.