Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Conundrum”

Written by Paul Schiffer and Barry Schkolnick
Directed by Les Landau
Season 5, Episode 14
Production episode 40275-214
Original air date: February 17, 1992
Stardate: 45494.2

Captain’s Log: The ship pootles along through space, tracking subspace signals that may indicate life in the Epsilon Sola system. In Ten-Forward, Troi beats Data at three-dimensional chess, which means he has to make her a Samarian Sunset, as only he can. In sickbay, Crusher treats a young woman named Kristin, who damaged some ligaments while swimming and diving, while Riker yells at Ro for altering procedure on how to handle flight handling assessments. Ro’s procedure is better, but she didn’t check with Riker first.

Riker and Ro arrive on the bridge just as Worf picks up a subspace signal from an unfamiliar ship, with only one life-form aboard. They don’t respond to hails, but they do scan rather intently—the scan penetrates the ship’s shields, damaging the computer and helm, and then moving through the ship. Suddenly, nobody remembers who they are or who anybody else is.

And there’s an additional person on the bridge who wasn’t there before the scanning wave hit.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

They all stumble around trying to figure out who they are. They know they’re on a starship. Ro figures she’s the pilot, and she knows how to operate her console—which is currently dead. Riker and Worf know how to use the tactical console, as well.

La Forge manages to pick up intermittent sensor readings of debris in front of them. Worf postulates that they might have been in battle. They’re also not sure who’s supposed to be in command—Riker thinks it’s Picard based on the number of pips on his collar, but Worf points out that he is decorated (his baldric), and that may be an indicator of higher rank.

The new person on the bridge suggests that the other ship hit them with some kind of bioelectric field that wiped their memories, with Ro adding that maybe then they attacked and destroyed them. But there may have been other damage—Picard tries to get a report from the computer, but the voice interface is down. La Forge finds that the computer’s completely down—but he is able to get to a system directory. Life support is operational, but propulsion, navigation, and communications are all offline. Internal communication is working, though.

Worf takes the initiative to do a shipwide announcement: everyone should pick a representative from the group they’re in to report their status to the bridge. We then cut to sickbay, to Crusher and Kristin, who are just as amnesiac as the folks on the bridge.

Eventually, everyone reports in. The new guy reports to Worf, who has assumed command, saying that there are a thousand people on board, and nobody remembers who they are. Worf theorizes that the Enterprise must be a battleship, based on the armament and shield grid they’re carrying.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

Riker, Ro, and La Forge decide to go check the rest of the ship on foot. They go to engineering first. Everything’s working, but the control systems are down. La Forge then goes after the computer core, trying to get things back online (and maybe find some personnel records so they can find out what their names are), while Riker and Ro do a personnel check.

Picard and the new guy report to Worf, now in the ready room, that no one’s hurt, but that transporters are working and shuttles are all on board. Worf’s priority is to get tactical systems online, which La Forge accomplishes, then Picard and the new guy suggest a full diagnostic. Worf is reluctant, because that would force them to take systems offline, but the computer was damaged, and they need to be sure everything’s really working properly.

Crusher comes to the bridge. She’s done several brainscans and found no damage, not even to the hippocampus. This suggests that they have their long-term memories, they’ve just been blocked somehow. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have access to the crew’s medical records, so she doesn’t have normal brainscans to compare to.

Riker and Ro continue their survey of the crew, and also flirt rather outrageously. They arrive at Ten-Forward. Troi speaks for that group, and she says she’s noticed two things: the bartender is an artificial life form (Data was behind the bar when the scanning wave hit, so that’s a natural assumption), and Troi herself has the ability to sense what other people are feeling. She gets a strong sense of recognition from Riker.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

Worf then contacts Riker and Ro, saying that they’ve gotten access to personnel files and to report to the bridge. As they arrive, La Forge calls up the crew manifest. It reveals that Picard is the commanding officer, with the new guy as the executive officer, identified as Commander Keiran MacDuff. Riker is listed as second officer, with Data as operations officer, Crusher as chief medical officer, Troi as ship’s counselor, La Forge as chief engineer, Worf as chief of security, and Ro as helm officer. Worf is abject in his apologies to Picard, who gladly forgives and forgets.

Data and La Forge find out that the ship is called the U.S.S. Enterprise, it’s part of the United Federation of Planets (true), and the Federation is at war with the Lysian Alliance, a genocidal race out to destroy the Federation (not so much). The war has gone poorly of late due to a new Lysian weapon that has enabled them to capture fourteen Starfleet ships with the greatest of ease. The theory is that the weapon disrupts systems and mental functions—just like what happened to them.

According to what La Forge has dug up, the Enterprise‘s mission is to go behind enemy lines and destroy Lysian central command. They are to maintain radio silence, and they’re the linchpin of the entire plan. Picard orders MacDuff to take them to the Lysian system.

Riker escorts Troi to her quarters. To her frustration, nothing seems right or familiar—except for Riker. Then Riker heads to his own quarters, seeing both a trombone and a horga’hn—and Ro, who’s already changed into civvies and is waiting on his couch, reading a book. They fall into bed in about five seconds.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

The next day, they come into Lysian territory. They encounter a Lysian destroyer. MacDuff takes it upon himself to arm weapons without orders, and when the Lysians hail the Enterprise, it’s MacDuff who urges them not to reply, his reasoning being that that may be how they transmit their disruptive weapon. The destroyer itself is no match for the Enterprise in terms of standard tactics. When the Enterprise does not respond to hails, the Lysians arm weapons and fire—and are destroyed easily.

Troi visits with Riker, who has been learning about himself, including his musical ability—he plays a trombone bit for Troi who is impressed, and Riker emphatically declares that no one was more surprised than him. He also finds a volume of Keats that Troi gave him as a present, inscribed “all my love,” and they almost kiss before Ro shows up and they have an awkward moment before Troi leaves. Ro is glad Riker insists that nothing was going on, because she figures herself to have been the jealous type.

Crusher has come up with a possible cure for the amnesia, but it requires the crew’s medical records, which have been irreparably damaged. La Forge is suspicious of how selective the damage to the ship has been—just as selective as the damage to their memories. Crusher doesn’t want to try her cure without medical records, but they have to give it a shot. MacDuff “nobly” volunteers, then fakes a seizure during the procedure, which forces Crusher back to square one.

Picard calls MacDuff into his ready room. Everything feels wrong to him. They greatly outclassed the one enemy ship they’ve met, and every shred of information that might shed some light on their mission has been conveniently eliminated. He needs some kind of moral context to justify his actions, and he doesn’t have it. MacDuff agrees that he’d rather have answers, but there’s so much else riding on this, can he justify breaking off the mission?

MacDuff then calls Worf to his quarters, giving him a pep talk about how they’re the two warriors on the ship. MacDuff wants to know that he can count on Worf not to hesitate during a crucial moment, or the mission will be lost.

They enter the Lysian system, and are met with negligible resistance. Lysian central command has no defenses beyond what the Enterprise has already destroyed. Data’s tactical analysis is that one photon torpedo would wipe out the entire central command. MacDuff insists that they need to complete their mission, but Picard, Riker, and Troi all think this is wrong. The Lysian technology is a hundred years behind that of the Federation—a war between the two wouldn’t last a day.

Picard’s final word is that he will not fire on defenseless people, and orders Worf to open a channel. MacDuff belays that order and takes command, ordering Worf to fire. When Worf refuses, MacDuff knocks Worf down and tries to fire the weapons himself. Riker and Worf stop him with phasers, and when they fire on him, they penetrate his disguise, eventually stunning him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

The Lysians identify “MacDuff” as a Satarran in disguise. The Lysians and Satarrans have been at war for decades. The Satarrans were trying to use Starfleet’s more advanced weapons to bring the war to an end. Crusher manages to restore memories now that MacDuff isn’t sabotaging her efforts, and the Enterprise heads to Starbase 301.

Riker then enters Ten-Forward to see Ro and Troi having a very animated conversation. They both torture him for a bit, with Troi assuring him that he can talk to her about it—in her office—before she walks off, leaving a rather flabbergasted Riker behind.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The Satarrans have the technology to block certain memories—all the ones relating to a person’s identity—without losing the person’s skill set. They also are very good with Federation computer systems. Of course, one wonders why they didn’t just use that as a weapon on the Lysians…

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is the first to be ambivalent about their mission, as she feels they should get some kind of confirmation before flying behind enemy lines to destroy something. She also takes great pleasure in tormenting Riker at the end.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: In March 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot, and Secretary of State Al Haig famously declared himself in charge, since Vice President George H.W. Bush was on a plane. I always think of that when I watch Worf in this episode. It’s really amusing to see how quickly and easily and skillfully Worf takes to being in command.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data gets beaten by Troi at chess, is mistaken for a bartender, and is the one able to access the personnel records (only to find them wiped). He also comes up with several hypotheses regarding why he’s the only one on the ship.

In the Driver’s Seat: Ro’s back, her first appearance since “Disaster,” and she’s the first one to figure out what it is she’s supposed to be doing on the ship, to wit, flying it.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Riker and Ro are all over each other, and Riker and Troi realize that they have a romantic past. The every-man’s-nightmare ending as Riker watches Ro and Troi compare notes is one of the single funniest scenes in Trek history.

I Believe I Said That: “Contact the operations officer to assist you.”

“He’s in Ten-Forward—waiting tables.”

Picard telling La Forge to find Data, and Ro amusedly telling them where to find him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

Welcome Aboard: Erich Anderson does well as MacDuff, and he’s the only major guest, as this was a bottle show, intended to keep costs down by using minimal guest stars and existing sets.

However, we do get another Robert Knepper moment! Liz Vassey—probably best known as Wendy Simms on CSI, who also played Captain Liberty on the short-lived live-action version of The Tick, and who is currently recurring on Necessary Roughness—had a small role in this episode as Kristin, one of Crusher’s patients.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

Trivial Matters: Information from the personnel files in this episode includes some things we already knew (e.g., Picard’s birthplace of LaBarre, France, established in “Family“), lots of new information (e.g., Crusher’s birth name of Howard, which will be referenced again in “Sub Rosa”), false information (e.g., Troi’s father’s name, established in “The Child” as Ian, is listed as “Alex” in the file), and information that would later be contradicted (e.g., Ro’s home planet is listed as “Bajora,” rather than Bajor).

The Satarrans return to plague the Enterprise in Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore’s duology A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest.

The episode is told from Kristin’s perspective in the short story “Kristin’s Conundrum” by Jeff D. Jacques & Michelle A. Bottrall in Strange New Worlds V.

Picard tells MacDuff that he feels as if he’s been handed a weapon, sent into a room, and been told to kill a stranger, something of a reference to The Manchurian Candidate, which was also the basis of the plot of the episode “The Mind’s Eye.”

Joe Menosky actually wrote most of the teleplay, but chose not to be credited for it, allowing Schkolnick to get full credit (and full payment for writing same).

Riker still has a horga’hn from Risa, though it’s unclear whether it was the one Picard got in “Captain’s Holiday,” or from one of Riker’s own trips there (“The Game,” e.g.). He also plays “The Nearness of You” by Hoagy Carmichael on the trombone for Troi—he played the same song with the holographic jazz band in “11001001.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Conundrum

This episode jointly won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Special Visual Effects with “A Matter of Time.”

Make it So: “You and I have shared something that we will treasure forever.” This episode doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on the face of it, as the Satarran ability to manipulate the Enterprise is a little too perfect, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a means to an end, to wit, giving the crew a) amnesia and b) a terrible conundrum (hence the title).

In fact, the episode could’ve afforded to do more with a). It might’ve been fun to go through the whole episode with Worf thinking he’s in command, with Data as the bartender, and so on. As it is, what we did see was wonderful, in particular the rather bizarre Riker-Ro-Troi triangle that developed.

Ultimately, a fun little episode.


Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido wants to know why there ain’t no sun up in the sky.


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