Written by Joe Menosky and Naren Shankar
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 6, Episode 22
Production episode 40276-248
Original air date: May 10, 1993
Captain’s Log: Crusher enters her quarters, looking cranky and apprehensive. As she’s removing her boots, the doorchime rings. It’s Guinan, claiming she has tennis elbow after La Forge beat her in straight sets. Crusher tells her to go to sickbay and see Dr. Selar, because Crusher isn’t a doctor on this ship anymore. She’s been relieved of duty and has to head back to Earth for a formal hearing. Guinan asks her what happened, and then it’s flashback time!
Crusher attended the Altine Conference, where a Ferengi scientist, Dr. Reyga, was booed off the stage for his unorthodox proposal for a metaphasic shield. Crusher, though, despite having no actual expertise in subspace technology, shield mechanics, or anything else related to this field of study, decided that she knew better than a conference filled with scientists, so she invited Reyga to the Enterprise. She then reached out to as many subspace experts as she could find, in order to show them that Reyga’s theories were sound. But only four responded: Kurak, a Klingon warp-field specialist; Dr. T’Pan, a Vulcan, and the director of the Vulcan Science Academy, who came with her husband, Dr. Christopher, a subspace expert; and a Takaran named Jo’Bril, about whom Crusher knew very little.
Reyga needs the resources to develop the shield, which can allow a ship to survive within a sun’s corona. Kurak is skeptical of its efficacy, and doesn’t trust Reyga’s simulated tests. The Ferengi offers to do a field test on an Enterprise shuttle that he’s outfitted with a metaphasic shield. (This, of course, implies that he already has developed it, so it’s unclear what he needs everyone else for.) He’ll take the shuttle into Vaytan, an unstable star with a dense corona. T’Pan and Christopher suggest a more stable star, but Reyga insists that Vaytan’s the perfect place to test it precisely because it is volatile. Jo’Bril volunteers to pilot the shuttle, after Kurak asks for a different pilot for a more objective viewpoint.
Everyone gathers on the bridge as Jo’Bril flies the shuttle into the corona. At first, everything goes well, but then the shuttle’s interior becomes flooded with baryons, which Reyga says shouldn’t have happened. Jo’Bril manages to pilot the shuttle out of the sun before collapsing, and Worf beams him to sickbay. Crusher and Ogawa try and fail to save him. The autopsy reveals a species that has very few discreet organs, with biological systems evenly distributed throughout the body—which should make him more resistant to injury. But there’s no apparent cause of death.
Even as Crusher is driving herself crazy to figure out why Jo’Bril died, Reyga, La Forge, and Data are examining the shuttle. They can’t find anything wrong. Reyga is frustrated, as he thought he’d accounted for every contingency.
Crusher thinks that the testing should cease. Reyga is frustrated, and storms out of the lab, after T’Pan states that the very concept of the metaphasic shield is flawed and after Kurak snarks Reyga regarding Jo’Bril’s death. Reyga volunteers to perform another test himself, but Crusher won’t authorize it.
The next day, Reyga’s found dead in the lab. Worf and Crusher investigate, and he’s holding the plasma infuser that killed him, but it’s unclear whether or not it was suicide or murder. Unfortunately, the best way to determine that is an autopsy, and Reyga’s family is insistent that there be no autopsy to spoil the Ferengi death ritual.
So Crusher must speak to the people who might have motive to kill Reyga. First she talks to T’Pan and Christopher. The former finds it illogical to believe that someone would kill Reyga out of jealousy for a metaphasic shield that didn’t actually work, while the latter finds Crusher’s inquiry distasteful. However, he does reluctantly admit that he heard Kurak and Reyga arguing. But when Crusher confronts Kurak, she throws Crusher into a wall.
Having made no real progress—unsurprising given that she has no experience as a death investigator and she rather confusingly didn’t read Worf in on this—Crusher decides to disobey the wishes of Regya’s family, toss medical ethics right out the window, and perform the autopsy. To make matters worse, the autopsy doesn’t reveal anything new.
Picard is livid, and says he can’t protect her. She says she accepts the consequences and is relieved of duty—which brings us back to the present. Guinan wants to know why Crusher’s moping around her quarters if she thinks there’s a murderer on board, especially since the consequences of her investigating further would be to be relieved of duty—which has already happened. So she talks to Data about the possibility of sabotage. The shield could only be sabotaged while active, which was only when it was in the sun’s corona. Dismissing the notion of Jo’Bril sabotaging the shield himself, given that it killed him, Crusher asks Data if the shield could’ve been remotely sabotaged. The answer Data gives would result in a tetryon pulse in the shuttle, which would leave residual traces in Jo’Bril’s body.
Unfortunately, autopsy files can only be accessed by active medical personnel. Ogawa, however, comes to Crusher’s rescue and calls up the files. Sure enough, there are tetryon traces in his cells. Ogawa points out that it’s circumstantial evidence, and Crusher says there’s only one way to be sure.
So she steals a shuttle. Why not? If Q can do it….
Crusher says she’s testing a theory that Reyga’s shield works. Picard rightly points out that it’s a hypothesis, not a theory, and that she’s risking her life. But the test does actually work. The shield holds, and everything’s fine. Crusher is now convinced that T’Pan, Christopher, or Kurak is the murderer—but then communications are severed. Jo’Bril then crawls out of what looks like a roll-top desk that inexplicably is on the shuttle. He has somehow severed communications. He also has somehow gotten out of the morgue without anyone seeing him, put his clothes back on, got his hands on a phaser, and snuck onto the shuttle. Takarans, apparently, can control their bodies at the cellular level, including putting themselves into a kind of physiostasis that simulates death. All he wanted to do was discredit Reyga so no one would pursue his research, but now thanks to Crusher he has a prototype. He creates a subspace field that will (somehow) create the illusion that the shuttle has been destroyed. Once the Enterprise leaves the area, he can take the shield to Takara and develop it as a weapon. (Because, of course, he wouldn’t be properly evil unless he was developing it as a weapon.)
However, Crusher is able to attack him before he can fire, and they struggle for a few minutes before Crusher gets her hand on the phaser. She blows a hole in his stomach, which doesn’t even slow him down, then sets the phaser to disintegrate. After killing Jo’Bril, she pilots the shuttle back out.
Crusher is restored to duty, despite having violated whole bunches of medical ethics, and she gives Guinan a tennis racket as a thank-you gift. That’s when Guinan admits that she’s never played tennis….
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Metaphasic shields can apparently protect what’s inside it from the intense heat and radiation inside a sun’s corona.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi only has one scene, but she makes it clear that Crusher’s blowing her off when she tries to help. (We actually see Crusher blowing Riker off when he tries to help her out.)
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data’s entire function in the episode is to spew technobabble, even though he should be at the forefront of interest in the metaphasic shield, given his interest in scientific discovery.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf serves even less function in an episode involving a murder investigation, which makes nothing like sense, since as security chief, he should be involved in all of it.
Syntheholics Anonymous: This is only Guinan’s third appearance in the sixth season after “Time’s Arrow, Part II” and “Rascals,” and also her final appearance on the television show. Amusingly, it’s one in which she barely appears in Ten-Forward. She’ll next be seen in Star Trek Generations. She also apparently has never played tennis—it’s unclear as to whether or not La Forge actually does.
I Believe I Said That: “I don’t want you involved in this!”
“Is that an order, Doctor?”
“Too bad you’re not my boss anymore.”
Crusher trying to keep Ogawa out of trouble, and Ogawa insisting on helping her friend. (The smile she gives after that last line is great.)
Welcome Aboard: James Horan, currently seen hawking energy drinks while wearing a cowboy hat, made his Trek debut here as Jo’Bril. He’ll return in “Descent, Part II” as Lieutenant Barnaby (an episode that will also involve Crusher and a metaphasic shield), on Voyager as Tosin in “Fair Trade,” on Deep Space Nine as the Jem’Hadar Ikat’ika in the “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/“By Inferno’s Light” two-parter, and in the recurring role of the infamous “future guy” on Enterprise. He also has lent his excellent voice to the Klingon Academy and Starfleet Command III videogames.
In addition, Tricia O’Neil returns as Kurak, having played Captain Rachel Garrett in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”; she’ll return on DS9 as a Cardassian intelligence agent in the episode “Defiant.” Peter Slutsker is also back, playing the second of three Ferengi he’ll play on TNG, the others being the hard-luck Nibor in “Ménage à Troi” and Birta in “Bloodlines” in the seventh season. He’ll also appear without makeup on Voyager in the “Year of Hell” two-parter as a Krenim commandant. John S. Ragin and Joan Stuart Morris round out the cast by creating no impression whatsoever as the other two scientists.
Trivial Matters: This episode marks yet another reference to Dr. Selar, seen only in “The Schizoid Man,” but mentioned many more times, including here.
The character of Kurak returns in the various novels featuring the I.K.S. Gorkon by your humble rewatcher, as the very reluctant chief engineer of that ship, showing up in Diplomatic Implausibility, A Good Day to Die, Honor Bound, Enemy Territory, and A Burning House. Her attitude hasn’t really improved….
T’Pan makes a cameo in the Department of Temporal Investigations novel Watching the Clock by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett.
The shuttlecraft was named the Justman, after the late Robert H. Justman, who was a producer on both the original series and TNG. The naming was apparently at the request of Rick Berman.
Crusher says that the Ferengi death ritual involves burial, though the DS9 episodes “The Nagus” and “Body Parts” will establish that Ferengi vaccum desiccate their remains and sell the powdered remains in discs. Of course, it makes sense that autopsies would spoil the value of such remains, and it’s possible that Crusher just assumed burial was involved. Or maybe Reyga’s family didn’t go for vacuum desiccation.
Though the Takarans are not seen again onscreen, Lonnoc Kedair, the security chief of the U.S.S. Aventine—introduced in the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy by David Mack, and seen again in your humble rewatcher’s A Singular Destiny, and the Typhon Pact novels Zero Sum Game by Mack and Brinkmanship by Una McCormack—is a Takaran. The unique physiology of Takarans comes in handy in her job, enabling her to resist Borg assimilation in Destiny: Lost Souls and take a kligat to the chest in A Singular Destiny.
Make it So: “I saw…the sun!” The Crusher-focused episodes have shown a downward trend. “The High Ground” and “Remember Me” were both excellent, “The Host” was more flawed, and then we have this mess before hitting bottom with “Sub Rosa” next season.
Nothing in this episode makes anything like sense, starting with the very premise that Crusher is playing “scientific diplomat.” Why her? This would have been a great showcase for Data, the creation of a scientist whom everyone dismissed and laughed at. His studying of the specs for the shield and going against conventional wisdom would have made far more sense than a medical doctor looking at them and deciding he was awesome.
He’s already constructed a prototype that works, so what does he need the other scientists for? Once it was tested and proved to work, what were the other four supposed to bring to the table, exactly?
Why does the test require somebody to be in the shuttle? Why not send in a remotely controlled shuttle, or one with a preprogrammed flight plan? Why risk sending a person into the corona of a star at all? If the shield failed during Jo’Bril’s flight, why didn’t the shuttle incinerate? If it was just an atmospheric problem, why not put someone in a space suit and try again? And even if a person can’t survive in the shuttle under the shield, it can still have tons of applications with drones and remote-controlled vehicles. Also, if the shuttle compartment was flooded with baryons, which we just were told a few weeks ago were fatal, why was there doubt as to how Jo’Bril died?
It’s bad enough that Crusher is the one spearheading this, but she’s also the only one who seems to care. Where’s the La Forge who was geeking out over soliton waves in “New Ground”? Where’s the Data who excitedly created a daughter after learning of a breakthrough in cybernetics in “The Offspring”? Where’s the Picard who has been an established mystery buff since “The Big Goodbye” and should, perhaps, maybe, y’know, take an interest in all the dead bodies piling up on his ship?
The climax is a spectacular exercise in WTFery. We’ve covered before how absurdly easy it is to steal a shuttle from the Enterprise shuttle bay: teenagers can do it (“Coming of Age”), depowered entities with no standing on the ship and a security guard on him at all times can do it (“Déjà Q”), so why not a chief medical officer who’s been relieved of duty? And then Jo’Bril somehow gets out of the morgue (which, let’s face it, is not something that’s going to be designed to be opened from the inside), locates his clothes, and sneaks onto the shuttle without anyone noticing.
And then in the end, Crusher is reinstated because she found out who killed Reyga. I hope there are cameras on the shuttle, because that’s the only way to prove it, what with Crusher having disintegrated Jo’Bril and communications being cut off. But hey, let’s take her word for it. Thing is, she still violated medical ethics by performing the autopsy against Reyga’s family’s wishes, and she still violated Starfleet regulations by performing medicine after being relieved of duty (her re-examination of Jo’Bril, not to mention treating Guinan’s elbow). Yet somehow, there are no consequences for that. Then again, there are no consequences for completely taking over the ship, either….
This episode led to two interesting novel characters, as mentioned above in Trivial Matters, but that’s all this disaster has going for it.
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido is going to be at Flora in Arlington, Massachusetts on Tuesday the 11th of December at 6pm for the east coast launch of Tales from the House Band Volume 2, an anthology from Plus One Press that includes his story “I Believe I’m Sinkin’ Down.” He’ll be joined by fellow contributors Clea Simon, Brett Milano, and Dave Brigham. Come check it out!