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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Contagion

August 23, 2013

I probably won’t be doing any Mass Effect tomorrow, since I’ll be hanging out with a friend. But Star Trek today. Originally aired March 20, 1989. Stardate 42609.1. The Enterprise is heading into the Neutral Zone to help an old friend who’s the Captain of the Enterprise’s sister ship, the Yamato. It’s suffering major malfunctions across all systems. The other Captain mentions hearing rumours about the Iconians. He checked it out, and the planet’s dead. Then the Yamato explodes. No survivors. And then a Romulan ship shows up.

After the credits, Picard talks to the Romulan commander, who denies destroying the Yamato. Troi says the Enterprise’s presence may force the Romulan to attack. Picard wants to find out what happened to the Yamato before he leaves. At a later staff meeting, Geordi says the Yamato was a catastrophic failure. Picard wants to make sure the same thing can’t happen to the Enterprise. Troi again suggests leaving, but Picard feels it’s safer to stay where they are until Geordi’s done. Picard goes to watch some of the other Captain’s logs. He talks about Iconia, and mentions a scanning probe. The system malfunctions seemed to start after that. Picard’s door doesn’t work when he tries to leave his Ready Room. Foreshadowing! He watches a visual of the probe that scanned the Yamato. Picard sets a course for Iconia.

After the break, Picard explains to Wesley about the Iconians, who supposedly traveled without a starship. Wesley wants help dealing with all the deaths on the Yamato. Picard goes to order his tea, Early Grey, hot. The replicator doesn’t work right. Uh-oh! Geordi believes the problems on the Yamato were caused by the probe. They reach Iconia. There are no lifesigns, and the major cities show damage consistent with orbital bombardment. A probe is launched. Picard lets Geordi know they’re going to capture the probe, but he tries to tell them not to. Unfortunately, he can’t call them, so he rushes to a turbolift. Which also doesn’t work right. He gets thrown around until it reaches the Bridge, then tells them to destroy it.

Break. The probe transmitted an Iconian program which would’ve tried to rewrite the computer. The program is already in the ship, as a result of downloading the Yamato’s logs. Pulaski is in a bad mood in Sickbay. Geordi and Data are having trouble. Picard decides to head down to Iconia. He insists on being the one to lead the Away team. He goes with Data and Worf. A Romulan ship shows up, preparing to fire torpedoes. They suddenly disarm. This gives us one of Riker’s best lines: “Fate . . . protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.” Then with the weapons continually going up and down, he asks if the security officer can find him some rocks to throw. They talk to the Romulan commander, whose ship is also having problems.

Break. The Away team has found a control centre intact. They’re examining it, trying to figure it out. On the ship, Troi suggests Riker give everyone something to focus on, to take their minds off their problems. He suggests beginning evacuation plans. Data manages to figure out the language. He tries manual override, which creates a gateway. Not what he wanted to do. Picard and Data speculate that it’s a transporter room, not a military centre. Data accesses the computer, and gets blasted by some energy.

Break. The Iconian program is trying to overwrite Data. Picard orders Worf to take Data back to the Enterprise through the gateway. He also asks Data how to destroy the place. Data tells him how to do it. Worf goes through the gate, and shows up on the Enterprise. Data’s taken to Engineering, where he dies. Then he wakes up. His self-correcting mechanism did it. A total wipe of affected memory. Geordi can do the same thing with the Enterprise. Picard goes through the gate to the Romulan ship. The Enterprise beams him away before the Romulan ship can self-destruct. Riker contacts the Romulans to let them know how to not die.

This is a very good episode. It’s an interesting threat, in that it comes from their own systems. And the characters aren’t too far behind the audience in figuring out what’s going on, which is nice. There’s some really good tension as things get progressively worse, and some pretty good lines when the tension is highest, with the showdown between the Enterprise and the Romulan ship. The solution, of course, is one that’s become far too obvious to us. Any one of us could’ve told the Enterprise what to do: “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on?” OK, there was the extra step of doing a purge, but still. It’s funnier to think of it as the exact first step that any of us takes with problems with electronics. Well, second step, after hitting it doesn’t work. The episode was conceived by a computer technician, who managed to bring Gene Roddenberry around on the idea by explaining how computer malfunctions and viruses work. Which explains why the technical aspects actually did end up being so well-done: Beth Woods knew what she was talking about. The episode was co-written by Steve Gerber, of Howard the Duck fame. Gerber was a great, innovative writer.

The Iconians are a bit of a Star Trek cliche, and particularly a TNG cliche – an ancient civilization with highly advanced technology that went extinct long ago. TNG’s writers really seemed to love that idea. Still, it was done reasonably well here. Perhaps more notably, we get the first request for tea, Earl Grey, hot. Though sadly, Picard doesn’t get his tea, Earl Grey, hot. And I’ve already driven that joke into the ground. This episode also introduced his love of archaeology. This episode also shows that Starfleet Medical doesn’t teach low-tech medicine. That seems utterly ridiculous. The idea that Pulaski would need to explain what a splint is to one of her nurses makes no sense. It’s just not believable that they’d never learn how to make do without technology.

Overall, I’d give this episode 3/5. It’s a good episode with some good tension, and a few really good lines. It also features a shot of Toronto City Hall as one of the possible destinations of the Iconian gateway. I figure Picard should’ve gone there.

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