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TNG 5-14

TNG 5x14
"Conundrum"

Original airdate: 2/17/1992
Rewatch date: 4/16/2012


The entire crew suffers from amnesia while apparently on a mission to destroy an alien command center.

Spoiler-free notes:

When you first meet Ro in this episode, she is in the middle of an argument with Riker. At this point, Ro is in danger of becoming an annoyingly antagonistic character that will not be loved by the audience. In "Disaster," her cold, arrogant attitude, her willingness to sacrifice the entire crew, and the fact that she is proven wrong--though perfectly within the boundaries of her character--make her a very hard person to like or empathize with. Riker, when he walks out of the turbolift in this episode after his fight with Ro, looks as though he absolutely loathes her, and the audience isn't far behind. Luckily, the writers are keenly aware of this problem and use this episode to help rectify it, to inject Ro with a little more warmth and humanity. It also helps that the episode ends with her smiling and joking with Troi at Riker's expense.

I love how subtle MacDuff's introduction is, just appearing in the background as the camera pans, as though there's nothing extraordinary about him. When I first saw this episode, I had actually missed a few episodes preceding it, so it seemed plausible to me that this MacDuff person had actually been introduced in the show in one of the episodes I missed (and that something had happened to Riker to get him demoted to Second Officer). That made it a little extra confusing for me, but in an awesome way.

Amnesia is a tough sell as a plot device, because it can be schlocky and cliché, even when done well. Still, it's a hard device to pass up, because it forces the writer to redefine the characters, to reduce them to their nuts and bolts and figure out what really makes them tick. In that regard, it does its job well, because you can see the story doing justice to multiple characters: Troi, Picard, Worf, and Ro, especially. It would have been cool to see more with Data, but as Data tends to hog the spotlight already, it was probably a wise choice not to spend too much time with him.

Worf assuming command is so great.

That's an astonishingly short crew manifest.

It's interesting that Troi is the first person to express doubt about the mission to destroy the Lysian Central Command. Add her intuition that something is wrong to her ability to defeat Data at chess, and you can see that the writers are trying to bring out a more intelligent and calculating side to her personality. It's almost as though her brief command experience in "Disaster" has awoken something in her that she didn't know was there.

Why did the Lysian ship attack? They had to know it was hopeless to do so.

Riker plays a bar or two of "The Nearness of You" on the trombone, the same song he plays in "11001001."

In "Violations," when Picard agrees to let Jev, the mind-rapist, prove his innocence by mind-raping Troi, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. However, in this episode, when Picard agrees to let Crusher attempt her memory procedure on MacDuff, it's a more rock-solid plot device. Despite MacDuff's overly agressive attitude toward the Lysian ship, there's no reason for the crew to doubt that he is one of them, even though we, the audience, know better. The dichotomy between the two helps illustrate the difference between a good plot device and one that needs more work.

Why didn't they just make MacDuff the captain?

The Enterprise easily blowing up the Lysian defense pods is reminiscent of when the Borg blew up Earth's defense shuttles in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II."

Worf is yet again offered a choice between acting like a stereotypical Klingon warrior and acting like a thoughtful Starfleet officer. He chooses Starfleet, of course, which adds just the tiniest bit of growth to his arc.

Starfleet training must be excellent, because even without their core memories, everybody behaves the way Starfleet would have them behave.

Number of episodes in which a member of the crew is subverted by an alien lifeforce: 19.

There's a really good subtext in this story about the dangers of blindly following orders. It's a common enough theme, but it is explored here in a far more subtle and metaphorical way, without any preachiness (though Picard comes dangerously close to spelling it out right before the climax). The writers recontextualize the problem into a simple ethical dilemma (or conundrum, as it were), which is what makes this episode a success, thematically speaking.





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