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TNG 7-19

TNG 7x19

Original airdate: 3/21/1994
Rewatch date: 1/3/2013

Everyone aboard the Enterprise mutates into earlier biological forms, and it is up to Data and Picard to find a cure before the crew tears itself--and the ship--apart.

Spoiler-free notes:

You shouldn't name an episode with a name that happens to also be a huge part of the mythology of your universe. Otherwise, people might tune in thinking this has something to do with the Genesis project or Genesis planet from Star Trek II and Star Trek III. However, I think it's ballsy to use the first book of the Bible as the title of an episode that deals so heavily with evolution.

It's another episode with Barclay in it. Hooray! Keep in mind that, the last time we saw Barclay, at the end of "Realm of Fear," he was holding O'Brien's pet spider. In that episode, he tells O'Brien that he's never had a problem with spiders, which is ironic given what happens to him here.

Yet another weak hook to start the episode. What did we learn? We learned that Barclay's still a hypocondriac, that Spot is about to have kittens, that Ogawa is pregnant, and that Riker likes to roll around in the arboretum. Wow, way to get ready for a wild and crazy ride! Sigh.

For losing that photon torpedo, Worf is probably going to need to hit himself with pain sticks later.

I love watching the crew just slowly unravel. The writers do a good job making it clear that something is wrong, but not letting you figure out what. Instead, you just get to watch each member of the crew go insane in completely different ways. It reminds me of college. It's also a little similar to Season One's "The Naked Now," but it's much better here, since these are characters that we know and that have been well-established over the last seven seasons.

Dwight Schultz does an admirable job making Barclay seem even more crazy and manic than normal. No small task.

Gates McFadden does a good job when Worf sprays her with acid. It's intense.

I love the way Ogawa walks out of the conference room. She stands up by putting her knuckles on the table and then, ever so subtly, she does a monkey walk through the exit. I've seen this episode quite a few times, but I don't think I've ever noticed it before.

I know this is a nitpick that applies to all of Star Trek, but when the shuttlecraft arrives at the prearranged coordinates, Data does a quick scan and finds the Enterprise two light years away. You even see an image on the monitor of the ship off in the distance. According to actual physical laws, this would mean that the Enterprise was two light years away two years ago.

The shot of the shuttlecraft approaching the dark, adrift Enterprise as it spins in three dimensions is one of my favorite effects shots in TNG.

It would have been cool if, after finding the reptilian skin in a humanoid shape, Picard had asked Data if it were from a Gorn.

I hate the term "de-evolving," because it is grossly inaccurate. It implies that the process the crew is undergoing is the opposite of evolution, but if that were true, these changes would have to occur over several generations as genetic traits change. Having a single life-form's DNA change on the fly has basically nothing to do with evolution. At best, the crew can be said to be spontaneously reverting to an earlier stage of evolutional development, though this too isn't really possible. While there are plenty of dormant genes in our DNA, they have been mutating over the years just as much as the rest of our DNA, and there is no way you could cut and paste from your own genetic code to create a creature that would be the same as your distant biological ancestor. Also, this episode hinges on the "introns-early hypothesis," which is the hypothesis that our introns are junk DNA left over as an evolutionary byproduct, but although this is still considered plausible, other hypotheses about the nature of introns are more well-favored. Plus a lot of the changes the crew is undergoing--Barclay into a spider, for instance--are jumping across evolutionary branches, something that shouldn't be possible even if everything Data says about introns is accurate. Regardless, since this is an American sci-fi show using evolution as a plot point and explaining something most people don't know about DNA, I give the bad science a pass; if that's what it takes to popularize the good science, I'm okay with it.

Spot as an iguana is stupidly absurd, but I love the shot of the iguana wearing the pink collar.

I really wish we could have seen the arboretum, but I'm sure the show's budget couldn't even come close to allowing it.

Saving Worf for last is a brilliant bit of suspense.

It's subtle that Picard uses climbing skills to escape the turbolift, seeing as how he's mutating into "some kind of lemur or marmoset."

"Barclay's Proto-Morphosis Syndrome": a.k.a. Barclay's P.M.S.

As with similar episodes, it's hard to accept that things just go back to normal at the end, that nobody suffers any bad side-effects (for example, Riker totally recovers from having his brain shrunk by 20%) and that Crusher and Barclay have a good laugh over who's really at fault, even though we know for a fact at least one crewmember died and the ship suffered significant damage. Imagine the psychological impact it would have on Worf, or the long-term effects it could have on his relationship with Troi. It's just a little too neat, but at the end of the day, despite it's serialized aspirations, TNG is still an episodic show.

This is one of those episodes I nitpick because I love it so much. Everything about it is great. Gates McFadden deserves a huge round of applause for directing this thing, because it's a beast of a production and she manages to get the best out of everyone involved. Seriously, look at this episode from the standpoint of the set decorators, costume designers, make-up artists, musicians, visual and special effects supervisors, actors, lighting technicians, etc., etc., and you'll see what I'm getting at. In addition, this is a story that strikes a pitch-perfect tone, uses some neat science (even if it's a little flawed), twists our characters in really creative ways, and manages to deliver some good suspense and light scares. It may not have any deep social commentary (though you could probably come up with some kind of overstretched "Animal Farm" allegory if you tried hard enough), but it's still Star Trek at its best.

TNG 7x18
"Eye of the Beholder"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
TNG 7x20
"Journey's End"
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