Friday, June 15, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Genesis

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Genesis"
Airdate: March 21, 1994
170 of 176 produced
170 of 176 aired

Introduction

Picard and Data leave the ship via shuttle to track down an errant torpedo lost during a new weapons test. Upon their return, they find the Enterprise without power, adrift in an asteroid field. Once on board, they make even more startling discoveries. Counselor Troi has developed gills and is breathing underwater in the bathtub. Commander Riker appears to devolved into some sort of early hominid. What has caused these changes? Can they be reversed?

Hey there, Reg... you've got something on your... no, over to the left.... ah, forget it.


Writing

Kevin: The episode starts as a slice of life episode, and it's a pretty decent fake-out. We know something will go wrong, but between Alyssa and Spot's respective pregnancies and Barclay's hypochondria, we really have no idea just what wrong will occur. I have to say that in terms of writing, the strength of the episode is definitely the deftness with which the tone is established. Their behaviors start as just slightly extreme or stressed out versions of their own personalities, so the episodes hand is not tipped too early. They continue to be stressed about their actual jobs which, again, keeps the episode from veering into camp.

Matthew: Indeed, one of the things I like best is that no one really seems out of character, with the possible exception of Picard and his timidity. I will say that I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the transformations (no one turned into a sponge, after all), especially for alien races. Oh yeah... just how does this virus affect ALL aliens on board again? How did no one notice these pretty drastic side effects for the synthetic T-Cell that created this mess? There are a bunch of missed opportunities here. If some had been left unaffected, you'd have a classic zombie movie scenario, with survivors having to fight their former friends. The synthetic T-Cell aspect ould have been spun into a story about genetic engineering run amok.

Kevin: The episode mines horror tropes, but in a way that reminds us why they became tropes in the first place, and they never feel like a substitute for an actual story. Once Picard and Data are back on the Enterprise, the feel of the episode is one of slowly but steadily building tension and a palpable sense of unease. Deanna's quarters, the dead helmsman, and ultimately Spider Barclay are really unsettling. I also liked the the episode put a lot of time into trying to ground the transformation in real scientific ideas, even if they don't quite stand up to too much scrutiny. Introns are real things, and the idea of synthetically stimulating the immune system has a feel of the step beyond antibiotics. Maternal immunities are also a real thing, and the cumulative result was that even if it's a little extreme to think everything worked out so neatly, I appreciated the attempt to ground the episode rather than just making the culprit "radiation" or somesuch.

Matthew: Barclay is really the perfect character for this sort of story. He's so nervous as a rule anyway, that his fear makes him a great sounding board for the horror elements of the story. I wish he had been on the shuttle with Picard instead of Data, who is too much of a Superman type to really worry about. I would have liked to have seen Data in pieces strewn about the corridors. Now that would be horror!

Kevin: The weak spot of the episode for me, more than the idea that random genetic mutations would give me gills, as opposed to lots and lots of cancer, is how neatly everything gets resolved. If Riker's brain actually shrank, even if you reversed the changes, shouldn't he have lost memories or skills when the physical storage medium for them was damaged? Did Riker kill the helmsman? Does he remember that? Is Crusher going to be a little uncomfortable around Worf for a while? What about Troi? This wasn't quite a laugh out to the credits of TOS fame, but the lighthearted Troi/Barclay moment felt more suited an episode like Rascals, where the changes were more comical and no one died. A slightly darker exploration of the consequences would have pushed a good episode to a great episode.

Matthew: Yeah, this Galactic Reset might just be even more egregious than some of the Voyager examples we'll see. It always seems to happen when we have radical aging, physical transformations, and so on. How did Ogawa's ape hair disappear, minus actually shaving it off? I can almost believe Riker's skull thickening and brain shrinking (if he eats everything in Ten Forward, anyway), but just how do you shed skull? And, just like my comment regarding missed drama above, I think not resetting things so arbitrarily actually would have lent itself to a lot of interesting situations. Maybe it would take Data weeks to "fix" everyone. Maybe some serious rehab would be needed.

Acting

Kevin: Flawless. Dorn and Sirtis do a great job of anchoring the early changes in their character. Worf is always gruff, and Troi is the crew member who feels stuff and enjoys experiences, so seeing her craving caviar doesn't feel out of character, just particularly intense. Picard's fear/freak-out was great, too. Dwight Schultz' hypochondria then spider-acting was hilarious.

Matthew: The scene in the observation lounge, with Barclay crawling around, Ogawa walking on her fists, and Riker going all dum-dum, was pretty stinking funny. I would have loved to see some outtakes. But it wasn't all played for yuks. Troi and Picard seemed genuinely terrified, while Barclay and Dorn seemed genuinely menacing.

Kevin: I want to single out Gates McFadden for particular praise. She wasn't just screaming in the acid scene. She was shrieking. It's an important distinction. The way she clutched her face, bumped into the cabinet, and was writhing on the floor was all very realistic and extremely upsetting. I'm getting upset just typing about it. Very well done.

Matthew: She also showed great comic ability dealing with Barclay's hypochondria.

Production Values

Kevin: This was Gates McFadden's directorial debut, and I have to wonder if she has done some theater directing before, because she did a great job that didn't show and rookies timidity or errors. Like I said, there are a lot of horror tropes here, but there is a reason they are tropes and when they are used competently in service of a story rather than in lieu of a story, they are still really effective. The engineering scene with Spider Barclay was perfectly done. Character going off alone? Check. Creepy, building evidence of Something Not Right? Check. Subtle dropping off of the music leading to the reveal? Check and double check. The lighting work was also great. Dark episodes, particularly back in the day, could look like mud on a television, but while maintaining the dark feel, McFadden made sure the actors faces were lit with the available accent lighting.

Matthew: As a bottle show, camera angles were mixed nicely and lent themselves to visual interest. The re-use of the asteroid field was a little inelegant, and the errant torpedo effect was pretty cheesy. This wasn't a visual effects heavy show, and relied much more on practical costume and makeup effects.

Kevin: Make-up was great all around. What we saw of Worf was great both for itself, and how artfully it was kept from the audience. Spider Barclay with the little appendages on his face was classic horror and it really worked. The gills on Troi were great too, and Sirtis is a real trooper to put up with all that for what i assume was a pretty long shoot.

Matthew: I can't believe this episode didn't get an Emmy for Michael Westmore. The monster make-up was movie quality, pure and simple.

Conclusion

Kevin: The too-neat conversion process and Galactic Reset Button keep this episode from a 5, but this episode is really, really entertaining, flawlessly acted, has top notch production values and manages to evoke classic horror without being boring or schlocky. I like they put so much work into ground the changes in some science rather than fiat. The result is a 4 for me. It's not perfect, but what we get is so good, I am comfortable putting this in the top quartile of episodes.

Matthew: I'm afraid the reset issues conspire with another factor to make this a 3 for me. Like many Braga stories, this one is kind of "all sizzle, no steak." It's a very entertaining sizzle, to be sure. But we don't really learn anything about the characters, there are no real consequences, and the nuts and bolts of the science plot are only explored in the most superficial way. I think there were missed chances for drama, as well. On the other hand, no one acts stupidly or out of character, and the horror stuff works well as a change of pace. The episode overall was brisk and was a good mix of comedy and horror elements. So it's an entertaining 3 for me, making our total a 7.

Podcast



1 comment:

  1. Monster!Worf was played by Rusty McClennon, Worf's main stunt double. He took a lot of the "we need to prove how badass our villain is by beating on Worf" beatings. He also went toppling into the water during the promotion ceremony in Generations.

    Speaking of water, I always found it odd that no one mentioned that Troi was bathing in her uniform. They establish in The Naked Now that it's odd enough to be recorded in historical accounts of weird stuff going down. Even in Sickbay where they're listing the things that are weird going on, and Troi is right there with her soaking wet uniform.

    This is another episode I remember watching first run with my mother. We watched it in the dark. I had nightmares for weeks. (And yet, I still like the episode. Go figure.)

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