Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: Home Soil

Airdate: February 22, 1988
16 of 176 produced
17 of 176 aired


While cataloging new planets in the Pleiades Cluster, The Enteprise pays a visit to the Velara III terraforming project, which promises to turn a lifeless world into a virtual Eden. The plot thickens, though, when a mining laser seems to become sentient and murderous, killing one of the terraformers. Has this tight-knit crew of scientists spawned a murderer, or is something even more mysterious afoot?

And then she was like "Oh, no you Dit'nt..."


Matthew: Say what you want about this episode, but it is sci-fi to the core. I am pretty sure this episode more than anything else is responsible for introducing the concept of terraforming into the public consciousness. Star Trek II's Genesis device really doesn't count, because it is more "magic-science" than the real science behind the concept. That, coupled with the first of TNG's stories about the "nature of life," gives this episode a pretty solid foundation. The question becomes one of execution - how well is the story told?

Kevin: There's this top ten list I have to hunt down called "Things That Will Never Happen in Star Trek." Number 3 was "The Enterprise will visit a distant planet of scientists and everyone and everything will be just fine." Anyway, I agree, the science fiction plots both on the planet and on the ship are pretty strong, and had they been well executed, this could been a highlight of the first season. Overall, I think the episode suffered from some sluggish pacing, a few clunky line deliveries, and I'll discuss this more later, but I think the plot may have tried to do too much.

Matthew: For my part, I was reasonably entertained and interested in the story. The idea of a life form so different was fun to contemplate. There were some artificial elements to the story that didn't feel organic (so to speak). The relationships of the guest characters weren't really fleshed out very well, and there is an indication that Riker has the hots for one of them, which is left undeveloped. The murder mystery had a pretty interesting psychological angle, with the extreme dedication of the terraformer psych profile. Unfortunately, it got dropped a bit too soon, with the reveal of the "microbrain." Troi got some psychology to do here, although she does get to sense deception too, just in case you were worried.

Kevin: I enjoyed the murder mystery plot too. Malanson's death was particularly horrifying, all the more so since it was done by implication. I agree, it just seemed to be dropped too soon once they identify the crystalline life form. Both plots kind of cancel each other out, actually. The murder mystery is cut short by the discovery of the life form and for all the biochemical handwringing they do, the fact that the thing acted in defense of its own life by taking over a piece of technology is pretty strong proof of at least rudimentary life.

Matthew: The philosophical questions of what constitutes life are reasonably well done, but will be done better in later episodes. The way the computer identifies "life" in answer to a crew question was kind of lame, and harked back to the days of the TOS computer. We get a nice treatment of evolution that gives credit to environmental pressures. The Universal Translator was just sort of magical here - forming mutual concepts of trust with inorganic life seems insurmountably difficult. I guess it's no less believable than in "Metamorphosis."

Kevin: I always hated listening to the lifeform's voice. Why does the UT give it a halting gravelly voice? We're already extrapolating here, at least make it pleasant. Though "ugly bags of mostly water" is a genius line, no two ways about it.


Matthew: The guest acting was serviceable, though perhaps a bit melodramatic. The actors all played characters, though, who seemed like real (melodramatic) people who have preexisting relationships with one another. Walter Gotell was pretty good as Director Mandl. Elizabeth Lindsey was so-so as Luisa. The others were passably good, too.

Kevin: I agree that Mandl was appropriately fanatic, but Luisa....eesh. I thought she was reading cue cards the whole time. 

Matthew: Brent Spiner got a bunch to do as Data, who, naturally enough, was quite concerned with definitions of life. Burton also got things to do, again in engineering-style roles, and using his VISOR to get a good look at the "microbrain." They had scenes together, too, indicating that the writers are beginning to sense a good vibe between the two characters.

Kevin: I agree that Spiner and Burton get some great moments. One line delivery from the main cast that killed me was when Crusher was on the bridge and addressed the creature as "LIFE FORCE!" as if she were about to break into tears. We know she's capable of far better, so I choose to blame directing.

Production Values

Matthew: The terraforming set was pretty good, with yet more Okudagrams. He's really beginning to set the visual style of the show, and it's a good thing. Some of the machinery looked pretty lame, though. The drill room set was pretty decent, too.

Kevin: I like the time lapse terraforming display. I really liked that it was the centerpiece of the room. Such a long term chart would probably have little practical use on a day to day basis, but it was a nice touch that big picture would be the main focus of the facility.

Matthew: The only real new clothes in this show were the terraformers uniforms, and they were not so great. Another dated 80's look, with that ugly gray fabric and big black buttons. Is it something I might have wanted to wear then? Maybe. Now? No way.

Kevin: If I were a scientist in the 24th century, I would use a replicator to make an attractive outfit. I could buy it was the 24th equivalent of scrubs if we ever saw a scientist in anything else.


Matthew: I think this episode is pretty good, actually. It's got a decent sci-fi kernel, some preliminary meditations on life, and an OK murder mystery that ends too soon. It's a 3 in my book. Nothing stands out, but nothing drags it down for me. It's very "Season One," if you know what I mean. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Kevin: Taken as a whole, the episode moves slowly and some of the guest acting is a little hamfisted. Moreover, while both plots are interesting on paper, neither gets the room to breathe that it needs. I'm giving this one a 2, for a total of 5.

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