Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: Transfigurations

The Next Generation, Season 3
Airdate: June 4, 1990
72 of 176 produced
72 of 176 aired


The Enterprise finds a crashed escape pod in a new sector they are charting. Dr. Crusher rescues one survivor. Through her care, the severely injured man makes a miraculous recovery. He remembers nothing before the crash, so Dr. Crusher calls him John Doe. Over his convalesence, she begins to feel a bond with John. But John begins to exhibit strange abilities, including the abilities to heal others and to imbue those close to him with a surge of confidence. Where is John from? What is happening to him? Will the Enterprise survive?

"Check out my nacelles, babe... I've been doing curls for weeks!"


Kevin: There's no real way to sugarcoat this, but this episode is boring. It's not bad, certainly. It's just a little undercooked in a few places, and the end results is a fairly bland outing. The set up is pretty good. Mysterious alien with mysterious powers that not even he understands, gotcha. Possible relationship blooming with Doctor Crusher, okay. That's a science fiction and a character plot, so far so good, but nothing goes far enough. There just isn't enough development with John and his people to make me really care about them. Apparently this heretofore unknown race is capable of going toe to toe with the Enterprise and even has a few new tricks up his sleeve, but then we never hear of or from them again. Maybe they all evolved, I guess. I also get annoyed when evolution is presented as a march toward something better, usually depicted as transcending physical form. That's just not what evolution is. Evolution posits that the creatures most likely to survive and reproduce are the ones best suited to the environment, not objectively "superior" forms of life. Maybe some discussion of what changes on their planet might have spurred this would have been fun.

Matthew: I think the kernel of this story is a worthwhile one. We've seen seemingly dozens of non-corporeal swishy alien entity races, from the Metrons to the Organians to the Q to the Douwd. How do we get from point A to point B in this idea? How does a race making the transition fare? There are loads of interesting fictional and philosophical angles to be explored in such an idea. But none of it gets explored. Some of the Zalkonians seem fearful. Why? What do they have to lose? Is their culture as a corporeal species so worth saving? And absolutely, I agree 100% that we should get some sort of explanation of what is driving this transformation. "Evolution" doesn't cut it, for the reasons you mention. Is it a philosophical movement driven by mental energy? Is it a more naturalistic physical phenomenon? Also, I'm getting kind of annoyed by antagonist races tat "have technology equivalent to our own." You mean the race that's about to "evolve" into super-beings? They should have superior technology! That would really give the story some teeth - will the Enterprise protect a guy whose race threatens to wipe them off the face of the galaxy?

Kevin: The same problem goes for the relationship plot. I like that Crusher discusses that this might just be the attraction normally felt between doctors and patients, but nothing really happens in the episode to make me think it's not only that. I will say, I did like the scene of the Crushers talking about it. Any scene depicting their family is a nice one. Also, on the character front, we get some nice Geordi moments, but it would have been nice if this were the start of a longer arc about his development.

Matthew: I agree entirely about the Crushers and Geordi. With the Crushers, it was a real slice of life portraying the ways that a maturing son might talk with his single mom about her relationships. A little awkward, a little sweet, fun to watch by any means. The problem is that what they are talking about doesn't happen in the episode. She doesn't get with John. It's just a bunch of dialogue blue-balls with no payoff. I was irritated throughout by camera cuts to Picard's reaction, as if we are supposed to take note of how Picard is reacting to this budding romance. Except there is no romance. And Picard hadn't gotten with Bev, either. So both ends of the transaction were flaccid and uninspiring. This is why I think they should have done the deed in "Sarek," and why the romance in this episode should have been given more teeth. You have to raise the stakes for and between characters to make "relationship drama" at all interesting. As far as Geordi goes, the very same thought occurred to me. It's great that Geordi gains confidence. This idea is used again in "The Nth Degree" for Barclay. In fact, it's a pretty solid sci-fi idea, all told - what if some force, technology, or energy changed your personality? Would you want to go back? They could have hung a lot more on this idea in this script. Instead, we get blue-balls yet again - Geordi exits stage left with Christi Henshaw... and we never hear from her again. Who is she? Did she transfer off the ship? And then, Geordi goes back to being a bit hapless with the fairer sex, as if none of this ever happened. Did the effect wear off? Now that would have been a great scene - the one in which Geordi, mid-move with Christi, loses the "John Effect" and falls on his face. Nope.

Kevin: The eventual conflict is okay, but not stellar. It's obvious from when they open their mouths that the Zalkonians are bad guys. I think it could have been punched up by making their belief in John's criminality more credible. Maybe he could have had another incident like the one with Worf where he couldn't revive him. The conference scene was top notch, though. Everyone passionately defended the point of view you'd expect, and it was fun to watch them legitimately explore the issue from all side. It would have been improved by making the question a little less of a foregone conclusion.

Matthew: It's like you hacked into my episode notes here, Kevin. There is little actual conflict for our characters with regard to John. He tries to steal a shuttle and heals an unfortunate accident. Then he apologizes, and everything is hunky-dory. How exciting is that? Why not have him bang Doctor Bev with his mystical energy dong and get Picard really jealous? Why not have the results of one of these resurrections be unwanted or unpredictable? Why not have this incipient energy-being condition be communicable, and force the characters to choose between being humans and being Metrons? There are just so many interesting stories you can spin off of these guts - it's as if they consciously chose the path of least excitement at every turn.


Kevin: This a Doctor Crusher episode, and she sells it. I just wish she had more to sell. Her tender scenes with John were nice, but she had a few too many low-key scenes. She had rapport with John, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it chemistry. John kind of suffers from the same problem. He does fine with what he has, but all he has is being quietly contemplative.

Matthew: Yeah, the real shame of a show like this is that McFadden is wasted on a nobody guest star with whom she has only middling chemistry. Instead, there's the big bald elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore - get her with Picard, for Pete's sake!!! Her scene with Wheaton was really nice. But again, it might have been even nicer to see him being a little more conflicted and a little less supportive.

Kevin: The rest of the cast does its usual stalwart job. It was nice to see Geordi not be a dweeb, and the scene of Data and Geordi solving the riddle of the capsule was a nice piece of work.

Matthew: LeVar Burton is a really good actor. His scenes with Worf as "relationship coach" were really wonderful. It is therefore pretty much a crime against humanity that we get no climax or denouement to his storyline in this episode. There were really no juicy bits outside of Crusher, Geordi, and a tiny bit of Worf. Where has the Bev/Troi friendship gone? Isn't Troi going to caution Beverly against a Florence Nightingale effect? Sigh.

Production Values

Kevin: I hate to sound like a broken record, but there just wasn't a lot here. Big glowing yellow lights aren't terribly interesting. The Okudagrams for the capsule decoding were nice. The lab rooms were nice and full of doo-dads. I think it gets reused as stellar cartography. Beyond that though, there isn't a lot of there...there.

Matthew: I did enjoy the use of the bi-level shuttle bay. Worf's fall was a nifty stunt that was done really well - better than his later back-breaking by plastic jugs. The chemical data module (another un-followed story thread, btw) was neat looking. I have to say, the final effect of the transformation was unimpressive. At no point did I think "that's not a guy in a full-body spandex suit." It's a real shame, because we have seen better effects on similar ideas already, such as the Douwd.


Kevin: This is a 3. The episode commits not egregious sins. It's certainly not offensive. It's just bland. There's potential here, but none of it truly realized. Still, I'd have trouble justifying a 2, it squeaks by with a "low" 3.

Matthew: I'm willing to call it a 2. It's got loads of redeeming facets, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. At every single opportunity to inject the script with more drama, conflict and stakes are instead ratcheted downward. If only the A or B plot had suffered from this, I might call it a 3. But it plagues the entire episode, and so I have to consider it a tad below average. That brings our total to a 5.

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