Star Trek: The Next Generation – Conspiracy [1.24]

Picard is warned by an old and trusted friend of a dangerous conspiracy within Starfleet, just before the friend’s vessel is destroyed. Returning to earth and Starfleet Command to investigate, Picard and his crew discover that parasitic alien beings have taken over the minds and bodies of numerous high ranking Starfleet officers, including Picard’s friend Admiral Gregory Quinn. Picard and Riker must save themselves from being similarly taken over, and free the rest of Starfleet from this threat.

Teleplay by Tracy Torme. Story by Robert Sabaroff. Directed by Cliff Bole .

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Comments:
I’ve read recently that the parasites in this story were meant originally to have been working for the Borg, who would have debuted in the second season opener except for a writer’s strike that effected production that year. If that was so, than the behavior of the parasites at the end of this story might have made more sense. The “mother creature”, living inside of Commander Remmick, seems to merrily sit there, purposely goading Picard and Riker into shooting him down. Perhaps if the idea was that it knew that the nearly unstoppable Borg were on their way, and if it was clear that the creature cared nothing for its individual existence (in the same way the Borg don’t) than it’s actions would have made more sense. Of course, the parasite’s “love of theatre” wouldn’t exactly have gibed with the cold and emotionless Borg, so I have to say in retrospect that I’m glad this connection wasn’t drawn.

What this does leave us with though is a serious contender for Star Trek’s biggest dangling plot thread. Data ominously announces that the alien parasites sent a homing signal, and we hear it trailing off int he distance at the end of the story. But these creatures are never heard from again. Maybe there homeworld has been destroyed in the meantime. Maybe they mounted a big invasion but ran afoul of Species 8472, or whatever. As a fan of the series when it was on, and unaware of the aborted Borg connection, I waited and waited for years for some sort of follow-up, but to no avail.

Revisiting the episode now makes me feel like that also, is just as well. The alien parasites were an ambitious attempt for Star Trek up until that point, which had never had any ongoing storylines on TV. But though the episode starts with a deep sense of foreboding, it all feels a bit stilted and a bit cheap. Picard learns (again) that something is wrong in the state of Starfleet, but he gets this information entirely second hand. It would have been much more interesting to have built up this threat by having Picard himself become suspicious of his superior’s orders, perhaps over several episodes. Instead, all we had was the incomprehensible but disconnected warnings of Admiral Quinn from Coming of Age, and then this. Basically, the franchise wasn’t ready to handle any really big storylines.

What we are left with is a series of icky gross images (eating worms, the parasite going climbing out of one throat and into another, and most famously the exploding head of Commander Remmick and the creature inside of him) and some themes that were better handled later. For example, the body horror and the threat of losing control of one’s mind was done much better with the Borg and Picard’s assimilation, and the paranoia associated with a hidden invasion was explored powerfully with the Dominion Founders on Deep Space Nine.

Shout Outs to the Past:

• There are obviously links to Coming of Age, with the whole threat to the Federation and the reappearance of Admiral Quinn and Commander Remmick.

Setting Up the Future

• Nothing at all. Of all episodes that should have had follow up, this one never did. Nothing, after the foreboding ending. Which, frankly, is just as well. (Although it was mentioned briefly in The Drumhead several years later.)

Guest Cast

• Henry Darrow played Admiral Savar. He featured in several Zorro series in the 1980’s and 1990’s

Observations

• There is a very funny opening moment with Data trying to laugh at Geordi’s joke. I think this might be the second attempt Data has to “get humor”? Actually, there are a good number of “awkward Data” moments in this story, including one where the ship’s computer itself gets bored with Data’s rambling. It’s almost like they are trying to make up for lost time.

• Blooper that only a Star Trek nerd would get: someone orders Geordi to “Increase to warp six,” to which he replies “Full impulse.” Of course, warp engines and impulse engines are two different things, and as far as I know, “full impulse” wouldn’t be anywhere as fast as warp one. Trying to explain this to my wife, though, just left me looking silly.

• I’m not sure but I think this is the first time Jack Crusher’s name is mentioned. We get a bit of backstory on Beverly Crusher, with how Walker Keel introduced her to Jack.

• Counselor Troi actually acts as a counselor to the Captain, offering input and advice.

• Why, in the absence of facts, does Riker say we have to assume the destruction of the Horatio was an accident? Seems wise to assume the opposite.

• This is the first time in Next Generation that we’ve returned to earth. In fact, I think it’s the first time in any Star Trek TV series that we’ve actually been to the surface of the earth without also traveling through time. The one exterior shot adds a bit of a production value. When I was reading about this, I discovered that it was apparently archive footage from one of the movies.

• The fight scene between Quinn and Riker looks pretty hokey. Why Riker doesn’t summon Security right away is mystifying.

• When Riker finally does call for a security alert, Worf and Geordi show up. Now Worf is the security chief, but why Geordi? Why not any other security officers? And if Beverly is walking around with a phaser, then why doesn’t Worf have one?

• Alien Quinn gets himself caught out of his own stupidity, really. What was he trying to achieve by starting to fight everyone? In fact, it’s sort of dumb that the aliens don’t just strong arm Picard into becoming one of them immediately. Their love of drama is their undoing.

• Why would Geordi tell Dr. Crusher to keep him posted? I guess he’s the Acting First Officer

• Considering the other aliens’ strength, Picard diverts Tryla Scott’s aim pretty easily

• The little animated alien parasite looks pretty bad.

• Picard and Riker make no attempt to subdue or imprison Remmick, or the alien creature inside of it, even though it appears no longer to be an imminent threat. Of course, this is good, because it results in the death of all the other parasites, but they weren’t to know this.

• I guess there weren’t many parasites after all, as you’d otherwise expect more to be running around Starfleet, and they wouldn’t have had to destroy the Horatio.

Dialogue High Point

There are a number of good moments, but it’s hard to get past this one:

Troi: Have you ever been for a real moonlight swim?
Data: One can swim in moonlight?
Troi: How about you, Mr. Worf?
Worf: (with disgust) Swimming is too much like… bathing.

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4 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Conspiracy [1.24]

  1. From lobaugh:

    i must have been really young when I saw this…because I remember being really freaked out by the parasite. I feel like there were a lot of plot threads that were forgotten about in ST:TNG or at least followed up really really half heartedly….like Wesley and the traveller (Wesley can stop time?!?!)….maybe I’m wrong though…why don’t you compile a list of then…you probably remember them all in detail.

  2. I’m sure I’ll be drawing attention to other forgotten plot threads as I go. (But Wesley stopping time was obviously intended to be the conclusion to a thread, the one started in “Where No One Has Gone Before.”) There was one other significant one, sort of similar to the one here in Conspiracy, that I think comes up in the 4th or 5th season. That was the one I was always waiting for. I forget the name of the episode, but as I said, we’ll find it eventually.

  3. Yeah, I can’t say I liked this episode. First: Ew! Ew! Gross bug things! Ew ew ew ew ew ew! But more important, it just wasn’t handled well. The body horror felt out of place for TNG, and the bad special effects dragged it down anyway. Just a dumb episode. The parasites did get followed up on . . . in some of the DS9 novels. Apparently, they’re related to the trill, and the two races have been fighting a secret wars for centuries.

  4. I think when I first saw this, I thought it was pretty exciting, but with 25 years growth and hindsight, I see it’s pretty flawed. I think I heard about that Parasite / Trill thing, but never read any of those books.

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