Responding to the a distress call from their sister ship, the Yamato, moments before its destruction, the Enterprise begins to experience an inexplicable series of system malfunctions. This is revealed to be caused by an ancient technology that has spread to them through the Yamato. Things are complicated further by the fact that the incident takes place in the Romulan neutral zone. Picard must figure out a way to free his ship of the destructive “infection” and to avoid battle with the Romulans. When Data is infected by the same problem, but is able to right himself, Geordi and the crew figure out the key to their own survival.
Written by Steve Gerber & Beth Woods. Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.
Contagion holds up pretty well as a Next Generation episode – fairly unmemorable in the long run but perfectly enjoyable as you are watching it. Like other episodes from time to time, this story is quite procedural feeling, as we watch the crew wrestle with what has happened to their sister ship and the mounting sense of danger this poses to themselves. There are a number of good character moments, a pretty well-realized scene of Geordi beings thrashed around an out of control turbo-lift, and some lofty science fiction concepts being talked about with the Iconians and their magic doors, etc.
There are of course weak spots to the story as well. Wesley’s scene, when he comes to process things through with Picard, is (not surprisingly) wooden and awkward feeling. There is a spot of massive convenience at the end when Picard “randomly” steps through the Iconian gateway and rather than jumping into a multi-episode arc featuring his epic quest to get back home from the far end of the galaxy, winds up handilyon the Romulan ship just nearby. And there is the implication that modern doctors in the 24th Century have never heard of a splint.
But those issues are pretty minor overall and don’t do too much to detract from one’s enjoyment of a decent piece of storytelling.
The story is also notable as featuring the first appearance of the Romulans since their portentous “We’re back” comment at the conclusion of the previous season. The result is a bit underwhelming. The Romulans remain (again) faces on the screen, for the most part, and are devoid of any real personality other than to be coldly unpleasant – the promise of a threat with no actual realization of it.
• Carolyn Seymour, who plays Subcommander Taris, appears in a couple of later episodes of Next Generation. She also plays Mrs. Templeton in a couple of episode of Voyager, and Zoey, the “handler” for the evil leaper in a couple of episodes of Quantum Leap.
Anticipting the Future
• The Iconian technology will play a key role in a Deep Space Nine episode, To the Death
• Romulans appear for the first time this season, if we don’t count the fake Romulan ship in Where Silence Has Lease.
• Some of Picard’s choices seem ill-advised. Why dos Picard want to go straight to where the Yamato was probed? Doesn’t that seem dangerous? It’s seems so obvious to us that that’s what caused the problems for the Yamato, or is that just because we’re the audience?
• While talking to Wesley, Picard mentions his interest in archeology…is this the first time this has happened?
• I’m pretty sure it is the first time we have Picard ordering “tea, earl gray, hot” to the replicator.
• Nice moment between Picard and Riker when Picard decides to lead the away team
• Data has a hilarious line when Geordi nearly gets electrocuted and Data saves him. When Geordi asks what happened, Data responds, “Any answer would be mere speculation. This is yet another example of how our actions have random results.
• Nifty quote from Riker when the system failures on board the Romulan ship keep them from being destroyed. “Fate. It protects fools, little children and ship’s named Enterprise.”
• Brent Spiner gets to play “Damaged Data” which is different enough from regular Data that I will end up counting it, I think, as another role for the actor.
• This story is co-written by Steve Gerber, who is a bit of a comic book legend for creating Howard the Duck and others.
Dialogue High Point
As I said, there are a number of good lines, but my favorite comes after the doctor expresses indignation at the idea of making a splint, claiming it’s not real midecine. Dr. Pulaski says,
Oh, yes, it is. It’s a time-honored way to practice medicine, with your head and your heart and your hands, so – jump to it.