Star Trek: The Next Generation – Evolution [3.1]

In the midst of a time sensitive scientific experiment, the Enterprise computer begins to malfunction, threatening the safety of the ship and crew.  Wesley discovers that nanites he allowed to escape are responsible, and have evolved into a collective intelligence.  Picard must deal with this new life form while also managing the impatience of the scientist whose work is being jeopardized.

Teleplay by Michael Piller.  Story by Michael Piller and Michael I. Wagner. Directed by Winriche Kolbe

Previous Episode: Shades of GrayNext Episode: Ensigns of Command

Comments:
It’s considered by many that Season Three is when Next Generation really kicked into gear as a series.  Indeed, that’s sort of the opinion that I’ve always had (in spite of a couple of very strong Season Two stories).  Of course, my opinions are all up for review as I rewatch the show, but this first episode doesn’t offer any strong indication that this season will be any more impressive than the last one.

That’s not the say that Evolution is bad, per se, but it’s unspectacular and not a strong debut.  It’s probably not the most strategic move that the show began it’s third year with an episode focusing on Wesley Crusher – not the program’s most compelling presence, and one who, in retrospect, still feels like a bit of intrusion.  Some of this may have been precipitated by Gates McFadden’s return to the series as Beverly, and the opportunity to tell a story about a mother’s concern for her son – but it doesn’t set the tone that I’d prefer as much as a good drama built around Picard or the security of the Federation or something like that.

Still, there is a potentially interesting character study buried in this episode, with parallels being drawn between the young prodigy Wesley and the old, jaded prodigy, Dr. Stubbs.  Beverly’s concern for Wesley’s development is reasonable and interesting (although I can’t really imagine anyone wishing their 17 year old son would be getting into more trouble).  Unfortunately, the story ends up being a bit scattered and confused, with that character drama being buried under other pesky concerns – you know, like Wesley inventing a new life form and nearly destroying the ship.

The “action” plot isn’t very strong either.  Scenes such as the one where the John Philip Sousa march get played over the loud speaker just seem silly, the Borg apparently showing up is an obvious feint, and the rest of it just makes the crew look sort of incompetent.  It takes a long time before Picard starts to truly respond to the  potential breakdown of the ship’s computer (even though it almost killed all of them right at the start), and Riker seems ready to send the ship into warp even though the computer looks like it’s having a fit.  Also, the interplay with Dr. Stubbs where Picard seems forced by Starfleet pressures to carry on with the experiment are forced and uncomfortable.

Still, Dr. Stubbs is an interesting (though unpleasant) character, and it is nice to have Dr. Crusher back on the show.  This episode also includes the first series credit for writer Michael Piller, who will go on to be both head writer and one of the franchise’s most significant contributors.

Guest Cast
Ken Jenkins plays Dr. Paul Stubbs.  He was a regular on the TV series Scrubs.

Scott Grimes and Amy O’Neill both have uncredited roles as “Eric” and “Annette”.  After some reading, it seems they were Wesley’s friends at the end of the story, who originally had a larger role.  I guess Annette is probably that cutie who is on Wesley’s arm in Ten-Forward.  Amy O’Neill was a regular on The Young and the Restless, while Scott Grimes has been on lots of TV series, including ER, Band of Brothers, and American Dad.

Shout Outs to the Past
There is a brief reference to the Borg, as one of the illusions created by the computer.

Dr. Crusher spending a year at Starfleet Medical was last referred to back in the second season opener, The Child.

Setting Up the Future
As above, the reference to the Borg serves as a reminder that fans can hope for more interesting things to come.

All the love for baseball that comes through in this series foreshadows the emphasis we’ll see on the sport in Deep Space Nine.

Observations
• Geordi is now a Lt. Commander.  And Dr. Crusher is back on the opening credits, appropriately.

• There are new collared uniforms for the Starfleet officers.

• Wesley talks about being on the Enterprise as “not the same as” being in Starfleet Academy.  The opposite sentiment you usually feel from the franchise, which would value being out among the stars over being in an office or in a classroom.

• There hasn’t been a system wide failure of a main computer for 79 years – I thought that might be a reference to something in the original series but apparently, according to the Star Trek Chronology and the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki, it’d be the same year that Star Trek V takes place.

• There’s a lot of love for baseball in this story, which was apparently a big love for Michael Piller.  Wesley says that his father taught him baseball when he was young.  Does that make sense?

• Wesley’s frustration coming out about his mother’s absence is interesting – but we never deal with or find out why she left in the first place.  That could have been worth exploring.

• Dr. Stubbs says when you get bitten by a mosquito, you call an exterminator.  Wow, that sounds a bit extreme.  Maybe mosquito’s are a really big deal in the future.

• Dr. Stubbs has a couple of good lines of dialog.  Interrupting Picard at what should ahve been the commencement of his experiment, he says, “Captain, I have been inspecting the egg for the last twenty years.  You may launch when ready.”  And later, telling off Counselor Troi, he says, “My dear conselor, no insult intended.  But please turn off your beam into my soul.  I will share the feelings I would like to share.”

• An example of crew incompetence:  when the whole bridge is being filled with visible poisonous gas, the crew are just passively sitting around at their stations coughing.  It’s not until Riker and Picard run in from another room that anyone takes action.

• Worf’s got a boring part in this story.  He just gets to voice security concerns in a growly tone, which are then largely ignored.

• When Data is allowing himself to be taken over by a proven hostile life form, surely they should put some sort of safeties in place?  Some sort of remote de-activater or something.

• The Nanites have evolved beyond the point of needing assistance, but at the same time they need help getting to a new world.  Arrogant idiots.

• Guinan mentions in a throwaway line being married more than once.  She also mentions being a mother, and being hundreds of years old, and that her species are a species of listeners.  I can’t remember how much of this has been revealed before.

• Crusher’s last line is pretty funny, as she shifts abruptly from one form of parental worry to another.  “What do you know about this girl?”

Dialogue High Point
My favorite line is actually one of Wesley’s.  When he confesses to Guinan about his science experiment gone awry, she asks if he thinks he’s going to get a good grade.  He responds

I always get an “A”.

It’s well delivered by Wil Wheaton, showing us a peak into a resigned Wesley who still feels like a failure in spite of his genius.  It didn’t need Guinan’s follow up (“So did Frankenstein”) because it wasn’t an expression of arrogance at all.

Previous Episode: Shades of GrayNext Episode: Ensigns of Command

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