Star Trek: The Next Generation – Identity Crisis [4.18]

The members of an away team that Geordi was on five years ago begin to behave uncharacteristically, abruptly leaving their lives to return to the planet they had been on together.  Geordi and the mission commander, Susanna Leijten, investigate this together even as they begin to fall under similar effects.  It turns out they are infected with alien DNA that is slowly overwriting their own and transforming them into another species.  Dr. Crusher is able to save Leijten, who is able in turn to talk the transformed Geordi into giving himself up so he can be restored to normal.

Teleplay by Brannon Braga. Story by Timothy De Haas. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

Previous Episode: Night Terrors • Next Episode: The Nth Degree

Comments:

Identity Crisis is a very gripping little mystery story that nicely showcases Geordi as a character.  It’s got a very strong and spooky opening as Geordi and his previously unmentioned friend Susanna realize that they alone of the Away Team still seem to be behaving normally.  The fact that the original mission involved the unsolved enigma of the disappearance of a entire colony full of people just adds to the eerie atmosphere.  The end result is a story that is in many ways creepier than the more overt Night Terrors and a more effective mystery than was presented in Clues.  What raises it onto a level above those episodes is the strong character work.  LaForge and Leijten’s friendship is not only believable, it actually feels real.  And it’s refreshingly non-romantic (though one feels that perhaps in an alternate universe…). And so in spite of a few lapses of logic, you wind up with a compelling and enjoyable story that feels relevant to the series even though it doesn’t actually set up any particular plot points that we’ll be revisiting.

The aliens in the show – both Geordi and the others – are pretty well realized.  The special effects and make up are striking (even if they are slightly dated) and combined with the fretful, primitive movements of the actors, it really does make them feel foreign and mysterious.

I think it is a good story choice that the climax has the guest star talking our regular character down from the proverbial edge, rather than the other way around.  We’ve more often seen the opposite in Next Generation and so it’s nice to have one of the regular characters in personal trouble, even if it’s not their own fault at all.  Also, the friendship between Geordi and Susanna has been presented strongly enough to make that last scene believable and engaging.  In fact, it’s a bit sad to realize that the scene would not have worked with any of the regular characters in the role, even Data.

As far as the aforementioned bouts of storytelling illogic, they are pretty glaring but still easy to forgive in the wake of all the rest that we enjoy.  First of all, it’s just plain dopey and contrived that Geordi decides to forget any help and do all his research by himself.  It just makes it too convenient for him to completely metamorphosize without anyone being alert to it.  Secondly, Geordi should really be the most inconvenient character to build a story around invisible aliens with – since you’d think it’s exactly the sort of thing his Visor should be able to detect.  Surely he can see ultraviolet stuff?  Oh well, not a big deal.  Actually, it’s probably a testament to the strength of LeVar Burton and Geordi as a character that it’s been fairly easy to tell decent Geordi stories that have nothing to do with his vision.

Shout Out to the Past:
The log scenes from five years ago show the away team wearing uniforms similar to what was scene in the early seasons of the show, including Geordi wearing his red uniform.

Guest Cast:
• Amick Byram, who plays Hickman, will later play Ian Andrew Troi, Deanna’s father.

• Dennis Madalone is the transporter technician.  He was also a stunt coordinator on Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the series Castle.

• This is the only IMDB acting credit for Mona Grudt, who plays Ensign Graham.  She was Miss Universe in 1990.

• Joyce Agu, who appears in uncredited in this and many other episodes as Ensign Gates, was one of the winner’s of series 7 of The Amazing Race, along with her husband Uchenna.

Observations:
• This episode starts with a great opening mystery!

• Troi is not in this episode.

• Geordi claims he is a confirmed bachelor?  This is obviously nonsense.

• It’s a helpless and sad moment when Hickman flies to his doom.

• The close up shot of Susanna’s eyes waking up in sickbay is interesting.

• The mystery in the show is so compelling at the beginning that when Susanna starts turning into an alien it’s almost disappointing.  But still it manages to be creepy and depressing.

• What’s the point of programming the computer to monitor LaForge’s movements if it’s not going to alert anyone that Geordi has abruptly disappeared while on the holodeck?

• Creepy yellow eyes on the changing crew members.

• No hope for Breville and Mendez – they are dismissed a bit casually, but at least it’s mentioned.  It’s all part of the much more effective ending to the story than we had last time.

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This episode would have worked fine without Patrick Stewart.  In fact, in an alternate universe featuring Captain Riker and Commander Shelby, this would have been a good candidate for a Shelby-focused episode. It would have been a great way to develop her backstory.

Dialogue High Point
None of the dialogue really stood out for me, but I guess I’ll go with Data’s admission to Dr. Crusher that there is something personal in the situation for him.

However, I am…strongly motivated…to solve this mystery.

Previous Episode: Night Terrors • Next Episode: The Nth Degree

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One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Identity Crisis [4.18]

  1. I don’t know, there was something I didn’t like about this episode. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it was. Maybe when I watch it again.

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