Star Trek: The Next Generation – Conundrum [5.14]

The Enterprise encounters an energy wave that causes the entire crew to lose their memory, and the computers rewritten to include information about a war that the Federation is supposedly engaged in.  They are also infiltrated by a stranger pretending to be the first officer of the crew, Keiran MacDuff.  Their amnesia causing them to forget their normal antagonism, Riker and Ensign Ro begin a romantic relationship.  MacDuff continues to push the crew to destroy their supposedly sworn enemy, while Picard the crew become increasingly suspicious of their situation.  In the end, seeing how vastly underpowered their enemy is, Picard refuses to attack, causing MacDuff to reveal himself as part of the race responsible for the crew’s condition, in an attempt to see his enemy destroyed.  MacDuff is defeated and the crew restored.

Teleplay by Barry Schkolnick. Story by Paul Schiffer. Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: The Masterpiece Society • Next Episode: Power Play

The story in Conundrum is filled with a number of gaping plot holes that should really steal any enjoyment one gets from watching it, but somehow still works quite well as an episode.  They hang a bit of a lampshade on it, but it’s really hard to imagine that a species with all the power to penetrate the Enterprise‘s shields with a beam that can instantly suppress everyone‘s memories – human, Klingon, Betazoid, Bolian, even android – and both erase and replace data in the ship’s computer – can’t find some less complicated way to defeat their enemies.

And it’s even harder to imagine that if the species were going to go to the trouble of all this bother and to plant one of their guys on the ship disguised as an officer, why in the galaxy wouldn’t they position that guy as the Captain of the ship?  Did they not have the technology to create just one more little pip on the guy’s collar?  They try to sneak in a little explanation with MacDuff volunteering to be Dr. Crusher’s guinea pig for the memory restoration experiment (and tricking her into thinking it failed), but it seems a bit unlikely that you’d give up all the advantages of commanding the crew for that little benefit.  Speaking of which, what kind of Doctor is Beverly if she can’t recognize that MacDuff isn’t even human?

But, as I said before, in spite of all of those problems, the episode is actually great – a lot of fun, with many strong character moments, and a highly memorable concept (and I’m not even trying to be funny).

It’s a good ensemble episode, with most of the characters getting some good moments.  Geordi and Dr. Crusher are mostly in serviceable roles, but Worf gets some great material at the beginning when he assumes he is in command, and Data gets to wax philosophically about his potential origins.  Troi is the best of all, getting to be the character who first and most consistently recognizes that something is wrong with their supposed orders.  But it’s Riker and Ro that really stick with you in this story – they have some genuine chemistry, and certainly their unexpected relationship adds a new dimension to the show.  It’s too bad that Michelle Forbes didn’t become more of a permanent fixture in the cast.

MacDuff is an effective villain.  Even though you know that he is up to something from early on, you want to like the guy – he just looks another one of those crew members you see standing around in guest spots.  The episode is amazingly restrained in that even after we see he is pretending to be the first officer, there are few signs of any outright villainy in him, at least until the end.

Anyway, it could have been interesting seeing a story where MacDuff was cast as the Captain, with the rest of the crew having to decide when enough was enough and to mutiny against him, but that would have resulted in quite a different tale.  In the end, I’m pretty satisfied with the episode as we got it.

Guest Cast:
• Liz Vassey plays Kristin, the girl who Dr. Crusher was treating for her diving injury.  She played Wendy Simms in a whole bunch of CSI episodes, as well as Captain Liberty in the live action version of The Tick.  She also played a rival to Marilyn Monroe in an episode of Quantum Leap.

Shout out to the Past:
Of course, all the stuff regarding the special connection between Riker and Troi harkens to their backstory.

Setting up the Future:
There will be some other moments (at least one that I can remember) regarding the relationship between Riker and Ro, but not much.

• Chess is a game of intuition? Huh?  Troi beating Data at the game feels a bit unlikely.

• Very effective transition to the crew suddenly being completely disoriented.  It’s well directed.

• It is amusing seeing Worf taking the leadership position, sitting in the central chair and ready room and so on, and Picard sitting off in the back:  “Perhaps we should not jump to conclusions.  I am decorated as well.”

• Picard asking to take everything offline to run a full diagnostic does seem a bit foolish when they are in such a vulnerable situation.  But the story obviously treats that as the sensible action.

• It’s almost as if MacDuff is able to anticipate the fact that Dr. Crusher is about to request access to medical files (and possibly derail his scheme), leading him to encourage Worf to run the diagnostic.  It’s a bit unlikely and convenient.

• “The bartender is an artificial lifeform.”  That’s kind of funny.

• Worf apologizing to Picard for assuming command is a nice moment for him.

• Picard picks up his crew’s names very quickly

• The computer identifies Ro as the Helm Officer?  Is she really in charge of the Helm?

• Was there no way to fire on that little ship without destroying it?

• Riker is a bit of a jerk here – ignoring his possible relationship with Troi to have his fling with Ro.  But he gets his comeuppance at the end.  “Well, if you’re still confused tomorrow, you know where my office is.”

• I like it how Beverly calls MacDuff by his first name – the same way that she does with everyone else

Dialogue High Point
Picard gives a very good summary of his ethos

I’m not content simply to obey orders. I need to know that what I am doing is right.

Previous Episode: The Masterpiece Society • Next Episode: Power Play

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