Star Trek The Next Generation: Conspiracy

“It’s about Starfleet. About something we’d always considered to be impossible."

The conspiracy Admiral Quinn warned our crew about during "Coming of Age" comes of age, and Picard and his command crew are the last line of defense.

This is a rewatch episode for me: I remember being totally thrilled my first time watching this, as a cranky teen. As an adult my perspective is somewhat different… but this episode’s still a ton of fun.

As the show opens, our heroes Riker and Troi are doing the Happy Smile as the Enterprise goes to Hawaii. I mean, of course "the ocean world of Pacifica: with warm, blue waters and fine beaches that make Pacifica a jewel of the galaxy." Clearly Riker moonlights as a travel brochure writer. Data's also trying to let his hair down with yet another attempt to understand humor through analyzing human sexual positions.

I think the intercrew dialogue here is some of the best in the show this season–definitely one of the high points of the episode. Their vacation joy, of course, is shortlived: a Code 47 later, and Captain Picard is showing some demure leg from his chiffon bathrobe as he leaps to answer a private message. I wish I had special Starfleet training to let me wake up that easily! It turns out to be Walker Keel, a frighteningly paranoid old friend of Picard and Crusher’s with a message to be delivered in person. Vacation cancelled, cause unknown, the Enterprise detours to Dytallix B. But for what? Picard meets secretly with three very concerned Captains. It seems that people in Starfleet no longer act like themselves and very strange decisions are being made by the Fleet administration.

Picard isn’t convinced there's a problem. He did have that strange warning from Admiral Quinn, in the episode “Coming of Age,” but it was vaguer than vague. They continue to sit tensely in command chairs until they discover Keel’s ship Horatio is destroyed, and his friend is likely dead. Picard asks Data to, well, mine data, using his special blend of the human and cybernetic. I really think Data’s skills were appropriately applied here–and I loved the moment when he realized he was talking to himself; it gave him a moment to show his humanity while doing the very thing that makes him inhuman. Nice touch.

The crew decide to tackle the problem head on–and the Enterprise goes to Earth, where Picard is beamed down alone to meet with the Admiralty. Admiral Quinn really creeped me out. He didn’t seem at all the same personality we’d met just a few episodes ago. In fact, nearly everyone seems like a creepy vampire movie victim. Pleasant enough, but then it’s all arched eyebrows and oddness and “A quiet night…" You’d wonder why they’re not trying harder to pass.

Back on the ship, the Admiral uses vampiric–I mean inhuman–strength to overpower Riker. The menacing vampire (I give up) laughs, Riker gets thrown into a glass table which breaks, and the crew gets infested. It becomes clear the invaders–conspirators–are confident in their infestation. Quinn begins throwing crewmen threw bulkheads and challenging Klingons. But they’re not powerful enough to get through the Enterprise crew; Beverly proves Security isn’t the only team that can shoot a phaser, and begins to set about getting revenge for her old friend, Walker Keel. She discovers an odd parasite, and suddenly we know what kind of monster movie this is.

She alerts Picard, who gets to enjoy a little monster movie trauma. The mealworm scene is full of grossness, and Picard gets that the aliens are now taunting him. He backs away, intending to leave the room, but Riker’s already there, vampire glare intact, ready to eat mealworms and give people pompous speeches… or is he? Riker’s act had me convinced, but it’s a reverse invasion; Picard and Riker follow the parasites as they leave the bodies to discover Remmick, who’d seemed like a less-important figure.

The parasites enter Remmick's body in a really badly done, fake shot that grossed me out as a child, but the next part is even grosser as Remmick's throat begins to move as if many creatures are trying to get out. Riker and Picard fry the head off Not-Remmick and we get a glimpse of eyeballs before the skull explodes and gore goes everywhere (clearly the aliens have really strange effects on human bodies.) Then the Mama Creature pops out of the gore and I start laughing uncontrollably.


Riker and Picard make appropriate faces and shift phases to Blow Up Monster; fried monster babies appear. Picard ends the episode by musing about the horror of needing to kill alien life. Then they sail off, blissfully unconcerned with the fact that they’ve just killed some of the more important members of Starfleet Command (although the aliens apparently die out of the bodies of others.) The crew's more worried, and maybe they’re right to be, about the possibility that Remmick activated a beacon to other aliens before he went boom boom. They're out there, somewhere.

This episode, despite the hokey Bad Guy, actually had a lot of good moments and fun acting. I liked the glimpse into the wider Starfleet world. But... well... see fried baby monsters, above.

Bits and pieces

-Are these the same mind-control aliens from Buffy? They seem similar. Less slimy, more future. Maybe ALIEN? A survey team on an uncharted planet?

-In some ways this is Horror Movie Trope Trek. We start with the family going on vacation (cool!) until they’re interrupted by a Mysterious Message (uh-oh) and the whole family has to move, not knowing why, and then everyone is taken over by alien creatures. I almost expected someone to eat a rug.

-Beverly as savior was a great moment.

-I’m serious about that issue at the end. Will we ever see the gaps left in Starfleet addressed by the series?

-Fashion forward: did anyone else gaggle at Picard's bathrobe?

-Why doesn't Troi sense anything from Admiral Quinn?

Quotables

Geordi: So the guy staggers to his feet and goes back to the girl, right? Well, she smiles, looks him right in the eye and says 'lust try that in hyperspace!’ [laughs]
Data: I see. So the difficulty in attaining such complex positioning in zero gravity environment, coupled with the adverse effect it would have on the psychological well being of the average human male, is what makes this anecdote so amusing. Yes. Very humorous indeed. Hysterical, in fact.

Troi: [to Data] Have you ever been for a real moonlight swim?
Data: One can swim in moonlight?
Troi: How about you, Mister Worf?
Worf: Swimming is too much like bathing.

Riker: Why the devil are we be going to this planet? Are there any miners or indigenous life forms on the planet?
Data: I believe the answer to both questions is no, sir. In a manner of speaking, it is nothing but a lifeless hunk of rock, a useless ball of mud, a worthless chunk–
Riker: Thank you, Data. I get the idea.

Savar: We've prepared a special meal in your honor.
Picard: Delightful! Tell me, why is the corridor so quiet? The last time I was here it was bustling with activity.
Remmick: It usually is. Tonight's a quiet night.
Savar: Yes, a quiet night.
(It’s just a very ominious vampire movie line, isn’t it?)

Overall

The idea of a conspiracy in our goody-two-shoes Starfleet is unnerving enough to give some meat to the episode, but all the tension, even if it is hokey vampire movie, is destroyed by the laughter-inducing eyeball alien monster at the end. I… just… can’t.

Two out of four head explosions if I judge this as a normal episode, four out of four if I judge it based on calories lost during my gigglefest at the end.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

You made me laugh three times, Joseph. Terrific review. :)

This one should have been called "Paranoia", not "Conspiracy". And those horrible admiral uniforms! And the exploding chestbursting ... when did Alien come out?

Billie Doux said...

And points for Michael Dorn. "Swimming is too much like... bathing."

Juliette said...

Great review :) Alien came out in 1979 so there's definitely some homaging going on here.

I watched this recently with friends, having never seen it before. There are quite a few episodes of Next Gen I haven't seen, but in this case I think it's not so much that I missed it as that BBC2 almost certainly refused to show it at 6pm!

Dustin said...

For me, the only downside to this episode is that they never followed up on it. (The DS9 novels did, but that doesn't count.)

Otherwyrld said...

I remember seeing this when it was first shown and being a bit shocked at the goriness of the Remmick death scene. There must have been complaints, because every subsequent showing on British TV was heavily cut - you saw them firing at Remmick but little else.

Great review.

Monophylos Fortikos said...

TV Tropes has an entry for the "Worf Effect" (though I'd learned about it before TV Tropes), referring to how TNG would often demonstrate how dangerous a baddie was by having them beat the snot out of Worf, who was supposed to be tougher and stronger than anyone else on the ship aside from Data. Was this episode the first proper example of the trope? The scene where Quinn effortlessly tosses Worf around the room (only to walk into Dr. Crusher's phaser) is probably the most memorable scene in this episode.