In a Roanoke-reminiscent story about a mysteriously missing colony — and the disappearing explorers which sought the truth — LaForge must find a way to save his friends and himself.
This is one of the TNG episodes I remember more vividly from my childhood than others, despite being in essence an alien-race-of-the-week episode. Does it hold up over time? In some ways yes, very much. I think this story really exists in two halves. The first half is really about Geordi and how far he's come. He's held in comparison with Susanna Leijten, who was once his mission commander and who he now is equal to in rank. We see the closeness of their relationship in the past and it provides a little context to the mystery. During the first half, we see Geordi's maturity, his calmness, his commitment, and even growth. At one point I even said "Did he just adjust his shirt like Picard?" It's also clear from the beginning the care and commitment these characters have for each other — not just Susanna and Geordi, but also Picard and Crusher for Geordi.
During the second half — after Susanna begins her metamorphosis — the story's emphasis changes. Now Geordi is no longer in command — he's in jeopardy. He has no answers, he's struggling to look for cues, and he begins to take on some of the desperation Susanna previously displayed. I admit I liked this half more than the first — it let Beverly Crusher shine as a medical expert finding clues to a solution. Once she restores Susanna, Leijten takes charge — another interesting reversal. Now Susanna becomes the savior. This adds a nice gender balance to this story, and surprised me — I honestly thought I remembered Susanna dying, or disappearing forever. (Note: In the Old Days captioning was pretty chancy, so a few missing lines might have caused this effect.)
I loved that aspect to the story, so full of the spirit of the original Roddenberry. There was also the resolution at the end, which I thought was fantastic — one of the very first questions Geordi had to respond to on waking up was whether or not there was a way to communicate with the new race; the information that they acted 'on instinct alone' brought the almost instinctual response, very well, we will leave them be, and place warning signals around to let people know. As opposed to, say, building an interplanetary pipeline, making sure the aliens are extinct, and draining resources dry. I also loved how the aliens weren't evil. It was their normal, instinctual reproductive mechanism — that was all. This kind of stuff — incidental tragedies resulting from cultural intersections — are likely to happen in space all the time.
The parts of this episode which bothered me will seem like nitpicking. First, what were the aliens doing when Data found them with his modified torch/flashlight? It looked like they were randomly patting rocks. Second, why couldn't they locate Geordi with his VISOR implants? Surely they left a metallic trace. Thirdly and finally, why didn't they shoot the mutant Geordi with a tranquilizer gun or a phaser on stun? That last I could maybe semi-answer myself — they probably weren't sure how the disease was progressing. To be honest, these questions don't take too much away from a touching story of a friendship strong enough to bring someone back from DNA manipulation. The episode stood the test of time, but also, now I'm older, I see a complexity in the vision I didn't see before.
Bits and Pieces
The alien costumes were really effective for Trek, I thought. The dim lighting probably helped.
The shadow mystery was one of the more effective uses of the holodeck I've seen on Trek — fascinating and felt very natural, like we might be going in that direction one day.
Data had a Pinocchio moment in this episode, observed by a grinning Crusher. I always like how the crew seems to feel very firmly that Data probably has feelings and cares immensely, and is just coming to realize it.
Crusher: The parameters are pretty broad, Data. Any match we make is going to be inconclusive at best.
Data: I am aware of that, Doctor. However, I can see no other reasonable course of investigation available to us. And we may not have much time.
Crusher: You're worried about Geordi, aren't you?
Data: I am an android. It is not possible...
Crusher: ... for you to feel anxiety.
Data: Starfleet personnel have vanished. Others may be at risk. We must do the best we can to find out why. However, I am strongly motivated to solve this mystery.
As a standalone Trek episode, this is among the better ones. Four out of five helpful holodeck recordings.