Star Trek The Next Generation: Conundrum

"I don't even remember who I am."

This is the one where, after a Mysterious Colourful Space Thingy passes over the ship, everyone completely forgets who they are.

I'm sure I've confessed this on here before - I have a terrible weakness for stories about amnesia. A horribly over-used plotline in soaps, and one that always mangles medical reality if it's outside of an SFF context (SFF gets a pass!) I have nevertheless been very fond of this particular (and particularly cheesy) plot device ever since I read a Four Marys story in Bunty comic where Raddy lost her memory and ran off with the snobs.

These are the Four Marys (artist Barrie Mitchell). They're all called Mary, you see! Picture from this site, which also briefly outlines the story

I like the way aspects of characters' personalities that are normally consciously repressed can be brought out in stories like this - here, in the way Worf assumes he is the Captain and Picard does not. (I do wonder how they still know how to work Starfleet technology but can't remember Starfleet rank insignias, but never mind). Patrick Stewart's performance is masterful as ever - his whole posture and stance and tone of voice changes once he finds out that he is the Captain, though initially he had shown very little inclination to take on that role, despite Riker pointing out he has more pips than anyone else.

Riker, meanwhile, is shown to be even more of a womanizer than usual. There's no harm in him sleeping with Ro, but the way he allows both Ro and Troi to flirt with him (and more) and tell him that they think they have a relationship, but tells neither about the other, is thoroughly naughty. Though it's worth it for the amusement value of Riker and Ro getting far closer than they normally would, and for both women giving him a firm cold shoulder at the episode's end.

The episode also neatly slots the alien bad guy into the crew. We're so used to seeing random crew-members come and go on the bridge since Wesley left that at first there's nothing strange about seeing a crew-member we don't recognise with our heroes after the Mysterious Colourful Space Thingy passes by. He could easily just be this week's redshirt. It's only as the episode goes along and he becomes more and more agitated (and gets increasingly prominent screen-time) that we start to cotton on that this has something to do with him.

The aliens' plan is really rather clever, as well. It makes sense, a lot more than some evil alien plans do. It also leads to very interesting moral quandries in classic Star Trek style, with our heroes wanting to obey orders but uncertain what those are (it made me want to re-watch the movie Crimson Tide, which sadly lacks alien-induced amnesia but is in other ways similar). The moment when our team outright murder a group of aliens because they think they're fighting them in a war is positively chilling, especially on re-watch. This also feeds back into the amnesia plot device - Worf would never normally consider mutiny against Picard, but without their history and the trust built up between them, his rebellion seems a much more real possibility here (though of course, he comes good in the end!).

There are two elements to this episode - the character explorations made possible by the amnesia, and the mystery surrounding why this has happened and who is behind it. Both are covered effectively to create a very entertaining and memorable story. It's a quiet episode - a bottle episode with only one guest star - but a nice one. And anyway, I'm a sucker for amnesia stories.

Bits and pieces

- Data as a bartender is quite funny, and he seems to be quite good at it.

- It's a shame Guinan was on her day off - given the precedent set by 'Yesterday's Enterprise', she'd probably have worked out what was going on far earlier.

- Troi standing on the bridge and saying this doesn't feel right is, for once, genuinely helpful and not a case of stating the obvious.

Quotes

Ro: For all we know, you and I could be married.
Riker: For all we know, you and I could hate each other.

Never has the phrase "It's psychologically valid" been said with such overtones of snark, anger and disdain than when Troi says it to Riker here.

A really nice little bottle episode. Three and a half our of four cheesy amnesia plot devices.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I like amnesia episodes too, and this was a good one. It really was in character for Worf to assume he was the captain, while Picard accepted a supporting role but kept making sensible suggestions. Although the pips really should have been a big giveaway.

I also liked the way they slipped MacDuff in there. It's (again) the pips that give him away, though. And the Riker/Ro/Troi thing was actually a lot of fun. Even though Riker can be a bit of a dog sometimes, he would never act on an attraction to a subordinate when he's himself. I think. :)

drnanamom said...

I loved that the alien called himself MacDuff!