Star Trek The Next Generation: Suspicions

Guinan: "I don't want to see Dr. Selar, I want to see you. I'm very particular about my doctors."
Crusher: "Well, you better get a new one, because I'm not a doctor on this ship anymore."

By nature I love brevity: A decent story, and a fair Dr. Crusher vehicle. It just doesn't quite have the punch it needs to make an impression, and it had a whole lot of missed potential.

We begin our story in media res. Guinan comes into Dr. Crusher's quarters looking for medical assistance for her tennis elbow. Dr. Crusher promptly informs her that she'll have to find another physician - Beverly has been removed from her position as CMO of the Enterprise. Now, I must say, this is a great teaser. It gets us intrigued right off the bat by giving us the predicament without any of the facts. If the episode had started with the scientists aboard the Enterprise, I wouldn't have been nearly as interested to find out what was going to happen.

So Beverly tells Guinan the story of what's happened, prefacing it by saying she's got a hearing soon that will likely end her medical career. We move to the flashback scenes, where four scientists are gathered to study a new technology. The inventor of this technology is Dr. Reyga (Peter Slutsker), a Ferengi, oddly enough. He has invented a new shield that feeds off of solar radiation. I think. I don't pay a whole lot of heed to the science of Star Trek, not that I could understand it if I tried. Anyway, 'metaphasic shield' allows a ship to fly into the middle of a star. This is impressive, and scientists from all over are gathered to see it happen. We have Kurak (Tricia O'Neil), another unusual species for a scientist. She's a Klingon. Unfortunately, that's the extent of her character. There's T'Pan (Joan Stuart Morris), a Vulcan (also all the character she gets), and her husband Dr. Christopher (John S. Ragin). He's one of the more interesting of the bunch, as he gets a bit of a personality. I guess 'human' isn't enough to build a character off of. Lastly, we have Jo'Bril (James Horan). He's a Takaran, the only new species out of the group.

Things get off, Beverly narrates, to a rocky start. The scientists are extremely skeptical of the metaphasic shield, and require proof of its effectiveness. Reyga wants to fly a shuttle into a nearby star - a star with a very powerful corona. The only question is who will pilot the mission. Jo'Bril volunteers; he's not afraid and he thinks the shield will work. So the mission is launched, and here's about where the episode started to lose me. Jo'Bril launches into the sun, and (gasp!) something goes wrong. The shield breaks down, and Jo'Bril starts to shake uncontrollably. He manages to pilot the shuttle out of the sun, and is beamed to sickbay. The issue for me is that I never felt any suspense or tension in that scene. The music that plays is more 'scientific exploration' than 'dangerous force of nature', and even when it tried to stop being light and airy, it never grabbed me. The direction in the scene was entirely too sterile and bland to really give the audience a feeling of dread or even anticipation.

So Jo'Bril ends up in sickbay, and Crusher tries and fails to save him. She puts him in the morgue, remarking as she does at the resilience of his physiology. She's not sure why he would've died from what happened in the shuttle, unless he was affected on a cellular level.

The scientists, understandably, are shocked by this unfortunate turn of events. Reyga insists his technology could not have malfunctioned, accusing Kurak (the Klingon - bad idea) of sabotaging it. He says he'll pilot the shuttle himself for a second test, to prove his shield works. This is the last time Dr. Crusher sees him alive. Now there's been a second death among the scientists, and this gives Crusher... wait for it... Suspicions! Cue canned laughter.

She begins to investigate, dragging Nurse Ogawa (Patti Yasutake) into it in the process. To try and narrow down the suspects, Crusher interviews the scientists who were gathered. T'Pan has the greatest motive due to her high position and prestige, we're told explicitly. Her husband objects perhaps too strongly to being questioned. And Kurak threatened Reyga after her honor had been questioned, just before he died. Crusher determines the only way to find out for sure is to do an autopsy of Dr. Reyga.

Here we come to what should have been the focus of this episode: the medical ethical quandary. You see, Dr. Reyga's family insists the body not be touched until the Ferengi death ritual can be performed (and they promptly vacuum-desiccate and sell him?). They are quite adamant, Picard tells Beverly, and he can't persuade them. Crusher needs to find another way to gather the evidence. But there isn't one, so she does it. Seriously. That's it.

Crusher is frustrated at her inability to get evidence without touching Reyga for a very short portion of the episode before she autopsies him. There's no moral debate involving conversations with members of the crew, no difficult internal battle. She just does it, after zero moral posturing that we see. It's too abrupt, and it could and should have been the primary story of the episode. But 'Suspicions' is too busy playing murder mystery to care.

Understandably, Picard cares, and he relieves her of duty in a scene utterly devoid of passion. There's only a brief and toned down stern talking to. There's very little lecture on what she should have done instead. Picard simply says she shouldn't have done it, and removes her. The scene lacks the power it should've had.

At this point, we've caught up to Crusher and Guinan. In the episode's best scene, Guinan points out that Beverly has nothing to lose by getting to the bottom of this anymore. Beverly promptly launches back into the investigation, against the advice of her friends. With a little medical help from Nurse Ogawa, and some technical advice from Data, Crusher determines that the only way to figure out whether these are murders is to pilot the shuttle into the sun again.

Now, I get why this proves Reyga was right. I get why it shows the shield was sabotaged. I guess I just don't see how this is concrete evidence that Reyga was murdered. But it's taken as such, and Crusher proves the shield works. Then she loses comms with the Enterprise, and out of a closet pops... Jo'Bril. He's not dead, he says, and he sabotaged the shield. He also killed Dr. Reyga. And after hearing in the morgue that Crusher was going to pilot the shuttle into the sun again, he decided to do something. He makes it look like there's been a warp core breach, and he plans to stick around in the sun until the Enterprise leaves. Then he can go home and make the shield into a weapon (huh?).

So, according to him, he didn't decide to accompany Crusher until he found out she was going into the sun. Exactly what was his plan if she DIDN'T do that? Pilot the shuttle himself? Then everybody would know he was alive, and the jig would be up. What was his plan anyway, for that matter? Why did he kill Reyga? Why didn't he just do his little warp core trick the first time when he was in the shuttle by himself, wait till the Enterprise headed out, and get away then? His plan makes no sense, and depends on things thoroughly beyond his control. Plus, he could have just done the same thing earlier and gotten off scot free. And don't even get me started on making a shield that protects you from the sun into a weapon. I know I said I don't pay attention to Trek science, but that's only when it makes some logical sense at all. Making a shield that runs off the sun's energy? The sun has a lot of energy, so it makes sense. Making that same shield into a weapon? Not so much. He could even have just said he was going to use it for war and it would've worked - you need shields in war.

Crusher overpowers him and vaporizes him, then pilots the shuttle out of the sun. She's reinstated as CMO of the Enterprise, conveniently glossing over the whole moral reason she was getting court-martialled. Solving a murder doesn't mean violating the reasonable cultural wishes of a dead man's family isn't wrong, but nobody seems to get this. All is wrapped up, and Guinan reveals she doesn't play tennis at all. She wanted to be there for her friend.

This episode had three major flaws: the villain's plan makes no sense, the far more interesting aspects of the story are ignored, and the tone doesn't sit right. I think the reason the episode avoided Beverly's ethical dilemma is because it was going for the murder mystery vibe. But the direction and music were not atmospheric enough to accomplish that tone, and the whole thing felt off because of it. Still, it's an enjoyable hour, and I was mildly interested the whole way through. Crusher gets the spotlight, and even does fairly well in it. The more interesting bits for her character are ignored, but she gets a lot to say and do and think about regardless.

Pensees (Thoughts):

-I'd seen this episode before I watched it to review it (who am I kidding, I've seen all of Star Trek), and I misremembered who the culprit was. The whole time I was convinced it was Dr. Christopher. I did remember where the real bad-guy was hiding in the shuttle, though.

-Another thing this episode hints at but never really tackles is the ideas of Ferengi and Klingon scientists. Non-greedy Ferengi, no less. Those are such odd roles for their species that it's a shame more time wasn't spent on it.

-I'm a fairly big fan of Alyssa Ogawa. Maybe it's mostly because I play a collectible Star Trek miniatures game, and she's a really useful card in it.

-I wonder if there's a novel or something somewhere that reconciles the implied sacred overtones of the Ferengi Death Ritual in this episode, and the whole 'sell vacuum desiccated pieces of your dead body' thing from DS9.

-Dr. Crusher gets such little time to shine that it's a shame this episode wasted its potential so much. Time to go rewatch 'Remember Me' to remind myself she's a good character.

-The metaphasic shield sure would've come in handy back in Star Trek IV, wouldn't you say?

-The hole Crusher blows in Jo'Bril before she vaporizes him makes sense given her earlier comments on his physiology. But it was kinda too gruesome for my tastes, especially since it couldn't be actually gruesome to preserve the show's age rating. Fake-gruesome is worse than both not-at-all gruesome and very gruesome.

-I don't really get what was up with the direction. It's Cliff Bole, after all. The man's a legend. Must've been one of his off days.

3 out of 6 Tennis elbows

Quotes:

Guinan: "You know, I've never been to a formal inquiry."
Dr. Crusher: "Well, I'll see if I can arrange one for you. All you have to do is disobey orders, violate medical ethics, and cause an interstellar incident."
Guinan: "Well, I guess that would do it."

Picard: "I'm not sure how much I can protect you."
Crusher: "You don't have to, Jean-Luc. I knew what I was doing, and I'm prepared to accept the consequences."
This is what I wanted more of.

Crusher: "Don't you get it? If I start digging around again..."
Guinan: "You could be relieved of duty."

Crusher: "I don't want you involved in this."
Ogawa: "Is that an order?"
Crusher: "Yes."
Ogawa: "Too bad you're not my boss anymore."

Guinan: "Thank you, doctor. This looks like a great racket, but, uh... I don't play tennis. Never have."
--
CoramDeo and CoramDeo! What is CoramDeo?

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I don't pay a whole lot of heed to the science of Star Trek, not that I could understand it if I tried. Me, either. I'm a librarian, not a starship engineer. :)

(and they promptly vacuum-desiccate and sell him?) Very funny.

Fake-gruesome is worse than both not-at-all gruesome and very gruesome. Actually, I'm not into grue but I really liked that particular gruesome effect. They'd covered it by explaining Jo'Bril's physiology.

Yeah, not a great episode. It felt like they didn't know quite what they were doing, and it could have been so much better.