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Star Trek The Next Generation: Genesis

Picard insists on going on an away mission to get out of some boring tests, and while he's gone, all heck breaks loose on the Enterprise.

"Doctor! My capillaries are shrinking!"

Long-time fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation might be unsurprised to hear that no one else particularly wanted to review this episode! I, however, have already reviewed Star Trek: Voyager's 'Threshold', which is a guilty pleasure of mine, so I had no fear. (Plus, Mark already did both 'Shades of Grey' and 'Sub Rosa', so it was really someone else's turn!).

First of all, the pre-credits sequence, while inconsequential, is rather fun. We open with Riker's sex life (he's impaled himself on some kind of cactus while fooling around in the arboretum), see some of Barclay's hypochondria (as the veteran of many hours scrolling through WebMD and the NHS website, I can fully sympathise) and learn that Alyssa (as well as Spot, who turns out to be a girl) is pregnant. It's rather gentle and rather nice, offering little moments of personal relationships and soft humour, just the sort of thing I love about my favourite Star Trek branches (Original Series, Next Generation and Voyager).

The early parts of the episode aren't half bad either. Initially the mysterious condition afflicting most of the crew seems quite interesting, affecting various crew-members in different ways. All the actors are having fun developing strange behavioural tics and intense agitation. Then, when Data and Picard return to the ship a few days later, it becomes a horror movie, the ship dark and apparently deserted but full of echoing noises and weird sounds. A number of episodes have had various Star Trek characters prowling around mysteriously deserted ships, and it's a trope that works well. As we can tell from the dark lighting, music choices and camerawork, horror is what they're going for here and the poor redshirt who's been killed while sitting at his post at the helm offers an effective image. There's lots of crawling around Jeffries Tubes, pursued by monsters and creepy sound effects.

The problem is that the things that are happening to the crew are just too outlandish to be scary, and the central idea – everyone is somehow 'de-evolving' – makes no scientific sense. Troi has turned into an amphibian and gapes like a fish, which is unintentionally hilarious; Riker looks like a caveman with a hunchback; Alyssa looks like an extra from Planet of the Apes; Barclay turns into a half-spider creature (at what stage of human evolution were we spiders?!), and Picard was apparently going to turn in to a lemur of some kind. Why are all the humans de-evolving into different things? Who knows. Different stages of evolution, presumably, which makes about as much sense as any of the rest of it. Evolution is a slow process that happens across generations – it doesn't affect individuals in this way.

Bad as it is, and much as it pains me, a Voyager-lover, to admit it – this episode is not as bad as 'Threshold', which shares some plot points with it. The idea that a living being's DNA could somehow re-write itself in any way connected to evolution as the result of catching a virus betrays a complete lack of understanding of either DNA or evolution. But at least in this case, it's made clear that the crew-members who are turning into lizards are not evolving into a higher form of life ('Threshold''s argument), but de-evolving into creatures at an earlier stage of their development. Let us all hope that lizards are in our collective biological past, not our future.

So, all in all, it's bad – but it could have been worse!

Bits and pieces

 - Captain Picard uncharacteristically insists on not only joining the away team but piloting it – he seems to be really desperate to get out of the tests they're running and Riker is not impressed.

 - This episode takes place during the whole misguided Worf-and-Troi storyline. Sorry, but Troi with anyone but Riker is just wrong.

 - The Klingon mating bite Worf gives Troi is nasty. We've seen these bites before, but never so severe. But then, he is de-evolving.

 - Lizard Spot with a pink collar is really funny.

 - More problems – since when did the phasers have a 'heavy stun' setting? Surely it's just stun or kill?

 - Gates McFadden directed this episode, and the direction is actually quite effective – it's the script that's the problem.

 - Crusher's cure of Barclay's dodgy gene was the cause of all the trouble. They seem OK with it, though, and enjoy the idea of naming this new disease after Barclay. A man died, people! Angst a bit!

Quotes

Worf: Do not approach me unannounced – especially while I am eating.

Picard: Well, before I begin swinging through the ship looking for breakfast, we need to find some answers.

Crusher: He transformed into a spider and now he has a disease named after him.
Troi: I think I'd better clear my calendar for the next few weeks.

Final analysis: I've picked out the positive in this review, but let's face it, it's not good. One out of four lizards with pink cat collars.

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

7 comments:

  1. A truly excellent review, Juliette, of an absolutely terrible episode. "So, all in all, it's bad -- but it could have been worse!" LOL!

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  2. I seem to be the only person on the planet who enjoyed this episode. I think it's unfair to complain about some of the science, because A LOT of the science on these shows doesn't make sense, e.g. the application of relativity that would mean time passes slower for those who are moving faster.

    I always thought the different ways the actors portrayed their devolution was excellent and amusing.

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  3. @Victoria, I hated it, but you're not the only one who liked it. According to Wikipedia, "In 2015, WhatCulture ranked this the 7th best episode of all time in the Star Trek science fiction universe.[11] They note it as a horror-themed episode of Star Trek, remarking that "'Genesis' is terrifying in the way it unfolds so very subtly, watching the crew regress into primal animals".[11]

    Also,In 2018, TheGamer ranked this one of the top 25 creepiest episodes of all Star Trek series

    But personally, I thought TNG did horror much better in Phantasms and Schisms.

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  4. magritte, I thought "Schisms" was quite creepy. The part about Riker's arm stayed with me for years.

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  5. What makes it good horror is that the danger is striking from within; that it's something that was always there but you no longer have control over it.

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  6. I strangely liked this episode. All of the de-evolving was amusing and kinda horror-ish.
    I also liked schisms but this episode more amused me than freaked me out. Although Spot was
    adorable as a lizard and a cat. LOL

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  7. When I was a kid and this episode was new I liked it a lot. I am now an adult and I still do. When I saw this episode coming up I ran for the ice cream. Many people could not get over the crew de-evolving. That is make made it fun. As for the science not science part I say this; before modern humans there were other humoids that walked the earth. A few we know about a few we don't, we only know of them from DNA. What if most people have this different DNA from these different humanoids. Example, If you have red hair you probably have Neanderthal genes running through you. What if extreme something like tallness came from a humanoid we have not discovered yet.

    If we have those other humanoids in us, then it would stand to reason they they also have introns. That would explain everyone changing into throwback humans (Will) or animals. Now the spider thing was extra strange. It was the first time I liked Barclay. As for the none humans the episode The Chase might explain that. I do wish that Worf would have totally changed body shape, it was sort of silly him having that huge head and normal body, with uniform and shoes intact.

    Now what I didn't believe was the ship. A ship that advanced could not have human maintenance for a few days, and fall apart? Now I find that hard to believe. I guess you do need the ship to be dark to make this episode work, after all it is science fiction.

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