The Enterprise is once again playing taxi, escorting a young woman named Salia, who is slated to become the new ruler of Daled IV, which has been at war for generations. Salia is expected to bring peace to this planet, a tall order for a teenage girl. In addition, Salia’s governess and guardian Anya is accompanying her, and immediately sets to criticizing everything and everyone. (Anya is played by Paddi Edwards, who was the voice of Zuul in Ghostbusters, so she’s instantly the best guest star ever.) While Picard, Worf and Riker escort Salia and Anya to their quarters, they run across Wesley, who immediately begins to moon over Salia.
As I write this, yeah, I’m being too harsh. Wesley doesn’t overreact, he acts like a teenage boy who sees a pretty girl. Wheaton overplays everything Wesley says about the girl, but it’s actually a standard teenager reaction (aka, that girl looked at me so we have to get married and have all the babies you don’t understand no I won’t turn down the music I hate you dad). I don’t like any of Wesley’s dialogue, but I think that’s less Wheaton’s performance and more the cheesy writing that’s probably pretty close to what teenagers gush at one another. I don’t like it, but it’s depressingly accurate.
It also gives us a fantastic sequence in Ten-Forward, where Riker and Guinan decide to demonstrate flirting for Wesley. There are two ways of looking at this scene. If the scene is badly written, Riker and Guinan actually believe that the ham-handed romantic platitudes (“I dream of a universe where your eyes are the stars”) constitute some serious game. If that’s the case, this scene is overacted, badly written, and a disaster. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. This is Riker and Guinan fucking with Wesley, in the vein of telling him that a pickup line like, “Is that Windex in your pocket? Cause I can see myself in yo’ pants,” is totally the way to go. Realizing halfway through this scene that they’re pulling his leg is a great moment, and one of the first times that TNG has really hit a comedic target.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, Wesley takes Salia to the holodeck and shows her all the worlds he’s been to (including a floating asteroid the size of a trampoline floating in space; yeah, you’re full of shit, Crusher), and they gaze at each other like a couple of moonstruck assholes. Meanwhile, Worf takes Anya on a tour of the ship, including sickbay. When they enter sickbay, Pulaski is treating a crew member for meningitis. Anya reacts badly, pointing out that meningitis is contagious, and could infect Salia. Pulaski assures her that’s impossible due to super space HEPA filters, but Anya doesn’t want to take the risk. She insists that the patient be killed immediately. When Pulaski and Worf object (so unreasonable, right?), Anya promptly transforms into… I don’t fucking know. It looks like a really old animatronic bear that’s been fused with a Monchichi and left to rot in HR Giger’s warehouse for a few decades. It looks awful. Worf wrestles with this thing for a bit, Picard comes in with a security team, and Anya returns to old lady form, sneering about how pathetic they all are.
Never mind, my first impression was right. This episode sucks.
Worf escorts Anya back to her quarters to discover that her charge has snuck off to make time with the resident Boy Wonder. As you can imagine, the old lady isn’t thrilled that Salia’s gone. She slips her guards, and goes to Wesley’s quarters, where our favorite teenage prodigy is THIS CLOSE to getting some sweet hand holding action. Anya turns into the fucked up Teddy Ruxpin and screeches at Wesley, Salia gets between them and turns into an anorexic Sasquatch with pinkeye and wails at Anya, Wesley shits his pants (I’m assuming), and the security team shows up to calm shit down. They take Anya and Salia back to their quarters, forcefield the shit out of the room, and leave them there until they reach Daled IV. Anya tells Salia she’s done protecting her and says her goodbyes, and Salia sucks some chocolate mousse off of Wesley’s finger (not kidding) in the transporter room before turning into a being of light and beaming away forever. The episode ends with Guinan telling Wesley that it’s okay to be heartbroken, and with me cursing loudly at my television.
“The Dauphin” is nowhere near as bad as most of the first season, or even the low points of the second (Worf might have gotten his ass kicked by the world’s worst Chewbacca impersonator, but at least he didn’t try to abort someone’s baby). But it’s just so damn lazy. I’m sure someone figured that Wesley, a hormonal teenage boy, had to get all twitterpated over some girl sooner or later, but it felt like a bunch of kids sitting in a writer’s room, eagerly shouting, “So he likes the girl! But the girl’s a shapeshifter! And is made of light! And licks pudding off her finger!!!” There’s nothing interesting in the episode, and nothing worth remembering. After the sheer joy of “Matter Of Honor” and the intensity of “Measure Of A Man”, this feels like such a huge step backwards, and that’s a hell of a shame. Fortunately, it’s a temporary dip.
In “Contagion”, we spin the wheel of plot devices and land on that old chestnut, the distress call. The Enterprise gets a distress signal from the USS Yamato, her sister ship and another Galaxy-class starship. The problem is that the Yamato is transmitting from inside the Neutral Zone, someplace they are definitely not supposed to be. However, Picard and company waste no time in warping over to lend a hand. They find the Yamato, and Picard talks with the other captain about the odd malfunctions happening on his ship as well as some odd archeological sites discovered. In the middle of a discussion, the signal fails, and the Yamato explodes in front of them.
This is all in the cold open, and it’s fantastic. While they’d established that the Yamato was having some systems issues, there was no indication they were in immediate danger. Picard and Captain Varley of the Yamato are more concerned with getting them both out of the Neutral Zone before the Romulans find out they’re poking around. The dialogue between the two is the kind of easy familiarity that communicates a long history and friendship in just a few sentences. When the signal drops, and Geordi starts yelling in alarm, there’s barely enough time for the audience to register how fast things are going sideways before the Yamato blows up.
Picard (in a stellar bit of acting from Stewart) has a brief moment of shock, grief, and confusion before he goes into crisis mode, snapping orders to the crew to start piecing together what just happened. Things go from bad to worse just moments later when a Romulan Warbird decloaks in front of them, demanding to know why they’ve violated the Neutral Zone and insisting they leave immediately. Barely six minutes into the episode, and Picard is dealing with the death of a friend, the loss of a ship with nearly a thousand people on board, and facing down an angry Romulan. It’s a powerful and effective opening, and establishes the high stakes extremely quickly.
Picard refuses to leave until they’ve determined what destroyed the Yamato, slipping in some insinuation that he needs to rule out Romulan hostility into the icily polite dialogue. The Romulan commander cloaks again, and the crew begins investigating. Geordi and Data determine that it wasn’t an attack, but a bizarre and improbable malfunction in the Yamato’s engines. This is a big problem, as the Yamato and the Enterprise are of the same design, and thus there's a possibility of a design flaw in the relatively new ships. Picard orders them to figure out if there’s a problem with the Enterprise, and reviews Captain Varley’s logs, where he talks about searching for the ancient homeworld of the Iconians, a legendary lost civilization with remarkable technology. In his searches, he stumbles upon a visual record of the Yamato being scanned by an Iconian automated probe.
At this point, the episode is focused on three specific challenges to the Enterprise and her crew, all of which feed into each other. The Enterprise is beginning to experience minor malfunctions (doors not opening quickly, commands not being recognized). Picard suspects that the Iconian planet that the Yamato visited was involved, so they go in search of that planet. The Romulans are still all over them, and are getting angry because similar malfunctions have begun on their ship. Throughout the episode, Picard is juggling the malfunctions, the Iconian mystery, and the Romulans, and it’s a lot to keep track of.
The Enterprise arrives at the Iconian homeworld. By this point, the malfunctions are getting much worse, and when Geordi realizes that the probe scan started this entire mess, he can’t contact the bridge to warn them about the probe approaching them. The next sequence is unintentionally hilarious, as he gets slammed around a turbolift and catapulted out onto the bridge just in time to yell for them to destroy the probe. It’s meant to be suspenseful, but it’s just a bit silly. Geordi learned that the Iconian probe, unable to communicate with the Yamato’s comparatively primitive systems, was trying to rewrite the starship’s programming, which caused the systems failures. (Apparently, the future lacks decent antivirus software.) When the Yamato communicated with the Enterprise, fragments of the probe’s shitty code got into the Enterprise, which then spread that code to the Romulans (seriously, people, Norton or McAfee will sort you right out). Having destroyed the probe, Picard decides to take an away team down to figure out how to get rid of the Iconian code.
Picard, Data, and Worf beam down, discovering a control room with an Iconian gateway still active. The Iconians apparently had the ability to open up gateways between any two points in the universe, and the gateway is cycling through various locations, including the Enterprise bridge and the Romulan bridge. Data tries to interface with the system, and gets infected with the Iconian code (COME ON). The Enterprise can’t beam them back up for two reasons. First, the ship’s systems are now in full on freakout mode, and there’s an understandable concern that if they try to transport the away team, they’ll come back looking like steak tartar. Second, the Romulans are here, they’re convinced the Enterprise infected them on purpose, and they keep trying to shoot the Federation ship, only to find that their weapons are switching on and off. So Picard sends Worf and Data through the gateway onto the Enterprise bridge, and stays behind to destroy the Iconian outpost so the Romulans don’t get their hands on this tech (at this point, would they really want it?).
Picard sets the outpost to self destruct, but misses the window to get back to the Enterprise through the gateway. With no other options, he hops through onto the Romulan bridge, which is definitely in the “fixer-upper” state right now. Sparks are flying, consoles are smoking, and the Romulan commander is PISSED. She points a weapon at Picard, sneers about how at least he’ll die with them, but before she can complete the sentence, he’s beamed back to the Enterprise. You see, while Picard was blowing up stuff and strolling onto an enemy bridge, Data was pretty much dying from the Iconian code. Until he did die. Then he was fine. Which let them figure out that they just needed to shut down the Enterprise computer and start it back up again.
Let me say that again to be clear: The solution to this catastrophic systems failure that destroyed one ship and threatened to destroy two others was to turn the computer off, wait five seconds, and turn it back on again.
Look, this is a stupid ending. It makes the crew of all three ships (especially the Yamato) look really incompetent. The solution to a science fiction plot should never be the solution provided by Comcast when your router isn’t working right. With that said, I actually enjoyed the bulk of this episode. There are a lot of great character beats that work well, such as Riker and the Romulan commander blustering at each other while their weapons and shields keep switching on and off, or Picard telling the Romulans how to fix their shit only after getting the hell out of there (nohardfeelingshereshowyoufixyourshitBYYYEEEE...). This episode tried to do a lot, combining a technical mystery, a legendary extinct race, and a showdown with the Romulans, and when you have that many balls in the air, it’s hard not to drop a few. But I’d rather see the show swing for the fences and miss than try to play it safe.
A few other thoughts:
- Oh, yeah, at one point, Anya transforms into a hot teenage girl to chat with Salia. I mention this because it’s just as pointless and dumb as the rest of that episode. Anya also transforms into a bug-eyed Ewok that I’m sure was meant to be cute, Salia snuggles with it, and it gets creepy.
- I laughed aloud at the “death” of Data, considering they had about three seconds to mourn. “He’s… he’s dead, sir. Such a noble creature, so much closer to humanity than he ever dreamt… Oh, fuck, nevermind, he’s cool.”
- They’re definitely getting more confident with the effects. When the Yamato explodes, there are chunks of the ship, shattered and visibly burning in space. It’s unsettling in a great way.
- I really hope no one was in the holodeck during all of that. It tries to kill crew members when shit’s NOT going haywire.
Next time, we visit a casino with the bizarre “The Royale”, and it’s Picard vs. Picard in the time travel episode “Time Squared”.
- Dietrich Stogner