Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 17): Home Soil

Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.

For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

The Enterprise visits a planet that is undergoing a terraforming procedure. While the Away Team is on the planet, one of the terraformers is killed – sparking an investigation. Data and Geordi discover that the planet is inhabited by an inorganic life. They take the lifeform onto the ship for study in the laboratory.

On the ship, they discover that the life is indeed inorganic and that it is also intelligent. The lifeform begins taking over the ship’s computers and it declares war on humans (i.e. “ugly bags of water.”) The bridge learns that they can fight back against the lifeform by turning the light in the medical lab off. The lifeform agrees to a ceasefire and the Enterprise sends it back to the planet with apologies.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Captain’s Log Stardate 41463.9

The Enterprise is mapping the Pleiades star cluster and has been asked to visit a group terraforming a planet therein. Communication with the terraformers has been erratic and there is some concern about the workers’ welfare. Picard attempts to call the communication base on the planet and he gets no reply. Yar tells him that the message is being received on the other side.

Finally a man appears on screen to answer the call. Picard tells him that Starfleet has sent the Enterprise to check on them. He replies that they were behind on the work but that they are back on schedule now. Troi approaches Picard during this conversation and whispers to him that their presence alarmed the man with whom they are speaking for some reason. Picard and Riker offer assistance and he replies that his workers cannot afford the time. Troi tells Picard that the man’s fear is escalating. Picard closes the communication channel. Troi tells Picard that she senses deliberate concealment. Picard opens the channel again and asks if his crew can visit the planet. He is told, again, that the timing is very bad. Troi tells Picard that asking about visiting the planet sent the man almost into a panic. Picard finally tells Director Mandl (the man they’ve been speaking with) that he is to prepare to receive an Away Team from the Enterprise. Mandle very reluctantly agrees.

The Away Team arrives on the planet. The group consists of Riker, Troi, Yar, Data, and Geordi. They are greeted by a younger woman named Louisa Kim, and she describes herself as a Gardener of Eden. Kim introduces the Away Team to other workers, Arthur Malencon and Bjorn Benson. Benson is particularly interested to have an android on the planet. Kim apologizes for her group’s excitement to see visitors citing a lack of them in their work. Riker tells her that they were not sure how they would be received and informs her that Director Mandl was less than enthusiastic about their visit. Kim apologizes for the director and points out that they are at a critical juncture in the terraforming process of the plane.t As Kim shows the Away Team some of what they do on the planet, Troi whispers to Riker that Malencon and Benson were harboring secrets but that Kim is as open as she appears.

Kim explains the process of terraforming from selection of planets to adding water and microorganisms. The crew observe Benson and Malecon and both are comparatively tight-lipped, though Malecon appears interested in discussion issues of irrigation with Data and Geordi. Mandl enters the room and apologizes for being so abrupt earlier. He blames his lack of social graces on their isolation. Mandl has an awkward conversation with Malecon and tells him that he should be in the hydraulic chamber. Data and Geordi begin studying the hydraulic system after Malecon goes and are shortly pulled away by Mandl to view the vegetation plans for the planet. As Mandl discusses the decade by decade plans regarding vegetation on the planet, Troi appears to be alarmed by something.

Troi: Commander?
Riker: What is it Deanna?
Troi: Malecon! He’s in trouble!

We hear Malecon screaming for help behind a closed door. When the doors are finally opened, Malecon is lying motionless. Riker provides a First Officer’s Log telling us that Malecon was injured by a laser drilled that apparently malfunctioned. Riker calls to Picard that they are shutting off power to the hydraulic room and then beaming Malecon up to sick bay on the Enterprise. Riker tells Picard that from the look of Malecon’s wounds it is probably hopeless.

Yar enters the room and beams up with Malecon. Kim tells Mandl that she wants to be with Malecon on the ship and she asks him to come, too. Mandl does not speak but he assents to the request. Riker beams Kim, Mandl, Troi, and himself to the transporter room.

Data and Geordi are still on the planet. Data is in the room where Malecon was injured. He reports to Geordi – who is still outside the room – that the laser drill seems to have operated with a will that is separate from its control console. Data tells Geordi to turn power back on to the control console in the room so that he can reactivate the program. Geordi agrees. The doors into the room suddenly close and the laser begins firing upon Data. Geordi calls Picard and tells him that there is a problem and Picard helpfully commands Geordi to get Data out of the room. The doors, alas, will not open. Geordi yells for Data and pounds his hand on the door. Suddenly, it opens. Picard shouts “what is happening” into his comm device. Data emerges from the smoke and tells Picard that he is fine and that he does not need to be beamed up.

As Data explains to Geordi that the laser was firing upon him and adjusting tactics to match his own, Benson enters the room. He asks Data what he did to the drill and bemoans a year’s work destroyed. Data tells him he had no choice except to destroy the laser.

On the ship, Data gives his report to Picard. Mandl, who is in the room, refuses to believe that the laser was acting of its own volition. He tells Picard that he is overstepping his authority and Picard replies that when a member of his crew is attacked, he obtains authority to investigate. After Mandle storms out of the room, Picard asks Data to continue with his report. Data tells him that he believes the laser was programmed to destroy any person standing in the room. Picard concludes that one of the three other terraformers must be guilty. He says that the question is why they would do this and wonders what they might be hiding.

Picard, Data, and Geordi walk to the bridge where Dr. Crusher informs them that Malecon is dead. Picard tells Data and Geordi to return to the planet and look for answers. He then tells Yar to give Counselor Troi the complete psychological profile of all remaining terraformers. Picard and Riker smile at each other at the notion of becoming detectives.

Data and Geordi find a deep hole on the planet. LaForge looks into the hole and sees flashes of light despite seeing nothing organic to produce the light. He tells Data that the flashes of light, through his VISOR, appear almost musical. Data speculates that the light might be alive and its existence might be the reason someone killed Malencon.

Picard has the potential life form beamed to the ship for further study. He says in a Log that the lifeform appears to be completely inorganic. Dr. Crusher, Wesley, Picard, Data, and Geordi discuss the lifeform and begin to perform tests on it. When Dr. Crusher asks the ship’s computer to magnify the lifeform onto a viewing screen, the lifeform starts emitting a sound. The crew lower the magnification and then step away from the lifeform and the humming gets quieter. The ship’s computer says that the flashing light should not be possible given the type of substance from which it is made, but when Dr. Crusher asks the computer to disregard that incongruity and theorize about what it is, the ship says “life.”

Later, Picard tells Mandl about the lifeform and he refuses to believe. He reminds Picard that the Federation studied the planet and determined it to be lifeless. Picard says that determination is understandable given the novel nature of the lifeform. Mandl asks Picard if the Captain is saying he defied the Prime Directive and Picard replies that this is what they are trying to find out. Picard then points out to Mandl that he is an obsessive man, regarding his work, and he asks Mandl if he would be willing to kill to continue working. Mandl replies that he creates life but he does not take it.

Mandl storms out. Picard asks Troi, who was standing there, what she thinks. She says that Mandl knew about the lifeform but he was shocked at the accusation of murder. Picard asks Yar whether Mandl’s files indicate he has the expertise to perform the reprogramming of the laser. Yar says his degrees in computer science and artificial intelligence mean that he could have done it. Picard instructs her to look at the other files including the file of the victim. Yar says that the victim also had the necessary expertise. Troi dismisses that Kim could be the murderer and suggests to Riker that he might be more successful in getting her to talk than she is.

Riker visits Kim in her quarters and finds her crying. She asks Riker if it’s true that they found a lifeform. He tells her that the debate is still on-going but it appears that they did. He explains that the lifeform appears to be inorganic and that missing it was not her mistake. Kim begins crying and says that everything she has worked for is falling apart. Riker tells her that the lifeform is very beautiful and that he can arrange for her to see it. She tells Riker “maybe later.” They stare into each other’s eyes for a while before Riker gets up and leaves.

On the bridge, Dr. Crusher calls Picard and tells him that he needs to visit the medical lab. Geordi, Data, and Wesley are in the lab with Dr. Crusher when Picard arrives. Geordi tells Picard that the life appeared to move. Suddenly, it begins projecting an energy field. A moment later, there are two of the lifeforms inside the dome to be studied.

Data: Only life can replicate itself, doctor. Inorganic, or not, it is alive.

A moment later, Dr. Crusher attempts to put a quarantine field around the dome where the small life is being held. The quarantine field fails. Dr. Crusher calls for an evacuation of the lab and is initially unable to leave. The ship’s translation mechanism makes some garbled sounds at the crew. They leave. In the hallway, Picard calls for an emergency quarantine field to be set up by the bridge. He says that the discovery in the lab is not only life, it is intelligent life.

Riker: How do you know sir?
Picard: It’s trying to communicate with us.

Later, we learn that the lifeform has completely taken over the medical lab. The ship has the power to keep it quarantined there but not to see inside. Picard speaks with Mandl, Kim, and Benson in a conference room. Picard asks Mandl what he knows about the lifeform. Mandl again says he knows nothing and Picard tells him that he knows he is lying. Finally Mandl admits to knowing about the lifeform. Benson tells Mandl to tell Picard about the patterns in the sand. Benson goes on to explain them himself. He says that there were unusual patterns in the sand on the planet and that the longer their project went forward, the more specific the patterns became – including geometric shapes. He says the patterns appeared, disappeared, and changed location and size.

Picard asks the group if they ever felt the patterns were attempting to communicate. Mandl says no, never. Benson says he does not know but he says at the time this was happening he did not think so. Riker calls into their meeting to inform them that they have visual on the lab again. In the conference room, Mandl and Benson both agree that there was no evidence of this on the planet.

Engineering calls to the bridge and tells Riker that the backup on the lab seal is fluctuating and that Riker should come down to see it. The lifeform is able to effect the turbolift outside of its quarantine field. Riker calls Picard and both look at the visual of the lifeform. Picard commands Engineering to get the seal back up and the engineer tells Riker that no matter what she does, the energy goes some place else. Riker informs Picard that the ship does not have the power to keep up the quarantine field.

Picard narrates in a log that the lifeform, which is now larger, is again attempting communication. The universal translator works this time. The lifeform calls the humans on the ship, “ugly bags of mostly water.” Dr. Crusher asks the lifeforce if it understands them and it says that it does. Picard tells it that they come in peace. The lifeform replies that it tried peace and that they still do not listen. Troi tells the lifeform that one of the “bags” did know and that “war is now with you.”

The translator suddenly goes offline and the ship shakes.

In the next Captain’s Log, Picard tells us that they have named the life a “micro-brain.” He says that visual with the lab has been restored but that communication has not happened again. The bridge determines that the lifeform is about to replicate again based on a pattern of lower energy emissions that preceded previous duplications. Picard tells Yar to set coordinates to send the lifeform back to where they found it. The attempt to transport the lifeform fails. The power form the transformer is redirected within the ship instead.

Picard orders Data to remove the air from the lab and the attempt fails. Data tells Picard that it appears the micro-brain has successfully interfaced with the ship’s computers.

In the conference room, Picard asks the terraformers for more information about what Malencon was doing when he died. They learn he was siphoning off saline from the planet. The group determines that the saline served to connect the micro-brain organisms to each other. They killed Malecon to prevents its loss. Kim – face close to tears – says that if they had continued to remove the water they would have destroyed them all. Picard says that is reason enough for anyone to go to war.

On the bridge, the micro-brain divides again. Geordi and Data have a theory that the lifeform is obtaining energy from the light on the ship. Picard commands Geordi to cut the lights in the lap and he cannot because the micro-brain still has control over the ship’s computers. Riker goes to turn off the lab lights manually. He succeeds.

The micro-brain communicates a desire for more light. Picard says he will return the light if they talk to them. Picard tells them that they have no desire to kill them and never have had any desire to kill them. The lifeform calls him a liar. Picard says they can end the war if the lifeform is also willing to end the war. The lifeform says it wants to go home to its wet sand. Picard agrees to send them back. He tells Riker to turn up the lights just a small amount and he asks the lifeform is they are okay. They say that they are. Picard again reiterates that they mean the life no harm and asks if the life believes him. It says that they do believe him. He then says it is important that they trust each other. The life says they do not trust, yet, and instructs them to come back in three centuries when they (the humans) are less arrogant. Picard tells it that they will send it home.

The terraformers and bridge apologize to the lifeform and send it back to the planet.

Picard narrates in a log that he has declared an indefinite quarantine for the planet and that they are transporting the three surviving terraformers.

Picard: Perhaps the lesson we have learned from this near tragedy will prevent it from happening elsewhere.

REACTION:

The Federation… where we seek out new life but also sometimes we aren’t looking for it.

I guess this episode is okay. There were a few quirky things that I picked up on.

  1. Troi oversold Mandl keeping some big secret at the beginning of the episode but by the end the big secret is just that he really didn’t want them to visit (i.e. exactly what he told them.) He didn’t really even believe the light flashes were a form of life.
  2. Troi sending Riker to flirt with Kim for information was funny. I mean… why exactly did it make sense to do that? What is your job here Counselor Troi? That choice is doubly weird when you consider her personal relationship with Riker that the plot only occasionally alludes to.
  3. “Hey, there’s a new type of life form we just discovered. Let’s bring it on the ship before we know anything at all about it. What could go wrong?” [Honestly, Picard and Dr. Crusher should both definitely be fired by this point. I think we’re getting close to a double-digit count of “dumb bridge crew error almost kills everyone on the ship” and we’re only on episode 17.

Did Wesley save the day? For once… no. He just stood around while the grown-ups were talking.

Data was great in this episode. So far, he is the primary reason to watch TNG. He is the only crew member who seemed concerned about the lifeform from the get-go. Maybe that stems from Data being the one who only narrowly avoided a laser attack. Or maybe it’s just because the number of competent officers on The Enterprise is frighteningly small.

The absolute best part of this episode was that the life forms referred to humans as “ugly bags of water.”

All in all, the episode had its good aspects. Starfleet is colonial but it attempts to be compassionate. That desire for compassion and care came through well with everyone’s deep regret over what nearly happened to the micro-brain species. The science of terraforming was also fun to hear about. Nothing that anyone said struck me as crazy.

Leave a Reply