Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 24): Conspiracy

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:

Picard is called to a secret meeting with his old friend Captain Keel and two other Starfleet captains. They tell him that Starfleet is acting strangely and to be on guard. Shortly after the meeting, Keel is killed and Picard comes to believe they correct and that Starfleet is up to something. Picard sets Data to the task of going through Starfleet Command records to find a pattern – and Data does – concluding that it appears The Federation is being infiltrated.

Picard returns the Enterprise to Earth to investigate. On the planet, they learn that grub-like alien parasites are taking control of the upper brass within Starfleet, one by one, by latching onto the brains of human hosts. Picard and Riker attend a dinner with the controlled leadership of Starfleet and shoot at their comrades with phaser set to kill. The phasers do not kill anyone, but it drops their comrades to the floor. As their comrades fall, the parasites crawl from their mouth to another room. Picard and Riker follow the creatures inside the other room, where they find a Starfleet officer named Remmick. Picard and Riker shoot him to kill. After Remmick dies, a mother creature emerges from inside Remmick’s body. Riker and Picard kill that, too. The death of the mother creature kills the of rest of the parasites.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

First Officer’s Log Stardate 41775.5

The Enterprise is on its way to the ocean world of Pacifiica for scientific research. However, Riker narrates that the crew will be sure to make use of the fine beaches on the planet that make it a jewel of the galaxy.

On the bridge, Geordi is telling Data a joke. We only hear the punchline, “don’t try that in hyperspace.” While La Forge laughs, Data appears to be confused. However, he flatly explains the joke and concludes that it is humorous indeed.

Data: [robotically] Hysterical in fact.

When Geordi does not react well to Data’s explanation, the android officer attempts to laugh – something that is at once awkward and also somewhat terrifying. Data returns to his work. The camera pans back to Riker and Troi who have been watching this exchange and they smile warmly at each other. Riker asks Geordi for an ETA for Pacifica and is told that they will arrive in twenty-two hours. Riker instructs him to increase speed to Warp 6. He suggests that no one will object to arriving early. Troi smiles and says that she will not. When she says that she has been looking forward to this trip for a while, Data interjects that the holodeck can also be programmed to create an oceanic environment. Troi, in turn, insists to him that it is not the same and she asks Data if he has ever been on a real moonlight swim. Data says no. She asks Worf next and he grimaces and says that swimming is too much like bathing.

Abruptly, Data reports to Riker that he is receiving a Code 47 – Starfleet Emergency Frequency. This code, though, is for Captain’s Eyes Only. Riker communicates to a sleeping Picard, on his comms device, about the message. Picard rouses himself from bed, gets a glass of water, and accepts the message with voice identification. The Starfleet official on the other end of the video call is a man named Walker. Picard smiles fondly about seeing him and they both note that it has been a long time since they have seen each other. Even on a secure channel, Walker will not tell Picard the reason for the message. He instructs Picard to meet him face to face, on Dytalix B, immediately. Walker tells him the voyage to Pacifica can wait and he further tells Picard, “you owe me and you owe it to yourself to hear what I have to say. Something is beginning. Don’t trust anyone, remember that, Jean-Luc. Just as abruptly as he began, Walker ends the call by saying he will be waiting.

Picard, now fully dressed, walks onto the bridge and asks Data if he is familiar with Dytalix B. Data tells him some information about the planet, including that it is uninhabited, and then Picard tells Geordi to set a course for Dytalix B. He instructs the bridge officers to make no record of where they are going in their logs and to make no reports to the people waiting for their arrival on Pacifica. Picard offers, as he leaves the bridge once more than hopefully the delay will be minimal.

Data provides Riker some readouts on Dytalix B. He informs the First Officer that the planet is lifeless and all of its mines are abandoned. Riker communicates to Picard through his comms device that they are approaching the planet. Picard replies that he is on his way back to the bridge. As he arrives, Worf informs him that three Federation Starships are already in orbit around the planet. Picard asks him to identify. Worf replies that two are frigates- The Renegade commanded by Tryla Scott and the Thomas Paine with Captain Ricks commanding. Data tells Picard that the third ship is just now coming into range. He tells Picard that it is an Ambassador Class heavy cruiser, the USS Horatio, commanded by Captain Walker Keel. Worf states that attempts at communication have been ignored by all three vessels. Picard warns him to make no further attempts to communicate. He asks Data if there are any life form readings on the planet and Data replies that there are three lifeforms just inside the entrance of what used to be a mining tunnel. Picard says that he will be beaming down to that location alone.

When the Captain arrives, he is greeted with phasers pointed at him, set to kill. Keel asks Picard where they first met. Picard answers. Keel next asks Picard if he recalls the night that he introduced Jack Crusher to Beverly. Picard replies that Keel knows full well that Keel is the one who introduced them, not Picard. Keel argues and says his brother introduced them. Picard replies that he does not have a brother, only two sisters, and he provides their names Anne and Melissa. Keel finally nods at the other two captains and they lower their phasers.

Captain Ricks: Apologies, Captain. We had to be sure that you were really you.

The three other captains tell Picard that they have seen strange patterns emerging from Starfleet Command – including unusual orders and high ranking officials backing unusual proposals. Ricks points out that a starbase was completely evacuated for two days with no explanation given. Captain Scott points out that there have also been several unusual deaths. Picard is shocked to learn the names of the dead and he is even more surprised when the other captains say that this has all been from a series of alleged accidents. The three captains tell Picard that they expect the Enerprise to be targeted soon. Picard asks targeted for what and they do not know, but Keel says that some of Starfleet’s top command people are changing. Keel says that officers he has known for years are bluffing their way through talk of old times.

Captain Ricks: That’s their weakness. A lack of memory.

Picard shakes his head in disbelief. Captain Scott says aloud that Picard does not believe them and that he thinks they are crazy. Picard replies that they have given him nothing to believe in – just a lot of vague talk about strange patterns and irrational proposals. Scott tells Picard that they know they do not have all the answers but they ask him to keep his eyes open. Keel tells Picard to stay in touch with them, covertly. Keel ends their conversation.

Keel: I’m glad, Jean-Luc, I’m glad you’re still one of us. Tell Beverly I said hello.

Later, in his own quarters, Picard confides in Counselor Troi as to the nature of his meeting – though he forbids her to share the information with the other officers. He says that if Keel believed the meeting was necessary, he believes him.

Troi: But you’re putting your career at risk for him.
Picard: Friendship must dare to risk, Counselor.

Picard says that he does not want to implicate the other officers, by informing them of the situation, until he has evidence of unusual goings-on.

On the bridge, Picard is informed that they will arrive at Pacifica only nine hours off schedule. He then tells Data that he has a special assignment for him. Data accesses all Starfleet Command orders of all types covering the last six months.

Dr. Crusher enters the bridge and tells Picard that she heard The Horatio was in orbit around the planet they just left. She asks Picard if he saw Captain Walker Keel. Picard lies to her and says no. She says she would have loved to have seen him. Picard replies again that it was not possible.

Worf reports that he is picking up an unusual disturbance in a nearby quadrant. He says the distance is too great to say specifically what kind of disturbance. Riker says that the trip to Pacifica will have to wait, again, and Picard agrees saying that they will need to investigate. When the Enterprise arrives, Worf says that they appear to be seeing debris from a space vessel of some kind. After a few moments of looking, Worf concludes that the wreckage could only come from The Horatio.

Worf: From the looks of it, she’s been totally destroyed.

Later, in a personal log, Picard says that the apparent death of Walker Keel has had a powerful personal effect on him. Picard now believes that there may be a cancer growing within the ranks of Starfleet. As a result, Picard has now alerted Riker to the suspicions shared by Keel, Ricks, and Scott. After he tells Riker, the first officer notes that there is not proof of anything. At this point, Picard shares with Riker that Admiral Quinn tried to alert him recently about a subversion within the Federation. Picard says that Walker also tried to warn him about the same thing and now he is dead.

Data is still reading through all of the Starfleet Commands from the previous six months and he begins talking to himself aloud about how fascinating it all is. The ship’s computer asks Data for a specific command. Data starts rambling about how he engaged in a human idiosyncrasy until the computer essentially tells him to stop talking. Data instructs the computer to please continue with record scan.

Riker and Picard are still discussing the situation. Riker points out that without facts, they have to assume the explosion was an accident. Just then, Data enters the room where they are talking.

Picard: Number One, I believe that what happened on The Horatio was sabotage.
Riker: But we can’t be certain.
Data: Perhaps we can.

Data says that he believes he has discovered abnormal patterns at Starfleet’s directive. On a computer screen, he shows Riker and Picard an array of starbases and outposts that have seen an unusual shuffling of personnel, particularly in command areas. Data says that the new officers have had frequent contact with the highest levels of Starfleet Command. Riker asks why no one else noticed this before.

Data: The orders were given with great subtlety. To use an aphorism, Starfleet’s left hand did not know what it’s right hand was doing.

Picard asks Data to speculate on the nature of the reassignments. Data says that he believes this is a clandestine attempt to control vital sectors of Starfleet territory. Riker suggests that this could be the prelude to an invasion. He asks who might be behind this and Data replies that there is insufficient evidence to speculate as to that.

Riker: Are you suggesting that we warp over to Starfleet Headquarters and demand to know what’s going on?
Data: [long pause] Why not?
Picard: Yes, why not? We are talking about a threat to the entire future of the Federation. I don’t think any of us can rest easy until we’ve been to the source.

Picard apprises the remaining bridge crew of the situation and The Enterprise returns to Earth. In a standard orbit around Earth, Data tells Picard that they have heard nothing from Starfleet Command. Picard notes that this is strange. Some time later, though, Starfleet Command issues a greeting. Three Admirals appear on-screen, including the Admiral Quinn who vetted Picard previously regarding a conspiracy at Starfleet. They tell Picard that they are puzzled by the timing of his return visit to Earth. They asks him to explain himself and he replies that he would like to do so in person.

A moment later, Remmick, who we met previously with Admiral Quinn, walks onto the screen and whispers something in the Admirals’ ears. The screen turns off while the Admirals discuss something with him or with each other. Troi tells Picard that someone is hiding something though she cannot say who or what. Riker says he is not excited to see Remmick again. The Admirals reappear on screen and invite both Picard and Riker to dinner. Quinn says he will not be able to attend the dinner, however, he would like to see the ship again and say hello.

After the call ends, Picard notes that Quinn wants to see them alone. He believes that this means Quinn is still on their side. Picard and Riker leave for the dinner. Data remains in charge on the bridge.

Admiral Quinn goes to the transporter to beam up to the Enterprise. He pauses briefly to open a briefcase – which contains some kind of slug-like lifeform – and closes the lid again. Remmick enters the room and asks the Admiral if he is ready to beam up to the ship. Quinn says that he is. Riker and Picard greet Admiral Quinn aboard The Enterprise. Picard notes that Quinn appears to be more vigorous than the last time he saw him. Quinn says that he feels great and that he is ready for new challenges. While Picard and Riker walk with Quinn, Picard brings up Quinn’s earlier statements about problems with the Federation. Quinn says that Picard took him too literally and that he was only referring to the problem of assimilating new races into the Federation.

Picard sees that his friend Quinn is now acting very strangely, when compared to their previous encounter, but apologizes for misunderstanding their previous communication. Admiral Quinn tells Picard and Riker that they need to be getting down to the planet for dinner. Picard insists that Riker stay with the Admiral to show him anything he might need on the ship, first, before joining him at dinner a little while later. Before Picard leaves Riker with Quinn, he pulls the First Officer aside.

Picard: That’s not Gregory Quinn. It may look like him and it may sound like him, but it’s not him.

Picard instructs Riker to watch Quinn’s every move and he also instructs the First Officer to have Dr. Crusher concoct a reason to give Admiral Quinn a full medical examination. Riker asks Picard if he should be beaming down to the planet alone, unarmed, if he is correct about what he believes. Picard says that he will take care. He tells Riker to beam down to join him and in force if necessary.

In Starfleet Headquarters, Picard meets with two Admirals and Commander Remmick. Remmick states that they met last time under less than ideal circumstances. Picard comments on how quiet the headquarters is and Remmick replies saying that it’s a quiet night.

Riker joins Admiral Quinn in his quarters aboard the Enterprise. Riker asks Quinn what is in the case he is carrying. The Admiral says he brought it for Dr. Crusher but suggests that perhaps Riker would like to see it first. Quinn says that it is a form of life that was discovered accidentally by a survey team on an uncharted planet. Riker says that he has not heard about the discovery. Quinn says that he will be hearing about it after some addition study but notes that the study is necessary because it is a superior form of life.

Riker: Superior?
Quinn: Totally. Come, have a look.

Riker says that he wants to first summon his science officer. Quinn sticks something in Riker’s leg and yells at him that the life form does not like his science officer but notes that it does like him. Quinn then proceeds to absolutely pummel Riker. Riker calls for security and labels it an emergency. Quinn merely laughs. Riker re-engages Quinn but a kick to the face has no effect. Quinn resumes pummeling Riker and renders him unconscious.

On the planet, one of the Admirals suggests that they have tea while they wait for Riker, at which point they say Picard can tell them why he has returned to Earth. The two admirals and Picard toast to The Horatio and comment on what a tragedy and terrible loss of life that it was. Picard only pretends to drink the tea. Picard says that it is interesting that they mentioned the Horatio because it is one of the matters that he wants to discuss. He asks if the cause of their destruction has been ascertained. They tell him the cause was extreme negligence by the ship’s captain.

Geordi and Worf reply to Riker’s call for security. When they get inside, Quinn tells them that Riker slipped and hit his head. Geordi calls for Dr. Crusher to come immediately to respond to a medical emergency. Admiral Quinn tries to excuse himself. Geordi suggests that the Admiral should wait until Crusher arrives so… Quinn throws Geordi through a door.

Quinn: Now Klingon, it’s between you and me.

Worf and Quinn begin fighting but once more the fight is one-sided in favor of Quinn. He asks Worf if Klingons fear death as much as humans. He then tells the Chief Security Officer that he could snap his neck in a second but states that doing so would not be as much fun. After Quinn throws Worf across the room, Dr. Crusher appears with a phaser in hand. She shoots Quinn multiple times until he finally collapses to the floor. Crusher checks on Riker. Her lack of concern indicates he will be alright.

Worf: {regarding Quinn] What is he?!
Dr. Crusher: Let’s find out.

In sickbay, Dr. Crusher notices a creature moving beneath the confined Quinn’s skin when looking at his neck.

On the planet, one of the Admirals ask Picard what he knows of conspiracies. Picard replies that he does not know nearly enough. Remmick enters the room to tell them that dinner is served. Picard excuses himself to contact Riker so that he can join them for dinner. When he calls to Riker, Picard gets Dr. Crusher instead. She tells him that Quinn attacked Riker. She says that an examination of Quinn has revealed that his body is being controlled by a parasitic being that breathes through a small hole in the back of Quinn’s neck. Crusher tells Picard that she believes the mark will be visible on anyone who has been compromised. Picard asks her if she can remove the parasite and she says that she does not think she can short of killing Quinn in the process. Crusher advises Picard to set his phaser to kill noting that stun has little to no effect. He tells her that he is unarmed.

As Dr. Crusher is studying Quinn, Riker puts his hand on her shoulder, startling her.

Picard sits for dinner. What is being served for dinner? Live grubs. The others in the room eat the grubs greedily. Picard seems horrified. He stands up and attempts to leave. At the door, he runs into Riker who pushes him back inside the room noting that Picard will not be going anywhere. Riker announces to the room that Picard will be one of them, soon. One of the Admirals states that Riker was meant for the doctor and the First Officer replies that it could not be helped. An Admiral checks the back of Riker’s neck and sees a small tentacled protrusion sticking out.

Captain Scott joins the group in the room for dinner. An Admiral asks Picard if he really believed they were in the dark about his intentions. The other Admiral states that patience is one of their virtues. Everyone sits for dinner. Just as it appears that Riker is about to put a big handful of grubs in his mouth, he pulls a phaser and starts shooting. Captain Scott is shot and when she hits the floor, a grub creature flees from her through her open mouth. Admiral Aaron escapes the room and attempts to get away but Riker and Picard chase him. The two fire phasers at his back and he collapses. Another grub-like creature crawls from his mouth and away from his body after he hits the floor. Picard and Riker follow the creature. The creature leads them to another room where Remmick is sitting alone.

Remmick asks if they are having any trouble that he can help with. As one of the escaped grubs runs up Remmick’s pants leg, Riker lifts his phaser to shoot it but Picard stops him. The creature then enters Remmick’s body through his open mouth.

Remmick: You don’t understand. We mean you no harm. [Remmick’s neck pulsates grotesquely] We seek peaceful coexistence!

Picard and Riker starts shooting Remmick with phasers…. until Remmick’s head explodes. Once Remmick’s head is gone, a large and horrifying grub creature comes screaming out of his chest. Picard and Riker shoot the creature until it dissentigrates.

In Picard’s next Log entry, he notes the difficulty of being forced to destroy life after spending so much of his life learning to respect it. Picard states a belief that there was no alternative He says Admiral Quinn is expected to make a full recovery. He says that Starfleet will never know how many of the creatures infiltrated the organization but it seems that none of them could survive without the “mother creature” which had taken over Commander Remmick.

On the bridge, Riker explains to Picard that it was Dr. Crusher’s idea to simulate the creature’s gill on the back of his neck. Picard notes that it did indeed fool him. Data then says that he has been attempting to decipher the direction of a message Remmick was attempting to send and he states that the message was going toward an unexplored sector of the galaxy. Geordi asks Data what the message was.

Data: I believe it was a beacon.
Picard: A beacon?
Data: Yes, sir. A homing beacon, sent from earth.

Roll credits.

REACTION:

This episode was something of a sequel episode to the earlier, “Coming of Age.”

As “horror TV” goes, this was a well executed pod people story. I’m not sure that I would recommend watching this before dinner, though. Yikes. These creatures were a check list of things that give me the heebie jeebies.

  • Creature moving beneath the skin
  • Food that wiggles and moves while you eat it
  • Things bursting forth from chest cavities

Honestly, Riker almost eating a handful of wiggling grubs was probably the worst of the three for me to watch. But I’m genuinely surprised that the Remmick’s head explosion / chest cavity explosion made it past censors in the 1980s. Then again, that’s not far off from Raiders of the Lost Ark – which was a PG movie. The 1980s were a wild time.

I do not remember these creatures serving as a threat in future episodes/movies. That said, “the entire Federation was almost overtaken by clandestine activity” is the kind of threat you typically see in a movie from the franchise, not just a penultimate season 1 episode. The stakes in this episode were extremely high which made the episode suspenseful and fun.

This week’s hero was Dr. Crusher. She stopped Quinn single-handedly. She quickly discovered the creature on Quinn, diagnosed it, and figured out how to passably disguise Riker as one of “them.” She concocted the plan for Riker to enter the dinner with the Admirals while armed.

Bravo, Beverly Crusher.

Picard? He kind of had to be forced into the clandestine meeting with his old friend. He didn’t buy in all the way at the meeting. After his friend was killed, he sort of charged into a meeting at Starfleet HQ without a really solid plan of action. He got lucky in his episode. He probably saved Starfleet but he could have as easily destroyed Starfleet.

Other than getting beaten up, Geordi and Worf did not have much to do in this episode. I think sometimes the point of Worf on the show is so that we can see how tough the bad guy of the episode is when he or she beats Worf up. Worf did get one really great line at the beginning of the episode, though.

Worf: Swimming is too much like – [grimaces in disgust] – bathing.

Troi was mostly useless in this episode, too. Whereas you might think an empath would be good at sleuthing out something like a pod person situation, I guess she is not actually capable of that.

Wesley Crusher… still MIA. Can you just imagine a scene where 14 year old Wesley pod person throws Worf all around a room? We thankfully avoided that.

Data figured out that these grub creatures were up to something and he put together the hard evidence that Picard needed (to then rush into a meeting without a plan where he was lucky not to have been forcibly converted into a pod person.) On the other hand, Data is the one who suggested Picard take that course of action. “Why not?” indeed.

Data had a couple of other strange moments. His forced laugh at Geordi’s joke felt like a Sheldon Cooper trying to be human moment. I enjoyed that he was talking to himself so much that the ship’s computer basically told him to stop. He also got to deliver the chilling end of episode line about Remmick sending out a homing beacon.

All in all, this was a pretty good episode. I mean, I think you could argue that the CGI / effects with the grub monster creatures do not hold up well 30+ years later. That’s probably true. But I think they held up well enough to get the creepy vibes across.

2 thoughts on “Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 24): Conspiracy

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