WARNING: This post contains lots of spoiler information for TNG's "Genesis". If you don't want early access to the information, hold off.

Ugggggggh. What were they thinking?

Or, perhaps, "WERE they thinking?" is a better question. Regardless, this is probably an episode that should never have been made, at least in its current form. More after a synopsis:

In sickbay, Riker is being tended for a ... romance-induced encounter with a cactus, Barclay is being treated for an illness that is mostly in his imagination, and Data brings in a very pregnant Spot for prenatal care (given by Ogawa, who is also pregnant as of very recently!). Bev finds that Barclay has Urodinan flu, and injects him with a synthetic T-cell to activate his dormant immunity to the virus.

When a field-test of upgraded photon torpedoes goes awry, Picard and Data take a shuttle to retrieve the torpedo (the Enterprise cannot chase the torpedo down itself, as the surrounding asteroid field is too dense). Shortly after their departure, however, strange things begin happening. Worf takes the setback with the torpedo very badly, becoming snappish, coarse, and primitive; Troi begins complaining about the ship being too hot and too dry; Barclay becomes hyperactive, willing to do anything except rest; and Riker begins to have more and more difficulty concentrating or thinking.

Things begin to come to a head when Troi, taking a bath in her quarters, is surprised to see a very primal Worf come in. He tells her simply that he needed to be near her -- and then bites her, on the neck, hard enough to draw blood. Later, in sickbay, Bev finds that Troi's body temperature is way down, and that she's not the only one. Worse yet, however, Worf is no longer speaking to anyone -- and when she finds something on his neck that appears to be a venom sac, he spits venom in her face and escapes. A short time later, Worf still hasn't been found, Bev's in stasis pending reconstructive surgery, and Riker is virtually unable to function. He defers to Geordi's judgement about a security alert, but when he tries to contact Starfleet to let them know what's happening, he can't remember the code for a secured channel...

Days later, Picard and Data return to find the Enterprise adrift and without power. They manage to enter the shuttle bay and begin exploring. After hearing a number of animal-like noises and finding what appears to be a layer of skin someone shed, they reach Troi's quarters. Entering, they find Troi in the bathtub -- completely submerged, and with gills as well as lungs. Data's scans suggest that her genetic codes are being rewritten on the spot, and that she has mutated -- in effect, she is now amphibian rather than human.

Moving on, they reach the bridge only to find all personnel there dead, ripped apart as if by a wild animal. Data manages to get enough power to read out life signs, and finds that everyone on board is changing just as Troi has done. He and Picard suddenly hear a thump and a growl in the ready room, and enter cautiously. There, they find Riker there watching the fish-tank -- but Riker now appears rather primitive himself, much like a Neanderthal man. He attacks Picard, only to be stunned unconscious by Data.

Further research on both Riker and Troi reveals that, in Data's words, "the crew is de-evolving." A synthetic T-cell is invading everyone's genetic makeup and activating their introns, the effect of which is to mutate them into earlier evolutionary states. Every humanoid should be affected -- and since coming on board, Picard has now become infected as well, doomed to de-evolve into a lemur in short order. They decide to adjourn to Data's quarters, where his independent computer might be able to help them search for a cure.

There, they find that Spot has also de-evolved (into an iguana), but Spot's day-old kittens have not been affected. They quickly theorize that the natural antibodies in Spot's amniotic fluid might be the cause, and suggest that amniotic fluid from a pregnant humanoid (i.e. Ogawa) might prove an effective basis for a cure. They decide to get Ogawa from the arboretum, but are first forced to stop in Engineering to fix a plasma conduit.

After the stop in Engineering (where they encounter Barclay, now well into his transformation into a spider), the pair retrieve Ogawa and find that her amniotic fluid does, in fact, contain the antibodies they need. Just as they begin creating a retrovirus of sorts, however, there is a strong pounding at the door -- and scans suggest that it's a horribly mutated, and horribly strong, Worf.

They realize that Worf's likely reason for coming to sickbay is to find Troi, Worf's perceived mate (hence the earlier bite), and that they must lure him away if Data's research can be successful. As he works, Picard takes an extraction of Troi's pheromones and lures Worf away with them. Trapped in a Jeffries tube, however, Picard is forced to electrify the tube to stun Worf. Data then releases the cure in gaseous form, and eventually everything and everyone is returned to normal, leaving Barclay (whose cellular structure created the mutated T-cell in the first place) with a disease named after him.


Well, that's that. Don't worry if it didn't make sense -- it's an accurate summary, I'm sad to say. Now, some commentary.

Yaaaaaaa.

Now, some more involved commentary. :-)

I hardly know where to begin. TNG has had plenty of shows that have turned me off (particularly this season; I don't know what's been happening, but I hope it doesn't bode ill for the finale and film), but "Genesis" is the first one this season that seemed to go out of its way to make me wince, and wince on an almost constant basis.

And, just for those who are worried at this turning into a repeat of my review of last year's "The Chase", only some of it has to do with the science (which was absolutely godawful, but the sort of godawful where all you can do is laugh hysterically to keep from pitching the television out a window, not get up in arms). Science aside, "The Chase" was a decent show. To put it mildly ... "Genesis" wasn't a good show on much of any level.

There was basically no internal logic to this show at all. Okay, so Barclay is the carrier for this "virus" (which it's not, but I said I'd keep science out of it for now), which must have been first activated in sickbay. Given that, it would seem that the people first affected after Barclay would be those either in sickbay or those who work with Barclay a lot (i.e. those in engineering).

Is that what we got? No. Bev isn't affected at all, and Ogawa is affected very little, at least until we've seen the "days later" part of the show. As for Geordi, we never get to see what he's turned into -- no doubt because there's nothing the producers could safely "de-evolve" the sole black character on the show into without opening themselves up for brickbats across the country. No, the two people affected most strongly and most quickly are Worf and Troi, two of the people who are least likely to have had extensive contact with Barclay or sickbay in that twelve to twenty-four hour period. The pattern of infection was less organized than the average ten-car pileup on any LA freeway.

Then, there's the fact that main power is lost because "the main power grid has been completely destroyed". Fine. If so, though, it's extremely tough to believe that (1) it can be restored in any reasonable form without major repairs at a starbase, and (2) that these rapidly devolving wild animals were able to destroy all the systems without either blowing up the ship or knocking out life support. Awfully smart animals, there. (Until I heard that line, I thought it likely that perhaps one of the last crewmembers with their wits about them ordered an emergency shutdown of everything in order to keep things intact.)

Other problems:

  • Um, Bev? If you've realized Worf has a venom sac, maybe asking him to open his mouth when you're right in front of him is a really dumb idea.
  • The torpedo was an awfully convenient excuse to get Picard and Data off the ship. Okay, the power fluctuation might have made it go off course, but combine that with the very convenient "it's not accepting an abort command" with the also convenient *with a different cause* "the Enterprise can't go get it because the asteroids are too plentiful" and you have something that yells "let's go get the plot device underway". Ugh.
  • Despite the fact that Picard and Data had major problems with Riker, and that many of the creatures in the arboretum probably were in a state similar to his, the two of them manage to get Ogawa with precisely zero fuss. That's stretching plausibility as well, and that's one that's trivial to fix (i.e. don't say she's there in the first place!).

So much for the plot. However, I didn't feel that any element really managed to draw me in, plot aside. Barclay was, as usual, fairly entertaining to watch when we got to see him, and Ogawa had her moments (including one excellently subtle movement, the final time we see her before Picard and Ogawa return: when she gets up to leave, she braces herself on her knuckles. Nice foreshadowing.). However, I really felt that not a single one of the regulars was particularly into the show here. Stewart did a decent job with what he had, but "decent" is a step down for him. As for everyone else ... the less said, the better, particularly Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn. Sigh.

(I'd also like to note that after the huge buildup for how menacing Worf must have been after his transformation, we never, ever, got a good look at him. Given how unimpressed I was with the rest of the transformations, I'm not exactly shedding tears, but it seems like pretty teasing behavior on the part of whoever made that decision.)

Then, we come to the science. I'll start by saying that everyone I know reacted to the show in one of two ways:

1) laughing hysterically at virtually every line, particularly the alleged explanations of what was happening;

or

2) sitting there, wide-eyed and virtually open-mouthed, in shock at just how badly any and all attempts at explanations were being abused.

Everyone. Even my seventh-grade students who are regular Trek watchers came to me saying "oh, come ON" after "Genesis" aired. That should say something.

Not being a biologist myself, and not being able to get reactions beyond "oh, no, I want my mommy" out of Lisa after she'd seen this show :-), I'll keep my science-related statements relatively brief. Others can handle the heavy lifting here.

First of all, the idea that immediately changing DNA can change you into something else is simply wrong. If my cells start mutating into those similar to cows, I'm not going to start mooing (or appearing in Gary Larson cartoons) -- I am going to DIE. When my cells stop producing those things crucial to my survival, I will quit surviving. Period. DNA is not magic. The idea of DNA changes causing weird offspring ... now that you might be able to get away with; but it cannot change the individual that is already formed.

Second, the idea that the kittens might have initially been spared the virus due to protection in the womb is fine -- but the insistence that therefore amniotic fluid carried natural antibodies is dumb. Think about it, folks: if the fluid had those antibodies, it would mean that the mother (i.e. Spot-the-Iguana, the newest game from the creators of "Where's Waldo?") would also have them and thus be immune. Somehow, that doesn't seem to have been the case. Or, if you'd rather look at it another way, the fact that you were protected from getting measles while you were a fetus doesn't mean you don't need inoculations after you're born. Wrong, and wrong in ways that aren't technical.

Third, those kittens were hardly a day old. That's not really a science goof, but as a cat lover and cat owner I felt it necessary to point out.

Those are the basic, absurd-even-to-the-layman objections that make "Genesis" pretty weak on the plausibility scale. There are at least a good dozen objections to wording that could be made (such as Bev's note that Barclay has high "electrophoretic activity", which makes about as much sense as telling him he needs a new carburetor, or the idea that DNA can have cells in it), but I'll leave those for the biologists.

The one major absurdity that's more technical was that of introns. Yes, they're evolutionary holdovers and currently serve no function. However, that also means they're not selected for or against in terms of evolutionary mutations. (In fact, I'm told that's one of the reasons theorized for their existence: they might be "junk strings" that can be mutated without endangering the animal.) One thing that means is that, even if you could "activate" the introns and somehow have it create a change, there's not going to be anything coherent left after millions of years. There won't be enough concrete sections left to cause a change into anything.

In a nutshell, then, "Genesis" took a godawfully implausible plot and turned it into a disorganized mishmash of an episode. The only attempted justification was on the scientific side of the episode, and it failed miserably.

"Genesis" isn't the worst thing TNG has ever done -- but it's close. It's just shy of my bottom-five list (though based on her reactions, I think it is on Lisa's, in case you're curious), and it's definitely the worst thing I've seen from a generally worrisome season anyway. If this is going to be typical of "Voyager", count me out.

So, some shorter takes:

  • "De-evolving?" Yeesh. There's already a word for what was happening here (aside from implausible): "devolving". But, I suppose we needed the extra syllable, just so it would be Even More Obvious what was happening. *One of the things that saves this show from an even lower rating than it gets is Barclay's scene with Spot. Bravo! I knew there was a reason I liked him. :-)
  • It is painfully obvious that this is another show that will have no ramifications whatsoever. Bev was hit point-blank by some very corrosive venom, yet apparently reconstructive surgery has left her perfect as ever. And, of course, the families of the crewmembers who were killed won't ever blame Bev's mistake for their relatives' death. Bah.
  • I trust I wasn't the only one inserting the line "fire BAD!" into Riker's dialogue once he started changing. :-)
  • The final line of the show was also a help. "I think I'd better clear my calendar for the next few weeks," indeed.

So, to wrap up:

Plot: Implausible on the one hand, disorganized on the other.

Plot Handling: Gates had a few nice shots, but this was the wrong show to give to her as a debut. I'm not sure anyone could have saved it.

Characterization: Sure ... growling and whining are wonderful characterization. Forget it -- Barclay, yes, but that's about it.

OVERALL: 2. Extremely bad -- unless you're a completist, avoid it.

NEXT WEEK:

Wes returns, just in time to get in trouble again.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
Picard:  "What do you think he wants?"  [referring to Worf]
Lisa:  "His agent."
--
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.