Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Conspiracy"

My comments on “Conspiracy” are going to sound contradictory, but that is appropriate considering how uneven the first season of Tng is. To sum up, it is the best episode of the first season, yet it is also the biggest missed opportunity. Perhaps even the biggest of the series.

You might even consider it a double miss, depending on your opinion of writer Tracy Torme. His original plan was for their to be a coup among high ranking Starfleet officials as a commentary on the Iran Contra scandal. Gene Roddenberry had kittens over the idea. There was absolutely no way any Starfleet personnel would be involved in a coup. It is, of course, a perfect government. The alien parasites had to be introduced--filthy aliens are always undermining the spread of humanistic socialism--in order to explain the coup.

The parasites were supposed to lead into the introduction of a mechanical, insectoid species that would eventually become the Borg. Cost concerns nixed that idea. The Borg were redesigned for their premiere in the second season to be unconnected to the parasites. The cliffhanger that the queen had sent out a homing signal to their planet asa prelude to invasion remains hanging today.

So we have to measure the end results with what might have been. I like Torme’s writing. He describes himself as a left leaning libertarian , but often avoids direct political commentary in his writing. Witness the first couple seasons of Sliders for evidence of his skill with the philosophical big picture rather rather than ranting over the current political climate. I am not so terribly sure we missed out on anything by nixing the human conspiracy angle. Then again, DS9 did a similar story years later which was one of the best story arcs of the series.

I am disappointed the story of the homing signal was never followed up. For whatever detriments there might have been by the conspiracy being alien in origin, the story was unique in tone and scope. They were a memorably creepy menace who had to be defeated by sheer force rather than talked to death like preachy Trek tends to do. Indeed, Picard and Riker were shoot first and ask questions later throughout the entire conflict. That sort of resolution did not come a minute too soon.I recall my shock at seeing the violence and gore in this episode when it first aired 21 years ago. Not that I am easy to rattle in general, but because it was so un-trek. Much of the problem of Tng’s first season was that it tried to be like TOS without the charm of the original characters. By the end of TOS’s first season, you knew and liked the distinctive characteristics of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. So much so, you wiling to overlook the cheesier aspects of the show.

Not so much with TNG. The characters were awfully bland, so their personalities did not distract from sub par plots. ‘Conspiracy” shook things up by serving as something new and different. What I saw in it was the possibility of TNG establishing its own identity apart from TOS. It isstill far off from this episode--I kick around the idea the late Michael Piller’s addition as a producer in the third season was the catalyst for TNG’s rise--but it was enough to keep me coming back through some awfully low points.

The dangling plot thread still irks me.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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