TNG: S1E07: “Lonely Among Us”

In which I experience technical difficulties, the peace process is a long and slow-roasted one, and we learn a little more about transporters.

"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes."

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes.”.

The Enterprise is taking aboard two delegations of deadly enemies, and it’s up to Picard to broker a peace between the Anticans and the Selae. Also, Tasha is wearing a dress uniform, which looks way weirder than Riker wearing a dress. If you don’t see pictures here, my apologies. I have them, but WordPress is having trouble uploading them. Never mind, figured it out. Booyeah, stream of consciousness. Had to sacrifice a mouse which, given the subject matter, is only fitting. Anyway, the Selae are very antagonistic and hate the way the Anticans smell. Time to head toward the peacemaking site at maximum warp. It is, after all, pretty fast. It’s not long before Data picks up an anomaly, some sort of energy cloud.

Thus begins an endless series if tirades about putting capacitors into the equipment.

Thus begins an endless series if tirades about putting capacitors into the equipment.

Worf and Geordi are messing around in sensor maintenance, because Picard is a stickler about his officers getting their fill of OJT. Worf doesn’t seem happy about it because at this point he doesn’t seem to recognize the potential honor in being the best! AROUND! Nothings gonna ever okay anyway. As the Enterprise skirts around the cloud, it appears to change shape in order to engulf them, flow into the room, and throw Worf across the tiny set that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen in any other episode. Because powerline safety was not a big feature in the Enterprise-D‘s isolinear circuitry. Say what you will about the Constitution class, I don’t actually remember a lot of sparks flying out of it. What’s neat is that Geordi saw this arc of energy. Well, I mean, so did we, the viewer, but it’s not always clear what are effects to make it clear that Worf is getting shocked rather than Michael Dorn having a seizure on camera.

"Arf arf yip yip grr bow wow give me a damn steak, pinkskin."

“Arf arf yip yip grr bow wow give me a damn steak, pinkskin.”

In dealing with the Antican delegate, Riker says something interesting: “We no longer enslave our animals for food.” First of all, that’s an incredibly tactless thing to say to a diplomatic functionary, because it sounds antagonistic and condescending. Second, later we will find that some people do prefer to cook with “real food” rather than replicators. I guess this is where we are introduced to the existence of the replicator, which the Antican delegate describes as ‘barbaric.’

In sick bay, Crusher is about to work on Worf, but then the shock travels into her. Doesn’t seem to be doing much damage, although she’s acting pretty weird, rather than the aggressive way Worf was acting when he woke up. In fact, she’s acting so weird that she’s interested in Wesley’s homework. She’s interested in helm control and warp theory and definitely being controlled by some entity that has access to her knowledge but not total access – it can know what she knows but doesn’t automatically know them.

Other interesting things: The stations at the back of the bridge have specific functions. She’s about to play with navigational controls, when Picard points her to Science Station Two. This indicates that those workstations aren’t just terminals loading up virtual machines, or even reconfigurable terminals, but dedicated ones. This would make sense, but it kind of bothers me because the LCARS interface is designed to look like touch-sensitive screens. (In fact, you can get LCARS interface skins for pretty much every touchscreen device now, because Star Trek is awesome). It bothers me because you have a terminal that’s already designed to be reconfigured according to the needs of the moment, why would you assign a specific terminal a specific broad task rather than allow hot-swapping? These are the things I think about because I am a UI wonk.

Calling it now. Thing’s gonna infect Data too.

The electric-looking arc goes from her hand into the workstation,  then starts shutting down terminal after terminal. Systems begin failing all over the ship. Since it’s less than a year out of spacedock, this is clearly unacceptable. Picard is one of those bosses that wants to know what caused the problem, even though it got fixed pretty quickly. Given that his job is to be responsible for 1014 lives and the flagship of the Federation, that’s a good quality. It’s also interesting that the affected systems (transporters, warp drive) don’t generally interact with each other – one would expect that everything would be routed through the main computer, but there are some good reasons not to. Like a hostile alien entity invading the ship and trying to take it over. Or a neutral alien entity trying to find it’s way home and incidentally endangering the lives of everyone aboard without malicious intent, I suppose.

To add complications, the Anticans have been getting ready to ambush, hunt, kill, and eat the Selae delegation. In fact, when they’re confronted about it, they paraphrase a great line (in context) from Babylon 5, and in so doing totally ruin it. Boo.

They’re trying to track down the cause of the failures, and Data suggests the possibility of sabotage. Riker’s literal first thought is that the Ferengi bought off one of the delegates. They’re being set up as this big bad horrible foe. I had totally forgotten about that, after what we get from DS9. Anyway, the energy thing shoots from an engineering station into one of the senior engineering staff, killing him.

Worf issues possibly the greatest line in the episode, and there are actually a few good ones. Crusher calls him into sick bay and asks about his memory blockage (when the energy thing was inside him. His response? “I still don’t remember having one.” Trololo. Troi is going to try hypnosis on both him and Crusher, while Data, spurred on by an oblique comment Picard makes to ‘history’s greatest consulting detective,’ does this:

A Lieutenant Yar as appeared. Data used "Confusion!" Its Super Effective!

A Lieutenant Yar as appeared.
Data used “Confusion!”
Its Super Effective!

Data has taken on the characteristics and mannerisms of Sherlock Holmes. Being an android, he was able to absorb the entire anthology in a few minutes. Yar is that kind of vaguely annoyed that she pretty much always is when she’s not drunk and trying to seduce data or royally pissed off and trying to kill something. Riker is just amused. It turns out that the Anticans were out and about at the time the engineer died, but Data correctly concludes from some ancillary evidence that they were too busy fighting the Selae to be anywhere near engineering.

Troi’s hypnosis works, more or less, and is able to sense a sort of duality. In conference, Data submits that this supports his conclusions – the murderer wans’t any of the normal crew, and moments later, navigation goes down and the energy being invades Picard. Geordi sees it but is not yet self-assured enough to say something. Picard orders the Enterprise to turn around and head back away from the peace talks, and very politely and Picard-ly tells everyone to stuff it when they question him. Troi is sensing something that’s not similar enough to the senses she got off of Crusher and Worf. Command staff has a meeting where they discuss the potential of removing him from command.

It is not helping anyone’s mood that the two peace delegations are hunting each other in the corridors with glow-in-the-dark snares. Crusher gets a moment alone with Picard and manages to make the entity admit that it’s not just Picard, and that it’s trying to go home. Riker seems to think there’s nothing he can do, despite Crusher getting a legit confession from the alien controlling his mind. Still, it doesn’t matter. Picard’s body explains that it was accidentally scooped up by the Enterprise and taken away from its home.

There goes the special effects budget for this half of the season.

There goes the special effects budget for this half of the season.

It offers Picard the option to beam his energy into the cloud and explore the galaxy, though it’s not entirely clear whether it’s Picard or some gestalt entity that’s this excited about it. Enough to electrify his crew and paralyze them on his way into space. He beams out into space as “energy only.” At least, they can’t find his body for over an hour. They’re about to leave when Troi senses him in distress. Riker moves the ship into the cloud, hoping that Picard will get into the ship the same way the original entity did. I kind of like the idea of this as a premise for a Trek franchise: a captain gets into a close encounter with some kind of energy being, and they can’t get him out so he has to be a part of the ship forever. You could do it with a cool alien with some neat psychology and amazing prosthesis that you’d never have to use again because he’d be part of the ship. This would, of course, have to be prior to the events of “The Lorelei Signal,” when we first recognize transporters as a cure-all for irreversible physical ailments. It would be like a cross between Voyager’s EMH Program and Red Dwarf, but taking itself too seriously.

Speaking of the transporters, Data uses Picard’s physical pattern, still in the transporter buffer, to beam Picard’s mind back into a facsimile of his body. The Picard that beams in is from before it went out into the stars, which is extremely worrying. This is the classic Godwinson question.

Picard uses the opportunity of his disorientation to leave Riker to clean up the mess of the Anticans cooking and eating one of the Selae delegates. Cue whimsical strings and fadeout. But seriously. Picard was… merged… with an alien consciousness. alien!Picard beams out and lives an hour of experience. This entity separates after beamout into the two separate components of energy-alien and energy!Picard. Following this, energy!Picard then goes back into the Enterprise and uses the transporter to beam back in using matter either saved when he didn’t use it beaming out (implying that there would be a puddle of goop with Picard’s exact mass somewhere in the ship’s storage) or using matter condensed out of raw energy (which as we’ve discussed before is a terrifying amount of energy). Either way, when the conscious entity that is Picard’s energy pattern beams in, it no longer has access to anything that happened before it set foot on the pad. This very strongly implies that there is no continuity of consciousness between what departs and what arrives at the other end – only the illusion thereof because the transporter reconstructs the brain patterns on the other end. Or, in layman’s terms – if you step on the transporter pad, you die, and a mind-clone of you lives out the rest of your life.

And this is the accepted mode of transit across the whole Federation. Which takes us into, and right out of, a justifcation for the counter I am now forced to increment.

Times the Transporter Fixes Everything And Is Not Universally Recognized As A Panacea Thenceforth: 2