In which Data is not ready to emulate human mannerisms, a vast conspiracy is unveiled, and I actually get some real analysis done.
Please note: We are currently experiencing technical difficulties. Any irregularities with the next few articles are the result of me having to migrate Operating System SSDs and not because I have been infested with alien parasites. I don’t know where you would get such a ridiculous notion.
Riker is giving the log entries this time, as the Enterprise is on its way to the ocean world Pacifica. Everyone seems in good spirits, Geordi is even trying to tell data a joke which invokes the word ‘hyperspace.’ We’ve seen this word exactly once before, in “Coming of Age,” and will probably never hear it again, which probably explains why Data didn’t find it funny. Apparently, the joke is about having sex in zero gravity. Do not, whatever you do, listen to him trying to imitate laughter. Brent Spiner is great at being a creepy, creepy man when he wants to be.
Data receives a Code 47 – captain’s eyes only transmission. Speaking of “Coming of Age,” that was the last time we had something happen which Picard was not to discuss with anyone else. When Quinn mentioned being deeply worried about something doing on in the admiralty. Now, someone named Walker is calling Picard to a rendezvous off course from Pacifica to Ditalix B to get information too sensitive for subspace. Something terrible is happening! This isn’t even going in the ships logs, apparently. The planet itself is a tidally locked planet with mines all around the daylight terminator. Which is really, really cool to think about.
Upon arrival, there are three Federation vessels, including Walker’s ship, an Ambassador-class, the Horatio. Picard beams down alone to meet the other three captains. The music here is thoroughly unpleasant, almost miasmic, and Picard is first greeted with pointed weapons and doppleganger questions. Apparently, the three captains present have noticed several questionable orders and accidental deaths at Starfleet Command. They tell him not to trust anyone, so of course the first thing he does is discuss everything with Troi, who urges Picard to report them. And he assigns Data to do a a full heuristic analysis of Starfleet orders over the last six months. Amusingly, one of the things to show up on the screen is the Great Bird of the Galaxy. This thing has Picard very turned around, he’s even lying to Beverly.
The journey to Pacifica is interrupted when the Enterprise detects a disturbance en route. In fact, it’s a debris field composed of the remnants of a starship whose mass registers as the Horatio, though there are no bodies in the wreckage. So that’s two ships, the Horatio and the Drake, that died from being in the same sector as the Enterprise. And this thing has Data so fascinated that he starts talking to himself, then explaining the habit to the computer, which gets a “Yes, thank you Mister Data (now please shut up)” moment. His findings indicate that command-track personnel who have been in contact with Starfleet Command have been put in key positions all across the Federation. Picard has no choice but to take the Enterprise to Earth to bust down the doors and demand to know what’s going on.
At Earth, three admirals, including Quinn and the aid Remek, are diplomatically stony-faced when they ask why the Enterprise has cancelled its visit to Pacifica and invite Picard and Riker to dinner. Because that never has ominous overtones. Quinn invites himself aboard the Enterprise instead, to say hello, either to warn them or to be an advance agent. He’s carrying a laptop case with him, though, and it’s full of disgusting. Although thinking back to the Ceti Alpha mind control worms, this reminds me of how much I miss Stargate SG-1. Now there was a show about mind-controlling parasite invader worms that really knew how to be light-hearted and fun.
Quinn seems to have had a change of heart since his dire warnings after a full investigation under the utmost secrecy, and says that he was only talking about how hard it is to integrate new cultures into the Federation. You can practically hear Picard’s brain screaming ‘bullshit,’ but this is likely due to the fact that he has very little hair to muffle the sound. We’re far enough into the episode that Picard and Riker are not pussyfooting around. Quinn, in fact, offers to show Riker his pet bug. Did I say offer? I meant ‘beat the ever-living hell out of him as a prelude to sticking a bug into his spine. Ever wanted to see an old man whale the tar out of Johnathan Frakes? Now you can.
The admirals offer a toast to the Horatio, which is weird how they found out it exploded so fast, and also very weird how casually they discuss her destruction. All the cards are on the table, and when Quinn throws Geordi (who is on the security resposne team for some reason) through a door, Worf goes one-on-one with Quinn. This is tragic – even Riker put up a better fight, and it’s Crusher with a phaser who puts Quinn down at the end. This phenomenon has a name, and it is not flattering for the character who eventually becomes one of the most nuanced in the entire Star Trek canon.
Crusher finds the the bug wiggling around in Quinn’s neck. Something that big, you’d think the transporter’s medical scanner might throw up a warning. Like: ALERT, MACROSCOPIC INVASIVE LIFE-FORM EMBEDDED IN SPINE. I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of that except that we’ve heard on multiple occasions how good the transporters are supposed to be at filtering out yuck. Also, we get a jump scare with Riker, which is supposed to lead us to suspect that he’s been compromised.
Apparently, infected humans eat live mealworms. Credit where it’s due, it’s a valid source of protein, but you’d think they’d be a bit more circumspect until they lead him into a room, fill it with knockout gas, and put the bug in his neck while he’s out. If Picard didn’t know something was wrong then, he does now, but Riker waltzes in and says that Picard will be “one of us” shortly. Of course, the wormy stinger in Riker’s neck isn’t actually wiggling around even the way it was in the unconscious Quinn. Sadly, one of the captains at the clandestine meeting is also one of them, but Riker blows his cover before eating the worms, and starts firing.
Picard and Riker knock out a bunch of people on their way to confront Remek in full-on supervillain mode. He appears to be planning something against a map of the galaxy. This shows us several things – the likely scope of the Federation as compared to the galaxy at this point (looks like one of the single-scoring areas from a dartboard – slightly less than half of 1/20th of the board. Of course, the way the claymation bugs from all the downed admirals are flocking to Remek puts to rest any doubts about his remaining humanity.
I know. Auditors, right?
So Remek says they seek peaceful coexistence, and Picard and Riker explode his head off and then disintegrate his chestburster, and that’s the end of the conspiracy. He’s sad about it afterwards, but fortunately none of the other creatures can survive without the Queen. What’s terrifying is that Remek sent a homing beacon before they blew him up, aimed at an unexplored section of the galaxy. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you are as obsessive about Star Trek as I am. But it might also be because the same horror movie stinger is used in the Enterprise episode about the Borg, where we find out that they sent a beacon to the Delta Quadrant calling the rest of the Hive home.
What does this tell us? Well, I’ll give in to the temptation to be a little spoiler-y and point out that the great antagonists of the Federation all share a quality. The Borg (who we haven’t officially met yet) have no individuality. The Q continuum (who we have yet to learn much about) have individuality but no unique names the viewer can address them by, and no drive to individual achievement. The Romulans and the Cardassians live in totalitarian regimes where individual accomplishment is subsumed by the State. The Dominion is a subjugated empire with no freedom and its constituent castes are similarly homogeneous: the Jem’Hadar are cloned supersoldiers with as little individuality as they can mange, the Vorta are cloned diplomats and come in maybe a dozen flavors throughout the Dominion, and the Founders live in an undifferentiated sea of sameness.
Of all the great powers, only the Klingons appear to give individuality any kind of credence as a way of life, and they’re the ones that the Federation is at peace with, albeit after some wacky funtime adventures. Chew on that for a bit – it’s the hereditary enemy of the Federation, who are a byword for ‘unreasonably aggressive and warlike’ across basically all of modern sci-fi, that the Federation most closely meshes with in the Star Trek universe, because they’re the only other interstellar civilization that lets individuals have any measure of autonomy. There is no Klingon secret police, there is no Klingon hive-mind.
The bugs in “Conspiracy” which, let’s face it, almost managed to destroy the Federation, are also a hive-mind. That’s one of the major themes of the entire canon. It’s not necessarily as deep as the plays of the theme of The Other using Spock, Data, Odo, Seven of Nine, the Doctor, and T’Pol, but it’s there and fairly well done.