In which a snowstorm arrives, Data reads diaries, and nobody goes home happy.
We’re hanging out on a verdant planet. Trees, lakes, lots of people with survey equipment. Looks like they’re doing colony planning, which is actually a delightful slice of how that sort of thing goes. Let’s face it, the preferred method of building placement for my audience goes Worker-producing building, military-producing building, vehicle-producing building, pylon, pylon, more pylons, additional pylons… all dropping from a ship in orbit and deploying automatically. Instead, Riker’s leading an away team of techs using futuristic (shiny) survey equipment as on a standard construction project. Sure they’ve probably got robots and replicators and the supply chain management requirements are almost nonexistent, but the construction process is still fairly conventional once you’ve got the parts.
Also, the colony leader/survey planner Carmen is flirting with Riker, and he’s flirting back hard. All is well, until a low rumbling rolls in from the upper atmosphere and something eclipses the sun. Riker and Data recognize it, of course, and start guiding everyone to cover.
Recall that last time, if it has awareness at all, then it ought to have been aware of our favorite crew as intelligent life-forms. Lore was able to communicate with it in some way that roughly amounted to English syntax. There will be a test later.
Evacuation starts, and the giant snowflake starts emitting a beam that hits the planet in a roughly four-meter-wide spread and starts sweeping along turning organic matter into the Oklahoma dust bowl. It sucks up Carmen when she goes back for an old guy, and Riker is as appropriately devastated as he can be in the midst of an existential crisis. He and the Starfleet crew get all the colonists into a cave and collapse the entrance with their phasers, just in case the snowflake murderbeams can angle their way in. Then, in order to get some light, they start phasering the rocks. Fortunately, these things have settings so this time they don’t collapse the cave and kill everyone.
The plan is to wait until the Enterprise can come get them, or until the Crystalline Entity finishes eating the planet. This is going to be riveting. And of course the comms don’t work through all that rock and also when the ship is 27 hours away at high warp.
Hours later, everyone is starting to suffer from hypoxia and the quakes have been over for an hour. The choice between going outside and risking being eaten, and staying inside to suffocate is one they no longer need to make when the rescue party from the Enterprise arrives, and we see what’s left when the snowflake has passed. I’m not sure how much topsoil you have to remove to turn friendly rolling hills into jagged forbidding mountains, but this thing was hungry. Interestingly, there are a few dead trees and vines visible, so it’s not necessarily that it eats organic matter, but living matter.
The Enterprise is going to chase after the entity, and Starfleet sends a xenobiologist who’s specialized in the Crystaline Entity, Kila Marr. She’s very enthusiastic and should not be allowed to talk to people before they’ve had a chat with Troi to see if they have PTSD. Data confirms that it’s the same one that ate his home colony, the same one that Lore spoke to. Marr also notes that the crew are the first survivors, and starts casting aspersions on Data based on his family ties. Seems kind of personal. Even Troi basically tells Picard “you really didn’t need me here to tell you they’re going to have a fight.”
To be fair, other settlers have tried to hide in caves with similar metal deposits and also died, so Marr has the barest modicum of justification for suspecting Data. I will give her this – it’s ware more justification for hating Data than Pulaski had for dismissing him. Marr’s son died on the attack on Omicron Theta, so apaprently Starfleet has never heard of the term ‘conflict of interest.’ To the point where Data makes a suggestion on how to track it and she can barely even listen to it.
Also, recall that Data has the memories and experiences of some of the colonists. It was an effort to make Data more human, likely. By giving him an amalgamation of the thought patterns of well-adjusted humans, he might have been attempting to make something a little less coldly malicious than Lore. Once again, we see a level of interface between brain and machine that’s deep enough to actually touch on mind and machine.
Kila Marr has also worked upa photon torpedo spread that could destroy the entity. Again, not really sure Starfleet fully thought out sending her along on this mission. Picard orders Worf to reprogram the torpedoes, but reluctantly. Marr is shocked that retaliatory destruction is not the first resort. Picard reminds us that the first duty of the Federation is to seek out new life and new civilizations, and as long as their shields hold up they risk nothing by trying to help it survive without killing people. Then he sends her to go talk to Data, who is attempting to emote via guitar music.
Data’s plan to communicate with it is to use graviton pulses to induce resonant vibrations in crystal structures. Maybe that’s what Lore did, and if so than the Enterprise is clearly capable of doing it. Kila pursues the ‘colonists memories’ thread and finds out that Data has some of her son’s records, but they’re called away as the snowflake eats a transport ship.
Marr is breaking down to Data in the turbolift. After hearing the screams of the dying, she’s getting visions of her son dying to the snowflake. Riker mentions that he’s beginning to think that killing the snowflake is the best possible idea as well, although he couches it in terms of the lives it could take in the future rather than in Marr’s frame of retribution for those it’s killed already. Eh, Retribution isn’t quite a fair word, but her rhetoric was based on it having killed in the past, where Riker’s is based on it killing in the future. It’s worth nothing that if they can communicate with it and convince it to change its ways, Riker would likely be a heck of a lot more willing to let it go than Marr.
Data and Marr start working on a translation program they can run from the bridge, and continue to talk about her son. And asks Data to read from her son’s journal in his voice. Which isn’t creepy at all. Or emotionally compromising in any way.
They get close enough to start sending out a beacon to try to lure it in. It works pretty immediately. and in comes the entity to sniff them out. They start altering the pulses, it starts responding, and communication is established, or will be as soon as they start translating. Marr starts broadcasting a continuous beam, and the entity starts shaking as the pulse hits its natural resonant frequency, and she locked it in. Apparently they can’t just pull the plug on that system, and the snowflake shatters apart as Marr tells Data, as her son, that it’s for him.
Data has to tell her that her son would not be happy that she murdered a thing for him, and the episode cuts off basiccally right before she orders a glass of laundry detergent on the rocks with a warfarin chaser from the replicator.