In which the Federation uses quotas, Picard defers his dreams, and for an episode about inclusiveness and unity this episode has some remarkably racist undertones.
I don’t want to and you can’t make me.
Okay fine, but this is under protest.
The Enterprise is wandering around a nebula to examine proto-stars. Everything seems very routine and boring until Picard is called to the observation lounge to check out some ancient artifact that he recognizes immediately as Riker throwing him a surprise party. I like that the conference room is apparently outfitted with spotlights. There’s no particular reason why every light bulb shouldn’t be individually controlled by the computer and simply administered in groups, but someone apparently thought to add at least one bulb that can focus.
Picard’s old archaeology professor has sneaked (snuck?) aboard the ship without the captain’s knowledge to surprise him with a 12,000-year-old matryoshka doll. Fun fact, when looking that up on wikipedia to get the spelling right I discovered that the gestalt-mind of the wikipedia editor considers matryoshka to be the driving principle behind the turducken. Other fun fact, this statue is in itself an artistic representation of a gestalt mind. Many in one. In wonder if this will be a hidden theme of the upcoming episode?
Good old Professor Galen has been studying micro-paleontology and pursuing the study of ancient microbes and wants to borrow the Enterprise for a few weeks to complete something of a life’s work. Well, to be accurate he wants to borrow Picard for three months to half a year on a shuttle, but the Enterprise is significantly faster. Picard can’t go with him ‘cuz career.
Galen leaves and Picard broods, but shortly thereafter fate decrees that Picard will have to save the good professor from some pirates, accidentally blowing them up in the process. Also the professor dies, so they have to piece together what he was doing from his notes and totally blow off whatever mission they were on beforehand. Almost immediately they find a lead, but what it leads to we still have no idea.
They make it to the targeted planet just as a plasma reaction finishes consuming all life on the planet. Given the Yridian pirates, one must suspect an exterminatus bomb. However, this winds up being a sufficient clue – Galen’s notes indicate that life from 19 different planets contain DNA sequences that are very similar. Which should have been obvious, frankly. Simon Tarsis was part-Romulan. Spock was a Human-Vulcan hybrid. K’ehleyr was half Human and half Klingon, and Worf’s other girlfriend was half-Klingon and half-Romulan. Which you would not expect if you were predicting whether aliens should be able to breed, since you share a lot of DNA sequences with a dandelion and Poison Ivy remains a fictional character.
However, linking up the sequences in the notes reveals something that looks like a genetic program of some sort, but one that isn’t complete. Key DNA sequences have been in the genetic code of various life forms for billions of years, and evidently provided significant advantages that any life-form without them didn’t do as well as those with them. Or, I suppose, that the original seed size was huge and only a scattered few retained the sequences.
Of more immediate interest is that the Enterprise has seventeen crew members from non-Federation planets. Given how hard it was for Wesley to get in even with his background, I wonder whether the Federation likes to make it easier for non-member planets to send their best and brightest in order to grease the wheels of diplomacy. Or if they keep the entrance exam tough but just assign a disproportionate number of first-generation trailblazers to prestigious positions. For the greater good, of course.
Picard figures out where Galen was going next, and rushes to Loren III, where he is met by some Cardassians. There are some tense conversations over the planet, and shortly thereafter a Klingon ship decloaks. Picard puts his cards on the table and tries to build some cooperation in the face of the Cardassian threatening to attack anyone who beams down to the current planet and the Klingon admitting they wiped out the last one. Somehow, despite any leverage, he manages it. Some other how, the Federation medical computer is natively compatible with Klingon and Cardassian USB drives.
Although I guess universal compatibility is something of a theme here.
While they wait for the computer to analyze the samples and spit out a prediction of where the next planet will be, the Klingon captain Nodak challenges Data to Klingon Arm Wrestling and loses immediately, then knocks himself out by headbutting the LtC. This is by way of establishing Data’s credentials as an inroad to bribing him for an advantage. Sometimes Data’s lack of social awareness functions as an immovable object off of which the malevolently devious bounce to their frustration.
The computer spits out the answer, the Cardassian beams off and disables the Klingon and Federation engines, then warps away, unaware of one very important fact: It was a ruse, you big dumb idiots. Geordi figured out the plan first and set up extra shielding and a false result, and they go warping off to the nearly-dead planet that used to have the sequence in question. Barely any life has survived – conveniently only one pocket on the whole planet, so that the Cardassians and even a few Romulans all have to show up in the same place. While all the aliens posture and threaten each other, the clever humans subvert the shelf life of DNA and the way fossils work and pull a trace sufficient to solve the puzzle. When Picard scans the last stample into the tricorder, not only does the DNA-based program compile, it also reconfigures the hardware it’s running on, because sure. WHY NOT?
The tricorder plays a hologram that explains how they attained sapience, explored the galaxy, and seeded life with a genetic code that would someday create the bipedal, symmetrical shape we’ve all come to find so comforting.
Yes, despite the fact that evolution doesn’t work that way. What do you want me to do about it, I didn’t write the episode and I’m drunk.
What jumps out at me is that the alien makeup looks a lot like the Odo makeup – the big sunken eyes and overly-smoothed features.
Also, the message is basically ‘hey, cool, you all banded together to find this message. Nice. We’re your parents and we’re proud of you’ and is not really appreciated by the more wrinkly-foreheaded of the audience, but there’s a hope spot where the Romulan concedes that perhaps they don’t always have to be hostile. All in all, not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.