In which a new engine is installed in the worst possible place, Troi is covered with mint frosting, and Data will be in his bunk.
The camera perspective in this shot is the same as we got in “Birthright” where Data learned to dream. Also, Geordi clearly likes the idea of modifying the warp core way too much. As Data paces through the corridors, he finds a bunch of dirty suspenders-wearing coal miners hard at work on a plasma relay. Also, he’s ringing and screeching, and they don’t seem to like that, and rapidly tear him to pieces. Data awakens, still in his uniform. While he has no need to change his clothes unless something dirties them, one might make the criticism that even if he doesn’t sweat and emit odors, he’s not really experiencing the fullness of humanity without footie pajamas.
The Enterprise is, in fact, installing a new warp core. Further, Picard has just received the terrible news that he’s invited to join the Admiral’s Banquet, which is a tedious bureaucratic nightmare from which he’s been able to escape the last six years, but not this time. As Data and Geordi continue the modifications, Data talks about his nightmare, and Geordi is trying to brush off the attentions of a delightful young ensign which, for a guy we’ve never seen have a successful relationship in seven years, Geordi seems awfully quick to brush off. You dated a holodeck program, Geordi. I’m not bitter.
The new core has some interesting bits in the middle and seems to pulse slightly faster, but the thing it doesn’t do is manufacture a warp field. Seems like a plasma conduit is misaligned, and repairing it will take a few hours. Time enough for Data to stare eerily at his cat Spot and wonder what he dreams about. Also, the life of a cat aboard a starship might be even more boring than that of a standard housecat. Apparently, Data has never taken Spot to the holodeck. Troi encourages Data to get back up on the dream-horse despite his trepidation, so he fluffs his pillow, fakes a yawn, and finds himself in Ten-forward watching Worf eating a ‘cellular peptide cake’ with mint frosting. It also has a commbadge on it. Over by the bar, Crusher is drinking out of Riker’s head with a straw. The ringing starts again. The miners are chilling out around the cake, which is Troi. Data cuts into her, and wakes up late for duty, with Worf, Troi, and Geordi trying to wake him. Perhaps his dream program includes protocols for overriding automatic wake-up?
After going through some standard diagnostics, Data then goes straight for Freudian analysis, using an actual Freud. Well, a holographic one. One wonders whether Freud’s theories have come back into vogue in the 24th century, or whether Data’s obsession with the protean geniuses in their genres (Holmes as the archetypal Detective, Freud as the archetypal Psychologist, his chess game with the giants of classic, special, and quantum physics) feeds into a kind of Lone Genius fantasy wherein he, the only one of his kind and demonstrably set apart from those around him feels an isolating oh god what am I doing I’m psychoanalyzing him!
Anyway, I never want to hear Data giving Barclay a hard time about his holodeck fantasies again.
Amusingly, Picard is now late for the Admiral’s Banquet, but it’s fine, they just finished fixing the warp core, and with a flash of the nacelles, the Enterprise is… once again adrift in space as the warp field collapses. Now I have a rather pressing question: why isn’t this happening near a starbase, exactly? No, seriously. Not only is it a fairly major refit which, if it goes wrong, will leave the crew stranded in the middle of nowhere, but how did they even get the equipment? Did they get the plans by subspace and replicate the parts? Or did Starfleet hand-deliver the parts and make them go out this far so that if the ship blows up it won’t damage an inhabited planet?
In the course of this round of repairs, Geordi hands Data a tool that looks a lot like the knife from his dream. And when Geordi turns his back, Data sees a mouth open up on his neck. And he hears the ringing, and sees Riker with a straw in his head. He’s dreaming, and Freud tells Data to Kill zem all before it’s too late. Data then wakes up.
Finally Data goes to an actual licensed counselor – Troi. And he takes with him the brace – the knife-like object. He seems really excited that Troi thinks he could be complex enough to start experiencing neuroses.
Picard gets a scene where he gets to be a frustrated upper-level manager anxiously hovering over his engineers and not contributing anything, desperate for some way to help. Remember this, because Picard is good at diplomacy, management, and piloting, and qualified at some technical tasks, but it is vitally important that he not be the literal best at everything. Geordi’s bete noir, Engsign Tyler, manages to come up with a task that will get Picard out of their hair. And Data is gone. Cut to Troi walking fown the hall, feeling paranoid, getting into an elevator with Data, and getting stabbed repeatedly in the shoulder. Riker and Worf find him, Data goes for Riker where the straw is coming out of his head, and eventually wakes up.
The disciplinary hearing is brief and uncontested. Data wholeheartedly agrees with being relieved of duty and confined to quarters. In sick bay, Troi gets a medical patch-up, but it hasn’t been as effective as it should have been. There’s some really weird cellular degradation and some superscience readings.
Okay, Worf? Quick tip. When escorting someone into house arrest and confiscating their sidearm, a word of advice? Don’t let them go get the sidearm and give it to you. No mater how cooperative they seem to be, have them stay by your side and send one of your flunkies to get the sidearm. It doesn’t become a problem, but it should be kind of an obvious standard procedure. Also, Data asks Worf to take care of Spot, so that Data doesn’t hallucinate and kill his cat. And if those ensigns value their lives, they will never speak of Worf carrying Data’s cat ever again.
Crusher has found something. On Troi’s rash, right where Data stabbed her, some sort of invisible, intangible insect that is revealed by specialized EM radiation. They’re infesting everyone, sucking ‘cellular peptides’ out of everyone. The endgame is that cellular structures will completely break down. Good thing Data’s psychotic break happened and brought his dreams to the forefront – the senior staff realize the correlation and decide to link Data’s dream network up to the holodeck so that everyone can examine the dreamscape for clues. Speaking of delving into a dreamscape, apparently there’s a sequel to The Cell. The first one was a good movie even if it was creeptastic. What are the chances the sequel will be worth watching?
Catching my eye for no reason is that Data has a Vermeer painting – The Astronomer in his quarters. Make of that what you will.
The dream begins, and the ringing starts immediately. We see Ten-Forward, complete with cake-Troi, Straw-Riker, mint-enthusiast Worf, and Riker very irritable about the ringing. The call is coming from inside the torso, and turns out to be Freud again, urging Picard to kill zem once more. As the ringing continues, the workmen barge in, shoot Freud, and start breaking apart a plasma manifold – the same one that was broken during the first new warp core test. The workmen get hostile, Data shrills at them, and they die.
The interpretation of the dream eventually let Data figure out that he can create a pulse which will harm the parasites, and they start fading out of existence. During the root cause analysis (which reveals that yes, they got the equipment at Starbase 84 and then went into the middle of nowhere to install it) they determine that the manufacturing process for the equipment involved some process which could have pulled the parasites in from wherever they came from. Sadly, Picard will have to miss the banquet, but at least Troi is all better and even made Data a little cake to show no hard feelings.