Saturday, January 29, 2011

Evolving Into A New Season Of Star Trek: The Next Generation With “Evolution!”

The Good: Some moments of character, Original plot elements, Acting
The Bad: Unnecessary attempts at action, Dr. Stubbs' character
The Basics: The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation begins with the return of Dr. Crusher and an occasionally unnecessary feeling of threat when microscopic machines take over in “Evolution.”

It is with some irony that the second season of Star Trek The Next Generation ended with a weak Riker episode that marked the first of many mental manipulation stories Riker would be a part of and the third season begins with Riker speaking to an asleep Wesley. Riker's character is in decline here, Wesley's is strong or growing. The season premiere to the third season belongs to Ensign Crusher.

"Evolution" puts a Dr. Stubbs on board the Enterprise to conduct an experiment with a pair of stars. Unfortunately, the Enterprise begins to experience some systems failures that, rather quickly, Wesley realizes may be his fault. It seems that the genius Dr. Stubbs is performing his breakthrough experiment at the same time that Wesley Crusher is working on a science project involving microscopic machines called Nanites. The Nanites are loose in the Enterprise computer now and, as a result, they are evolving and expanding and breaking down the Enterprise. The Nanites have become intelligent and Dr. Stubbs, determined to complete his experiment, decides to eradicate the Nanites and thus puts the Enterprise into danger.

Better than the horrible first season episode "Home Soil" (reviewed here!), "Evolution" creates a sentient microscopic life form that is threatening humans. While they attack only when attacked, the Nanites are an interesting life form. The problem with this episode is that it often feels like a rewrite of "Home Soil." Fortunately, it's a better episode than the first season flop.

Dr. Stubbs essentially declares war on the Nanites and, in that act, appears to condemn the ship to death. What doesn't work is Stubbs' zeal against the Nanites. Why would a genius not accept that machines can be intelligent and evolve? I can and I'm not a Wunderkind! Dr. Stubbs, supposedly, is. That doesn't read right at all.

The recycled element of the plot involves the microscopic life form and Data, which is too much like "Home Soil."

The better elements include this being a Wesley story. Wesley brings out the best moment in Stubbs' character while accurately progressing his own character. And here Wil Wheaton does a fine job. He knows how to play Wesley as both intelligent and naive.

The real expansion of his character comes in the return of his mother. Dr. Crusher returns and this necessary season premiere explains her absence. Moreover, the realism of reintegration comes across quite effectively here. In one of the episode's strong scenes, Picard and Beverly discuss her son and the scene reads as quite real.

Gates McFadden seems comfortable returning to the role.

The only other aspect that does not work is the unnecessary action. In an attempt to bookend season three, the Borg are referenced. It's a cruel reference; it jerks the viewer around.

But, in a hair's width, this is an episode worth recommending. It has enough humanism to be of interest to anyone and it has enough science to keep the science fiction enthusiast intrigued up until the end.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page for a complete, ever-growing, listing of them!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. Can I offer an answer to your rhetorical question? Dr. Stubbs probably DOES understand that machines can be intelligent and evolve. But he's worked his WHOLE LIFE for this one moment, and if he misses it, his entire career will be a failure. He's driven by the need to accomplish what he's set out to do, and the nanites are a threat to he's RATIONALIZING. It's not that he doesn't understand they've evolved, it's that even geniuses can succumb to obsession and talk themselves into believing almost anything.

  2. Interesting take on it. I disagree, though. "Star Trek" has a tendency to equate "genius" with "jerk!" Thanks for reading!