Friday, August 26, 2011

Gates McFadden's Directoral Debut Reveals Much Latex: "Genesis."

The Good: Acting, mostly, Make-up, Moments of character
The Bad: Somewhat ridiculous plot, Lame humor
The Basics: Data and Picard return to the Enterprise and find the ship populated by strange animals they reason is the crew. Finding the cause while surviving primordial Worf becomes a challenge in "Genesis."

One of the nice things about the Star Trek franchise, for the actors anyway, is that it allows the series regulars to attend Paramount's film school and become guest directors on the show. The tradition owes its origins to Leonard Nimoy, who was allowed to direct Star Trek III The Search For Spock (reviewed here!). On Star Trek The Next Generation, Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner all took turns behind the camera. As the seventh season wound down, Gates McFadden got her chance with the episode "Genesis."

Following one of Barclay's usual bouts of hypochondria, Worf's attempts to increase photon torpedo guidance efficiency goes horribly awry. As a result, Data and Picard leave the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft to recover a rogue torpedo before it can detonate on an innocent and unintended target. In their absence, members of the crew begin to behave erratically, culminating in Worf assaulting Dr. Crusher using a venom he has never before possessed. Picard and Data return to find the Enterprise adrift and its crew in various stages of devolvement as their DNA has caused them to revert to earlier animal versions of their species.

There is little scientific basis for what occurs in "Genesis," though the theory of the episode is that the introns - apparently dormant genetic material in humans - is the genetic refuse from everything we evolved from and that the Enterprise contracts a disease where those introns are activated in such a way that the human body begins to get rewritten by other genetic codes. The problem is that the humans all spawned from generally the same place. So while it makes sense that the de-evolved Worf would look dramatically different from the devolved Riker, it makes no real sense that Riker would turn into an ape, while Barclay would turn into a spider. It's just not logical; some people didn't evolve from spiders while others evolved from apes. It just doesn't hold.

That's a pretty big hurdle for the audience to overcome. There is suspending disbelief and then there is arguing that the sky is and has always been blood red paisley. "Genesis" is based on a difficult conceit to get past, despite the fun of watching the characters change.

But for those who are able to get past it, "Genesis" is a lot of fun. It's cool to see the range of the actors, though some believe that it is not much of a stretch for Jonathan Frakes to play Riker as a gorilla. Here, the story builds well with the changes appearing subtle at first, like Dwight Schultz playing Barclay with more confidence and faster speech. The actors seem to be having a good time with the premise, or at least appear to take it seriously. Moreover, Patrick Stewart's presentation of a more distressed, slower to respond, indecisive Picard is a real stretch considering the authority with which he has portrayed the character for over six years.

The real acting credit should go to Michael Dorn. Dorn has worked for years to make Worf something more than the ridiculous, barbarian villains of Star Trek. Here, Dorn has to go primal and despite the help he gets from all sort of prosthetics, it is his performance that truly brings the episode together. Dorn's use of body language and guttural screaming convinces us that all vestiges of the rational Worf are gone and that works well for this story.

Moreover, "Genesis" works well on the continuing character arc that has been building this late in the Star Trek The Next Generation story. "Genesis" finds the primal Worf "marking" Counselor Troi, an act that makes sense considering how quickly their romance has been building. It is refreshing to see that some intelligence was working on making this episode have some natural sense. Actually, the actions of the different types of animal crewpeople make a lot of sense. "Genesis" does a good job capitalizing on the known strengths of different animals. For example, as Barclay devolves into a spider, he becomes more efficient, productive and economic in his movements.

Outside the lame attempts to make jokes that pop up through some of what is directed as a science fiction horror story, Gates McFadden's debut behind the camera is a pretty solid episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. Considering how bad Patrick Stewart's directoral debut ("In Theory") was, it is a shame that McFadden did not have more of an opportunity to grow into directing.

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


For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD set reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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