TNG Rewatch: “Evolution”

Season 3, Episode 1

Watchers: Mike & Erin

Greetings, fellow wanderers!

Captain Mike Jones has graciously offered me a post on the good ship Hailing Frequencies Open as his First Officer, and I how could I turn him down?

Mike and I sat down together to enjoy the inaugural episode of Season Three: Evolution! As this is my first time taking the Bridge, please be gentle.

We open with Wesley at his lab station unconscious – someone fell sleep working on their science project – and a quick call from Commander Riker has Wes up and running for the Bridge. There, we meet Dr. Kelso – er, Dr. Stubbs. Stubbs (the fantastic Ken Jenkins, who is delicious in every role he plays) is on a Starfleet mission to analyze the decay of neutronium during an explosion that happens once every couple of centuries (read: we’ve gotta get this one right the first time). This, as he later mentions, is a big effing deal that could result in an entirely new branch of astrophysics, and he has been working his entire life to get to this moment. A critical component of his analysis is a probe (“the Egg”) that is to be launched to provide him with information at the time of the blast.

Dr. Keslo Goes to Space

Dr. Keslo Goes to Space

Suddenly, things starting going horribly wrong. We know this because the music changes. A jolt sends people flying, and Stubbs ends up rolling halfway across the Bridge.

Erin: Funny how they never fly up or down really – just side to side. No gravity issues.
Mike: Poor Worf doesn’t even get a seat! And there are no grab bars to hold on to.
Erin: With something going as fast as a starship at impulse power (forget warp speed), wouldn’t the inertia kill you in a situation like that? I mean, you would be SMASHED into the side of the ship.
Mike: Yeah… luckily the inertial dampeners are very efficient.

Ultimately, certain death is narrowly avoided… all within the first few minutes.

But something is wrong, and no one is quite sure what or why. The experiment is in jeopardy and Picard threatens to pull the Enterprise out. This is unacceptable to Stubbs, who would certainly rather die than fail (yes, Troi, we all got that, but thanks for continuing to remind us throughout the episode).

Next, the Ready Room gets a little sexy with Dr. Crusher (YAY! She’s back from her year at Starfleet and it’s totally cool she left her son all alone on a starship for a year and where did Pulaski go but that’s OK because YAY!) and Picard taking a moment to catch up. They’ve got chemistry folks, and it’s not even a little weird that he almost sorta kinda killed of her husband because we’ve all moved on.

So, Crusher Mom wants to know how Crusher son has been doing for the past year, but not just how smart he is blah blah blah – she wants to know the good stuff: has he been in love? And, because Picard totally keeps track of these things, he responds with a thoughtful exhalation of air.

Love? Er... uh....

Love? Er… uh….

Dr. Crusher then sets off on her own mission to get Wesley to relax and be a regular 17-year old, instead of a super genius that they allowed to assume a post on a (peace keeping) military space vessel who’s a bit stressed out and in over his head.

And, because geniuses of a feather…, Wes and Stubbs have been hanging out a bit by the Egg (where all the cool kids hang) talking about life as a genius, and also baseball (see? Geniuses have hobbies!). Throughout all this, we start to realize that, in Stubbs, Wesley is looking at his own future reflection. Someone who is driven to succeed and excel, regardless of the emotional cost. We, as an audience, can understand that this is not a great future for Wes, but Wes is a little too busy to really mull over this because…

NANITES! We learn that for Wesley’s Starfleet correspondence classes, he has been working on extremely advanced nanotechnology experiments, and when he fell asleep in the lab, a couple of nanites escaped. No big deal, right? Wes goes around the ship setting traps, and runs into Guinan in Ten Forward (she sort of just pops out of the darkness – I heart Guinan so much). She tries to drop some wisdom on Wes, and compares him to Dr. Frankenstein. Wes seems hesitant to believe that the nanites could be responsible for this mess, and seems even more reluctant to take full responsibility for their escape:

Mike: Ha! He uses passive language. “I saw the container had been left open.” Well who do you think did that Wesley?
Me: Yeah, he’s definitely trying to shirk a little of the responsibility, at least mentally.

Wesley apparently created programming that allows the nanites to evolve and work together and, several thousands of generations later (because they rapidly figure out how to self-replicate), they have become a self-aware group intelligence (can we talk about why this University of Phoenix style Starfleet class has him doing such advanced and dangerous stuff?). Wes tells Mom, and she informs the officers (I am amused at how people seem to doubt Dr. Crusher’s explanation as being accurate until Wesley says, “It’s true.” I mean, she’s just a medical doctor, so what does she know?), but Stubbs just wants to fry them all and move on with his experiment.

Which he does. He struts over to one particular colony and simply shoots them with gamma radiation. This is a massacre, and the nanites – who have pretty much penetrated every aspect of the ship’s systems – strike back. Stubbs is confined to his quarters where Troi visits him and reminds everyone that his life is his work, he values this experiment over his own life and whatnot. Stubbs asks her to stop peeling back his layers, because there is just nothing underneath (so, he’s kind of like an onion emotionally – once you remove the layers, there is simply nothing left). He makes a half-hearted move on Troi which she rebuffs. Shortly thereafter, the nanites spectacularly zap him in an understandable act of retaliation.

No date. Experiment in jeopardy. Almost killed. Stubbs is having a bad day.

So, you had a bad day....

So, you had a bad day….

Once the crew gets a real handle on what’s going on, Picard asks Data to find a way to communicate with the nanites (which, I mean, isn’t that kind of racist?), and Data ultimately offers his own body as a vehicle for the nanites to more fully communicate with the crew. This is a spectacularly dangerous idea, but everyone except Worf is pretty cool with it. Long story short, there were misunderstandings on both sides (attempted genocide = misunderstanding), and the nanites are willing to agree to the truce once offered.

So, in the end, the Egg is launched with moments to spare, Stubbs gets exactly what he wants, the nanites are given a planet for themselves, Data is fine, the ship is OK, and no one gets in any trouble. We close with Dr. Crusher chatting with Guinan about Wesley when they see him enter with a young woman. As Dr. Crusher begin to interrogate Guinan for details on this new girl, happy music comes in (are those pan flutes?), and we all have a chuckle.

Oh, mothers….

At the end of the day, I enjoyed rewatching this episode for the character moments. Seeing Dr. Crusher back in her scenes with Picard and Wesley was fantastic. Additionally, Jenkins was absolutely chewing the scenery as Stubbs and I loved it. Here, the A and the B plot do weave together easily enough (in other episodes, they can feel as though they were attached with a rivet gun), but I feel like we end up making some major sacrifices to serve the story – and I am not a fan of putting story before the characters.

For example, we all see that Wesley is on the path to become just like Stubbs. Wesley does loosen up a bit at the end, but there is no indication that he has actually learned any lessons from Stubbs, or that he is any better for it. That would have been a great moment to explore.

Also, hello, Wesley created a new race of life forms! They are given a planet to inhabit and make their own. How is everyone so blasé about this? Are they cooking up new races and species every couple of weeks? Is this all just par for the course? Come on guys, good or bad, shouldn’t this be discussed a little bit?

So worth a watch? Sure, but Evolution still leaves a little bit to be desired. Onward and upward!

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