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The Trek Nation - Conspiracy

Conspiracy

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 21, 2007 - 8:05 PM GMT

See Also: 'Conspiracy' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While en route to a scientific mission on beautiful Pacifica, Picard receives a top-secret communique from Captain Walker Keel, who requests a secret meeting, who summons Picard to an off-the-record meeting with several other Starfleet officers to warn him of a conspiracy at Starfleet Command. Though initially skeptical, Picard has Data investigate unusual Starfleet directives. While Data is compiling a list of erratic Starfleet actions, Keel's ship, the Horatio, is mysteriously destroyed. Picard heads to Starfleet Command on Earth to investigate the matter and is told that he and Riker should beam down while the ship plays host to Picard's friend Admiral Quinn, who had already warned the captain of a conspiracy while trying to persuade Picard to take over at Starfleet Academy. When Picard insists that Riker remain on the ship to keep an eye on Quinn, he is attacked, as are LaForge and Worf; only Dr. Crusher's use of a phaser on kill can subdue the admiral. Crusher finds that Quinn's brain is hosting a parasite that apparently controls his mind, characterized by a small breathing gill sticking out of his neck. Riker beams down with a fake gill attached so he can pretend to be under its control as he and Picard try to choke their way through a dinner of maggots. He and Picard fight off the compromised admirals and destroy the species' queen, which is inhabiting Commander Remmick. Quinn recovers, but Data realizes that the queen sent a homing beacon deep into space before it died.


Analysis: Here is an example of an episode that starts well and drops the ball in every way - even to the end, where it implies that there will be a sequel that never arrives (by this point fortunately)! We've already had hints of a Starfleet conspiracy in "Coming of Age," when Picard's old friend Quinn was so concerned that he wanted to recruit Picard to become Commandant of Starfleet Academy to keep an eye on things. This episode starts by raising the stakes - a secret warning, a secret meeting, a worst-case scenario with a starship destroyed - and what's behind it? BUGS. Well, and a giant Queen Bug creature that looks like a cheap rip-off of the things that leap out of people's chests in Alien. And how do we know that they're truly evil and disgusting, more so than the usual soul-destroying, mind-wiping, starship-destroying villains? Because they make humans EAT WORMS.

I can't write a fair review of "Conspiracy," which really has a perfectly adequate first half, because I can't help remembering how it ends and how painfully laughable I found it the first time around - I was pretty ready to quit on the series, but the fans were hyping the return of the Romulans in the season finale and like a true Trekkie sucker I stuck with it. Don't get me wrong, it would be worth watching "Conspiracy" just for the demented glee on Jonathan Frakes' face when Riker breaks Picard's heart and prepares to eat a handful of WORMS, then instead whips out a phaser and shoots a Starfleet captain -- when the story goes bad, it goes laughably bad, hitting a cheese factor unparalleled even in the original series' third season. Admirals possessed by BUGS! Sitting around admiring them in their little briefcases!

It would make a fun parody of a Next Gen episode, except it's not. Crusher earnestly imploring Picard to shoot to kill? Glee at watching hapless Remmick get blown apart as the host for evil aliens? Riker and the WORMS? And it starts so well, even seeming to understand how a joke can be played to overkill, with Geordi telling Data the end of a dirty joke about sex in zero gravity and Data attempting to figure out the humor. There's a lovely, taut scene where Keel tries to make sure Picard hasn't been compromised which gives us some backstory in a nutshell: Keel introduced Beverly to Jack Crusher, Picard wasn't there, he didn't meet Beverly until later. We also discover that Starfleet's finest young captain is a woman. And those tantalizing hints of trouble - an evacuated Starbase, several officers dead in suspicious accidents - resolve in the chilling discovery of Keel's ship in unrecognizable pieces of twisted metal. Finally Picard decides to trust Troi and let her do her job, though he declines her advice to inform others on the crew until he realizes that his own ship may be in danger. Like Picard before him, Riker is doubtful until he sees first-hand that something is very wrong with Starfleet's finest.

And Quinn beats up a Klingon, and Crusher uses a phaser in order to discover that he's got something akin to the infection from the original series' "Operation: Annihilate!" and it's starting to look like things might work out despite the BUGS when we get the insane cocktail party and WORMS and the stupidest conspiracy dialogue ever, with talk about takeovers and covering tracks...to qualify as ultimate cliché, it just needs someone to cackle madly like the Wicked Witch of the West. Because it would be impossible to top the worm-creature crawling out of Chekov's ear in The Wrath of Khan, the bugs instead crawl out of people's mouths and go running to Mommy Remmick, looking like the poor special effects they are. "We mean you no harm, we seek peaceful coexistence" Remmick bleats before Picard and Riker shoot him. And somehow Remmick manages to send off a signal into deep space before he dies.

Now, what's interesting in long retrospect is that one can see the beginnings of Next Gen's superlative alien threat, the Borg, in how these creatures work: they assimilate only brains, so far as we can tell, except the queen, but there's the same sense of infestation and helplessness in the face of an enemy who has stealthily conquered thousands. The TNG writers showed great wisdom in dropping the BUGS and concocting that much more interesting alien threat from afar. It's obvious from "Conspiracy" that they were capable of setting up a mystery/horror arc and sustaining it across multiple episodes...but it's also obvious that at this point they had no idea how to finish it off with a flourish. Thank goodness I know now that Michael Piller's episodes will soon be on the way.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.