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The Trek Nation - Contagion

Contagion

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 14, 2007 - 10:21 PM GMT

See Also: 'Contagion' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The USS Yamato sends a desperate plea to the Enterprise for assistance in the Romulan Neutral Zone, where the Yamato is suffering from a catastrophic series of system failures. The other starship's warp core breeches before the Enterprise can lend assistance, blasting the ship apart and killing everyone aboard. Studying the ship's logs, Picard discovers that the Yamato's captain, Varley, was an archaeology enthusiast like himself and could not resist visiting the legendary world of Iconia when he believed he had located its whereabouts, justifying the incursion into the Neutral Zone with the belief that Iconian technology had to be kept out of Romulan hands. The crew discovers that a probe from the Iconian planet used an unknown form of energy to scan the Yamato, which seems to have led to the ship's destruction, but a series of similar breakdowns begins to plague the Enterprise as well, though the Enterprise has not been scanned by such a probe. Worse, a Romulan ship arrives to order the Enterprise to leave the Neutral Zone. Believing that the only possibility of saving his ship lies on Iconia, Picard takes the Enterprise there and beams down with Data and Worf while LaForge tries to understand how the Enterprise could have picked up the devastating software virus that destroyed the Yamato merely by downloading its logs. The Romulans follow, firing at the Enterprise and forcing Riker to raise shields, which makes it impossible to beam the away team back when Data is damaged by a smaller probe on the planet. But the away team has discovered an Iconian gateway that allows transport to other local worlds, so Picard sends Worf and Data back to the Enterprise and prepares to destroy the controls rather than allowing the Romulans to take over the Iconian technology. Data's systems shut down and LaForge believes him "dead," but then he reboots, his self-correcting system having purged the alien program. This gives LaForge the idea to shut down the ship's computer and wipe all infected memory from the past few days. Meanwhile Picard, fleeing the self-destructing Iconian control center, steps through a gateway onto the Romulan ship and finds that their systems are infected as well. When the now-repaired Enterprise beams Picard back, Riker tells the Romulans how to save their ship and the Enterprise leaves the Neutral Zone peacefully.


Analysis: "Contagion" isn't a profound episode in terms of character development, but it's a tightly written thriller with lots of entertainment value. One of the Enterprise's sister ships explodes! The Romulans appear and open fire! A computer virus nearly destroys the Enterprise! And if the solution seems rather obvious from a 21st century technological perspective, that doesn't make the ride any less interesting, nor the tension any less real even though we know it's all going to come out fine for our favorite crewmembers. At one point the stress levels on the ship are so high that Riker orders Troi to plan an evacuation they both know isn't a real option, just to give everyone something to do. It's a bit strange to see Picard find an archaeological wonder and promptly destroy it, but the danger of the situation has been strongly portrayed and the subsequent explosion and escape make for a terrific climax.

The beginning of the episode sets up a strange mystery, with one question piling on top of another. What could have happened that was so important that the Yamato's captain would risk hostilities by entering the Neutral Zone? Was it a trap set by the Romulans? Are they trying to lure the Enterprise to her own destruction as well? Who are the Iconians, and why are their artifacts so important, and has their planet really been discovered or is it all a ruse? How come the Romulans seem to be suffering from the same malfunctions as the Federation ships? So many points of curiosity and no real answers until Picard takes the risk of leaving the ship, over Riker's objections, to see just what's on the planet that seems to be at the center of the disturbance. And in the meantime, Wesley may be the only crewmember young enough to express aloud his distress at having seen the Yamato blow up, but it's obvious he's not the only one upset about it.

It's a clever device to have the dead Captain Varley introduce the archaeological mystery via his logs after the danger has already been established; what might otherwise have sounded like dry history and archaeological points of interest gain immediacy. I'm not clear on why Varley didn't send out some kind of message to Starfleet before heading off to Iconia in the Neutral Zone, rather than waiting till his ship was falling apart and he was desperate - couldn't he have started a war, and shouldn't Starfleet have been warned? But because of his folly, be it through the desire to protect the Federation by getting to the Iconian artifacts first or through an archaeological obsession with a long-dead, legendary advanced civilization, Picard must act alone, leaving Riker to manage the bridge and LaForge to try to unravel the engineering failures while he follows Varley's trail to a place of wonder that sadly proves too dangerous for him to leave intact. It's a shame, because the Iconian gateway looks a lot like the Atavachron from the original series' "All Our Yesterdays" and would be a lot of fun to explore.

Meanwhile the Romulans, whose appearance in the Next Generation first season finale was so brief and disappointing, return in style. There's a female commander, not as tough as the awesome one from "The Enterprise Incident" on the original series but still willing to throw around phrases like "act of war," who claims the Iconian planet for the Romulans even though it's in an area where neither side is allowed to stake a claim. She'd destroy the Enterprise, too, were her vessel not plagued by the same kind of system failures already crippling the Federation ships. How did the Romulans get infected? By covertly intercepting the download between the Enterprise and Yamato! It's so nice to see these villains back in form, even when they've been reduced to comic relief, with their ship ominously counting down to a self-destruct they didn't ask for.

The situation on the Enterprise has its comic moments as well, though the menace behind the systems breakdowns is never allowed to become trivialized - LaForge's wild ride on a malfunctioning turbolift to get to the bridge in time to warn the captain to destroy an Iconian probe is both funny and scary. I like that Picard obeys Geordi's command to fire on the probe without a moment's hesitation, before he knows the reason for it. There's a period when Picard and LaForge both believe Varley might have been right to suspect a design flaw in their ships, and we get to see more close work between the captain and engineer than in most previous episodes. Quite a bit of this episode focuses on the pros and cons of extremely advanced technology - Picard reminds Wesley that their own technology would seem like magic to Stone Age humans when Wesley says the Iconian legends sound magical, Pulaski teaching a crewmember to make a splint and berating him when he says it hardly seems like practicing medicine. Data breaks down when infected directly with the Iconian virus, but he's also the only crewmember capable of learning the Iconian language by realizing that it's the parent tongue of several other languages he already knows. It's all terrific fun, engaging, with a happy ending despite the loss of the Iconian artifacts because there's hope for the future of Federation-Romulan relations.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.