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The Trek Nation - Evolution

Evolution

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 7, 2008 - 9:48 PM GMT

See Also: 'Evolution' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Scientist Paul Stubbs is being ferried by the Enterprise to a binary star that erupts in a fiery explosion every 196 years. He has designed a large research unit to study the phenomenon, but just as the ship approaches the system, the Enterprise suffers a series of major malfunctions ranging from sensor ghosts to navigational errors to music blasting on the bridge. Yet the computer claims that all systems are working normally. Wesley Crusher is forced to admit that a science experiment of his may be the source of the problems; he was allowing two nanites to interact but fell asleep before they had finished, allowing them to reproduce and infiltrate the ship's systems. Stubbs is irate and attempts to destroy the nanites, killing many in the ship's core and alerting the nanites' emerging consciousness of his hostile intentions. Picard, who believes the nanites are a new life form, is furious and confines Stubbs to his quarters, where the nanites use the ship's electrical systems to attack him. To facilitate communication, Data allows the nanites to enter his neural network and use his verbal programs to communicate with the crew. Picard negotiates a cease-fire, insisting that Stubbs apologize for trying to kill them. Stubbs agrees to help find a new home for the nanites on an uninhabited planet, and the nanites repair the ship's computer so that Stubbs can complete his stellar experiments.


Analysis: Although most of the action in "Evolution" centers around the internal and external threats to the ship - the nanites and the neutron star that will soon explode - the character stories center around Wesley Crusher, whose mother has returned from a year at Starfleet Medical and is worried that her son is a bit of a goody-two-shoes. (This is, of course, an accusation a lot of fans had made by this point in the series as well.) The irony is that it's Wesley who triggers all the events of the episode by screwing up an assignment, inadvertently making what could be a far more significant discovery than the one the obsessed famous scientist has spent his life investigating. We never really learn the details or significance of the stellar research, but Wesley's clumsy mistake leads to exactly the kind of discovery on which Starfleet thrives: a new life form, highly intelligent and peaceful except when threatened. I'm not sure exactly what he was supposed to be studying, but he learns something much more important about the need for flexibility and cooperation as a scientist.

Stubbs is an interesting character - on a series where scientists are alternately life-improving geniuses or sociopathic madmen, he's a bit of both, a man who has devoted himself to a single astronomical phenomenon yet who thinks about success and failure in terms of baseball statistics, a game where delays due to weather and benching due to injuries surely occur even in the 24th century. At first he seems enthusiastic and brave, ready to rush out of sickbay to examine his equipment after a critical injury. Then he seems repulsively selfish and dangerous, trying to destroy the nanites though Picard insists he cannot exterminate something that may be intelligent. After the nanites attack Stubbs, he cowers and demands protection while continuing to insist that they must be killed for the safety of the ship. It's unclear how sincere his apology is when he speaks to the nanites inside Data, since Picard has ordered Stubbs to take responsibility for his actions. Yet he finds the nanites a home, convincing the Federation to turn over a planet for their developing civilization.

It's an interesting contrast in role models for Wesley, whose mother has her own dilemma about whether she should try to mentor her son or stay out of his way. Stubbs and Picard both agree that they would have felt inhibited to have their mothers flying through space with them as teenagers. Picard believes that Wesley has the most important qualities of a Starfleet officer and a human being - he's honest, strong, polite - but Beverly is more concerned about Wesley's friends and love life, whether he's happy, whether he has healthy relationships with people his own age. It's very telling, I think, that when Wesley needs advice on the magnitude of his screw-up with the nanites, he approaches neither another teenager nor his official adult mentors Riker and LaForge, but Guinan, who's probably the oldest person on the ship. When he asks her whether she's going to tell, Guinan informs Wesley that she doesn't need to because he's going to tell.

The nanite storyline has a lot in common with similar Next Generation stories from episodes that ran both before and after this one, from the first season's "Home Soil" (where the ship was similarly threatened by an inorganic microbrain) and the second season's "Contagion" (where a computer virus nearly destroys the ship) to the sixth season's "The Quality of Life" (where Data refuses to sacrifice artificially constructed life forms) and seventh season's "Emergence" (where the ship creates a life form on the holodeck). It's a bit formulaic, but the formula allows the exploration of values that are at the core of this Star Trek series - scientific exploration, the discovery and protection of unknown life forms, the importance of collaboration and peaceful resolution to conflicts. No one ever says, "Wesley, you idiot!" when his experiment goes awry; Stubbs' fury at Wesley is criticized by Troi as indicative of the same pathology that makes Stubbs more willing to die performing his experiments than to abandon them. There's a lovely sense of continuity in this third season premiere, even if it's not one of the more original episodes of the series overall.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


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