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The Trek Nation - Transfigurations

Transfigurations

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 10, 2008 - 9:07 PM GMT

See Also: 'Transfigurations' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While on a survey mission, an away team led by Riker finds a dying humanoid in a damaged escape pod. Crusher connects his nervous system to LaForge's to stabilize him for transport to the ship, where the patient proves to have remarkable powers of recuperation. However, the patient she dubs "John Doe" has no memory of who he is, nor of how his ship - which appears to have been in a battle - ended up on the planet. During the month in which he recuperates, LaForge experiences a newfound sense of confidence and well-being. Meanwhile, Data and the bridge crew are able to trace the path of the escape pod, but John believes that he was escaping his home planet and does not wish to return. He has panic attacks accompanied by surges of radiation in his body. When O'Brien comes into sickbay with an injured shoulder, John is able to heal it with a touch and a surge of the same radiation. But his cells are mutating, and a Zalkonian ship intercepts the Enterprise to tell them that the stranger is a dangerous prisoner who has been sentenced to death. John cannot remember whether this is the case, but he fears that he is a danger to the crew and tries to escape. He accidentally breaks Worf's neck in the process, but is able to heal the Klingon, too, with just a touch. When Picard refuses to turn the stranger over to the Zalkonians, the entire crew is rendered immobile. John goes to the bridge, from which he heals the crew, then announces that he remembers why he fled: his species is on the verge of an evolutionary development beyond the need for their current bodies, and his advanced development was perceived as a threat to the leaders. Before the eyes of the Enterprise officers and the Zalkonian leader, John transforms into an energy being and departs into space to tell his people of their coming evolution.


Analysis: "Transfigurations" poses interesting questions, wondering what it might be like when and if humans reach a point where our physical bodies are no longer necessary...what if we become like Organians, able to manipulate time and space with our thoughts? Yet in its execution, the storyline drags and ultimately throws away its potential for greatness. Because "John Doe" doesn't remember who he is or where he comes from, we witness his fear at his coming transformation as superficial panic at glowing uncontrollably. He doesn't experience the awesome dread of a physical change that must seem tantamount to annihilation - of course such a development would be scary, not only to backward world leaders with a political agenda, but to anyone experiencing that sort of evolution. But sadly, we don't get to hear from John Doe what it's like to face the loss of self inherent in such an experience, because he's busy dealing with a more mundane loss of self via the soap opera cliche of amnesia.

Really, at the core, this episode is pure daytime drama. It begins with LaForge's romantic woes, enlivened by Worf's attempts to coach him in Klingon dating technique - by far the most entertaining aspect of the story. Then LaForge comes in mental contact with John Doe via a mechanically-created Vulcan mind meld (and how come Beverly couldn't try that brain connection when Sarek was aboard?). Suddenly LaForge is having a month-long hot affair, while Riker wonders when Geordi started getting lucky with the girls and Worf boasts that his teaching must be responsible. Meanwhile, Crusher has a somewhat icky conversation with her son about her potential romantic involvement with John Doe, even though Beverly knows full well that the doctor-patient relationship creates a sense of intimacy that makes a sexual bond inadvisable...ugh, why is she sharing these musings with her son rather than with the ship's counselor, and why is Wesley so eager to hear all the details? I'd much rather see him demonstrating his newfound maturity on the bridge than hearing about his mom's lustful longings.

In the midst of all this personal drama, it's no surprise when John Doe - despite having lost his memory - starts having Bad Feelings about his planet of origin and then starts performing miracles. He's a Jesus in training! They want to crucify him back home, but he can't repress his compulsion to do good, even if he's still making clumsy mistakes like killing Worf before bringing the Klingon back from the dead. There's the germ of a really terrific drama here, a man discovering that he's becoming something greater than his parents and friends and everyone he's ever known, which should be the most awesome and terrifying thing imaginable. I'm reminded of a Richard Bach quote, "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly." But John has no idea the end of the world is coming because he can't even remember his real name. When he finally discovers it, he's already thinking like a super-being, not worrying about things like "Will I still be able to eat chocolate?" and "Do energy beings have sex?" In an episode where we're subjected to Beverly and Geordi's libidinal musings, that's a more honest question than "Is evolution ultimately a function of cellular development or vice versa?"

So it's hard to care very much about the crammed-into-the-final-minutes encounter with the Zalkonians, who exhibit signs of being a bigoted and backward species in need of a good talking-to about seeing out new life by Captain Kirk. Then they demonstrate their awesome paralysis power on the entire crew, but what use are their puny thundershock attacks when Caterpie evolves into a Butterfree! Sorry about the Pokemon reference, but it really is that simplistic, and so hurried that I couldn't figure out why so much time had been wasted on Crusher's romantic longings and LaForge's newfound confidence, for which John Doe refuses to take credit. I almost long for the esoteric sensibility of Next Gen's first season, when it was trying to hard to be about the wonder of it all.


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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.