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The Trek Nation - Unnatural Selection

Unnatural Selection

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 16, 2007 - 10:04 PM GMT

See Also: 'Unnatural Selection' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The USS Lantree sends out a distress call intercepted by the Enterprise, but by the time Picard's crew arrives, everyone on the Lantree is dead - apparently of old age, though the captain was Riker's age and the rest of the crew were in good health when they left Starfleet except the first officer who had a touch of the flu. Picard orders the Enterprise to the Lantree's last port, the Darwin Genetic Research Station, where he learns that all the residents are suffering from the same disease except for the genetically enhanced children being raised on the station. Fearing that the disease could spread to his own crew, Picard allows Pulaski to examine one of the seemingly immune children only within a sterile field. Since she can find no evidence of infection, he then sends Pulaski and Data in a shuttlecraft to perform further tests, but a few moments after she begins her tests, Pulaski too begins to show signs of rapid aging. Picard is able to determine that the transporter can restore her DNA using a sample taken from her hairbrush from before she was infected, and Pulaski determines that the disease was caused by the immune systems of the genetically enhanced children, which attacked the flu virus carried by the Lantree by modifying it to attack all other potential carriers. The same transporter restoration is used for the Darwin Station research team before the Enterprise returns to the Lantree to destroy it and the deadly infection it contains.


Analysis: "Unnatural Selection" features yet another Infection of the Week, which is hardly the most exciting formula for a story and something in which The Next Generation has indulged several times already ("Home Soil," "Symbiosis," "Conspiracy," etc.). There's nothing terribly wrong with it as an episode apart from an extreme sense of redundancy, but that's enough to make it feel rather plodding. It seems at first like a rerun of "The Naked Now," where fans of the original series will recognize and know how to treat the illness before the crew does - most of us have seen "The Deadly Years" - but in this case the deaths from old age have nothing to do with rare radiation from a comet. Though it makes the episode a teeny bit less predictable, that's something of a disappointment, too; I remember thinking that Pulaski was going to look in the medical database for other instances of extremely rapid aging and then we were going to hear the genius of Dr. Leonard McCoy celebrated aloud. Although Pulaski sometimes acts like McCoy, particularly in this episode when she and Picard argue over how to work the human equation into logical solutions, apparently she can't be allowed to conjure his presence directly lest she should suffer by comparison.

In fact, the most successful part of the episode takes place in space, where with horror show creepiness, Picard uses a tactic from Kirk's book and takes over the controls of the Lantree from the bridge of the Enterprise. The images sent back to the main viewscreen show an entire crew dead, their bodies twisted and discolored; it's creepy and awful and one waits for someone to scream...which in "The Deadly Years" provided the solution to the rapid aging, releasing adrenaline, but apparently that won't do for Picard's more placid crew. The Lantree is put under quarantine and by the time the ship heads to Darwin Station, the episode is nearly half over. But then the pacing becomes glacial. It's predictable from the over-the-top hysteria of Kingsley, the senior scientist at the station, that the precious children are probably at the root of the problem, but we never get to see enough of the children to start caring about what happens to them. In every incarnation of Star Trek from the original series' "The Wrath of Khan" to Enterprise's Augments, genetic engineering has been Very Very Bad, and the ironically named Darwin Station is no exception. Apart from one pretty telepathic boy who doesn't speak and a roomful of equally pretty boys and girls levitating chess pieces with their minds, we hardly glimpse this group at all, though they're at the center of the crisis.

Instead the episode returns its focus to Pulaski and the question of how she stacks up as a chief medical officer. Kingsley is thrilled to have her on the case and cites one of Pulaski's textbooks as standard - something Picard somehow didn't know about the doctor. Early on in the episode, Troi announces to Picard that she senses Pulaski's dedication and the rest of the storyline is spent proving it, yet I'm not certain why the writers think we would doubt that point so much to necessitate an episode demonstrating that Pulaski is a worthy successor to both Bones and Beverly Crusher, who was known first season to get tears in her eyes over the pain and suffering of others. Unfortunately the only way for "Unnatural Selection" to show us Pulaski's intelligence is to give her a lot of technobabble ("encase him in styrolite!"), which makes her later one-sided conversation with the telepathic boy sound stilted and clumsy. At this point her dismissal of Data as a machine should be starting to grate, and I know that it did for other viewers, but as Picard rightly points out, Pulaski isn't good about letting anyone else from the captain on down finish sentences when she thinks she's on to something.

Pulaski comes across as strong-willed and passionate, just as willing as McCoy to stand up to the captain and just as willing as Crusher to put her emotions on the line with her patients, but in this case, she's completely wrong and might easily have put the entire crew at risk, so certain is she that the risk does not exist. It's a good thing Picard sticks to his stuffy procedures, which may not be fun to watch but do what they're supposed to, whether it's the immobilized boy in styrolite or the starship that must be blown up to protect other passing ships. And it's a bit of a bummer that the doctor isn't the one to come up with the medical solution. She believes there's no way to repair the DNA of those infected, while the techies on the ship figure out a magical fix using the transporter. There's a moment here for a philosophical conversation - in rewriting Pulaski's DNA, is the transporter in fact bringing back the same woman, or creating a new one based on her pattern? But that moment is never seized, and the pat ending resets everything but the lives lost on the Lantree, never telling us the fate of the genetically modified children, not even giving us a Kirk-esque speech on the dangers of meddling with what makes us human.


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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.