A transporter accident turns Picard, Ro, Keiko, and Guinan into children just before Ferengi take over the ship.
Plot Summary: A shuttle carrying Picard, Ro, Keiko O’Brien and Guinan back from shore leave is caught in a mysterious energy field. O’Brien is able to transport them back to the Enterprise just as it explodes, but he reads a drop in mass and they rematerialize as children. Crusher can find no signs of mental degeneration, yet she convinces Picard that he should turn over command to Riker until they know whether the condition will worsen. Ro is furious at being relieved of duty. Because Keiko’s plant samples can be restored to maturity, Crusher believes a specific set of molecular codes have been stripped from the crewmembers’ genes and can be replaced using the transporter, but before she and LaForge can attempt the modifications, the ship is attacked by two Klingon warbirds under the command of Ferengi mercenaries. The Enterprise is boarded and Riker is only barely able to lock out the computer before the Ferengi take over the bridge. While the crew is being beamed down to the surface to work in the mines, the children are imprisoned in the classrooms. Picard uses the school computer to bring up ship’s schematics and Ro, Guinan, Keiko, and Alexander Rozhenko to retrieve equipment, pretending they are playing games. Then Picard demands to see his “father” and convinces one of the Ferengi to take him to Riker, whom he tells that the children are bored and need their classroom computer. The Ferengi threaten to kill all the children starting with Riker’s “son” if he does not unlock all the systems, so Riker unlocks the computer begins a very long technical explanation of the workings of the ship’s systems while Picard and the children use the transporter and their stolen equipment to beam the Ferengi one by one to the surface. Once Picard has forced the Ferengi to surrender, Crusher and O’Brien use the transporter to restore Picard, Keiko, and Guinan, though Ro is in no hurry to become an adult again.
Analysis: “Rascals” is one of those ridiculous episodes that’s either a lot of fun or quite painful to watch, depending on how well the viewer shuts off the analytic part of the brain to which science fiction usually appeals. Personally, I find it enjoyable, but that’s on the level of crew interaction in spite of rather than because of the storyline. It’s nice to see that Picard has recovered from his phobia of children so completely that it’s neither mentioned nor displayed a single time during his age regression; he doesn’t really know how to think like a child, but he gets one of his better ideas from observing Alexander, who’s a real boy. The scenes with the O’Briens after Keiko becomes a little girl are both amusing and very uncomfortable to watch, as Keiko only wants to hear her husband say that he’ll love her no matter what she looks like while Miles can barely bring himself to look at a wife who’s only a few years older than their daughter. The young actress playing Keiko is terrific – she says “Miles!” in precisely the same annoyed voice as Rosalind Chao – and the girl playing Ro is terrific as well, capturing Michelle Forbes’ sullen, snarky inflections perfectly. I’m less convinced by young Guinan and young Picard, but they’re fun to watch anyway; as Guinan says, it’s been a long time since she was a child, and Picard seems dedicated to never letting himself regress in any way. When Troi suggests to Picard that he may have been given a rare opportunity to explore the road not taken, to become the archaeologist he never had time to be while working his way through the ranks, Picard seems completely uninterested in trying to be someone other than a Starfleet captain.
The bio-babble that theorizes why the crewmembers were regressed in age, yet kept their memories intact, doesn’t make any attempt to explain how come their uniforms shrunk right along with them, and the mysterious energy field that destroys the shuttle is characterized in equally vague terms. So while I can state that Crusher thinks the crewmembers’ rybo-viroxic nucleic structures were affected by the field, and that LaForge says the tritanium in the shuttle hull plating broke down, I don’t have the faintest idea how these things supposedly happened, nor what sort of energy characterized by sparkly blue lightning might have triggered the reactions. It bothers me when there’s no effort made to make the science sound convincing. Yes, it’s still adorable when Jean-Luc calls Riker “Dad” and gives him a hug, but I’d appreciate it more if there was a solid reason for such a ruse to be necessary. And it’s more creepy than entertaining when Crusher hovers around Picard as if he’s Wesley, talking maternally to him instead of matter-of-factly as the ship’s doctor…at least, I hope it’s supposed to be maternal rather than her frequent private-time “Jean-Luc, I have something to tell you” intimacies, because that would be ten times as creepy. I’ll buy Miles’ parental instincts, warning Keiko that the coffee is hot, because he has a daughter sleeping in the next room, and I’ll buy Worf’s hesitation to take an order from a Picard he doesn’t recognize – he is after all in charge of security – but how can Riker and Crusher, who’ve both seen Picard as Locutus of Borg, be so thrown by mere changes in appearance?
Ro is even angrier than Picard that she has to give up her job because of a physical alteration, and when the kids are thrown together in the classroom, it’s immediately obvious that that’s because she’s very good at it – she’s the first one with practical suggestions, even if they end up not being workable because the main computer is offline. As she keeps pointing out to Guinan, she didn’t have a happy childhood in the first place, raised in an internment camp where she rarely even had a bed; of course she doesn’t want to hear about how cute she looks or how much fun she could be having skipping down corridors. Yet in the end, she seems more tempted by a chance at a redo than any of the others. Picard may loathe the idea of returning to the Academy as Wesley Crusher’s roommate, but Ro might be able to erase her mistakes and start fresh in Starfleet if she chose to do so. Of course, Starfleet is a dangerous place; this episode has a very large body count, including all the scientists forced into the mines by the Ferengi as well as the casualties we hear reported on Decks 38-40, yet the villains are treated as comical, with Riker making up wildly inventive names for computer functions and Picard retaking his bridge by telling the Ferengi who threatened to murder all the children that he wants his chair back. We’ve seen Picard devastated over the loss of a single crewmember, so to hear such flippancy when a science team has been murdered and several crewmembers killed in battle seems completely out of character no matter how old he looks.