When Enterprise crewmembers devolve into prehistoric beings, Picard and Data must figure out how to reverse the process.
Plot Summary: Reg Barclay comes to sickbay convinced that he is dying, but Crusher determines that he merely has a mild case of an alien flu for which he has no immunity and creates a synthetic T-cell so his immune system can fight it off. Data is in sickbay as well with Spot, who is about to become a mother – as is Alyssa Ogawa, as the nurse excitedly tells him. Later, after a disastrous weapons test, Picard asks Data to accompany him in a shuttlecraft to retrieve a torpedo that has veered far off course. Picard is quite pleased for an excuse to leave the ship, but Worf is upset about the failure of the weapon, becoming increasingly irritable and rude. He and Troi have a fight because he feels the bridge is too warm while she feels excruciatingly cold. Soon afterward, he bursts into her quarters to find her in her bathtub still in uniform, unable to get warm. When she rejects his advances, he bites her face. The two are taken to sickbay, where Crusher can find no reason for Troi’s plummeting body temperature, and when she tries to examine a catatonic Worf, he opens his mouth and sprays her with venom. Ogawa puts Crusher into a medically induced coma to treat her injuries, but she is overwhelmed by reports from all over the ship of similar strange behavior. Riker tries to alert Starfleet, but he has been increasingly distracted and admits that he can’t focus his thoughts. By the time Picard and Data return to the ship, Riker has changed into a Neanderthal, Troi has turned into an amphibian, Barclay has transformed into a giant spider, and there are animals roaming the ship that were not on board previously. Data concludes that the Enterprise crew has begun to devolve because the synthetic T-cell given to Barclay has mutated, activating genes called introns left dormant in DNA as humans evolved. Picard shows signs of infection too, reacting with exaggerated terror to each new threat. Since Data hopes that the computer in his quarters, which has its own power system, can help him, he enters and finds that although Spot has become a large lizard, her kittens have been born unscathed. Guessing that some maternal secretion must have protected the fetuses, he finds Nurse Ogawa, who appears to have become a large ape, and discovers that her embryo, too, is developing normally. Though he must work quickly, since a reptilian Worf is trying to break down the door to sickbay to find Troi, Data is able to develop a retrovirus from Ogawa’s amniotic fluid, and a recovered Crusher names the crew’s affliction “Barclay’s Protomorphosis Syndrome” in Reg’s honor.
Analysis: There are several episodes of Star Trek that I dislike more than “Genesis,” yet there are very few I find as ridiculous. About the nicest things I can say about it are that it makes me laugh nearly as much as “Spock’s Brain” – though in both cases I suspect the comedy is entirely unintentional – and it isn’t as ludicrous as that other Brannon Braga-penned devolution episode, Voyager‘s “Threshold,” in which Paris and Janeway become giant salamanders and have babies together (who unlike Ogawa’s fetus don’t retain much human DNA, and are therefore abandoned). To be fair, “Genesis” is a strong episode technically – it won an Emmy for sound mixing and was nominated for makeup, and I can’t fault Gates McFadden’s directing. If she managed not to throw the script across the room or fall over laughing on top of expensive equipment while working with PrimalRapist!Worf and FrogFace!Troi, I can only express my respect for her professionalism. And I respect the hours of latex-and-body-paint the actors must have tolerated to play the devolved versions of their characters, plus the fact that not one of them appears to have burst out laughing on camera, not even Jonathan Frakes after hearing that Riker’s brain capacity has diminished so much that he can’t understand human languages. I guess that magical Universal Translator doesn’t always work with primitive species, now does it!
I will also admit to enjoying the episode because of the animals. I’d have written Spot into far more episodes and explained the cat’s mysterious sex change between “Data’s Day” and “Genesis” – are we to believe that Data’s first cat died and he gave a second animal the same dull and inappropriate name, or that the cat suffered from an unfortunate transporter accident? Perhaps it’s merely an indication of Crusher’s incompetence – no one seems overly concerned that she nearly killed the entire crew with a synthetic T-cell, so I’m sure nobody would even blink if she couldn’t correctly determine a mammal’s sex. Spot is adorable, in any case, a welcome distraction who steals all her scenes, and although Data tells Reg that he’s the only other crewmember she really seems to like – Spot clawed Riker’s face in “Timescape,” wrecked LaForge’s furniture in “Force of Nature,” and looked woeful at being picked up by Worf in “Phantasms” – the cat playing Spot puts up very nicely with a stroked belly and a scruffed neck during the sickbay scenes. Plus we get to see Barclay cooing over the cat, and later, Picard admiring a pile of adorable kittens, though at that point Spot is being played by a different actor…specifically, an iguana. This seems like a cop-out to me, since Troi, Riker, Barclay, et al had to play themselves as an amphibian, a Neanderthal, a spider, etc. Surely the cat could have donned a rubber lizard suit?
Of course I’m being silly, but “Genesis” is nothing if not silly and becomes far more enjoyable when watched as if it’s a parody rather than a Next Gen episode. Even if a synthetic T-cell could activate dormant genes, they would not instantly start to transform the biology of a fully developed creature – the idea that someone would grow gills or venom sacs in a matter of hours is no less preposterous than the Animagus transformation in Harry Potter. The story would actually be more plausible if an evil wizard came aboard and gave the crew Polyjuice Potion, because then we’d know we were in the realm of magic rather than pseudo-science. (Why, yes, I did go see Deathly Hallows last Friday, which is why this review is appearing mid-week, and I’ll miss this Friday too, being busy with relatives for Thanksgiving.) I really have no objection to a little magic in my sci-fi, but not when it’s cliched and not when it’s presented as if it could maybe be factual: the Tree of Souls in Avatar is a glorious creation that seems entirely believable in a future with space flight and artificial bodies, but the intron virus just reminds me of the implausibility of warp drive and replicators and everything else Star Trek requires that we take for granted. Plus the devolutions follow such predictable logic. I will admit that I laughed aloud at Neanderthal!Riker, but come on, cheap shot much?
And how do we know Worf’s devolving? He overeats, he belches, he checks out whether a waitress is stacked, then he tries to force himself on Troi (whom we know is devolving because she gets – quite literally! – frigid). I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: sexual violence should never be used to cheap effect, for laughs or for drama, certainly not just for the hell of it which is what we get here. Picard and Data are nervous about Worf breaking into Sickbay because he may hurt them, but they’re perfectly calm about their prediction that he’s planning to mate with Troi, even though she’s unconscious and they know he bit her earlier. Not once does either man wonder whether they should take Troi someplace where she will be safe from Worf. Troi’s all set to counsel Barclay at the end of the episode, but she’s the one who’s had the most traumatic experience – a violent attack by a man she’s been dating, even if she doesn’t blame him for the assault – and it’s shrugged off as if it’s nothing. If I took the episode at all seriously, it would disgust me, so it’s a good thing that by the time we get to that point, I’m snickering in the anticipation of seeing Picard turn into a lemur. Maybe he and Spot can compare tail sizes…or date.