Overall Ep :
First Aired :
25 Sep 1989
Season Ep :
Isn't it a crime to kill a sentient life form in the Federation? Stubbs killed countless numbers of the nanites, yet as soon as they accept his apology Picard apparently considers the matter closed. Surely Stubbs should be arrested and tried for his crimes? I mean, suppose I shot somebody and then apologized, and the rest of his family said "Okay, we forgive you." Would we seriously expect the law to forgo a prosecution because of that?
Actually this is a pretty prevalent issue in Star Trek. Almost every single problem is treated at the dramatic or philosophical level, and so long as a solution is found that most of the people involved think is nice, or at least okay, then that's the end of it. Prime Directive aside, the behaviour of Federation or Starfleet people very rarely seems to be constrained by actual laws to which they are answerable regardless of whether it feels fair or not.
Great Moment :
It's nice to see Wesley screw up and have to go and ask the adults help for once.
Body Count :
Several million nanites.
This episode marks the return of Dr Crusher to the show, replacing the rather unpopular Dr. Pulaski.
The "egg" probe was a rebuild of the virus containment unit from "The Child".
The new design uniforms appear in this episode. Designed to be more comfortable after the old uniforms began to cause many actors back pain, the new uniform is made of breathable wool and cost a cool three thousand dollars each. Many background characters continue to wear the old uniforms as a cost saving measure.
The baseball game Stubbs refers to with 'Lockman on first, Dark on second, Thomson at the plate, Branca on the mound' is actually a real game, a moment in the 1951 National League when the Brooklyn Dodgers played the New York Giants. Thomson hit the, ball, winning the game for the Giants.
The baseball game Stubbs describes to Wesley is a real one, the final game of the 1951 National League tiebreaker between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
The script for this episode got Pillar hired as the shows head writer. He commented that the baseball scene probably helped, as Rick Berman is a big baseball fan.
Dr. Paul Stubbs has come aboard the Enterprise-D to perform an experiment. The ship is in a binary star system composed of a red giant and a companion neutron star. Every 196 years the neutron star pulls a fountain of matter off the red giant onto itself, causing a massive explosion and expelling neutronium at relativistic speeds. Stubbs has built a probe called "The Egg" which he wants to use to study the phenomena.
Wesley, meanwhile, has been frantically busy with his duties on the ship. He has been conducting an experiment with nanites which caused him to oversleep and be late for his duty shift on the bridge. He hurries up to his station after a reminder from Riker. The ship reaches its launch point and prepares to "lay the egg" as Stubbs calls it, when suddenly it goes out of control and is flung into the path of the stream of stellar matter. Shields refuse to go up at first. The crew struggle to regain control and are partially successful, but the ship continues to drift towards the stream of matter. The computer reports that all systems are operating normally, much to their confusion.
Dr. Crusher, now back from her year at Starfleet medical, busily treats various minor injuries, including Dr. Stubbs. As he leaves she notices an odd thing - one of the food replicators is apparently stuck producing a drink, leaving a stream of water pouring out of it. Despite this, the computer reports that the device is functioning perfectly.
As Geordi works on the problem, Crusher talks to Picard about Wesley. She wonders whether her constant presence around Wesley is good for him now that he's seventeen. She asks Picard about how Wesley has changed during the year they spent apart and Wesley compares him to her late husband Jack.
Down in the shuttle bay, Stubbs is inspecting the Egg with Wesley. As they talk Stubbs notes that he was a child prodigy like Wesley, and that it can be a heavy burden to live under. Red Alert sounds and Wesley rushes to the bridge, where sensors are showing a Borg ship approaching. Shields once again jam, and visual inspection shows no sign of a Borg cube or any other vessel in the area - the whole thing was prompted by another computer error. More faults occur - the computer begins reciting chess moves, doors open and close on their own, helm and engine control is lost again. In conference, Data reports that a general failure in the main computer is hard to believe - no such failure has happened in seventy nine years given that the computers are designed with self correction mechanisms. Stubbs is adamant that the experiment proceed, but Picard tells him that if the safety of the ship requires aborting the mission, then he will do so. Subbs comments that that would certainly get him into the record books and leaves. Troi states that Stubbs has staked his entire sense of self worth on this experiment, to the point where he will do literally anything to see it proceed.
In engineering Geordi discovers a strange kind of damage to the computer - the pathways of circuitry within it are gradually disintegrating, as if something is eating away at them. Wesley looks started at the news and rushes out to check on the experiment he was running the night before. Horrified at the result he goes to Ten Forward to scan an area of the deck. Guinan asks him what's wrong and Wesley confesses that he is responsible for what is going on. The nanites he was experimenting with have escaped because he was careless with their container. Now they are reproducing within the computer system, eating the raw material around them and turning it into more nanites. He admits that he has to go and tell the other officers what has happened.
On the bridge, a restart of the computer solves the problems, at least for a while, and the ship tries to launch the Egg again. Malfunctions begin almost at once, prompting Picard to abandon the mission and try and head out of the system. Stubbs objects but is overruled. He heads down to the shuttlebay and talks to Wesley again, obviously bitter and trying to hide it. Wesley gos and talks to his mother, snapping at her out of stress and then confessing his mistake. She reports back to the senior staff and explains about the nanite infection. Apparently these nanites have evolved, producing a new breed with unknown capabilities. Picard suggests that the nanites may even have evolved enough to be aware of what they are doing, and responds negatively to Stubbs' suggestion that they be killed with - if they are indeed self aware then they are a new life form and the priority is to communicate with them and resolve the situation peacefully. Stubbs argues that the nanites are no different to a biological virus, and wiping them out is no more of a moral issue than curing an infection, but Picard refuses.
As the crew work to cure the problem Srubbs takes matters into his own hands - he uses a hand device to irradiate one of the computer cores with gamma rays, killing the nanites within it. The nanites in other parts of the ship respond to this, actively attacking both the crew and Stubbs. Stubbs argues that Picard now has to eliminate the remaining nanites or be killed in return, angry that consideration is being extended to what he calls "machines with a screw loose." Data points out that the very fact that the nanites have responded to an attack on themselves by targeting Stubbs particularly shows that they are indeed intelligent, at least collectively.
Picard confines Stubbs to his quarters and sets Data to work on a way of communicating with the nanites. As the situation worsens Picard considers irradiating the computers with gamma radiation to wipe them out, but Data manages to make contact. Stubbs is brought to the bridge to apologize to them. Data agrees to let the nanites modify his own systems to use him as a communications channel directly, arguing that this would be a display of trust and good faith. Picard proceeds with the plan and the nanites are able to talk through Data. Stubbs apologizes to them and admissions of fault are made on both sides, along with an agreement to cease hostilities. Stubbs uses his political clout to have a planet designated as a nanite home world and they are released there. Meanwhile the Egg is finally launched just in time for the explosion, and a gleeful Stubbs begins to gather all the data he could hope for.
Crusher, meanwhile, settles in to chat with Guinan about how happy Wesley seems to be with kids his own age - only to become super concerned when she sees him with a girl.
Overall a decent episode. Primarily, this is "the one where Wesley screws up". After having "Wesley the perfect child" pushed in our face for two seasons it was a relief to finally see him make a genuine mistake. It's also great to see how he responds to it - yes he turns around and confesses, but he doesn't just do it straight off as if doing the right thing was absolutely the only concern he had. Rather he held off for quite some time because he was scared, because he didn't want to admit that he was to blame, didn't want to lose the respect everybody had for him. It's exactly how somebody who had been put up on a pedestal might behave, so kudos to the show for showing him in this light. Alas this kind of thing was all too little too late - Wesley was pretty much unsalvageable by this time.
Stubbs I like, too. Again, he's not a terrible cliche - Star Trek so often produces people from Starfleet or the Federation who are completely oblivious to a Starship and crew function. Stubbs is well aware of what's going on, he's probably even aware on some level that Picard and the crew are completely right about the nanites and how they should be treated. It's just that he's so devoted himself to the idea of his experiment that he refuses to allow himself to believe anything that would jeopardize it. I especially like how Troi notes that his public persona is stretched so tight that he risks an explosion and wonders at what might be under that public face... only to have Stubbs suggest that just maybe there's nothing underneath at all.
It's nice to see the binary star thing as well. Space has some pretty weird stuff in it, including systems like this. I'm sure some of the details are modified for effect, but I'd far rather see the ship exploring stuff that we know is at least based in reality than the whole "Made up science anomaly of the week" syndrome that certain Trek shows would indulge in.
Overall a pretty decent episode. The resolution is a bit twee, but I am forgiving of it really.