Season one reaches its climax with a monstrous thrill ride...! If only there wasn't one more episode still to go
"First Officer's log... I still don't have a beard. But I'm ready to sit in the captain's chair for a little while." It's all fun and games as the bridge crew imagine the coming shore leave at Pacifica, and wince at Data's inability to produce a convincing laugh in response to LaForge's tasteless sex joke. Suddenly, the Enterprise receives a Code 47. That means 'Captain's Eyes Only' as is immediately explained. Picard treats this with the gravity you might expect, and takes the call in his bedroom. Then he beams down to Sound Stage 16, which has stark red lighting and groovy underground caves now. He has to pass a loyalty test for his old friend Captain Exposition, along with Captain Cool-New-Alien, and Captain Scott (not the famous one, though). It seems that something is very wrong at Starfleet... certain officers are being bumped off in mysterious accidents, and others don't seem to have any memory of their backstory. I'm sure there's a word for this sort of situation... what did it say just after the credits? Oh yes 'Conspiracy'. That's it! There's a conspiracy inside Starfleet!
The Enterprise-D returns to Earth, where they are hailed by Starfleet bigwigs and Troi uses her special power to inform us that "someone is hiding something". Way to go, Troi… I look forward to you levelling up and gaining a power other than State-the-Obvious next season. Our old pal Admiral Quinn beams up to the Enterprise - don't trust him, Jean-Luc, he's a Nazi, I mean, he’s been taken over by an alien earwig! Picard beams down to Starfleet command so that Riker can get his ass handed to him by Quinn. LaForge and Worf to the rescue!
Oh no, they've been knocked out too (Worf 1, Aliens 4), but Dr Crusher saves the day by being the only officer to have the foresight to bring a phaser. The aliens reveal themselves to be pranksters by giving Picard grub worms to eat - yuck! Then Riker appears - oh no! He's an earwig too! But no, it's all a ruse. Bam! Take that bigwig-earwigs! They follow a creepy-crawly to their queen, our old friend Lieutenant Commander Remmick - whom they utterly melt with their phasers, spraying earwigs everywhere! Wait - did they just do that?! They sure did!
For one episode only, it's as if John Carpenter had been brought in to guest direct TNG. It's actually directed by Cliff Bole, his third outing, and a jaw-dropping one at that! The screenplay was written by Tracy Tormé, based upon a story idea from classic Trek veteran Robert Sabaroff. This episode would feel right at home in classic Trek, although at the same time it's about as far from Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek as you could imagine, which makes it all the more surprising that he greenlit it!
There's lots of great moments in this screenplay, my favourite of which is when Data is monologuing to the Enterprise computer and even she cuts him short:
DATA Startling. Quite extraordinary, in fact.
COMPUTER VOICE Directions unclear. Please repeat request.
DATA That was not a request. I was simply... talking to myself. (smiles, pleased) A human idiosyncrasy triggered by fascination with a particular set of facts. Or sometimes brought about by senility. Or, used as a means of weighing information before reaching a conclusion. Or, as a --
COMPUTER VOICE -- Thank you, sir. I comprehend.
CLOSE ON DATA taken aback. Even the computer has learned to interrupt when he is rambling.
This script is the only time the military term 'Frigate' is used in 20th century Star Trek, spoken here by Worf... we also get the first mention of the Ambassador-class starships, which Data identifies as a 'heavy cruiser' (another term not spoken anywhere else in 20th century Trek, although the classic show does recognise that the Enterprise is a ‘star cruiser’).
Why use such specific terms here and not elsewhere…? Perhaps because they don’t have models for these ships, so they compensate by using technical words to add weight to their off-screen presence. All these specialist words show the enormous influence of World War II on Roddenberry and the classic Trek writers in general. Alas, we don't get to see the Ambassador-class USS Horatio, although I suppose you could say we get to see parts of it... little tiny parts, floating in space, after they blow it up.
Much like a John Carpenter movie, it’s not really about the acting, but a few short remarks are in order. Firstly, no Wesley - how much worse would this episode have been if it was Wesley uncovering the titular Conspiracy...? Well, don't worry, we'll find out in Season 5's "The Game", which also plays at Invasion of the Body Snatchers, although perhaps not as memorably as this.
I must tip my hat to the return of Robert Schenkkan's Lieutenant Commander Remmick and Ward Costello's Admiral Quinn, both of whom are wonderfully horrible! This role was not Costello’s only time playing top brass, as he was General Marshall in the 1977 film MacArthur, which is that rare thing, a war film that is more about the people and the politics than battlefield adventure.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
There's so much SFX fun in this episode I don't even know where to begin! How about the excellent make-up. In fact, this episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup for a Series, which was shared between Michael Westmore, Werner Keppler, and Gerald Quist. I can absolutely see why! Let's kick off with this guy.
Although the blue tint of the later Bolian make-up is more distinctive, I love the look of Captain Rixx in this episode. The race is named after the director, Cliff Bole, and of course they’ll appear many more times over the show's production run, although perhaps never as distinctively as in this episode.
Stock footage of Starfleet Command in San Francisco is used twice, both shots having been created for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. As movie quality visuals, they of course look fantastic and really lend some gravitas to the episode at effectively zero production expense.
There's much fanonical joy at this Okudagram showing a map of the Alpha and Beta quadrants that comprise Federation territory. Finally, a map of the Federation at a resolution that reveals nothing much of consequence!
But the absolute star of the show is the stop motion earwig! I cannot tell you how much I love stop motion monsters, and this is to my knowledge the only use of stop motion anywhere in any Star Trek TV show. We get half a dozen shots, including climbing up Mother Remmick, although the ghastly swallow at the end uses a puppet.
The screenplay suggests these monstrous parasites should look "something like an oversized silverfish", which Rick Sternbach delivered on wonderfully with his design. The 4.5 inch soft-wire armature used for the stop motion was made by Starlight Effects, who would be used again to make models for the equally memorable "Q Who”. However, the actual animations were made by freelancer David Stipes, who would join TNG as VFX Supervisor in season six. Here he is working on the floor, and you can learn about the entire process of making these shots over at his blog!
Of course, you can't talk about this episode without also drawing attention to the sheer audacity of melting Remmick down to his skeleton and having a latex puppet alien burst out! What the hell are we watching! Are you even allowed to show this on network television in the 1980s?! (As it happens, you weren't, and some of these shots were edited out in the versions that aired.)
This "mother creature" puppet itself was also designed by Sternbach and made by Makeup & Effects Laboratories, who would become the main provider of TNG props from the third season onwards. But check out Andrew Probert's grisly concept art for the climactic sequence! How did nobody stop this happening?!
There's literally nothing like this episode anywhere else in any Star Trek franchise... it doesn't even feel like a Trek show - more like half-length horror movie set in the future. Fortunately, one thing makes this clear that this is indeed our beloved TNG: Worf gets utterly smacked down by yet another alien. Don't worry, Worf, there's many more embarrassing defeats for you to still to come!
Special thanks to PT109 for sourcing the story of David Stipes’ creation of the stop motion sequences.
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