Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Home Soil"

***

Air date: 2/22/1988
Teleplay by Robert Sabaroff
Story by Karl Guers & Ralph Sanchez and Robert Sabaroff
Directed by Corey Allen

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise checks in on a small group of scientists in charge of a terraforming project on a lifeless planet. An away team beams down, much to the ire of project head Kurt Mandi (Walter Cotell), who doesn't particularly want to be disturbed. The terraforming project is explained in a fair amount of detail by Louisa Kim (Elizabeth Lindsey, whose performance is so false in the science-expository scenes that it's frankly painful to watch). While on the planet, one of the scientists is killed by a laser drill gone awry. Picard opens an investigation to figure out which of the other scientists programmed the computerized drill to commit murder.

"Home Soil" begins as a homicide investigation before gradually becoming a solid TNG example of hard science-fiction — a story made from equal parts "sci" and "fi" (which is more "sci" than most). Discovered on the planet is a mysterious, glowing, crystal-like substance. The crew brings it back to the lab for study, at which point the story's priorities change.

What makes this episode work is its dutiful attention to the scientific process and a realistic (and often intriguing) portrayal of study and observation. The Enterprise crew members are interested in what lies in front of them and use analysis to find the answers. What they discover is an inorganic intelligent life form — previously considered impossible — which they dub a "microbrain." The microbrain subsequently taps into the computer and threatens the ship.

Okay, so it's not a great episode. The jeopardy premise is routine. The crew's peaceful negotiations are Trekkian-humanistic almost to an overstated fault. The microbrain's personality strikes me as far more arrogant than the humans it's accusing of just that sin (ignorance and arrogance aren't the same thing). But this is an episode that's actual science-fiction as opposed to the phony kind.

Previous episode: When the Bough Breaks
Next episode: Coming of Age

Season Index

8 comments on this review

STBro - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 10:34am (USA Central)
I would rate this episode a 2 at best. I agree they try to make a somewhat scientific analysis of the phenomenon but the story lacks dramatic tension and terror-interest.The feeble threat of the magic, glowing crystals leaves Romulan bad guys or even Ferenghi to be desired. At least those enemies have a culture and don't talk like some infantile mix of Tonto/Tarzan:(paraphrasing) "Me noble savage. You bad guy. Hurt feelings. Make sad." This level of communication from members of a supposedly morally and intellectually superior "culture"? Then comes the highly anticipated (from 40 minutes back)abject apology from Captain P. C. Picard and, as you note, this to a species that seems as confused and arrogant as the humanoids they condemn. As a humanist, I say dig 'em up and make 'em into jewelry.
Rikko - Fri, Aug 3, 2012 - 4:40pm (USA Central)
The plot was kinda ok, but looking at a bunch of actors trying to interact with a speaking cube it's a bit ridiculous.

And how many times they are going to introduce an "energy life-form" that's able to do whatever they want to do with it? At least Q is charismatic, but when you get stuff like this crystal and the skin of evil (gosh) I just want to roll my eyes and move on to another episode.
DPC - Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - 8:40pm (USA Central)
Wooden acting aside, this is one of TNG S1's finer entries. The science feels plausible, the silicon-based life form, despite not being the first such life form ever discovered in Trek-land (Horta, anyone?), was a nice touch, and if only the actors came across jubilant instead of imitating pine trees in a drought...

The threat of the crystal critter isn't there, but the scientific intrigue (to me) makes up for it.

3 of 4 stars
Van_Patten - Fri, Feb 8, 2013 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
This one was a bête noire of another great reviewer, Tim Lynch, who described it as having 'no redeeming features' - For once I'd disagree, and after the last two dreadful instalments, this is a welcome lurch back in the right direction.

The Enterprise is called to a Terrforming project whose Leader (according to Troi) is hiding something and that discovery may threaten the survival of the Enterprise!

This is a strange amalgamation of the good and bad. The concept is an intriguing one - a genuinely alien life form and although later CGI development make the effects of the 'Microbrain' Silicon based life form look quite quaint now, it's a genuinely interesting concept. The early scenes on the Terraforming colony are also quite interesting and well played as Data gets trapped and has to out think the mining laser which has already killed one of the Terraformers. The late Walter Gotell (General Gogol from the James Bond series) is a first rate guest star, and the other male Terraformer with a classic 80's mullet is also fairly competent.

However, the episode as a whole never really executes the concept as well as it could. The pacing, especially in the middle, sags, and the wooden performance of the Third Terraformer, who delivers every line with exactly the same intonation (although she is easy on the eye) hampers any sense of emotion. The end result seems a little too pat as well. However, it's an eminently watchable entry and one of the stronger episodes in the season. Most definitely much more than an 'Ugly bag of mostly water' - surely a highlight of dialogue from Season 1 - not without serious flaws but a big improvement on the last two instalments. 2.5 stars from me..
William B - Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - 7:51am (USA Central)
I do wonder why Tim Lynch hated this episode so.

I just rewatched this episode -- and in fact, in some senses, it may be the first time I ever really watched it, since I don't think the episode registered to me when I was a child. Somehow, I found it enthralling. I appreciate why people find the Trekkian humanism (or rather, all-life-forms-ism) overstated and silly, but what I appreciate about this episode is the genuine commitment to the idea that life, especially intelligent life, and especially unusual and heretofore undiscovered intelligent life, is worth treating with not only respect but with awe. I like DPC's point above that this is not new material in terms of having a silicon-bsaed life form -- and indeed, the episode here seems to owe a lot to "The Devil in the Dark," not just borrowing the basis for the life form but the dedication to understanding even the strangest and most seemingly alien of life forms. More so than in "Where No One Has Gone Before" (the other most awe-inspiring episode), I feel very much like this crew is in Starfleet, on this ship because they really genuinely are explorers in the best sense, excited and fascinated by the possibility of learning something new. I love that every character (possibly excepting Worf) -- both terraformers and Starfleet personnel -- recognizes immediately the gravity of destroying a life form, even a bizarre one.

As the episode's effect wears off, I do see significant flaws. Not only is the jeopardy premise routine, I think that it undermines the things that I had admired about the episode so much earlier. "The Devil in the Dark" didn't require the Horta to threaten to blow up the Enterprise to push the crew into brokering a peace agreement. And indeed, the idea that these guys are not only intelligent life but also ostensibly superior to human life (by more than three centuries) is a bit much.
NCC-1701-Z - Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
It ain’t no “Devil in the Dark”, but nevertheless, it’s a very good episode. For the most part, solid plot, good characterization, improved acting. Not perfect (for instance, the female technician was flat and Riker’s scene with her seemed unnecessary), but definitely a step in the right direction. I do think the Enterprise-in-jeopardy premise could have been dispensed with though. Overall, one of TNG’s better efforts to emulate TOS.

3/4
Mark - Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - 4:28pm (USA Central)
A pretty good concept but ropey direction of the actors and editing choices, plus in one scene Data gets emotional. 2.5 for me.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Sep 1, 2013 - 12:41pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode, but hardly a great one. It just seemed to be a bit too slow and had too many cliches thrown in. The initial antagonism of the terraforming chief, the mystery of the random dude's death, the discovery of life, and then a little war. The episode just seems to jump from topic to topic without putting enough thought into it.

It didn't help that in this instance, Picard et al really were as stupid and arrogant as the microbrain suggests. As soon as it was discovered that the microbrain was sentient, why wasn't it immediately a suspect in random guy's murder? (Answer: because the plot completely ignored said murder 5 minutes after it happened) Also, more importantly, why did Picard continue to keep it a prisoner in order to study it? That doesn't sound like the diplomat that Picard is. Pretty stupid of him, and hard to blame the microbrain for going to war under those circumstances either.

At least there wasn't annoying preachy speechifying about how evil 20th century Earth was in this episode.

On the positive side, "ugly bags of mostly water" was a pretty clever line, the methodological study of the microbrain was interesting albeit kinda simplistic, and the concept of the silicon based life form itself was interesting enough to make this a decent episode.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer