An obsessed scientist on a deadline. A science project by Wesley Crusher run awry. The Enterprise computer on the fritz. An alien influence misunderstood. A crisis in which the Enterprise is potentially threatened. And a solution that embraces humanism and cooperation and never cynicism or brute aggression.
Yes, all the pieces are here for a restrained season opener that utilizes every typical element that embodies the TNG story ethic. It's routine almost to a fault, but if you can't respect this episode for what it is, then you probably can't respect TNG for what it stands for.
Wesley finds that his science project — in which he combined two types of nanites (microscopic robots) to improve their functionality, resulting in an unintended AI evolution — may be the cause of a series of computer malfunctions not unlike the ones seen in "Contagion." The malfunctions are threatening (in addition to the Enterprise, ultimately) the life work of Dr. Stubbs (Ken Jenkins), who is supposed to observe a stellar phenomenon that happens only once every two centuries.
The story is reminiscent of first season's "Home Soil" in its interest in studying, documenting, and communicating with a new inorganic life form. The nanites are a neat idea, although I have a problem with the notion of such dangerous AI technology being so readily available to anyone, let alone a teenager. There's also the issue of how quickly and easily computer hardware here becomes a sentient civilization, and whether this story revelation represents a can of worms. (I'm reminded of the "mimetic symbiont" used to clone Trip in Enterprise's "Similitude.")
The show also has time for some palatable character touches. Dr. Crusher has returned, and finds that she doesn't quite know who her son has become as a 17-year-old. Also, Stubbs is depicted not simply as an obsessed scientist but a man whose life meaning is on the line. During his downtime, he plays entire baseball seasons in his head. He has a nice little speech about how the death of baseball came at the hands of a society that no longer had the patience for it. Given this episode and Sisko in DS9, you conclude that Michael Piller must've been a baseball fan.