Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation



Air date: 9/25/1989
Teleplay by Michael Piller
Story by Michael Piller & Michael Wagner
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

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.

Previous episode: Shades of Gray
Next episode: The Ensigns of Command

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10 comments on this review

Straha - Fri, Aug 1, 2008 - 4:23am (USA Central)
I strongly disagree with the three-star-rating for the season opener "evolution". Wesley's school experiment lets two nanobots with allegedly only the simplest of capabilities "interact". They "escape" and - whoosh - they evolve to a "civilization" in no time. I simply couldn't suspend disbelief in this ridiculous premise and found myself extremely annoyed at the beginning of third season. If not for the somewhat redeeming storyline about Dr. Stubbs, this would have gotten a "half-star-rating" (max) in my book. Fortunately the season *really* picked up later on.
Matthew Burns - Thu, Dec 16, 2010 - 12:34pm (USA Central)
The third season of TNG was like the beginning of a fresh start. Seriously. The opening scenes on the premier season-three episode "Evolutions", while not exceptional in any sense, conveys to the audience that this is the start of something better.

Crusher is back, the crew look much more professional and more comfortable in their new uniforms, and in a strange sense the whole show looks so, so, soo.. much more mature than the feeling you constantly got with the first season, and mostly (some exceptions, I surpose) the second season as well. Even the Enterprise exterior shots look like brilliant FX shots for late-80s-early-90s.

Mark my words, Michael Piller helped save this show from the abyss of cancellation that be-felled the original show in my opinion. I can't believe that another season like the second season would have sufficed to warrant a fourth chance. There were too many poor episodes in the last year in my opinion. However punctuated in-between those poor episodes you had episodes like "The Measure of a Man", "Q-Who" and "Peak Performance", too name the very best in my opinion. "Shades of Grey" was the worst possible way you could end any season. Dear God; why use that as the season finale - better yet - why make it at all? It was awful and I'm absolutely sure that had I been alive to see TNG at this time I would have worried or perhaps even given up on a series that seemed to be surviving for dear life (i.e. TOS third season, regarded by fans as awful generally) much beyond that point.

This season was a marvellous revival. It was also the first season I purchased of TNG on DVD (I hadn't seen any episodes of TNG apart from the The Best of Both Worlds - I collected the DVD'S and watched that way). It actually the PERFECT season of the show to introduce newcomers. If this was ever the case for any reading this - I strongly recommend you DO NOT give them the first season of the show because in all frankness it could be a fatal turn-off. The second is probably an OK start-point but there are still too many cheesy and god-awful episodes to get through, that again, could be a turn-off for potential newcomers to the series. I recommend the third simply because nearly every single episode is AT LEAST tolerable and the majority are good in any case.

Let me put it this way: If a newcomer cannot get into TNG in the third season then they probably won't understand, enjoy, appreciate or be a overall fan of TNG. The season has a whole group of episodes of a standalone adventure nature that are generally all good in different senses. The climax is brilliant as well. I myself was most certainly compelled to get the fourth season and the rest was just a matter of time and money. I saved up in anticipation for the next season up to the finale - and in honesty was kinda sad it was over when it was over in "All Good Things' (Although four films did follow for TNG). THEN I got the first season, and finally the second. Strange I know. But in my opinion this is trully the best way to watch the series for any newcomers.

By watching the more adult, mature and enjoyable episodes of the third season and later, you then look at those first two seasons from a more thoughtful and fulfilling perspective. In my opinion you get more out of the first two seasons by watched Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in that order first. I did - I consider myself a pretty big fan of the series now and I love all the series (overall) and appreciate everything.

Please Note: I have to say second-season finale "Shades of Grey" is truly, totally, absolutely the only episode in the whole series I would recommend ditching and missing altogether - it shouldn't exist and I am pretty sure everyone who has seen the episode ONCE (and only once in my case) will agree with me on that.
gmlcgond - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 9:56am (USA Central)
As a life long baseball fan, the episode makes me smile everytime.
xaaos - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 11:52am (USA Central)
Interesting points, Matthew Burns. Thank you.
Jack - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 12:48pm (USA Central)
Essentially a rehash of "Home Soil", except that they are artificial rather than natural...
William B - Mon, Apr 15, 2013 - 11:37am (USA Central)
While I understand Jammer's point that if one cannot appreciate this episode, with its myriad typical-to-TNG elements, one cannot appreciate TNG; still, I think that it's possible to appreciate stories such as the ones that make up this episode without particularly liking the way they are used here. Of episodes preceding this one, I prefer other versions of computer-malfunction stories ("Contagion"), Wesley's-uncertainty-about-his-future stories ("Coming of Age"), and scientists' vanity gets in the way of considering unusual life form stories ("Home Soil").

I think this episode plays well for most of its running time, but I find the ending disappointing. The episode's big lost opportunity is on the character level. The setup of the Wesley-Dr. Stubbs story, along with the strain in the dynamic between the Crusher mother and son, is rather touching. Dr. Stubbs is a tragic figure and a person who might well be Wesley in his future, if he neglects his personal connections to spend all his time as a wunderkind. Dr. Stubbs' identity is so tied up with his scientific pursuits that he endangers everyone around him because his ego has (nearly) totally overwhelmed his compassion for others and even his sense of self-preservation. Wesley runs the risk of the same thing happening to him. When he figures out that it’s probably his scientific project that has gone awry and is threatening the ship, he doesn’t come forward and tell anyone about it, for fear of the recriminations and humiliation that would result. Even after he tells Guinan that he will tell, he talks to Stubbs some more and continues doing experiments until Beverly finally pushes him and he snaps and is a child again for a second -- telling his mother that he's screwed up really badly and needs her help. That moment is fairly well done (though Wheaton and McFadden aren't the strongest of the cast, I do buy them as mother and son).

However, after this point that story thread is very nearly dropped entirely. Wesley has nothing more to do of consequence in the story, and in the last scene he has somehow gotten a circle of friends and maybe a girlfriend, off-screen. Uh, how? Meanwhile, Stubbs has suddenly become apologetic about destroying a bunch of the nanites. It’s not clear whether this is because he recognizes the wrongness of his actions or just that it’s more convenient to play along with the nanites now that it’s possible to talk to them. It’s not really that I mind either story—Stubbs coming to his senses and realizing that there are more important things than his personal success, or Stubbs as tragic character who is unable to live in a world where he views himself as a failure—but the episode has to pick a direction.

I complain, I suppose, because I think the character work early in the episode is good—Stubbs feels real to me, and his dialogue with Wesley about the difficulty of living up to one’s potential and the tragedy of peaking early are well written and acted and relatable to people on whom great expectations and hopes were placed early in life. It also resonates with Wesley’s later failure in “The First Duty” and “Journey’s End” to succeed in his Starfleet Academy dreams (though I guess going with the Traveler constitutes a happy, successful end for Wes). Similarly, the ideas behind the mother/son conflict are interesting and well worth exploring upon Beverly’s return to the ship—Wesley should be, and seems to be, feeling a mixture of resentment that his mother left, resentment that his mother is back, being happy at her return after having missed her, feeling her intruding on his life without her, and so on, but this is something that doesn’t get much resolution besides the brief moment of Wesley seeming to need her again once he confesses his nanites screwup. (I did like Beverly and Picard’s mature conversation about Wesley, which re-establishes the Picard/Crusher bond without being overly showy and feeling natural.)

On that level, it’s particularly strange that Wesley’s basically becoming a God/creator to a species that has already apparently advanced beyond humans goes uncommented upon by him or his mother or Picard or Stubbs or the nanites themselves. Certainly, “accidental creator of an intelligent species” is going to get Wesley into the history books even if multiple ship-saviour hasn’t, and in an episode that starts off about the difficulty dealing with having peaked young it’s an odd oversight.

The nanites stuff itself is Trekkian in the good sense; communication and peace are achievable if the crew tries hard enough, though force will be brought up if necessary. The implications of the nanites are not really examined at length, however, and this makes at least the second time that a crew member accidentally created a new artificial intelligence (after Moriarty). These people should be more careful, maybe?

As Matthew Burns stated above, this episode does have a notable difference in tone from season two which immediately feels right in some ways, despite this story being (to me) one of the weaker season three outings. This is a bit like “The Child” in that sense—that episode was a mediocre show but the incidental dialogue and characterization and the smoothness of the character introductions indicated a real step up from season one. Since season three is even better than season two, it makes sense that “Evolution” is a better episode than “The Child,” though not really a particularly good one. Then again, TNG doesn’t have a very good track record with season premieres—there are only two (BOBW2 and Redemption 2) out of seven that I’d actually describe as good.

2.5 stars, all considered.
Rikko - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
You guys have made some excellent points, particularly Matthew Burns and William B, you said like 90% of what I wanted to say! And a lot more that I didn't even think about, hah.

Still, since I'm not a big fan of baseball, during that scene when Dr. Stubbs imagines the game, I just felt bad for him. He was a poor little guy, all alone, a "tragic figure", who only lived for his work.

I can clearly see the parallels with a future Wesley if he continues to be just a brilliant nerd, and reading the notes from the episode (at Memory Alpha) it seems that was the writers intention all along.

Needless to say, the human part was far more interesting to me than the "nanites" issue. I loved Wes confessing to his mother that he must have made a terrible mistake. Things like this from now on, makes him a more relatable character than the perfect boy he was these last two seasons. He'll also become a more integral part of the crew, as his oncoming friendship with Data and Geordi will tell.

Crusher's return took a time to get used to, I was really enjoying the character of Dr. Pulaski, even when the actress really started to deliver some flat acting in the last few episodes of S2. Diana Muldaur looked bored, maybe because she knew that was it for her.

Now, the new uniforms were so much better, the actors looked more comfortable on them. It was as much as improvement for the whole cast as Riker's beard for his character back then in S2. We never got rid of the Picard Maneuver, but that's part of his charm, isn't it?
SkepticalMI - Mon, Oct 7, 2013 - 10:34pm (USA Central)
I think pretty much everything I wanted to say was already stated. One other thing, that I'm not sure if it was intentional or not but the episode seemed to mock some of the more annoying parts of the first season or two. Namely, Stubbs twice (figuratively) rolled his eyes whenever Troi was about to speak. He essentially mocked her constantly saying what everyone was feeling, which is what what I and presumably everyone else was thinking every time she opened her mouth. And likewise, Stubbs being the inevitable end of Wesley's character arc contrasts sharply with the Mary Sue profile he had in Season 1. And even ignoring the negative part, Stubbs' conversation with Wesley early on about being a wunderkind and the pressures of it are also more realistic than the bubbly enthusiastic season 1 character.

In general though, this was a good but not great episode. The part I really liked was the fairly subtle contrast of Wesley and Stubbs. The warning that Wesley could end up a lonely egomaniac like Stubbs was never explicitly stated, but pretty obvious nonetheless. And Wesley's error and worrying about the expectations forced on him nicely previewed First Duty and Journey's End, respectively. Adding in Bev worrying about him was a bit heavy-handed, but fit well and gave her a legitimate reason to show up in the episode. Her ending talk to Guinan was cliched ("yay, he has a girlfriend! Tell me everything about her so I know if she's good enough for him" but whatever. And yes, I agree that her quick chat with Picard was a nice way to reinforce (or, more accurately, start her friendship with him; it was very understated in Season 1).

As for the nanite side of the story, it was... adequate. The story paralleled and reinforced Quality of Life and Home Soil, and was at least better written than the latter one. Yes, it's a bit silly believing the nanites could evolve so fast, and that the Enterprise is just making new life forms left and right. But the malfunctions were fun (Sousa blasting all over the bridge, chess moves being called out, etc) and the sense of frustration and hopelessness was real. The ethical issues were brought up competently, but that's just about it. It was rather predictable and ended predictably. Like I said, adequate.
Jack - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 2:36pm (USA Central)
Food slot?

Apparently they hadn't coined the term replicator at this point...
Caliburn - Thu, Apr 10, 2014 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
The arc that Wesley was originally meant to undergo in this episode becomes a whole lot clearer from some deleted scenes that a collector found on a workprint VHS. The Comments section here doesn't permit direct links, but the deleted scenes can be found on TrekCore.com in two batches, the first posted on May 29, 2013 and the second on June 3, 2013. These workprint VHSes inspired the team at CBS to track down the film elements to include deleted scenes on the later Blu-rays (Season 4 and on), unfortunately too late for Evolution, which so far is one of the episodes that has the most substantial deleted scenes.

When the first batch of Evolution's deleted scenes came out, I was a tad skeptical of the value of the scenes, but once the second batch came out, I realized how several of those scenes were meant to build up to deleted scenes 82-84, which were the original turning point in Wesley's arc.

Michael Piller's comments on Wesley's character growth are also of interest, especially in light of those deleted scenes:

"I had this story about nanites. Once I got to know the scientist and realized who he was, I realized that the scientist is Wesley in forty years, if he stays on the course of being the smart kid who is dedicated to his work and seems not to have much else going on in his life. I said, 'If I use that relationship to get it down to a more human level, I can help Wesley grow. I can help Wesley move into a relationship with a girlfriend.'...That became the key element to Beverley's re-entry into the series, which was, 'My son is not having a normal childhood.' We know a lot of kids like that. I saw that and had a sense that was needed."
--from the book Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, courtesy of Memory-Alpha.org

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