Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Transfigurations"

**1/2

Air date: 6/4/1990
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Tom Benko

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Until now, I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen this episode since it originally aired in 1990. As this is one of those middling episodes of TNG that few people seem to care about (myself included), I've had no reason to revisit it until now. So a funny thing happened to me while watching "Transfigurations." For the first 20 minutes, I couldn't remember what it was about or how it ended. Not at all. But as the episode continued, I remembered more and more, until finally I said to myself, "Here comes the part where Worf goes flying over the railing and breaks his neck." Funny how I remembered that. Probably because neck-breaking stunts are cool.

The weird thing was how my experience watching this episode mirrored the central character — an alien (Mark La Mura) who has no memory but recalls bits and pieces as the story moves forward and strange things happen to his body. The alien was found by the Enterprise crew, a hair's width from death after the crash of his escape pod. He does not remember his name or where he's from or why he crashed, so John Doe it is. Crusher cares for him over the course of a month, and his recovery is a miraculous one that can be attributed to his body's phenomenal ability to heal itself. He discovers that he also has the ability to heal others.

The episode seeks the answers to where this guy came from and what's now happening to him. He can't explain himself or his powers. Picard is concerned. Meanwhile, the Enterprise ventures into a territory of space where Doe might be from. Mark La Mura is earnest and projects a nice-guy persona, but the episode's problem is that it moves slowly and has a tendency to repeat itself. The episode amounts to Doe explaining that he can't explain himself, Picard expressing concern, Crusher defending Doe, and then Doe healing somebody. Repeat. I was more intrigued by Geordi's newfound confidence and girlfriend Christy Henshaw (Julie Warner); although I wondered what changed her mind about Geordi between "Booby Trap" and here.

The ending, in which the Enterprise finds Doe's people — who were responsible for attacking him and causing his crash — provides the usual TNG lesson about tolerance versus fear, seeking out new life, etc., etc. Doe (and his people) are on the verge of a wondrous evolution into a different kind of life form. Doe's people fear that possibility, and I can't say I blame them. Of course, I also can't say that killing everyone who has symptoms of this change is particularly bright, either.

I'd forgotten that this is where O'Brien's kayaking hobby and shoulder injury were first documented. For some reason I'd thought that was established much later, on DS9. I'd call this a nice touch of continuity, but since this is the first time, I guess the "continuity" part doesn't come until later.

Previous episode: Menage à Troi
Next episode: The Best of Both Worlds, Part I

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7 comments on this review

William B - Thu, Jun 13, 2013 - 6:32am (USA Central)
It amuses me that there are no comments on this episode yet! It really is nondescript, as Jammer says -- I can't really think of any episodes this side of, say, "Lonely Among Us" from season one, that are this unmemorable. This is better than that episode, obviously, because "nondescript" for season 1 is bad and nondescript for season three is competent at least. Still....

John Doe represents a little bit about this series' take on evolution. Like the X-Men (which resonates with Patrick Stewart's career, though that's a decade away), John Doe is progressing beyond the norm of his society as a mutation. Society, it turns out, wants to stamp him out and kill him because they're afraid of change. Fortunately, John has superpowers to protect himself with. The Enterprise serves as somewhat of a midwife for his rebirth as a being of pure light, and along the way he heals the sick of body and mind; apparently Geordi's creepy awkwardness with women is as easily cured as O'Brien's shoulder injury. To continue the X-Men comparison, part of the reason the X-Men story (in some of its incarnations, anyway) has some resonance is that while the X-Men can code for whatever minority the writer wants them to at any given time, when they are depicted as "the next stage in human progress," there is some reason for ordinary humans to fear them. They have superpowers which can be used offensively, and some of them use them for ill. It doesn't make persecution of the mutants right -- but it makes it understandable, and the message that persecution is wrong carries more weight if the proviso that it's wrong even if the people being persecuted against are scary. John is a little worrying because he's Mysterious, and does hurt Worf when he's trying to escape, but he immediately undoes it and we never get any real sense of why he and his are feared besides generic fear-of-the-unknown.

The other obvious parallel is that John Doe is a messiah figure -- healing the sick and all, as well as offering something like spiritual transformation for Geordi and maybe for Crusher, who (we are told, by Wesley, more than shown, really) benefits from his presence. In that sense the episode could be taken as saying that spiritual leaders in human history are really people advancing to the next stage of 'evolution' in human/social consciousness more so than literally divine; there is no indication that Doe is a messenger from God, but merely that he's advanced in some way from his prospective peers in a way.

The episode never quite gels. Who Joe is is not revealed until the end of the story, and so the bulk of the episode is spent on the slowly unraveling mystery about him -- in which the main cast is fairly passive, and in which we are more told than shown about John Doe's influence. Beverly and John's bond feels a little real, but there is ultimately not enough to solidify their connection. The episode is perhaps most notable for taking place over such a long period of time -- it's over a month, in-universe time -- but part of the reason it takes so long, I feel, is that the crisis is so low-urgency that no one besides Beverly can actually devote any particular resources to figuring out what is going on with John. It's nice to have a low-key episode, but once it's over, there's the real sense that nothing much has happened. I think I'd give it 2 stars.
William B - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 4:41pm (USA Central)
One thing that is noteworthy upon further reflection: John Doe's version of "evolution," in which humanoids might get to the point of being able to heal physical and psychological wounds but leaving behind their physical form and the history that surrounds it, is really interesting to see in the episode before BOBW. The Borg represent a different version of transhumanism, of "the future" writ large, in which the Borg are granted some of the same "powers" as John -- the ability to "repair" with ease, for example. While I doubt this was the intention, the presence of the Borg in the episode immediately following this one makes John Doe's species fear of him just a little bit more understandable, and underlines the creepiness of John removing the "weakness" of doubt in Geordi. It is seemingly "biological" rather than technological here.
Marshal - Fri, Jun 28, 2013 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
This episode is about space Jesus. John is chased down as a social dissident. He heals and brings back the dead. He has an attitude of peace and humility, no anger or frustration related with his loss of identity. In the end he is reborn and departs to lead his people to a higher truth.
I love this episode along with almost any episode that hints at the limitless potential of life. Mainly I love it for prominently featuring my favorite doctor and I enjoy the development of John's relationship with her. It never feels romantic to me but the connection is very deep and spiritual. I think John was being portrayed as a very nonsexual being hinting at his future evolution.
I don't know how you call this a middling episode. The pacing is slower because its a thoughtful episode that is supposed to stimulate questions more than provide answers. I also remember watching this when it first aired and this one stuck with me. It's not the best episode but it exemplifies the philosophical attitude that I appreciate in TNG over other trek series. I don't watch for action and excitement but for a sense of wonder.
Corey - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
I think the premise has potential (unknown alien with unexplained powers), but I think it's too much of a slow burn, so to speak. Throughout much of the episode, having so many people say "I don't know" or "I can't explain it", doesn't help it much. What does it all mean? While I realize that's a central question of the show, and gets answered in the end more or less, the journey to it just isn't interesting enough.

From a production point of view, the FX seemed decent, but I'm not sure the acting was all it could have been. For example, if my wife lost her memory, she would be agitated not being able remember her name, or her history. At the very least you would think John Doe would be a bit more passionate in his speech about wanting to remember, but it seems too much like he's reading lines. I think McFadden and Stewart did fine in their parts though.

So overall, would give a 2.5/4. Decent, but not stellar. Perhaps not enough emphasis on the human condition.
Jay - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 3:19pm (USA Central)
Something about the Crushers' and being attracted to beings made of light. Back in "The Dauphin" , Wesley fell for a light being (though there, as here, only in the closing scene were they revealed as such - for most of the episode they masqueraded as humans or giant feral gerbils), and now Beverly and this guy.
Tom - Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - 4:36am (USA Central)
I think that "boring" adequately sums up this episode. The John/Crusher connection is supposed to be a central pillar of the episode, but it never works. She doesn't seem to be even trying to pretend that she's infatuated or interested in him.

The theme of the episode is about the birth of a new species, as well as Space Jesus/Buddhist Illumination. The problem is that they pretty much start exploring the theme 10 minutes before the end of the episode. As others have pointed out, the action was slow and there was nothing happening, no tension. I'm just glad that they didn't write off René Echevarria after this...
Jack - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 5:01pm (USA Central)
How convenient was it that when they figured out where John Doe came from, it was almost exactly in the direction they were already going. I had to roll my eyes at that one. And then Picard says that fortunately, becuase of that, they won't hav emuch of a delay in their mission. But...isn't finding John Does pretty much their primary mission? It's right out of the narration in the weekly opening credits....

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