Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Identity Crisis"

**1/2

Air date: 3/25/1991
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Timothy De Haas
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Geordi's close friend — sort of like his big sister — Susanna Leijten (Maryann Plunkett) comes aboard to report that the other officers of an away mission they all had been on several years earlier have recently gone missing. The Enterprise tracks a shuttle from one of the missing crewmen to the original mission's planet. They find no trace of the missing crewman, but Susanna, and then Geordi, begin having strange medical symptoms that draw them to the planet. It turns out they were both afflicted, on that years-ago mission, by an alien influence that is now rewriting their DNA. When Susanna starts transforming into an alien, Crusher must race to find a way to stop it before Susanna and Geordi are both lost.

"Identity Crisis" is a tolerable hodgepodge of stories. It's a merging of various familiar devices including (1) Starfleet officers who have gone missing, (2) an old close friend we've never heard of before, (3) a medical mystery, (4) an alien parasite, (5) a holodeck investigation, and (6) Fun With DNA [TM]. Actually, this might be the best Fun With DNA episode on record, since Fun With DNA generally makes me want to retch. Brannon Braga apparently decided that if "Identity Crisis" was the starting point then "Threshold" was the logical extension, but I digress.

The most interesting scenes involve Geordi on the holodeck trying to put together clues from a video recording of the original mission. Hey, look! There's a shadow from someone who isn't there! What is that? Before long, Geordi has become an invisible alien himself, and goes careening through the ship with the aid of his own personal biological cloaking device, like the alien in Predator.

The first half of the story does a pretty good job of creating a sense of mystery about what's going on, as Susanna slowly, psychologically melts down. And the second half of the show — which focuses on the close friendship between Geordi and Susanna as they try to save each other — works emotionally, even as the science goes off the deep end (transforming people into aliens and back without killing them and in such a way that even their hair looks the same, etc.). I can't recommend "Identity Crisis," but there are things about it that work in spite of itself.

Previous episode: Night Terrors
Next episode: The Nth Degree

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5 comments on this review

Peremensoe - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 7:03pm (USA Central)
The transparent, invisible alien that somehow casts a shadow... doesn't really make sense, yet that holodeck investigation scene creeps me out nonetheless.
T'Paul - Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - 7:26am (USA Central)
I am a pretty huge fan, but this and the previous episode are two I just can't get through...
William B - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 1:26pm (USA Central)
@Peremensoe, the aliens aren't actually transparent, but chameleonic -- and so they should cast shadows. However, it's also pretty unlikely they could actually hide in plain sight the way they do without a lot more distortion, particularly when looked at from different angles at the same time from different people.

As with "Night Terrors," nothing in this episode seems to be specific to the characters in this show. That isn't so terrible; much of the show is about exploring interesting concepts (morally, scientifically etc.) rather than about exploring the main cast, though I think the best episodes work on both levels. The Fun With DNA [TM Jammer] stuff doesn't seem to me to be all that interesting or meaningful -- it's not really based in actual science, and there doesn't seem to be any deeper metaphor or anything about the human condition otherwise. It *is* a decent mystery, and that works in the episode's favour. And that mystery aspect is the thing that makes it at least passable as a La Forge story, since the "Blow-Up" inspired scenes of Geordi piecing together what happened give a decent sense of the process of the engineering mind at work, as well as revealing something about Geordi, who prefers to be working on a problem even when he is the problem.

The episode's other conceit is that this is a story about something from the past of Geordi and other away team members coming back for them five years later; it's something creepy and primal, I think, and the basis for a lot of horror stories, that there is some Event somewhere buried in someone's past that can come toward them at any time. (DS9's "The Darkness and the Light" does well with this concept.) But nothing that Geordi or the others did matters to this, so the emotional resonance is still only barely there. The episode does push the Geordi/Susanna friendship, and there is a natural chemistry between the two in an early scene which makes Susanna's ability to reach Geordi later on believable...but really, should the emotional lynchpin of an episode be a relationship between Geordi and a character who had never been mentioned before and never will be again? There's a nice scene where Crusher intuits Data is "worried" and Data denies it, and another where Data goes to talk to Geordi, and I couldn't help notice a shot of Data looking on as Susanna found Geordi again; the Data-Geordi friendship is more fundamental to the show, and I wonder if they could have played up that angle in having Geordi return to his human roots. Or not.

I couldn't help but notice that mutated Geordi seemed to have working eyes, with pupils and everything. I guess when the DNA [tech] which Crusher uses to magically reverse the process took effect, it restored Geordi's eyes to their non-functioning position, because...what, is his blindness genetic? Which does not really seem to square with "All Good Things"/Insurrection, but whatever.

I agree with Jammer that the episode sort of works in spite of itself, but I think if "Night Terrors" is a high 2.5 star show, this is probably a high 2 star show for me.
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Jun 21, 2014 - 11:23pm (USA Central)
This show works pretty well on atmosphere and mystery factor alone. The soundtrack especially helped the episode out in terms of working up the suspense and sense of mystery.

However, the ending where Leijten appeals to the residual humanity in La Forge-turned-into-blue-meanie didn't really work for me. I would have preferred a straightforward "Phasers on stun! (ZAP!) One to beam up."

One thing they missed: what about the other Enterprise personnel who beamed down? Shouldn't they have been screened for the parasite afterward? Just one mention in the captain's log would have sufficed, but otherwise it seems like a pretty big thing to miss.

Good, but not great episode. 3/4
Alex - Fri, Sep 26, 2014 - 1:09am (USA Central)
Quick question: could the Enterprise have entered warp briefly to come into tractor beam range for the shuttle in the beginning that cruised into the atmosphere? I suppose it's a "whatever", but I'm curious if such a thing could've been possible. Isn't such a thing in battle known as "The Picard Maneuver"?

I think the episode launched into mystery adventure too quickly, without enough pre-knowledge orienting us to the characters in question and their previous mission. The holodeck investigation is surprisingly creepy - I think discovering the mysterious shadow and slowly leading us to look at its source is done at excellent pace - suspense done very well. Kind of like an accidental scary scene, though the final computer projection of the invisible figure is a little bit of a let down, though a realistic one.

I appreciated how the final dialogue between Geordi and Susannah suggest he only trusted her because of their special, trusting relationship from old times. Says something of instinct to trust.

Also enjoyed the little humor of Data replying so succinctly about his work taking two minutes to finish. I found that humorous, at least. And another excellent episode showing off Data's supposed objectivity and our own projection onto him of concern for a friend. Does he worry in some way about Geordi? I read in Jammer's old school paper analysis of Trek how the writers liked to make us think that Data cared more than he said, but carefully kept him in line with his objectivity. Feels satisfying to not know for certain, and it's fun to try to adopt pure logic from Data's point of view.


So again - could it have been possible to intercept that shuttle in the beginning by warping to it for a brief time?

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