Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation



Air date: 2/17/1992
Teleplay by Barry Schkolnick
Story by Paul Schiffer
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Where "The Masterpiece Society" was the sort of talky story that I think is fairly specific to Star Trek (albeit not a good one), "Conundrum" is more general popular sci-fi fare (though it's definitely a subgenre of Trek as well). The premise, let's face it, is completely implausible. The entire crew of the ship has their memories blocked, and all evidence of who they are and why they're on the ship has been erased from the computer. Meanwhile, a mysterious new crew member, Commander MacDuff (Erich Anderson), has been suddenly inserted into the crew with the agenda of waging war against his bitter enemies. Via falsified information, he manipulates the Enterprise crew into pursuing this agenda.

That MacDuff is capable of such an elaborate ruse (including selective memory erasure, and wiping clean all related records from the Enterprise computer) and yet still needs the Enterprise and its crew as a weapon against his enemies is pretty hard to swallow. But sometimes TNG must be viewed as a laboratory/playground for strange and logically dubious things, and "Conundrum" is entertaining enough for me to forgive its unlikelihood. As a mystery, it finds its fun in the what and the why, even though the who is provided to us from the very first scene. It's more about the crew, rather than us, figuring things out.

"Conundrum" is also in the long-standing tradition of Trek stories that allow the characters to step outside themselves and essentially become someone else (in this case, blank slates that retain their original personalities, which become magnified by the situation). This is good for some low-key humor, particularly Worf's presumption that he may be in command of the ship. He sits in the captain's chair and tests the phasers (firing them into the void of space like a kid with a new toy), and then takes over Picard's ready room. Picard takes this all in stride, which is also funny to watch; always so unflappable and understanding, this man.

Meanwhile, Ro aggressively puts the moves on Riker, who voices no objections. Riker is also receptive when Troi reveals that she has discovered they had a romantic past. Riker gamely plays the part of a cheerfully likable womanizer (who gets his comeuppance in an amusingly played final scene). Hey, it's not his fault he's so awesome!

The plot resolves itself because the crew, despite having their identities erased, pretty much act as level-headed as they always would, asking themselves questions rather than launching mindlessly into action. Also, MacDuff does a pretty good job of stupidly blowing his cover. For a guy able to pull off such a deception, he sure hasn't done his homework about what makes these people tick. Hey, this isn't a great episode of TNG, but it's a fun one.

Previous episode: The Masterpiece Society
Next episode: Power Play

Season Index

40 comments on this review

Nic - Sat, Apr 2, 2011 - 4:46pm (USA Central)
I really liked the character bits in this one, but I just couldn't get into the swiss-cheese plot (Get it?). If MacDuff could add himself to the crew manifest, why not make himself Captain?
Excise - Sun, Apr 3, 2011 - 3:38am (USA Central)
I always wondered why the evil aliens didn't just make MacDuff the Captain instead of only second in command.

Seems like that would have made his mission a lot easier.
Grumpy - Sun, Apr 3, 2011 - 8:45pm (USA Central)
Between this episode and "The Game," Enterprise only got hijacked twice this season, compared to three times in Season 4 (though each time in "Brothers," "Clues," and "The Nth Degree," it was by themselves).
Sean C. - Mon, Apr 4, 2011 - 10:58am (USA Central)
This episode is a personal favourite of mine, for all the character interactions.
karatasiospa - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 10:38am (USA Central)
I agree with your 3 stars jammer. It was not a very good episode but it was a descent and rather smart science fiction story.
Ian Whitcombe - Thu, Apr 14, 2011 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
Grumpy, you can also count "Power Play" for this season.
Stef - Fri, Apr 15, 2011 - 4:56am (USA Central)
I love this episode.

I hadn't seen an episode of Trek since Best of Both Worlds part 2 (Possibly it was Family, I am not sure).

Then a few years later I saw this episode, knowing it was season 5 and therefore stuff might have changed. So to me, McDuff was (at first) plausible. Hell, Tasha died and Worf took her job, so why not?

Alas, they screwed it up all too soon when the camera focused on McDuff's face when another character left the room. A clear 1980's/1990's sign that he was the bad guy. (A technique this isn't used as much these days, but still rears its ugly head from time to time).

But, yes, why didn't he just make himself captain?

The only reason I can guess is that he new the morality of the crew would force them to go against him as captain, whereas as the XO he can manipulate those around him with more ease.

Perhaps I am just digging too deeply, something I accuse other of when it comes to Trek.
Don - Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - 6:01pm (USA Central)
I believe the title of the episode, Conundrum, was created knowing that people would view this as a fun episode at the same time asking themselves why an episode with such huge plot holes was fun.

Why did I like that episode? - Because it was fun!

But if the bad guy was able to do ALL THAT then why did he need the Enterprise? - but, Riker slept with Ro & Troi! Then they caught him!

Yeah, but MacDuff should have been placed in command so he could just get the job done. - true, but did you see Worf in the captain's chair?

With all that power couldn't MacDuff just kill everyone on the ship by causing brain hemorrhages rather than erasing their memories? Then just take the ship and fight off his obviously inferior enemy! - but Worf was in command! Riker was an awesome manwhore! The Enterprise fired phasers from its phaser banks again and not the photon launcher! Fun!
Stallion - Mon, Apr 18, 2011 - 10:22pm (USA Central)
Worf was so devastated when he found out he wasn't the captain.
Latex Zebra - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 11:08am (USA Central)
This was really memorable for me when I first saw it. So much so that it practically haunted me and it was about 7 years before I saw it again. I had to find out the name of it after reading every page of the Nitpickers Guide!

Second viewing, saw through many of the plot holes and was a little jaded. I think it is still good fun, if totally ridiculous. Why does all TV (especially Sci Fi) need to stand up to reason though, it's supposed to be escapism.
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
Honestly, this season seriously makes me question how much I love TNG...this episode is memorable for some real goofiness, but really it's all pretty stupid. The premise of exploring peoples' core natures and how they are affected when robbed of knowledge or memory is a very good one (See VOY's "Workforce"), but this ep. is so tecky and insignificant, not to mention littered with excess, it's impossible to take seriously. People who accuse VOY of plagiarising TNG forget that many of TNG's plots failed to make good use of its ideas.
GregT - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 2:19pm (USA Central)
Just thought I would comment to address the whole "why didn't they make MacDuff the Captain" issue... I figure it was because they knew the crew would find a way to reverse the effect. They had to put MacDuff in a position to volunteer for the procedure and debunk it - he couldn't volunteer as Captain, he'd be expected to delegate. Which is of course how it played out. (So maybe it's hindsight is 20/20?)
chris - Fri, May 20, 2011 - 7:52am (USA Central)
I don't know if this is really three star material, simply because the characters slip back into their archetypes so quickly and smoothly. I suppose that is the point of this episode, but the crew should have stayed slightly off-character and distrustful for much longer to effectively sell the (ludicrous) memory loss.
tony - Tue, May 24, 2011 - 11:46am (USA Central)
"People who accuse VOY of plagiarising TNG forget that many of TNG's plots failed to make good use of its ideas."
By that logic, what about DS9's "Dramatis Personae"? Everyone slipped back into their old selves after that episode despite the fact that they came within inches of killing each other.
DS9 was also initially supposed to be about Bajor entering the Federation. It was only when the ratings weren't as high as Paramount thought they should be that Ira & co. introduced the Dominion, which were really the Borg with the fries supersized.
TNG had no more missed opportunities than the other series.
Elliott - Tue, May 24, 2011 - 4:51pm (USA Central)

I don't disagree with you; my point was that many of the plots in VOY which people casually dismiss as "recycled" make use of those missed opportunities from TNG especially. I think the Dominion were a good invention. For a few seasons, they managed to be interesting, complex and compelling. In the end, they turned into 2D badguys, but that doesn't make their initial nature unworthy.

I didn't mean to imply TNG had more missed opportunities than the other series at all, just that this one had a lot of fertile soil which it didn't make use of (incidentally, "Dramatis Personæ" was a complete failure of an episode).
pviateur - Mon, Aug 15, 2011 - 12:57pm (USA Central)
Although this episode was amusing overall, I was disgusted with Riker's treatment of Troi in particular. Okay, he can't resist Ro's charms (such as they are) but right after he finds out that he and Troi likely have a serious relationship (engaged, wedded? in love at least), no sooner does Troi leave the room than he once again succumbs to Ro! Pretty disgusting, I say, not funny!
TH - Thu, Sep 8, 2011 - 9:14pm (USA Central)
@Stef: I don't think the director cared about 'blowing' MacDuff's cover; though you hadn't seen Trek in 3 years, the episode was created for an audience that ought to have known as soon as MacDuff showed up that he wasn't part of the (main) crew as he was acting. I suspect they never intended to hide him has the culprit.

That said, I saw this episode probably when it first aired in 1992 (when I was 9) or shortly thereafter. I too saw it early in my Trek-watching, so I also did not actually know that MacDuff was not a normal crew member. I have always wondered what my reaction would have been had I known he should not have been there.

But that said, I can’t get over the complete ridiculous premise of the episode. They erased the memories of EVERYONE onboard (of all species) INCLUDING Data?! AND they reprogrammed the computer to include MacDuff and a war with a whole other species? I wonder if they included enough to fool even Data had he done any research (including mission logs of any “battles” with this false enemy, archived communications with Starfleet about the war, etc.)

Considering in Clues the mere presence of Data screwed everything up for the memory-wipers in that episode, I find it so hard to believe that these people would need any help from the Federation.

Keep in mind that ONE photon torpedo would destroy the enemy base; which was guarded by a handful of completely overmatched ships. Why wouldn’t MacDuff’s people just brainwipe their enemy?! Then just destroy the ship while everyone is trying to figure out who the heck they are. A species with this kind of power would, I believe, be a much bigger factor in the universe than they seem to be (along the same lines as the aliens from The Game who could seemingly brainwash anyone they wanted to).

I can only give this one two stars on the high side.
Jay - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 6:59pm (USA Central)
Not sure if it's because I find Michelle Forbes very unpleasant to look at generally, but Ro's behavior here was so over the top it made my flesh crawl.
Tim - Tue, Jun 5, 2012 - 5:06am (USA Central)
First episode in a while that I've really enjoyed from this series, the stories had been a bit plodding to me before this. I enjoyed the intrigue, and thought it was a good hour of TV. I'm normally quite cynical, but for some reason I didn't think 'why wasn't he captain' etc, I just went along with it, and would therefore go along with 3 stars, maybe even 3.5!
John - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 9:45am (USA Central)
Shockingly bad. Plot holes/contrivances and corniness. Riker's whoring is painful. I remember it being half decent having first watched it as a teen. How time has ravaged it. 1 star is pretty generous.
Rosario - Wed, Nov 7, 2012 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
I knew MacDuff shouldn't be there but my mind just kinda went, hey another extra who's gonna die by the end!
Corey - Wed, Feb 6, 2013 - 2:17pm (USA Central)
I just wanted to say I definitely liked this episode. Seeing Picard working a workstation like he was just another crewman was a lot of fun. Having Riker get his "desserts" at the final scene of the show was fun too. Having Data as a bartender wasn't too bad too. This episode is one of my favorite of this season.
Shak - Sat, Apr 13, 2013 - 10:01pm (USA Central)
Am i the only one who noticed the the starbase/ship that they were going to attack looked A LOT like the ship in episode where Ensign Crusher is sentenced to death for breaking some rules on a primitive planet in season 1?
Cal - Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
@Shak: Yeah, they reused the same studio model:


Scroll to 'Sets and Props'
mephyve - Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - 11:31pm (USA Central)
One day the TNG writers sat around asking,"How can we get a rocking romance between Riker and Ro?" After all Riker has to have a romp with every prominent female on the ship. The 'host body' thing was already done with the doctor.
Wrier 1, "Hey, let's have some alien race be so technologically advanced that they can override the Enterprise shields and computer, wipe every memory, including a positronic brain. We'll say they need the ships weaponry to destroy their enemy."
Wrier 2, "You mean they can come up with this super memory wiping technology; it won't work on their enemy but it will work on someone more advanced than their enemy; and yet they can't make a photon torpedo."
Wrier 1, "Lets not lose focus now, we are talking Riker and Ro here."
Shawn Davis - Sat, Oct 12, 2013 - 8:11pm (USA Central)
I just got through watching this episode. I agree with Jammer that 3 stars is an approprite rating for this episode. I agree that this episode got off to a rocky start with the alien disguised a MacDuffin wiping the memory of the crew but still need them to help him fight his enemies. In fact, the MacDuffin alien and the aliens like him probably could wipe out Starfleet, the Romulans, the Klingons, and the other alpha quadrant species in about 10 minutes using that mind wiping device that they used.

The rest of the episode is plausible to me. I especially liked how the crew acted after they had their memory wiped. Including Worf taking command and Picard acting like a regular crewman, and Riker being with Troi and Ro in doing their business. I also like how the crew at least think about their decision too before acting as Jammer said.
Spencer - Fri, Oct 25, 2013 - 11:53am (USA Central)
How cool were the FX shots of the Enterprise zapping the fleet of fighter craft?
Moegreen - Tue, Dec 10, 2013 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
The most unbelievable aspect to me, was the idea that Troi, with every aspect of her character presented to date, was capable of besting anyone at
chess, let alone Data.
JJ - Sun, Feb 9, 2014 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
A lot of the problems with this episode have been well covered, but I have to agree with Moegreen. That chess scene was very poorly written. I know this is "space chess", but are we to believe that Troi counters a classic well known chess move by moving 1 piece once and Data and apparently the entire "space chess" world were unable to come up with this? And this somehow demonstrates the superiority of human intuition? Two words for this scene - clumsy and awful.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 3:36am (USA Central)
Agree that the chess scene is dumb. So Troi can spank Data at chess but Data can hold a grand master at strategema to a draw.

As for the rest I do love this episiode. I can suspend belief regarding the power MacDuff has because certain species have better advancements in some than others.
As for not making himself captain. Well this makes perfect sense. He would have to know the ins and outs of everything and if he buckled under question the ruse would have failed... I mean it did but much sooner.

3/4 is still a fair mark though.
Adara - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 4:01pm (USA Central)
How much I can suspend my disbelief depends on the entertainment value of what I'm watching. In episodes like this one and The Next Phase, I'm enjoying myself enough that I can merrily skip along plot holes big enough to fall through without a second thought. When I don't like the characters and the episode, on the other hand, everything bothers me. I mind that Tasha's half-Romulan daughter is identical to her, but I don't mind that the transporter can turn people into children. It bugs me that the holodeck goes on forever, but I only think about it in certain episodes. It's the same with the ridiculous idea of having children on board. I can't say I stopped to think about it once during The Best of Both Worlds. On Voyager, every little technobabble inconsistency bothers me because it's a terrible, terrible show. (as far as I'm concerned, TOS, TNG, and DS9 are the only ones that even count as Star Trek)
DLPB - Sat, Mar 29, 2014 - 9:14pm (USA Central)
Entertaining but thoroughly ridiculous and badly written in large part. Not 3 stars unless you don't care about good writing.
msw188 - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 3:41pm (USA Central)
Just finished watching this one.

Regarding the chess scene, I think it would have worked a lot better with anyone other than Data. It would actually be kinda cool to somehow get across that Troi can cheat at chess just by reading the emotions of the other player. Anyone here remember that jerk kid from the X-Files who beat chess masters by reading their minds?

This is one of those episodes that gives me enough fun with the characters that I don't mind the ridiculous plot that much. The first big hole that I thought of was how could Crusher not realize the dude wasn't human when he went in for the treatment. Regardless of the logic, I did love seeing Data pop up from behind the bar. The script also shows how even if the writers were out of logical ideas, they still understood their characters well enough to make some good scenes. I really like Worf's 'arc' in this one. I think I'd give it a solid 2.5 stars.
Kahryl - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 12:00pm (USA Central)
The chess scene makes sense to me. It would be simple for Data to restrict his processors to x calculations per second. Playing chess at his full power against anyone would be completely pointless.

He was no doubt playing at "super easy" setting with Troi.
Andrew - Sat, Oct 18, 2014 - 9:46am (USA Central)
The plot wasn't convincing ("MacDuff" should have tried a smaller ship without so many civilians and without such a weapons advantage) and some of the actors (especially Sirtis) at times felt tired but there was still a lot of fun, especially amnesic Data, conflicted Picard and the Riker/Ro romance.
xaaos - Mon, Dec 1, 2014 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
"On Voyager, every little technobabble inconsistency bothers me because it's a terrible, terrible show. "

Ofc this is your subjective opinion. :) Imo, VOY is a great show with great characters, neat concept and a lot of outstanding episodes. Subjective opinion aswell. xD
phaedon - Sat, Dec 20, 2014 - 4:01pm (USA Central)
You know, it's 2014 and I'm watching TNG again and this time, I feel like I'm watching it for the first time. I read the reviews here and sometimes I decide to skip an episode based on a poor rating.

But I've decided to take a stand on "Conundrum" of all episodes. It really has sunk in how much resentment there is towards TNG both in the reviews and some of the comments. I think that this is exactly the type of episode that makes or breaks you as a TNG fan - whether you can see past the episodic nature of the show, and even the "plotholes," to enjoy how the writers mix things up for the characters.

Quite frankly, it's episodes like this that drive home what the show is all about - it's not just "Best of Both Worlds" with a bunch of crap stuffed around it. It really does a disservice to the memory of the show to focus so overwhelmingly on the "plausibility" of the episode, which is so overwhelmingly outweighed by other, more character-driven, considerations in this episode - namely, nobody, including Data, knows who they are, or what their stations are. Their skills intact - but their identities unknown. The Prime Directive lurking underneath for Picard, and the alien mistaking Worf for a bloodthirsty Klingon - his parents are human, after all. Riker - who finally gets unleashed as a bit of a lady's man - sort of gets his ass handed to him at the end.

There is of course absolutely no discussion of this in "the review" - simply focusing on the absurdity of the alien. I have to say it's tremendously disappointing. And it reads mostly strongly in these trivial episodes, like someone who didn't really like TNG is just sloughing through it.

navamske - Sat, Dec 20, 2014 - 9:04pm (USA Central)
I think a great dramatic storytelling device is when the audience has information that the main characters don't have, which is one of the reasons I like this episode, despite its obvious flaws. Another example was that early "Enterprise" episode in which the crew of the NX-01 had dealings with the Romulans (the one in which Reed gets impaled through the leg) but didn't actually see them.
msw188 - Sun, Dec 21, 2014 - 11:35am (USA Central)
In response to phaedon, I don't think your claim about 'resentment' towards TNG is warranted. The review here gives 3/4 stars, which looks pretty strong to me. The sentence " "Conundrum" is entertaining enough for me to forgive its unlikelihood" is followed by two whole paragraphs about how the episode successfully plays with the characters despite the ridiculous premise.

In response to Navamske, I often tend to like this sort of narrative device too if it doesn't come up too often. It works especially well in little self-contained bits like this episode. One thing that always bothers me though is the opposite arrangement - 'point of view' protagonists having knowledge that is withheld from the viewer. See my comments on Defector. I've complained about this in some other things as well.
Piraxis - Sat, Mar 14, 2015 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
This reminded me of the episode Tabula Rasa from S6 of Buffy which blows this episode out of the water.

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