Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Genesis"

*

Air date: 3/21/1994
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Gates McFadden

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

There's a saying in screenwriting that goes something like, "There are no bad plots, only bad executions." I beg to differ. "Genesis" is a bad plot. It's also a bad execution, but I hold that nothing could have saved a story so fundamentally flawed.

Of course, that all depends on what you can abide in your definition of Star Trek as science fiction. I can abide plenty of impossible Trekkian staples, like warp speed, time travel, or the transporter. What I cannot abide is Fun With DNA [TM] when it goes as far as "Genesis" does (or the even more unwatchable "Threshold" on Voyager, to which "Genesis" seems to have served as Brannon Braga's warm-up act). "Genesis" tells the story of how the entire crew is inflicted with a condition that starts rewriting their DNA and "de-evolving" them into more primitive forms of life. Riker becomes a Neanderthal. Barclay becomes some sortuva spider/humanoid thingy. Troi grows gills and turns into a half-woman, half-amphibian. Worf turns into a violent monster that terrorizes the ship. And so on.

The thing about Fun With DNA is that it can do anything the plot wants, so nothing that happens means anything, because it can all be undone with the wave of a hand: You don't need to see his identification. The concept of "de-evolving" (was the word "devolving" deemed too far over the audience's head?) is so silly that I rejected it outright. But then the way everything is fixed with a magical potion just makes you want to wash your hands of the entire episode, since clearly the writers were happy to do the same. In any plausible notion of this story, the changes to your DNA should simply kill you. In "Genesis" it allows the writers to explore their inner monster movie. A bad monster movie.

The first act, when the crew starts to go nuts, is actually kind of entertaining in its zaniness. Everyone starts acting strangely and bouncing off the walls. Riker turns suddenly stupid. Troi takes a bath with her clothes on. Barclay is weird — okay, weirder than usual. Worf is non-communicative and aggressive, and then sprays Crusher in the face with venom, which is actually kind of amusingly horrifying as she goes thrashing about excessively.

Picard and Data, who were away when this happened, return to find the ship is now a funhouse of mutations. This is where things turn tedious, as we find out who has changed into what and then must figure out a way to magically reverse the effects. (Naturally, there's no shortage of technobabble.) Picard, now being exposed, finds he too is "de-evolving," which for him has the initial side effect of making him a coward, which is admittedly sort of fun to see Patrick Stewart play. Meanwhile, Spot has transformed into a lizard. Why a lizard? Probably because it was easy to get a lizard and film it, and then claim it was Spot.

So, yes, this is obviously terrible. Much of the action centers on the fact that Worf is now a monster who believes Troi is his mate (hey, it's another example of Worf/Troi Will They or Won't They as filtered through unreal sci-fi machinations!) and then goes chasing Picard through the corridors after being lured away from doing unspeakable things to the helpless Troi-fish. Ah, the ignominy of being Klingon Guy Worf: When you get your DNA mutation episode, you're the first choice for the monster who eats the town.

When looking at the stretch of episodes from "Homeward" through "Genesis" ("Lower Decks" aside, of course), it's not hard to make a case for this cumulatively being the nadir of TNG. Granted, I'd rather watch this than season one, because the characters and production are more honed. But season seven should know better.

Previous episode: Eye of the Beholder
Next episode: Journey's End

Season Index

45 comments on this review

Ian Whitcombe - Tue, Dec 4, 2012 - 10:20pm (USA Central)
I must note that you gave this episode an approx. 2.5 star rating on SOS (somewhere between 5.5 - 6.5), I would have loved to have read that review, but certainly the one-star rating shows that you have come to your senses.
Patrick - Tue, Dec 4, 2012 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
No Stars, for me. Worse than "Shades of Grey" by a country mile.

While "Shades of Grey" can be partially excused because of the Writer's Strike during the time of season 2, what's the excuse here? The plot is something a 12 year old would cook up. ("And the crew of the Enterprise, like, turned into monsters and it was totally cool!")

In "Identity Crisis", the transformation into another species (and back) is treated with some dramatic gravity. While as you point out is scientifically preposterous, there's verisimilitude at work here, because in the end, we see a tired still partially mutated, Geordi recovering in sickbay after a close call of completely losing his human identity.

In contrast, we have Troi and Dr. Crusher (who's face is perfectly fine from the venom!) yukking it up about Mr. Barclay. Never mind, the horrors that have been going on on the ship with people being killed (like the dead crewman found on the bridge). EVERYTHING'S BACK TO NORMAL. Dr. Crusher doesn't even stop to reflect that it was her screw-up that caused the whole situation. But, when you're the director of the episode, you can gloss over a few things!
JB - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 12:03am (USA Central)
"Genesis" is a guilty pleasure of mine. I recognize that it's terrible on all sorts of levels but I watched it for the first time in years about a month ago and was wildly entertained. It's certainly far more watchable than "Threshold", which used a similar concept.
Brendan - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 12:57am (USA Central)
I loved this episode when it aired and I was 8 years old. Not so much as an adult. Though I always have a soft spot for disaster type scenarios where the ship is eerily abanoned with random mayhem abound.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 3:43am (USA Central)
Horrible!
Dimitris Kiminas - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 5:33am (USA Central)
Whot? Only one star? This groundbreaking episode can be de-evolved as follows:

One Million Years BC (alas, without Raquel Welch) meets Aliens, with a touch of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Little Mermaid thrown in for added immersion! :)
Paul - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 8:40am (USA Central)
Jammer, why does the reset button bother you here but not in "Eye of the Beholder"?

Otherwise, I agree. This was just a terrible, off-the-rails episode. When Trek goes with a goofy sci-fi idea, it usually is at least consistent within itself in that episode. But the random ways in which the crew "de-evolves" is just so dumb. Why is Riker a Neanderthal and Barclay a spider?

As for season 7 versus season 1 ...

Sure, the production qualities were much better in 1994 than they were in 1987. Sure, Wesley is largely absent from season 7. Sure, TNG doesn't feel like bad TOS in season 7. Actually, it feels like bad Voyager!

Season 1 at least had some freshness to it. Season 7 is so slow and pondering (outside of Parallels, the Pegasus, Preemptive Strike, Lower Decks and the finale). And it's equally ridiculous at its low points. Is 'Genesis' worse than 'Code of Honor'? Is 'The Last Outpost' less inspired than 'Thine Own Self'?

I think I'd take season 1 over season 7. In addition to the freshness of the new characters I feel like by 1993, Berman/Braga et. al should have known better than to put out drek like "Genesis."
Dan - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 1:27pm (USA Central)
I do hate episodes with the reset button. This was 2.5 stars.
Josh - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
@Paul: I think the issue with the reset button here is that all the characters act and feel perfectly normal after having starring roles in a very bad horror movie. In "Eye", at least "it was all a dream" so if nothing had any consequence, it makes sense internally. Not so much here. To take another example, "The Inner Light" was all a "dream" for Picard alone, but the impact stands.
Paul - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
@Josh: Sure, that makes sense. I just hate the reset button pretty much universally.
alex - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 5:29pm (USA Central)
This is a guilty pleasure of mine. The plot is ridiculous but I enjoyed the devolving none-the-less and the worf monster.
Jammer - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 6:07pm (USA Central)
@Paul, there are definitely degrees of "reset button." "Eye of the Beholder" was more or less plausible, since it all took place in Troi's mind. But "Genesis" is so far beyond suspension of disbelief that I just can't do it. It's not even close. The storyline is so beyond belief that I have no choice but to declare it BS. The final scene basically mocks the very notion that any of the preceding 44 minutes happened.
Jay - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
Dr. Crusher was dispatched from the action decisively...and melodramatically (with a hilarity chaser) so she could free to direct the bulk of the episode.

The reset button doesn't bother me nearly as much as the umpteenth iteration of some variation of "fortunately someone(s) was offship (or immune, or exempted) so they could save us", i. e. "Timescape", "Macrocosm", "Workforce", "The Game", "Civil Defense", "Children Of Time", "One", "Bliss", "Killing Game", "Clues", "Doctors Orders", etc.
Jack - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 4:11pm (USA Central)
I always crack up at Worf's "caviar...for lunch?!?" comment.
methane - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 8:12pm (USA Central)
Whenever I see this episode, I alternate between wanting to yell "that's not how DNA works!" at the TV screen, and actually enjoying the silliness of it all.
grumpy_otter - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 9:14pm (USA Central)
Yes, it's bad--but at least it's funny. Riker being stupid always cracks me up, and the Worfmonster actually scares me. And Beverly gets sprayed in the face--oh joy!
John the younger - Wed, Dec 12, 2012 - 9:44am (USA Central)
I agree that funny-bad is better than dull-bad.

So I'd give this 1-star instead of zero.
Mikael - Thu, Dec 13, 2012 - 4:50am (USA Central)
The script is completely and utterly awful, but I like McFadden's direction and the cinematography a lot. This one has nice ambiance, which of course can't redeem such a fundamentally flawed concept.
Nic - Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - 2:23am (USA Central)
What scares me most about this episode is that it actually got made. The pitch was made, the story outline was submitted and approved, the script was written, the make-up guys worked over the holidays, the episode was shot, edited, and aired.

If all that can happen, well we are all doomed.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - 9:30am (USA Central)
Will we get the last TNG reviews before midnight tonight?


Can Jammer do it?


C'mon!
Myles - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 1:44pm (USA Central)
"Meanwhile, Spot has transformed into a lizard. Why a lizard? Probably because it was easy to get a lizard and film it, and then claim it was Spot."

Best line of the review. That is all.
Ken - Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - 12:35am (USA Central)
What if no pregnant humanoids were on-board the Enterprise? End of the show?
Jay - Sat, Jan 26, 2013 - 10:35pm (USA Central)
@ Ken...

For that matter, (and a much more often abused plot gimmick), what if no one was conveniently offship to come back and save the rest of the crew?
R - Thu, Mar 7, 2013 - 7:38am (USA Central)
Any chance we'll ever get those last six episodes?
John - Fri, Mar 8, 2013 - 1:50pm (USA Central)
C'mon jammer! U can do it! Been viewing your site for almost 10years and I always come back. I won't ever give up on you!
Jammer - Fri, Mar 8, 2013 - 3:11pm (USA Central)
Yes, I will complete the reviews. Please venture over to my blog (www.jammersblog.com) for details on my hiatus.
Dude - Sun, Mar 10, 2013 - 5:25am (USA Central)
So, you'll take care of that...security thing??
navamske - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 10:31pm (USA Central)
"Genesis" allowed is not -- is episode forbidden!
Cloudane - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 3:59am (USA Central)
"Riker turns suddenly stupid"

7 seasons does not constitute "sudden" or "turning" :)

Sorry, cheap shot.

TNG season 7 had some really cringe-worthy weird stuff, you wondered sometimes if the writers just completely lost the plot, were on drugs, or just deciding "it's the last season, let's just be silly". The correctly-rated Sub Rosa and Masks come to mind for sure. And Phantasms, which I guess is a matter of taste, but I just found the whole thing creepy and weird.

At least the finale was good :)
Nate - Sat, Aug 3, 2013 - 2:37pm (USA Central)
Did anyone else notice cromagnon Riker flipping off Picard and Data when dragging his hand down the fish bowl in the Picard's office? Lol
Jordy - Thu, Aug 22, 2013 - 11:45am (USA Central)
Jammer: "The first act, when the crew starts to go nuts, is actually kind of entertaining in its zaniness. Everyone starts acting strangely and bouncing off the walls ... Worf is non-communicative and aggressive..."

So how is that any different from his normal self? :p
Nic - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 8:02am (USA Central)
Where was Alexander during all this?

I know, of all the plot holes to point out, I picked that one :)
William B - Tue, Oct 29, 2013 - 1:23am (USA Central)
This and "Masks" (and "Sub Rosa") are so out-there that I'm not even sure if these really are TNG episodes in a meaningful sense. You know, "The Game" in season five is an episode that I like in spite of myself, because I find the Wesley/Robin romance charming and some of the material exciting, but it relies on a plot premise that makes the entire ship look ludicrously unsafe and makes everyone (besides Wesley and Robin and maybe Data) look incompetent and stupid. "Rascals" I don't like all that much, but it is an episode that plays better when you drop the pretense that anything in that episode is supposed to make plot sense. "Sub Rosa" is pretty godawful in every way, because the story is supposed to be about Beverly in some way, but with "Masks" and "Genesis," I almost feel as if the episodes are in their own pocket universes. "Masks" follows Joe Menosky's obsession with archetypes to a bitter, illogical end. And "Genesis," which seems inspired by David Cronenberg's "The Fly," is actually a little similar. On display is Braga's obsession with the tenuous hold people have on their own identities and the way people have impulses that they can't entirely control or understand, which can overwhelm them entirely (see also "The Game," or "Identity Crisis," or "Phantasms," as well as classics like "Frame of Mind" and "Projections").

Put aside the "scientific" explanation here. What is happening? The crew is "de-evolving" (ick). But the way they are devolving is only ostensibly along species lines. The characters devolve in ways that fit the individual characters. And maybe this episode is best understood as characters devolving into their archetypes in purest form. Picard, Riker, Deanna, Worf and Barclay are fairly complex individuals. But in this episode we see them move into a state that reflects a single element of their character in purest form. Only Picard, because he's the hero of the story and because he comes in late, is able to fend it off. In TV-Tropes terms, this episode is an exercise in "Flanderization," in which a single trait of the character becomes totally overwhelming to all other traits; but I think it can also be read a) as a commentary on the prototypical versions of these character types in their most primitive form (from a fictional writing standpoint), and b) as, I guess, a way of showing the danger when a core trait of some of the characters takes over and becomes dominant.

- Riker is one of the least scientifically/intellectually-minded characters in the cast (a bit above Troi and Worf, but below Picard, Data, Beverly and Geordi). He's ruled sometimes by his passions rather than his intellect. He is the guy who, when making time with a pretty girl, rolls over onto a cactus. This is *before* a virus makes him artificially stupid. So Riker is a combination of many traits, but there is a little frat boy in him, which devolves back to the standard dumb-jock trope, which continues devolving to basically Fred Flintstone, which devolves back to total caveman.

- Deanna is very emotion-driven already, sensual and highly pain-conscious, hyperaware of her surroundings. And pretty fussy. I feel like there is something of a fussy blue-blooded aesthete in who Troi turns into -- caviar for lunch, belief that she should change her surroundings entirely for her comfort and no one else's -- but I think the character type is something a little different, but which I can't quite identify. I think I know: it's something like The Princess and the Pea, a royal whose sensitivity comes across in their total inability to be comfortable in their less-than-ideal surroundings. In story, she turns into a cold-blooded creature whose body temperature cannot be kept high without changing their entire environment.

- Barclay is a very nervous guy who is also a hard worker, once he gets his mind set on something. So he becomes a hyperactive panicky spider. Why a spider? Uh. Well, I do see how there is something buglike about the rapidity of his movements.

- Worf, the character, is at least a little alien, representing the integration of a dangerous, even animal, maybe even monstrous presence into a human(oid) person. He is wild, and some of the genealogy of Worf's conception actually includes monsters that have a tiny bit of humanity. Since he becomes a Klingon animal of some sort, there isn't even any need to or attempt to identify him with a human animal; he is entirely a monster of the imagination. The way the plot works out -- Worf is a ferocious monster who is eventually lured and defeated by his love of a woman -- has the rough contours of King Kong/Beauty and the Beast type stories, and I think he's that specific kind of monster here.

- Last but not least, Picard. Picard, we know, is an intellectual, and seeks peaceful resolutions to conflicts. He is mind-over-matter. The full, three-dimensional Picard combines this intellectual side with an indomitable will and physical strength & resourcefulness. But Picard turning into a coward makes me think back to the Picard who kept surrendering in season one, and how that might be viewed. His devolution turns him into a nervous, meek nerd, who is sure someone is going to come steal his lunch money any minute. Hence a lemur -- an early primate who, as Data says, was preyed upon constantly. And so this early primate, using Data's interpretation, was smart but weak. Picard is the hero of the episode because he overcomes the limitations of his character type by bringing forth aspects of his actual character -- he is turned into a coward, but he somehow finds a way to build up the courage to face down the monster.

Notably, Geordi is kind of an everyman and so it's not really as easy to take core out-of-the-ordinary traits of his and blow them up, because he is not all that out of the ordinary. (They didn't even try to have Geordi act unusual in the first few acts of the episode, when he had several scenes playing opposite Barclay and Riker.) Presumably one could find a way, if one were so inclined. Beverly's being taken out of the picture is because of Gates McFadden's direction.

So, what is the point of all this? Well, um.... Generously, one could say that with the show coming to a close there is some interest in breaking the characters down into some of the influences on them, perhaps to give us a better idea to recognize both what they bring to the show (Riker's simple pleasures, Worf's ferocity, Troi's sensitivity, Picard's intellectualism) and how they, as real three-dimensional characters, are nowhere near the devolved versions. Ungenerously, one could say there is no point, and that while it may be fun to see Riker become Homer Simpson for a little while, it turns out not to be enough fun to justify putting forth a story that makes no sense and is not sufficiently entertaining to justify its excesses. I lean more toward the latter, but hey, I had fun writing this, so that at least is worth something. Probably if I had to give it a rating as a TNG episode in continuity with the series, I'd go with Jammer's -- 1 star, yeah, mostly for the mild entertainment of the first act or two where people start acting strangely before the story (yep) devolves into total nonsense. If I were to evaluate it as a different kind of show, about character archetypes, more commentary on the series than an episode in its own right, I might look on it a little more kindly, though probably only a little.
William B - Tue, Oct 29, 2013 - 10:17pm (USA Central)
Actually, watching this ep made me decide to revisit David Cronenberg's "The Fly" to see the story done (more or less) right. The science is still junk, but it's different, I think, to accept junk science as the premise in a story that takes place in its own world, rather than in a story (Trek) which has fairly established rules. And it follows the story through to its more natural conclusion. Anyway, I am pretty convinced that Barclay's transformation is an allusion to Seth Brundle's into a fly-man, since the transformation similarly involves the transformation into a hyperactive and eventually malevolent creature. Gates McFadden is not Cronenberg, though it's hard to imagine how someone could be in their directorial debut on a one-week schedule and with a weak script.
Luka - Sun, Nov 24, 2013 - 6:29am (USA Central)
Season 7 of TNG feels very much like a blueprint for Voyager's entire run. Self-contained stories, ridiculously bad science, minor character based episodes that really go nowhere.
Moegreen - Mon, Dec 2, 2013 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
For some reason I find Riker's grumpy eye-rolling reaction to Worf's torpedo masturbating at the beginning to be hilarious. Guilty pleasure episode.
mephyve - Thu, Jan 30, 2014 - 6:09pm (USA Central)
"Hey Worf, you appear to have a venom sac. Open your mouth while I stand in front of you. Say ahhh...arrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" lol
Someone found an old stash of lsd and the writers had a blast.
Nic - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 10:40am (USA Central)
William B, I think you have given this episode far more thought then it deserves, probably more thought than Braga gave himself. I believe his only intention in writing this was to make a B-movie creature feature in a TNG setting. So we get 40 minutes of lame setup followed by 5 minutes of lame monster chase through the corridors. Even if you disregard the scientific aspect, it makes no sense from a character perspective either - if something like this COULD happen to you, it would no doubt be a very traumatizing experience.
William B - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 12:17pm (USA Central)
@Nic, believe me, I agree on the episode's quality. Ultimately, sometimes it's fun for me to see if there is something else I can make out of trash. I suspect that there is something of what I mentioned going on in Braga's thought process somewhere on some level -- the choices of which "animals" each main character become do seem to have something to do with who they are -- but I don't think there's any evidence he thought it through in any coherent way. Theorizing on one way to salvage something from the episode is just for "fun" (quotes because I acknowledge that my sense of fun is not necessarily universal).
Moonie - Sun, Feb 9, 2014 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
Well. Masks, Sub Rosa and Genesis - could it get any worse?? What were they thinking? I hope I've made it through the really terrible episodes of TNG season 7 by now.

I'd hate to think what someone new to Trek would think of it if their introduction to it was any of those three episodes. At least Spock's brain has the excuse of being made in the 1960s. But this is 1990s TV?? Doesn't look like it. Terrible.
Smith - Fri, Feb 28, 2014 - 8:14am (USA Central)
Fun episode with a creative premise. Originally Braga was going to turn the entire crew into Barclay's (that would have been epic!). Worf was the star of the show and from his table-side manners with Troi, to his lost torpedo to his primeval Klingon form, he was terrific. I much prefer this klingon to his typical domesticated self. Not exactly a top tier episode but a good one with good energy, pacing and creativity.

As for the reset button complaint...I don't think this is valid. Trek is about abstraction and if you lose the ability to reset, you have to take the abstractions literally and they cease to be abstractions. You then significantly narrow the canvas by which you can tell stories and things would become much more boring, simple and slow if TNG were a literal show. You would morph it from a science fiction show to a space soap opera about petty character squabbles.
IntrinsicRandomEvent - Fri, Mar 21, 2014 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
You know what would have made this episode better? It would have been better if the virus caused the entire crew to transform into the band "Genesis"... that is, Genesis after Peter Gabriel left...

THAT's how bad this episode is...
DLPB - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
This episode sums up some of the morons that write for Trek... imagine making an episode where you completely throw out the laws of biology and physics, and rationality. Just so you can have a monster story.

And who thought that would be a good idea? Who allowed it?
NCC-1701-Z - Sun, Apr 13, 2014 - 2:48am (USA Central)
Disagreeing with the general consensus, I must say that I liked this episode. Yes, it was completely implausible from a plot standpoint (yeah, sudden mutations to the DNA would have killed everyone), but I tend to give episodes with way-out-there plots the benefit of the doubt as long as they are entertaining (i.e. don't involve characters turning into lizards and making lizard babies). Doctor Who has done crazier things than "Genesis" did. And I kind of enjoyed the technobabble this time. (Granted, my major is in bioengineering so DNA/genetics stuff is like second nature to me.)

All in all, it was fun to watch. It felt like a throwback to "Cure-The-Disease" style TOS episodes. I enjoyed the heck out of watching the transformations progress, especially Riker's - I found that one the funniest. I could tell the actors must have had a lot of fun playing their "transformed" roles. Would have liked to see Crusher's transformation - maybe an Irish Setter?
Joe - Thu, Apr 17, 2014 - 9:48am (USA Central)
am i the only one that liked this episode?

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