Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 2/22/1988
Teleplay by Robert Sabaroff
Story by Karl Guers & Ralph Sanchez and Robert Sabaroff
Directed by Corey Allen
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
The Enterprise checks in on a small group of scientists in charge of a terraforming project on a lifeless planet. An away team beams down, much to the ire of project head Kurt Mandi (Walter Cotell), who doesn't particularly want to be disturbed. The terraforming project is explained in a fair amount of detail by Louisa Kim (Elizabeth Lindsey, whose performance is so false in the science-expository scenes that it's frankly painful to watch). While on the planet, one of the scientists is killed by a laser drill gone awry. Picard opens an investigation to figure out which of the other scientists programmed the computerized drill to commit murder.
"Home Soil" begins as a homicide investigation before gradually becoming a solid TNG example of hard science-fiction — a story made from equal parts "sci" and "fi" (which is more "sci" than most). Discovered on the planet is a mysterious, glowing, crystal-like substance. The crew brings it back to the lab for study, at which point the story's priorities change.
What makes this episode work is its dutiful attention to the scientific process and a realistic (and often intriguing) portrayal of study and observation. The Enterprise crew members are interested in what lies in front of them and use analysis to find the answers. What they discover is an inorganic intelligent life form — previously considered impossible — which they dub a "microbrain." The microbrain subsequently taps into the computer and threatens the ship.
Okay, so it's not a great episode. The jeopardy premise is routine. The crew's peaceful negotiations are Trekkian-humanistic almost to an overstated fault. The microbrain's personality strikes me as far more arrogant than the humans it's accusing of just that sin (ignorance and arrogance aren't the same thing). But this is an episode that's actual science-fiction as opposed to the phony kind.
Previous episode: When the Bough Breaks
Next episode: Coming of Age
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58 comments on this post
Fri, Jun 29, 2012, 10:34am (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 3, 2012, 4:40pm (UTC -5)
And how many times they are going to introduce an "energy life-form" that's able to do whatever they want to do with it? At least Q is charismatic, but when you get stuff like this crystal and the skin of evil (gosh) I just want to roll my eyes and move on to another episode.
Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
The threat of the crystal critter isn't there, but the scientific intrigue (to me) makes up for it.
3 of 4 stars
Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 8:32pm (UTC -5)
The Enterprise is called to a Terrforming project whose Leader (according to Troi) is hiding something and that discovery may threaten the survival of the Enterprise!
This is a strange amalgamation of the good and bad. The concept is an intriguing one - a genuinely alien life form and although later CGI development make the effects of the 'Microbrain' Silicon based life form look quite quaint now, it's a genuinely interesting concept. The early scenes on the Terraforming colony are also quite interesting and well played as Data gets trapped and has to out think the mining laser which has already killed one of the Terraformers. The late Walter Gotell (General Gogol from the James Bond series) is a first rate guest star, and the other male Terraformer with a classic 80's mullet is also fairly competent.
However, the episode as a whole never really executes the concept as well as it could. The pacing, especially in the middle, sags, and the wooden performance of the Third Terraformer, who delivers every line with exactly the same intonation (although she is easy on the eye) hampers any sense of emotion. The end result seems a little too pat as well. However, it's an eminently watchable entry and one of the stronger episodes in the season. Most definitely much more than an 'Ugly bag of mostly water' - surely a highlight of dialogue from Season 1 - not without serious flaws but a big improvement on the last two instalments. 2.5 stars from me..
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 7:51am (UTC -5)
I just rewatched this episode -- and in fact, in some senses, it may be the first time I ever really watched it, since I don't think the episode registered to me when I was a child. Somehow, I found it enthralling. I appreciate why people find the Trekkian humanism (or rather, all-life-forms-ism) overstated and silly, but what I appreciate about this episode is the genuine commitment to the idea that life, especially intelligent life, and especially unusual and heretofore undiscovered intelligent life, is worth treating with not only respect but with awe. I like DPC's point above that this is not new material in terms of having a silicon-bsaed life form -- and indeed, the episode here seems to owe a lot to "The Devil in the Dark," not just borrowing the basis for the life form but the dedication to understanding even the strangest and most seemingly alien of life forms. More so than in "Where No One Has Gone Before" (the other most awe-inspiring episode), I feel very much like this crew is in Starfleet, on this ship because they really genuinely are explorers in the best sense, excited and fascinated by the possibility of learning something new. I love that every character (possibly excepting Worf) -- both terraformers and Starfleet personnel -- recognizes immediately the gravity of destroying a life form, even a bizarre one.
As the episode's effect wears off, I do see significant flaws. Not only is the jeopardy premise routine, I think that it undermines the things that I had admired about the episode so much earlier. "The Devil in the Dark" didn't require the Horta to threaten to blow up the Enterprise to push the crew into brokering a peace agreement. And indeed, the idea that these guys are not only intelligent life but also ostensibly superior to human life (by more than three centuries) is a bit much.
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 1:04pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 1, 2013, 12:41pm (UTC -5)
It didn't help that in this instance, Picard et al really were as stupid and arrogant as the microbrain suggests. As soon as it was discovered that the microbrain was sentient, why wasn't it immediately a suspect in random guy's murder? (Answer: because the plot completely ignored said murder 5 minutes after it happened) Also, more importantly, why did Picard continue to keep it a prisoner in order to study it? That doesn't sound like the diplomat that Picard is. Pretty stupid of him, and hard to blame the microbrain for going to war under those circumstances either.
At least there wasn't annoying preachy speechifying about how evil 20th century Earth was in this episode.
On the positive side, "ugly bags of mostly water" was a pretty clever line, the methodological study of the microbrain was interesting albeit kinda simplistic, and the concept of the silicon based life form itself was interesting enough to make this a decent episode.
Wed, Jan 28, 2015, 1:14am (UTC -5)
What about the "alien" life on earth? Different than us? Would we treat it differently if we arrived from another planet to terraform ancient Earth? hmmmm
Lately because of the influence of my buddhist wife I have myself had a chance to study another form of life (ants) that crawl all over our house. In the past with a brush of my hand I could wipe out a few of them with ease. Yet now I find it very hard since when you look closely they are intelligent life beings (small, they don't make much noise) yet they are alive. So a few days before this episode I made a vow no more conscious killing of these lifeforms. I still squash mosquitos as they are attacking me.
When I saw this episode it reminded me even though life often cannot communicate with us...imagine what it would tell us if it could? For me this is the beauty of Star Trek--the human culture must make way for other life forms to live along us especially the smaller less fragile ones. If someday we encounter giant evolved ants on other planets...we will be forgiven.. will we?
PS. Reminds me of Spock's mind meld of Horta and the miners eventually ending up living side by side with the Horta and benefiting from the partnership.
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 5:10pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 1:29pm (UTC -5)
And "ugly bags of mostly water" has to be the line of the series so far. A definite move back in the right direction - 2.5 stars.
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 8:44pm (UTC -5)
Iike "Yeah you're right." in actuality that creature is dangerous and arrogant and untrustworthy and they are the ones who need three centuries to clean up their act and mature not the Enterprise crew.
Wed, Nov 23, 2016, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
Much of the praise for this episode is related to its apparent hard sf feel and certainly in terms of the tenets of hard sf-ie one dimensional characters it succeeds .
I think Tasha may have had a few more lines than average.
I would give this 2 stars and was mostly bored.
Mon, Mar 20, 2017, 9:40pm (UTC -5)
But it states that it did try to communicate peacefully several times, with the messages in the sand etc. while the humans thought nothing of it because they couldn't understand, the being took this as a rejection of peace as the humans continued to kill it/them. I could understand why it felt desperate and distrusing. It does seem a little TOO dismissive of the explanation that the humans simply couldn't understand the messages though
Wed, Mar 22, 2017, 5:47pm (UTC -5)
I have seen this three or four times over the decades, and I always thought it wasn't that they didn't understand the messages, it's they they didn't want to understand them. Because if they looked deeper, it might threaten their terraforming project. Perhaps not all of them, but some of them, turned a blind eye to the possibility. If they found something, all the work they'd done up to that point would be for naught.
Just a thought... RT
Tue, Aug 29, 2017, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 9:06pm (UTC -5)
That the Director was having a big ol' orgy with the female technician (or even the entire staff) would also explain the situation.
Especially considering the reason for his panic wasn't really ever firmly established.
That would also explain why the female technician is EXTREMELY gracious upon the Enterprise crew arrival... it smacks of over compensation.
Anyway, it did look kind of goofy when Captain and company were in sickbay bent over staring at the life-form, but it nevertheless seemed like the way real people would act.
Sat, Oct 28, 2017, 1:01am (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 11:54pm (UTC -5)
I'm OK with the actress who played the female terraformer. They wouldn't strike me as a particular lively, extroverted, animated bunch.
I'm on this kick of being driven crazy by what the crew knows and what it doesn't. They can know very specific things sometimes, and other times seem almost clueless about things they should know.
While they may not know the details of terraforming, Data and the landing team treated it like some kind of mysterious alchemy. For Pete's sake, terraforming in that century ought to be a pretty common branch of science.
But if nothing else, the episode gives us the classic line: "Ugly bags of mostly water." Clever touch to throw the "ugly" in there. By Season 1 standards, a pretty decent show.
Sat, Feb 10, 2018, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
But yes, the expositing between Riker and Yar was a little overwrought.
Sat, Feb 10, 2018, 5:14pm (UTC -5)
The actual discovery and investigation of the life form was well done and more the mission of the Enterprise. (Though I spent my first viewing about this heretofore undiscovered idea of a silicon based life form screaming "REMEMBER THE HORTA???" lol)
Sun, Feb 18, 2018, 9:51pm (UTC -5)
Cool concept of this kind of inorganic life and I liked how the Enterprise crew methodically went about establishing this conclusion. And damn, that universal translator is good! I don't see the Horta as a suitable comparison to this life form (as it is organic) but I actually think the Companion ("Metamorphosis") is perhaps more similar. "Ugly bags of water" -- appropriate description for humankind in this case!
Thought the dialog between the microbrain and the Enterprise crew seemed reasonable (after getting past the formidable capabilities of the UT). The microbrain thinks humans are arrogant and it is defending itself -- can't ascribe human qualities to it -- though it tells them to get back in touch in a 200-300 years or something -- maybe a touch of arrogance there!
Some of the plot machinations are arbitrary -- as they have to be in this type of story -- like Riker short-circuiting the lights from a nearby panel. Shouldn't the microbrain be able to deal with this type of action if it can basically control the ship?
2.5 stars for "Home Soil" -- some points for creativity here but really hard to tolerate the weak acting of the terraformers. The old head scientist wasn't too bad, but his misdirection at the start of the episode seemed misplaced -- he didn't know what he had on his hands, but he could hardly think it was something of tremendous value that he'd keep it secret. What would he do with it? Fairly typical TNG S1 here -- a decent idea but poorly executed.
Sun, Feb 25, 2018, 8:44am (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 5, 2018, 9:38pm (UTC -5)
And filtering the water."
Watching the crew entranced by this woman's comatose acting while the opening credits were rolling wasn't a flying start to this episode, and frankly that monotone monolog turned out to be eblematic of the whole story: a decent sci fi idea executed with all the tension or excitement of a documentary on gargling.
And why can Data read a database in ten seconds, but can't dodge a laser and talk at the same time?
There was nothing howlingly wrong with this episode; it was simply plodding.
Sat, Mar 10, 2018, 2:19am (UTC -5)
One plothole I saw was that the lifeform evolved pretty quickly in a short period of time. It was a little silly when it began speaking to the crew but I thought this was a decent mystery episode.
Sat, May 12, 2018, 5:13am (UTC -5)
Worf getting mad at the computer, classic Worf.
Sat, May 19, 2018, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jun 24, 2018, 2:44am (UTC -5)
(15:10) Patrick Stewart shows this dude how to act!
Great Picard stuff throughout this episode!
Sun, Jan 13, 2019, 12:49am (UTC -5)
Sun, Feb 24, 2019, 8:09pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Feb 26, 2019, 2:34pm (UTC -5)
A great episode. I feel TNG has fully met its stride. I missed a bit in terms of how the terraformers knew and didn't know about the lifeform. I confused this episode with another where multiple people die. ???
Tue, Feb 26, 2019, 3:05pm (UTC -5)
The lifeform on the planet was more advanced than the Federation. It found a way to communicate after all. The federation didn't. And it was able to infiltrate the computer.
Thu, Feb 28, 2019, 5:44pm (UTC -5)
And with "Homesoil" we have TNG's spin on TOS' "Devil in the Dark", only instead of a mining operation destroying a biological life-form, we have a terraforming operation destroying an inorganic life-form. In both episodes, "first contact" is made with the species, the species launches a counterattack, the "miners" are schooled for being selfish, thoughtless brutes, and an ecological/environmental argument is subtly rolled out.
"Homesoil" isn't as good as "Devil", of course, but it does some things well. The terraforming operation feels like one of those "Wrath of Khan" era scientific facilities, alone and doing research out in the outback. There's also a nice "globe" special effect (a big 3d model of the planet), Data gets a neat action sequence, Crusher gets some good "investigate the nature of this thing" scenes, and the "alien life-form" is used to generate a genuine sense of wonder, beauty and discovery.
Yes, this alien's "hijacking of the ship's computers" is hokey, as is most of its speech, but with the first season of TNG, like TOS, we at least see an attempt to create interesting, non bipedal, non anthropomorphized aliens. In this regard we've had space jellyfish in "Farpoint", weird energy aliens, mongoose and cobra aliens in "Lonely Among Us" and "Where No One Has Gone Before", Q, the Crystaline Entity, the networked Binars, the methane (?) breathing blue guys in "Coming of Age", the black oil creature in "Skin of Evil" and the insects in "Conspiracy". I don't think any other season of TNG did more to veer away from "forehead of the week" aliens.
Wed, Jul 31, 2019, 11:19pm (UTC -5)
Am struggling a bit to get through Season 1. I'd forgotten how less than wonderful it was.
The episode mostly held my interest. My favorite part was when Data had to dodge the laser and ended up destroying it.
I also liked how the crew was interested and excited about the life form, and worked together. Everyone played a part in the resolution. We also get some teamwork vibes from the crew on the planet. Perhaps it's meant to deliberately parallel the way the life forms work together in the saline solution.
Got a bit preachy in the typical ST way, but not overdone. A good, solid offering.
Fri, Jun 5, 2020, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
But more than that, it's technically deficient. Firstly, it's filmed practically without stage light. In one scene Picard's red uniform is so dark that I couldn't tell his rank insignia from the stars outside the window. Is that Orion's belt I see? Oops one too many stars.
Secondly, it definitely has the look and scripting of a really early episode. The characters regularly seem to be stepping on each other's feet. And who was responsible for that early bit (before the opening credits run) where Deanna's cleavage is sent hurtling directly toward Camera 1? She is then followed in that respect by all the male characters and their less impactful cleavages.
I really think that someone switched on the holodeck and programmed it to produce a simulacrum of an episode before Code of Honor or The Last Outpost. The only problem with that theory is that Wesley is wearing his rainbow striped velour pullover rather than the baggy pink sweater knitted by the director's grandmother.
Thu, Aug 6, 2020, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
But what makes this work so well for me are the performances, especially from the guest stars and especially from the female scientist Kim. She is played by the actress Elizabeth Lindsey, and she just does a fantastic job injecting this episode with the required charm and emotion.
Mon, Oct 26, 2020, 5:58pm (UTC -5)
There are no bad guys. The people who caused the problem did it by accident and hurt when they find out what they did. The problem is slowly worked on by scientists and diplomats working together and in the end it's leads to understanding with a new lifeform. That is the episode. It is quite beautiful.
Sun, Feb 21, 2021, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Feb 26, 2021, 5:34pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Apr 19, 2021, 12:55am (UTC -5)
She's pretty much having a nervous breakdown.
Tue, Apr 20, 2021, 2:48pm (UTC -5)
She's pretty much having a nervous breakdown."
Why wouldn't she? Her life's work was just canceled with no warning, and she found out that they were unknowingly committing genocide. I'd be pretty messed up after learning all that too.
Tue, Jun 15, 2021, 2:06am (UTC -5)
Pluses: humans being described as “ugly bags of water”! The gradual realisation of intelligent life. The genuine regret of the terraformers at what they had done wrong. Good science.
Minuses: the declaration of war by an incomprehensible inorganic life form. The use of regular crew members in little bits without giving any of them a chance to shine in this story. The lack of tension or an engaging subplot.
2.5 stars. Next episode please...
Tue, Jun 15, 2021, 2:21am (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 13, 2021, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
Sun, May 15, 2022, 8:08am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 14, 2022, 9:00pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 14, 2022, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 7:59am (UTC -5)
Maybe the Prime Directive is in issue where a planet already has indigenous life? I am reminded of their scrupulousness in selecting the Genesis test world for fear of eradicating even microbial life. Perhaps full scale colonization of naturally evolved class M worlds is verboten? Would make sense.
Though that doesn't explain what they did with the Skreeans in DS9 so damned if I know.
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 8:07am (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 8:33am (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 11:18am (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 21, 2022, 9:18pm (UTC -5)
Except Spot (Data's cat). Spot is a superior being.
Mon, Nov 21, 2022, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 22, 2022, 3:10am (UTC -5)
Sun, Dec 4, 2022, 8:56am (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 1:23am (UTC -5)
Nevertheless, the positives outweighed the negatives: the terraforming team were treated with respect, not as stupid or uncaring jerks - even the director, once he was convinced, became contrite. When the life form went into its final shape, it was absolutely gorgeous. And finally, I'd have to give this a plus just for "ugly bags of mostly water," a line which will live forever.
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