Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Home Soil"

3 stars

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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29 comments on this review

STBro
Fri, Jun 29, 2012, 10:34am (UTC -6)
I would rate this episode a 2 at best. I agree they try to make a somewhat scientific analysis of the phenomenon but the story lacks dramatic tension and terror-interest.The feeble threat of the magic, glowing crystals leaves Romulan bad guys or even Ferenghi to be desired. At least those enemies have a culture and don't talk like some infantile mix of Tonto/Tarzan:(paraphrasing) "Me noble savage. You bad guy. Hurt feelings. Make sad." This level of communication from members of a supposedly morally and intellectually superior "culture"? Then comes the highly anticipated (from 40 minutes back)abject apology from Captain P. C. Picard and, as you note, this to a species that seems as confused and arrogant as the humanoids they condemn. As a humanist, I say dig 'em up and make 'em into jewelry.
Rikko
Fri, Aug 3, 2012, 4:40pm (UTC -6)
The plot was kinda ok, but looking at a bunch of actors trying to interact with a speaking cube it's a bit ridiculous.

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.
DPC
Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 8:40pm (UTC -6)
Wooden acting aside, this is one of TNG S1's finer entries. The science feels plausible, the silicon-based life form, despite not being the first such life form ever discovered in Trek-land (Horta, anyone?), was a nice touch, and if only the actors came across jubilant instead of imitating pine trees in a drought...

The threat of the crystal critter isn't there, but the scientific intrigue (to me) makes up for it.

3 of 4 stars
Van_Patten
Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 8:32pm (UTC -6)
This one was a bête noire of another great reviewer, Tim Lynch, who described it as having 'no redeeming features' - For once I'd disagree, and after the last two dreadful instalments, this is a welcome lurch back in the right direction.

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..
William B
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 7:51am (UTC -6)
I do wonder why Tim Lynch hated this episode so.

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.
NCC-1701-Z
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 1:04pm (UTC -6)
It ain’t no “Devil in the Dark”, but nevertheless, it’s a very good episode. For the most part, solid plot, good characterization, improved acting. Not perfect (for instance, the female technician was flat and Riker’s scene with her seemed unnecessary), but definitely a step in the right direction. I do think the Enterprise-in-jeopardy premise could have been dispensed with though. Overall, one of TNG’s better efforts to emulate TOS.

3/4
Mark
Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 4:28pm (UTC -6)
A pretty good concept but ropey direction of the actors and editing choices, plus in one scene Data gets emotional. 2.5 for me.
SkepticalMI
Sun, Sep 1, 2013, 12:41pm (UTC -6)
Not a bad episode, but hardly a great one. It just seemed to be a bit too slow and had too many cliches thrown in. The initial antagonism of the terraforming chief, the mystery of the random dude's death, the discovery of life, and then a little war. The episode just seems to jump from topic to topic without putting enough thought into it.

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.
Dylan
Wed, Jan 28, 2015, 1:14am (UTC -6)
Reading between the lines-- fascinating to see Enterprise crew respect the alien life form so much they shut down the entire Terraforming operation--once they realize it is life--just a different from themselves-- ugly "bags of mostly water"

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.
Shannon
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 5:10pm (UTC -6)
Again, another episode with an interesting premise, but the execution of the script was quite poor. Season 1 was bogged down by bad acting, bad directing, and bad production. Ugh.
Diamond Dave
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 1:29pm (UTC -6)
An episode that at least takes the story forward in unexpected directions - from looking like a straightforward murder mystery it spins off into a new path with the discovery of the life form. And while the jeopardy element indeed fails to develop much dramatic tension, there is nevertheless a satisfactory resolution.

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.
Kiamau
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 9:42pm (UTC -6)
Worf's response to the computer of "I wasn't asking you." Classic.
The Man
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 8:44pm (UTC -6)
It is amazing that a pig-headed murderous being ignored peaceful negotiations and accuses the crew of being arrogant and Picard just lowers his head and smile
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.
borusa
Wed, Nov 23, 2016, 4:16pm (UTC -6)
I agree that as far as silicon based lifeforms the Horta from Devil in the Dark has this beaten by a long shot. Mind you the Horta was economic with its words too ('No Kill I').
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.
Trek
Mon, Mar 20, 2017, 9:40pm (UTC -6)
"It is amazing that a pig-headed murderous being ignored peaceful negotiations"

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
RandomThoughts
Wed, Mar 22, 2017, 5:47pm (UTC -6)
Hello Everyone!

@Trek

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
James
Tue, Aug 29, 2017, 9:10pm (UTC -6)
If the lifeforms need saline water to be interconnected, how were they able to work collectively to disable the Enterprise? The shipboard sample didn't have it.
silly
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 9:06pm (UTC -6)
The opening sequence where the Director REALLY REALLY REALLY doesn't want visitors, and Troi tells Picard that he's hiding something and is panicky about having visitors...

Um...

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.
Derek
Sat, Oct 28, 2017, 1:01am (UTC -6)
Okay, the woman's acting job was HORRIBLE and the Director's panic at the thought of the away team coming down was never adequately explained. Otherwise, i enjoyed this one a lot. 3 1/2 stars from me.
Sarjenka's Little Brother
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 11:54pm (UTC -6)
Within the many episodes of "life forms we don't understand," this was a fair entry.

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.
Bill
Sat, Feb 10, 2018, 5:03pm (UTC -6)
One final thought. Someone also mentioned the emphatic way Riker was pronouning the name "Aldea". Looking and listening closely, you can tell "Aldea" was being looped in post-production and Frakes was actually saying "Aldair", which was the planet's original name and changed after the first day of shooting. Dubbing always makes things sound more pronounced than normal.

But yes, the expositing between Riker and Yar was a little overwrought.
Bill
Sat, Feb 10, 2018, 5:14pm (UTC -6)
The beginning of this episode flat-out sucked. All the false dramatic tension and misdirection caused by General Gogol's manstrating was a waste of time. Poor Troi. Like all she had to do was report on all those red herrings.

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)
Rahul
Sun, Feb 18, 2018, 9:51pm (UTC -6)
There's a good story here but wooden guest acting, bad directing and writing undermine the final product. The 1st half made it clear there was a mystery -- what are the terraformers concealing? But it was needlessly slow to develop. The second part when the ship is dealing with a serious threat from a new life form is better.

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.
TB
Sun, Feb 25, 2018, 8:44am (UTC -6)
Mediocre episode but data shouting "CAPTAIN! OUR SENSORS..", leaning over the desk and getting very excited was incredibly out of character.
Lupe
Mon, Mar 5, 2018, 9:38pm (UTC -6)
"We're just about to start pumping.


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.
Matt
Sat, Mar 10, 2018, 2:19am (UTC -6)
I've always had a soft spot for this one. The premise of terraforming a planet so that it can sustain life is plausible enough. The team overlooking a potential life form in order to get the job done quickly is something we can identify with as well. The early scene where a man is murdered by a laser drill was fairly intense, and again when it attacked Data.

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.
JerJer
Sat, May 12, 2018, 5:13am (UTC -6)
"Ugly bags of mostly water". I've remembered that line for 25 years.
Worf getting mad at the computer, classic Worf.
mephyve
Sat, May 19, 2018, 6:09pm (UTC -6)
Murder mystery solved. The new species did it. Don't worry, you'll never see them again.
chuck V
Sun, Jun 24, 2018, 2:44am (UTC -6)
This is a great season 1 episode. First off, no Wesley! Second, this is the first we have of Data being a badass. Yes , there is some scenes that I would characterise as "Shakespeare in the park", see Kurt Mandi's entrance. (8:31). Overall compelling.

(15:10) Patrick Stewart shows this dude how to act!

Great Picard stuff throughout this episode!

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