TNG Episode 2.11 – Contagion

In which Picard asks for tea-Earl-Grey-hot for the very first time. Yes!

Memory Alpha says: The Enterprise and a Romulan warbird are attacked by the same computer virus that claimed another Federation starship – one of the same class as the Enterprise. (Please click the Memory Alpha link for detailed information.)

My Review

Besides the making of tea history, a background detail that I really like about this episode (and here I quote MA):

  • This episode was conceived by computer technician and Star Trek fan Beth Woods, who at the time worked on the Trek offices’ computers. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
  • Gene Roddenberry was not initially keen on the story, having written in the TNG bible that Federation technology was so advanced that there was no possibility of it ever malfunctioning, but Woods brought him round to the idea by explaining the idea of computer viruses and how they could bring even the most well-designed computer system to its knees.

Firstly, hooray for lady computer technicians; somewhere the ghost of Ada Lovelace punches the air. (If Data ever gets tired of his Famous Mathematicians And Scientists Poker Game being such a sausage fest, I think he should invite Ada, who coincidentally was one of the very few humans to have an approximation of a Vulcan upbringing centuries before first contact. Her mother was understandably worried that Ada would inherit her father, Lord Byron’s mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know tendencies, and raised her to be as mathematical, scientific and unromantic as humanly possible. Sadly, Ada did eventually succumb to the Byron family mental illness (probably bipolar disorder), but not before becoming the first human computer programmer and being declared an Enchanted Math Fairy by noted cowcatcher-inventor and music-hater Charles Babbage. Ada has been cartooned by Kate Beaton, which means she has achieved Internet Popularity, and has her own webcomic (well, she shares it with Babbage and the mighty Isambard Kingdom Brunel) at 2-D Goggles.

‘I shall be pleased to accept your kind invitation, Lieutenant Commander. May I request that there be no poetry read at the soirée?’

One long digression later: secondly, Gene really did love to write himself out of a story opportunity, didn’t he? It’s also strange that he raised this objection at this stage when holodeck malfunction (well, arguably, in ‘Elementary, My Dear Data’ it functions too well) had provided plots for a couple of episodes already broadcast.

Thirdly, I cannot help imagining explaining computer viruses and their story potential to the elderly Gene Roddenberry to be quite similar to setting your grandma up to use Facebook; or repeatedly shutting your fingers in a drawer, whichever.

I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear that I have no memories of this episode either, so let’s just hit it with the bullet points.

  • A desperate plea! An old friend! A ship called Yamato! The NEUTRAL ZONE! They are really ramping up the excitement in the teaser.
  • A weird floaty  camera shot of Picard walking onto the bridge. The effect is really strange; it feels like a point-of-view shot for someone unseen. Maybe a ghost? Either that, or it just looks really, really amateur, like a not-very-clever student film that just happens to be shot on the Enterprise.
  • OR
  • AND THIS WOULD BE BRILLIANT
  • A COPS-STYLE REALITY/PROPAGANDA SHOW THAT IS BROADCAST THROUGHOUT THE FEDERATION AND SHOOTS ON A DIFFERENT STARFLEET SHIP EACH WEEK.
  • oh lord could you imagine Picard ever tolerating such a thing
  • Riker would love it though
  • try to hijack it into a sort of MTV Cribs thing, taking the cameras on a tour of his quarters, ‘where the magic happens.’
  • Data has to keep being reminded not to look at the camera. ‘Carry on as if we weren’t here.’ Gives the director an odd ‘are you sure?’ look, walks into the sound guy.
  • Picard’s ‘antique humour’ was… kind of a pick-up line. I’m not going to pry about your history together. Just… know how that sounded.
  • Look, why not take the Yamato in tow and get her out of the Neutral Zone, instead of sitting here with your arses hanging out waiting for Marc Alaimo to come along and bite them? (I don’t think we can actually look forward to Marc Alaimo today – it’s just that he was one of the last Romulans we saw.)
  • Oh these two are archaeology besties. They used to watch Indiana Jones movies together and point out the inaccuracies to each other but still totally dum-da-DUH-dum along whenever the Indy theme swelled up on the score.
  • No more Donald. No more Yamato. It looks as if the saucer section tried to separate at the last moment but either couldn’t get clear of the blast or suffered similar failures and explosions shortly after the stardrive, so all the children and pets and civilians on board just died too. It really is an extremely grim sight to see a Galaxy-class ship go down. Did you know that one reason why DS9 got poor ratings was that, when they had the Dominion destroy the Galaxy-class ship Odyssey to demonstrate that Shit Just Got Real, many casual viewers thought that it was the Enterprise and were furious at DS9… disrespecting the parent series, I guess? Which is an odd thing to get upset about if they weren’t paying close enough attention to know that it was a different Galaxy ship. I suppose they didn’t like Dr Bashir either.
  • BUT this gives rise to a semi-useful piece of headcanon for me. You know how it’s just stupid that the Enterprise is never involved in the Dominion War? Well, to account for that, I think that footage of the destruction of the Odyssey went out on Federation news channels, and caused widespread public panic because, in-series, people thought it was the Enterprise, the flagship, the symbol, so it was hugely damaging to PR/morale. Consequently, even though it was a ridiculous waste of resources and expertise, Enterprises D and E were carefully kept well away from the dangerous area for the duration of the war. Military historians will long debate how much sooner the war might have ended with the involvement of a strategist like Picard. He could well have invented a new Manoeuvre!
  • Have I told that story before too? I know I’ve written about it in drafts of fanfiction that never developed to a sharable level.
  • Now here comes a big green Romulan to rub salt in the wound.
  • There’s a guest star this week called Thalmus Rasulala! THALMUS RASULALA! What an exuberant name.
  • Hallo Romulan commander lady. You’re not as slinky as the Romulan commander lady from TOS.
  • This is a COLD WAR SUBMARINES IN SPACE episode. I quite like those.
  • STAFF MEETING IN ONE HOUR. PREPARE THE COFFEE.
  • Picard says ‘theorise’ when he means ‘speculate.’ I’m sorry, I am such a nitpicker when it comes to the use of the word ‘theory.’
  • This is another of those episodes where Deanna is written as a diplomatic officer rather than a therapist.
  • I should have more to say, shouldn’t I? I’m mostly sitting here being curious and interested!
  • Oh Donald, Donald. you done fucked up, Donald.
  • FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE: Picard’s doors don’t open properly.
  • Picard goes and asks Data to Google something for him.
  • They discover the blue zappy ball thing that I presume is the source of the virus now fucking with them.
  • oh Wesley why must you bother the Captain when he’s playing with his iPad? Oh, you’re here to provide Picard with an opportunity to exposit at us, using a special spooky story-telling voice to describe the ‘demons of air and darkness.’
  • Anyway, clearly, Shit Just Got Real for Wesley when he saw the Yamato blow.
  • You handle it by being a god damn grown-up, Wesley – and by drinking tea until you bleed it when cut.
  • Geordi is scooting around Engineering in an office chair of, let us say, a design that has not changed since the late 1980s.
  • It twinkled at them! The cheeky monkey.
  • CAPTAIN! DO NOT SEEK THE TREASURE!
  • And because he can’t get the captain on the comm, Geordi hauls ass to reach the bridge on foot, and if I were on my own computer instead of the laptop upstairs, I would share with you my much-loved sped-up GIF of it.
  • I really love the effect of Geordi getting – sucked? thrown? magnetised? into the closed lift doors. It gives an appropriately physical sense of how much has gone wrong with frightening speed, and LeVar Burton (and his stunt double) does a great job of moving convincingly as if he is being flung around. Would you look at that! A well-executed action scene in Season 2 TNG!
  • When your chief engineer flies out of the lift and lands on the floor with his eyeballs showing all white and gross, you know something’s up.
  • The line ‘Welcome to the bridge, Mr LaForge’ plays kind of weirdly given that Geordi used to work there every day.
  • Surely ‘two completely incompatible computer systems trying to interact’ just… wouldn’t. I mean, try running Windows software on a Mac without something like Boot Camp.
  • You guys really need to scan your downloads for viruses.
  • Isn’t it crazy and asking for trouble to program a starship so that 90% of its operations are completely out of the crew’s control? Of course, asking for trouble is a lot of what the Enterprise does. Perhaps that should be written into the mission statement.
  • Yes, Kate, this is a terrible, scary and frustrating situation, but ranting at that embarrassed Asian nurse isn’t going to help anything.
  • A splint should not be an obscure concept to a doctor or nurse; it’s still basic first aid that he should have learned for emergencies. I bet Dr McCoy would slap him upside the head.
  • The blue lightning effects when Geordi is shocked by his control panel are reminiscent of ‘Lonely Among Us.’
  • Data’s ‘oopsie!’ expression and gestures when his effort to free Geordi from the panel flings him across the room are simultaneously adorable and ridiculous (for an android). Now is hardly the time for me to learn to make animated GIFs from an AVI file so I will just stress that you need to be watching the episode.
  • I love how the two of them play the next little exchange, with Data solicitously bending over Geordi and Geordi not moving at all while he talks, because fuck moving, it has brought him nothing but trouble. Geordi is getting flung a lot this week – on the other hand, he’s not annoying me because this episode lets him focus on his strength, being a competent and resourceful engineer, not his horrible relationship skills.
  • At least you didn’t lose your glasses again?
  • YAY, an AWAY TEAM! And Picard’s going to lead it, because Indiana Jones would not let Will Riker tell him to stay put in a safe place.
  • Hi O’Brien!
  • The line ‘They’re arming photon torpedoes!’ goes to a woman I’ve never seen before with an impressive wedge of hair. She looks a bit like Gozer. She is not an especially good actress, so I guess she was cast for her hair.
  • Riker has what became a somewhat iconic line, ‘Fate protects fools, little children and ships called Enterprise.’ So… I guess it doesn’t protect little children on ships called Yamato. Maybe that’s why Deanna looks a trifle pained.
  • Marina Sirtis plays the line ‘In another time and place this could be funny’ as if Deanna actually does find it funny and is trying not to laugh inappropriately.
  • Okay, so the Romulans are obviously having the same technical difficulties as the Enterprise. Time to declare common cause?
  • What about the away team? Well, the away team consists of Worf, Data and Picard, the three toughest nuts on the ship.
  • I love how Patrick Stewart shows Picard’s fascination with and enjoyment of the puzzle alongside his concern and urgency. Because even if this is a crisis, it is still so cool to get to snoop around an old Iconian facility.
  • Give everyone something to do – for example, gathering rocks to throw at the Romulans.
  • So Riker gives Deanna something to do. Which, of course, also improves her chances for survival if all this goes horribly wrong. Awwwwwwww, Imzadi.
  • ‘That was… not manual override.’ Oh, Data, my little precious. Brent Spiner is doing some nice work in this episode.
  • DON’T JUST STICK YOUR ARM IN IT. GOOD GOD MAN.
  • OW DATA. (I do like the continuity that when Data falls unconscious his arms go stiff like a Ken doll’s.)
  • AAARGH I AM HAVING SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH DATA ACTING LIKE HE’S HAVING A STROKE AND DESCRIBING BLINDNESS. (THIS MUST BE WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR HIM STUCK INSIDE B4 I CAN NEVER WATCH NEMESIS.)
  • and the Away Team has rapidly become Team Blow Shit Up, which viewers of Lost will know is the best of all teams.
  • Because I can always notice something inappropriate: the jerky movements of poor damaged Data’s head are making Brent Spiner’s mullet wiggle.
  • OH GOD WORF HAVING TO HOLD POOR LITTLE DATA UP.
  • controlling this thing is apparently a lot like playing Simon.
  • WORF HAVING TO PICK DATA UP IN A FIREMAN’S LIFT (and Brent Spiner doing an incredibly good job of hanging like a mannequin rather than a living human, such that I had to look carefully at the head to feel sure it was him and not a mannequin).
  • HOLY MACK I DID NOT REALISE WHEN I CUED UP THIS EPISODE THAT I WAS GOING TO SEE DATA DIE. I WAS ALL
  • EVEN THOUGH I OBVIOUSLY REALISE THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY AND HE’S GOING TO BE FINE I AM TOTALLY BUGGIN’.
  • Okay I’d better be bloody, bold and resolute and get on with this.
  • shit it’s lucky I didn’t see this on its first run not knowing Data would be okay
  • seriously
  • you know how, after the cliffhanger of the first part of the two-part finale of Sailor Moon Classic when all the Senshi have been killed and Sailor Moon is alone in the Antarctic in the howling white wind with Dark Kingdom forces drawing closer and closer, some little kids got so upset they had rashes and convulsions and their worried parents took them to hospital?
  • this is some serious shit
  • especially since Data is like, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Jupiter in one (I know I’ve just hurt Worf’s feelings because he wants to be Jupiter and I’m going to have to try to persuade him Mars is just as strong)
  • okay I need to disengage from Sailor Moon and watch the damn episode
  • because you know what? they didn’t leave us to suffer over a two-parter or even, as far as I can tell, an ad break. We get to see Data is okay really quickly. Phew.
  • In a very nice bit of continuity, while Geordi is trying to figure out what was wrong with Data he laments ‘If we had an expert, a Maddox, somebody’ – although as the line is spoken it sounds almost like ‘an expert-o-matic.’ An expert-o-matic would indeed be useful; you put a coin in the slot and Ferret Face steps out. I think Geordi’s selling himself short here, though; he knows far more about Data, just from working with him, than I believe Maddox does, even if he’s made a deeper study of the theory behind him than Geordi has.
  • I love how Data is just peeping around like a little birdie and half-smiling because he’s so pleased and surprised to be alive, while Geordi and Riker brainstorm around him.
  • Riker suddenly loses command of his ‘g’s as he informs Geordi ‘If we shut down that means we’re going to be bringin’ down the shields, and we’re hangin’ nose to nose with a Romulan battle cruiser.’ It’s odd, because his demeanour is not otherwise agitated.
  • bringin’ down the shields, bringin’ down the shields, we shall come rejoicin’, bringin’ down the shields
  • ‘Make it so,’ says Riker, as if these words are a sort of charm, and OH GOD THE ADORABLE as the still confused Data pipes ‘May I help?’
  • OOPSIE DOODLE PICARD JUST APPEARED ON THE ROMULAN BRIDGE.
  • I’m quite impressed at the Romulans’ restraint in just surrounding him with phasers drawn, and not shooting at him right after he appears.
  • And the bastard beams out with a snappy comeback.
  • Data has the bridge by the way. Which is not bad for a person who was dead five minutes ago.
  • PICARD. I WAS WRONG ABOUT THE TEA. ICED WATER RUNS IN HIS VEINS.
  • AND EVERYTHING WAS FINE AND EVERYONE LEFT QUICKLY.
  • Well, I thought that was a really good fast-paced adventurous episode!
  • and you know what NEXT time is
  • THE ROYALE WITH CHEESE

baby needs a new pair of shoes; and by 'baby' I mean Spot and by 'shoes' I mean Kitten Mittens

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3 Responses to “TNG Episode 2.11 – Contagion”

  1. solo Says:

    oh man I just watched the DS9 episode (To the Death, I think) where the Jem’Hadar rebels or whatever find an Iconian gateway and Weyoun is introduced and I am reminded of why I love watching him. I wonder why the Dominion didn’t take serious advantage of something like that. I suppose because they would have won in like 5 seconds….or maybe this was the only one (I think it got destroyed)?

    • picardigan Says:

      I’ll try to remember to focus on that whenever the hell I get back to watching DS9, I guess!

    • Michael Says:

      “I am Chief Miles Edward Obrien, I’m very much alive and I intend to stay that way.” Best line of that episode by far! Though Worf’s ” He will not live to talk about it’s pretty good too.


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