Monday, August 07, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 146 (The Chase)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

While out exploring the galaxy, Captain Picard is paid a visit by an archaeology professor of his. It turns out that the professor wants Picard to come along on a really important quest, but he won’t give Picard any details. Professor Galen only says that this could be the biggest thing yet. Picard thinks about it, but can’t bring himself to leave the Enterprise. Upon being turned down, Galen leaves the ship. A few hours later, the Enterprise receives a distress call from Galen; a ship is attacking him. The Enterprise arrives and inadvertently destroys the alien ship. They transport Galen to sickbay, but it’s too late.

Upon inspecting Galen’s shuttlecraft, the crew discovers a series of numbers. Without context, there’s no way of knowing what those numbers mean. However, they narrow it down a little and come to find out that the numbers represent genetic codes. Galen was gathering certain genetic sequences. He had gathered 19 of them, but it wasn’t complete. Galen was putting together some sort of puzzle that could have profound implications. Picard takes up the quest, putting off an order to mediate a situation.

The Cardassians, Romulans and Klingons are also interested. Eventually, despite bickering between the other three races, Picard and Dr. Crusher are able to complete the puzzle. The final genetic code reconfigures the tricorder that Dr. Crusher has so that it can project a holographic image. The image is of a humanoid woman who tells everyone that her race seeded several planets that were just beginning to develop life so that each would develop a race similar to hers. Some of those present to witness it are disappointed and can’t believe than they have anything in common with the other races. However, Picard feels satisfied that he was able to complete Galen’s work.

The episode requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief. Genetic code drifts. Granted, some code doesn’t drift as much as others, but it’s hard to believe that the genetic code that was ‘implanted’ in all of Earth’s life had survived unaffected for so long. Also, you have to believe that DNA can be used to encode a program that a tricorder would instantly recognize. Once the tricorder does recognize it, you have to believe that the tricorder can and will reconfigure itself to emit a hologram. At the very least, it’s a stretch.

The episode attempts to explain why so many species in the Star Trek universe look so similar. The concept of the preservers had been mentioned in the original series and used in a few of the books. The truth is that Star Trek and its subsequent spin-offs had to use human actors. The alternative is to use computer graphics, and that can be such a difficult process that it’s simply not worth it to use on a regular basis. The writers apparently felt compelled to offer up some sort of official explanation. (There are supposedly other races that don’t look human at all, but many such races have only been mentioned on the TV series or appeared in books.)

I have to wonder what would have happened if all life on one of the planets had been destroyed by natural causes. The Enterprise was lucky enough on the last planet; life there had actually almost disappeared. Had that happened, no one would have found the appropriate code. Also, the Borg or some other hostile and dangerous could have claimed the planet, thus making it inaccessible. I have to wonder what would have happened if all of the planets had developed humanoid life and someone had been descended from all of those races. They could have contained all of the genetic sequences. In the Star Trek universe, there have been a few characters that were of both human and alien heritage and the DNA was supposed to direct life on those planets towards a humanoid form, so such a thing is not unthinkable.

There weren’t any repercussions from this episode. I’d imagine that Picard was reprimanded for disregarding his mission, but the events of this episode were never mentioned again. I don’t know what I expected, but I don’t think that a discovery of this magnitude should go unmentioned. However, as I’ve pointed out in other Trek reviews, major discoveries have a way of fading into obscurity.

I think that the episode is worth four stars. I may not think that all of the details were worked out, but it does have those interesting implications. I really don’t think that a non-fan would enjoy this episode as much as a fan. That’s not to say that it’s totally unenjoyable or inaccessible. It’s just that there’s too much history that someone would have to know to fully appreciate the episode. 

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