Star Trek: The Next Generation “Conspiracy” (part 1 of 4)
As much grief as I’ve given the films with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I would be remiss in noting that the show itself is one of my favorites of all time. I distinctly recall dashing over to my neighbor’s house to record the series premiere, and it was a staple of my evenings for pretty much the entire series run. Even today, if an episode is on and it catches my eye, I’ll take in a few minutes.
Today, we’ll be looking at the best episode from the first season (not a huge challenge, I’ll grant you), “Conspiracy”. One of the big issues I’ve had with the franchise as a whole is the rather frustrating tendency it had to play things safe instead of taking some real dramatic chances. It hurt the first film, it certainly was one of the issues Voyager and Enterprise had (though, they occasionally managed to fight it off in brief spurts), and it definitely hurt the first season of this show.
This was due largely in part to creator Gene Roddenberry’s rather staunch unwillingness to alter his vision for what the show should be, which made for some rather uninspiring television. That being said, I do respect the man’s ability to stand by his guns. Hell, I ended up watching the thing for seven seasons and didn’t really stop seriously following the franchise until 1996, so he must have done something right!
This episode, with the exception of one aspect that doesn’t really hurt the show too much, is not burdened by that unwillingness.
The great thing about this episode is that, for really the first time, Starfleet is seen as being somewhat less than the ideal leadership group that Roddenberry envisioned. You know, like something a little closer to reality? Granted, we are talking about a show which regularly features aliens from far off galaxies, but still!
I’ve always enjoyed the TNG episodes that revolved around some sort of mystery, whether it’s of an external nature, or one of the many episodes where reality seems to be shifting.
Our episode begins with Riker expositing that the crew is headed for a planet, ostensibly for scientific purposes, but you can just tell it’s so they can hit the beach. At least that’s what I would get from the place being named Pacifica. If the beaches aren’t good there, they’re not gonna be good anywhere!
On the bridge, Geordi is telling Data a joke which, of course, the android doesn’t get. After analyzing the joke (which would seem to be a rather raunchy sex joke), he does try to get into the spirit of things by letting out a rather unnerving laugh that really makes me want to see Brent Spiner play a psychotic asylum patient.
It actually ends up being pretty funny, since he just stops in mid laugh and turns back to his control panel like nothing happened. Weird how of all the things the show did wrong in its first season, Data wasn’t one of them too often. And yet, when the show really got rolling, and later on with the films…
Ah, forget it, Ed. It’s Star Trek.
Riker and Troi are amused by this (I guess when Riker has the bridge, it’s Miller Time, unless the shit hits the fan), and some good natured bantering about the planet ensues, with the requisite comment going over Data’s head (this week, he’s confused by the term “moonlight swim”, and Worf feels, “Swimming is too much like… bathing.”
Okay, then. If I ever have to fart in an elevator, I should make sure to have a Klingon on hand as a decoy. Good tip.
The fun is broken up by an emergency message for Picard ,which Riker patches through to the captain’s quarters.
The message is from Captain Walker Keel, an old friend of his who’s stumbled upon some sort of conspiracy, telling Picard they have to meet secretly on a deserted planet. Cue credits sequence and narration.
Picard has the ship set off towards the planet, ordering everyone to keep quiet about the mission, and after an infodump on the planet, they arrive to find three other Federation ships in orbit, including Keel’s.
Picard beams down and is met by Keel, Captain Scott, and Captain Rixx, who’s played by horror staple Michael Berryman.
After a tense moment where Picard’s identity is confirmed, Keel reveals several odd things have been going on at Starfleet HQ. Weird orders, people acting strangely, suspicious deaths, that sort of thing.
Picard is skeptical, but Keel convinces him to stay in touch and trust no one. Rixx adds, “Watch your back,” and we go to commercial.