Star Trek: The Next Generation: Conspiracy   Rewatch 
June 26, 2020 6:52 AM - Season 1, Episode 25 - Subscribe

When Picard's dearest friend alerts him to mysterious subversion at the highest levels of Starfleet, the Enterprise is the only thing standing between the Federation and an unstoppable new culinary trend that's perhaps best left vague here. (Warning: appetite spoilers.)

Memory Alpha DOES LIKE YOU!:

• The episode was critiqued by producer Maurice Hurley. "I wrote this thing called 'Conspiracy' and I was intentionally trying to shake things up and do a different kind of story [....] Maury came back to me and said it's not Star Trek," writer Tracy Tormé remembered. "It's too dark, it's got a dark ending, it's unhappy, it's this and that, and he turned it down. Somebody overruled him, maybe it was Rick Berman, but somebody loved the script and thought it's exactly what we should be doing, but Maury and I had a very bad relationship from that point on."

• The original version of the script did not feature alien parasites; the conspiracy in question was simply a military coup within Starfleet. Gene Roddenberry vehemently opposed such an idea, since he believed Starfleet would never stoop to such methods; there was just no way Tormé could get away with suggesting that the Federation was anything less than a perfect government. Thus the alien angle was introduced at his insistence. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine later featured a similar plot, however, in the two-part episodes "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost".

• Indeed, the whole idea of the episode, its violence, and its unresolved ending caused quite a stir, but Robert Justman, Rick Berman, and Rob Lewin backed Tormé against the objections of Maurice Hurley, and the show stood pretty much as he had intended it, with the topical references to the Iran-Contra affair subtly shoved under the carpet. Things did not go so well for writer Tormé in the future; he was left with the feeling that, as far as creative freedom for writers, the second half of Star Trek: The Next Generation's second season was the best part of the series as a whole.

• The conceptual genesis of the Borg, intended to replace the Ferengi as TNG's main villains in its second season, was as a race of insectoids, a concept that would ultimately require modification due to budgetary constraints. Michael and Denise Okuda elaborated in their Star Trek Chronology: "At the time [Conspiracy] was written, this was apparently intended to lead to the introduction of the Borg [....] The Borg connection was dropped before 'Q Who?' (TNG) was written, and the truth about the parasites remains a mystery."

• Jonathan Frakes states that during the dinner scene, grub worms did "cross" his lips.

Henry Darrow (Savar) later played Chakotay's father on Voyager.

Michael Berryman previously appeared as the alien Starfleet officer in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was born with Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, which prevents the formation of hair, fingernails, teeth and sweat glands. The condition is rare, inherited and incurable. Outside of Star Trek, he is best known for playing the inbred berserker Pluto in Wes Craven's 1977 horror thriller The Hills Have Eyes.

• This episode marks the first appearance of a Bolian.

A star chart featured in this episode, on the wall behind Remmick's chair, was created by the art department and shows several dozen planets and star systems mentioned in Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Animated Series. The star chart was re-used in many more TNG episodes and later appeared in the pilot episode of the Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures in the eponymous main character's attic. This graphic also appeared in DC Comics Supergirl, Volume 7 Issue 1 (November 2016) as a display on a wall on the planet Krypton.

• The exterior footage of Starfleet Headquarters was recycled from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; as such, this episode is the only time Tellarites appear on TNG.

• On its first airing in the UK (on 20 March 1991), the BBC cut several minutes of footage from this episode (most notably the death of Remmick). In addition, Space, Canada's science fiction network, precedes this episode with a viewer discretion warning, the only TNG episode to receive this.

• The parasites returned in Pocket Books' Deep Space Nine relaunch series novels, in which it is revealed that the parasites are closely related to the Trill.

"Friendship must dare to risk, Counselor, or it isn't friendship."
- Picard, on risking his career to follow up on Walker Keel's conspiracy theory

"That was not a request. I was simply...talking to myself. A human idiosyncrasy, triggered by fascination with a particular set of facts. Or sometimes brought about by senility. Or used as a means of weighing information before reaching a conclusion. Or, as a—"
"Thank you, sir. I comprehend."
- Data and the computer

"It won't like your science officer. It DOES LIKE YOU!"
- Quinn

"Captain, you must set your phaser on kill. Stun has little effect."
"Doctor, one does not beam down to Starfleet Headquarters armed."
- Dr. Crusher and Picard

Poster's Log:
Soooo many holes and problems here. One big one is that they end on this ominous note, foreshadowing a major villain species (one episode before they do it again with the Romulans), and then never revisit it even by implication. Nearly as big: if Crusher's medical instruments can detect the bugs, how does the transporter system not notice three lifeforms when Bug-Quinn beams up? Kind of big: if the bugs depend on an Aliens-style "mother bug," doesn't that suggest that they have some sort of collective consciousness, and if so, why don't the admirals down on Earth know that Bug-Quinn got exposed or that Riker is Non-Bug-Riker? Not very big: why is La Forge responding to a security call? and how is Picard stronger than Bug-Tryla-Scott? (Bernd at Ex Astris Scientia points out still more issues, some of which I missed.)

And maybe the biggest: the grisly violence of the climactic Let's Annihilate Remmick scene. What franchise is this again?! Look, I watched like five Hellraiser movies, I love me some body horror, I'm all for pushing boundaries, and I hate to side with Hurley…but yeah, this just isn't a TNG episode. I remember watching this episode's premiere, when I should have been in the exact target audience for Remmick's big moment, but my actual reaction was "Uhhhhh …Oh crap, are they worried they're gonna get cancelled?"

I'll concede, nevertheless, that the episode, considered in isolation, achieves a good portion of what it sets out to. It's got scope, excitement, a comparatively fast pace, effective makeup (especially Remmick's pulsing goiters), pretty on-point acting throughout, and tense horror-ish editing. I remember when it first aired that the little gills sticking out of the necks was ggghyyyUUEEGGHHHhhh. And I guess it's nice that they tried something different; certainly, it's a memorable and watchable episode in a season that wasn't always memorable or watchable. But I'm glad this was an aberration, tonally speaking.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
No wonder Riker has no trouble with gagh when the time comes (next season, IIRC).

This episode's Greatest Generation installment rightly points out that Voyager could plausibly have revisited the bluegills. IMO, that's something VOY would've been good at.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A doozy of an episode.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2020

I remember being pretty blown away by this episode, though I don't think I saw it on the original run, probably a year or two later, age 14-ish. I find it pretty unpleasant to watch now, had to turn it off after the first commercial break.

Poor Remmick, he just wanted to belong.
posted by skewed at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2020

This is an episode where if you haven't seen it for a while but you remember it's full throttle WTF and maybe don't want to see it again, listen to the podcast. But if you do- strap in for a ride. It's not good- but it's not... bad, it's just weird. I have used the verb "remmicked" to describe large gorey explosions in other shows ala the podcast. The special effect is so over the top- they don't really do that on Star Trek again but wow they did it well. well-ish.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:17 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Surely Michael Berryman is best remembered for Weird Science.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:17 AM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm gonna say it, I'm glad the Borg showed up to supplant these bugs as an ongoing villian species.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:35 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

this one is fine.

You all have the aliens covered.

The only problem I have with this one is how Starfleet is depicted. For an org that spans the quadrant with ships and stations and starbases, the central high command is pretty laid back and decentralized. The ship gets back to Earth and they get called by Starfleet and it is those three admirals on screen. It just feels weird.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:07 AM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

It is an amazing… testament, I suppose, for how much television has changed. There's almost no foreshadowing in the season for this episode, and then it is suddenly just sort of… over. No repercussions, no real past, no real future.

I was a bit taken aback by the gore.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Honestly, for its era, I think that having the earlier conspiracy discussion in the episode with Remmick and Quinn is about as much foreshadowing as any syndicated show ever did. Definitely shows how expectations for tv have changed, in the old days the shows were pretty direct that everything had to reset back to normal by episode's end so that they could show them in any order on repeat without any confusion.

Thanks, CheesesOfBrazil, for keeping up with these now that your workload's doubled, they're still top notch posts. It's becoming a very welcome part of my weekly routine.
posted by skewed at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am in pretty rough shape but I'm gonna do cards of the episode again from the Star Trek CCG just for the heck of it:

Apparently this was the source for Federation Outpost, your homebase as a Federation player in the original set.

CW for images of some of the blood n guts/horror stuff:
Alien Parasites was a nasty dilemma that let you control your opponent's crew if they failed to have sufficient integrity in their away team. This was really rough against Romulan players, who might need 9+ crew members to pass it.

In the final set you got Bluegill Infestation , which makes some of your crew members super strong bluegills, but at a small risk of a silver bullet wiping them out.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:09 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

One of my thoughts about this episode is that I wonder if part of its inspiration was the original idea for the Borg, which was that they'd basically be a sentient-swarm-of-insects type menace, rather than Bionic Space Zombies. Another thing that they remind me of is the contemporaneous-with-TOS TV series The Invaders, your basic Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Puppet Masters-type Cold War paranoia fest. Like this ep, The Invaders had aliens (not alien-possessed humans) who differed from real humans by a minor but detectable feature (in their case, a crooked little finger) and who went after people in power to impersonate/take over. (To boost the how-do-you-know-it's-not-real paranoia, the show based its alien spacecraft on "actual" reported UFO sightings.) TOS occasionally went with stuff like this, with the androids of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" imitating/replacing meatsacks in a couple of instances.

In general, I agree with COB's summary: good in parts, but also flawed. It's especially baffling that, given that they foreshadowed the ep in "Coming of Age", they never, ever did a follow-up. I think that sometimes, with certain episodes, they're either so disliked, or the showrunners didn't like how they turned out so much, that they simply want to pretend that they never happened; I think that the bugsplosion (interestingly, the Wikipedia article says that Remmick's head for that effect was actually, dig it, "A mold of Paul Newman's face was filled with raw meat and then blown up"--wonder why that factoid didn't make MA) probably got enough negative feedback to trigger that flushing down the memory hole. The beta canon DS9 novels had a plotline which gives them a bit more background and context (it's at the end of the ep's MA article if you want spoilers for that).
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:06 PM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

We do get a repeat of the whole aliens signaling their brethren to Earth in the Enterprise Borg episode, which is a bit interesting considering these things were kinda sorta going to be the Borg originally.

This episode does seem slightly more season-finale-ish than The Neutral Zone, since it both ties up the Starfleet infiltration set up in Coming of Age and also hints at future conflict (that conflict never actually panning out notwithstanding).

Overall, the something rotten in Starfleet idea has been handled much better in later Treks (DS9 not only had the Founders infiltrating Starfleet as well as the Section 31 arc providing a subversion of Starfleet ideals more in line with the original conception of this episode).
posted by ckape at 3:55 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

I loved Remmick's death when I first saw this episode. SO over the top. His face disintegrates, then his head explodes, then his chest slowly dissolves revealing the ghoulie in his guts. There's plenty of prior art for parasite body snatchers (even within Trek!) but I think maybe they were cribbing from The Hidden a bit for that scene in particular.

Teen me kept waiting for the parasite creepers to come back in later seasons, but agree the Borg turned out to be a much better existential threat to the Federation. Later on a whole different franchise, starting with Stargate SG1, seems like it might have been inspired by this episode as much as it was the Stargate film.
posted by rodlymight at 6:55 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

This episode is my strongest single memory of watching Season 1 on transmission here in Britain (Wednesdays at 6pm on BBC2) and that's directly because of the cutting of explodey Remmick. It was so abrupt 13yo me *knew* that something really gross must have happened and spent years wondering about it.

I only saw the uncut version on Netflix this year: I wasn't disappointed.

(A friend who is extremely good on these fine points is pretty certain that pace Memory Alpha it wasn't cut by the BBC, but by the British Board of Film Censors / Classification, which was still very illiberal in the late 80s and 90s -- the BBC transmitted the BBFC version of the episode, which had already been cut for release on VHS rental.)
posted by bebrogued at 4:23 AM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like to imagine the bluegills encountered the Ferengi, whose penchant for exploitative capitalism and love of eating bugs rendered them extinct within a year.
posted by sugar and confetti at 6:04 AM on June 27, 2020 [11 favorites]

A mold of Paul Newman's face was filled with raw meat and then blown up

posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:15 AM on June 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

headcanon accepted!
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:19 AM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Laugh line of the episode: toward the end one of the bluegills mentions they share a love of dramatic arts with the federation.

Maybe they just wanna take over Earth so they can do Annie Get Your Gun with an authenic human cast?
posted by StarkRoads at 9:47 AM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

headcanon accepted!

Mr Remmick’s last thought. Heyoo!
posted by rodlymight at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


ok, I'm done. probably
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:07 AM on June 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I like to imagine the bluegills encountered the Ferengi, whose penchant for exploitative capitalism and love of eating bugs rendered them extinct within a year.

Just like the anchovies in Futurama!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:11 PM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

A lot of season 1 episodes are pretty forgettable, and while I have complaints about this episode, being forgettable isn't one of them.
posted by ckape at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Robert Schenkkan (Remmick) won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1992 for his play "The Kentucky Cycle." Recurring Star Trek actors Scott MacDonald and Randy Oglesby, both of whom have been disintegrated at least once in various ST series, were in the premiere production in Seattle.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:33 AM on June 29, 2020

I remember this episode from when it originally aired. I don't think I've seen it in reruns—could it be omitted from syndication packages?

And I remember my reaction to the episode was WHAT!?. Not for the horror aspects (although yeah, that's surprising for Trek), but the way they dropped this bomb of a Starfleet conspiracy on us, with no build-up and (it was immediately clear) no intention for follow-up. I don't remember if "the reset button" was a well-established fan complaint at that time, but it was clear that's how episodes worked.
posted by adamrice at 9:09 AM on July 1, 2020

Keel's backstory with Picard and Crusher makes him really interesting and it's a shame they introduced him just to kill him off. He could have been a great recurring character.

Also he met Picard in a bar that was "exotic". Picard, did you and your old buddy meet in a strip club?

Fake Quinn's explanation for his previous concern was pretty textbook dog-whistle racism. I appreciate that that's the moment Picard knew it wasn't him.

Can anyone explain how this relates to Iran/Contra?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:14 AM on August 26, 2021

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