Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unnatural Selection   Rewatch 
July 24, 2020 4:07 AM - Season 2, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Dr. Pulaski discovers that genetic engineering is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

The quality of Memory Alpha must be maintained FOREVER:

• One change from earlier drafts of the script was the total deletion of a character named Rina, whose great beauty caused her fellow crewmembers to suffer a number of comic mishaps, and also had a romantic subplot with La Forge. In place of Rina, O'Brien was written into the episode to assist La Forge.

• The Darwin children were originally to have appeared nude, but the use of transparent furniture nixed that idea.

• According to director Paul Lynch, Muldaur had some difficulty remembering her lines in this episode. The producers solved this problem by putting her lines on cue cards.

• This episode marks the first time that Miles O'Brien is referred to as the transporter chief, and the first time he is referred to by his last name. Remembered Colm Meaney, "A script arrived and suddenly he had a name." This was also the first episode where Meaney was credited as a guest star and not in the closing credits.

• This is the first appearance of the Miranda-class starship in TNG. For this episode, the ship's model was slightly altered, losing the roll bar and torpedo pod that the class had in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

• Colm Meaney remarked, "I liked the episode a lot. I thought it was really good. It held your interest, it was a marvelous sort of detective story in a way, while at the same time it was making a statement about the dangers of these wonderful scientific developments that can be used for great benefit. It also said something deeper about the dangers of them, and in a sense it begged the question should we really be trying this?"

• The genetic engineering of advanced children apparently ignores the fact that such engineering is banned in the Federation. This is stated in subsequent Star Trek episodes including TNG: "A Matter of Time", DS9: "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", and ENT: "Affliction"; the latter established the date of the technology being banned as "decades" before 2154.

"Extreme caution. The USS Lantree is a quarantined vessel by order of Starfleet Command. Do not board."
- Automated quarantine message from the USS Lantree

"Doctor, God knows I'm not one to discourage input, but I would appreciate it if you'd let me finish my sentences once in a while."
- Picard, to Pulaski, shortly before leaving the room

"Apparently, she's been an admirer of yours for some time."
- Taggert explains to Picard Pulaski's respect for him

"Scientists believe no experiment is a failure; that even a mistake advances the evolution of understanding. But all achievement has a price. For one brief glimpse at the mysterious blueprint of Human evolution, the men and women of the USS Lantree paid with their lives. Their sacrifice is thus noted in this scientist's log."
- Pulaski's log

Poster's Log:
Here's a much better one than the last few. Good writing, swift plot developments, not too much of a TOS rehash (IIRC), and a key Pulaski character-development episode—the first one where her role is significant and she's not just likeable but admirable. It also sets up some moments between Pulaski and Picard in upcoming episodes. (If I were Gates McFadden, I'd be pissed that I didn't get a juicy script like this in season one.)

And O'Brien suddenly has a name and gets TONS of screen time! Funny that Meaney may ultimately owe his entire DS9 role to the omission of this Rina character (which, by the way, thank god for that). O'Brien here feels so much like DS9 O'Brien, probably in part because he demonstrates his ability to get the Treknobabble out well. (MA background notes suggest that season 4's "Data's Day" is when O'Brien really becomes a recurring guest/secondary character with meaty Acting opportunities, rather than just a recurring crewman—but OTOH, he also gets a good scene two episodes from now in TNG's first poker game.)

Pointless STO Comparison:
The Miranda-class is your starting ship if your STO character is 24th-century Starfleet. I find that they're always the hardest to think up a name for, for some reason. (Off-topic aside: looks like STO is maybe finally gonna fix their bugged-as-shit Klingon content.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The thinking behind the Rina character will evolve into new secondary character Ensign Sonya Gomez, whose two-episode run will begin later this season with…you'll never guess which episode.

"Greatest Gen" episode link, featuring plenty of old-people jokes.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good episode for Pulaski.

It is kind of hard though to get around the fact the children should not exist. Of course, this is only the second season. Like the holodeck, a lot of concepts are still being fleshed out or haven't been thought out. Still, one gets the impression someone came up with the idea of genetically perfect children and they ran with it without thinking it out. At the very least, Picard should have had to consider General Order 24ing the science station to save the Federation from the children and their proactive immune systems.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:12 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was the episode that got me into Star Trek. I saw it as a rerun in the early 90s when I was in high school. I really got interested in genetics and genetic engineering. Saw this episode, and I was hooked.
posted by kathrynm at 8:23 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is an unspectacular but really enjoyable episode. Nothing objectionable or overtly stupid to distract, some good character building, a mystery that is hardly mysterious at all, but it's still enjoyable, like a police procedural. Star Trek is comfort food to me, so I don't expect a huge amount of dramatic nuance.

Still, I love how the scientists at Darwin station are genetic engineers who have found a way to dramatically alter the aging process in humans, but are not at all interested in the idea that this aging-disease is at all related.

The image of the kid encased in 24th century saranwrap was very memorable.

They had lots of good technobabble and impressive on-screen engineering/tech going on, which I'm sure I found very engrossing in 1988.

I noticed Patrick Stewart really taking control of his character and having his mannerisms and stuff down pat, like the casual hand-signal he uses when he says "engage". It feels like the show has really found its legs now, though it seems like Geordi and Riker still haven't gotten much to do.
posted by skewed at 9:13 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

This episode is troublesome, lore-wise. Not just because it's contradicted by later writing making human genetic engineering illegal, but also through the implication that they just have save files for all of the crew lying around. In my mind, transporter patterns are way too complex too fit into even a Galaxy-class's computer, and only fit in the pattern buffer thanks to some hand-wavy quantum stuff that ties them to the matter stream. This is also why everyone complains that replicated food is inferior to the original, because the patterns for that come from the computer and the only way they can fit is through lossy compression, so all replicated food basically has jpeg artifacts in it.
posted by ckape at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2020 [13 favorites]

FanFare: all replicated food basically has jpeg artifacts in it
posted by rocketman at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is IMO the best Pulaski episode so far, and possibly the best in her solitary season. Yeah, it doesn't really sync up with future continuity re: the prohibition on genetic engineering and what we know about the transporter*, but the main point still comes through: Pulaski may be cranky and a bit robophobic, but she really steps up to try to help the people, takes reasonable precautions (and how timely is it that the episode spends some time on isolation protocols?), and handles her possible imminent demise with aplomb. Also note that she gets some quality time with Data, and seems to have a bit more respect for him.

And, yeah, awesome development for O'Brien, not just a name but sitting in on a senior staff meeting. I'm looking forward to his development; I'm getting a better impression of early-seasons TNG from this rewatch, but probably my favorite episode of the series is still "The Wounded."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

*The TNG Technical Manual was originally created as a reference for the writers, as sort of an adjunct to the writers' bible, but eventually got polished up for general publication. It mentions the limits of the transporter and replication. Speaking of writers' bibles, here's a link to a bunch of them, including the ones for the TNG era of the franchise.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2020

I am glad they made O'Brien transporter chief along with giving him a name.

I remember reading about the development of Phase II/TMP and how they made an effort to show how powerful the transporter was by putting in a transparent screen to protect the operators. And given how important the transporter is for ship operations, that it has its own chief and is not just under Engineering is cool. It's too bad O'Brien didn't stay an officer (depending on what you think about the whole "we never meant for /O'Brien/ to be the same character vs. some writer misunderstood transporter chief to be a rank rather than a position).
posted by Fukiyama at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2020

It's been a long time since I've done more than glance at it, but I gobbled up that TNG Technical Manual as a teenager, and I've still got a copy around here somewhere. My headcanon for transporter operation is definitely informed by what I read back then, even if it probably doesn't exactly match up anymore.

Also, how dare they never show the dolphins.
posted by ckape at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm looking forward to his development; I'm getting a better impression of early-seasons TNG from this rewatch, but probably my favorite episode of the series is still "The Wounded."

Mine too. I have to imagine he really cherishes that episode for the meaty character work he got to be involved in. Even with the many episodes of DS9 where he featured into the main plot, this ST:TNG episode is still his best work IMHO.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:38 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Those Miranda-class, always getting pwnd by 7337 h4xx0r 3n73rpr1535.

Good Pulaski stuff, going head-to-head with Picard and prevailing (and some growth in regard to her android prejudice). Some of her dialogue is still “What if Dr. McCoy but genderswapped” enough that I can hear a tiny DeForest Kelley echoing her lines in my head sometimes, but hopefully we’re moving away from that.

Smiley! Chief O’Brien coming in with the solution. He just gives you some technobabble nonsense and you trust him 100% because that’s Colm Meaney.
posted by rodlymight at 8:55 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

It does make one wonder why "just chuck them in the transporter and overwrite them with a saved pattern/their genetic code" isn't the solution to every possible malady, up to and including death. A classic example of bad technobabble being used to reset things without considering the implications.

Also, I really wish "Enlisted" Starfleet were a thing beyond O'Brien. "Every Starfleet has to be an Officer" is some dumb Admiral Rickover shit and not how any sensible navy would ever function, even one in a distant utopian future. Of course, the same show has the chief engineer crawling in Jefferies Tubes making routine repairs when in reality a department head's job would be 95% paperwork and 5% standing watches.

I wonder if any of the characters in Lower Decks will be enlisted.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:58 PM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

• The genetic engineering of advanced children apparently ignores the fact that such engineering is banned in the Federation.

And, relatedly.

It's too bad O'Brien didn't stay an officer

One way to think of these stories is, maybe, they're ortho-canonical to some later ones in some respects. They're not dependent on later retroactive continuity to function. If for whatever reason you stopped watching TNG during season 5, there would be little reason to think O'Brien was anything but a Lieutenant. It's all true, doctor, especially the lies.

Ramping up O'Brien in season 4 might have something to do with having some space to fill after Wil Wheaton left the series? I guess we'll see.

Card of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:
The Premiere set's Hyper-Aging is an archetypical early card. The game effect is pretty Trek Sensical, and appropriately enough you can overcome it with Pulaski's skillset for those 5 bonus points.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:32 AM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

WRT O'Brien's rank, we know that, in some cases in the American armed forces, officers can become enlisted for non-disciplinary reasons, usually related to retirement: the current rules say that, with few exceptions, officers that aren't promoted to the next rank within a certain range of years are discharged, sometimes before the 20-year mark at which they're vested in the military pension system. Some officers who don't quite make it that far will enlist for the last few years, since the system pays a pension at the highest rank that the service member achieved. This particular exception obviously doesn't apply here (because fully automated space communism), but I could see them cutting an exception for the Hero of Setlek III.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:16 PM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

If for whatever reason you stopped watching TNG during season 5, there would be little reason to think O'Brien was anything but a Lieutenant.

O'Brien's status as enlisted is established in Season 4's "Family" when Worf's father delightedly recognizes him as a fellow noncom. How he manages this is unclear however, since O'Brien is wearing a lieutenant's pips at the time. (It's not until halfway through DS9 that they came up with any enlisted rank insignia.)
posted by ckape at 10:07 PM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wild that we got O'Brien as an alternative to a Sexy Lady; I had no idea
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:32 AM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

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