Star Trek: The Next Generation: Contagion   Rewatch 
August 7, 2020 9:52 AM - Season 2, Episode 11 - Subscribe

Picard is baffled when the sister ship of the Enterprise explodes after its survey of the planet Iconia. Riker is baffled when Picard decides to repeat its every step prior to exploding.

Memory Alpha is the most sophisticated piece of machinery ever built:

• This is the first appearance of an Iconian gateway. The idea will be revisited in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season four episode "To the Death", where another gateway is discovered by the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant. Worf also refers to the events of this episode. They were also used as the basis for Pocket Books' Gateways crossover series. They are also featured extensively in Star Trek Online.

• Picard uses his catch-phrase "Tea, Earl Grey, hot" for the first time. However, he is not able to drink it, as the replicator gives him a potted plant rather than the tea.

• This episode is the first in the series to mention Picard's interest in archaeology.

• Geordi La Forge references Bruce Maddox [FF previously –ed.] in engineering while trying to diagnose what is happening to Data.

Carolyn Seymour, who plays Romulan commander Taris in this episode, went on to play a different Romulan commander in TNG: "Face of the Enemy". According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, the production staff created a new character for her in the belief that Taris was likely dead.


"Sir, the shields are back up!"
"Impeccable timing."
"Sir, the shields are back down."
- Wesley Crusher to William T. Riker

"Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise."
- Riker, after the Haakona's weapon systems fail


Poster's Log:
I always forget that "the Iconian one" is called "Contagion." Lots to like here: some cool action, some Romulans, Picard leading the away team, good spotlight moments for pretty much the whole cast, the nifty Iconian concept, Captain Varley's grumpiness. It's weirdly a bit of a step backward in terms of feeling in many ways like a TOS episode: another ancient superior alien culture (these get less common later IIRC), Riker getting lofty about fate, largely corny wisecracks. The latter may be attributable to co-writer Steve Gerber, whom MA indicates is the creator of, wait for it, Howard the Duck.

Poster's Log:
I noticed, and appreciated, some subtle and possibly unscripted nonverbal interactions between Riker and Troi while Riker is in command. More distractingly, of course, Riker keeps pronouncing Taris as "Torres"!

Poster's Log:
I sure hope the spot Picard beamed down to was the only remaining trace of Iconian tech on the planet, because the Romulans would surely do a thorough planetary survey. But Memory Beta suggests that nothing else came of Iconia itself, even in noncanon, so perhaps Varley's mission was successful in the end after all.

Poster's Log:
Star Trek Online's depiction of Iconians is appropriately otherworldly. I remember almost nothing from that questline.

Poster's Log:
OK, I'm done with the Varley joke now.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Greatest Gen" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
First thought, just want to get this out for you all to consider...

It is not a flaw of this episode, but this is a major instance of Data having a feature that is then never be mentioned again despite it being something that would probably be very important in dealing with future incidents: the Self Correcting Mechanism.

(And now that I think about it, what part would it have played in The Schizoid Man vs. Graves' intrusion?)
posted by Fukiyama at 10:33 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I appreciate how briskly we move past the destruction of the Yamato with all hands. It's just a few thousand innocent lives lost, no big deal.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:43 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I get this episode mixed up with a bunch of different ones, though I think the others are worse and come later in the series. I didn't realize how often episodes were based on some . . . contagion infiltrating and slowly taking over the ship/crew. There's that one where the crew begins to devolve into primordial beasts which was horrible, that one in which a different super advanced civilization starts to take over and install its byzantine culture into the crew and maybe computer, can't quite recall, also horrible. And that one where the Enterprise becomes self-aware or something, seems very similar although I can't recall much more than the fact that I didn't like it.

This one's alright I suppose. I like how the Yamato blows up, Picard is like "that is really weird, we've got to figure out how this happened so it doesn't happen to us and our essentially identical ship. Let's start by doing everything the Yamato did to see how it happened."
posted by skewed at 12:11 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the Data scene at the end had almost a Monty Python feel "Bring out your dead! ...I'm not dead yet!" I can only imagine than in earlier versions of the script they felt the ending wasn't punchy enough or something and so gave Data a death-but-not scene to up the stakes, maybe..? It didn't have near enough weight for him to be properly dead and then he comes back by super-MacGuffin.

I did arch an eyebrow during the opening credits at the sight of Steve Gerber's name. I'm a reasonably engaged ST fan, but I'm an even bigger comics fan, with the Bronze Age being my childhood comics era. I'm glad Gerber was able to make some money in Hollywood (hopefully). Looking at his Wikipedia page, it looks like he was mostly a writer or story editor on 80s cartoons - I think, if pressed, I might have remembered that he worked on The Transformers.
posted by Slothrop at 12:45 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


that one where the crew begins to devolve into primordial beasts which was horrible

Genesis

that one in which a different super advanced civilization starts to take over and install its byzantine culture into the crew and maybe computer, can't quite recall, also horrible

Masks

And that one where the Enterprise becomes self-aware or something, seems very similar although I can't recall much more than the fact that I didn't like it.

Emergence

Weirdly, two of those are among my favorite TNG episodes (Masks is kinda weaksauce).

This one... yeah, the whole "let's just do what the Yamato did" is stunningly stupid. I *do* enjoy the namecheck of Yamato, though (it's this one, not this one). It's a shame we only 'see' her twice - once a fake, once before gettin' blowed up.
posted by hanov3r at 3:23 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I've always liked this one. The Iconian gateway has echoes of the Guardian of Forever in TOS, of course, and watching the Yamato evokes the sequence in "The Tholian Web" when the Enterprise's sister ship, the Defiant, phases out into another dimension.

Canadians get to have a minor giggle at seeing Toronto City Hall appear among the exotic scenes shown in the Iconian gateway. Just where you'd want to see Picard appear if he mistimed his jump into the unknown.

Mr. Encyclopedia's point is addressed in the episode:

PICARD: But why don't we talk about what really brought you here?
WESLEY: It's the Yamato, Captain. I can't stop thinking about her. All those people dead. I don't know how you and Commander Riker and Geordi, how you handle it so easily.
PICARD: Easily? Oh no, not easily. We handle it because we're trained to, as you will be.

I'm not sure what an appropriate response is expected to be, with a single episode in which to resolve a serious crisis.
posted by zadcat at 4:00 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:
Archeology is a pretty big theme in the game, owing in part to the lost relics they bump into in the series and as a result of 'Artifacts' being a card type they could swi- er, imitate from Magic: The Gathering.

So early on we get some archolological missions in Iconia Investigation and Reopen Dig, where you can find yourself a nice Iconian Gateway, though you may run into an Iconian Computer Weapon in space nearby. Easily overcome, but you could also use it to recycle your own hand.

Yes, Doorways are a card type as well. Star Trek is famous for them, I assume...just be careful or you may come out the Wrong Door.

Romulans in the card game are pretty into digging up the past, as Taris and her subordinate R'Mal are happy to assist in, possibly flying in on the Haakona. STCCG players observe a trouble free philosophy, Haakona Maht-H'a-ta. (This was someone's handle on the old Decipher message boards.) Taris was possibly the first really good Rare Romulan, it only took them three sets to get around to designing one!

In the first set you could fly around in the U.S.S. Yamato but you had to wait a few years for Donald Varley to take command.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:24 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Weirdly, two of those are among my favorite TNG episodes (Masks is kinda weaksauce).

I can see how Emergence would be well liked, I always hate dream sequences in just about any series. Genesis, we'll just have to agree to disagree.
posted by skewed at 6:48 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


"Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise."
- Riker, after the Haakona's weapon systems fail

This is one of my favorite lines from the whole TNG series.

I did like Data as he came back to life (or however you want to describe it).

And didn't Riker have a line about getting out of there just in case that the Romulans weren't as efficient as Geordi? Working from memory here. Now I have to go rewatch.
posted by kathrynm at 7:11 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


As I mentioned in the Arsenal of Freedom episode, I tend to get that episode mixed up with this one. Of the two, I like this one better.

Galaxy class shps not named Enterprise mostly exist to get blown up to prove how dangerous the situation is. It's like the Worf Effect at larger scale.
posted by ckape at 8:18 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Galaxy class shps not named Enterprise mostly exist to get blown up to prove how dangerous the situation is.

I looked at Memory Alpha to see how many Galaxy class ships were lost to prove a plot point and was surprised that it's only two: the Yamato and the Odyssey (from DS9 "The Jem'Hadar"). 3 others continue(d) to exist: the Challenger (LaForge's ship from VOY "Timeless", wiped away by a change in the timeline), the Galaxy, and the Venture. The last two were on screen in DS9 battles but didn't do anything worth noting. And of course we remember what happened to the Enterprise-D in Generations.

Regarding the Odyssey's destruction:
According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the show's writers intentionally made the Odyssey a Galaxy-class ship to emphasize that the Dominion was a much more threatening force than anything the Enterprise-D had encountered during TNG, with the exception of the Borg. The writers wished to show that even the Enterprise-D would stand no chance in the same situation.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:52 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


This was a first-watch episode for me, i.e. one that I hadn't seen before, and stuck out for a variety of reasons:

- WRT the Yamato (and, later, the Odyssey) being destroyed, I'd say that the lethal nature of their defeats make them less the Worf Factor and more just outsized redshirts. (Plus, of course, it's very handy to use the existing sets.)

- I've mentioned this before in another thread, but I'm generally a sucker for the trope of the crew finding the remnants of ancient and mighty civilizations whose tech is still dangerous (and potentially useful); since this is my first watch of this episode, I first heard about the Iconians in DS9's "To the Death", although I found that ep more notable for Weyoun's first appearance. This trope also appears in TAS' "The Slaver Weapon" and is a big, big factor in the Mass Effect franchise, as well as many other SFF works.

- The specific danger of computer viruses that are vastly more sophisticated than what the cyberdefenses of the friendly/protagonist's systems (or, in the case of people who are either connected to the systems directly or are AIs themselves, themselves) can handle had been played around with a bit in SF; William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy had some of that, and it's a big plot point in Iain M. Banks' Culture novel Excession, published several years after this episode.

- The mechanics of the Iconian gateway scrolling through potential destinations, and having to wait for just the right moment to jump through, remind me a lot of the Guardian of Forever from TOS' "The City on the Edge of Forever", yet another piece of dangerous abandoned ancient alien tech.

- I've played through at least some of STO's Iconian content; they recently had a big adventure involving them that featured a couple different versions of Seven of Nine (including the more recent PIC version), Michael Burnham, and Space Lincoln. (The latter results in two of my favorite mission rewards from the game: an axe hand weapon--because, you know, railsplitting--and a little stovepipe hat that one of my Romulan captains still wears at a jaunty angle.) The Romulan faction arc (still the best content in the game IMO) also has some Iconian gateway stuff in it, as well as Taris.

- I had no idea that Steve Gerber ever wrote for Trek, although I knew about his other TV writing, mostly for cartoons, mostly Thundarr the Barbarian, an SF-as-postapocalyptic-sword-and-sorcery series. I'm not going to try to recap his career here, except to say that he was arguably the best comics writer of the 1970s, period, and that there are very few comics creations that were done as badly in their big-screen adaptation as Howard the Duck, which seemed to be painstaking in its excision of Gerber's wit and metacommentary. He also did the first KISS comic, which was printed with ink that included minute amounts of the band's own blood, which absolutely blew my thirteen-year-old mind.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:49 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I liked Taris, she had an appropriate level of hostility, considering two of the Federation's most advanced and powerful ships had violated the Neutral Zone, while still being reasonable. Strange that she was assumed dead since we can see the Haakona turning off and on again as the Enterprise flies off in the final scene.
posted by rodlymight at 9:37 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I wonder if they excluded Taris from future storylines for other reasons - needing to pay royalties to the freelancers for use of their characters or something of that nature.

Definitely some Steve Gerber-ish touches of humor in this one.

The Iconian control room struck me on re-watch as being rather TARDIS-like.

It could be my imagination but did Wil Wheaton have a growth spurt since the last time we saw him?
posted by StarkRoads at 2:32 PM on August 8


The specific danger of computer viruses that are vastly more sophisticated than what the cyberdefenses of the friendly/protagonist's systems (or, in the case of people who are either connected to the systems directly or are AIs themselves, themselves) can handle had been played around with a bit in SF; William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy had some of that, and it's a big plot point in Iain M. Banks' Culture novel Excession, published several years after this episode.

Another big example of this trope is Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (also published after this episode), where the threat is so pernicious that it subverts entire civilizations.
posted by neckro23 at 10:23 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the Varley joke very much. That is all.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:26 PM on August 16


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