Star Trek: The Next Generation: Evolution   Rewatch 
September 18, 2020 6:16 AM - Season 3, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Wesley's private hobby is shamefully exposed when his microscopic replicator cells are detected throughout the Enterprise. [Season premiere]

Memory Alpha always gets an Alpha:

• As of the first episode of Season 3, La Forge has been promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander and Worf from lieutenant j.g. to full lieutenant.

• This was the first episode to air in The Next Generation's third season, but "The Ensigns of Command" was actually filmed first.

• Head writer Maurice Hurley left after the second season, citing exhaustion from the in-fighting so prevalent among the writing staff in the early seasons. Michael Wagner initially took over the writing staff, but stepped down after only four episodes. Wagner was in turn replaced by Michael Piller, who had impressed Berman and Gene Roddenberry with the script for "Evolution".

• Cinematographer Edward R. Brown retired and was replaced in season 3 by Marvin Rush, who continued to work on Star Trek for the next sixteen years. Rush's preference for a bright, vibrant color scheme (as opposed to the more subdued lighting used by Brown) heavily alters the look of the series from this season onwards.

• This episode marks the first appearance of the redesigned high collared style of uniforms, which are used by the cast throughout the rest of the series' run. They cost $3,000 each to make and were made of breathable wool gabardine to give greater comfort for the main cast, many of whom had begun to suffer fatigue and back pain as a result of wearing the older design. Only characters above ensign rank initially wore them.

• This episode marks the first appearance of one of the computer cores of the Enterprise, by means of the computer access room, which was built on the old movie bridge set.

• According to scientific consultant David Krieger, the plot originally involved dust mites that had gained sentience and began flying around the Enterprise in miniature aircraft, something he claims he laughed out loud at when first reading. It was his objections to this premise that led the dust mites to be changed into the more plausible nanites.

Michael Piller saw the episode as a real opportunity for character growth for Wesley. "I had this story about nanites. Once I got to know the scientist and realized who he was, I realized that the scientist is Wesley in forty years, if he stays on the course of being the smart kid who is dedicated to his work and seems not to have much else going on in his life. I said, 'If I use that relationship to get it down to a more Human level, I can help Wesley grow. I can help Wesley move into a relationship with a girlfriend.'…That became the key element to Beverley's re-entry into the series, which was, 'My son is not having a normal childhood.' We know a lot of kids like that. I saw that and had a sense that was needed."

"I'm not sure I'd want my mother flying through space with me. No, I take that back. I am sure. I wouldn't want her."
- Paul Stubbs, to Wesley Crusher

"I always get an A."
"So did Dr. Frankenstein."
- Wesley Crusher, discussing his school project of nanites to Guinan

"Your self portrait is so practiced, so polished."
"Yes. Isn't it though?"
"It's stretched so tight the tension fills this room. And if you finally fail, I fear it will snap."
"A good try counselor. … but sometimes, when you reach beneath a man's self portrait – as you so eloquently put it – deep down inside what you find – is nothing at all."
- Counselor Troi and Paul Stubbs, discussing Stubbs' ego

Poster's Log:
In the Fifty-Year Mission, Diana Muldaur said her decision to leave was "very mutual"—and Rick Berman said "When Hurley left at the end of season two, the very first thing I did was to rehire Gates. I mean, literally the day Hurley left, Gates was rehired."

StarkRoads mentioned noticeable improvements in the production late last season, and season 3 is a giant leap forward in that department, immediately visible here. Content-wise, this ep seems to be generally agreed (per MA) to be OK but nothing special, which I'd have to agree with. The nanite concept, however, is a cool one that, like the nanites themselves, would spread and evolve—both within the franchise (VOY's Borg nanoprobes) and outside of it (MST3K had recurring nanite characters in one of the Sci-Fi Channel seasons).

If you're wondering, as I did, how long it will take those vertical seams on the torsos of the new uniforms to disappear, it'll be just a few episodes.

Poster's Log, Supplemental: Greatest Gen episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I thought that it was pretty good, even though it's a plot so familiar that it may be the major TNG go-to plot: problem starts with an innocuous mistake or event, problem grows rapidly, crew is baffled but figures it out, problem gets solved (subdivision: problem turns out to be sentient and is negotiated with). Some of it's the small details: as noted, the production is simply better all around; the new uniforms do look sharper; as a Wesley-centric episode, they have Wes doing something very teenagerish: falling asleep while working on a big project. (One detail that shows the improved production is that Wes' desk is cluttered, including some half-eaten food; this is in contrast to the obsessively neat and painfully-tastefully-decorated look of just about everywhere else in the ship.) It's great to see McFadden again; I was a little concerned that her main focus here seemed to be as Wesley's mom, but given how the show has treated women, especially its main characters, up to this point (with occasional exceptions such as K'Ehleyr), that's not much of a much. As much as Pulaski's character had improved, I'm glad that the show fixed its mistake.

Similarly, even though the show has had its share of older bossy scientists as guest characters, they've tended to be these sort of "legends" with adoring younger women assistants. Stubbs is much less romanticized in just about every way. I imagined what it would have been like if the mission had been given to the Saratoga and Stubbs had had the baseball conversation with the ship's XO, who was certainly a student and enthusiast of the dead game but certainly didn't mind holographic re-enactments and may have already introduced his very young son to it that way. Stubbs is probably heavily into sabermetrics, and probably insisted on the Enterprise anyway because only the Federation's flagship would be sufficient for his ego.

And, overall, I think that Piller will be better for the show. He's the one that came up with the term "Roddenberry's Box" and figured out how to write around it, and would write the pilots for DS9 and VOY. Not everybody was a fan; apparently Melinda Snodgrass will leave at the end of this season because Piller would (according to MA) write "a memo giving instructions on basic television writing practices, which Snodgrass considered an insult to her ability as a writer," but I've had problems with some of her episodes myself, and I'm wondering about the contents of that memo.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:05 AM on September 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Stubbs would be SUCH a sabermetric dude. Not so sure Sisko would be. And obviously they'd have a lot to talk about, but I gotta think Sisko wouldn't have put up with Stubbs in any other respects.

The memo you refer to comes up in The Fifty-Year Mission and IIRC Snodgrass wasn't the only one to take umbrage at it. Also IIRC, Piller owns up to the fact that it was a misstep on his part—he, or one of his close colleagues, says something in there about how managing people is something Piller at times struggled with.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cards of the Episode from the Star Trek CCG:
Premiere(1994): Study Plasma Streamer, Nanites. Really basic commons. Wesley can complete the mission, but can't deal with the nanites on his own. Sounds about right.

The Trouble with Tribbles(2000): Panel Overload. This has the Stripey "Referee" icon, part of the neverending quest to tamp down on the effectiveness of powerful cards with extremely specific counters, much like Strategama. Q the Referee (also from TwT) made these cards highly accessible.

A part of the tournament metagame was: 'do I try to use a card that has a Ref counter'? vs 'can I count on other players to use the Ref card and thus I can cut it from my deck and be more efficient?' There were 20 or so of these by the end, so there were situations where you wouldn't want them cluttering up your draws. You could always let the Cardassians deal with your excess Ref cards.

There are some Season 3 episodes which are surprisingly key to STCCG, look forward to that!
posted by StarkRoads at 7:56 AM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've started listening to Star Trek: The Next Conversation podcast. Evolution espisode. I'm enjoying them a bit more that Greatest Generation. YMMV.
posted by kathrynm at 8:50 AM on September 18, 2020

Season Three! Gates is back! The ship has lots of light! New uniforms! Geordi and Worf get promotions!

For me, this is where the show has gotten to the point where its episodes across the middle seasons become largely interchangeable. Is this one third season? Fourth? Fifth? If I were to randomly catch one on TV, I could venture a guess, but not say definitively without looking. Six and seven are pretty easy to spot due to cast aging and stuff like Troi switching to a more professional look.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:18 AM on September 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

CAST: "We're not sure that Wesley is having a healthy adolescence."
WESLEY: [steals dangerous nanites, loses them]
CRUSHER: "Maybe I need to reconnect with my son."
WESLEY: [watches nanites eat computer, endanger mission, damage ship; tells no one]
PICARD: "He's a very bright kid."
WESLEY: [tries to catch nanites in mousetraps, hems and haws]
GUINAN: "I'm sure he'll do the right thing."
WESLEY: [confesses]
PICARD: "Thank you for your honesty, Wes."
WESLEY: [suffers no consequences]
CRUSHER: "It's so nice that he has a girlfriend."

Aside from the lesser questions of "when is the court-martial" and "why is someone who is so tired they are falling asleep at their desk driving your starship", how can half the episode turn on "are we raising Wes right" and then let him make a series of horrible decisions that threaten the lives crew and... not even give him a talking-to? What does 24th-century parenting consist of, exactly?

I did like that Stubbs was a far more ambiguous character than I've seen on TNG so far; hoping that becomes a trend.

And what was with Picard's sudden "hold on, could these nanites be a civilization?" bit. Like, a few episodes back when the computer had a virus and the replicator gave him a potted plant instead of tea, he wasn't all "have we tried talking to the replicator? what is it trying to say to us? why did this virus give us a ficus?", he was just "geordi, fix the fucking computer, please".
posted by phooky at 1:07 PM on September 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

Wesley's best interaction in the series, IMO, has been with Guinan. Giving (well, returning) him yet another character he's subordinate to in Dr. Crusher contributed to the character's stagnation.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

The high-def remaster or whatever it is that we see on Netflix is great, but was unkind to the teenage complexion of Whil Wheaton. Love the new uniforms. I really don't understand how they can cost $3,000?
posted by skewed at 7:37 PM on September 18, 2020

I really don't understand how they can cost $3,000?

A bespoke suit of regular clothes could cost at least that much, easily. Making those uniforms look good on the main actors, on camera, was an investment which would be amortized over however many episodes.

In the Generations film, you can see some of the TNG actors wearing the DS9 cast's uniforms, there's a real difference in the fit.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:20 PM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I warmed on Pulaski as she became less of a Data hater but Gates McFadden is the chief medical officer of the Enterprise, always has been. Though if she was head of Starfleet medical, I guess this is a demotion. Who wouldn’t rather be on a starship though?

Wesley, apparently. He gets credit for his work on the Enterprise, but “it’s not the same” as going to the academy. No my dude, doing the actual thing that you would be going to school to learn to do is not the same, it’s way better (I know he’s supposed to enrol as soon as he can, just though that line was funny).
posted by rodlymight at 9:55 PM on September 18, 2020

Guinan headware watch: Green teardrop
posted by Kyol at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2021

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