Star Trek: The Next Generation: Transfigurations   Rewatch 
December 11, 2020 3:59 AM - Season 3, Episode 25 - Subscribe

Dr. Crusher must solve the medical mystery of the amnesiac alien with the galaxy's worst case of heartburn.

Memory Alpha must be allowed to evolve:

• This was the second episode written by René Echevarria. He recalled, "After selling 'The Offspring' to the show, I went back to New York and Michael called me a couple of weeks later and said he had a story that was dead in the water. It was a premise they had bought involving us finding some crashed ship on a little moon and there's a man who's basically dead and we use miraculous 24th century medicine and bring him back to life. We practically grow him back, but who is he and what's the story? I thought about it for awhile and came up with the basic idea of 'Transfigurations,' that someone was evolving out of their Human form into an energy being. We've seen both of those stories before, but we've never seen the intermediate step."

• Michael Piller commented, "We wanted to do a show where we get to see 24th century medicine up close and personal. Beverly Crusher uses all her skills to save an alien, reconstructing him and putting him back together and sort of falling in love with him. It's a very spiritual kind of show."

• The scene with John Doe transformed was in fact done live with only minor post-production touch-up. Actor Mark La Mura wore a fluorescent orange suit that glowed on the special film used.

• The musical score in the final scene as John Doe leaves the ship was reused by composer Dennis McCarthy in the series finale "All Good Things..." as the poker game continues and we leave the ship; the rolling suspended cymbal and the trumpet solo of the fanfare portion of the Alexander Courage-composed Original Series theme tune were added for the finale.

• This episode was the first to establish Miles O'Brien's love of kayaking and the usual associated shoulder dislocation, both of which would be revisited many times in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

• Christy Henshaw shows overt romantic interest in Geordi despite having rejected his previous overtures and claiming she wasn't interested in him "in that way" in "Booby Trap".

"But what would I say?!"
"Words come later. It is the scent that first speaks of love."
"Thanks, Worf. That helps a lot."
- La Forge and Worf

"Damn it, you nearly killed a member of my crew..."
"And healed him."
"I'm not forgetting that. That's the reason he's here and not in the brig."
- Picard and Crusher, after John Doe kills and revives Worf

Poster's Log:
Do we count this as a "Dr. Crusher episode"? I think we have to, or else her final tally will be that much more sadly low.

Anyway, this is one of very few so far on this rewatch where I came away with a surprisingly worse opinion of the episode than I'd previously had. When it aired, and on subsequent rewatches, it had struck me as just sort of a bland, prototypical alien-of-the-week, budget-concession installment. But this time through, I noticed some basic story-writing pitfalls. It's John Doe's story, first of all, and if your sci-fi ensemble show's weekly installment is going to be all about a character we just met and will never meet again, it'd better be a gangbusters episode, or at least a gangbusters guest actor a la Buffy Mayor in "Tin Man." We get neither here, and I also feel like the writers knew that and that the Geordi subplot was an attempt to shoehorn in some degree of character change for a main cast member—but it comes off clumsy and stagey, especially in Geordi and John's closing bridge interaction. "Golly, mysterious stranger, you sure did come into our lives and have a positive impact!"

Not to mention the very confusing timeframe at play here: the entire episode seems to span something like six weeks by my estimation, yet Geordi is an INSTANT Rico Suave? And it takes Geordi and Data almost six full weeks to decode the blue toilet-tank float?

OTOH, there's some great subtext here about regimes oppressing groups in their own populations just because of who they are, and though MA doesn't indicate that this was deliberate, I choose to think it was—and yet even there, it's only really a factor in the last ten minutes or so. Maybe we should've met the Zalkonians a couple acts earlier.

All the same, compared with the average Crusher episode (either Crusher, really), it's enjoyable enough. But in future rewatches, I imagine I'll skip it. The good news is it won't be too deep into season 4 before we get (what I consider to be) a really good Dr. Crusher episode.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Next post is "Best of Both Worlds"!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some time ago--can't remember if it was on the blue or elsewhere--someone published a complaint about people reacting to whatever with "meh." I don't remember the meat of the argument--my general reaction to the anti-meh screed was, yes, meh--but I think that the general idea was that you should try to engage more with material that may be bland or mediocre rather than affecting the reaction of a middle schooler trying to be cool. And it's not the worst idea in the world, but, you know, sometimes there's just no there there, so to speak.

And that's how I feel about this ep; being raised Catholic, I'm assuming that the title is a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which is kind of a big deal in Christianity, to which degree depends on which sect we're talking about. But this just doesn't seem to have the heft of the incident in the Gospels, and the allusion is further weakened by the Zalkonian officials/soldiers/inquisitors/whatever they are insisting that Doe and his buddies are/were "disturbing the normal order of society on Zalkon"... whatever that means. All we see of Doe's potentially disruptive influence is is ability to heal, which is cool, every RPG party needs a cleric or the equivalent thereof, and could be pretty disruptive under certain circumstances... but Jesus was disruptive more because of what he preached rather than his ability to perform miracles. Doe and the other Alien Space Jesii seem to be more along the lines of the X-Men (or Slans, if you're seriously oldskool SF). That story--people with special powers being hunted by The Man either to be exterminated or exploited or both--is pretty ubiquitous in SFF, but that doesn't mean that you can't still get a good story out of it... but this story seems pretty content to hit one or two of the previously mentioned signifiers and call it a day. Ironically, Trek's main Alien Space Jesus will have part of his origin in the events of the next couple of episodes, and they'll do a lot better by him.

Plus, of course, it's a bit of a Beverly story, and also La Forge finally gets with Henshaw. When Doe gave La Forge some of his mojo, I thought that this might be the ep where La Forge becomes this sort of blue glowing alien thing; I haven't seen that one and this was a first watch ep for me, so I conflated the two. The alien possession/infection trope is also a common one in Trek, and I thought that that's where they might be going. Finally, I will say that Doe's injury makeup is impressive, in a queasy sort of way; I don't think that I even noticed that part of his left arm was missing because I was too busy looking at his exposed brain and teeth.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am with Halloween Jack on the whole "meh" thing.

I do get though kind of where they were trying to go with John Doe's evolution and why his society was less than happy about it (maybe they think their current state is already their "final form"?). My own personal thoughts on it are mine though, the writers don't do themselves any favors by not spelling things out more.

I keep trying to think of things that caught my attention and keep defaulting to "meh."

(Honestly, I skipped this one and watched BBW part I last night!)
posted by Fukiyama at 9:41 AM on December 11, 2020

This is one of those weird corner episodes which got attention in the Q-Continuum set in Star Trek CCG:

There we get a cycle of themed cards including John Doe, Zalkonian Storage Capsule, Transfiguration, and a Zalkonian Vessel. Nothing you'd see in high level play as the game matured, but decent trek sense. For some idea of how they were viewed at the time, see reviews by Wesley Crusher for each one of these. For whatever reason, he covered most of them as a 3 part series up to his 300th review.

That dangling reference to a matching commander for the vessel was filled in with Sunad in Second Edition. The next year All Good Things included a very similar Sunad in the 1E template.

By the way, they didn't go too crazy with cards from the next episode, but of the six 1E cards, THREE of them are Premiere verisons of our main bridge crew. Hype!
posted by StarkRoads at 10:07 AM on December 11, 2020

While I'm sure end-of-season-burnout and season-finale-priority are to blame for the lackluster effects of John Doe's final transfiguration, ye gods was that some bargain basement work. I mean, could they not at the very least sprung for a few hours of ADR work instead of using his green-screen-suit-muffled dialogue? After all these pandemic months, the sound of someone talking through a mask is painfully recognizable.
posted by oh yeah! at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can we talk about the bravery of actor Mark La Mura (who was familiar to me from his time on All My Children) wearing that white form-fitting jumpsuit? Even in the best of times when I was in good shape, I would not have been able to pull that off and would have been hunched over on myself, trying to hide the good china.

(I know I harp on the wardrobe a lot--costume/fashion has been a lifelong interest and as a kid I dreamed of going to Hollywood to become the next Edith Head or something.)

All of these episodes where some guy with specialness and secrets is on the run from some bad guys and ends up on the Enterprise kind of bled together in my brain, so the rewatch is good for at least helping me separate them out.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:44 PM on December 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is another one of those rare episodes that I couldn't quite peg based on the description alone, but as soon as I looked at the episodes screenshots, I was, "oh it's the Mark Dalton episode," (and boy was I surprised that character's name came directly to the tip of my tongue--usually it take me a while to remember those kinds of details). So you're not the only AMC fan who was watching this when the show aired, kitten kaboodle.
posted by sardonyx at 12:58 PM on December 11, 2020

IMO, this is a Beverly Crusher-service episode, plain and simple, something that TNG never really did that well. The whole plot about John Doe is beside the point of getting Bev front and center.
posted by Stuka at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2020

Thank goodness someone else bought up the jumpsuit. There's just nothing to distract from the crotch on it. Did... did Bev dress him like that? I know it's an unpopular take, but this is why I preferred Horny Pulaski to Horny Crusher. Crusher is all "I'm going to dress up my patient/crush in a onesie and have an awkward dinner conversation with my son about him", whereas Pulaski would just hit on Worf and bang your dad. I mean, who sounds like more fun to you?

The less that is said about the zentai suit the better.
posted by phooky at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

I will say this about the zentai suit: it was like the Greendale mascot in Community, only with less detail.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:54 PM on December 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks for bringing up the awkward Bev/Wesley conversation. It’s the only thing the made it through the bland fog of this episode.
posted by skewed at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mean, yes, but is there even such a thing as a non-awkward conversation with Wesley
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2020

I can count the number of non-awkward conversations that I had as a teenager on one hand, because technically that includes "zero."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 PM on December 11, 2020

I like that Beverly was amazed that John healed O'Brien's dislocated shoulder without a machine.

"John, how did you do that?"
"I don't know. I felt something within myself tell me that if I just touched his shoulder and popped it back into its socket, he would be healed."

posted by riruro at 12:08 PM on June 20, 2021

Is this a good episode? No. It's generally a mess and its climax is pure exposition dump.

Nevertheless, I found it a perfectly pleasant episode.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:10 PM on October 15, 2021

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