Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Identity Crisis

Another Enterprise B-lister is in the spotlight in this week's TNG look-back as La Forge begins to transform...

This review contains spoilers.

4.18 Identity Crisis

In the observation lounge, Picard, Riker and La Forge are sitting around watching La Forge’s old away missions as presented by his former crewmate, Susanna Leijten. The mission involved investigating the disappearance of 49 colleagues, and while they ultimately came up short (probably because they didn’t have a telepath or a robot on their team) the other members of the away mission have themselves disappeared. Spooky!

Tracking one of the team members who stole a shuttle after deserting her post, the Enterprise find the ship but watch helplessly as it burns up in the atmosphere of the planet Geordi’s team originally investigated. Well, you can’t save everyone. Apparently.

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On the surface they find two more stolen shuttles and a bunch of torn starfleet uniforms. Leijten, who has joined the search party, herself goes missing, only to be found by Geordi staring blankly into the darkness and muttering about being able to feel the rest of the crew calling. Geordi tries to help but she starts shaking violently and collapses. Luckily, in the absence of anything useful he can do, Geordi orders a medical beam-out.

Leijten wakes up in sick bay and Crusher advises her that she’s got some weird blood chemistry happening, and she’s ordered to stay put. She admits to Geordi that she’s worried about what’s happening to her, which is probably not unreasonable because then her fingers spontaneously fuse together and she grows weird blue spider webs on her head. Yeah, that’s probably not great.

As the crew investigates strange footprints on the surface, Leijten’s eyes become incredibly sensitive to light and she has to sit in a darkened room, much like Chief O’Brien does when he’s off duty. Geordi reconstructs the mission footage on the holodeck to try and determine what happened to them, and notices a strange shadow that can’t be accounted for. He realises that something else was down there with them. But then his fingers fuse together, and he realises it may be too late. Not least to wear that pair of designer gloves he just bought.

In sickbay, Dr. Crusher and Nurse Ogawa figure out what’s happening, and discover a strange parasite in her body which is trying to transform her DNA. They quickly reverse the process before the transformation is complete and they plan to check Geordi as well, but the computer says he’s not on board. They find his shredded uniform and VISOR in the holodeck. Meanwhile, in the transporter room, transporter chief Hedrick (Miles is off-duty, sitting in a dark room somewhere) is attacked by an invisible alien, which then transports to the surface of the planet.

Data quickly figures out that the aliens are only visible in ultraviolet light so he, Crusher, Riker, Worf, and Leijten beam to the planet and locate three of the weird aliens, who glow in UV light and look like they could probably get a grant from an arts council if they pretended they were doing modern dance. Leijten is able to convince the one that used to be La Forge to trust her, and Crusher is able to reverse the DNA damage the same way she saved Leijten. They decide that the other two are probably too far gone to save, though.

At the end of the episode Picard drops a warning beacon to tell people not to beam down to the surface of the planet, postulating that this is simply how the aliens reproduce and the planet must be quarantined. Though it seems to me that if you’re going to essentially condemn a race to death by starving them of a chance to reproduce, you might as well just nuke them from orbit and have done with it. But hey, that’s probably why I’m not usually in charge of anything.

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TNG WTF: This is one of those episodes that, as my friend observes, someone gets completely transformed into an alien and then changed back and somehow manages to retain their original hairstyle. You can forgive a lot with pseudoscience, but I have to admit, that does stretch it.

Also, you have to wonder why the Victory’s away team filmed this mission years ago, but it’s still not standard procedure to do so. Seems like a smart idea, to me!

TNG LOL: You can’t help but laugh at the early scene where La Forge describes himself as “enjoying the bachelor’s life too much”. But not too much to spend an entire episode hitting on a married woman he’d never actually met in person about two weeks ago, right?

To Boldly Go: Intercepting a stolen shuttlecraft. Because that sure seems like a job for the Federation flagship rather than one that could be done by just about any random starship, right?

Mistakes and Minutiae: It’s only a small detail, but I like that Geordi has an older version of his VISOR in the footage from the past. Also, it’s worth noting that the USS Aries, the ship the shuttlecraft was stolen from, was one of the ships Riker has turned down command of (in season 2’s The Icarus Factor).

Who’s That Face?: This episode features no less than three weird guest stars, though we don’t see all of their faces. Ensign Graham is played by Mona Grudt, a former Miss World from Norway, while two of the mutated aliens are played by Los Angeles DJs, Brian Phelps and Mark Thompson.

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Time Until Meeting: 0:00. JACKPOT! This episode STARTS in a meeting. Well, technically, it starts with the video that they’re watching in the meeting, but 40 seconds in you get a pull-back and reveal and everyone’s sitting around a conference table. Whether you go with the 00:00 or 00:40 timestamp, this is by far the earliest meeting TNG has ever done.

Captain’s Log: I remembered really liking this episode back in the day, and on a rewatch I think it pretty much holds up. The design of the aliens is weird and original (so original they never tried anything similar again) and the (mercifully platonic) interplay between Geordi and Susanna is compelling stuff. I also really enjoyed watching La Forge use the holodeck to do some practical investigation work and not have it completely blow up in his face.

If anything about the episode is bad (aside from the technobabble solution to the problem) it’s the timing of it. We just had a Geordi episode, followed by a Troi episode, followed by this Geordi episode. I like the B-listers as much as anyone, but spread them out a bit!

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Night Terrors, here.

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