Conspiracy—TNG Meets Harryhausen

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.
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For this week’s retrospective, I’m doing “Conspiracy,” though I have to admit this episode would not have been my first choice. I remember watching it for the first time as a kid and being extraordinarily repulsed by the Mother Creature, and on rewatch, while the effects have not aged terribly well, I still was not a fan. However, when I took an informal poll of my Trek fan friends, a good number of them requested that I revisit Conspiracy, and while I do not quite understand why, I watched it.

The basic plot line is fairly simple. Picard gets diverted from an established trajectory by Walter Keel, an old friend and current captain of the Horatio. Keel invites him to meet with Captains Rixx and Scott to discuss a disturbing trend in orders coming out of Starfleet Command coupled with some suspicious deaths, and Picard immediately dismisses their worries, beaming back up to the Enterprise. While on their way, LaForge, still in red and still driving the ship, stumbles upon a disturbance that turns out to be the wreckage of the Horatio, lost with all hands. Picard immediately suspects sabotage, and Data, in his role as magic McGuffin, confirms that there is something wrong in the state of Starfleet. Picard redirects them all to Earth, where they meet with the Admiralty, discovere the same admirals have been possessed by interstellar vinegaroons, and explode the Mother Creature who has occupied the body of Commander Remmick of “Coming of Age” fame.

As with the other episodes I’ve covered thus far, this one, too, struggles a bit in the execution. In the first place, the precise nature of the threat posed by the Interstellar Vinegaroons is unclear. Certainly their desire to usurp the agency of sentient beings is problematic, and that of course undercuts the Mother Creature’s assertion that they simple want to co-exist peacefully. However, despite the episode’s attempt to drag us all into believing there’s a real threat, the script never really answers Picard’s allegations that all Keel, Rixx, and Scott have are whispers. I do like Vice-Admiral Aaron’s meditation on conspiracies: “That’s the charming thing about them, isn’t it? When a machination is real, no one knows about it. And when it’s suspected, it’s almost never real.”

The effects for the vinegaroons and ultimately Remmick’s death by phaser are very clearly stop motion combined with other techniques, and frankly, the purple bugs are the least convincing part of it. Despite all of that, I was still repulsed. Apparently, old habits die hard. That said, while Keith DeCandido is correct that TNG does not do horror well, the storytelling is surprisingly tight. More to the point, the idea that a metaphoric bug could infiltrate and threaten the norms of government is surprisingly on point; without Picard’s intervention, the Interstellar Vinegaroons could subvert the nature of Starfleet to their own ends, perhaps even the Federation itself. It is a humbling thought, and though I do not think the writers (this, like “The Big Goodbye,” is a Tracy Torme script) intended this reading of the episode, that aspect of it continues to work today.

Rating: Two cups of Earl Grey Tea because I still can’t get over the centipede.

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
1. Robert Schenkkan, Jr., who plays Dexter Remmick, would go on to become a distinguish playwright, and for those of you who followed Gotham he’s the uncle of Benjamin McKenzie who was James Gordon.
2. It’s entirely possible that Jonathan Frakes did actually eat a few of the grub worms from the dinner scene. (Also, dinner? At Starfleet Command?) There’s your nightmare fodder for the weekend.
3. On rewatch, I did notice that some of the documents Data reviewed pursuant to Picard’s order to analyze orders and directives coming from Starfleet Command were written in Klingon.
4. I don’t care for Worf’s apparent dislike for bathing. Season One certainly wrestled with Klingons as a species, and while I’m sure this was meant as a joke, it falls flat.

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