Revisiting Genesis: a Bad Scientist’s Review of Bad Science in Horror Science Fiction

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.

This week, I asked long-time friend and scientist Dr. John C. G. Spainhour to review Genesis because as both a scientist and long-time horror fan, I could think of no more perfect person to review what is TNG‘s major foray into the body horror genre.


Plot Summary/Recap:

Please be aware this episode was viewed on Netflix so the commercial breaks are treated like scene breaks.

This episode intros to medbay with Nurse Ogawa treating Riker after he managed to get attacked by a cactus. Barclay has gone from genius to hypochondriac, is wasting Dr.Crusher’s time mistaking a flu for death. Dr.Crusher decides to technobabble about dormant t-cells (not in this context real), and activating a dormant gene (this is a thing) using a synthetic t-cell (doubly not a thing; where the is the Federation FDA?). Data arrives with Spot for a pregnancy checkup (… Vet and Doc, Dr. Crusher is undersold). This prompts Ogawa to reveal her pregnancy. The meat of the episode begins with a weapon test gone wrong leaving a photo torpedo going off course willy-nilly into an asteroid field. This means a manual recovery is needed and Picard amd Data plan to leave the ship to deal with the loose torpedo. Before leaving, Data leaves a pregnant Spot the Cat with Barclay. This is not only poor Captaining but poor cat parenting as well. This is what combat engineers are for.

Several main characters start acting strangely after Data and Picard leave. Troi is cold and dry; Worf is angrier and destroys his bed. Barclay is hyper; LaForge is tired. Riker is in cognitive decline (more so than usual). This is highlighted by Worf and Troi fighting over the bridge thermostat like a old married couple, with Troi leaving for a bath. Meanwhile, LaForge, Barclay, and Riker work in engineering, find a damaged conduit, bypass it and discover the damage is from an organic acid. This is followed by Troi bathing fully clothed in her quarters and being attacked by an enraged, wandering Worf (a roving rare spawn apparently).

Moving to medbay, we are informed of multiple instances of symptoms of across the crew. Crusher suspects there is something spreading across the ship, examines Worf, finds his venom sacks, and gets sprayed for her trouble. Worf escapes, and Crusher is placed in stasis where she can safely direct this episode away from the rest of this nonsense. We cut to Barclay reporting Worf’s venom has been found around the ship and was the acid the destroyed the conduit (acid as or mixed with a venom is legit). LaForge can’t track Worf, and Riker can’t call for help because of cognitive decline. This is the last we see of LaForge, whom I like, but I worry what the writers might have done to him. I guess it’s for the best.

After the break, we cut to Picard and Data finding the Enterprise adrift and, upon boarding, find everyone replaced with a “near-equal” number of creatures (how many got eaten and by whom is never addressed). Investigating like dull Call of Cthulhu players, they eventually find Troi turned into a Deep One (Amphibian-person-thing) in her bathroom. Moving on to the bridge to take control of the ship, they find both a body and Riker as Neanderthal trying to eat Picard’s pet fish that has changed into a jellyfish (this is not evolution; this is a travesty). After stunning more-dangerous-than-a-cactus-Neando-Riker, Data hypothesizes that the crew is devolving.

Returning to the medbay with Riker and Troi, Data discovers the (deep breath) synthetic t-cells have activated “latent introns“. Data technobabbles that this explains the multiple creatures from a crew that is predominately one species. (Deep Breath, NONONO) This mysteriously switches to a “intron virus” being activated(?) from the t-cells and tries to cover the plot holes with a hand-waved “all humanoid life having a similar genetic pattern”. (Last Deep Breath) Picard is informed that he is infected and changing. Data and Picard head to Data’s computer for more information and find his cat is now an iguana (…), but the newborn kittens are not affected (can they not be infected?). This leads Data to the conclusions that the virus cannot infect fetuses and Spot had antibodies against the virus in her amniotic fluid. Data remembers Ogawa’s pregnancy and suggests her as a human antibody farm to treat the crew, but in searching for her they are distracted by a warp blah blah something failure. This leads to the jump scare of Barclay, a-la Man-Spider, and Picard’s uncharacteristic terror at the discovery, showing the start of his slide down Darwin’s ladder. Finding Ogawa as a Homo habilis or “Lucy” and analyzing her uninfected and unborn baby allows Data to use Ogawa’s amniotic fluid to create a retrovirus (that’s not what these do) to undo the changes made to the crew. Cue Worf battering at the door to sick bay.

We leave the poor science and go to the action final act. Guessing that Worf is trying to mate (… Angry and Horny… got it) with Troi, Picard decides to lure Worf away while fighting his devolved terror to give Data more time to hand-wave a cure. Here we finally get to see Desert-Zerg-Worf as excellent prosthetics. Leading Worf on a chase using extracted pheromones, Picard draws Worf away, getting an acid/venom spray for his trouble. Picard flees from Worf back to the original location of the broken power conduit, where he manages to electrify the walls and stun Worf into unconsciousness. Data releases the retrovirus as a gas (sigh), and we get an action closing one-liner from Picard about Worf waking up “a new man”. Why not the same old Worf?

We close, in full circle, in the sick bay. Barclay is allowed to name this fiasco as “Barclay’s Protomorphosis Syndrome;” syndrome is the best descriptor of this mess given so far. Troi is given a preview of Barclay’s new consoling needs before credits. Thus ends another episode of Star Trek: Picard needs to fix bad science with worse science while ignoring the racism.

Score Card:

  1. Reginald Barclay: Man-Spider
  2. Livingston: Jellyfish
  3. Alyssa Ogawa: Lucy
  4. Jean-Luc Picard: Online speculation as a early primate, possibly pygmy marmoset. That’s hilarious, so I’m going with it.
  5. Riker: Neanderthal
  6. Spot: Iguana
  7. Deanna Troi: Deep one, fish person
  8. Worf: Acid/venom spitting critter in Bone Armor. They say it’s an exoskeleton, but it looks like bone to me.
  9. LaForge: Unknown
  10. Data: disappointingly does not turn into an Apple II


As a foray into atmospheric and body horror, “Genesis” is really good for Star Trek. The makeup effects for Barclay, Worf, and Nurse Ogawa’s transformation into a “Lucy” analogue of Homo habilis/Homo erectus/2001 Space Odyssey ancestor are top notch. Unfortunately, this script is bad. I do feel bad for Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) as I feel with better writing she could have given a much horror focused episode, but she is to be commended for what she has given us. That aside ,the science here was glaringly awful, even given the standard of the knowledge of human genetics circa 1994. From 2021 (PCE 1: Post Covid Emergence, Year 1) this is not worse, just a bit more campy.

First, a veterinarian has more problems than a doctor since their patients can’t talk and are different species all the time. However, they are actually better suited to dealing with aliens that human centric medical personnel would be because of this. Still, Dr. Crusher as both is impressive.

T-cells are a proto-hand-wave of nanomachines or nanites as far as I can tell. Nanites honestly would have fit better here. The writers switch between synthetic t-cells and a virus a bit, and the fact a retro virus is just a virus that uses RNA and not DNA is lost here. In 1994, these were new terms in the public conciseness and great to hang story hooks on. Let’s cover the other basics: de-evolution is not a thing. Evolution of an individual is not a thing (it ain’t a level up, y’all), and if you were to start changing species, your immune system would liquefy you from the inside out trying to kill of the invading antigens you suddenly started producing from your changing cells. Animals have relational ancestors, and these are fairly narrow connections. This goes for all animals, even iguanas and cats, which have evolved concurrently and share a distant ancestor but are so radically divergent as to have multiple genes not shared between the two. This goes for humans and spiders as well, Barclay. You were better as a genius. A group of humans changing into different animals does not fit. All of this has to be taken with a grain of salt since there are nothing, but LEGO genetics is typical Star Trek fare. Look at the origin of humaniform life seeded by a precursor race (see “The Chase”) and the Vulcan/Romulan split as some sort of githzerai/githyanki species split based on philosophy. This leads to some weird ideas about the predestination of speciation based on starting primordial genetics, but alien seeded panspermia does answer some other questions badly.

As a crazy liberal in 2021, there is a heavy handed bit of implied racism here with the trials Worf is put through. Showing off a bestial/uncontrolled/sexually aggressive nature, only to be subdued by the wise white guy is pretty telling. This is bad, harking back to some of the worst trope about black men and is just an overarching instance of how bad this particular script is. Star Trek has lots of issues that have become more glaring as time as gone on. Also bad when you think about the one Asian character being less human than the white guy Neanderthal, which is bad but then Barclay (another human) got the spider card somehow and I’m not sure how that could work. There was thought in this script up until there wasn’t.

All in all, a good stab at atmospheric horror and body horror undermined by a bad script. Bad science can go a long way in making a good horror story but it can’t cover everything. Thanks for reading this far.


One cup of Earl Grey Tea leaves de-evolved into moss

Stray Thoughts From Marie’s Couch:

  1. Unsurprisingly, this episode won Star Trek 101‘s “Spock’s Brain” award for worst TNG episode.
  2. Lamentably, this episode marks Gates McFadden’s one and only directing credit for TNG.
  3. Following “Lower Decks,” Alyssa Ogawa gets a chance to put on her lieutenant pips!
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