Contagion (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 11)

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

Picard faces aggressive Romulans and an archeological puzzle as a computer virus threatens the Enterprise.

(This episode was new to me, so technically this isn’t a “rewatch.”)

Some good Neutral Zone brinksmanship, and a formulaic but fun quest right out of a CD-ROM point-and-click adventure game. (The characters translate an alien language, learn color-coded button-pushing patterns like “blue, amber, amber, red,” and observe and exploit a repeating timed sequence of events.)

An awkward sequence has Picard search for log entries “containing the words Romulan and or Iconia,” and then we watch a half dozen or so video clips from a captain who sent out a “desperate plea for aid” because his ship is malfunctioning and stuck in the Neutral Zone, and who rejects as “premature” Riker’s perfectly sensible offer to rescue the non-essential personnel. (His ship blows up about ten lines later.)

This backstory could have been handled in the conference room with Data delivering a summary of what he learned from the logs. The video log gives the guest star more screen time, and helps make Picard’s choice to pick up the mission seem less strategic and more personal, since Picard is choosing to trust the instincts of a captain who turned down the chance to evacuate civilians from a ship where unpredictable, unexplained malfunctions had already killed 18 people.

Also I guess the writers wanted to fit the explosion of the Yamato into the teaser, and let Act 1 focus on the Romulans and the malfunctions that start to plague the Enterprise..

I would have liked more with the Romulans, and less of the archaeological puzzle. As talented as the actors are, there’s only so much dramatic content to looking at alien symbols and timing the pushing of buttons. We know full well that the Enterprise won’t be destroyed and the main characters on the away team will make it back safely. And we don’t meet any guest stars who have to agree to work together, or decide to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, or who turn evil and have to be defeated, or who appear to be evil but turn good.

I wanted to like the scene where Wesley wanders into Picard’s ready room looking for fatherly wisdom. But it felt like someone said “Have Picard say some wise stuff that helps Wesley, and then have their scene interrupted by a malfunction.” The action was enjoyable, but something was off with the writing if the most memorable line in the show was Picard’s first-ever delivery of his catchphrase “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”