Identity Crisis (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 4 Episode 18) The Case of LaForge’s Disappearing Shipmates

Rewatching ST:TNG

An enjoyable mystery follows LaForge as he investigates the disappearances of his former shipmates.

Visiting Cmdr. Susanna Leijten shows video logs from a USS Victory away team, noting that members of that landing party from 5 years ago— which included herself and LaForge— are disappearing. One has stolen a shuttlecraft and is on his way back to the site, Tarchannen III.

A good character scene in Ten Forward establishes that Leijten thinks of LaForge as a little brother. He claims he is enjoying the bachelor life thanks to her good advice about women. While we know he’s lying, this time there’s nothing creepy about him. They reminisce about what a good team they made.

Picard gives the order to slow to impulse power while the ship must be unusually far from the planet, because when they learn the shuttle is just 53 seconds away from breaking apart in the planet’s atmosphere, the Enterprise is not close enough to use the transporter or tractor beam.

If Picard had instead pulled an Ozzel, and dropped out of warp right above the planet, the bridge crew would have less to do in this episode. Even though this “trying to save the shuttle” scene is fast-paced, it still feels like filler. What I remember from this episode is LaForge and Leijten.

Leijten wanders away from the away team and promptly has a meltdown. In Sickbay, she’s calmer, but impatient to get back to the planet. She settles grumpily for helping LaForge review the survey data, but we can see she’s not in good shape.

Some really clever make-up and lighting effects — I assume it was all all practical, not added in post-production — really elevate this depiction of the sci-fi thing of the week. It’s not just eye candy; the story uses it to emphasize how our main character LaForge reacts to the knowledge that he is next.

In between his usual droidsplaining infodumps, Data exchanges a few lines with Dr. Crusher about his friendship with LaForge. I would have happily given up some of the ho-hum bridge “action” for more character moments like this.

My strongest memory of this episode is definitely the scene where LaForge, in pursuit of a clue, asks the computer to construct a 3D replica of the landing site. It’s an early representation of the holodeck as a working environment, and 30 years later it steel feels innovative.

Because everyone knew that multiple Starfleet officers had already vanished without a trace and made their way to the surface of this planet, Worf should be fired for not suggesting a 24/7 guard on LaForge. Picard should probably be sent to his quarters without any tea. But you know, story.

Although we’ve already learned (from LaForge’s holodeck session) that the creatures cast shadows in ordinary light, the utterly urgent mission to recover LaForge had to wait until Data constructed a special shadow-creature-finding flashlight. (I zoned out during the technobabble.)

Leitjen’s initial transformation was well executed, but down on the planet we’re clearly looking at guys in black bodysuits daubed with glowy paint. As a teenager in the 80s, I attended basement Halloween parties that deployed UV black lights more successfully.

As often happened in the better episodes of Doctor Who, the writing and the performances (notably Leijten’s climactic monologue) overcome the underwhelming creature effects.