Written by Michael Piller and Michael Wagner
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Evolution marks the opening of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The biggest change is the return of Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher. This is a welcome return since I found that Diana Muldaur’s character of Dr. Pulaski didn’t fit in as well with the crew.
In this episode, the “Old Faithful” of the galaxy – a star in the Kavis Alpha Sector – is about to explode for its once every 196-year occurrence. A scientist has a research probe to launch into the explosion to gather data. Dr. Stubbs (portrayed by ken Jenkins) is a renowned scientist and the probe represents his life’s work.
The Enterprise begins malfunctioning, throwing the ship into the path of stellar matter and causing injuries to the crew. As the crew searches for the reason for the various malfunctions, Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) figures out what has happened. Pulling an all-nighter to finish one of his scientific studies, he fell asleep and allowed two nanites which he had altered for experimental purposes to escape. Nanites are robots that are small enough to enter a living cell. These nanites managed to get into the Enterprise computers and are wreaking havoc.
What has happened, however, is that whatever Wesley did to them is causing them to evolve beyond the way a normal nanite would function. They have evolved into their own life form – capable of reproduction, communication, and intelligent thought.
At times this felt like I was watching a rehash of the episode Home Soil which dealt with a sentient race of microscopic organisms living below a planet’s surface. There are many parallels between the two. However, I prefer this episode for the fact that there is some good character development here.
Wesley Crusher is far from my favorite character on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Evolution, however, we get to see him acting as a normal teenager would. When he screws up and allows the nanites to get loose, he at first does not mention it to anyone. Later on, he tries to solve it for himself by setting traps for the errant nanites. Finally, reluctantly, he admits his culpability.
When the writers cast Wesley in this light it is beneficial to his character, rather than the times they try to make him larger-than-life. There is also good writing on the relationship between Wesley and his mother, especially after a year apart. There is a distance there that wasn’t before – Wesley is definitely more independent and has less of a need for his mother. He has learned to rely on himself and his fellow crewmates, yet it is his mother who manages to get him to open up and confess his role in the Enterprise‘s problems.
The writers didn’t gloss over the return of Dr. Crusher to the Enterprise, and this makes it work all the more. Too often characters are introduced or disappear with a shrug of the shoulder. Here we have direct attention given to her absence which helps the story move along.
The character of Dr. Stubbs wasn’t the greatest ever created, and I feel like too much time was spent on him during the episode. He’s there to be a threat against the nanites; to be so hell-bent on completing his life’s work that he doesn’t care what happens to anything – or anyone – that may get in his path. We get that fairly early on, but we keep getting hit over the head with these facts throughout the story. It is heard from Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Wesley, and Dr. Stubbs himself.
The writers at this point still seem to be obsessed with the “defining life” question that plagued many of the season two episodes of the show. While not a spectacular episode, it is enjoyable to watch. It does not start the season on a glowing note, but rather on a growing one.
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