Written by Joe Menosky, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Rarely during the run of any of the Star Trek series was there an episode that completely pandered to the fan base. In the case of The Chase, it does just that. Specifically, it panders to those people who posted snarky messages in the various newsgroups and message boards about how convenient it was that every alien the Enterprise came across was bipedal. The only differences seemed to be big ears, funny things on their heads, or spots.
The Enterprise is surveying proto-stars when Starfleet Archaeology Professor Galen (portrayed by Norman Lloyd) comes on board with a mysterious artifact which he presents to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). It’s been established to this point that Picard has a deep interest in archaeology, and the arrival of this artifact and the professor piques his interest. Professor Galen invites Picard to come with him on his quest. Picard refuses, citing his duties on the Enterprise. Professor Galen leaves the ship in a huff.
A few days later, a distress call is received from Professor Galen – his shuttle is being attacked by Yridians. The Enterprise arrives to rescue him, but it is too late. A short time after he is beamed on board, he dies. He leaves behind a puzzle surrounding his death which Picard is determined to solve: completing a computer program that seems to be a collection of DNA samples from various species in their universe.
When the trail leads to a far-off planet, the Enterprise arrives there to find two Cardassians war vessels already there. The Klingons show up a few moments later as well. Picard manages to convince them to share information, at which time they discover there is still one piece of the puzzle they are missing. As soon as the information is extrapolated, the Cardassians attempt to betray the Federation and the Klingons. Fortunately, Geordi (LeVar Burton) detected this, and the Enterprise was prepared with some deceit of its own.
Once the DNA is loaded into Picard’s tricorder, it triggers a humanoid image that tells of an ancient civilization that seeded the oceans of many worlds with its own basic DNA – conveniently explaining why so many of the aliens on Star Trek are bipedal humanoids.
The story itself is quite well-done, and the explanation for the abundance of humanoid aliens in the Star Trek universe is quite plausible. The problems with the episode come from a lack of any investment with any of the external characters. The Klingons believe the code they are seeking will lead to a weapon – something typical for their war-like species. The Cardassians betray everyone; no real surprise there. The Romulans appear just about the time you’d expect them to. I’m sure if writers Ron Moore and Joe Menosky weren’t already pressed for time the Ferengi would have shown up as well.
Captain Picard being wracked with grief and guilt comes across with a single-mindedness seen again in the character during Star Trek: First Contact. Much like nothing mattered to him there except hurting the Borg, here nothing seems to matter except finishing the work his mentor and one-time professor began. Patrick Stewart plays this well, especially since it’s a given he didn’t know at this point he’d be drawing on this personality trait again in his character a few years down the road.
The continuity also comes in a bit with the rest of the Enterprise crew. Although mostly supporting roles here, the crew does tentatively attempt to call him on his quest to learn why his mentor died as he pushes aside their current mission to piece together the puzzle left behind. They are soundly rebuffed, which gives more credence to the crew’s response in Star Trek: First Contact where the guest star, who has never been in a situation like that with the Captain, is the only one who will keep pushing to get through to him.
One other thing that struck me, although it’s believed that the aliens who “seeded” the galaxy are supposed to be a race known as the Preservers, they look incredibly like the Founders – the race of shape-shifters like Constable Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This was something that a casual fan watching with me immediately picked up on, and this may cause some confusion among viewers of the series.
I like the way the writers found to explain one of the quibbles fans have had with the series. It was creatively done. Patrick Stewart carries the show and makes up for the lack of depth in the guest cast, or the lack of time to get to know them. Although some religious folk might not like the idea that a race of aliens “seeded” the galaxy rather than the monotheistic creation story, most people can enjoy the story as a decent piece of science fiction.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Lessons
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Frame of Mind