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Home Soil

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at July 27, 2007 - 7:53 PM GMT

See Also: 'Home Soil' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise pays a visit to Velara, where a cutting-edge team of scientists is terraforming the planet but their communications with Starfleet have become erratic. After being warned away by the overworked project head, Dr. Mandl, an away team visits and witnesses the gruesome death of one of the scientists at the hands of a drill that seems to have a mind of its own. Attacked as well, Data discovers an inorganic substance that behaves very strangely. At first suspecting sabotage, the Enterprise crew soon realizes that this substance is alive and operates like a microbrain in trying to communicate, taking over the ship's systems from the medical lab where it is being studied. Once the crew determines that the microbrain was trying to save its components from the terraforming project, they shut off power to the lab to weaken the photosensitive being, forcing it out of the ship's computer. Then Picard orders it to be beamed back to the planet and the terraforming project to be ended.

Analysis: I feel like I keep saying the same things over and over in my first season Next Gen reviews, which makes me feel badly, but I also don't know how to get around certain incontrovertible facts. Yet again in "Home Soil" we have a storyline that seems like a loose spin on something done on the original series, namely "The Devil in the Dark" in which a group of miners finds something that isn't a life form by most humanoid standards though their engineers die when they threaten it with extinction. Yet again we have a group of people who have worked for years on a project, only to see their dreams come to nothing, and instead of reacting with grief or rage, they shake their heads sadly at themselves and accept their losses. Yet again we have Troi stating the obvious, Yar failing to notice a potential security disaster and Data doing most of the thinking (which, don't get me wrong, is a big improvement over Wesley doing most of the thinking...at least his one big line this week is only to note that the alien is beautiful).

It's not that the episode is unwatchable, and it's a reasonably interesting premise, but it's plodding in execution and there aren't entertaining character moments to make up for the lapses. There's a sequence where terraformer Louisa Kim explains how the project is supposed to work that seems interminable; given that there's a much better exploration of terraforming in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and performed by the vastly more entertaining Genesis torpedo), I can't help wondering why that rather than a water reclamation project or something with more direct environmental relevance was chosen at all. How is any actor supposed to make a high school lecture on sci-fi tech interesting? And just as we learn that terraforming is only permitted on worlds with no chance of developing their own life forms, we know what the plot is going to be. Sure enough, the drill goes berserk and kills an engineer! Then it attacks Data! And then there are endless meetings and discussions and debates about what to do!

Even with a solid science fiction idea, this isn't good storytelling, and since the idea seems to be a merger of a popular original series episode and a popular Trek movie, there isn't a lot of reason for an audience to pay attention. Most of the micro-brain study is carried out by having people stand around in a lab commenting on how it seems to be humming; how much less interesting this is than Horta attacks and mind-melds. The initial suspicion when the drill goes berserk is murder, with suspicion mostly on Mandl but extended even to the overly perky science-teacher terraformer; how much better it would have been to keep the crime drama going for a bit longer, to push the dubious science of a non-living life form into the background! We really don't need to be shown yet again that the Enterprise officers are meticulous scientists as well as explorers, we understand that their mission is to seek out new life even if it doesn't look remotely familiar. It feels quite condescending to the audience to keep spelling things out, lecturing on terraforming and scientific method and having Troi say things like, "He's hiding something!" and "He's exhibiting signs of fear!" when any eight year old watching the show could have told Picard that, too.

Even the microbrain is condescending and arrogant, and while the Enterprise crew rather than the audience is its ostensible target, all humans are implicated in its complaints. A visual demonstration of the destruction of its habitat would have worked so much better than a talking ball of light screeching about having its home destroyed. If Kirk had met a microbrain, he would have had a good rousing fight with it before recognizing its intelligence, apologizing for human hubris in interfering and sending it back where it belonged. He's certainly a lesser scientist than Picard, but he's unquestionably fun to watch, whereas Picard here is not. And nobody else rings quite real. The murdered scientist is dismissed as a casualty of technological excess - even his principal mourner, the sensitive Kim, can't stop talking about how terrible if they interfered with a life form. While her heart is in the right place, real people have been known to freak out at the violent deaths of people they work with and care about. Even if it's through their own team negligence. They don't just pack up, sigh happily at how much more there is in heaven and earth than in their philosophies and bounce ahead to the next thing.

"I wanted to create a place where living things could thrive, and all the while I was destroying one," Mandl says dolefully, sounding just like the aliens who kidnapped Enterprise children in the last episode because their science had wrecked their environment. It's just too much of the same, both in the science fiction and in the storytelling. This series doesn't hit its stride until it starts telling stories about these characters that just happen to have a science fiction angle.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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