February 22 2024


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Identity Crisis

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 6, 2009 - 11:21 PM GMT

See Also: 'Identity Crisis' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: LaForge's friend and former crewmate Susanna Leijten visits the Enterprise with alarming news: the members of an away team of which they were once members have been disappearing one by one, returning to Tarchannen III, where one of the Starfleet officers has either fled or been abducted in a shttlecraft. Picard takes the Enterprise in pursuit of the shuttle, but is unable to stop the frantic pilot from destroying the craft in the atmosphere. On the surface, the crew discovers the ships that brought the other landing team members to the planet, but no indication of what happened to the officers, nor any human life signs. Yet Leijten says that she can sense the presence of the others, and when LaForge pursues her, she panics. Back on the Enterprise, Crusher discovers that Leijten is undergoing a physical transformation, though there was no sign of the change when she came aboard the ship. Leijten tries to help LaForge search their old away mission records for clues about what is happening to her and the others, but she has trouble resisting the impulse to return to the planet. Rather than confine LaForge to sickbay in case the transformation begins to affect him as well, Picard orders the computer to monitor his movements. While Crusher determines that Leijten's DNA is being rewritten into that of an unknown species, LaForge reviews the records from the previous away mission and spots a shadow whose source he cannot identify. He recreates the scene on the holodeck, but before he can guess the identity of the unknown intruder, his fingers begin to fuse together. By the time Crusher finds and removes the parasite transforming Leijten's DNA, LaForge has become invisible to human eyes. The computer can no longer identify him, so he is able to override the transporter lockout and flee the ship. A recovering Leijten follows him to the planet's surface, where she is able to find him and persuade him that he is still human if only he will come back with her. He takes her hand, and she is able to beam him to sickbay, where Crusher restores his human DNA.

Analysis: There's nothing terrible about "Identity Crisis," but it's fairly bland, mediocre science fiction that doesn't make up for its deficiencies with enough character development to keep the storyline engrossing. It's nice to get a teeny glimpse into Geordi's past, but the operative word is teeny. Seems that LaForge had been part of a close-knit science team on the USS Victory, half of whom dated one another, though he was more of a brother to Leijten than someone she considered boyfriend material. Even though the two of them haven't been good about keeping in touch - he didn't even know she'd been engaged to a mutual acquaintance - she comes to him now for help with a scientific mystery that could well affect them both. Really, this story could have happened to any of the Starfleet officers on the crew; it could have been Riker or O'Brien or Ro Laren (who isn't around yet, but in a later episode, she's the one who's with him when the pair transform in an accident).

I don't know whether to consider it a good or a bad thing that LaForge's unique way of seeing doesn't factor into the story. On the one hand, I'd hate for him to be reduced to what his VISOR can do, but on the other hand, it seems odd that there's so little mention of his ability to see things others can't; I'd expect that he could spot the physical changes in Leijten before anyone else, and that he might be able to spot things in old away team recordings unseen by most of his crewmates. Since there isn't any use made of his unusual gifts or the accompanying limitations, it would be nice if we got more solid backstory on his early career - his expressed hopes, his actual progress, his friendships, his disappointments, the areas in which he particularly excelled. The scene where he recreates the landing party from the Victory would be more fun if there was more personal interaction among this group of people who apparently know each other very well -- less professional, sure, but we've seen Troi and Riker have personal conversations while they're on away teams, so I don't think it would have made them look bad and it might have shown us a whole new side of LaForge.

The medical mystery might be more interesting if it made more sense - there's no effort to explain how a DNA-rewriting parasite could remain dormant for years, then burst into action without any indicators. Even a bit of technobabble would be helpful here, because as a means of reproduction, it seems either very sophisticated or very stupid...what do the Tarchannen natives do if no starships investigate their planet when they want to reproduce? And how come the transformation acts as a homing beacon, when from a biological standpoint it would seem to make more sense for the transformed "offspring" to spread the change in turn wherever they happen to be? In some ways this reminds me of the giant space worm that lives in the asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back and tries to eat the Millennium Falcon: looks great, good for a laugh, but how in heck do these things eat and reproduce on a regular basis?

Crusher makes no attempt to discuss the mystery beyond the most straightforward investigation into the DNA revision, and that's all very quick: oh look, the parasite is using the host's immune system to spread the transformation, let's get it out of there. Even Voyager's hopelessly horrible "Threshold," in which human DNA starts to mutate after traveling at Warp 10, makes more scientific sense than Identity Crisis. I mean, what abrupt DNA transformation could render humanoids mostly-invisible except under certain lighting conditions? It makes for a great scene with the blur-of-distortion LaForge getting past a security team and beaming himself down, but it never feels plausible. And what's with Picard agreeing to let LaForge and Leijten go on the away mission when he can figure out as easily as we can that they're next on the list of people likely to be drawn obsessively to the planet's surface? It ends up not mattering, because the ship couldn't monitor their changed physiologies if anyone had wanted it to, but one would think basic precautions like "Sorry, you're too close to this one, Riker and Data will investigate" would make sense.

I'm probably making this episode sound worse than it is; the pacing is good, the acting is solid, the shifts from planet to sickbay to holodeck keep the visuals lively, and the streaking blue creatures are entertaining. But as science fiction, it doesn't have a lot to recommend it even over other Next Gen episodes. And as a LaForge story, it just doesn't offer enough to chew on.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

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

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