2/19/13

Star Trek: Asterisk "Unnatural Selection"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S02E07
Air Date: January 30, 1989
Written by: John Mason and Mike Gray
Directed by: Paul Lynch

Premise
In some crazy alternate reality where genetic engineering isn't banned in the Federation and Khan was no big deal, Pulaski finds out why it's not a great idea.

Review
Let me just start by saying that there is nothing right about this episode. It's like a bad fan fiction written by someone who had only seen season one of The Next Generation and had no previous writing experience. It starts with Picard doing an evaluation of Dr. Pulaski who has demonstrated more than adequate competency so far and would never even have made it aboard the Enterprise if Picard didn't feel like she was a good replacement for Beverly. It goes on to find the USS Lantree with all hands dead of old age. Picard calls the captain Esi Telaka, and then in her final log entry she calls herself L. I. Telaka. The crew of the Lantree may have died of old age, but it looks like Picard is getting the senility.

The crew finds out that the Lantree made their last stop at the Darwin Genetic Research Station so that the first officer could be treated for the flu. So that's the Enterprise's first stop. When they get there, they find that the station's crew is also suffering from the same aging disease. They beg the Enterprise to take aboard the genetically engineered children they created to save them... because apparently genetic engineering is no longer banned in the Federation. Picard denies them permission to beam aboard all of them, but Pulaski convinces him to bring aboard just one so she can scan for the disease and try to figure it out.
Bubble boy is suffocating.
Pulaski examines the kid and finds nothing. She will be unable to do further tests until she can take him out of the containment bubble and the only way she can do that without risking the ship is to go out on a shuttle with Data. That way she's only risking her own life. And risk she did. When the boy wakes up in the shuttle, Pulaski gets infected and her only recourse is to go to the station since the damage is already done. Data takes her there and she is introduced to all of the genetically engineered children.

While Pulaski is being given the tour, O'Brien comes up with a wacky idea: the transporter stores patterns of everyone who uses it. And they could use that information to effectively restore her from a backup copy. The only hitch is that she hasn't used the transporter; she's afraid of it. So in order for the plan to work, they have to find a piece of her DNA, which they happen to find in a strand of hair in her own brush.
Right theeeeerrrrre is my hairbrush.
Meanwhile, Data and Pulaski come to the conclusion that the disease started because when the first officer from the Lantree came to treat his flu, the genetically engineered children had an airborne antibody that attacks diseases before they even get to the body. This antibody attacked the officer's flu, but then it kept going attacking everyone else's body. Later, they use Pulaski's hair to magically cure her of her disease using the transporter. When it works, they use the same treatment for everyone on the station. The children are kept isolated so that this incident can't happen again and the scientists continue their research.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise has one last task to perform.
A sort of cleanup, if you will...
With the USS Lantree destroyed, the last of the virus goes with it and the Enterprise warps away to save another day.

Overall Thoughts
Let's give this episode's writers the benefit of the doubt and say that they didn't know genetic engineering was banned because that rule wasn't necessarily made up yet. (A specific ban on genetic engineering isn't mentioned until later episodes.) The Wrath of Khan came out seven years prior to this episode and reinforced the idea that it's not good to screw around with DNA, yet there is no mention of this or the Eugenics Wars or "Space Seed" or anything from prior genetic engineering attempts. They completely ignored the complex history the Federation already had with this subject. And don't get me started on the transporter. If they could have done this the whole time, then it should be standard operating procedure to keep backups of people so they can beam back without diseases. This episode teaches a valuable lesson about being careful with scientific progress, but for all its scientific care, it's screws up everything about the surrounding series. It did, however, win an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series... so there's that.