Having evidently just noticed that he’s had a new chief medical officer since this season started, Picard decides to use his next mission, a rendezvous with a Starfleet medical courier, to judge Dr. Pulaski’s capabilities. But once again his mission is interrupted by a garbled distress call. The call is traced to the supply ship USS Lantree, where the entire crew is found dead, having inexplicably undergone rapid aging after leaving the Darwin Genetic Research Station a few days prior. The Lantree is quarantined as the Enterprise heads for the station to investigate.Darwin Station is found to be suffering from the exact same phenomenon, and the lead scientists insist that their subjects, genetically engineered children, need to be protected from it. Picard isn’t willing to risk sending anyone into the station but somehow has no qualms about encasing a child in solid plastic and beaming him aboard in order for Dr. Pulaski to examine him, and orders exactly that. After the initial examination reveals nothing dangerous, Picard and Pulaski argue over whether or not to release him from the plastic until Pulaski comes up with the compromise of examining him in a shuttlecraft to keep him away from the crew. She brings Data along for the examination, because they have such an effective dynamic together, and of course, mere minutes after she releases the boy from his plastic cage she finds herself suffering the first symptoms of the mysterious ailment.Since it doesn’t matter anymore if she breaks quarantine, Pulaski heads to Darwin Station and talks to the doctors about their experiments. It turns out they’re biologically engineering superhuman children with telekinetic and telepathic powers and an aggressive resistance to disease. Overly aggressive, to the point that said resistance seeks out disease even before it reaches the children—including in the bodies of anyone nearby. Data does some quick research and puts together that it’s that very immune response that is causing the rapid aging in the people around them. He deems the process irreversible, and Pulaski sends word to the Enterprise that she will remain in quarantine in the station. But Picard will have none of that, and has O’Brien come up with some Technobabble that will undo the effects by using the transporter to screen out the changes to her DNA. The process works, and the scientists at the station are able to follow this example to save themselves. But there is no saving the Lantree, and Enterprise is forced to destroy the entire ship, as the bridge crew stands to honor its crew. Picard never does mention what he decides about Dr. Pulaski, though Troi goes out of her way to say that the two of them are a lot alike, so he probably ends up deciding that she’s just swell, even though she kind of got everything wrong in this episode.
Tropes featured in this episode:
- Blessed with Suck: The genetically modified children have aggressive immune systems that attack pathogens before they get to them. This caused one virus to allow DNA to mutate in others. Because of this, the children will have to be in quarantine for their whole lives.
- The Chains of Commanding: Picard relieves O'Brien just before they make the attempt to save Dr. Pulaski, so that if they fail Picard will shoulder the responsibility of scattering her atoms across space.
- Due to the Dead: At the end of the episode, the Enterprise returns to the quarantined Lantree. The crew comes to attention in silent salute, then a single photon torpedo is fired to destroy the ship and the plague aboard her.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Federation maintains a genetic-engineering outpost specifically to produce Transhuman children. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would later establish that there's No Transhumanism Allowed in the Federation because Khan and the Eugenics War showed that Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke.
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: They just invented a way to reverse the aging process! Ironic because before they reverse her aging, Pulaski remarks that the whole experience has given her new insight into Geriatrics. Insight which should now be obsolete.
- Overnight Age-Up: The Lantree's crew, the research outpost staff and Dr. Pulaski all suffer this. The cure comes too late for the Lantree.
- The Plague: Or so it seems at first...
- Technobabble: Miles O'Brien gives a rather lengthy jargon-filled speech about reconfiguring the transporter.O'Brien: Well, I'd have to get into the biofilter bus and patch in a molecular matrix reader. That's no problem. But the wave form modulator will be overloaded without the regeneration limiter in the first stage circuit.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Darwin Station researchers. The fact that the human immune system will treat even other human tissue that is not a genetic match as an infection is common knowledge, and a factor in nearly all tissue transplants. Yet despite their bio-medical expertise, it never occurred to them that extending their Augments' immune systems to their external environment would be an incredibly stupid idea.
- We Only Have One Chance: After the transporter is jury-rigged, O'Brien tells Picard that this setup is "one-way" only. If it doesn't cure Dr. Pulaski, the only alternative will be to disperse her transporter pattern into space. Of course, she's minutes away from death at this point anyway.
- Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: During the argument about studying a patient in a shuttlecraft, Picard suddenly relents and allows Pulaski to do so. It takes her a couple seconds to realize this.
- Younger Than They Look: The characters affected by the antibodies. Riker says the Lantree's captain was his age—his corpse looks about 200.