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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S2E7 "Unnatural Selection"

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The scary thing about this aging makeup is that this isn't too far off from how Diana Muldaur actually looks like nowadays.
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Original air date: January 30, 1989

Captain Picard calls in Counsellor Troi to request her assessment of Dr. Pulaski. She tells him that Pulaski is almost too dedicated to her work as a doctor. But their conversation 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 and grows increasingly frustrated by Pulaski's bull-headed approach to her job, but she eventually convinces him to beam onboard a child completely sealed in space-plastic for her to examine. Even though the initial examination reveals nothing dangerous, Picard refuses to allow the child to be freed onboard the ship unless there is absolutely no risk to the crew. Pulaski eventually proposes examining him in a shuttlecraft, and to her surprise, Picard agrees. She brings Data along for the examination, but mere minutes after she releases the boy from his plastic cage, she finds herself suffering the first symptoms of the mysterious ailment.

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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 psychic powers and an aggressive resistance to disease. Overly aggressive, to the point that their immune system 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.

Picard refuses to accept defeat and has Transporter Chief O’Brien (who is now a character) come up with some Technobabble that will undo the effects by using the transporter to screen out the changes to her DNA. It's a mad race to find a sample of Pulaski's DNA, which is complicated by the fact that she never uses transporters, and therefore there is no log of her DNA on record. Picard contacts her previous captain to see if he has her info. The captain can't help, but does reveal that Pulaski was a huge fan of Picard's and jumped at the chance to serve with him. The crew eventually use a strand of her hair to get a DNA sample, and the process works. 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.

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Tropes featured in this episode:

  • Angst? What Angst?: Discussed; after Picard mentions that the crew of the Lantree were wiped out by the ageing disease, Dr. Kingsley shrugs it off seemingly without a care in the world. Picard calls her out on her lack of reaction, but she fires back by pointing out that since they now know beyond a doubt that the disease is fatal, it means they should be focusing on researching a cure, and that they can mourn the Lantree crew later.invoked
  • Bittersweet Ending: The aging disease is cured, but the research staff must remain in quarantine and hope to find a way to fix their children's immune system so they don't spend their lives in isolation. The episode ends with the Enterprise destroying the Lantree, whose crew remain dead.
  • 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, then Picard will shoulder the responsibility of scattering her atoms across space. O'Brien thanks him.
  • Character Development: The episode is dedicated to softening some of the hard edges that Pulaski started the season with.
    • She faces her Fantastic Racism toward Data. When they're working together, she's her typical rude and dismissive self until she gets infected. After her infection, Data stays with her for moral support and is instrumental in helping to find a cure. When she makes a crack about her health "working to specification" (like a android), she seems to genuinely regret her insult and gives an honest apology. After this episode, she's consistently more open-minded toward Data and appreciative of his unique talents.
    • Pulaski was also openly stand-offish and seemed to love bucking authority whenever the opportunity arose, which naturally led to blows with Picard. She starts off full-force in this episode, constantly downplaying the risks of her medical procedure, and winds up exposing herself to the virus for her troubles. She openly admits that her exposure was her own fault, and after this episode she's more careful to listen to the concerns of her crewmates and captain.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The children's active immune systems did a damn good job attacking the flu virus when it showed up at Darwin Station — and then they kept going and attacked everything and everyone else.
  • Hollywood Old: Zig-Zagged. Diana Muldaur gets extensive makeup, but the Darwin Station scientists are all older actors rather than aged up younger actors, though some of them also get aged-up over the course of the story.
  • Mind over Matter: The genetically modified children have telekinesis.
  • Older than They Look: The enhanced children. The oldest one is twelve, yet they look like they're on the verge of adulthood.
  • 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: Played with. The crew initially assumes the Lantree crew's death and the similar rapid ageing of the Darwin Station's staff to be the result of some contagious disease, but find no sign of it in the child who gets sent up. Pulaski finds out the hard way that while it's technically not a disease, rather an unintended side-effect of the children's aggressive immune system, the end outcome is the same, since anyone who becomes afflicted is capable of doing the same to others.
  • Psychic Children: The enhanced children at Darwin Station.
  • Technobabble: Miles O'Brien gives a rather lengthy jargon-filled speech about reconfiguring the transporter (albeit unlike most later episodes, Picard quickly shushes him and tells him to just get to work):
    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.
  • Remember the New Guy?: This is the first episode where Chief O'Brien is given his name and treated like a character, though he's actually appeared several times in his role this season, and actor Colm Meany appeared as various characters in the first season.
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: Darwin Genetic Research Station, an isolated research facility on the planet Gagarin IV. As it turns out, the isolation is well-justified, as the scientists have managed to engineer children with immune systems so powerful that their antibodies attack anyone in their immediate vicinity, resulting in a plague of Rapid Aging.
  • Smart People Play Chess: It's implied that the genetically modified children are geniuses because we see them playing chess (using Mind over Matter to move the pieces).
  • 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.
  • Transhuman: The genetically modified children grow quickly, are immune to disease, and have psychic powers.
  • 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, but his corpse looks about 100.

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