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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S3E1 "Evolution"

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Ostensibly, this is about a science project gone wrong (of Wesley's doing, no less!) but we all know why this episode is really important - the return of Beverly Crusher and her glorious Jane Jetson hair!

Original air date: September 25, 1989

Wesley Crusher is fast asleep with his head on the counter where he's been working. He's been experimenting with some nanites, which are tiny robots that can do very delicate work due to their microscopic size. Unwittingly, he's left the container open and some of them have escaped. They proceed to infest the ship like pests, eating away at the circuitry in the computer and using those resources to reproduce themselves.

The Enterprise has come to witness a particular explosion at a binary star system that only occurs once every 196 years, having brought a Federation scientist named Dr. Stubbs (Ken Jenkins). When the ship starts to malfunction, Wesley discovers that it's the nanites that escaped that are causing the problems. Dr. Stubbs takes matters into his own hands, flooding the computer core with gamma radiation. This kills many of the nanites, but not all of them, and the remainder react by sabotaging the life support. This is quickly overridden, but after Dr. Stubbs is confined to quarters, the nanites find a way to attack him there with an electric shock.

Data offers himself for the nanites to use to communicate with Picard and the crew, and Picard reasons with them, explaining their dire situation if their computer is not repaired. The nanites agree to repair the computer, in time for Dr. Stubbs to gather data when the explosion occurs. Picard offers any assistance he can for the nanites, but they say they don't really need any. Other than transportation to a new home world, of course.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Author Appeal: Stubbs being a massive baseball fan. It's not the last time that Michael Piller would inject that trait into a character.
  • The Bus Came Back: Dr. Crusher, who was Put on a Bus at the start of the previous season, returns to the show in this episode, and stays for the rest of its run.
  • Calling the Old Woman Out: Wesley snapping at Beverly.
    Wesley: Look, I have done everything that everyone has asked of me and more! I mean, how can you know? You haven't even been here.
  • Call-Back:
    • Although it's said that baseball is no longer played in the 24th century (something that is picked up on later in Deep Space Nine as well), the writers clearly remembered that Wesley had already talked about the game way back in the first season episode "Justice", so they weave it into his backstory that he used to play it with his dad. Clearly, Jack Crusher was, along with Stubbs and Ben Sisko, one of the few devotees left of the game.
    • Picard tells Beverly that he was known to get into quite a bit of trouble when he was Wesley's age—echoing what he told the boy in "Samaritan Snare".
  • Child Prodigy: Dr. Stubbs was a former wunderkind, and he sees a kindred spirit in Wesley. He warns Wesley that his own potential will be his greatest adversary.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Dr. Pulaski is gone, without any explanation of why she left or where she went. In fact, she's only even mentioned on two more occasions during the show's entire run.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The new collared Starfleet uniforms debut. However, in the early season 3 episodes, they have seams going down the sides of the chest, along with bigger shoulder pads. The streamlined uniform sans seams and with smaller shoulder pads would appear in "Booby Trap" and would stay in use until Star Trek: First Contact.
  • Failsafe Failure: Manual override is jammed, Captain!
  • Future Loser: Stubbs is essentially what Wesley could grow up to be. Not a brilliant academic with the respect of his peers and a litany of work behind him, but an isolated hermit, obsessed with one experiment to give his life meaning.
  • Game of Nerds: Stubbs uses baseball to relax, but not by playing it on the holodeck like Sisko. He instead relives the games in his mind using statistics.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Wesley's school project involves putting two nanites together to see what would happen. Result: He creates a new species that starts to consume the Enterprise and jeopardizes a science mission. Admittedly, had he secured the sample properly, this wouldn't have happened.
  • Hypocritical Humor: From Beverly after she spots Wesley in Ten Forward with a girl.
    "It's so good to see him having fun for a change, with an attractive young woman who obviously looks at him with extraordinary affection. [to Guinan] What do you know about this girl?"
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: All Wesley does is allow two nanites to work together, when normally they are deployed singly. Wow, is it really that easy to create sentient mechanical life?
  • Irony: As Ira Behr once noted, it didn't go unnoticed among the other writers that Michael Piller (a huge baseball fan) established that baseball was dead in the world of Star Trek.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Wesley doesn't receive any form of punishment for endangering the entire crew. On the other hand, he doesn't receive any accolades for creating a new sapient life form, either, so it balances out.
    • Stubbs is a selfish, narcissistic Glory Hound who jeopardizes the crew when he escalates the situation by exterminating some of the nanites while Engineering is working on a slower, safer way to remove them. He's Easily Forgiven by the nanites at the end of the episode, and his experiment goes off without a hitch.
  • My Beloved Smother: Downplayed with Beverly. She's concerned about Wesley, but she's very relaxed when dealing with him. If anything, it's Picard she bothers about the matter.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Wesley has this reaction on discovering that his nanites are responsible for the trouble aboard the Enterprise.
    • To a lesser extent, Stubbs after he realizes that the nanites really are sentient, and rather peeved that he just killed a load of them. He doesn't get too broken up over it, but it's clear that he honestly regrets his actions.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The nanites are initially the result of Wesley's science project, which he left unattended and unsecured. They multiplied and escaped.
  • Parents as People: Beverly is anxious about missing a year of Wesley's life while she was reassigned to Starfleet Medical.
  • Public Domain Character: Guinan seems to be reminiscing to Wesley about another scientist friend that she knew who has a similar dilemma as Wesley. "His name was Frankenstein". Later seasons would establish that Guinan has been on Earth rubbing shoulders with the likes of Samuel Clemens. But whether or not this is meant to imply that in the Star Trek universe, Frankenstein is based on a true story is anyone's guess. Not impossible since the Greek Gods and Merlin (one of Flint's identities as mentioned in Requiem For Methuselah) are said to have existed in Earth's past.
  • Shadow Archetype: Stubbs to Wesley. He was dubbed a wunderkind in his younger days, everyone expected great things from him, and his relationship with his mother can be difficult at times. Of course, whereas Wesley still has his life ahead of him, Stubbs's big moment is make or break right now, so the pressure is mounting. Wesley felt he could take his time with a few traps, but Stubbs does something far more reckless in the interests of expediency.
  • Shout-Out: The game Dr. Stubbs is reliving in his sleep when the nanites attack him is Bobby Thompson's 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round the World".
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Stubbs isn't an outright villain, but after he gets caught sterilizing a number of nanites, he gets very cocky about "the highest command of the Federation" giving him the authority to carry out his experiment.
    Picard: If any man, woman or child on this ship is harmed as a result of your experiment, I will have your head before the highest command in the Federation.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Stubbs sees the nanites as nothing more than rogue machines that need to be destroyed. Once their intelligence is established beyond the shadow of a doubt, he is completely apologetic.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Downplayed. Beverly is generally proud of Wesley, but she wonders if he's too focused on work instead of enjoying himself. She also feels out of step after being separated from him for a year.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: When the crew try to fix the problem while preserving the nanites, Stubbs' "solution" is to fire a high-energy gamma pulse at the computer core, killing them.
  • You Are Not Alone: Wesley is feeling the weight of his responsibilities, and snaps at his mother. She responds well.
    Beverly: I'm here now, Wesley. Come on, I'll help you.