|Geordi undergoes Romulan brain washing!|
Geordi is taking a shuttlecraft to Risa for some leave and to attend a symposium. His trip is interrupted, however, when a Romulan warbird de-cloaks right in front of his ship. Geordi is taken captive and mentally conditioned, his conditioning tested through simulations in which he is ordered to kill his friends and colleagues. Taibak (John Fleck), the Romulan in charge of the conditioning, tells his unseen superior that Geordi will be sent back to the Enterprise, entirely unaware that anything has happened to him but ready to obey their commands.
As for the Enterprise, it is escorting Kell (Larry Dobkin), a Klingon ambassador, on a mission to a colony that has rebelled against the Klingon Empire. Kell has received information indicating the rebels have been secretly aided by the Federation. The newly-conditioned Geordi rejoins the ship just as it reaches the colony. It is then that Picard is presented with the evidence of Federation involvement: weapons, apparently Federation-issue - hundreds of them!
Capt. Picard: Picard has become quite familiar with Klingon culture by now, so he isn't phased when Vagh (Edward Riley) attempts to put him on the defensive by attacking his personal honor. Instead, he reacts as Klingon society would expect: He shouts Vaugh down in Klingon, then fixes him with a glare until he is beamed back to his ship. As in Reunion, he refuses to allow the Klingons to cut Worf out of security matters. He also responds with refreshing coldness when a betrayal is unveiled near the end. The traitor calls on Picard to grant him asylum. Picard knows full well that the man will be killed if he is taken down to the planet - but he refuses, and phrases his refusal in a way that maximizes its impact.
Geordi: Levar Burton's eternally reliable performance means that a Geordi-centric episode always good news (well, except for the ones about Geordi being nervous around women). The moments in which Geordi is acting under Romulan influence see Burton altering his body language just enough to make it clear to us without being so blatant as to make us wonder why the crew don't see it. The rest of the time, Geordi is clearly and fully himself. The final scene, as Geordi realizes what has happened to him and fights for his true memories, is particularly strong, and director David Livingston is wise to end the show on a shot of Geordi's face.
Worf: The early scenes of this episode see Kell try to bait Worf for his "lack of honor." To Worf's credit, he sees through this and calls Kell on it, but does so without actually losing his temper. Pre-Sins of the Father, I doubt Worf would have shown this level of self-restraint. Kell also dangles the tantalizing idea that some of the High Council are privately grateful to Worf for killing Duras, whose probably ascension to Chancellor was something many on the Council dreaded.
Data: Gets another opportunity to play Sherlock Holmes as the investigation of the weapons and his personal investigation of some odd signals become clearly linked. The scenes in which he methodically pieces together what happened to Geordi, even as Geordi receives his final instructions to perform a public assassination, generate some strong suspense. Brent Spiner conveys Data's authority as third in command when he calls for Geordi's apprehension even as he walks quickly and purposefully to the hold where Geordi is preparing to commit murder.
Star Trek does The Manchurian Candidate - with surprisingly good results! Writer Rene Echevarria has delivered a well-crafted, tightly-plotted thriller. The script feeds on cues from earlier episodes involving both the Romulans the Klingons, and intertwines those threads to excellent effect. We have already seen a Klingon agent working for the Romulans earlier this season, while last season's "alternate reality" episode showed us a future in which the Klingons and the Federation ended up as enemies instead of allies. So plenty of groundwork has already been laid to make it believable that the Romulans would go to so much trouble to drive a wedge between these two powers.
A clever plot development has Geordi, during his unaffected moments, leading the investigation into actions he himself took while under Romulan influence. This recalls another classic noir film, The Big Clock, though I'm not sure whether it does so intentionally or just as a happy accident. It does create an interesting type of suspense, however, to see "normal Geordi" gradually figuring out the things he himself did, without ever realizing that he's actually bringing himself closer to exposure.
If I have any complaint, it's not with the episode itself - which is excellent - but rather with the nature of the series. After the events here, Geordi should never be the same again. In fact, it should take months of mental rehabilitation before he's allowed to serve on a starship again (assuming he's not simply "promoted to safety" behind a desk at some starbase). But even if these events are mentioned again, I'm pretty sure that the very next episode will see Geordi back at his station, acting as if nothing had happened.
There's nothing to do about this, however, and it's hardly a point against the episode itself. With a tightly-paced script that manages to generate real tension, and with highly visual direction by David Livingston (who would remain one of Trek's most reliable directors all the way through Enterprise), this is one of the best of a very strong season.
Overall Rating: 9/10.