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Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Transfigurations”


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Rereads and Rewatches Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Transfigurations”


Published on February 7, 2012

Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Tom Benko
Season 3, Episode 25
Production episode 40273-173
Original air date: June 4, 1990
Stardate: 43957.2

Captain’s log: The Enterprise is scanning the Zeta Gellis cluster. They pick up a ship that crashed on one planet, with one survivor with fading life signs. Riker leads a team that includes Data, Crusher, and La Forge. The survivor has suffered severe brain damage, and is only made stable enough for transport after Crusher temporarily links his nervous system to La Forge’s. She beams him back and manages to save him, though the brain damage has left him amnesiac. Crusher is barely willing to take credit for his recovery, as he has spectacular healing processes. What concerns her are the cells that have nothing to do with his injury that are also mutating.

Riker was only able to salvage a storage capsule from the pod, and there is debris in orbit that indicates a ship that was destroyed by energy-weapon fire.

Within 36 hours, the patient—whom Crusher has dubbed “John Doe”—is no longer in critical care. Within a month, he is able to walk, albeit only across the room, slowly, with assistance from synaptic induction bands. But he still has bouts of pain and his cells are still mutating.

A few days later, he’s walking around on his own. When O’Brien comes in with a disloacted shoulder from kayaking on the holodeck, John instinctively touches O’Brien’s shoulder, which heals it. He has no idea how he did this.

Data and La Forge have been struggling to figure out how to read the information in the storage capsule. La Forge hits on scanning the molecular structure of the capsule itself, which turns out to be navigational data. They’re able to extrapolate it against existing astronomical data to project his course back. It’s a star system they’ll arrive at in three weeks over the course of their normal mission.

When Picard shares this with John, he is adamant that he not return home. He still doesn’t have his memories back, but he knows that “we” were trying to escape their home—the first revelation that there were others with him. He can’t recall why, but he knows he can’t go back home.

A ship shows up on long-range sensors heading straight for them at warp 9.72. They don’t respond to hails, and will intercept the Enterprise in ten hours.

John continues to have bouts of pain, accompanied by a glow across his chest. After one particularly nasty attack, he is overwhelmed by the need to leave the ship. He runs out of sickbay and heads to a shuttle bay. While Worf is attempting to restrain him, he glows again—so much so that the glow knocks Worf over the railing and onto the deck below, breaking his neck. John is able to heal Worf the same way he healed O’Brien. He can’t explain exactly why he tried to steal the shuttle, but he has a tremendous urge to get away—not least because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else.

The alien ship arrives. Its shipmaster, Commander Sunad, identifies himself as Zalkonian, and John as a criminal whom they thought was dead with the other three criminals he escaped with. John recognizes Sunad as someone he doesn’t trust. Troi adds that Sunad and all the Zalkonians on his ship are scared to death of John.

John is willing to surrender to Sunad to protect the Enterprise, but he also believes that there’s more at stake here.

Picard tries talking to Sunad, but he refuses to accept Picard’s words and attacks the Enterprise with a Super Suffocation Weapon (seriously, he pushes a button, and everyone on the Enterprise can’t breathe). John is able to heal everyone on the ship from that weapon, but Sunad just arms conventional weapons. John, however, remembers everything now, because it’s television, and amnesia always goes away at the episode’s climax. His powers enable him to transfer Sunad from his own bridge to the Enterprise bridge, and then he explains: the Zalkonians are on the verge of a metamorphosis into beings of energy, but Zalkonian society views them as diseased, insisting that the transfiguration will kill them. They’ve gone so far as to kill anyone showing signs of the mutation. John is the first to achieve the change, which he does in front of everyone, turning into an orange-y glow-y being.

After Sunad refuses to let John near him as an orange-y glow-y thing, John sends him back to his ship and he buggers off as fast as he can. John thanks Picard and Crusher and then disappears in an orange-y glow-y ball of light to live happily ever after.

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi points out the anger Sunad has for John, which even she states is obvious, and then adds that they feel fear as well. She also plays devil’s advocate (along with Riker) when discussing what to do with John, pointing out that the Zalkonians are genuinely confused as to why Picard is even hesitating to turn John over.

If I only had a brain…: A missed opportunity: Data was the only one not affected by Sunad’s Super Suffocation Weapon. Might’ve been cool to have John’s healing not work on that, and have Data and John go against Sunad all by themselves.

The boy!?: Wes—in his shiny new red uniform—only has two scenes, but one is a charming-as-all-heck dinner with his mother and he and Crusher discuss John.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: La Forge goes from thumphering like a moron in the presence of Christy Henshaw to necking with her in a turbolift. One hopes that when he takes her to the holodeck, he has better programs this time. The change between those two events is the neural link he and John shared, which had a positive effect on his confidence.

Crusher and John also develop a close friendship that really feels like a romance. In the dinner scene with Wes, Crusher talks out all the pitfalls and dangers and confusions and whatnot involving doctors getting close to their long-term patients. (John basically lives in sickbay for more than a month.)

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf tries (and fails, see below) to advise La Forge on how to pick up women, and then later takes credit for his greater success with Christy. He also is killed and resurrected by John.

I believe I said that: “You must let her see the fire in your eyes.”

“But what would I say?”

“Words come later. It is the scent that first speaks of love.”

“Thanks, Worf. That helps a lot.”

Worf giving La Forge the worst advice ever (you can’t see La Forge’s eyes, and humans don’t have the olfactory capacity of Klingons), and La Forge sarcastically expressing gratitude

Welcome aboard: As I’ve said before in this here rewatch, romance-of-the-week episodes like this rise and fall on the backs of the guest stars, from spectacular success like Suzie Plakson’s K’Ehleyr to dismal failure like Matt McCoy’s Devonani Ral. Mark LaMura’s John Doe isn’t quite as transcendent as Plakson, but he’s pretty darn good, with tremendous charm and gravitas, and an excellent rapport with Gates McFadden. (He pretty much sold me when he first starts walking after overconfidently stating he was ready to go, then stumbling badly after one step. Crusher says they should proceed again more slowly, and John mutters, “Much more slowly.” It’s a lovely moment.)

Julie Warner reprises her role of Christy Henshaw from “Booby Trap,” and this time things develop more pleasantly between her and La Forge. (Warner joked in an interview once that she was cast because she’s shorter than LeVar Burton; they were willing to have an interracial relationship, but not one where the woman was taller than the man, a challenge when casting for someone alongside the 5’7″ Burton.)

Charles Dennis sneers a lot as Sunad. We also get our first nurse with a speaking part in Patti Tippo’s Nurse Temple.

Trivial matters: This is the second script by Echevarria, following The Offspring.” His position on the writing staff was solidified after this episode.

Sunad was named after story editor Richard Danus. (Spell it backwards….) Nurse Temple is a play on Nurse Chapel from the original series (played by Majel Barrett).

The scene with John transformed into an orange-y glow-y thing was done with minimal post-production work—LaMura actually wore a fluorescent orange suit that glowed on the special film they used to shoot the scene.

O’Brien’s love of kayaking, and his tendency to throw out his shoulder while doing so, will continue to be a recurring theme on Deep Space Nine.

This episode has the longest in-episode time span since Pen Pals,” which also took approximately six weeks.

Make it so: “Less talk. More synthehol.” A perfectly delightful little episode. It’s especially nice to see a case where magical 24th-century medicine doesn’t fix everything immediately. The plot is fairly standard, but it proceeds at a nice, leisurely pace. Things happen slowly, not because the episode drags, but as a natural outgrowth of the story. Plus it’s nice to see the crew taking leisure: Wes and Crusher’s dinner, O’Brien’s kayaking, La Forge and Worf sharing drinks in Ten-Forward, La Forge dating Christy, and so on. And I have to admit to really getting a kick out of Sunad’s complete lack of interest in establishing relations with the Federation. Not all new life and new civilizations actually want to be sought out, after all. The Super Suffocation Weapon was also kinda awesome.

Mostly what makes it work, though, is a fine performance by Mark LaMura. He’s incredibly charismatic and likeable, which helps complicate Picard’s decision later on as to whether or not to turn him over to Sunad.

The one downside of the leisurely pace is that it makes the rushed ending all the more frustrating. We find out the truth about the Zalkonians in a rushed exposition dump from John, and then it’s over.

Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido wants to know what love is. He wants you to show him. He also wants to make note of the fact that “Transfigurations” is an incredibly difficult word to type when you touch-type, and you should all feel really really sorry for him. Also? Buy his books….

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Keith R.A. DeCandido


Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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