Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, July 25, 2016

ST:TNG Season One, Episode Seventeen "Home Soil"

ST:TNG Season One, Episode Seventeen "Home Soil"
Production Order: 17
Air Order: 18
Stardate: 41463.9
Original Air Date: February 22, 1988

So my friend DM and I went to see Beyond this weekend.
"There are a lot of nerds in this theater," DM remarked.
"Said the Dungeon Master to the chick in the ta'al t-shirt?" I pointed out.
Seriously, though, go see Beyond. They probably call it that because it's light-years beyond better than the first two. Why? Because they finally got the Spones right. If your Spones isn't right, then your McSpirk won't be right, and without the interpersonal relationships, these films might as well be called "Something Kind of Close to Star Trek, But Really Isn't."
Also, if you're paying close attention, you may catch the TAS reference in Beyond. I feel like DM and I were the only ones who caught it, because TAS is still considered to be the redheaded stepchild of Star Trek, but I felt like it was a smart move to include that, because it added to a character's backstory and development.


Picard's Log 41463.9: "We were checking out something else, but then the Federation called us to invoke Toddler Law. That is to say, someone is being too quiet nearby, and need to be checked up on, or else we're gonna beam down to some planet and find the place covered in flour and permanent marker."

So the E drops what they're doing to go to Velara III to talk to some terraformers. They enter orbit and begin waxing poetic about terraforming and the people who do it. the way they talk about it, you'd think they would be on the verge of dumping Starfleet and running off to terraform instead.
Picard calls Velara III, nobody answers back. Yar says there's nothing wrong with any of the equipment, it's just that nobody's picking up the phone.
"Maybe no one's home," says Geordi lightly. I guess that counts as a Sassy Moment.
They try two more times, and on the third try, and older dude named Director Mandl hops on.
"Oh hey, Enterprise. Sorry for not answering right away. We're good, no need for visitors or anything."
"The Federation wants us to check in with you," says Picard.
"Naw, we're good," repeats Mandl.
Troi mutes the call. "That guy is hella nervous," she tells Picard. "We should go down there."
Picard agrees.
I just occurred to me what kind of power Troi has. She could tell Picard pretty much anything, and he'd consider it. It's fortunate that she's trustworthy.

"Yeah, we're coming down," Picard tells Mandl.
"That's inconvenient," Mandl replies. "We're busy."
Troi has Picard mute the call again. "He's full of shit. He's panicking because we want a visit."
Picard unmutes the call again and tells Mandl to set out the hors' d oeuvres. Mandl seems irritated, but agrees.
Picard announces the away mission, but doesn't assign anybody to it but Troi. Certain bridge officers just get up and move to the lifts. Did they pre-assign away missions? That seems weird. Better to assess the situation and see who is needed each time. But I guess it's still a step up from the captain just taking his BFFs each time.

So here's our away team: the first officer, the second officer, the pilot (why?), the security chief (okay), the ship's counselor (reasons were discussed).
This pic also reminds me that I still hate the first season uniforms. Blech.

They're greeted by Luisa Kim, the Valara III gardener. She couldn't be more different from Mandl. Mandl is like a hermit monk, slaving alone over an illuminated manuscript all day every day, and he doesn't need you reading over his shoulder, thankyouverymuch. Luisa is like a chipper museum docent - she thinks her job is the best in the world, and she wants to teach you stuff, so you'll also fangirl over these things as well.
She gives them a tour and tells them how terraforming works, and after the presentation, now I want to be a terraformer too.
Luisa introduces them to Benson and Malencon, two other dudes that work there. Benson realizes right away that Data is an android and begins peppering him with questions.
"Both matters are subjects of protracted discussion," Data replies.
Translation: "Dat's rude, yo."

Luisa apologies for Mandl's attitude on the phone, saying he's just stressed because they're at a touchy stage in the terraforming process. When she walks away to describe more stuff, Troi tells Riker that Luisa is open and friendly, and not hiding anything, but that Benson and Malencon are suspicious. This seems to please Riker, who is smiling at Luisa like he intends to bang her later.
Data and Geordi duck over to Malencon's station to check out his equipment. He admits that he's struggling with a water issue, and they suggest that it might be from the high salt content of the water on this planet. He says he thought so as well, but then Benson cuts him off to say that they had thought of that solution, but that the facts didn't support it. Benson is hella rude.
Mandl comes in, apologizing for being rude, and blaming his previous attitude on being isolated and "forgetting social graces."
Suuuure, let's go with that.
Mandl sends Malencon into the hydraulic pump room, and Malencon's confusion at the request makes Troi and Riker exchange glances.

Mandl then directs everyone's attention to another station, where he starts to talk about terraforming schedules, and how everything has to fall into place at just the right time.
Troi suddenly yells, "Malencon is in trouble!"
Then Malencon screams.
They all go running to the hydraulic pump room, where they can hear the terraformer screaming amidst noises of pounding and zapping. The door is jammed. Malencon is quiet. The pounding and zapping noises stop. The door opens, and Malencon's smoking body is lying on the floor.
Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Riker's Log 41464.3: "Recap."

Benson and Geordi shut down power to the hydraulic room, then Yar rushes in and has herself and Malencon beamed to sick bay. Riker is fairly certain that the engineer is too injured to survive. Luisa begs to go with them so she can be with Malencon. She begs Mandl to go too, and they beam up with Troi and Riker.
A little later, Data is examining the laser drill in the hydraulics room while Benson and Geordi check out the computer in the main part of the lab. Data calls Geordi to suggest that the laser drill acted of its own accord, only shutting off when Malencon stopped screaming. He asks that they restore power so he can check it out. Geordi turns on the program, and Data watches it do its thing: it shoots a laser into one hole, then swings around shoots a laser into the second hole.

Oh, nos! The drill thinks Data is Sarah Connor!

The door closes and locks itself. Data spins around in time to duck from the laser, which is now destroying the controls behind him. Data calls Geordi and tells him to turn the equipment off.
"It is off!" yells Benson.
More zapping-pounding noises, and once again, the door is jammed. Geordi calls for a beam-out for Data, who is in trouble.
Then Data strolls out of the open door, from the smoke-filled room, like some kind avenging android of death.

He hits his badge. "Whut up, Enterprise. All good here. No need for beam-out."
"Data, WTF?" demands Geordi.
"The laser drill tracked me," says Data. "It anticipated my moves. Someone or something is controlling the drill."
"Dude!" says Benson, who is standing in the room. "You destroyed the drill! It took a year to build!"
"Sorry, bro," shrugs Data. "Had to be done."
Somehow, Benson is not disturbed that Malencon was pretty much murdered.

Upstairs, Data reports in to Picard. Mandl is there, and thinks Data is making it up.
"Then go the hell away," says Picard. "We gave you quarters. Go there and bitch to the walls or something."
He has Yar escort Mandl back to his rooms.
"So yeah," says Data, once Mandl has left. "The drill is haunted or some shit."
"Okay," says Picard. "So we have someone who has reprogrammed the drill to go after whatever person is in that room. There were only a few terraformers on the planet. The question is, who has something to hide that's worth killing for?"
They leave the ready room and go onto the bridge. Crusher is there, and says that she couldn't save Malencon.
Picard hands out assignments: Geordi and Data need to go back to the station to check for weirdness like sabotage or reprogramming. Yar is supposed to look into the backgrounds of the terraformers. Picard seems not-quite-excited. Like, almost excited, but keeping his professional cool. He's two steps away from putting on his Dixon Hill cosplay.

Geordi and Data go back to the lab.
This matte painting is awesome. Or maybe it's a model. I dunno. Whatever it is, it's freaking sweet.

They check out the busted drilled again, and Data looks down one of the tunnels, where the laser drill was firing. He calls Geordi over to look at something with his vampire eyes. I never noticed how often Geordi gets asked to do stuff like this, until I started combing through every inch of this show. Anyway, Data sees some tiny speck of glowing light way down in the tunnel, and Geordi seems impressed.
He says it is inorganic, but the flashing of light has a musical pattern.
Data suggests that this is what the terraformers are covering up, and why someone murdered Malencon.
Dramatic Music! Commercial break!

They beam it into sick bay, and ask the computer a bunch of questions about it. The computer answers with a bunch of "I dunno"s and reaffirms that the matter is inorganic. Crusher has it magnified on a viewscreen, and Wes calls the crystalline structure "beautiful." Crusher asks the computer to analyze the flashing.
"It shouldn't be flashing at all," the computer returns. "It's not possible."
"Ignore that part," insists Crusher. "Tell us about the pattern."
"There isn't one," replies the computer.
"Speculate what this is, then."

They talk a bit about how there are ways to figure out if something is alive, but those rules all apply to organic material. They've never had inorganic life before.
Then they notice that the thing is humming. The closer they get to it, the louder it hums. It is reacting to them being there.

The crew invites Mandl to the ready room to tell him that there's a life form on a planet that the Federation assured them was lifeless. This fucks up all the shit because the planet must be lifeless in order to terraform it. It can't even have the potential to form life spontaneously.
Mandl is hella pissed off.
Picard asks if he knew about the life-thingy, and suggests that Mandl was hiding this secret in order to complete his project, against the Prime Directive. Which means that he is indirectly asking Mandl if he killed Malencon. Mandl storms out. Turns out, it was kind of a ruse.
Troi reports that Mandl totes knew about the life-form, but was absolutely horrified at the suggestion that he might kill someone. Yar says that her research turned up that Mandl had the knowledge to reprogram the laser drill to kill Malencon, but Malencon himself would have been the guy with the most experience to have done it, and that isn't very likely.
Riker asks what she thinks of Luisa, and Troi replies, "You should go question her."
*winky face emoticon*

Luisa is crying in her quarters when Riker asks to talk to her. I get why - girlfriend has had a crappy day that has consisted of her co-workers being murdered, then finding out that some undetected life-form has just ruined years of her work. He tells her that the terraformers didn't do anything wrong, that the initial investigation missed the life-form because it's inorganic, and it didn't register as life. She asks what the life-form is like, and he offers to show it to her.
"Maybe later," she replies sadly.

Picard gets paged to sick bay. The crew has observed that the life-form is moving or changing, and that it's no longer humming. Geordi says he can see some infrared stuff with his VISOR that no one else can see.
The humming and flashing returns, then the light goes bright and they all turns their backs to it. When they turn back around, there are now two life-forms.
Data points out that it's most def a life-form, because only life can reproduce. 
Crusher tries to put a forcefield around the bell jar. The life-form is having it. She tries a stronger force-field, then a shield. Nope and nope. 
"Evacuate," she instructs the others.
They head for the door just as the computer tells them that the universal translator is switching on, and gibberish issues from the speakers.
Out in the corridor, Picard calls Riker to request a quarantine on that lab.
"What's up?" asks Riker.
"Yeah, um, that's a life-form. And it's trying to communicate with us."
Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Picard's Log, supplemental: "That thing took over the med lab!"

And it apparently controls the power of the areas surrounding the med lab. Those areas have been evacuated.
Picard asks the terraformers to join him in the observation lounge.
Luisa is shocked to learn that Mandl knew about the life-form. But he insists that they were just meaningless silicon crystals that "rebroadcast sunlight."
"Yeah, no," replies Picard. "It's trying to communicate with us." A pause. "When did you first notice them?"
A pause by Mandl.
"Tell them about the pattern in the sand," says Benson.
Then - a Sassy Moment from Picard!
"Oh yes, do tell us," he says in cheerful sarcastically.
Mandl keeps his secrets, so Benson continues, "We noticed that the sand sparkled, like when sunlight runs over new-fallen snow."
"We didn't know it was life!" objects Mandl. "The Federation said there wasn't any here, and we didn't go looking for it, because we didn't think it existed."
Luisa is pissed off that none of this was discussed with her before now. 
Benson says that the patterns in the sand started changing, and would form geometric shapes. He didn't think anything of it then, but now it could be communication. His jury is out.

Benson is uncertain about these so-called life-forms. Meanwhile, Yar looks like
 she's planning to cut a bitch named Mandl.

Riker patches through magnification images of the thing to a screen in the observation lounge, and the terraformers confirm that they had no idea that there was anything like that on Velara III.

On the bridge, Geordi, Data and Worf sit at science workstations, talking about the thing they found on Velara III.
"But is it alive?" Worf asks his coworkers.
"Probability positive," replies the computer.
Worf Sassy Moment: "I wasn't asking you."
An engineering ensign calls Riker to report that the power running the quarantine around the life-form in the med lab keeps getting re-directed to other parts of the ship.
"It's locked three people in a turbolift and two more in the programmer's restroom," she tells Riker when he reaches her workstation.
This answers the all-important question of, "There are bathrooms on the Enterprise, right?"
They pull up CCTV footage of the med lab and watch as the life-form thing reproduces again. Picard and the others see the same thing happening on-screen in the observation lounge.

Picards Log, supplemental: "Okay, so the thing is bigger now, and this time, instead of running away and building a little invisible wall around it, we're going to talk to it, which is what it wanted to do in the first place. Why we ran away like little bitches in the first place is beyond me."

Everybody rushes back to the bridge and they put up the universal translator.
The thing addresses the human crew as "Ugly... giant bags... of mostly... water."
Picard doesn't care for this new nickname, but Data points out that that description is pretty accurate.
The thing in the bell jar explains in simplified language that it tried to tell the other ugly bags of mostly water that they were killing it, but the bags did not listen.
"We didn't understand you then," explains Picard.
"Yeah, well, we killed Malencon," replies the little flashing things. "He was drilling into the sand where we live and totally committing genocide."
"We didn't know you were there," protests Troi. "We're sorry."
"Don't give us that crap," the things answer. "The bags of water in the dome totally knew we were there and killed us anyway."
The terraformers look kind of disturbed at this point.
"Anyway, we're declaring war on you."
Then they sign off.

Several jerky movements rock the ship. Data hypothesizes that the reproducing life-form functions as a computer, and that it has now made enough of itself to interface with things and wreck havok on the E.
Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Picard's Log, supplemental: "Mostly recap, but now we are officially calling this new thing a microbrain."

Ugh, that's terrible. Find out what it calls itself so I don't have to keep typing microbrain, okay?
Everyone on the bridge is in a tizzy, trying to figure out what to do. Data says it seems to be resting now, and Crusher says that with single-celled organic life-forms, reproduction is usually preceded by a resting period. Translation: the computer is taking a pre-screw nap.
"Awesome!" says Picard. "Let's beam it back to the surface before it can do more harm to the ship."
Yar tries to do so, but the transporter beam energy is redirected. The microbrain remains onboard. Next, Picard tries to suck all the air from the room.
"No go," replies Data. "They have the enviro controls in the med bay on lock-down."
A meeting is called in the observation lounge so Picard can yell at Mandl some more.
"You asshole! You knew that was a life-form!"
"I didn't know it was trying to communicate!" protests Mandl.
"You're full of shit," says Picard. "What was Malencon doing with the drill when they killed him?"
"There's a hella thin layer of saline water under the topsoil," explains Luisa. "That would fuck up all of the shit, so he was using the drill to siphon it off."

"What if they use the saline water as a conductor?" asks Data. "They use it to pass information to one another."
"Oh, shit," says Luisa. "If we had succeeded in getting rid of that water, we would have killed all of them." She's about to cry. Out of all three of the terraformers, only Luisa gives a shit about the microbrains.
Riker calls the back to the bridge, as the microbrains have finished their nap and are now looking to get down again.
This time, the microbrains have reproduced to the point that they form a large crystal that breaks free of the bell jar.

Geordi and Data think that the microbrains are photovoltaic, meaning they need to feed off of. Luisa remarks that they live at just the right depth for light to penetrate the sand, and that if they lived just a tiny bit lower, they wouldn't survive. 
They can't shut the lights off in the med lab by remote, so Riker goes down to do it manually. The crystal dims and asks for more light.
"We'll turn 'em back on if you talk to us about this war thing," Picard answers.
"You're killing us, like the others. You're all a bunch of damn liars."
"End the war," urges Picard.
"Yeah, okay," says the microbrain. "Beam us back to the wet sand, where there's light, and we can survive."
Damn, that was it? All they had to do was turn off the lights to end a war that was declared like, ten minutes ago? 
Webster's Dictionary defines "anti-climatic" as "Home Soil" by Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Picard instructs Riker to turn the lights up a little, and Picard tells the microbrains that it's important that the microbrains trust them.
And TNG trots out an old TOS trope: the microbrains say that the humans are "too arrogant and primitive" to be trusted yet, and recommend that they come back for a re-introduction in about 300 years. This is... getting kind of old, Star Trek.

They set the coordinates and apologize to the microbrain-crystal thingy, then beam it back to the surface.
Data expresses the wish that they could have learned more about the life-forms, but Picard says they will just have to be patient. Which is kind of hilarious, because not only does Data lack the capacity for impatience, but he's probably the only one of the crew who will live long enough to see the Federation return to Velara III in three hundred years.

Picard's Log 41464.8: "Set a quarantine on Velara III and taking the remaining terraformers to the nearest starbase. Maybe we can prevent this shit from happening in the future."

The end.

While this episode isn't terrible, it's also wholly forgettable. Friends of mine will sometimes ask what episode I'm reviewing next, and each time I was asked this, I would come up blank. Attaching the name of the episode did nothing to help me remember, either: "home soil" could mean anything.
So what's the deal? Why is this episode not one for the ages? I'm not 100% certain, to be honest. The sci-fi was good - an inorganic life-form is found on a planet previously thought devoid of life, and it halts the terraforming process when said life-forms murder a worker to keep them from committing genocide. The terraforming itself was actually really fascinating, and the part that I liked the most. They did a great job casting Luisa Kim and giving her something interesting to latch onto here. I bought that she was into the process, and then found it to be pretty awesome myself.
It's possible that the fault lies in the fact that there was too much talk and not enough action, but some really fabulous episodes of Star Trek have followed the same talk-to-action ratios and not come out under the heading of, "What was this episode about again?"
In the end, I'm stumped. But I had forgotten about this episode in the first place, kept forgetting about it while working on it, and will probably do so again as soon as I post it.

Red deaths: 0
Gold deaths: 0
Blue deaths: 0
Obnoxious Wes moments: 0
Legitimate Wes moments when he should have told someone to go fuck themselves: 0
Sassy Geordi moments: 1
Sassy Wes Moments: 0
Sassy Worf Moment: 1
Sassy Riker Moments: 0
Sassy Yar Moments: 0
Sassy Picard Moments: 1
Sassy NPC Moments: 0
Number of times that it is mentioned that Data is an android: 1
Number of times that Troi reacts to someone else's feelings: 2
Number of times that Geordi "looks at something" with his VISOR: 3

Fun Facts:

- Carolyne Barry, who played an engineer with a few lines, also played the Metron in TOS' "Arena."

- Everybody seems all excited at the idea that this is the first inorganic life they've ever encountered in the Federation, but hello? Horta? From TOS' "The Devil in the Dark"? Looks like a cross between an area rug and a giant pizza? Also an inorganic life-form?
- Data states that humans are 90% water, but the actual percentage is 50-65%.
- Plot hole: they figure out that the microbrains require saline water to survive and communicate with one another, but there isn't any saline water in that bell jar in the med lab.
- If the microbrains really needed light to survive, wouldn't they have gone into some kind of hibernation at night on their own planet? And also in the lab when Riker turns the lights down? Instead, they claim the E crew is killing them. How do they not die at night? Is that saline solution keeping them alive when there is no light?

Morgan and Cooper


  1. It's annoying that, 90 years after discovering the Horta, Starfleet still doesn't have any protocols for detecting silicon-based lifeforms beyond "mauling the diggers".

    There are salt-water batteries in real life, so we could hand-wave away the night-time problem.

  2. "Microbrain" has already been taken. It's Q's official designation for Worf.

    I kinda remember this episode. I mean I'd forgotten about it until you reviewed it, but I remembered it when you got to the terraforming part. I, too, found it interesting. Heck, I find any look at non-Starfleet Federation scientific endeavors interesting. They're brief glimpses of what goes on in the Federation at large.

    1. That thing about Worf was exactly what I thought as well when they used that designation. It's already been used as an insult - pick something else to call the life-form. :P