Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Next Generation 6x22 "Suspicions"

rating: ****

the story: Crusher's investigation into the death of a Ferengi scientist puts her career into jeopardy.

similar to: "Remember Me," "Ethics"

my thoughts: The question about The Next Generation is how Crusher was so easy to drop after the first season, and what was gained when she returned again in the third, because she remained a notoriously difficult character to crack.  Most of the time, it seemed as if the failure was on the part of the actress portraying her, Gates McFadden, but the fact that nearly every episode that focused on Crusher featured a single theme might also be telling.

Simply put, Crusher tended to box herself into corners.  In "Ethics" it was, as the title of the episode implies, her ethical stance against a colleague who otherwise epitomizes the Star Trek custom to feature mavericks of their respective fields (if they're a main character, this is a good thing, and if they're not, it's not).  Next Generation, in the choice not even to have a main character portray the chief engineer in the first season, seemed to shy away from the idea of exceptionalism, with the cautious Picard leading the way. 

There's also "Remember Me," in which Crusher is as literally isolated as you can get (although this sort of thing happened to other Star Trek regulars, too), with everyone disappearing around her, and no one believing Crusher when she attempts to explain what's happening.  Taken together, "Remember Me" and "Ethics" present a pretty convincing portrait of who and what Crusher was in the series ("Sub Rosa" can be included as well, but to no one's credit).

What does this have to do with "Suspicions"?  This is the episode where this portrait of the character comes together.  This is one of those episodes with a framing narrative where we meet the character after the worst of it has already happened (Deep Space Nine's "Whispers" is a similar achievement, while that show's "In the Pale Moonlight" is the best one, and Voyager's "Thirty Days" is a step or two below), but more than that, it's about explaining why Crusher is so easy to isolate, because she's a character who isolates herself, and it takes extreme circumstances to prove it.

"Ethics" made it look like she was merely the good guy, and "Remember Me" was merely a fun experience.  "Suspicions" paints Crusher into such a corner that she feels the only way to get out is to actually remove herself entirely from the equation, risk everything to prove she was right about her investigation. 

In the best way, "Suspicions" challenges everything the viewer thinks it knows about Star Trek.  Like Enterprise's "Judgment," which introduced a Klingon who wasn't happy to be defined as a warrior, the presence and significance of a Ferengi scientist blows open the classic stereotype that even a prejudice-free concept like Star Trek can let creep in when introducing alien cultures.  Even as Deep Space Nine was introducing Ferengi who weren't merely villains or comic relief (although they could still be both), and hadn't yet introduced further wrinkles into the culture (the second and third seasons would do that), Next Generation finally suggesting that itself, for having produced all the stereotypes to begin with, was a bold move, one seemingly buried in a story that focuses on Crusher instead of the scientist.  It's not merely about producing sympathetic characters in a species otherwise considered the enemy (the series did that with Romulans all the time).  No, to go out of its way and find that ill-fated little Ferengi was kind of a metaphor for Crusher, too.

Look below the surface.  It took six seasons, but Crusher was finally figured out.  And she helps bring further depth to the series, and franchise, along the way.  Yeah, I've been guilty of making Crusher look bad.  Sometimes it's all too easy.  But she has a way of bringing out the most surprising material, too, in a very good way.

"Suspicions" is a classic in ways few other classic episodes are.  Like Crusher herself, it may be easy to overlook, but it shouldn't be.

This one's also notable as the last time Guinan appears in a TV episode.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)
James Horan


  1. Crusher took quite a risk autopsying a Ferengi dead guy against the wishes of his people. She should have lost her licence to practice medicine.

    1. Well, maybe. Certainly an ironic predicament for the "Ethics" doctor.

  2. Interesting analysis. I've never really watched Star Trek, so I'll have to take your word for it.

    1. It's a baffling and insular world, to be sure.


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