the story: Species 8472 prepares for a confrontation with the Federation by creating a simulation of Starfleet Academy.
what it's all about: Species 8472, in a lot of ways, became the version of the Borg that successfully accomplished a splashy entrance and a definitive exit. Debuting in "Scorpion," these were a dangerous new foe that first announced themselves as such by putting the Borg on the defensive. They were also the franchise's first all-CGI aliens, and as such were notable on that score alone. "In the Flesh" cleverly depicts them disguised as humans so that the communication barrier could be crossed. And in a lot of ways, it's kind of a one-episode version of Enterprise's later Xindi arc, which encompassed a whole season.
They're also much like the paranoid Founders in Deep Space Nine; Species 8472 considered infiltration as a tactic against their potential enemies, just as certain that the only intention of a rival power would be hostile. And yet, in the greatest diplomatic coup of the series (with Chakotay providing the legwork), peace is achieved through negotiation, which is itself another wonderful callback to "Scorpion," and symbolic of Star Trek's highest ideals. A lot of fans drawn to the franchise in the '90s completely missed the point and assumed it was just another sci-fi platform, which at that time was beginning to blossom anew, most of it with a much bleaker outlook, an excuse for Star Wars action scenes. While there's definitely room for that, Star Trek has always been about the cerebral, human aspects of the genre.
But the neatest thing about the episode is really the presence of Boothby, the kindly groundskeeper first seen in Next Generation's "The First Duty," who was described as a friend to all cadets. Even though it's not really Boothby, it's another great callback, and helps drive home how significant he really was, not just for Picard but as a presence in general, a hidden source of inspiration for all emerging Starfleet officers. In "The Fight," later in the season, we'd get a chance to see him one more time.
All in all, this was some of the most clever storytelling of the whole series.
- franchise - Lives up to Star Trek's ideals.
- series - A definitive conclusion for Species 8472 that looks beyond the obvious.
- character - Fleshes out the appeal of the Starfleet Academy groundskeeper Boothby.
- essential - A truly unexpected but entirely perfect concept.
Ray Walston (Boothby)