In the eighteenth episode of the fourth season of The Next Generation, Geordi’s former Lieutenant Commander brings upsetting news: everyone from a previous mission is now disappearing. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, body horror, mental illness.
Well, this is a creepy little story, isn’t it? Despite that I didn’t expect the show to go too far with Geordi’s transformation, this still went way further than I thought it would. The sense of dread that pervades “Identity Crisis” is what makes it such an effective thriller. We know that the colonists on Tarchannen disappeared, and we know that three members of Leijten’s away team disappeared five years later. So this episode becomes a waiting game. When will the inevitable happen? And what will explain it all?
So we begin to wait. I don’t think I did a decent job of talking about what the threat of “Night Terrors” was, and this episode provided another opportunity for that. As we dread the inevitable, we also have to accept that the inevitable is mental illness. For The Next Generation, that kind of illness â€“ or a metaphor for it â€“ is often the worst possible thing that can happen to a person. That’s not to say that there aren’t terrible things that come along with mental illness. I’d like to not be depressed all the time; it would be really cool to not have PTSD! But before we find out that the people who visited Tarchannen are infected with parasites, I honestly thought that this episode was going to have a transformation similar to the previous episode. It’s a very common trope in science fiction. And fantasy. Well, genre fiction as a whole. Okay, most fiction in general.
This isn’t to say that we should want mental illness, becauseâ€¦ no. That’s not the point. But as Leijten begins to experience more and more paranoia, I couldn’t help but see this same pattern arise in the episode. Now, admittedly, this commentary fits way better in “Night Terrors” than this, since “Identity Crisis” is much more like a Cronenberg-esque body horror episode. I accept that! It’s just that I thought about this while watching “Identity Crisis” and realized I could comment on two things at once. I think there’s still a similarity between both of these stories anyway, since they deal with the fear of transformation and human identity.
Of course, there’s a physical aspect to this episode that’s utterly horrifying to watch because it involves a violation of consent. These people are controlled by a parasite that gradually turns them a different species. I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be, especially when one is in the midst of that process. Are you still human if your body is slowly changing as it does here? Can the process be reversed?
I think “Identity Crisis” works as well as it does because it’s such a visually unsettling story. From the early scene where Lt. Hickman dies to the creepy ways in which Leijten and Geordi transform, this is the kind of story that works really well in this medium. I mean, just think about that scene where Geordi discovers the shadow being in the holodeck? NO. THANK. YOU. That’s where this episode totally knocks it out of the park for me. I don’t know that it’s all that different than some of what we’ve seen in the previous three seasons, but sometimes, the little things help elevate these kind of episodes out of the ordinary. The make-up and costuming were top-notch, and it’s a bittersweet story. Plus, it’s always nice to get a bit of a backstory for the main characters, and if anything, I learned a bit more about Geordi because of all this.
The video for “Identity Crisis” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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