Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S05E14 – Conundrum

In the fourteenth episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation, the crew struggles to cope with a loss of a very specific form of their memory. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of memory loss and consent / sexual consent.

This is an odd episode, one that’s well acted and strangely subtle at times, but holy shit, that ending is awful. The story itself is unnerving, and I think “Conundrum” allows the writers to explore the identity of some of these characters. But then we get a horrible dose of one of my absolute least favorite tropes ever, and it always seems to pop up in episodes like this. If characters lose their memory or if their fundamental identity changes, then SEX! Sex must happen! And it is always played as a humorous thing, because nothing in the world is funnier to writers than forcing two people to have sex who would otherwise never consent to such a thing.

Y’all: THE NEXT GENERATION DID THIS ALREADY. Didn’t the fandom universally hate “The Naked Now”? Didn’t we already have Tasha Yar and Data hooking up without being able to consent? As far as I understand it, it’s not like the fans’ dislike of this was a secret. And yet, here we are, with another story about people being compromised in some way, then having sex even though their instincts should have told them, and then everyone laughs it off! Because SOMEONE HONESTLY THINKS THIS IS HILARIOUS. How is this funny??? Riker could have deeply offended Troi. (Though, to her credit, she deals with this as best as possible given the circumstances.) He could have irreparably damaged his professional relationship with Ro Laren. There’s a host of ethical issues that are left utterly unexplored and unexamined, and it’s enraging to think of them. Are you telling me that there’s no possible misconduct here? None? Nothing?

It’s lazy writing, created just to generate laughs from the type of people who find this funny. And while there are certainly elements of this episode that are fascinating and entertaining, the storytelling shortcuts we do get are ultimately distracting. I think Worf’s story is about the only one that’s truly incredible, especially since without context, he assumes himself as the leader of the Enterprise. It speaks to his core identity as someone who views themselves as powerful and aggressive enough to lead others.

But what does that say of others? Without the context of his greater identity, does Riker just fuck anything he’s attracted to? (Yes. Clearly.) What about the other crew members? I loved getting to see how moral and dependable Picard was, since it spoke to the kind of person he was. But practically everyone else here just drifts around, trying to be useful, and none of them get the treatment that the other characters do. (The whole joke where Data is a bartender just makes no sense to me, y’all. I kept trying to understand it, but… what?)

There’s a part of me that appreciates MacDuff’s presence here, but like the other elements of this story, there’s no deeper exploration of who he was or who the Sutterers were. Which is fine – I’m okay with one-note antagonists. I think there’s something deviously fun about sticking him in the story as an unexplained commander because he’s like a living MacGuffin in a way. Hell, his name even sounds like the device! He works – to a point – as a way to unravel the mystery, especially once he begins to push Worf towards some type of mutiny. I suspected something was going on here, but is that enough? We never see the Lyssians at all; apparently they’re not important to the story, and we never find out who the Sutterers are either. I think there’s an attempt at a deep story, but the treatment of it all feels so superficial, which is a shame. I don’t think this is a bad episode at all, and any story where Deanna Troi is the moral center of the drama makes me happy. (And she’s brilliant here, for what it’s worth.) It’s just plagued by some very bizarre writing decisions. I admit that the sex plot makes me feel so gross that I want to hate all of this, but I recognize there are other aspects to “Conundrum” that are pretty damn good. I just wanted a better episode, I suppose.

The video for “Conundrum” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at Borderlands Books, Book Riot Live, and Windycon this fall! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Kings, season 1 of Sense8, season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Star Trek, The Next Generation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.