Another episode autopsy! And also the first that isn’t a two-part episode. As usual, some massive spoilers in this one.
In this episode, the crew contract a virus that first appeared in the Original Series that gets the crew drunk. Overall, they make very few scientific statements (unlike later series) and it’s difficult to make incorrect statements when everything is kept vague.
Regardless of that caveat, the explanation for Data’s intoxication doesn’t sit well with me. It’s explained that he has a “bloodstream” carrying synthetic compounds around his body, thus can be intoxicated. For that to have a real effect, he would have had to have been created with chemoreceptors for those intoxicants, and specific behaviour modifiers to make him appear/act drunk. That’s how humans become intoxicated, after all. Was Dr Soong having a bit of a laugh when he designed/created Data?
On a longer term basis, Data acts more human and seems to feel some emotion when intoxicated. If his goal is to be more human and experience emotions, couldn’t he just swig a few vodkas and get wasted? Even if it’s just a similar compound to alcohol, haven’t they got enough information to synthesise it and experiment?
Although only the second episode, already three important things are established about Wesley Crusher. Firstly, he’s a genius. Secondly, he will constantly threaten the ship with destruction. Third, he will constantly save the ship from destruction. In this case, his “saving” the ship is only true if you take his idea to let Data repair engineering count. He had more opportunity to save the ship by not letting the drunk engineer take out all the chips and play with them, and by not blocking access to engineering with a homemade force-field.
I find it interesting to work out how computers of the future work, and whether the original designers of Star Trek were trying to imagine how different computers informed by alien technology might function or whether they just didn’t know how computers function. In the 80s, that was a reasonable assumption.
The fact that the ship can’t operate because a bunch of isolinear chips were pulled out of the computer in engineering suggests that machines have moved back towards programmable chips, such as are found in single-purpose machines like microwaves, dishwashers, calculators, etc. In contrast, home computers are general purpose machines with different software running on them. As a software developer, it is hard to get my head around the physicality of programming in the Star Trek universe. I deal with things that are intangible, whereas in Star Trek a program can be hobbled by pulling a real bit of it out with your hands.
Software nowadays can be written in a modular fashion that looks like the isolinear chip model, except it doesn’t have any real components. It’s possible to have dynamically loaded and unloaded software modifications from single files, and why not have these files on a USB stick? If it was written the right way, a program could watch for new USB devices and automatically load (relevant) additions that are plugged in. This would obviously be a major security problem (you’d want an “Are you sure?” prompt, at least) but it would mean that you can modify your computer by plugging in and removing USB sticks. They’re like chunky isolinear chips, really.
There were two moments I thought about computer security – the environmental controls being set to fatally cold on the Tsiolkovsky, and vital isolinear chips being pulled out of engineering. Then again, in both cases, compromised officers with a high level of access were present to override any computer queries. Engineers should be able to pull out isolinear chips, although perhaps they should have a locking clip for more critical components that makes it a little harder. “Removing this chip will disable forward propulsion. Are you sure?” Click. “Removing this chip will disable positive yaw adjustments. Are you sure?” Click. “Removing this chip will disable negative yaw adjustments. Are you sure?” Oh screw this I’m too drunk to carry on.
Given that the ship’s internal sensors can presumably detect death or near-death conditions, maybe it should include some kind of failsafe to prevent a crew compromised in this manner from hurting themselves or others. If it detects that someone has died or is about to die, it adjusts the environmental controls back towards “not lethal”? Other than the blanket argument “you’d always want to have the option” to deal with alien invasions, viruses, a storage space for strange interplanetary phenomena, I can’t think of a good reason why the computer should allow someone to set environmental controls to kill another. Even if not overriding the environmental conditions, perhaps a sort of deadman’s switch where a person near death will be beamed to sickbay (or suitable alternative, if sickbay doesn’t qualify).
They searched the database for “showering in clothes” and “aberrant behaviour”. Seriously, that must be a massive dataset to scan through! Storage on the Enterprise must be completely a non-issue, since they apparently are able to store every log and incident that happened on every ship, colony and starbase for the last couple of centuries. I guess I’ll get a better idea of how this is handled as the series progresses…
I don’t think that Picard had too much to do with things in this episode, since the ship was essentially held hostage by Wesley until the doctor could develop a cure (as long as Picard left her alone). Sisko could probably have held his own against the virus as long as Kasidy Yates wasn’t on the ship, although he may have been found playing baseball instead of handling the situation. Quark would likely be the one to threaten the station, and Bashir may have had trouble leaving Dax, Leeta or the nice Bajoran travellers alone for long enough to create a cure… but would his genetic enhancements give him an edge in resisting the effects?
On Voyager, Janeway and Chakotay could probably keep their hands off of each other. If Seven of Nine was present, she would either shrug off the effects completely thanks to the Borg nanoprobes or her Borg implants would not deal with the virus at all and she’ll spend all the episode in sickbay. The Doctor’s only problem would be keeping intoxicated revellers out of the sickbay long enough to synthesise a cure, since he definitely wouldn’t be disadvantaged by the virus at all.
Would anyone even see a difference in Kirk if he were affected by the virus?
Wow, I didn’t think I’d have anything to say here. Guess I can whine about anything. I’m going to try and keep track of some stats while I do this, partly because there are certain things that everyone knows about long-running shows like this, or seem like recurring plot points. It’ll be interesting to see if they really are as repetitive as they seem. There’s a couple of new ones here (quite obviously this early in the series!):
- Times Wesley threatened the ship: 1
- Times Wesley saved the ship: 1
- Number of viruses contracted: 1