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Star Trek TNG - Season 5 - Episode 14

Star Trek TNG - 5x14 - Conundrum

Originally Aired: 1992-2-17

Mass amnesia strikes the Enterprise crew. [DVD]

My Rating - 2

Fan Rating Average - 6.24

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 19 3 6 7 20 10 14 38 35 29 19

- How could Data lose at chess? To Troi? I mean come on...


Remarkable Scenes
- Worf proclaiming himself captain.
- Data the bartender.
- Worf humbling himself.
- Ro Laren and Troi both pursuing Riker.
- Data speculating on his origins.
- Riker being confronted by his women in the end.

My Review
This episode doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If the alien memory eraser guy had such control over which information the crew could remember, had forgotten, and could retrieve, why didn't he just make himself captain? Or replace the entire bridge crew? Not that this story is technically impossible in the world of Trek, it's just absurd. I only give zeros to stories so impossible that they have to be dropped from canon. This story isn't anywhere near that bad, so it gets one point by default and an extra point for the excellent humor.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Pete Miller on 2006-04-22 at 8:50pm:
    I didn't care for this one. I agree that it is absurd. And with all due respect to the writers, it's extremely predictable to the average trek fan. Once I saw the MacDuff character, I thought for a moment that it was some redshirt, but then the three pips on the collar, and the whole plot came into focus.

    Also, it's very cheap that Guinan just happens to be absent from this episode. Judging from previous episodes, she would undoubtably know exactly what is going on. But then I guess there would be no episode :)

    The one thing I did enjoy was worf and riker kicking that guy's ass at the end.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2006-05-15 at 6:32pm:
    Conundrum is classic Star Trek. The characters get to explore themselves in a way that has never been done. The enemy is powerful, smart, and desperate. There is fun too, as the crew tries to figure out who is in charge.

    Unlike other episodes, it is hard to find problems with the science in this one. Everything seems plausible to an extent.

    The only down part is that Riker comes across as a male pig. Regardless, this episode is a definite 9.
  • From Wolfgang on 2006-07-11 at 8:28am:
    It is unbelievable, that Data loses his memories as well and no single alien aboard the ship could retain its memories.
  • From DSOmo on 2007-09-27 at 4:17am:
    After the first encounter with the Lysians, Picard tells MacDuff his doubts about their mission. The fact that the Federation greatly outmatches the Lysians troubles Picard. Then, at the end of the episode, Picard seems to indicate that the Lysians and the Sartaaran have approximately the same level of weapons technology. If the Sartaaran are at that level, how could MacDuff so easily overcome the shields of the Enterprise? The entire episode gives us several hints that the Sartaaran are very powerful. At the end of the show, Riker expresses it best when he says, "With all the power that MacDuff had to alter our brain chemistry and manipulate the computer, it's hard to believe he needed the Enterprise." Very well said!
  • From djb on 2008-04-06 at 10:23pm:
    My reaction to this episode is twofold.

    First, the scifi. It's not the best I've seen, and that's an understatement. Somehow a race who can't muster a photon torpedo can get around a starship's shields and cause its crew to lose their memories? AND falsify the ship's records? AND plant a spy on the ship, perfectly disguised as a human? I don't buy it. I also thought the resolution was rather abrupt; after the climactic scene on the bridge with "MacDuff" going nuts, all of a sudden everything's back to normal! That being said, I did like how MacDuff was introduced: no menacing music or evil glares (as in "Violations". Just another officer on the bridge, with (!) three pips? Hmm. I do like how the erroneous war plot kind of sneaks in on you; first we're just trying to recover from amnesia, then ! Who's this guy MacDuff? The federation is at war??! Slow down!

    The other aspect of this episode, which I enjoyed immensely, was the character-driven aspect. As was first explored a bit in "Clues" (which also had some gaping holes in the plot), how do we act when we lose our memory? In this case, every memory of who we are or who others are?

    This episode had so many interesting moments: Ro figures out she's the pilot, but I like how Picard doesn't assume command. True to how he acts normally, he accepts authority and wields it well, but doesn't crave it or flaunt it. Here, he doesn't assume authority until the computer tells them he's the captain. Worf, on the other hand, seems to have a desire for leadership, but also a strong sense of duty. He assumes command but immediately relinquishes it when he finds he's in error. He also is loyal to the captain even though MacDuff attempts to play on his warrior sensibilities. I found myself wondering which way he was going to go, which is consistent with his character. It turns out Riker and Ro have some attraction for each other under the "battle of wills" facade! Troi's "emotional memory" of her relationship with Riker is fitting, and the drastic difference in how she and Ro approach Riker is quite interesting. Poor Riker feels like an idiot at the end: Ro is amused, and Troi is pissed off (Sirtis plays that "pissed-off smile" extremely well), and it will always be the elephant in the room when the three of them are around each other again.

    I can't help but wonder what I would do in such a situation; it would surely give me some insight as to what parts of my personality are more conditioned and happen naturally, without the aid of previous memories; and what parts are learned and kept in place by memories. Ideally, of course, the more desirable traits I try to engender in myself eventually become rote and would survive amnesia, but it's impossible to accurately tell unless amnesia or something like it actually occurs.

    So, good character development, so-so scifi. I think the basic premise, mass amnesia, is plausible, so it's somewhat redeemed by that. I'd give it a 5 or 6.
  • From JRPoole on 2008-08-06 at 11:06am:
    Uggh. There are some redeeming points here. The Riker/Ro/Troi stuff is funny, Data's turn at bartending was cool, and the silent reactions of the bridge crew finally learning their names and ranks is well-acted and in character for everyone.

    This is yet another episode in which Riker is revealed to be the complete douchebag that he really is.
  • From 2 Of 14 on 2008-08-21 at 12:48pm:
    Addressing the criticism that MacDuff could just have made himself captain, he might have thought it would look a bit silly having such a young person in command whilst the much older Picard was a lesser rank. More importantly, he would need to have removed Picard’s uniform or removed a circle from Picard’s collar to make it look convincing. As nobody was unconscious during the memory loss, this was not possible.

  • From mem@who on 2011-09-19 at 12:13am:
    Wow, I was surprised to see how low the reviewer scored this episode, but not surprised by the high fan rating.

    I think the episode explores an interesting concept and does a fairly good job, with plenty of good humor, as mentioned. It's interesting how different some of the interpersonal dynamics were simply because of a different context - no established history, no prejudices, and only vague, tentative acceptance of rank and status. An interesting study, from a psychological/philosophical perspective.

    On the other hand, the whole thing is definitely full of absurd elements. That the alien didn't make himself captain is the first and most serious, as the reviewer mentioned. The problems with Data are another. Besides losing at chess, which certainly raised an eyebrow, Data's probability calculations should've probably deduced exactly what the heck was going on. Everyone started getting suspicious when it was revealed just how selective the memory loss and computer failures were. Data should've been much more than suspicious - he should've presented the Captain with the low probabilities of this being a random bi-product of an alien attack, versus the high probability that they were being intentionally manipulated.

    At this point it would've been reasonable to "break radio silence" and contact Starfleet, especially given the low level of resistance they encountered and the lack of any credible threat.

    Those are the main flaws, and they are pretty serious.

    I think it would've also been interesting to see the hidden desires of some of the other crew members. Ro Laren and Riker had a steamy affair. Data mused about belonging to a race and culture of artificial lifeforms. Troi pursued Riker. Wolf tried to assume command. Those were all interesting to watch. What about Geordi, Picard, Crusher...O'Brien? Would've been cool to see them act differently or express some latent desires.

    So, not without its faults, some serious, but with plenty of redeeming elements. I'd give it like a 6 or 7, which is about the fan average.
  • From philthy animal on 2011-10-17 at 7:03pm:
    I really like this episode. There's some great character stuff in there that was allowed to be ecplored in a unique way due to the circumstances of the premise; for instance, Picard maintaining an air of quiet authority even as he seems to relinquish control to Worf. It's very true to his character in general and the point that the probe leaves the abiity to discharge one's duties in tact. In Picard's case, his leadership qualities.

    Also the chemistry between Riker and Ro once their mutual animosity was removed was enjoyable to watch. And let's face it, we can all diss Riker as much as we like but who can honestly say they wouldn't relish two highly attractive women competing for their attention? Plus it's pretty well established if not ever directly stated, that Trek takes place in a future of great sexual liberation, free of the stigma of 'pigs' and 'sluts'.

    Finally, and at the risk of being labelled a male pig, it would take a far better man than me to resist Ro's offer of a sleepless night...
  • From Daniel on 2014-01-27 at 1:28pm:
    First of all, to address your statement that Data could not lose at chess - to Troi - that is explained correctly by Troi when she says "chess isn't just a game of ploys and gambits, it's a game of intuition." As an empathic Betazoid, Troi must have a highly evolved intuition, whereas Data has not mastered human intuition. While I like the premise of placing the crew in a crisis situation after being stripped of their identities and memory to see how they might respond, I see a certain flaw in the story logic - aside from the many flaws already pointed out by other comments herein. The problem I see in this episode is the opening set-up; first, the green scanning beam affects Data, but not Troi or anyone else in Ten Forward. Troi can clearly see the scan and its effect, therefore, she should have immediately warned Picard. Then, another green scan sweeps over the whole bridge crew, and only then does Commander MacDuff appear on the bridge. Even if the ship's computer was affected by the scan, where it had no "voice interface", it still had the necessary data to manage all shipboard operations. Therefore, wouldn't the ship's computer have immediately recognized the presence of an alien crew member (MacDuff) and report it with some kind of warning? Even so, we know that, at least, Troi was not scanned or affected immediately. Perhaps, she could have warned the others of this scan, and she might have known MacDuff was not human (with her empathic abilities). But, the storyline dismissed her (and Data) from the rest of the story, focusing instead on only the bridge crew. If the computer could not display crew information, how did Worf (after assuming command) know to address Dr. Crusher as "doctor" when she came onto the bridge from the turbo lift the first time? Then, there's the whole premise of MacDuff... As pointed out in another comment here, it does tend to bring about the old premise that the crew member in the red suit is the one to die or be the alien. So, it was no surprise to any viewer that MacDuff was out of place... Especially if you noticed that his appearance on the bridge only occurs after the scan. It may have been a better episode if they had instead used a regular crew member and made the alien presence take over that crew member, similar to the episode in which the Romulans reprogram Geordi to act as an assassin, or in any other episode when an alien presence possesses the mind and body of a crew member. Though alien possession of a crew member has been done many times in Star Trek stories, it is a premise that works well, if written well. The trick is not to use a new and never-seen-before crew member... And not have that new crew member actually be the alien.
  • From Kethinov on 2014-01-28 at 6:45pm:
    Chess isn't about intuition. It's about math. That's why computers are now capable of defeating even the best chess players in the world. Data shouldn't be able to lose to Troi, period.
  • From Axel on 2015-03-29 at 1:14pm:
    I don't think it's that implausible the Sartaarans would be so advanced in manipulating brain chemistry but lack the technology to make a powerful starship. Technology is driven by a lot of factors. The Inca built one of the most advanced systems of agriculture in world history, but never came to invent the wheel. We think of the wheel as a simple invention, but the Inca simply never had the need for it to the extent others did. The medieval Japanese first acquired and then later abandoned gunpowder because it just didn't take hold. There are all kinds of reasons why a society might have huge gaps in levels of technology. This TNG episode is a bit of a stretch but I don't think it makes the episode unbelievable.

    The premise still made for an exciting plot, and some humor thrown in as well. The main problem was the addition of another senior officer, which did make things a little obvious. I agree it would've been more interesting to see what would've happened if he made himself captain.
  • From ChristopherA on 2020-01-15 at 1:27am:
    I quite like this episode, I like the concept of losing your memory and being told you are on a mission to kill enemies you can’t even remember having any reason to fight. The setup is a little hard to believe but the exploration of the concept is cool.

    I may be biased, though, as I was quite lucky in the way I first watched this episode. By some fluke, this was the first episode I watched after having skipped many previous episodes, so I actually wasn’t sure whether MacDuff was a real crewmember or not, which added a lot to the mystery.
  • From Ensign Ro bummer on 2021-08-08 at 11:25am:
    Was the space station at the end the guardian of the Edo?

    The Ro-Riker thing was not surprising, he likes strong women who take what they want! The only one he ever turned down was that submissive servant girl.

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