the one with the Nanites

I ended up watching Evolution on WGN late last night. I hadn't seen it since it first aired, so I'd forgotten that it was more commonly known to me as "the one with the Nanites."

When I see TNG on the guide, I usually click over and watch for a second before I go back to watching NHL on the Fly, but when I the picture resolved itself, and the first thing I saw and thought was, "Oh God. The Helmet Hair," (I even joked about it on Twitter), I didn't change the station; I just set the remote down and watched … and I felt incredibly happy while I did. I don't know how I did it, but I was able to mentally flip between watching my teenage self acting on a TV show, and just watching Star Trek like a regular person who loves it.

Evolution is actually quite good, and we're all quite good in it. During the commercials, I tried to recall specific memories about filming it, but all I could get were some very vague, dreamlike recollections that were so faint, I'm not even sure they were real and not just my brain making things up so I'd stop entering search queries and taxing its server.

Some memories (of the Future, durr) were crystal clear: how great it was to have Gates back, how excited I was to have an episode where Wesley wasn't a weenie, and how cool it was to finally have scenes together where we interacted as mother and son in a believable way.

The strongest memories, though, were off-set, and more tied to that time in my life then they were to that actual episode: painting 40K minis in my dressing room between scenes, going to game cons with my friends to play with those minis, and driving down to the Forum after work to watch the Kings, listening to Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and The Cure the whole way. When the episode was over, I felt this weird combination of joy and sadness that I can't quite find the words to accurately describe. I guess "wistful nostalgia" probably comes closest to how I felt, but even that feels inadequate.

You know, I really hated the Helmet Hair (to this day, if I even smell Shaper hairspray I feel like I'm going to gag) and the grey spacesuit wasn't the coolest thing in the world, especially when everyone else got to wear those awesome two-piece spacesuits, but if wearing The Helmet Hair and The Iron Maiden were the price of admission to working with people I love on a show that I love, I'm glad I got to pay it.

34 thoughts on “the one with the Nanites”

  1. As a 15 year old girl, I wasn’t much for sci-fi shows, but I knew of you, and was a fan of your prior work, so I figured I’d give it a shot. To my surprise, I loved it. Not just watching someone my age on a tv show… I genuinely looked forward to watching TNG every week. I continued to watch after you left. I know you hated the grey spacesuit, but it didn’t represent anything to us, as fans, other than Wesley’s uniform.

  2. I remember this episode as being classic TV Trek (‘When does intelligent become intelligent and what are our obligations when that happens?’). Those were always my fave episodes.
    But really, I remember this episode because of the line, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here: ‘They’re not intelligent life. They’re manufactured in a factory in Dakar, Senegal!’ I had recently returned from Senegal on a student exchange trip and was happy that that wonderful West African city was going to play an important part in 24th century Federation technology.

  3. Well, Wil I enjoy your blogs..I went back to read some of them (I dont have time to read them all!) Such self reflection! Its really wierd to think that years later long after I have watched all these episodes many times each… Im reading a blog of a guy who played a kid who played an astronaut on a star trek…(tropic thunder reference).
    It is interesting to step back and see Star Trek (especially TNG) for what it is. I take the Gene Roddenberry view of Star Trek…Wagon Train to the Stars…Hope for the Future .. attitude…
    Maybe as an actor actually acting IN the episodes you and the other TNG crew can have more “oh god its just a job” kind of take on it…overall I think Star Trek TNG affected people in very positive ways…even poor ol’ Wesley contributed to the overall STAR TREK TNG mystique… and made it that less than perfect thing…which is why people love it.
    Look at the new STAR TREK film… too perfect…too honed… too contrived…its blatently obvious it didnt grow it was meticulously produced…TNG grew…its easy to see from start to finish…the direction wasnt always straight ahead.
    Some of the TNG episodes were cheesy. Some were dramatic. Some touching. Some stupid. Some far out in left field HUH type. But someone once said “The whole [can be] greater than the sum of its parts.”
    Wesley was part of the whole…maybe not the greatest part…but hey helmet hair….adds to the flavor..i mean would a mohawk been any better? :)
    I think people (like you) appreciated and even felt a connection with the cast, yes even Wesley, and I think when the last episode aired in 1994…alot of people were sad. Even tho it ended on one of the coolest ending shows I can think of.
    You were part of something unique…a show that touched people on many levels…artistically, emotionally, creatively, and more.
    I appreciate TNG … I have no regrets saying that. I doubt another cast will pull off something like in the Star Trek universe anytime soon.

  4. Whoa, that’s so cool/weird! (or not…) I just saw that rerun on the local UHF station last night, too (it’s not watch it that frequently) and was like, “Oh, hey, I used to like to read WWdN occasionally; I wonder what that site’s up to.” Hey!

  5. Wil, awesome twitters Christmas eve.
    I had a lot of fun December 24th eve because I was stuck by the snow..and I was watching 24 hours of a Christmas Story as I was net surfing etc. I noticed on twitter you had been…putting quotes from the film…after I had put a quote on twitter myself! I got a kick out of it because you kept going. Good show!

  6. One thing I’ve always wondered . . . having done so many episodes, so long ago, how can you seperate each memory of the future from the other??? I’m suprised everything’s not just one big TNG memory of the future.

  7. It's a process of elimination sometimes, combined with a careful search of other people's recollections from around the same time to sort of fact-check myself.

  8. If I were forced to remember every individual week from my teen years, I’d probably end up a reclusive, asocial, awkward … oh, wait …

  9. One of the interesting things about this site for me is that we are the same age and, despite our vastly different lives, have many of the same backgrounds to memory. So while you were listening to Depeche Mode and filming Star Trek, I was listening to Depeche Mode and watching Star Trek. While you were hating your helmet hair, I was hating your helmet hair. It’s interesting to see the point of view of someone my own age who was part of my cultural touchstones. In fact, I’ve often suspected that a very big downside to a life such as yours is that you can’t have yourself as a cultural touchstone. So what equates for you?
    As for the one with the Nanites, I’ve always placed it in one of my top 10 TNG episodes. In many ways, it served as a watershed moment for the series. The uniforms were improved, McFadden was back for good, Wesley was flirting with the idea of failure rather than constant perfection, and was developing a personality. The episode also captures a certain shift in style and pacing that I absolutely loved.
    Oh, and Blackhawks rule.

  10. The third season of TNG was, in my opinion, one of the best overall seasons of that series. I own all of the TNG eps on DVD, but if/when I see any 3rd-season eps on cable, I still drop whatever I’m doing to watch — although “A Matter of Perspective” does get a bit repetitive after a while. :)

  11. I totally geeked out at the fact that I was watching “Evolution” at the same time you were. 😀
    It’s definitely one of my favorite episodes. I thought the storyline was great. Also, I’m a Scrubs fan and I love seeing Ken Jenkins deliver lines like “Captain, I have been inspecting the egg for the last 20 years. You may lay it when ready.”

  12. I know that feeling of nostalgia all too well these days. TNG is really a blast from the past when I watch it these days…kind of be nice to go back to an age that didn’t require so much thinking.
    Helmet hair huh?? That wasn’t as bad as the mullet now was it? Hope that NEVER becomes in again:)

  13. Somehow I missed this episode–rarely watching TNG on first runs, I found myself avidly seeking it out over the last decade in syndication. Wonder how this post will warp my viewing, when I finally do see it?
    BUT that isn’t really why I’m posting. Having followed you on Twitter and read the blog for some months now (at the recommendation of the beautiful and terrible Dread Val T.) I recognize that you are a Force to be reckoned with. Neil Gaiman and others are reTweeting the following regarding Spider and Jeanne Robinson; I am hoping that you are of a mind to do the same.
    RT @hollyblack: RT @docbrite: RT Signal boost for Spider & Jeanne Robinson. Please RT, (via @MikeMarano)
    These pleas are (sadly) not so uncommon, but hey…it’s SPIDER AND JEANNE ROBINSON!! How *much* do we collectively owe them, anyway? Just sayin’ (and, coincidentally, reread Stardance just yesterday.)
    Thanks for the space, and your time. Take care.

  14. I too geeked out that I was watching the episode at the same time.
    “The Nanites” is also one of my favorite episodes, for many of the reasons stated above. Plus we get to see Picard flummoxed by someone (always fun) and I just get a kick out of episodes where the adults talk about the kind of future Wesley will have, knowing that in just a few short years, he’ll be a wave of light. They never see THAT coming!
    Hope you and your family have a very happy New Years, Wil.

  15. @wilw
    i liked that ep very much as well, & also haven’t seen it almost as long (oy vey!)
    minor error in the text that needs fixing:
    “but when I the picture resolved itself,”

  16. Weird synchronicity. During kiddie nap time today my husband turns to me and says, “I feel like watching some Next Generation – season 2 or 3?” I left it up to him, and next thing I know, I’m watching “Evolution”. Then I wander over here to look at my RSS feeds and…bam! Blog entry about watching “Evolution”.
    It’s a pretty good episode. It explores some great themes of morality and personal responsibility, and I also remember being really glad to see Dr. Crusher back in place of Pulaski when watching this the first time. :)

  17. Ah, Evolution. Now when I think about it I have this ‘cut scene’ of Riker and Picard leaning on Wesley for his experiment having gone awry–and Wesley responding ‘I have a science requirement, you MORONS!’ Second thing I think of is the big ‘stand by’ sign right next to Wesley’s sleeping head. I always expect it to finish with ‘me’, and always wonder if the director put that in with that purpose.

  18. The Helmet Hair and Iron Maiden could have been better–and in my opinion, they were better in second season. The jumpsuit was slightly more blue, and the hair slightly less ‘done’ looking.

  19. This is completely bizarre because I just saw that episode for the first time TONIGHT. The new movie got me re-interested and I’ve worked my way up to season 3. I then had to re-look up this website and there it is; the episode I just finished! Now it appears I’m not the only one that had this happen… proof that you did great work on a great show.
    EDIT: Realized I need to explain why this is bizarre for me. I didn’t see it on TV, I’m watching the DVDs in order.

  20. I thought it was a local station but it must be national. That same episode was shown here in Georgia. They’ve rotated back to Seasons 1 & 2 the last several weeks, after having gone through the later seasons and the finale.
    I’ve been struck at how “off” everything seems to be compared to the later seasons. The Worf, Data and Wesley characters seem odd in comparison. Whoever wrote your scenes the first two years seemed determined to make Wesley Crusher as awkward a kid as possible.
    The show definitely improves starting with Season 3 (especially Wesley and Data). I guess there were new writers that season. Whatever it was they changed, it had an obvious effect.

  21. I never liked Dr.Pulaski as a character. Was so pleased when the good Dr.Crusher returned. Weirdly despite being the same age as you I wasn’t into Depeche Mode till my late 20’s! I was more into Marillion back then. Watched ‘Shades of Grey’ last night. Noted the grey must have been in reference to your outift 😛 .

  22. A thought … when it comes to jumpsuits and hair, you weren’t the only one screwed by TNG’s constume designers. Have you ever talked to Marina Sirtis about the stuff she had to wear? She really was far worse off than you in many instances.

  23. I rewatched Evolution that same night. One of my favorite eps. Been watching a lot of Trek reruns these days. It’s like comfort food. Oh, and for the record, I always thought the Helmet Hair and grey spacesuit were cool. Plus, if there was no grey spacesuit then there’d be no amazing moment when Wesley strolls out on to the bridge, beaming, finally in an actual starfleet uniform. We got to see Wesley earn that uniform. I find that very cool as we never got to see how the other characters earned theirs.

  24. Weird, I just watched this episode today before reading your post the “I think I’ve made a horrible mistake.” line amused me as I translated it in my brain to “Accidentally creating a lifeform as setting it loose on expensive Star Fleet flag ship FTL!”

  25. It’s cool to follow along on your thoughts on the episode… from the inside so to speak.
    Unfortunately, I think most of us get that wistful nostalgia in bigger doses as time goes on.

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