Memory Alpha Entry
I admit that even though I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was very young, I only remember seeing 10, maybe 15 episodes at most throughout it's entire seven year run. Quite odd considering the episodes and re-runs were readily available. I bring this up because one of the earliest episodes I can remember watching was "Contagion". I was maybe five or six at the time watching it with my folks and thinking how cool it was that there were two Enterprises in one episode..... than it just spontaneously blew up.
After watching it on the Season Two BluRay set, I find myself feeling very troubled watching the scenes with Picard talking to Captain Varley on the Yamato, I kept thinking to myself "When is it going to blow? When is it going to blow?". Than I realized that this scene was more intense than I actually remembered. When Worf says theres a build up of energy in the engineering section and Picard tries desperately to inform Varley about it, you can barely make out Varley sitting in his chair totally unaware about what's going on in his own ship. I kept saying "Beam them out, now! NOW!" but it was too late.
The Yamato being destroyed I still think is one of the more darker moments in TNG especially when you watch it knowing that everyone onboard the ship is going to die. A Galaxy Class Starship is a pretty important ship and not all that common. I've got to give the episode a lot of credit for having this actually mean something to the characters, including Wesley of all people. Despite Gene Roddenberry's insistence that we don't mourn the dead, having Wesley talk to Picard about it is probably one of the best uses of Wesley's character in the series so far. We finally get to see something about him that he's not prepared for, and he doesn't simply brush it aside like it's nothing. Even Picard almost says something important about the concept of humanity not being moved by the loss of even a single life. I guess Gene was on vacation when this episode was made.
This episode also introduced us to the barely touched upon Iconian civilization. The idea of a very advanced race who could travel anywhere in the galaxy by merely stepping through a portal was quite interesting. Why did this advance civilization just die out when they had so much at their disposal to survive? Could an alien race we've seen in other series like DS9 and Voyager be descendants of the Iconians? I'll always miss that story potential.
This also marks the second major appearance of the Romulans and thankfully it's not in a terrible episode. While Sub Commander Taris plays the typical bad guy who doesn't have any real power, she does come off as an intimidating foe who you'd be thankful was forced into these circumstances. It always baffles me as to why the show creators thought that Taris died in this episode when we clearly see her Warbird regain power and leave the planet's orbit in the end. It's one of those many "Did they even watch the episode?" fumbles that we will be getting a lot of later in the series.
Parts involving the Enterprise malfunctioning and continuing to get worse was also handled well, though I think Geordi's struggle in the turbo lift comes off more comedic than scary.
If there's one major complaint I have towards this episode, it's Picard's behavior in dealing with the Romulans in the end. Picard pretty much decides to leave the system and let the Romulans die.
PICARD: Bridge, Picard.
DATA [OC]: Yes, Captain.
PICARD: Take us out of here. The Romulan ship is set to auto-destruct and they can't deactivate it.
RIKER: Wait, sir. Open hailing frequencies.
O'BRIEN: Open, sir.
RIKER: Commander Taris, prepare to receive a transmission from our Chief Engineer. He'll instruct you how to purge your system.
TARIS [OC]: Agreed, Enterprise. Standing by.
DATA: Commander, your transmission has been received and acknowledged.
Wow. Picard, the main hero of the show was perfectly willing to let every single Romulan on that Warbird die. Just like that. Riker actually has to circumvent Picard's orders just to give the Romulans a chance to survive. This is the same guy who in the very next season will be begging Worf to save the life of a dying Romulan who openly said he would rather die than get help from Worf.
A very well put together episode that has some very well done moments of tension and suspense that you normally don't get out Star Trek. Characters actually feel more like characters rather than caricatures, and Wesley is actually relatable for once.
This is the first time we see Picard ordering his famous hot Earl Grey tea from the replicator. Unfortunately even though it's the first time he does so, the replicator gives him a plant instead. Quite an appropriate moment since even though Picard is turning into the Picard we know from the later seasons, he's not there yet.