The one with the... you know what, you probably don't remember this one. I didn't. It never really made the re-run circuit for some reason, most likely its relatively impersonal plot centered on a curiosity instead of crew drama. The Enterprise checks up on a terraforming project, prompting unnecessarily lengthy explanations of the term's meaning. Then again, the script being written half a decade before Kim Stanley Robinson published Red Mars, the topic may not have been foremost in SciFi fans' minds. Turns out the terraformers delved too greedily and too deep and now a crystalline entity (crystalline entities are a dime a dozen in Star Trek) is after them in retaliation, by means of sabotaging their equipment's programming. Which is cool because in the process we get to see Data dodging laserbeams.
|Seriously, what is with Star Trek and exploding consoles?|
Wow, look at that.
Watching a series in order you stumble across some strange realizations. Late in the first season, across several episodes surrounding this one, it becomes obvious that TNG's special effects budget finally caught up to its ambitions. Backgrounds grow more detailed than monochrome planets in space, the sets look less cardboard-y, the aliens start looking less like Muppets... but even when it's because of a mining laser, explosions in Star Trek still favor control panels for some reason. I swear, you're safer next to an overloading reactor core than a keyboard on this show. Who even needs phasers?
Aside from that, the science in this episode ranks an order of magnitude higher on the scale of plausibility than the usual TNG fare, and though somewhat tediously exposited, the concept of a phototrophic crystalline intelligence living in porous surface clay deposits... well, come on, that's as many (non made up) big words as you'd fit into four or five other episodes combined. I think they even say "hydrostatic" at some point, which is a sure marker of hard science.
All in all, this is what Trekkin' was about. New life? Check. New civilizations? Check. Conveying that adventurous spirit, the feeling that if only you boldly go, something new and unique waits around every corner (or down every gravity well) is the root of the show's concept and what made it such a success. We remember the more dramatic episodes in which various crew members are more personally involved, but what really kept us watching from week to week were the crystalline entities.
Best of all is probably the ending with its reverent tones at life's wondrous variety. Our apologies and respects, indeed. Not every ending needs to be a triumph. Finishing the episode in a grave, respectful self-imposed moratorium on human expansion was just icing on the cake.