“Conundrum” – TNG 5X14

“Conundrum” has a simple and slightly hard-to-swallow plot: an alien wipes the crew’s memory and poses as their incredibly bland First Officer MacDuff, in an attempt to convince the Enterprise crew to use their ship’s advanced weaponry to destroy a rival alien command centre. Sadly for him, he failed to account for Federation principles of open-mindedness, diplomacy and generally not being dicks.

You may remember this episode as “the one where everyone loses their memory and Riker and Ro sleep together” and cringe. But rewatching this episode I was struck by how many cool scenes both Ro and Troi had.

I mean, the episode starts out with Troi beating Data at chess.

Troi stares at Data across the 3D chess board

Data: Intriguing. You have devised a completely unanticipated response to a classic attack. You will checkmate my king in seven moves. 
Troi: Data, chess isn’t just a game of ploys and gambits. It’s a game of intuition. 
Data: You are a challenging opponent, Counsellor.

Next up, Crusher is treating a crewmember who was injured while diving on the holodeck. 

Crusher treating a crewmember

And Ro and Riker are arguing in the turbolift because Riker likes rules and Ro doesn’t like having to get approval to do things better.

Riker and Ro argue

But then memory wiping alien ship comes. 

A green light washes over the bridge

And everything looks the same, but no one can remember who they are. And MacDuff is there being obviously suspicious. You know, dramatic irony is all well and good – let the audience know who the bad guy is and watch the good guys try to figure it out. But MacDuff is so boring that I don’t even care. It’s so obvious they’ll figure it out, and the actor is pretty weak, so he’s only barely menacing.

Imposter on the bridge

Picard: Clearly, we still possess certain skills. It would seem we know how to operate this ship. But our identities have somehow been erased or suppressed.

Riker’s all like, “Oh yeah. I still possess ‘certain skills’.”

Crusher heals the crewmember's shoulder

Although other people are confused about their roles – Data and Troi think Data’s the bartender in Ten Forward, and Worf thinks he must be in command, Crusher figures out most quickly what her job is, when she instinctively treats Kristin’s shoulder injury.

Ro flirts with Riker in the corridor

So onto Ro and Riker. Ro is definitely the one taking the reins in this fling:

Ro: Let’s go. So if everything were back to the way it was supposed to be, what do you think you’d be doing right now?

Riker: I’d be having more fun than searching the ship, I’d imagine.

Ro: Fun?

Riker: Well, with that holodeck we just saw. I think I could conjure up an interesting programme or two.

Ro: Now that’s disappointing.

Riker: Why?

Ro: You don’t strike me as a man who needs a holodeck to have a good time.

Troi stares at Riker with recognition

But when they get to Ten Forward, Troi enters the picture, and for the first time has a feeling of recognition for someone: Riker.

Back on the bridge they are able to access personnel records and they figure out everyone’s roles, well except MacDuff is said to be First Officer. Why he didn’t make himself Captain, I’m really not sure. 

Troi and Data in the conference room

Picard calls a senior staff meeting and as we see, Troi is continuing to put her intuition to good use. She’s the only one who thinks their bogus mission doesn’t pass the smell test, and she argues passionately for them to get more information before proceeding to attack.

Troi: Captain, there’s been a great deal of damage to our computer system. Maybe we’re not getting the correct information. 
Picard: What are you saying? 
Troi: That we get confirmation of this mission from our headquarters. 
Worf: If we use subspace radio we will be detected. 
Troi: There could be thousands of lives at stake. 

Troi invites Riker in

After the meeting, Riker walks her back to her quarters. She asks him to come in and confides that she’s feeling like everything is wrong. He assures her it’s probably just that war always feels wrong. She again mentions his familiarity but seems to realize she shouldn’t act on her feelings for him without more information. She steps back and just gives him a kiss on the cheek before he leaves.

By contrast, when he gets back to his quarters, Ro is there waiting for him. 

Ro and Riker embrace

Ro: I have this funny feeling that maybe I spend most of my off hours here. 
Riker: Really? 
Ro: For all we know, you and I could be married. 
Riker: For all we know, you and I could hate each other. 
Ro: Sort of exciting, isn’t it? We just don’t know. 
Riker: We might regret this. 
Ro: Regret what? Aren’t you being a little presumptuous? Like I said, I just didn’t like the way my quarters were decorated. 
Riker: Maybe we should switch quarters. 
Ro: Maybe we should stay right here and see what happens. 
Riker: What if I snore in my sleep? 
Ro: What makes you think you’re going to get any sleep?

This bothers me not at all. Although Ro is lacking her memories, she is in full command of her judgment and although Riker is also fully consenting, she is very much in the driver’s seat.

It’s really rare in TNG that we see a woman express sexual desire, act on it, and not end up a victim (see Troi’s numerous one-episode boyfriends) or turn out to be the episode villain (e.g. “The Game” or “Angel One”). Ro’s distrust of others and friction with authority figures is totally understandable and justified given her past, but it’s cool to see her for one episode without that burden. It makes her no less tough, but she’s able to have more fun, to go after what she wants and get it.

Anyway, more stuff happens with MacDuff and the aliens the crew thinks they’re fighting, plus Data and Geordi have a cute scene speculating on why Data is unique on the Enterprise. 

Troi reads the dedication in the book of poetry she gave to Will

But back to the amnesiac love triangle, Troi visits Riker’s quarters because she’s still feeling panicky. He whips out his trombone (his musical instrument, what were you thinking?) and a book of Keats’ poetry with a loving inscription from Deanna.

They’re about to kiss when the doorbell chimes and Ro walks in. Troi hastily lets herself out, insisting nothing was happening between her and Riker. Once she’s gone, Ro turns to Riker:

Ro: And what was all of that about? 
Riker: Oh, we were just discussing the situation we’re all in. 
Ro: Good. Because I have a feeling that I used to be the jealous type.

Ro and Riker kiss

So you could be annoyed at this point that Riker knows he and Troi might be in love but is still having a thing with Ro. Now I’m a Riker/Troi fan as much as the next person, but everyone in this episode is behaving like consenting adults. No one is making each other promises and they all know they could get their memories back and find out things aren’t the way they think with each other.

Ro doesn’t seem to me like her first goal with Riker is love. It seems more like she’s going for fun with him. Troi, on the other hand, knows that she has an emotional connection to Riker, and therefore more to lose and more reason to be cautious.

MacDuff on the bridge

So boring MacDuff is worried because Picard seems hesitant to fire on the aliens MacDuff is trying to make them think they’re at war with (the Lysians). He tries to convince Worf to mutiny. Like that will ever work.

When they arrive at the Lysian Command Centre, they find the station barely defended. Troi, again, is the main voice opposing MacDuff’s pugilistic calls to action. She finds out from Data there are over 15,000 people on the station and urges Picard not to fire, saying, “Captain, this isn’t right.”

Troi on the bridge

Picard and Riker are swayed, and it turns out Worf has no intention of betraying them. When MacDuff tries to take over, Worf attacks him and then Riker shoots him with a phaser.

Worf shoots MacDuff

Memories restored, courtesy of Doctor Crusher, the crew figures out MacDuff’s game and apologizes to the Lysians.

Ro and Troi tease Riker

In the final scene, Riker comes into Ten Forward and swallows hard when he sees Ro and Troi talking over drinks, evidently enjoying themselves.

He sits down awkwardly and they start to tease him a little bit.

Ro: The Counsellor tells me that at times like that, we might do the things that we’ve always wanted to do. 
Riker: She said that? 
Troi: It’s psychologically valid. 
Ro: (deadpan, with maybe just a hint of sarcasm) Commander, don’t worry about it. As far as I’m concerned, you and I have shared something that we will treasure forever. 

Ro leaves and Riker looks like this:

Riker looks confused

Riker: Well, I’m a little confused. 
Troi: Well, if you’re still confused tomorrow, you know where my office is. 

You could read this scene as problematic if you take Ro and Troi’s suggestion at face value, that Ro indeed subconsciously wanted to sleep with Riker and just acted on that urge, or vice versa. But the way they say it is clearly to poke fun at Riker and make him feel awkward. In that way it allows everyone to go forward without worrying that Ro will lose her edge when dealing with Riker, just because they slept together. 

Bechdel Test: Pass. Crusher and Kristin discuss Kristin’s diving injury.

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