In the days leading up to Halloween, Primetimer is plumbing the depths of television's past to come up with the scariest TV episodes we've ever seen. And we're not just talking the usual suspects for horror — Buffy, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone — we're talking about shows that weren't usually out to frighten their fans. Because sometimes TV can get really weird. And unsettling. And straight-up terrifying.
Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for seven seasons, from 1987-1994. It was a wildly successful series that launched many a film and TV career. It was also a show that I loved as a kid. To me, it was the pinnacle of science fiction storytelling, covering cool territory without ever being too scary. That is, until the Season 7 episode "Genesis."
The show had a few monster of the week episodes that leaned into horror territory (I'm looking at you, weird oil monster that murdered Tasha Yar), but none of them really scared me, at least not in the way "Genesis" did. I can still remember screaming in terror when that amphibian Deanna Troi (played by Marina Sirtis) popped out of her bathtub — but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The crew of the Enterprise was always presented as incredibly capable, so when crew members start acting erratically, it gives off zombie apocalypse vibes. The episode opens with the sick bay growing abnormally crowded — which we later learn is exactly how the virus (or whatever it is) spread so quickly. The paranoid Lt. Barclay (played by Dwight Schultz, in his final appearance on the show) is bothering beloved Dr. Beverly Crusher (played by Gates McFadden, who directed the episode) with his hypochondria, so she gives him a shot while also caring for Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data's (Brent Spiner) pregnant cat Spot, and also getting news that her head nurse Alyssa Ogawa (Patti Yasutake) is pregnant.
Later, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Data are sent off on an away mission. Meanwhile, Riker is forgetting things, Troi is complaining that she's cold, and Worf (Michael Dorn) is growing more irritable than usual. It turns out there's a virus spreading across the crew that's making them change into prehistoric creatures, but they don't find this out until it's too late. That's when the episode really starts to lean into horror tropes, scaring this very small fifth-grader.
We see Worf tear apart his bed and Troi take a fully clothed hot bath. Things get crazier when Worf enters Troi's quarters and freaking bites her face! Though Troi is already well on her way to becoming an amphibian, a look of confused terror crosses her face. It's a moment that, upon rewatch, is fairly underplayed, but as a kid this scene was a true moment of horror. Worf and Troi had finally become a couple not a handful of episodes earlier, and then this happens! Worf was turning into a violent Klingon, and to see this violent encounter with his beloved Troi was downright terrifying.
Somehow, after this encounter both Worf and Troi end up in the sick bay. Dr Crusher notices how tense Worf is and says she needs to examine him. She notices a weird sac has formed at the base of his neck and asks him to open his mouth. In the episode's biggest jump scare, green venom shoots directly into Dr Crusher's face. She falls to the ground, screaming in agony as Worf runs out of sick bay like a wild animal. The crew realizes what's going on, but Riker can't remember his security codes to send a distress signal.
Picard and Data arrive to find the Enterprise completely adrift in space. Their screen shows it floating sideways -- clearly no one in control. It looks like the shell of a ship, a haunted vessel. They board, and see a blanket covered in goo and someone's recently shed skin! There are animal noises in the distance. If Data, our super smart android pal, couldn't make heads or tails of what the hell was going on, then this young viewer surely couldn't either. How was this all going to go back to normal?
By some weird coincidence, Picard and Data find themselves outside of Troi's quarters. They enter to find her face down in her bathtub, in full Starfleet uniform. Picard grabs her and she shoots up in the tub in full amphibian makeup! If the normally fabulous Deanna Troi could turn into this weird creature, then clearly anything could happen. It's another one of those moments that, upon revisiting, isn't remotely scary — but you try being a stressed out child who adored his Deanna Troi action figures. I can remember having specific nightmares about that scene. The makeup on her and each of the show's other characters was full-on David Cronenberg, which if you remember anything about The Fly, was quite terrifying for the time. Not to mention the fact that once Picard and Data end up in engineering, they encounter Lt. Barclay having gone full grotesque spider-creature.
The mystery at the center of "Gensis" gets solved when it's discovered that Data's cat had given birth and the kittens were saved from the virus. So, of course they use Nurse Ogawa's pregnancy fluids (I kid you not) to cure the whole crew. But not before Picard has a long chase scene with a demonic-looking Worf.
"Genesis" is one of the scarier episodes of Star Trek: TNG but also one of the dumber ones, as we find out whatever Dr Crusher injected Barclay with caused him to somehow release the virus. They have a good laugh and shrug the entire thing off — as if a bunch of crew members weren't just murdered.
As terrifying as I found it to be, "Genesis" definitely intrigued me. It was a plot I'd re-enact with my various action figures. It probably helped me learn to love the sci-fi/horror mashups like Event Horizon and Sunshine. It's a fun episode to revisit if you're looking for something horror-lite this Halloween.
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Ian Carlos Crawford is a freelance writer, host of the podcast Slayerfest 98, and someone with way too many feelings. Follow him on Twitter at @ianxcarlos.