**** (4 stars out of 5)
Picard is awakened by a Code 47 Emergency. It's a call from his old friend Captain Walker Keel of the Horatio.
Keel introduced Jack Crusher to Beverly. He's a man Picard trusts well, and he's worried by patterns of unusual deaths, strange orders, and people with a lack of memory. Also worried are the Bolian Captain Rixx, and Captain Tryla Scott- who holds Starfleet's record for fastest attainment of a Captaincy. (In my imagination only, she's the grandchild of Montgomery Scott and Nyota Uhura. Which is neither here nor there. And a little bit racist of me- there are bound to be plenty of black people named Scott in Starfleet.)
Picard has Data build a case for a conspiracy within Starfleet with a high-speed records extrapolation. When the Horatio explodes unexpectedly, it seems to confirm the hushed whispers and suspicious glances. Enterprise speeds back to Earth to confront their bosses.
"Friendship must dare to risk, or it's not friendship," says Picard.
Brimming with enthusiasm and energy, Admiral Quinn comes aboard and assures Picard whatever he hinted about conspiracies back in 'Coming of Age', he only meant something vague and irrelevant about assimilating new races into the Federation and how those dang Benzite kids won't get off his lawn.
Quinn gets Riker alone, beats him senseless, and shows him the squirmy pink insect in his attaché case. Not a euphemism.
The old man overpowers La Forge and Worf as well.
"I could snap your neck in a second," brags "Quinn" to Worf. "But it wouldn't be as much fun."
A cluster of old farts drink tea and insinuate to Picard that Keel was incompetent and delusional.
Crusher has downed Quinn and discovered he's been 'puppet mastered' by a parasite in his brain stem. The only external clue is a breathing gill protruding from the back of the neck.
The admiralty and Captain Scott mow down on bowls of live mealworms, even the Vulcan. For a few minutes, it even appears Riker has been taken over- but it was a ruse to bring in a phaser to dinner!
"We seek peaceful co-existence," hisses the mother creature puppeting Remmick. It is a measure of how little trust it engenders that moments later Picard and Riker's incendiary phaser settings blow his head off and abdomen open. Then they disintegrate the squealing alien in his guts.
Coin a phrase: grody to the max!
The parasites apparently died without the queen creature- but Data alerts them that Remmick's hitchhiker sent a homing beacon from Earth.
Maybe it says 'come on down' or possibly 'soup's on'. The creatures claimed to be intellectually superior to humans with a sense of theatre: maybe they're still waiting in the wings for their cue to return. Or maybe not.
"Conspiracy" is mostly taut, grisly, action. But it has time for a little humor, as when the main computer apparently got frustrated while talking to Data. Also, Worf drops the truth bomb that he enjoys neither swimming nor bathing. Or possibly it was a Klingon joke. You never can tell. Trust no one and keep watching the skis.