Sunday, May 14, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 125 (The Inner Light)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details, including the ending.  If you’re not into spoilers, no would be the time to stop reading.

Many series are able to produce good episodes for several seasons.  Shows like Doctor Who and Law & Order have managed to last over 20 seasons.  Occasionally, you’ll find an episode that really connects with you on some level.  Even for a great show, that episode really hits it out of the park.  For Star Trek: The Next Generation, this seems to be that episode.

It starts out like any episode for the crew of the Enterprise.  They come across what appears to be an ordinary probe.  It starts emitting a beam which coincides with Captain Picard fainting.  He awakens to find himself in a strange room with an unfamiliar woman on a planet that he doesn’t seem to know, and she‘s calling him Kamin.  His first impression is that he’s imagining the whole thing.  He eventually comes to terms with the fact that the illusion is going to continue for a while, so he explores his new surroundings.  He eventually comes back to the home, where the woman, who claims to be his wife, was waiting for him.  He asks her a few questions before going to bed.

The episode cuts between Picard’s new life and the Enterprise.  Time is passing much more quickly for Picard.  The second time we see him, five years have passed while only a few minutes have passed on the Enterprise.  (Yes, he is still collapsed on the bridge of the Enterprise.)  A medical team is attending to the captain, but they have no idea how to safely bring him out of it without hurting him.

Still more years pass for Picard.  He is aware that the planet he’s on, Kataan, isn’t doing well. There’s a drought that’s not going to get better.  He has children and eventually a grandchild, but he feels sadness knowing that his grandson probably won’t get to grow up.  Eventually, his children and grandchild go to see the launch of a missile that’s bearing some familiar cargo.  His wife and his friend, both of whom passed away several years prior, come back to tell Picard that onboard is the probe that Picard encountered all those decades ago.  The purpose of the probe is to let one person experience the final decades of a dying planet.

When Picard awakens, he finds that less than 30 minutes have passed.  It takes him a minute to get his bearings, but Dr. Crusher is eventually able to escort him to sickbay.  Later, Commander Riker stops by to tell Picard that they’ve dismantled the probe to study and found a box inside the probe.  Inside the box is the flute that Picard learned to play.  He begins playing it again.

The episode doesn’t really focus on why the planet was dying.  (It’s sun went nova.)  Yes, attempts were made to save the civilization, but they were pre-warp.  There’s no way that they could have gotten a significant number of people to a nearby star. It’s actually quite impressive that they managed to build a probe that could impart memories to someone.  (It’s not clear if there was an actual Kamin or if it’s a composite of several people.)  Not only that, but the probe managed to make it about a light year and still work after a thousand years.

It’s not clear if there was just the one probe of if the people of Kataan made several.  It would seem that they were also a people of limited resources, although another city may have had a similar idea.  I also wonder why they didn’t include more stuff in the probe, or at least not have it self-terminate after one use.  The idea was for someone to be able to tell others of Kataan.  You’d probably want to get as much use out of it as possible.

Then again, the probe wasn’t that far from the planet.  The Enterprise did launch a probe of their own.  It’s possible that something was left on the planet for future archaeologists to find and that the probe was a way of giving context.  It’s one thing to find ruins.  It’s another to have an emotional connection to them.  There was little follow up to the episode in that regard.  This surprised me, as Picard is an amateur archaeologist.  You’d think he’d at least mention reading reports in a later episode.  (We do see him use the flute, but that’s about it.)

The thing that strikes me is that it was kind of a big risk.  Space is a big place and is mostly empty.  The probe lasting a thousand years probably wasn’t an accident.  The builders probably knew that it would be a while before someone found it.  How would they know that the species would be compatible with the technology?   What if the Borg were the first to find it?  You could have had an aggressive species like the Klingons or Cardassians find it first, only to destroy it for attacking one of their crew.  (This was Worf’s first instinct.)  For that matter, did they test it on someone?

I hate to sound like I’m bashing the episode.  I’m not.   It was an awesome episode that always stuck with me.  This is one that always makes it to the top ten lists among fans and with good reason.  It just makes me wonder about what it was like on Kataan and how sad it is that they’re not still around.  If you’re curious about the episode and are able to get it streaming, it’s not dependant on earlier episodes.  You could watch it without really missing any context.  I’d recommend watching it.

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