I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.
“The Inner Light”
A strange probe is found in the middle of space and when the Enterprise draws near, it seems to attack Picard. As the crew tries to figure out what happened to him, Picard wakes up in a completely different world, complete with a wife and a society in which he exists. Initially perturbed, he attempts for years (!) to figure out what happened, and slowly comes to integrate himself into the agrarian society. Meanwhile, only minutes are passing on the Enterprise as they track the probe’s flight path back to a system devoid of life–apparently a star went nova, burning out any life forms in the area. Picard in the other world grows old, has children and even a grandchild, and then is asked to come see a rocket launch. It turns out the rocket was launching the probe that has passed on the memories of the system’s people and society to Picard because they knew they would all be destroyed. Picard wakes up back on the Enterprise having lived a lifetime elsewhere.
The sheer scope of the episode is astounding, as it tells the story of the culture and people in snippets that make one envious of the way they’ve organized society. Thinking about the episode makes it really tough to think that anyone other than Picard could have taken the overwhelming mental toll that living an entire life in minutes could take on him. Do the memories continue to haunt him forever? How real are they to him? How does he sort out the real from the complete other life he lived?
Patrick Stewart puts this episode on his shoulders like Samson put the city gate of Gaza on his back and carries it in the most epic possible way. The episode was absolutely sold by Stewart throughout, as viewers are sucked in by his performance. He never seems to fully give up the notion that his real life was indeed his real life, but he ultimately settles into his alien life–as any of us would.
The society created for the episode seems utopic, but not over-the-top. It is easy to see how Picard eventually could have felt comfortable settling in. The characters are all robust enough to make you care about them, even if you know they are all just one-offs. It’s just really well-done.
The final scene in which we see Picard get delivered the flute and begin to play with it–a nod to the fact that he has just experienced an entire lifetime of an alternate universe–was both hopeful and terribly sad. Perfection.
“The Inner Light” is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of television out there. It is just absolutely phenomenal.
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a fairly touching but frankly bizarre way for the alien people to record their history.”
“Time’s Arrow, Part I”
Data’s head is discovered in a dig site on Earth–from hundreds of years prior to the “current” time in Star Trek. The crew discovers temporal distortions that lead them to believe some malevolent time travellers are going back in time on Earth. They try to protect Data but he is the only one capable of spying on the different time period and then inadvertently gets sent back to San Francisco in the 1800s. There he finds that Guinan is among the literary elite–but it is actually Guinan several hundred years ago so she isn’t cognizant of everything that is happening. As Data and the crew try to reunite, Mark Twain spies on them, thinking they are part of an alien plot.
If I recall correctly, this two-parter is hated by many TNG fans. Frankly, I didn’t think it was awful. It was just ridden with plot holes and unexplained things. Well, plenty of things were attempted explanations but the answers to “why” and “how” questions provided were not very satisfactory. How does the crew so easily go back in time when before only Data could handle it?
And why is Mark Twain so annoying? I’m going to sidetrack here for a second and say that when I was young my family would visit my Grandma in Quincy, Illinois and cross the border to Hannibal, Missouri every year to visit the various Mark Twain tourist locations that were available. It was a great time that involved all kinds of fun with caves, sluicing for rocks, and literature. I fell in love with Twain and the lore around him on these trips. All of that said, I can honestly say that if he was this annoying in real life he was a real twit! Goodness, they did not really pull out any stops!
There is also a bit of difficult, in my opinion, with the overall plot. It just seems a bit strange that the aliens would pick the time they went back to out of all times in human history to eat humans. Maybe some of the weirdness will be cleared up in the next episode.
Grade: C+ “An intriguing concept with more holes than Swiss cheese.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “Great suspense and use of plot devices.”
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