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 episode follows the story of a human ensign Sam Lavelle who is being considered for a new tactical slot alongside Bajoran ensign Sito Jaxa. As Riker and Troi look at evaluations and think on who might be the best fit, a civilian named Ben who works at Ten Forward learns and spreads gossip. Nurse Ogawa and a Vulcan, Taurik, begin to see there is more going on than just a crew evaluation. A Cardassian is on board and the Enterprise is working to get him back as a positive influence on Cardassians more generally. Ultimately, Picard sends Sito on the mission, but she is killed in the process. Worf mourns with the junior officers. (Fuller plot summary here.)
“Lower Decks” is full of genius. First, the look the episode gives us at characters outside the bridge is phenomenal. Second, they used this perspective to increase the mystery quite well. Third, it builds suspense and mystery. Fourth, the main characters were utilized well.
Throughout this episode, it felt as though you as a viewer were sharing the perspective of those junior officers. It made the episode take on a very different “feel” from many others. Normally, we’d know right away exactly what is happening with the Cardassian on board. Here, however, the narrowed sphere of knowledge the junior officers has is our window into what’s happening, and it makes us have to think about what might be going on in a way that is so rarely the case in TNG.
Another astonishing thing about this episode is that it actually manages to introduce several new characters and develop them enough that I cared about them by the time it was over. Having the main characters interact with them helped, but they did a great job picking a diverse cast that played their roles well. Moreover, killing of Sito–yes, actually!–was a surprising move that made the episode even more emotionally impactful than it would have been otherwise.
Finally, the juxtaposition of poker games about halfway through the episode–that was an awesome scene. Well done all around.
Grade: A+ “A surprisingly deep look at life on the ‘other side’ of the Enterprise.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was fun to have parallel lives, ensign edition.”
“Thine Own Self”
Data is sent to recover radioactive material from an inhabited planet it crashed on, but his memory is overloaded by an accident and he shows up in one of the local villages, with radioactive material in hand. As the locals interact with the radioactive material, they start getting sick. Data and Talur, the local scientist/healer work on trying to heal people while the village people blame Data for the illness. Ultimately, Data solves the problem and puts the cure in the well just before he is “killed.” He is rescued some days later by Riker and Crusher, but doesn’t remember what transpired.
A certain kind of terror is evoked by this episode. It’s not the terror of a straight up horror story. Instead, it is the terror of, as a viewer, knowing something is desperately wrong, but realizing that no one can fix it. When we see Data carrying a box labeled “radioactive,” we know something is wrong. But then we learn that he has apparently lost his memories, and then people begin to open up the box and finger the radioactive contents, going so far as to make jewelry out of the contents… and we realize that we can only watch as people get sick.
Talur, the local scientist and healer, is skeptical of any notion that Data might be a demon, but ironically he becomes one, in a way, through the impact of the radioactive material on everyone. Indeed, there is a kind of tongue-in-cheek self-criticism of anyone who would throw out any notion of faith or spirituality, because Talur’s own skepticism is accompanied by basic misunderstandings of reality, including Aristotelian science.
All of this makes for a fascinating episode, but then we have Data somehow cure everyone, without a single loss. That simple solution takes away the force of the narrative and the impact it could have had. Moreover, Data doesn’t remember what happened or how. That makes the whole episode effectively a wash as far as impact on the world is concerned–though surely Data helped import some new inventions and scientific rigor. But imagine if he remembered how his mistakes had almost killed off an entire village through radiation poisoning! It would give the episode a completely different feeling at the end.
Grade: A- “An introspective episode that didn’t quite take its premise as far as it could have.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was kind of weird, but had many good moments.”
J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!
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