Friday, June 13, 2008

Review - Star Trek: The Next Generations - "The Inner Light"

Star Trek: The Next Generations - "The Inner Light" 1993 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

I mentioned when talking about Star Trek that I am not a fan of the Next Generation series. I started watching it when it first aired and I stuck with it for a while but my interest dropped off sharply as I started seeing certain things: the repetition of plots and their dependence on deus ex machina endings stand out in particular. There are a handful of Next Generation episodes that I enjoy, far more than any of the follow up series which I have even less tolerance for, but for the most part I just don't like it.

The Hugo voters only honored the show twice in its seven season run but they did choose two of the better episodes for the awards and the first of these is "The Inner Light". In it the Enterprise encounters a space probe which zaps the captain who then halucinates that he is living out his life on the world of Catan. The settlers there have stopped trading their wheat and wool because of a drought. As the crew of the Enterprise attempt to revive him he dreams of a lifetime on that world.

The reason that this episode is so effective, I think, is that it breaks most of the rules of the series. The action for the most part takes place away from the Enterprise. There's quite a bit of technobabel but unlike the majority of the series the story is not dependent upon it. The conclusion carries some weight and feeling of real consequences even if it would be for the most part glossed over.

The downside is that the acting aside from Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard is weak at best. The story is dependent upon the minor guest actors carrying a great deal of weight since the audience needs to go along with the captain in accepting his hallucinated life. They are uniformly bad, though, so as they deliver the generic lines intended to hit the the high points of a life.

And that script isn't very good. The captain may be living out a life but it's a life consisting of the standard family drama high points. If you wrote down a list of five "dramatic" events for a lifetime you could probably get the majority of the episode. Squeezing them into one or two minute scenes doesn't do justice to the theme and the episode depends on the juxtaposition of the familiar character with the surrounding for its impact.

For this reason I wouldn't recommend seeking out this episode as the first Next Generation episode to watch but its clear why it is commonly cited as a fan favorite. It's not a standard episode and that alone makes it stand out in the series.