Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: The Survivors

The Next Generation, Season 3
"The Survivors"
Airdate: October 9, 1989
50 of 176 produced
50 of 176 aired

Introduction

The Enterprise is speeding toward the Rana system in response to a distress call from a Federation colony there. They find the entire planet devastated, except for a lone house. Neither the house nor its pair of elderly occupants, a Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge, seemed harmed in the slightest way. They claim to not know who destroyed the colony and have no idea as to why they were spared when 11,000 of their fellow colonists perished. Complicating matters is their insistence that they remain, alone, on Rana and that the Enterprise leave, the reappearance of the alleged attacker, and a mysterious song playing incessantly in Counselor Troi's mind - slowly driving her insane. These things must all be related, but how?
Rishon disappears like a Douwd fart on the wind.



Writing

Kevin: To borrow an analogy from Dr. Stubbs' beloved baseball, I think this episode is the writing equivalent of hitter who can reliably hit the ball into the shallow infield. It's not flashy, and it's not what draws a crowd or gets you into Cooperstown, but it gets a guy to first base and a string of them is how you win baseball games. This episode doesn't tackle any particularly new avenue of science fiction or character development, but what it does do, I think it does well. For starters, the mystery here was well developed. The obvious implication is that the Uxbridges collaborated, especially when the "enemy ship" seems to be attacking with the goal of keeping the Enterprise from them. The ultimate solution is far more interesting and complicated, and particularly with Picard's actions and dialogue, it built really well. We all knew and shared his sensation that things were not right, and the solution developed itself organically and believably.

Matthew: I thought the mystery was pretty good. It's hard to place myself back in the mindset where I have no idea what is coming. But I think it works pretty well for the fresh viewer. I have a few problems with the setup, though. What sort of colony has no interplanetary vessels? Who are these other 11,000 Ranians? I would have liked for the colony to be given a bit more context, to really situate it in my mind as a viewer. As it stands, it's very abstract. I know that the story is stipulating that 11k people are dead. But I don't really care. The same goes for the Husnock. The obliteration of a race is intellectually disturbing, in theory. But it's not viscerally disturbing, because I have no idea who they are. They don't have a face. I can't feel anything for a colony or a race with no face.

Kevin: From Trelane to Adonais to Q, the omnipotent tend to be bombastic and hedonistic. It was a nice change of pace to see a more introspective and moral one. It also works as a non-preachy cautionary tale of extreme powers. Who of us can say they wouldn't react the way Kevin did? When a normal human lashes out in grief, it's probably gonna take the form of saying something really mean to someone, not insta-genocide. I thought the captain's log at the end was particularly well done, an acknowledgement of how messy the situation really is, balancing Picard's grief at the loss of the colonist, his grief at the loss of the Husnock, his outrage at what Kevin had done, but also his empathy for Kevin's grief and loss.

Matthew: I did like the fact that we had a non-prick omnipotent being. But there are some problems. If the Douwd is such a moral being, how could he allow 11,000 people to be snuffed out? Why not create a shield around the planet? Why not turn all the Husnock's weapons into catapults that shoot flowers? If he was capable of such explosive grief, one would think he would act to prevent such an explosion by engaging in preventative, non-violent activities. It seems like the only moral thing to do. If I owned a button that could destroy the world, you'd better believe I'd build a concrete vault for it, as opposed to leaving it on the coffee table. Then, after all this has gone down, he fires on the Enterprise, certainly causing fear, if not minor injuries. Is violence for him defined only by death?  If causing fear and draining shields is OK, why not do it to the Husnock before you obliterate them? If he can will Rishon back into existence, why not will the Husnock back, or the whole colony? Are they unreal to the point that this would not be acceptable for some reason? We are not told. And finally of course we have the music box. How can he willfully cause that level of pain in another being? Doesn't this constitute violence or fighting? And what is the "violence" here? Causing the pain, or wiping the memory of it from someone's mind? I assume this has to be what he was doing at the end, since otherwise he'd leave Troi with serious PTSD and an aversion to music boxes. I guess what I'm saying by all this is that either Uxbridge did a piss-poor job of working out his own moral code, or the writers did. I'm thinking the latter.

Kevin: I'll go into this more in the acting section, but the B plot with Counselor Troi was pretty good too. It had very nice moments between Troi, Picard, and Crusher. Any chance for a captain to show concern for his crew is always well received, and using the song from music box worked well to connect her condition to the Uxbridges in a non-explicit way.

Matthew: Picard's powers of discernment were a bit cute here. Why immediately leap to the notion that Rishon is a copy, as opposed to being a living human that Kevin keeps in the dark? I enjoyed watching him discern the phony nature of the Husnock threat. I just felt that he went too far. I would have laughed out loud and given this episode a 5 is she had replied "speak for yourself, baldy" and proved her humanity by taking a dump on the bridge carpeting.

Acting:

Kevin: The Uxbridges were pretty awesome. They felt like an old married couple. Kevin's remorse is believable and  I really felt like the character really had committed a crime on that scale. I doubt there's an acting class on "pain on a galactic scale," so it's really a credit to the actor his came off as more than merely feeling sad. The credibility of his performance helped reinforce the scope and depth of what had happened, which is great, since it all happened off screen. When he said "all Husnock..everywhere," I got chills. Rishon was also lovely. Anne Haney is a great character actress and she really sold it here. Her fear, her confusion, even the gentle disagreements with her husband all made her very identifiable and when I learned she was actually dead, I felt genuinely bad. Both actors had a bit of a tough road to travel, since they had to make me believe their relationship, the destruction of the colony, and the destruction of the Husnock, with little or no on screen assistance. This is a great example of how capable guest actors can really elevate an episode.

Matthew: My aforementioned problems with the plot were ameliorated somewhat by the acting. Despite any deficits in the script, John Anderson acted as though there were a complete and consistent backstory. That really sells a story. Anne Haney has a tougher role to my mind. She's a wraith, a golem, a homunculus. How do you play that, especially when someone tells you to your face that you're not real? I feel as though her winking out robbed us of a potentially great acting moment. That's the fault of the script, of course.

Kevin: In case you actually read the blog, Marina Sirtis (which would be awesome), I just want to say we kid about PAIN and LONELINESS only because we love. She knocks it out of the park this episode. The vague distraction ramping to full on crying breakdown arced really well, and I really believed her pain. I also like the little moments with Picard and Crusher. I like that Picard would stop by to make sure she's okay, and displayed the right mix of "It's probably nothing, but I trust you enough to not entirely dismiss you out of hand." And Gates McFadden did her usually effortlessly awesome job of portraying sympathy, concern, and competence all at once.

Matthew: Agreed on Sirtis. This was a perfectly pitched performance from her. No orgasm-acting, plenty of realistic pain, and a complex desire to hide her pain from her co-workers. Truly top-notch acting. Stewart among the main cast gets the rest of the dramatic scenes. He is the one who figures everything out, and he was a lot of fun to watch doing it. When he let the bad guy blow up the house, that was one of those "Damn, he's cool!" moments that fuels debates about Kirk vs. Picard.

Kevin: The rest of the ensemble had some nice humorous moments in the episode. The scene of Riker in the trap and Worf complimenting the tea were pitched perfectly and lasted exactly as long as they were supposed to.

Production Values

Kevin: It should be no surprise by now that we're pretty happy campers any time the crew goes to actual outdoors. The Uxbridge house was pretty good too. It was light and open and looked futuristic without beating you to death. I liked the costumes on the Uxbridges. It's another in the line of simple, but textural fabrics that look like comfortable, actual clothes.

Matthew: I wasn't a huge fan of the matte work in this episode. For one thing, the digital matte of the planet looked too much like a gas giant. Then, the actual matte of the background didn't mesh well with the Uxbridge yard. I agree though with your observations on the location in general. Using and redressing a real location almost always ends up looking better than a fabricated set.

Kevin: The invading ship looked a touch too CGIed for my taste, and it lacked the thoroughness in its design that other, even one-off ships can achieve. It looked like someone said, "Give me an enemy spaceship," and someone built from a doodle they made one time. It would have also been nice to have it confirmed that it actually was a Husnock ship, not just a ship imagined up by Kevin to fill the part.

Matthew: I agree that the ship looked somewhat trite. It looked like it could have been from an 80's space action movie, like The Last Starfighter or Time Bandits or something. I did like the polygonal shield, though.

Conclusion

Kevin: I'm gonna give this a 4. The production values are just okay, and that's really the low part of the episode. The episode presents a novel spin on the omnipotent character, and it's bolstered throughout by genuine, credible, and affecting performances. It's not as flashy as the homerun hitters later in the lineup, but for episode number three of the season, it really reinforces for me how far the show has come and how high the new "average" is.

Matthew: I'm stuck at a 3 on this. I have too many questions, and they bog down my appreciation for the genuinely affecting emotions on display. More discussion of the colony and Husnock would have helped. More about what sort of consciousness the Rishon duplicate had would have helped, too. But my main beef is with Kevin Uxbridge's ethics. I'm told I'm supposed to admire them, and I just can't, because they don't hold up to rigorous investigation. The story is flawed and paced a bit langorously, but the acting sells it. So it ends up as a 3 for me, making a total of 7.

3 comments:

  1. Here's my biggest problem with this episode. At the end, Picard says, "We are not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime. You're free to return to the planet, and to make Rishon live again." Really? Really? They may not be able to punish an omnipotent being, but do they not have laws against genocide? I don't know if the Ranians are part of the Federation, but Kevin was in a Federation colony. And whether or not there is a law that can be invoked, how can the Picard not be qualified to pass judgment on his action? This isn't respecting the beliefs of another culture; this is Kevin WIPING OUT an entire other culture. I really, really don't like the end.

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  2. I chose to interpret that one as an issue of scale, not of substance. Standard murder laws are to genocide as current laws regarding genocide are to what he did. It certainly could have been phrased better.

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  3. This is an episode that I've always loved. I accept Matthew's criticisms of the plot. But I think that the superb acting, particularly by John Anderson, Patrick Stewart, and Marina Sirtis, more than exceeds the "plot holes."

    There's something about this story that really sucks a viewer in (this viewer, anyway). When the suggestion is first made that the Uxbridges are collaborators, you genuinely want it to NOT be true. Then when you find out the truth, while it's kind of a WTF moment, you end up sympathizing with Kevin Uxbridge.

    Overall, I would have gone with a 4, just as Kevin did.

    I would have LOVED to have done a pod cast on this one.

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