Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: The Loss

The Next Generation, Season 4
"The Loss"
Airdate: December 31, 1990
83 of 176 produced
83 of 176 aired


The Enterprise finds itself mired in a strange gravitational pull, being drawn inexorably towards a dangerous astrophysical phenomenon known as a cosmic string fragment. Stranger still, though, is the effect that this mysterious pull has on Counselor Troi - she loses the use of her empathic sense while within the effect. Will she ever regain her abilities, and will she be able to help the Enterprise out of its predicament?
Sorry, couldn't resist.


Matthew: I think there are two ways to look at this episode. The first, of course, is as a "Troi Episode." Every once in a while the writers seem to want to throw the Troi character a bone. Unfortunately, this usually involves some sort of insult or injury to the character - mind rape, bodily possession, unexpected betrothal, and so on. Here, the injury is a disability. I do not think that the writers mined the topic itself for all of its inherent interest - that would have involved the Geordi blindness scene that is conspicuously missing. Basically, we get the impression that no one in the 24th century is disabled - absent some indication to the contrary, Geordi has super powers, essentially. But the story does give us great insight into Troi's character. We see that she does indeed have a certain veneer and carefully maintained self-image. When that image is threatened, she denies, she chafes, she bristles, and she lashes out.  It's juicy character development.

Kevin: I didn't think of it until you said it, but, yeah, a conversation with Geordi could have been mined for some character gold. You raise a valid point that Troi centered episodes tend to abuse her in some way, but I think this one is fairly successful. Other crew members have certainly shown resistance and stress when confronted with their own respective physical limitations. I think it could have gone further in being a springboard for more character development later on. When she wasn't the ship's counselor, she was no one. It would have been interesting to see how she tried to reconcile that once she had her powers back.

Matthew: The other way to look at the story is as a sci-fi science tale. The A and B stories (I will term them Troi losing powers and 2D creatures, respectively) are integrated pretty well, actually. There are several lines of nice dialogue in which Troi compares her disability to seeing the world around her as only flat surfaces with no depth. Unfortunately, the 2D story is also left somewhat undercooked - we get none of the interesting "Flatlander" kind of story telling - how could they communicate with such a set of beings? In "Flatlanders," a sphere passing through the plane of the flat land is perceived as a widening and then contracting circle. I think there was the potential for some really interesting stuff. Showing us how the Enterprise crew could adapt to thinking on that level would have been cool. Even better, maybe this area of space could be a nexus, and 5th dimensional creatures could be trying to communicate with the Enterprise!

Kevin: I agree that the plots are almost surprisingly well integrated. The scene with Troi and Data discussing the problem was pretty well done. Watching her try to suss out motivation without her powers was interesting and it shows the character is more than her empathy. The choice of a two-dimensional being shows they are at least trying. It easily could have been Energy Cloud #403 that was dragging the Enterprise and screwing with Deanna. My other problem with this plot is that it reinforces the notion that Deanna sense some metaphysical, almost magical essence from anything that might be alive by any definition, rather than the physical manifestation of an organic thought process. How can she interact with two dimensional beings but not sense Data?

Matthew: I have some serious questions about the way the 2D creatures were handled. For one thing, how could a 2D creature exist at all? It seems like ingestion and excretion would be impossible, without the ability to have openings on either side. And how in the hell, especially given Troi's disability while sharing the same plane as the creatures, could she then "sense" their "satisfaction" once they have left that same 2D plane? Do the creatures emanate psychic radiation (or whatever) along a third dimension? Are they really 2D creatures, then? It seemed clumsily handled.

Kevin: Agreed. It's a neat idea; it's just not sufficiently developed.

Matthew: All faults as a sci-fi story aside, it was a lot of fun to see Counselor Troi, you know, being a counselor. Dealing with the death of a relative was handled interestingly, in a way somewhat contradictory to Roddenberry's original declaration that in the 24th century, people don't fear or mourn death int he same way. Troi's patient seems to cling to the Roddenberry ideal, but it is soon revealed that this is unrealistic. It was great to see Troi reason with Data as to the 2D creatures' potential motives.

Kevin: I enjoyed watching the relationships of the crew demonstrated and stressed. Her scenes with Riker were particularly good. Their scenes are paying the dividends of the actors' chemistry over the series. The breakdown was handled really well, and it's always fun to see our heroes be a little less than perfect, but still ultimately get their shit together. It makes their heroism more meaningful. Also the line about Riker using hugs to solve all his personnel problems was really sweet.


Matthew: Marina Sirtis has a tough challenge here. She has to suffer a crippling disability, kind of be a bitch about it, and still remain sympathetic to the viewer. And believe it or not, I think she actually achieves it. All of the things her character does, from pretending to hiding the truth to being in denial, don't end up seeming irritating. They seem real. Her sense of growth at the end it rewarding, as well. Her chemistry with Jonathan Frakes' Riker is very good. The way they fight seems like it grows out of real love. When he says "Imzadi" and she shoots back "Oh, please!" it is one of the most genuine moments in all of the franchise.

Kevin: Particularly when she chews out Crusher, the way she sounded like she was just about to but not quite cry was really great. She really infused all of her anger with her pain, so it was obvious to the viewer what was really going on. The character, while lashing out, never crossed a line, and the actress didn't either. Like her grief in The Child or her agony in The Survivors, she can do big emotions in a way that is neither PAINFUL nor LONELY.

Matthew: Whoopi Goldberg gets yet another cosmic black mentor scene, but this one is written a bit better. Either way, she delivers it with her usual aplomb. It's easy to see why the TNG writers went back to this well so often - Whoopi nails it every time.

Kevin: It's always fun when she gets to poke the character's sore spots a little. With Picard, she tends to be sage/sounding board, but with the other, she can quietly get in their faces a little to show them what they need to know, like with Ro in Ensign Ro. It's fun getting to watch her push a few buttons.

Matthew: Interestingly, there are no true guest stars in this episode. And I have to say, they're not really  missed. The main cast is competent and interesting enough to carry a story on its own. LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner yet again sell a rather technobabble-heavy science story and make it more interesting than it could have been. I also really enjoyed Patrick Stewart's awkward attempt to console/patronize the disabled Troi. It takes real talent to act awkwardly.

Kevin: I liked Picard's awkwardness and Crusher's studied non-response. As another health professional, she knows what Troi is really doing and feeling, so she knows not to engage. It makes her look like a credible doctor.

Production Values

Matthew: This was a bottle show. The two main effects in this episode were the Cosmic String Fragment, and the CG graphic showing the Enterprise rotation into the plane of the 2D creatures. The string was a purpley kind of smear on the screen. Not memorable, not bad. The graphic was really cool, and really served the story as well. It's the best kind of graphic - accurate, illuminating, and neat looking.

Kevin: They've been really hitting the Okudagrams out of the park in this season. They're not static images about the problem; they are dynamic, elegant graphic that actually inform the audience about what is going on.

Matthew: The only other real production note I made was regarding the giant wavy sectional sofa that Troi had in her office. It was... giant and wavy.


Matthew: Despite being a bit half-baked on both the A and B story fronts, I still think this is a 3. No one acts stupid, and there are no grossly ridiculous story elements. I was interested in what we got, and wanted further development on both fronts. But what we did get was entertaining and I was never bored or unduly annoyed. So it's average for me.

Kevin: Both the character and sci-fi plot are interesting, but don't get the development they could. That said, I'm happy to give this a 3 on the strength of Troi's performance alone. It's fun to see a character really deal with some personal problems, come out better for it, and see an actor handle what could easily become insufferable scenes with some genuine skill. This is a 3 for me as well, for a total of 6.

1 comment:

  1. In terms of character development for Troi this was certainly a great episode and I kinda liked watching Troi, who's always been the epitome of calm, reasonable and almost serenity lose her shit in this epic way and turn into an real high riding asshole. It is interesting because the same speeches she usually gives people in her role as counselor/shrink etc, were given to her when she became the "patient" and she responded to all of them in this bitchy, acerbic, venomous and sardonic manner. And because she was so shitty to everyone, I did not feel sorry for her. She mainly just pissed me off. I still cringe when i watch the scene where she interrupts Picard and tells him he doesnt know what he is talking about and shuts him down twice and tells him, of course not in so many words, that he can basically just go fuck himself . It was incredibly rude, bordering at insubordination. And Picard took it.

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see Ms Calm and Serenity turn into such an unpleasant jerk the moment something went wrong in HER life. And about 3/4 into the episode I actually had enough and wanted to slap her a few times.

    I understand the point here is that she lost something, she has a disability and that lot of people who are in her situation where they become disabled, get defensive, push others away, become self destructive and lash out. I get that. But in Troi's case the change was so extreme from what we know her to be, that it almost didnt fit with her character as laid out thus far. Which made me think that either the writers messed up with respect to keeping her character consistent or that she was putting on more of a facade than we thought.

    It is easy to be nice, pleasant, controlled and maintained when everything is going your way and there are no issues. The test of true character is how you act and how you treat others in the face of adversity and when things arent all dandy and great for you. This episode showed us that Deanna's facade of calm and together crumbles easily (to the point of her becoming really ugly) when things dont work out for her. Which is why the end, where she went back to her smiling, calm, reasonable self again, even saying how supposedly "rewarding" it can be to be human etc, I was a bit turned off because it did not seem sincere. It felt like she was just saying that now that everything was finally working out for her. Note that she didnt apologize to Crusher until after she was fine again, which somehow makes the apology less genuine and sincere and is not really a sign of having grown as a person. Things are back to normal and so she is miss goody two shoes again. That is not an accomplishment nor is it a sign of having grown as a person or character.