Friday, December 9, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Cost of Living

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Cost of Living"
Airdate: April 20, 1992
119 of 176 produced
119 of 176 aired


Lwaxana hijacks the Enterprise yet again in order to host her surprise wedding to some guy she met online. Worf is having trouble getting Alexander to put away his laundry. The Enterprise is beset by a puff of glitter, that threatens to reduce its systems to a pile of goo. What do these sentences have to do with each other, you ask? Damned if we know.

Hello, little boy! Come closer, so that I might EAT YOUR SOUL.


Matthew: The A-plot takes Lwaxana to a lower point than her character has ever gone before. And I don't mean in an interesting, dramatic, "raise the stakes for your character" sort of way. What I mean is, any iota of character growth and  human interest that Lwaxana had achieved in previous episodes, especially "Half A Life," is systematically destroyed and shat upon, piece by piece. Lwaxana started out as a meddlesome mother and a horny senior citizen. But then she grew into a passionate, forceful advocate for the dignity of life. Well, too bad, because she's desperate, lonely, and horny again. Her growth with her daughter, in which they reach some sort of understanding of their roles as aging mother and adult child, is backtracked completely, as Lwaxana returns to her unbearably condescending attitude towards a much more interesting, stable and vibrant  person, Deanna Troi. But worse still, it is all done in the service of a plot that barely deserves mention - her loneliness has led her to that apparently worst of options for a single person, the online dating advertisement. Actually, perversely, I think this could have been the most interesting aspect of the show, if it were turned into a science fiction idea - perhaps a spectacularly advanced computer could actually find a perfect match for someone from across the galaxy? The questions of destiny, free will, and true love that that might raise are potentially interesting. Instead, it is simply used to degrade the character of Lwaxana Troi, rendering her pathetic in the extreme. At no point is the viewer ever in doubt as to whether Lwaxana will marry Campio. It is clear from his first moments on screen that he is a straw man posterboard, designated by the story as a stick in the mud placed on screen to show us how low Lwaxana has sunk. Well, it worked.

Kevin: I remember kind-of-almost enjoying this episode when I was 10. I don't quite remember why. It may have just been my love for Lwaxana's one-liners. On review...yeah...this is a train wreck. I agree with your analysis of the piece of character assassination that this episode constitutes. Lwaxana was at her best in Half a Life because the character was treated with a little respect. She was nose-tweaking and brash at points, but there was a basic respect, even veneration of the idea that old people still like to do it. Here, she is just grating and moronic. Maybe they could have explicitly tied this in to the events of Half a Life, like portray a rebound relationship after the trauma of Timicin's death. It could have given some credibility to her need for a relationship. As it stands, it's just sad and pathetic.

Matthew: The B-plot (glitter monster attacks!) is recycled from a much, much better episode, "Contagion." We get nothing new here with the ship breaking down, that was not done to better effect there. They even rip off the turbolift malfunction. The especially irritating aspect of this part of the story is how little it has to do with any of the rest of the tale. At no point is any member of the wedding party even inspired to consider how it might affect the proceedings. At no point is the holodeck mud bath even perturbed by one errant fart bubble of discord. So basically, at no point does it make sense for this subplot to even exist. It smacks of the worst sort of inorganic memorandum from the desk of Rick Berman that some sort of faux-science element be included. And it is exactly that. Faux-science, faux-story, faux-interesting.

Kevin: Yeah, this whole part of the episode was stupid. It was the worst of the artificial attempts to create tension. If they could have lured the creature off the Enterprise with a tractor beam, why not fill a probe with the metal it wanted and then tractor-beam-lure the being to it? It felt like a rehash of the elements of Galaxy's Child, and Night Terrors as well, with the whole "rushing to get somewhere while the ship breaks down" thing. So, it's not just a rehash, it's a triple-rehash, and boring to boot.

Matthew: The C-plot, which is more of a rider to the A-plot, is Worf's inability to reach an equilibrium with his son. While there are a few moments that just ever so slightly peek into the realm of a more entertaining idea, all of these moments are undercut by the A-plot, since Lwaxana sabotages any progress that threatens to occur in the two characters' growth.  Frankly, had Worf actually lost his cool and yelled at Lwaxana, this episode might have had a redeeming facet. Instead, Worf takes it all stoically, and fails to achieve any sort of progress with his problem child. So why was the story here? Yeah. For the same reason as the B-story, I suppose.

Kevin: Yeah, even New Ground, for its other problems, had a pretty decent emotional core between father and son, and it was sadly lacking here. There is a way to portray Alexander rebelling against even reasonable rules, like all children, and Lwaxana being the surrogate spoiling grandmother, but we did not do that here. Not one bit. Like all the worst humor in the show, particularly the episodes revolving around Lwaxana, the humor has no heart. The funniest, and not coincidentally, most touching moments are the ones that connect to the qualities of the character that made us love them in the first place.


Matthew: So the script was not a gem, to put it lightly. But Majel Barrett, who we have said before, and it bears repeating here, absolutely CAN act well, takes a terrible part and portrays it utilizing every bad acting choice that one can imagine. Cackling with desperate, maniacal glee, she gloms onto Brian Bonsall's Alexander (who, to be fair, gives not seeming like he wants to vomit in response a decent go) in a very uncomfortable, embarrassing, kind of lecherous and molestey way. Her interactions with Campio made little to no sense. Her condescending to Troi kind of had me wanting to punch her in the face. Basically, I was cringing every second she was on screen. This is not the mark of a good performance. After her wonderful turn on "Half a Life," this represents a truly disconcerting backslide. We have yet to see if this is the nadir (spoiler: probably not).

Kevin: I wasn't as appalled, but I've always had a soft spot for Lwaxana. I personally found this no worse than Manhunt or Menage a Troi, and there, even as the episode was bad, I still kind of liked her personally. I can't help it.

Matthew: Burton and Spiner have to carry the load of the B plot. They are merely adequate, and little more. But they didn't make me want to retch when they were on screen, so there's that. Dorn was reasonably funny as a harried parent, and Sirtis was OK as their family counselor.  But I do not want to give the impression that the work in this particular episode is worthy of praise. All of this is mere coasting. The cameos by Stewart and Frakes give a good indication of this. They just recycle previous jokes from better episodes. I don't hate them. But they don't save this stinker.

Kevin: Nothing to add here. Move along.

Matthew: I don't know what rip-off Cirque Du Soleil of Akron Ohio troupe the idiots in the holodeck scenario were grabbed from, but I hope they are all back there, that their troupe went out of business, and they're all flipping burgers at a local greasy spoon in boo-foo, and turning tricks for meth in their spare time. I hated them all. I hated the juggler who looked like a cross between Bono and Robin Williams. I hated the arguing idiots. I hated the philosopher. I hated the fire breather. I hated the disembodied head. I even hated the mostly naked woman, but I suppose this was because of her awful hairdo.

Kevin: Wow, Matt. Did you have a traumatizing experience with an acrobat? I agree they were not good, but I am not quite energized enough to hate them. I nothing them. I really would like to talk to the production team on this one. To the extent this could be a good idea or part of an interesting episode (FYI: It can't.), this was not the way to go about doing it. These are to actual creative people as the space hippies in Way to Eden were to actual hippies.

Production Values

Matthew: The initial twenty seconds of the episode feature a reasonably cool asteroid destruction sequence. Is it anything special? No. But it at least threatens to be entertaining. The energy effects are pretty decent, and the explosion looked good. Unfortunately, the glitter monster we got as a result seems to have been created by   people who read the script, and realized they might as well phone it in.

Kevin: Well, let's thank heaven for small favors that it never spelled out "P" on any consoles. There's that. Let's take solace in that.

Matthew: The insanity of Lwaxana's wardrobe choices reach new depths here. Her first ensemble, which looks ripped from the curtains of an 80's era Donald Trump building, features a 3 foot bow on her backside. Her neck is festooned with miniature Christmas ornaments. Her hair looks like the most desperate opossum in the Federation took nest on her head. The litany of garish, clashing fabrics only gets worse from there. Her next ensemble features a gigantic view of fake-senior-tits, clasped by a faux ruby brooch. The cloth looks to have been torn from the couch at a funeral home. This time, the massive bow is moved to the front, affixed with an emerald brooch. I just... what the fuck, people? I mean, sorry. I apologize to any of our younger and more delicate readers. Excuse my French, pardonez moi. But what the fuck?

Kevin: You're going to yell at me, but I kind of love each and every ridiculous Lwaxana outfit. It's like some outer space version of RuPaul's Drag Race. It's so tacky, it transcends tacky and ends up in some other place that I find compelling.

Matthew: Our view of the Parallax Colony on the Holodeck reminded me more of a demented asylum for serial killing clowns than anything else.  The video toaster floating clown head bubble made me want to kill myself. The video toaster fire breather was worse. The juggling clown made me feel like I had been touched in my special area without my informed consent. Maybe the mostly nude pink dancer was kind of OK. But that feeling ewas deflated by the philosopher's disgusting, distended gob of a naked, orange, hairy stomach sticking out in my face. Believe it or not, this piece of shit episode won two Emmys, for hairstyling and makeup. If there were ever a better argument for the Emmys being a shallow, meaningless cesspool of ignorance and stupidity, I haven't come across it.

Kevin: I remember being scandalized by the dancer when I was 10 cause she was naked. Scandalized, I say. On subsequent viewing, everything is eye-searing in the worst possible way.


Matthew: It's not as bad as "Code of Honor." There's that. But this may well be the runner up for worst episode of the franchise. It's a shambling, boring, irritating, pointless, and stupid mess of an episode. Its two plots are entirely unrelated to each other. The marriage plot has absolutely no tension, and its "science" plot is stunningly inconsequential and treated as less than an afterthought. The main guest star is grating nearly to the point of insanity. Its holodeck locale challenges Voyager's "The Thaw" for inanity and annoyance. I hate this episode. I hate it, hate it, hate it. It has no redeeming facets in its own right, it merely has elements from other shows to keep us even remotely interested. Anything redeeming is sabotaged by Lwaxana Troi's presence and behavior. So yeah, it's not as bad as Code of Honor. But it's in the deep, deep depths of "One-ness." It is a heartfelt 1 from me, easily sinking to the bottom decile of all Trek.

Kevin: I gave Menage a Troi a 2 because I love Lwaxana, but not even my love for her drag-fabulousness is enough to save this one. This actually destroys prior progress that has been made, and for that alone, it earned my 1, for a sad total of 2. You know what, writers? Majel Rodenberry was a lady, by all accounts a riot at parties, and in later years would be a fine guardian of her husband's legacy, and she deserved better than this, is all I'm saying.


  1. This episode has actually been one of my favorites. The threat might be a touch manufactured and easily solved, but the character interaction is what I love.

    I was a very lonely kid, and this episode was very dear to me since it showed me that it was okay to be yourself, even if people around you didn't necessarily know how to deal with that very well. I never saw Lwaxana as a horny old woman, I saw her as someone who was also very lonely, but had this enormous exterior facade to try to cope. She pretended she was happy for so long that she convinced herself that it was true. The free spirits made me smile every time because they were so over the top.

    Through exaggeration, it shows a decent balance between not giving up who one is for the sake of fitting in, and the need to--when absolutely necessary--at least be decent at faking it.

  2. I think one of Trek's great strengths is that even the worst episodes have things to love, and they have their defenders. And I think that's totally legitimate.

    Code of Honor, anyone? :)

  3. I've got nothing on Code of Honor. (I'm sure someone must. Just... not me.)

  4. I agree with Sara.

    I love this episode not from a cerebral, intellectual point of view but because it worked - somehow, i dont know how, it worked. It is sweet, funny and just endearing. And yes the interaction of the people - Lwaxana calling Worf Mr Wolf...spoiling Alexander, saying contracts are between people who dont trust each other - the bickering they were all doing allowing Lwaxana and Alexander to sneak away..."the ability to enjoy enjoyment." Worf and Alexander trying to get along...It is a very entertaining episode for me but without being lame.

    I also liked that Lwaxana's mask of jolly and uninhibited slipped and we saw a vulnerable woman who just did not want to be alone, hence agreeing to marry this guy.

    Roger Ebert once said that a good movie is not what it's about but how it is about it, and i think the how really made this a good episode for me...

  5. Your point about Ebert is well taken. I was a big fan of his reviews. Looking over the (currently) eighteen and half seasons of Trek, I tend to rate a point higher an episode that succeeds as a cohesive piece of entertainment, even if it lacks a bigger intellectual or philosophical punch. I don't excuse being intellectually insulted in the name of being entertained, but I've certainly in the DS9 reviews, justified a 4 or 5 on the grounds that the episode really succeeded as a piece a of entertaining television.

    I think the underlying problems with the writing justify the score itself on this one, but yeah...I've always been one of Lwaxana's most ardent defenders, and hope to be her when I grow up.