Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Imaginary Friend

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Imaginary Friend"
Airdate: May 4, 1992
121 of 176 produced
121 of 176 aired


When the Enterprise picks up an unusual energy creature from a nebula it is investigating, one of its youngest residents, Clara Sutter, gets the surprise of her life - her imaginary friend Isabella has come to life. Now, she and the crew must discover whether this creature's motives are friendly or foul.

Kill it! Kill it with FIRE!


Matthew: On the good side of the ledger, I like the way this episode portrays family life on the Enterprise. The Ensign Sutter character presents an interesting new wrinkle to Starfleet life, the single parent. I do kind of wish we had been given a rationale for his single status (and that it had been something other than a shuttle accident), but either way it's a non-dramatic take (e.g. Worf-Alexander) on a real life situation. I thought the Clara character was well written - intelligent and maybe a tad precocious, but not unrealistic or mawkish. Her interactions with Guinan and Alexander were nice and naturalistic ... but did he really work on the cup for two weeks? This episode also afforded Counselor Troi a good role after being unceremoniously left out of several recent and future episodes. It was a natural fit for her character (not that the shows like "The Perfect Mate" and "The Inner Light" weren't...)

Kevin: I agree with what you've said, particularly about Clara. I think this episode is just sort of somnolent, but the kid is not annoying in herself. I would have liked this beefed up with more exploration of life on board a starship. What's it like not growing up on a planet? Are a body's natural rhythms thrown off by the absence of sunlight? Do people raised in space get agoraphobia on planets? They did a good job of portraying recognizable aspects of life on the Enterprise; I think it would have been fun to explore some unrecognizable ones.

Matthew: The other aspect of this plot is less successful. As a science show, nebula energy slow-down strands is not very compelling. And as a creepy show, not enough was given to the nebular creatures to make them particularly interesting. They want energy? Yawn. Maybe if they had sucked out people's souls, or made them zombies, or something, things would have been pepped up considerably. As it was, they came on board, played pretend for a while, and then just agreed to leave peacably. Kind of a snoozer.

Kevin: Yeah, nothing about them read as threatening until Isabella went all Children of the Corn for some reason. There seemed to be no intelligence gap on either side, so why not just appear to the Captain and be all "Dude, you're harshing our buzz," or something? Even the crystal talking to the ugly bags of mostly water in Home Soil felt more like truly alien entities trying to communicate. Maybe there was a way to tie to plots together. Like the beings have intelligence, but no way to relate to humans. Imprinting on Clara warps their view in some meaningful way. The actions taken against the Enterprise could be inadvertently Clara's fault, since they would be responding only to her emotions. That could have added some drama.

Matthew: The lack of child restrictions on this ship rears its head as a dum-dum factor. Apparently, an eight year old girl can wander into Engineering in the midst of a crisis. Why does the turbolift even take her there? A half line of dialogue about Isabella disabling the computer would have gone a long way. The scene where Worf lets the kids slide was cute, though. Basically, this story had all the marks of being a submitted script that was insufficiently polished - and Brannon Braga seems to be the culprit, here.

Kevin: Like I said before, there was a missed opportunity here to see how civilian life operates on board the ship. There could have been stronger parallels to families living in modern military bases, or discussing what it must be like to move from place to place a lot. It would make sense that civilians, even children, must have some free range of some areas of the ship, like any other neighborhood. It would have been fun to see that. Ten Forward usually seems to be full of officers, and on a ship of 1,000, there has to be more than one bar and grill. Seeing a mall or arcade or some other open space meant for civilians to hang out could have been fun and given Clara somewhere to go without giving the impression anything not the Bridge is Lord of the Flies or something.


Matthew: Noley Thornton was really good as Clara. It's obvious why the Trek producers brought her back in DS9. She has that peculiar gift of being a kid who can deliver relatively complex lines without seeming like a little snot that you want to smack. You can even sort of root for her and identify with her. Definitely one of the best child performances in Trek, very natural and unaffected. She later played a character named Erica McKay on 90210.

Kevin: Yeah, we've talked before about a mark of a good guest star being that they seemed immersed in the universe, and I have say even in the Engineering sets, or acting with Worf and Alexander, she never broke the fourth wall and seemed like she was acting on a tv show. Some much more experienced and older actors have stumbled at that.

Matthew: Although the creatures themselves were not written in a convincingly creepy way, holy crap the girl they cast as Isabella, Shay Astar, was creepy. Brrr. I kind of want to drive her out into the wilderness and leave her there for good. She did a great job of reading her lines in a flat, unsettling monotone, and her look was perfect for the part. It's too bad the writers didn't give her anything interesting to do. The actress later played August in 25 episodes of "3rd Rock from the Sun," and a hooker named Apple Martinni in a movie called "Hookers Inc."

Kevin: It makes me feel old that the child actors on TNG are now old enough to play prostitutes. Beyond that, I agree with you completely.

Matthew: Marina Sirtis is the other standout, bringing a nice life to her role as child counselor in this episode. She seems understanding and sensitive to start, but becomes more concerned and wary as the episode progresses.

Kevin: I really like the niche she has settled into in later seasons. The writers never knew how to make her sense something other than deception in obviously lying enemies, and it damages her credibility as a Bridge officer, but seeing her work with families and people with ongoing problems really elevates the character, and gives a nice sense of continuity to the ship. More this, less Cost of Living, please.

Production Values

Matthew: The nebula looked nice, and the energy strands were a pretty cool effect. We also got a nice optical of the nebula outside the observation windows, with the crew in front of it. The effect of the red blob creature was one of the better non-descript energy balls so far.

Kevin: The energy strands looked really good, and the view through the windows was awesome, and provided a charming exchange for Data and Guinan.

Matthew: The arboretum makes a reappearance here, and it's always nice to see, even if it is a somewhat bland set. The childrens' clothing also looked pretty good, except for those fugly gray boots that just never seem to die (last appearance, "Disaster").


Matthew: I'm a bit torn between a 3 and a 2. There are some decent performances, here. But they can't overcome a weak script in which very little happens. Had there been a starker horror angle, or had they really developed the "aliens seeing though the eyes of a child" angle, things might have been improved. But as it stands, I am hard pressed to remember this episode after a few months go by since my last viewing. If that's not the mark of a 2, I don't know what is.

Kevin: I agree with the 2 for a total of 4. The lack of genuine stakes or any real reach on trying to portray life on the Enterprise leave this episode pretty boring.


  1. I wish you guys had given this a little higher score. I agree there are some plot issues(like children running around with no supervision. I like your point about the lack of other entertainment spaces. But I think there were a lot of good moments in this episode and the kids sort of rocked.

  2. There is an argument for a three, but the somehow, the energy strands that slowed the Enterprise also slowed the episode. Normally, I'm not one to say there should be more yelling and explosions, but really, had everyone just shouted their lines the entire episode, it would have at least added some energy.

  3. My biggest issue is that there was no threat. It could be a quiet threat, a creepy threat, an explodey threat. But I want some sort of tension! Kevin makes a good point re: the microbrain. For whatever else the faults of that show were, at least the crystal was trying to kill everybody, and it had a fun catch phrase.

    It sounds as if they were trying to get at some sort of story regarding the treatment of children viewed from the outside. Well, if that were the case, *dramatize* it in some manner other than a Picard speech. As Kevin suggested, have the creature put into reality some of the things from Clara's mind. Or, turn the Enterprise crew into children in order to punish them. Something novel, with high stakes!