Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Dark Page

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Dark Page"
Airdate: November 1, 1993
158 of 176 produced
158 of 176 aired


Lwaxana Troi is aboard, assisting a delegation of Cairn diplomats. The Cairn are a race of advanced telepaths that have evolved without spoken language. To facilitate relations, Lwaxana has been teaching them to communicate. However, shortly after coming aboard, she begins acting erratically, even for her. Eventually she collapses into a deep coma. Deanna must find what is causing her mother's mind to shut down before it's too late.
How many tragedies must occurr on the Enterprise's putt-putt golf course before they just shut it down once and for all?


Kevin: I don't think I've ever said this before, not even about "Code of Honor" or "Angel One," but I hate this episode. The other two were awful, but fascinating in a train wreck way. Cost of Living was terrible too, but it wasn't near as sluggishly paced or continuity damaging. My primary problem is this: even if episodes were the story was awful or the character laid on too thick, Lwaxana herself was a fun character with a positive fundamental character trait, the ability to seize the joy in life. It is what makes her journey in "Half a Life" so interesting. She's Auntie Mame in outer space and that's what I have always loved about her. This story reduces her to a manic woman constantly running from the pain of her daughter's death. The twist itself is too soap operatic for Star Trek. There was really no evidence or a family friend who discussed the existence of a six year old girl? And it changes Lwaxana from a character that is fundamentally supposed to be fun and makes her one that is sad. It also doesn't quite fit with what else we've seen of Lwaxana processing loss. There is no evidence of such a psychotic break over her husband's death, and would a woman who was actively suppressing the memory of the loss of her daughter even attempt a relationship with Timicin knowing it had a built-in end date? This revelation converts Lwaxana's energy and verve into a perpetual PTSD episode. Even when the stories surrounding her did not succeed, I always felt the character did, and this episode dismantles that in a way that is jarring and basically unentertaining.

Matthew: I don't think this is as great a character assassination as you do. I don't see a direct line between this traumatic episode and her later behavior at all. Which is, of course, the main problem in my book. It makes no sense, either on its face, or in the context of her character. As you say, it is unbelievable that Deanna's father, as well as every single acquaintance of the family, participated in Lwaxana's coverup, not to mention the government and record keeping institutions of their world. Another problem with the story is also that the whole "collapse of psyche" aspect was completely fuzzy and unexplained. This seems like a very poor coping mechanism to have arisen naturally in the species - bad thing happens = debilitating coma. At least PTSD makes a certain amount of sense, the human mind is trained to respond to the traumatic condition in all situations. I'm wracking my brain trying to think of a better angle for the story, The best one I can come up with is this - Lwaxana is such a powerful telepath that she repressed her own memory as well as the memories of others, and the Cairn were the only ones who could see through it.

Kevin: The Cairn are an interesting idea with an uninteresting realization. The repeated scenes of them struggling for words has the result of making their scenes sluggish and halting. I like the idea of telepaths abandoning spoken word, but the idea doesn't cook long enough. Would it really only take a few weeks with Lwaxana to restore a skill that atrophied long ago? And why was Hedril along at all? We've never met the young children of diplomatic staff before, so her presence doesn't really serve the reality of the story, just the need for the trigger for the next part of it.

Matthew: I will actually take issue with the notion that the Cairn are even potentially interesting. They're a retread. They are a combo between the deaf guy from "Loud as a Whisper" and the memory recovery aliens from "Violations." If they evolved without language, why does Hedril let out an exclamation when she falls into the water? Why can they hear at all? If they can hear, it would make more sense for them to evolve away from language, not without it. That's pretty much all we get about them, to boot. They are a complete and total foil for the episode's plot - a telepathic bridge between Lwaxana and Deanna. We learn nothing in the slightest that is interesting about them. They could have been Vulcans, or just another Betazoid. They are useless.

Kevin: Where the dream sequences in "Phantasms" have a certain quirky energy and charm, the ones here were more reminiscent of the ones from "Birthright," of which I was not a fan. Why would either Lwaxana or Deanna see Lwaxana's mind as the Enterprise beyond the desire to not build a new set? It would have been fun to see it set in her house on Betazed. It would have led to some nice background touches for both characters. Instead, we get the same two or three images over and over again. It never really builds momentum or energy. I did like the brief scene with Troi's father, and had the sequences been more of that, they may have succeeded more.

Matthew: I think the scene between Deanna and the image of her father was one of the best in the show. It was touching and sad to see Deanna say goodbye to an image she clearly wanted to spend time with, in order to save someone currently living. She's a good kid. I also liked how Deanna counseled Lwaxana into confronting her memories.

Kevin: As with so many whiffs in the last two seasons, the character interactions remain strong. Marina Sirtis was quite close to the Roddenberrys and the scenes between mother and daughter always play well, full of affection but also history, and that was present here. It's just a shame it wasn't in service of a more interesting story.


Kevin: Majel Barett has range. We know that, and it is on display here. She really radiated fatigue and anger and sorrow. Like her breakdown in "Half a Life," I thought her final scene of Kestra's death was pretty good, and in itself affecting. Despite my problems with the plot itself, I really bought her torrent of grief at the loss of her daughter. Sirtis also did a great job portraying concern and curiosity in unpacking the mental images, and the scene with her father was heartbreaking. The pleading with her mother's mind not to show her this was wrenching. The actress both brought their A-games to their scenes, and it's a shame that it was wasted on this piece of character assassination.

Matthew: I disliked her screaming at Riker. It was really just shrill. But that's as much bad writing as it is a poor acting choice. I agree that the rest of her performance was pretty good. I got a little misty when she was feeling guilty for her daughter's death, though perhaps my recent life developments prime me for this even more. And I also agree on Deanna with her father. It was well played.

Kevin: Maques was too flat for me. Too much staring, too much monotone, and too much halting speech rendered him boring to watch. And I think they only had him stare so much to give a little weight to the notion he may somehow be responsible. A young Kirsten Dunst was actually pretty good. She acted like a precocious child pretty well in a way that didn't read as forced or wise beyond her years.

Matthew: Kirsten Dunst displayed every bit of her acting ability here. Which is to say, she was generally wooden, but blandly likable. I'm not a Dunst hater. But she's no Meryl Streep, folks.

Production Values

Kevin: Normally, a dark, deserted Enterprise is a cinematographic joy, but here, it was just corridors and corridors. The fall into open space in the corridor was almost an interesting shot, but the lead up was too long for it really to have any punch. The arboretum set looked too much like a set for my tastes. Again, I think using an actual dedicated location would have worked more to serve the story. I like the touches on Ian Troi's uniform, though.

Matthew: This episode screamed bottle show, and not in a good way. I almost think this would have been improved by simply placing the dream sequences on a black soundstage. And I say that having suffered through "The Empath." The arboretum is the one TNG set that actually looks worse than its TOS counterpart. It looks totally cheap, the grass looks fake, and the ceiling is too low. I can't believe people take others on dates there in order to try and get them horny. I can't believe Keiko could have had a whole career in this little rubber plant room.

Kevin: The make-up for the Cairn was a little too on the nose, like a less interesting version of the Talosians. Any time we meet a mentally advanced race, they have big, bald brain-heads, and it's a tad predictable. The vocal chord modifiers were fun in theory, but it make them hard to actually listen to in way that was engaging.

Matthew: I hated the sound effect for the telepathy - you know, the one that sounds like a bus driving by too fast? It's one of those production choices that you know somebody thought was a cool idea, but they had no inkling of what actually watching such an episode would feel like. Kirstin Dunst's brain head looked awful. Maques was better, but then, his hair looked somewhat like a troll doll's.


Kevin: This is a 1 for me. I've long defended Lwaxana as at least fun to watch, and this not only wasn't, but it casts a pall on all the episodes were she was. The well-intentioned, meddling mother was fun. The obsessed trauma victim running from the truth for thirty years takes the character from fun to pathetic in an instant. To top it all off, the episode is dark, slow, and ultimately, boring.

Matthew: I'm torn between a 1 and a 2 here. Having had a kid, I am now more affected by some of the themes in the story. But we shouldn't reward shallow melodrama, and that's really what this boils down to. It is a completely artificial development from out of left field, with no precedent and no follow-up. Various aspects of the story are faulty on their faces. The production values generally sucked. Only some decent acting threatened to bring this up a tick, but I don't think it did. Something has to occupy the 1 end of our scale. If it isn't this, it's nothing. That makes for a 2.

1 comment:

  1. Well, say what you will about the episode, but I will always give them credit for using a real wolf.

    And not only that, but by getting a shot of a menacing wolf by deliberately *pissing off* a real wolf.

    Most other shows chicken out and go the Siberian-Huskies-look-enough-like-wolves-to-dumb-audiences route.

    I also enjoyed the scene with Deanna's father in the house where she lived as a child. And actually hearing him sing to her.

    The answer to the episode may have been... offputting seems the most polite word... but the journey to get there was fascinating for me. (Yes, I know, I keep defending the Lwaxana stories that y'all hate.)