WARNING: This article contains large amounts of spoiler information for TNG's "Dark Page". Serious psychic trauma may result from undue spoilage, so be careful.
In brief: Better than most Lwaxana shows, mostly because she spends two-thirds of the show in a coma, but not by all that much.
Of course "better than the usual for Lwaxana" doesn't mean wonderful ... but more on that after something faintly resembling a synopsis. Onwards:
The Enterprise has taken on a delegation from a species called the Cairn, which is just learning a spoken language after communicating only via image-oriented telepathy. Lwaxana is on board to help train the Cairn to master verbal communication, and although her presence is as irritating as ever at first, it also becomes clear that she is feeling a fair amount of pain about something.
Maques, one of the Cairn, speaks to Deanna alone, concerned about what he calls a "dark place" in Lwaxana's mind. Deanna, however, interprets his comments as pertaining merely to issues of privacy, and reassures him that all is well. However, it soon is revealed that all is not well, beginning when Lwaxana comes to Ten-Forward and verbally lashes Riker for his friendship with Deanna. A medical exam reveals strong telepathic fatigue, but little else, and Lwaxana is ordered to get some rest. She disobeys this order, however, and as Deanna is showing the Cairn around the arboretum, Lwaxana suddenly collapses into a coma!
There is no apparent physical cause for her condition; it seems that her brain has simply shut down. Picard, concerned that it could be a side-effect of Cairn telepathy, asks Maques about it. Maques says that Picard's fear is unjustified, but adds that it is Lwaxana's "bad thoughts" that are causing her pain. When no one understands what he means, he attempts to explain telepathically to Deanna. The implications Deanna understands are that Lwaxana may have suffered some psychic trauma in the past that has caused her psyche to completely collapse on itself. Maques attempts to contact Lwaxana telepathically, but is unable to decipher the images he sees. He suggests a three-way link: Lwaxana, Maques -- and Deanna.
Despite the risk, Deanna agrees to it. The link is established, and Deanna finds herself in a dark corridor on the Enterprise. She hears many things, including a cry for help from her mother, a splash of water, and a growling wolf; however, when she tries to locate the source of these sounds, barriers spring up around her. An image of Picard tries to order her away; a wolf chases her down the corridor; and an image of her father tries to distract her and keep her from continuing the search. Bypassing all of these obstacles, she suddenly sees an image of Hedril, Maques's young daughter -- but before she can make sense of it, an image of Lwaxana herself appears, screaming at Deanna to "get away from here!" Deanna wakes, heart pounding.
Deanna speaks briefly to Hedril, who believes that her presence somehow saddens Lwaxana, but can give no other hints as to her presence in Lwaxana's mind. Deanna gets a copy of her mother's journal from Betazed, and as Lwaxana's condition worsens, Deanna and Picard find a seven-year gap in the journals, from a year after Lwaxana's wedding to just after Deanna's birth. Deanna decides that the only way to find the answers and to help her mother is to re-enter Lwaxana's mind. A second link is established...
. and she finds Hedril standing with the wolf. Hedril, however, does not answer to that name, and wanders off silently. Deanna pursues them, seemingly "off the edge" of the Enterprise into empty space, but finds herself in a mixture of an old home on Betazed and the arboretum. There she finds Lwaxana, alone and pitiful. Lwaxana tells Deanna to leave, but Deanna refuses, telling Lwaxana to let them face the truth together. Deanna sees a scene play itself out: a scene of herself as an infant, with her mother, her father, and an older sister, Kestra, whom Deanna never knew. Lwaxana finally tells Deanna of the tragic accident in which Kestra died, and with Deanna's help comes to terms with her own role in it. Lwaxana "says" goodbye to Kestra, and she and Deanna both wake, fully recovered. With Lwaxana returned to health, she and Deanna begin to talk about Kestra.
That would seem to take care of that. Now, on with the review.
It is almost a law of television now that Lwaxana Troi-centered shows are highly substandard fare. "Haven" was fairly unwatchable, and "Menage a Troi' and "Cost of Living" are both contented residents on my list of five worst TNG showings ever. There are some exceptions: I appear to be one of the ten people still living who enjoyed the second-season "Manhunt", and "Half a Life" was a decent (though not great) show, thanks primarily to a standout piece of acting from David Ogden Stiers.
However, even with those exceptions, I'd say they mostly prove the rule that Lwaxana shows don't work. In addition to the presence of TNG's most annoying recurring character, they tend to bring out the worst elements of Marina Sirtis's acting, and they usually have storylines ranging from the insultingly bad ("Cost of Living") to the merely pointless ("Haven"). Given all this, I think I had a built-in bias against "Dark Page" from the start.
To a point, I found myself pleasantly surprised. While the show itself was far from stellar, it had some elements in it that were quite watchable, and perhaps even affecting. They were certainly overshadowed by the bad bits, yes (and there were many), but I don't think the episode was completely awful, as I suspect many other people do.
So, what were the strengths? For starters, there was some good work that went into presenting to us exactly what the trauma was that Lwaxana went through years ago. I'm not sure I agree with the actual choice of trauma, but that's a different issue; there were hints dropped in the initial "dream" that in retrospect point to what happened very plainly, but that upon first going through still leave the viewer scratching his/her head. I don't know how early most people figured out what had actually happened, but I didn't figure it out until the journals were revealed to have been erased -- and even then it took me a few minutes to get out the details. In retrospect, though, it hangs together quite well, even the actual trigger of Lwaxana's collapse (Hedril jumping in the pond). That was all fairly nicely done.
Also, some of the imagery in the "dream" sequences was fairly well carried off. The biggest difficulty here was one of timing: by coming right on the heels of "Phantasms", a show that used dream imagery in an absolutely superb fashion, "Dark Page" suffers a lot by comparison, so that a half-decent use of dream imagery simply looks hokey. I think this was such a case; "Dark Page" isn't likely to ever give "Phantasms" a run for its money, but without that extra baggage the imagery works fairly well. (The one overt reference back to "Phantasms" was kind of a mixed bag -- on the one hand, it reminded people of just how much better that show was, but on the other, it would have been embarrassing to not mention the obvious parallels.)
Another plus, though substantially smaller, was the idea of the Cairn, a race that communicates only via specialized telepathy. I don't know about the plausibility of such a species on an SF level, but it makes for some interesting questions that I rather liked to ponder.
Unfortunately (moving on to the negatives), the execution of the Cairn was not carried off at all well. Norman Large had some moments that worked, but on the whole there were several things about his portrayal of Maques that I found not only flawed, but downright annoying. In the first place, I don't think someone who has not spoken verbally _at all_ except in the last week would use the sort of verbal padding we do (such as "um" and "er", both of which he used with great frequency). In the second, the "swarm of bees" sound effect used to suggest Cairn telepathy fell completely flat -- rather than thinking "hey, she's getting a wash of images", I found myself wondering if my cable company was remixing "Exorcist II". Thirdly, the intense stare Maques had on his face while establishing the linkup tended to look pretty silly, more than anything else. It's a pity, because the Cairn done right might have some real potential.
Another minus, as is all too frequent, was the fact that, so far as I can tell, Majel Barrett simply can't act. She certainly can't emote -- the "revelation" scenes in the holodeck were affecting when Lwaxana wasn't actually talking, but had my teeth on edge when she was. It's on a par with the way Marina Sirtis used to show Troi's feelings of "intense pain": not realistic, and not remotely interesting to watch. Some of the early scenes, where she's in pain and being subdued, actually worked fine, but her other two states of being in this show (blubbering on the one hand, and being the usual annoying flutterer on the other) had me wincing, though not quite as much as usual.
Somewhat surprisingly, there wasn't a great deal of technobabble in the show. There seemed to be just enough to define what Lwaxana's ordeal was, and then leave it at that. It's probably not the mark of a good show that I'm mentioning the lack of a problem as a highlight, but given how widespread the problem's been lately it's worth mentioning its absence.
Finally, a few words about the existence of Kestra and the trauma it put Lwaxana through. As a choice for psychic trauma, I think it was a good one -- certainly, that is the sort of thing that Lwaxana might have wanted to keep secret, and something that must cut deep into the heart of any parent. However, as a choice for a TNG plot I don't think it worked. Until recently, TNG had done a surprisingly good job of avoiding the "Bonanza syndrome" [that of introducing relatives or lovers and then killing them off immediately] over the past few years. However, we've now had two instances of it in seven episodes this year, the other being "Interface", where Geordi's never-before-seen-and-barely-mentioned mother is introduced only to be allegedly killed off by the show's end. Here, in fact, it was even worse than the usual case -- Kestra was killed off and THEN introduced. It's a realistic choice of tragedy, but probably a poor judgement call for drama.
(It is, in fact, a sign of a trend that I'm starting to find very worrying. This sudden revealing of past connections, very probably including next week's "Attached", at least from the previews, suggests that within the Trek universe, the universe somehow "knows" that the show is coming to a close and is hurrying to get all sorts of extra stuff in at once. It's contrived, folks.)
Now, some shorter comments:
- The scene with Deanna's father had some of its moments, but did we have to have the singing?
- Random costume question: in the teaser, it was said that Deanna was coming to the reception as soon as she got off duty. Given that, and that the rest of the regulars were in uniform, why wasn't she? Just curious.
- From the Familiar Faces Archives: Norman Large (Maques) played Neral, the Romulan proconsul, in "Unification". He worked better there, too.
- A bright spot here was Kirsten Dunst as Hedril. She had a minor role, but I think she did a good job of it. In particular, I loved that sheepish "oops" look she got on her face after falling in the pond -- I see that look on kids a little older than her all the time. Terrific.
That about covers it. "Dark Page" was TNG at its most melodramatic -- and unfortunately, like "The Loss" (also written by Hilary J. Bader), this particular type of melodrama really doesn't work for me.
So, to sum up:
Plot: I don't like the underlying cause, but some of the mystery was well done.
Plot Handling: Decent (not great) work on the dreams, pretty poor everywhere else.
Characterization: Annoying, often to an extreme.
OVERALL: Call it a 4. As I said, better than most Lwaxana shows, but not by much.
Picard and Bev, kidnapped again.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Get away from here!"
-- unintended advice to the viewers
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...