WARNING: The following article contains hosts of spoiler information regarding this week's TNG offering, "The Inner Light." Those not wishing to have said light shone on them at the moment are advised to remain clear.
That was one of the most...interesting and heartfelt shows I've seen from TNG in a long time. I'm still not sure what I can say.
Fortunately, before I have to say anything, I can synopsize to my heart's content. :-) Maestro:
The Enterprise encounters an object; a probe of unknown and fairly primitive design, which quickly begins matching their course and speed. It initially seems nonthreatening, but soon emits a beam of nucleons. The shields go up,
but it manages to break through the shields in a very narrow region, and Picard suddenly faints. He blearily sees Riker holding him...and then Riker dissolves into a youngish woman with a careworn look on her face, who asks Picard if he's feeling better, referring to him as "Kamin". Picard initially believes he's stuck in a holodeck program and attempts to leave, but to no avail. Feeling trapped, he paces. "What is this place?" "This...is your home, of course."
Picard is taken aback; is he a prisoner? Of course he's not, as she makes clear; he's been feverish for over a week. She says he's still very weak and asks him not to go outside, which he promptly does. He finds himself in the
middle of a small village, where a large and happy man has just finished planting a sapling in the courtyard, as an "affirmation of life" and a symbol of hope, despite the devastating drought. As the crowd moves on, Picard accosts this man, who also welcomes "Kamin" back to the land of the fit. Upon hearing Picard's questions, however, he comes to believe that Picard has amnesia. Picard, realizing he needs answers, decides to play along with this. He discovers that his name is Kamin; that the man with him is his friend and Council leader Batai; that the woman is his wife Eline; and that they're in the community of Ressic on the planet Kataan. He takes a walk, to "reacquaint himself with the surroundings", and wanders for hours, seeing a gleaming city far away.
He returns home to Eline, who tells him she's been worried sick. As she gets him some dinner ("It's delicious." "You always say that."), he asks her a number of questions. First, he intends to send a message the next day, though he's not sure to where. Then, with a little prompting, he begins asking about them. "We're...married?" "Three years ago. The happiest day of my life was the day we got married." He discovers that he's an ironweaver, though he prefers to play his flute (poorly). He thanks her for her help, and she takes his hand and asks him to come to bed. He demurs and attempts to make excuses, but she is insistent. He begins to rise, and then sees the charm she wears, which is identical in shape to the probe they encountered. When he demands to know where she got it, however, he
discovers that it's the first gift he ever gave her. He watches it twirl...and Riker, on the bridge, calls to Sickbay for help, as Picard's body slips into a coma.
Bev arrives and does some scans, finding incredible neurotransmitter activity. They reason that the probe has somehow connected itself to him like a tether, and find that the beam is nigh unto unblockable at present. They can destroy the probe, but Bev strongly urges against that. They wait.
Five years pass on Kataan. Picard is looking through a telescope of his own construction, charting the sun's path to attempt to find the cause of the drought. Eline, however, believes he's still looking for that ship of his, and hurtly upbraids him for not paying attention to the life he has *now*. When, she asks, will she get him back? When will they start a family?
Batai interrupts to take "Kamin" to the Administrator's visit. The Administrator is somewhat unsympathetic and unctuous, but Picard seems to impress him somewhat. Regardless, his idea to build atmospheric condensers is quickly dismissed as costly and unworkable, and the Administrator leaves with no firm plan of action in hand (or even in mind). Picard broods, but Batai notes that it's the first time in years he's heard "Kamin" speak like a true member of the community again. They return to Picard's house for dinner.
Later that evening, Picard and Batai sit while Picard plays the flute. Eline gently tells Batai that it's time he went home, and then chides "Kamin" about leaving his shoes everywhere. The conversation quickly turns more serious, with Picard acknowledging her points of that day and apologizing for not being a better husband to her. He asks her permission to build something else. She points out that he didn't need her permission to build the telescope, or the laboratory, and he doesn't need it now, but he insists. He wants to build a nursery. "Really?" "Unless, of course, if you would prefer a porch; it would be much easier to build, and I could start on it right away--" He gets no further.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, Geordi launches a probe to follow the radioactive traces of the alien probe back to their source. Data has figured out a likely way to disrupt the beam, and despite Bev's misgivings about the idea, Riker decides to do so.
Several years pass on Kataan. Kamin and Eline are holding the naming ceremony for their second child, named Batai for their late friend. After the formalities are concluded, they look at their daughter Meribor and note how fast she's grown. (Eline notes that she's accompanying Kamin all over the place, and is surely her father's daughter.) Kamin remarks that he once thought he never needed children, but that now he can't imagine life without them. Suddenly, he turns pale, shudders, and collapses. Eline calls for the doctor--
--and Bev and Ogawa try frantically to stabilize Picard, but to no avail. With no choice, Data hastily manages to reestablish the beam, and Picard stabilizes.
Ten years or so later on Kataan, Meribor is in her late teens, and is turning into quite the scientist herself. She's continued her father's work on the drought, and has discovered that the soil is simply dead. She tries to voice the unspoken conclusion of her work, but Kamin tries to avoid it and change the subject. Eventually, however, she voices what he already knew: the planet is dying. He is saddened that she must bear this knowledge as well, but she bears it well. "I think I should marry Danek sooner rather than later, don't you?" "Seize the day, Meribor. Live now; make *now* always the most precious time. Now will never come again."
...And on the bridge, Geordi's managed to trace the probe's path back to its origin, a system called Kataan. Unfortunately, there are no inhabited planets there; the sun went nova and all life in that system died roughly a thousand years ago.
Several more years pass on Kataan. Eline comes out to see a very aged Kataan, still working on his telescope, and who urges Eline to lie down after her recent surgery. When they hear Batai playing the flute, she suggests Kamin talk to him, hinting that there are things that need to be said. Batai comes out to talk to them, and tells Kamin that he's leaving school to concentrate on his music. "*This* is the life I want to lead." Kamin is initially aghast at this, but eventually comes around, telling Batai that they will "discuss" it later. He explains to a surprised Eline that he doesn't think he should stand in his son's way; and besides, he may not have much longer to lead his life anyway. Kamin notes that he'll be talking to the Administrator tomorrow and will possibly be expelled from the Council for his findings.
The next morning, he and the Administrator argue. At first, the Administrator simply refuses to listen, but he eventually tells Kamin in confidence that their scientists found the same conclusions roughly two years ago, but have kept it quiet to avoid starting a panic. A plan is currently underway to save *some* facet of the civilization, but more cannot be said at this time.
Suddenly, Batai comes running to Kamin; it's Eline. Kamin rushes home, but there's nothing that can be done. She asks Batai for a moment alone with Kamin, and is relieved to hear that he won't be thrown off the Council. "Remember...put your shoes away." "I promise." Eline dies, and a heartsick Kamin grieves over the body.
Years afterward, an extremely old Kamin is chasing after his grandson. Meribor and Batai come to take both of them to see "the launching." Kamin is initially not interested, but is talked into it. They head out to the courtyard, where Kamin sits on a bench at the outskirts. "What is it they're launching?"
"You know it, father. You've already seen it."
"Seen it? What are you talking about? I haven't seen any missile."
"Yes, you have, old friend. Don't you remember?"
Kamin turns, awestruck, to see his friend Batai again, as hale and hearty as he was in the prime of life.
"You saw it just before you came here. We hoped our probe would encounter someone in the future--someone who could be a teacher, someone who could tell the others about us."
"Oh...oh, it's me...isn't it? I'm the someone. I'm the one it finds. That's what this launching is--a probe that finds me in the future!"
"Yes, my love." This comes from Eline, now alive again and flush with the beauty of youth. "The rest of us have been gone a thousand years. If you remember what we were, and how we lived, then we'll have found life again."
"Eline..." He watches the missile lift off.
"Now, we live in you. Tell them of us...my darling..." Kamin stares...
...and Picard wakes up on the bridge of the Enterprise as the probe breaks contact and shuts down. He's initially very disoriented, but quickly reacquires at least a cursory knowledge of the situation. He discovers that he's only been unconscious for 20 or 25 minutes, and accompanies Bev to sickbay.
Some time later, Riker visits Picard in his ready room. As Picard gets used to the fact that this is once again his home, Riker hands him a small box they found inside the probe after they examined it. He leaves, and Picard opens the box, to find his flute. He cradles it to his breast, then softly plays it, as we see the ship fading off towards the stars.
Whew. Yep, another long one. Ah, well. Time for me to come up with some commentary now, I suppose...
First, a note of caution. As you can already tell (from the synop, if nothing else; I tend to run on a lot longer and get much more flowery in my phrasing if it's a really good piece :-) ), I loved the show; but I'd predict right now that this will not be for everyone. It's an extremely, *extremely* atypical piece so far as Trek is concerned, and that's going to turn some people off, no question. Just so you're warned; of course, if you are turned off by something like this, you've probably discovered a ways back that our tastes don't mix.
Two things figure importantly in whether you'll like or dislike the show. The first is the respect and liking (or lack thereof) you have for Patrick Stewart's acting, as this was very definitely a showpiece for him. I think most people 'round here tend to like his work a great deal, but there are always exceptions. The second is more difficult, but I think a lot of your enjoyment will depend on how many, if any, personal chords Kamin's life struck within you. To some extent, a personal connection to an important character is always important, of course; but I think it's far more so here.
For my part, I fit both bills a lot. My love for Stewart's acting is probably close to legendary (or at least folkloric :-) ) by now, and this is up among his best work, no question. (As an aside, I think that the slightly-aged Kamin physically looks almost exactly as I would picture Stewart playing Scrooge with makeup and costuming if he ever changes the
format of his one-man "A Christmas Carol".) As for the second part...well, this was a deeply introspective show, so you're going to have to pardon me while I get a little introspective myself here.
At least three things struck resounding chords with me as Kamin's life unfolded before our eyes. The first was the manner in which he told Eline about building the nursery; as Mike Shappe alluded to once, long ago (but got wrong :-) ), I proposed to my wife a few years ago by saying "I had another present in mind...but I thought I should check with you first before I got it." "Oh?" "Something about this big...gold...with a diamond in it." I knew there was a reason I've connected so well with Picard's character. :-)
The second was Kamin's conversation with his son Batai about Batai's plans. Having recently been in the situation of informing family and friends about my own decision to leave school and go into science teaching, I can readily, *readily* sympathize with the soul-searching that must have gone into Batai's choice there, and Kamin's reaction is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to have gotten.
The third was more depressing, but still strongly connected. Kamin's last phase of life, the heavily aged man, reminded me very strongly of my recently-late grandfather...especially when he had on that old straw hat. Another week, another year, this might not have hit very strongly; but given that his memorial service was a scant ten days ago, the parallel was very strong just now.
Hmm. You see why I said this might not be for everyone? Everything I saw kept reinforcing itself not only within the context of the show, but within my *life*; and that's too rare not to be something to cherish.
Anyway. Now that I've bored you with details of my personal life, onwards to a few more general comments. :-)
Stewart's performance, as I said, was superb, from the initial disbelief and suspicion, to the eventual acceptance, to the slow passing of age, to the final revelations as Kamin, down to his touching flute solo at the end. (I'd be obliged, by the way, if a flautist could let me know whether it looked like Stewart was *actually* playing the flute himself. I tend to doubt it, but it looked convincing enough to me.) I saw touches of a lot of different things as Kamin aged over 35 years or more (including a professor here in the department; the "Hey, that's my hobby, go find your own!" could
easily have sprung from his lips :-) ), and I can't remember a single offputting scene in the lot. Wondrous.
The rest of the regulars were fine for what they had to do, which was exceedingly little. No problems, and at least one plus: Gates McFadden's reaction to Picard's near-death midway through was one of the most realistic reactions from her I've seen in a while (and I like her in general, too).
Now to the guest stars. I can't say I've a lot of complaints here either. All were wonderfully written (in fact, character-wise, I can't think of *anything* poorly written, honest), and pretty much all were well performed. Margot Rose's Eline took a little while to grow on me, but I was quite attached to her by show's end; and I also think she looked *just* enough like "The Perfect Mate"'s Kamala to throw Picard that much more off guard. Heh. Richard Riehle's Batai was just fine; initially, I have to say, I was as suspicious of him as Picard was. That turned out to be unfounded, though,
and he did turn into a good friend in what we saw of him. Scott Jaeck's Administrator was properly sleazy (hey, I calls 'em as I sees 'em, and I think Jaeck almost *always* plays pretty sleazy people :-) ), which is about all that was really needed. (Brief aside: I can't remember for the life of me just *where* I've seen Scott Jaeck before, though, but I know it's been in a couple of different places. Any ideas?)
Jennifer Nash's Meribor was extremely good. What she lacked in terms of a_physical_ resemblance to Stewart (after all, she is s'posed to be his daughter), she more than made up for in force of personality. Her dedication to truth and adeptness at conversation and debate were passed very true from father to daughter, and that's the sort of thing that's tough to fake. I rather admired her, in fact.
And then there's Daniel Stewart as the younger Batai. Well, he's not his dad in terms of ability, but he's also two or three decades behind him; give 'im time. He did just fine for what he had to do (namely, exhibit a lot of quiet fire), and he certainly *did* have the physical resemblance to Stewart needed to make things convincing. (Between the two Stewarts and the facial features that are prominent in my family, I'm starting to wonder if the purest heredity of all is preserved in the nose. My nose goes back four generations. :-) )
Let's see...oh, the plot. Well, the Kamin-related plot was very simple, and very straightforward, and almost in the background, as I believe it should be in cases like these. There is one suspension of disbelief you need to make, probably (namely, that a planet with enough primitive patches like those has the technology to build a probe that can do what it did to Picard), but I'm perfectly willing to do that. (Hell, if I can swallow "Conundrum", this is nothing. :-) ) There's not a lot of plot to play with, but there doesn't need to be in this case.
Peter Lauritson directed, which was a surprise; he's been an associate producer or producer on TNG since the pilot, but has never directed before. And while he's not quite up on the Rob Bowman/Jonathan Frakes tier of TNG directors, he's awfully nice, especially for a rookie. A few shots in particular really struck me:
--the changeover from Riker to Eline in the teaser
--the slow shot of Eline's charm spinning
--the pan around Picard as he plays the flute at the close
--and most of all, the series of cuts as the old Kamin turns to see first Batai and then Eline. This one, in particular, reminded me of some of the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey", with Dave Bowman seeing himself...and himself...and himself, and let's face it, being reminded of Stanley Kubrick is not exactly a major problem in this business. :-) (Add to that the fact that Stewart's final makeup job as Kamin made him virtually unrecognizable and things got even more surreal.)
All in all, nice work there.
Finally, a word on the music. With all the flute, I knew early on that Jay Chattaway had to be the one who handled this one, and I was right; but he came back up to "Darmok" level here, I think. Best music I've heard in a long, long, *long* time on TNG, particularly in the use of the flute. Not being a musician, I don't have particularly eloquent or specific ways to describe it, but I know what I like, and I liked this.
Well, that should about do it. This was in some ways a rather unorthodox review; but then, in many more ways it was a pretty unorthodox episode. It's going to be one of my favorites in a few years' time, I bet; and it's mighty good from the start. Bravo, I say. Bravo.
Oh...numbers? If you hadn't guessed, you can put in 10's for everything this time. First time I've been able to do that in quite a while (at least since "Cause and Effect", and that for very different reasons). :-)
NEXT WEEK: Another rerun, this time of "The Masterpiece Society". Catch you in two weeks for the season finale.
Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
"Now we live in you. Tell them of us...my darling."
Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... TNG