Star Trek The Next Generation: Half a Life

Troi's mother, Lwaxana, becomes close to a scientist working with the Enterprise to try to save his home planet.

"Diplomacy! Oh, I adore diplomacy! Everyone dresses so well!"

I have always been a fan of Lwaxana Troi episodes. There's the occasional horrible mis-fire ('Menage A Troi' is truly terrible and season seven's 'Dark Page' isn't great either) but the light-hearted, broadly comic stories offer a pleasant change of pace and I'm a big fan of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's larger than life, over the top performance. Even more effective, though, are the episodes in which Lwaxana's story takes a more serious turn, often a melancholy reflection of loss and loneliness.

Lwaxana's defining trait is her widowhood, as her story is driven from her first appearance by her search for a new husband. When played for comedy, this can be amusing (though a little uncomfortable considering her predatory behaviour can go a bit far sometimes) but when played seriously, Barrett skillfully reveals the sadness lying underneath Lwaxana's brash exterior and provides a real human (or Betazoid) connection with the character.

I also really enjoy the subversion of our expectations in the early part of this episode. We've seen men, especially Picard, shrink in fear from Lwaxana's amorous advances, the audience invited to laugh at her clumsy flirting. When she approaches the quiet foreign diplomat, we expect comic disaster. Here, however, she finds a man who truly appreciates her lively personality and outgoing approach. The contrast between Lwaxana's exuberance and Timicin's still, quiet manner only emphasises how well they fit together, in a yin and yang sort of way.

David Ogden Stiers (whom you may recognise from M*A*S*H)' performance as Timicin is the other glue that holds this episode together. It's a wonderful, solid, touching performance, and it's Stiers that holds the episode together during the second half, where I confess I have some issues with the story. Respecting alien cultures is all very well, but for me, there's a point where you have to speak up against a practice that you find completely wrong (as Lwaxana does - another reason I like her). Moving the age of death from Logan's Run's 30 to 60 doesn't make the practice any more acceptable and for me, this is not an issue I feel the need to hear both sides of.

To be fair, the attempted solution of political asylum is perfectly sensible and the Enterprise could hardly start a diplomatic incident by protesting an isolationist planet's customs. That's not what I have an issue with. It's more the arguments put forward by Timicin's horrible daughter and the implication that these should hold any weight that bothers me, as I personally find the idea that anyone could contemplate such a custom positively chilling (especially considering, as Lwaxana points out, that Timicin is not ill or physically suffering in any way - his brain is working perfectly well and he is perfectly healthy, and the solution to loneliness among the elderly is not mass suicide). Thanks to Stiers, however, the episode just about holds together, as his performance is so sympathetic, it's impossible not to feel your heart breaking.

Bits and pieces

 - This has to be one of the funniest cold opens - Troi's personal log reports simply, in exasperated tones, that "my mother is on board" and we see Picard peeking nervously out of the turbolift doors.

 - Timicin's daughter is played by Michelle Forbes, who would later appear in the recurring role of Ro Laren (and who you might also know from Battlestar Galactica or True Blood).

 - At least Timicin got laid once more before his socially mandated euthanasia, so that's something, I guess?!

 - Timicin's daughter's arguments are difficult enough to take as it is (who is this woman who actively encourages her supposedly-loved father to kill himself?!), but the fact she makes them while showing off this hairstyle does not help.

 - More ridiculousness - risking an entire planet because one man refuses to commit suicide, so you decide to cut off his potentially planet-saving work and ignore it, does not say much for the intelligence or sense of self-preservation of the planet's leaders.

Quotes

Picard: The Prime Directive forbids us to interfere with the social order of any planet.
Lwaxana: Well, it's your Prime Directive, not mine!

Lwaxana: His orders don't apply to me!
Troi: No, they apply to him.

Lwaxana: What you're really saying is, you got rid of the problem by getting rid of the people.

My second favourite Lwaxana episode, but I will never see both sides of this particular issue. Four and half out of five fancy diplomatic outfits.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I've always thought this is a terrific episode. You're right that it goes too far, Juliette, especially since Timicin was actually working to save his own planet. But it also pointed out how terrible and unfair some customs can be. Stiers was terrific, and I loved how this situation gave Lwaxana some necessary depth. It said a lot about her that she chose to attend his resolution ceremony, to respect his choice and his planet's custom, even though she thought it was pointless murder. Which it was.

Michelle Forbes! She's so good that she even managed to pull off a heavily dramatic scene in that ridiculous hairdo. (What were they thinking?) I'm not surprised they wanted to bring her back.

Wonderful review, Juliette. And not just because I agree with every word of it.

Victoria Grossack said...

I like Lwaxana Troi as well, although I'm more of a DS9 fan. Perhaps there are some similarities between Timicin and Odo - both logical men who need prodding to enter a relationship. Lwaxana is truly loving, but many viewers can't see that.

Juliette said...

Thanks Billie! :) I agree Victoria - Lwaxana is a really loving character, even if she can be a little overbearing, that's partly why I like her.