Star Trek The Next Generation: Imaginary Friend

"Can you only communicate by threatening a small child?"

So the Enterprise was invaded by an alien in the form of a Tinker Bell light. Again. How many times has this happened by now? When has it actually turned out to make for an exciting story? And tell me again why they have children on board a starship?

I will readily admit that the idea of a child's imaginary friend becoming real has potential. They even cast a good child actress (Noley Thornton) to play Clara Sutter, a little girl who had created an imaginary playmate to compensate for the fact that her father's Starfleet career had her moving around from ship to ship, never having much of a chance to make long-time friends.

But "Isabella" the confused Tinker Bell alien was absolutely terrible. She was monotonal and expressionless, right up until she started doing Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. ("I'm not going to be ignored!") I hate to blame a child for poor acting when the fault could have been a combination of the writing and direction, but they at least could have given her a believable blonde wig. Were they going for an Alice in Wonderland look, along with the blue dress?

The thing is, if they'd just made an episode about home life on the ship, it could have been really good. (Actually, they did, and it was.) Better guest stars might have helped, too. Like Barclay, or Ensign Ro, or Miles and Keiko O'Brien. Keiko was actually mentioned, but we didn't see her. As it was, the best scene in this episode was Guinan describing her own childhood invisible playmate, a Tarkassian razorbeast. (I really liked Guinan's red outfit, too.)


There were a few nice moments where Troi was doing her job, helping Clara with her loneliness and suggesting activities with other children, but those scenes were actually all about Troi acting as if "Isabella" was real, while also conveying quite well that Troi knew "Isabella" wasn't real. I also liked some of the better real life moments where Nurse Ogawa was talking about her new boyfriend and a certain holodeck adventure with Beverly, and Geordi mentioned that he'd had a move-around childhood with his Starfleet parents much like Clara's but he had loved it. And the moment in the corridor where Worf encountered the girls, and was almost threatening. I can easily imagine how scary Worf might appear to a small child.

But those positives weren't enough to even partially rescue this episode. Unfortunately, neither did the B plot, which was all about exploring the nebula and its unusual strands or something. Which would have been fine except for some reason, they turned the technobabble up to eleven. Honestly, I don't mind a bit of technobabble, but it was so pervasive and so bad that I zoned out every time the adults were exchanging dialogue.

In the end, Picard gave the ultimately benign twinkly light aliens a nice parting gift: an energy beam for them to snack on. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

Bits:

-- Stardate 45852.1. The Enterprise visited FGC 47, a nebula around a neutron star.

-- For a couple of moments, "Isabella" had red eyes. Unfortunately, we never did get anything in the Midwich Cuckoos vein. Maybe if this episode had gone for the horror, it would have been better.

-- Actually, if Brian Bonsall had been up to it, this might have worked as an episode centered on Alexander. I wonder if they thought about that and decided against it?

-- Actually again, this episode had five authors and was reworked several times. That should have given them a clue. How many times have we gotten a good episode by committee?

-- We know Troi likes chocolate, so apparently that's all they'll ever give her to eat. Here, she had hot chocolate that "Isabella" spilled, and later in Ten Forward, chocolate cake.

Quotes:

Data: (about the nebula) "It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive can sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit."

Isabella: "I was going to protect you, Clara. I liked you. Now I don't care. Now, when the others come, you can die along with everyone else."
Just what you want from an invisible friend: death threats.

It wasn't totally terrible, but "Imaginary Friend" was unforgivably dull. One out of four purple omelets,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Dustin said...

Coincidentally, I just re-watched this a few nights ago. I'm not a fan of this episode, but the Clara Stutter actress also guest stared in a season 2 episode of DS9 called Shadowplay that I like, so I marathoned both. She does a great job in both and is probably the only thing that I like about this episode.

Victoria Grossack said...

Yes, Shadowplay is much better!

As to the fact that a committee wrote this - I think that because it was a poor idea, it kept getting passed along. And one theme, the idea that children who have fewer rights are being mistreated (rather than protected) is an interesting one - because it is really easy to go from protection to mistreatment. But to do that in an interesting manner would have required a completely different story.