Plot Synopsis: The Enterprise investigates two survivors living on the only undamaged patch of land on a devastated planet.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here serves it’s function very well: the Enterprise enters a system responding to a distress signal indicating they were under attack from a starship. they arrive at the planet in question to discover it’s almost completely devastated. It’s a mystery that deepens when Wes discovers a few square acres that is entirely untouched, with a structure smack dab in the center. Plot A revolves around the survivors, there is no plot B. An away team beams down and after Riker gets hung upside down by a snare they find an elderly couple who tell of a huge unknown ship that bombarded the planet from orbit. They go inside the house and for some reason Troi (who’s back on the ship) starts to hear the music from a music box in the couple’s house. Worf reports he’s searched the system and can find no trace of any ship, so of course within a few minutes a ship appears, about five times the size of the Enterprise. They chase it off, but the survivors refuse to leave the planet and Troi’s mind starts to fray. The mystery of why this old couple were spared, of the ship that continues to spontaneously appear, and Troi’s affliction drive this plot all the way up to the end, and I don’t anyone could anticipate the ending.
Favorite Scenes: By far my favorite scene occurs in the final scene of the episode, in Troi’s quarters between Picard and the Douwd. He talks about the aliens (called the Husnock) who attacked the planet and killed everyone including his human wife, Rishon. He talks about his reaction to her death:
Douwd: I saw her broken body, and I went insane. My hatred exploded, and in an instant of grief…I destroyed the Husnock.
Dr. Crusher: Why did you try to hide this from all of us? Was it out of guilt for not helping Rishon and the others when they were alive?
Douwd, shaking in head with shame: No, no, no. You don’t understand the scope of my crime. I didn’t kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock everywhere. *pauses and stands up, looking at Picard* Are 11,000 people worth 50 billion? Is the love of a woman worth the destruction of an entire species? This is the sin I tried so hard to keep you from learning…
Picard: We’re not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime. You’re free to return to the planet…and to make Rishon live again.
The Douwd departs.
Captain’s log: We are departing this star system. We leave behind a being of extraordinary power and conscience. I’m not certain if he should be praised or condemned. Only that he should be left alone.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is almost omniscient in this episode; he’s a step ahead of everyone else, including the audience. Upon reflection he seems almost too smart here, figuring out things I’m not sure that anyone could, at least not with the alacrity he displayed. His insight cuts like a laser through all the distractions and confusion present here. Riker is present but he doesn’t have a lot to do other than the first trip to the planet, and it’s the same with Geordi and Data. Worf maybe gets a slight amount more, and he does have a couple of nice lines with Kevin. Troi gives a surprisingly good performance given the emotional stuff she’s asked to do. It’s genuinely unsettling to see Deanna that disturbed, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to go through what she was, and wince. Dr. Crusher has a bit to do on the planet initially, but most of her role is trying to take care of Deanna and failing. Wes has maybe four lines in the whole episode. Both John Anderson and Anne Haney as Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge give good performances–not showy, but effective.
Blu Ray Version: A few scenes are a bit grainy here, it’s a shame. Otherwise it’s gorgeous, I can’t get over getting such incredible clarity from scenes that I’ve seen for 25 years now, it’s almost like seeing them for the first time. Multiple effects shots have were either fixed or punched up as well. I’m so glad I bought this version!
Nitpicks: Not many. Picard is either a bit too smart in this episode or the rest of the crew is a bit too dumb, and I’m learning toward the former. I do have to say that the grossly inconsistent strength of the warship throughout the episode would have had anyone’s skepticism aroused.
Overall Impression: I don’t know if this is an enjoyable episode, but it is good. It’s such a serious episode, involving insanity, genocide, and the subtext of pacifism that it’s not an episode you watch for a good time. It’s certainly thought-provoking and I remember my 14-year-old mind being completely blown by the idea of this powerful alien that actually wiped out a whole species just by thinking about it! I remember wondering who would win a fight between him and Q. I watched an interview with several of the writers from TNG, and at one point they talked about the mystery episodes they tried, and the consensus was they just didn’t do it well. With this episode I beg to differ. The mystery here keeps our interest and the resolution of the plot is appropriately satisfying. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This is the first episode featuring Marina Sirtis’ new turquoise uniform, with enhanced boobage for your objectification! It’s interesting to note that the threat from the previous episode was a planetary bombardment, and in this episode that’s exactly what’s happened. Frakes told a story about John Anderson, who played the Douwd. He had worked with him before, once playing Frakes’ father in the North and South miniseries. He said he has a lot of nostalgia toward him, for them being working together at different times in their careers. Believe it or not, Anderson’s own wife had died shortly before shooting this episode–he said this role was one of the most difficult of his career. Wow, has it been 50 episodes already? I gotta say, overall the first 50 have had a lot more duds than triumphs, but the next 50 are much, much better and we’re barely more than a quarter of the way through TNG. There is so much more awesomeness to come!
Missable/Unmissable? I recommend it, it’s a nicely layered episode. The next one is even finer.