Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Half a Life”

“Half a Life”
Written by Ted Roberts and Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Les Landau
Season 4, Episode 22
Production episode 40274-196
Original air date: May 6, 1991
Stardate: 44805.3

Captain’s Log: The episode opens with Troi’s personal log stating four simple words: “My mother is here.” What more need be said?

Picard exits the turbolift, looking around fearfully, hoping not to bump into Lwaxana. This hope is in vain, as she pounces upon him, learning that they are about to take a scientist on board from Kaelon II, a reclusive world. Until this current project, they’d had very little contact with the Federation. Lwaxana inserts herself into the greeting party when Dr. Timicin beams aboard and immediately establishes herself as his “entertainment director.” (“He’s in a lot of trouble,” La Forge opines more prophetically than he realizes to O’Brien after they depart.)

Kaelon II’s sun is dying. Three years ago, Kaelon II contacted the Federation asking for help to find a sun similar to their own so they could test a possible solution. The Enterprise will modify their photon torpedoes in such a way as to basically reignite their sun. Timicin works with La Forge and Data to perform the modifications, but Lwaxana also insists on flirting with him — and he responds, finding her vibrant and delightful. Timicin has spent the past forty years working on the solution to their sun, and it’s obvious that his social life has been nonexistent. Lwaxana’s attentions serve to relax him — though when she invites him into her quarters for a nightcap, he politely declines.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

The Enterprise arrives at a sun similar to Kaelon II’s and tests the torpedoes. The intent is to raise the core temperature of the sun to 220 million degrees Kelvin. Unfortunately, something goes wrong, and the sun’s temperature continues to increase past that, eventually going nova.

Timicin expresses his gratitude for the Enterprise’s help, but he is miserable. Lwaxana sees him drinking alone in Ten-Forward and endeavors to comfort him. Timicin says he wished he met her sooner because he’s about to reach the age of 60. On Kaelon II, when someone hits that age, they perform “the Resolution” where they have a big feast and then kill themselves. It’s their way of avoiding the ravages of old age.

Lwaxana is livid. She just met him, and he’s going to just die for no good reason (to her mind). She tries to get Picard to talk them out of it (which is not only against the Prime Directive, but utterly ridiculous on the face of it), and then tries to beam down herself (putting poor O’Brien in a difficult spot). After Troi talks her down off the metaphorical ledge, she visits Timicin, and winds up spending the night.

The next morning, Timicin talks about how things used to be on Kaelon II before the Resolution. As people grew older and more infirm, they were put in homes. Once their lives meant something, and they were forced to mean nothing, for years. It is better this way, one generation passing on the responsibilities to the next. Lwaxana counters that children should be responsible for caring for their parents as they grow older, but Timicin thinks that places a terrible burden on them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

They argue for quite some time — both making excellent points for and against. Lwaxana’s best argument is that he’s the expert on their sun, and their world might not survive long enough for the next scientist who takes over the problem to figure out the solution.

Going over the sensor data, Timicin realizes that there was unexpected neutron migration. He realizes that with a little time, he can figure out how to manage it — but he doesn’t have time, of course. So he requests asylum on the Enterprise, and begs Kaelon authorities to let him finish his work. The Kaelon response is to send two warships into orbit, making it clear that if they attempt to leave orbit with Timicin, they will open fire.

Kaelon II also refuses any contact with the Enterprise, not even to accept Timicin’s new data about the neutron migration. Timicin’s daughter Dara beams on board to talk him into coming home. She asks him where he’ll go — and where he’ll die. It saddens her greatly that he won’t be laid to rest on their world next to her mother, and that she can’t be laid to rest with him when her Resolution comes.

Lwaxana comes to realize just how important the Resolution is to Timicin and to the people of Kaelon II, and how selfish her own desire to keep Timicin alive is.

Timicin then comes to her, and says that he does love her, but that love is not enough to abandon everything his world holds dear. In return, she accompanies him to the surface, since a person’s loved ones are supposed to be present during the Resolution.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Timicin’s modifications are designed to increase the core temperature of the sun to 220 million degrees Kelvin, thus revitalizing it and allowing the sun to avoid collapsing longer. Neutron migration apparently causes the temperature to continue to rise beyond that.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi talks Lwaxana through both her initial anger at the Resolution, and through her later self-doubts about convincing him to abandon the Resolution. It’s a nice balance of supportive daughter and counselor.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: This is the first (but not the last) time that Lwaxana refers to Worf as “Mr. Woof.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

If I Only Had a Brain…: When Lwaxana interrupts a meeting in engineering for a picnic break, Data actually bolsters Lwaxana’s argument that too long without food messes with the thought processes. La Forge angrily tells him not to start, and finally accedes to Lwaxana’s request.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Two years after “Manhunt,” Lwaxana finally finds someone, only to have him taken away from her. Timicin, who has spent so long focusing only on work, finds Lwaxana’s enthusiasm for life and sense of humor intoxicating.

I Believe I Said That: “This is Mr. Homn. He doesn’t say much.”

“How can he?”

Lwaxana introducing her valet, and La Forge speaking truth.

Welcome Aboard: Majel Barrett and Carel Struycken are back as Lwaxana Troi and Mr. Homn (following “Haven,” “Manhunt,” and “Ménage à Troi”), while Michelle Forbes appears as Dara, which so impressed the producers that they would cast her in the recurring role of Ensign Ro Laren next season.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Half a Life

But the main guest is, of course, the great David Ogden Stiers — best known as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H — who gives a noble, nuanced performance as Timicin.

Trivial Matters: In tribute to Stiers’s best known role, the sensor log he examines where he discovers the neutron migration is sensor log #4077 (after the designation of the hospital unit where M*A*S*H took place).

This is the first Trek script by Peter Allan Fields, who would work on a couple of more scripts for TNG (most notably “The Inner Light,” with Morgan Gendel) before becoming a staff writer on Deep Space Nine, where he would write some of the show’s finest episodes.

Make it So: “Alive, I am a greater threat to my world than a dying sun.” The first Lwaxana Troi episode that doesn’t induce cringing, mainly because it treats her as a character rather than a caricature, without losing any of what made the character what she was in her previous three appearances. She’s still a force of nature, still cheerfully oblivious to her own ridiculousness, still uncaring about what other people think of her, but she is also passionate and caring.

Best of all is that the episode doesn’t take sides. There are a lot of things about the Resolution that are pretty icky, and Lwaxana lays out all of them — but there’s also something admirable about it, and Timicin and Dara’s defenses of it are eloquent and passionate and legitimate.

Amusingly, even though the Prime Directive itself is only mentioned once by Picard, this is one of the best PD episodes. Picard can’t interfere, and what’s more, he shouldn’t. Cultures don’t evolve overnight and they don’t do so capriciously — more to the point, they can’t change overnight, either. Lwaxana gives an example at one point of a tradition on Betazed that women would wear wigs with small animals in them, until one woman decided that it was ridiculous and stopped. But even that change didn’t happen right away. The Enterprise interfering would damage the culture, and even their offering asylum to Timicin causes major problems on the world.

This is a magnificent, tragic love story, one that takes a thin character and gives her depth, one that gives us a beautifully realized guest character in Timicin (casting Stiers was a masterstroke, as he always brings subtle nuance to his roles), and one that takes its issues seriously.

 

Warp factor rating: 8


Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote an award-winning story featuring Lwaxana Troi and the fall of Betazed during the Dominion War for the short story anthology Tales of the Dominion War called “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned.” In that story, she remembers her brief time with Timicin very fondly. Go to his web site and order his books, including the soon-to-be released novel Goblin Precinct and the Jonathan Maberry-edited shared-world anthology V-Wars.

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