Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Interface”

“Interface”
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Wiemer
Season 7, Episode 3
Production episode 40276-255
Original air date: October 4, 1993
Stardate: 47215.5

Captain’s Log: We see La Forge crawling through a smoke-filled Jefferies Tube—inexplicably without his VISOR. He also talks about poisonous gases in the air that he smells and that the temperature is about 2000 degrees. Eventually we learn that it isn’t actually La Forge, but a probe that La Forge has interfaced with in the Enterprise lab. Riker is supervising Crusher and Data as they monitor La Forge’s progress. It’s a fully immersive experience, more so than is typical for people wearing the interface suit La Forge has on, because it hooks up directly to his VISOR inputs. It’s fully interactive, with the probe responding to La Forge’s intended movements, and even able to manipulate items through tractor beams and phasers and such.

The science vessel Raman is trapped in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The Enterprise’s plan is to use the interface to send the probe, controlled by La Forge, to try to rescue the ship. Sensors can’t penetrate the atmosphere so they don’t know if any of the seven crew members are alive. The probe uses a particle beam for its interface with the ship, so it should be able to cut through the interference.

Picard gets a call from Admiral Holt on Deep Space 3 with bad news. Nine days ago, the U.S.S. Hera left DS3 and then disappeared. They’ve been searching for days to no avail. The CO of the Hera is Captain Silva La Forge, the mother of the chief engineer.

La Forge is devastated by the news, and goes to his quarters to watch his last letter from his mother from three weeks earlier, and he feels guilty that he never got around to responding to it. However, he insists on performing his mission—the Raman crew can’t wait, and the interface is specifically calibrated for La Forge.

The probe is on board the Raman and La Forge interfaces with it. The corridor he’s in is a mess, and there may be a hull breach. En route to the bridge, he finds a dead body—and then the other six in a storage unit.

A fire breaks out, and La Forge screams—back on the ship, his hands are burned. They had the sensitivity turned up a bit too high so there was a feedback loop in his nervous system. Riker is moving the probe to auxiliary control, but it’ll take a while, as it needs to cut through a bulkhead to get there. This leaves La Forge time to recover—and also to call his Dad.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Interface

Dr. Edward La Forge is already talking about memorial services, which La Forge thinks is premature. He refuses to give up hope until he sees some evidence that his mother is gone. He goes to talk to Data, which only provides moderate comfort.

The probe is in auxiliary control, and La Forge interfaces with it—only to find himself face to face with his mother. Captain La Forge insists that they need to go down to the surface, because they need help, though she doesn’t specify whether or not she means the Hera crew. When La Forge touches her, though, he goes into neural shock, and the interface automatically cuts off. Data found no indication of any beings on the ship, nor of any transmission. Neither Crusher nor Picard will authorize his reinterfacing with the probe, as the risk is too great—and Picard also orders La Forge to talk to Troi.

Troi feels that the image of his mother he saw was a manifestation of his guilt over not seeing her when he had the chance seven months earlier, and of his unwillingness to accept that she’s gone. He then concocts an elaborate technobabble explanation for how the Hera might actually be trapped on the surface of the planet, which Data reluctantly admits is possible, though pretty damned unlikely. Picard refuses to allow La Forge to risk using the interface again—so he goes ahead and does it anyhow. Data shows up and, rather than try to stop him, helps him disobey orders by agreeing to monitor him from the lab.

Data detects a subspace reading just as La Forge sees the image of his mother again. She confirms his hypothesis about how the Hera got there, and he uses the probe to move the Raman further down into the turbulent atmosphere to rescue the Hera. Captain La Forge says that they’re going home, which strikes La Forge as odd. He also apologizes for not going to see his mother weeks earlier.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Interface

As the Raman descends, Data must increase the strength of the interface to beyond safety measures. But Worf, naturally, detects the Raman descending, and Picard brings Crusher to the lab and orders La Forge to cease the ship’s descent. La Forge refuses—but he also can’t find any sign of the Hera.

Captain La Forge reveals herself to be a projection from a species of subspace beings that were accidentally picked up by the Raman. When they tried to communicate with the Raman crew, they killed them. The probe protected La Forge from being killed the same way, and they used an image they read in La Forge’s mind through the probe to convince him to take the ship down into the lower atmosphere, where the beings live.

La Forge does so, saving the beings, and Data and Crusher are able to bring him out. Picard reprimands him, saying it’s now on his permanent record. La Forge accepts that, but also says that, by appearing as his mother, the beings gave him the chance to say a proper goodbye to her.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Based solely on an offhand comment from his mother about how her new chief engineer likes to tinker, La Forge comes up with a crazy-ass theory involving warp funnels and such.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi gets to be just like a shrink and has La Forge talk about his mother.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data is studying the poetry of the Doosodarians, which involves experiencing emptiness—which Data does by staring at a blank screen. He also asks La Forge if he needs comfort in classic Data style.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Interface

I Believe I Said That: “I decided I missed my favorite son.”

“Your only son, Mom.”

La Forge watching the note from his Mom, and talking back to it.

Welcome Aboard: While LeVar Burton is well known for his role on this show and as the host of Reading Rainbow, his first and probably best role remains the young Kunta Kinte on the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots. When casting his parents, the perfect choices were made: two of his Roots co-stars, Madge Sinclair (who played Belle, the wife of the older version of Kunta, played by John Amos) as Captain Silva La Forge and Ben Vereen (who played Chicken George, Kunta’s grandson) as Dr. Edward La Forge.

Trivial Matters: Sinclair’s previous claim to Trek fame was playing the captain of the Saratoga in the opening of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, notable for being the first on-screen portrayal of a female Starfleet captain on Star Trek.

La Forge’s mother and father were mentioned in “Imaginary Friend” as being, respectively, a command officer and an exobiologist.

In Picard’s conversation with Admiral Holt, it’s revealed that a palio is held at Deep Space 3 and involves spaceships, and that (at the very least) both the Ferengi and the Breen participate. A palio is an Italian term for an annual athletic competition within a city where regions of the city compete against each other. The best-known one is Il Palio di Siena, a horse race that has been run in Siena every August. (It was the backdrop for the opening scene in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.) Your humble rewatcher was in Siena for the palio in 1981 and the region my hotel was in won. I still have the flag, and it’s hanging on my wall.

Although Joe Menosky gets sole credit for the episode—which he originally pitched two seasons earlier with Riker as the focal character, with his father Kyle being the one missing and presumed dead—it got an uncredited rewrite from Rene Echevarria, and Jeri Taylor wrote the scene where Riker talks to La Forge about how he dealt with his own mother being dead as a child, which was added when it was discovered that the episode was running short.

David A. McIntee followed up on the Hera in the novel Indistinguishable from Magic, revealing what finally happened to the ship.

The interface suit and probe was used in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Malefictorum by Terri Osborne (reprinted in the trade paperback collection Wounds), as Fabian Stevens tried to marry the tech to the mobile emitter used by the Emergency Medical Hologram on the later seasons of Voyager. (He also made the probe look like a giant yellow smiley face.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Interface

The Raman was named after the Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930.

Make it So: “Mom, is it really you?” In an interview with IGN.com, Ronald D. Moore said that this episode was proof that TNG was starting to run out of steam because they were reduced to doing the La Forge’s Mom episode. In an interview for The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Jeri Taylor said that it was past due for a look at La Forge’s family, since everyone else had had family appear.

Amusingly, these semi-contradictory notions from two members of the writing staff are both absolutely right. Given that we’ve met Picard’s brother and sister-in-law and nephew (not to mention images of his mother and father), Riker’s father, Data’s brother and father, Worf’s son and brother and fosterparents, and Troi’s mother, not to mention the Crusher family, it seems kind of silly that we’ve never seen any of La Forge’s relations.

Sadly, the episode really only goes through the motions. Sir Patrick Stewart did more with a regretful “no” to Riker after seeing the image of his dead mother in “Where No One Has Gone Before” than LeVar Burton is able to scrape up in the entire episode. For that matter, Jonathan Frakes shows more convincing maternal grief in the scene where he tells La Forge about how his five-year-old self was in denial about his mother’s death. Hell, playing an emotionless character, Brent Spiner is able to convey more emotional weight when he tries to comfort La Forge and again when he agrees to disobey orders with him. Adding to the episode’s general “meh” factor is Ben Vereen phoning in his one scene and yet another strange alien species that accidentally harms people but didn’t really mean it (cf. “Lonely Among Us,” “Home Soil,” “Galaxy’s Child,” “Night Terrors,” “Identity Crisis,” “Timescape,” etc. etc.) And everyone gets all skeptical regarding La Forge’s theory on what happened to the Hera, which would be more convincing if the Enterprise didn’t encounter weird-ass crap that’s way more unbelievable than La Forge’s cockamamie theory….

Looking back twenty years, it’s also hard to get arsed over virtual-reality technology that we’re pretty close to now. Admittedly, we get that every week as the crew wanders around the ship handing iPads to each other, but still this type of tech should be old hat in the 24th century.

The only thing that makes the episode work is Madge Sinclair. In a single recorded letter to La Forge, she conveys a rich, complex character, one who lives up to La Forge’s later description of her to Troi. Hearing her rave about her ship and talk affectionately about family and refer to La Forge as her “favorite” (also only) son and trying to set him up with her chief engineer and so on—just a wonderful bit. The episode needed more of that instead of shoe-horning Sinclair into playing a disguised alien being.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Interface

It does give LeVar Burton a third chance to actually act with his eyes (after “Hide and Q” and “Future Imperfect”), which the actor must have been happy about….

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido encourages folks to preorder his Leverage novel The Zoo Job (either from Amazon or Indie Bound). He has urban fantasy stories set in Key West, Florida in two new small-press anthologies: Tales from the House Band Volume 2 from Plus One Press and Apocalypse 13 from Padwolf.

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