Nov 11 2011 12:11pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Survivors”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”My apologies for being a day late with this. Silly life stuff....

“The Survivors”
Written by Michael Wagner
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 3
Production episode 40273-151
Original air date: October 9, 1989
Stardate: 43152.4

Captain’s Log: Delta Rana IV is a human colony that has come under attack. The Enterprise responds to their distress call to find a planet that has been wiped out — no plant or animal life, no structures, no emissions, nothing.

Except for this one square of vegetaion surrounding a house. Riker takes a team down to meet what appear to be the only two survivors: Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge, a couple in their 80s. They’ve been married for 53 years, and have lived on Rana for five — until the attack. They have no idea why they were spared by the alien attack, and they can’t say who the attackers are.

Riker offers to take them onto the Enterprise, but they refuse, even though they don’t have any means of supporting themselves — their water table is tainted and their fusion reactor won’t last forever.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”

Meanwhile, Troi is feeling out of sorts — the same music that plays on Rishon’s music box is playing in her head, nonstop, distracting her.

A ship appears in orbit and attacks the Enterprise. Its weapons are less impressive than expected, and as soon as the Enterprise fires back, the ship leaves orbit. The Enterprise gives chase, but the other ship matches their acceleration curve precisely so it stays the same distance away. Frustrated, Picard calls off the pursuit and goes back to Rana IV. Picard and Worf beam down with a replicator. Kevin doesn’t want them there, but Rishon offers them tea. Picard tries to determine why it is that they survived, but they can find nothing. The only way in which either is unique is that Kevin is a person of conscience — he will not fight anyone for any reason. But he also believes the aliens had no way of knowing that.

As soon as Picard and Worf beam back, the enemy vessel returns, and fires with much greater force, driving the Enterprise away from Rana in order to survive. But Picard is convinced that Kevin and Rishon will remain safe.

Troi remains incapacitated and Picard believes that the Uxbridges are being protected by the alien ship. Picard takes the Enterprise back — the enemy vessel is no longer in orbit.

Picard and Worf beam back down, to Kevin and Rishon’s surprise — and that, in turn, surprises Picard, as there was no reason for Kevin to not expect them back. Picard insists that the Enterprise will not leave orbit of Rana as long as the Uxbridges are alive.

Sure enough, the enemy ship comes back and fires on the Uxbridge house, destroying it. Picard waits three hours, and then the house reappears, with Kevin and Rishon back intact. Picard beams them to the bridge, where he finally confronts them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”

Soon all is revealed: Kevin is in truth a Douwd, “an immortal being of disguises and false surroundings.” He was disguised as a young human when he met Rishon, and decided to live as her husband, retiring to Rana IV with her to live out their days. The aliens who attacked were called the Husnock. Kevin refused to fight them, but he did try to distract and confuse them the way he did the Enterprise, but it didn’t work, and the Husnock only became more cruel. Kevin still refused to fight — but Rishon did, and was killed.

When he saw her broken body, he went insane. He wiped out the Husnock — not just the attacking ship, but all fifty billion Husnock, the entire species.

Kevin removes the music from Troi’s mind and then leaves the ship. Picard can do nothing with him, not even do his usual speechifying — the scope of his crime is beyond their ability to prosecute. Or, indeed, comprehend. So they leave him alone to re-create Rishon and their house on Rana IV.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is the only fly in Kevin’s ointment, as she is capable of sensing his true nature, so he implants the song in her head — an earworm from hell that eventually puts her in a coma.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”

The Boy!?: Wes is the one who finds Kevin and Rishon’s house, and he does a spiffy job as the ship’s pilot during the first attack. What’s cool about this episode is not that Wes plays a big role, but that he simply is the guy behind the wheel, and does it well.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf stakes his reputation on there being no other ships in the Delta Rana system, which makes him look rather silly when another ship does in fact show up and attack.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Kevin and Rishon are simply an adorable couple. You can see that they’ve been in love for half a century.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”

Welcome Aboard: An episode like this succeeds or fails on the backs of its guest stars, since the episode’s really about them, and John Anderson and Anne Haney — two of the finest character actors — knock it out of the park as Kevin and Rishon. They are brilliant, charming, spectacular, wonderful — there’s not a single false emotional beat in either performance, whether it’s love, affection, fear, or anger. Just two amazing performances by two amazing actors.

I Believe I Said That: “Sir, may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay with a nonfunctioning weapon was an act of unmitigated gall.”

“Didn’t fool you, huh?”

“I admire gall.”

Worf calling Kevin’s bluff.

Trivial Matters: John Anderson’s wife had recently died when he did this episode, which added a certain unfortunate texture to the role, which the actor described as one of the hardest he ever had to play.

This is the first appearance of Troi’s blue dress, which will show up periodically along with the maroon and brown outfits.

This is the only solo script by Wagner, whose tenure as show-runner was very brief. Wagner’s probably best known for his work with Steven Bochco on Hill Street Blues.

Make it So: “Good tea. Nice house.” An underappreciated gem, this is a strong story, a strong science fiction premise, and two superb guest turns by Anderson and Haney. It never shows up in anybody’s best-of list, and that’s a crime. The story builds beautifully from a simple mystery to a brutal yet understated crescendo. In particular, Anderson sells Kevin’s confession to Picard, putting tremendous power, understated emotion, and overwhelming guilt and regret.

It’s too bad that Wagner didn’t stick around. If this episode is any indication, he would’ve made a great permanent addition to an already-excellent writing staff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Survivors”


Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s first ever Star Trek fiction was the comic book Perchance to Dream, which will be reprinted later this month by IDW in the trade paperback Enemy Unseen. His most recent critically acclaimed novels are Guilt in Innocence, part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept, and the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct. Find out more about Keith at this web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.

Mike S.
1. Mike S.
Agree about the guest stars for this episode. I've only seen John Anderson in one other TV show, (The Twilight Zone's Odyssey of Flight 33- one of my favorites), but looking at his IMDB page, his career speaks for itself. Anne Haney is one of those character actors who I've loved in everything she's been in. Most memorably for me though, she was Robin William's social worker in "Mrs. Doubtfire." Unfortunatly, both are long gone now.

My only fault in this episode is with Picard. Stewart is fine (of course), but I just think that he figures things out a little too quickly. Specifically, that it's Kevin, and not Rishon, who is toying with them. Minor complaint, to an otherwise underrated show (though, as you say, it is not on my best-of list, only because there are too many others I like better).

I believe that this episode, and season 1's Home Soil, were the only 2 of the entire series to end with a log entry. The log entry in this one carries much more weight then Home Soil's, IMO.
Mike S.
2. Dan Someone
One of my two favorite lines ever from ST:TNG: "Good tea. Nice house."

(The other line is also a Worf line, from when he is giving Wes courtship advice from a Klingon perspective: "He reads love poetry... He ducks a lot.")
Kristoff Bergenholm
3. Magentawolf
Okay.. I have to ask. Just what is going on in that first picture there, with Crusher talking to Rishon?
Michael Burstein
4. mabfan
"My apologies for being a day late with. Silly life stuff...."

You know, Keith, I mark the highlights of my week as being these rewatch posts. Try to stay on schedule, okay? :-)

I've always liked the premise behind this episode, the idea from which it sprung, but despite the fine acting, I always felt that the execution was a little weak. I'm not sure why. Perhaps if we could have seen the events described by Kevin in flashback, then it might have packed more of a wallop for me.

I do find Picard's statement of how humanity has no way to judge his crime to be both brilliant and specious. The guy committed galactic genocide of an entire race. The Federation has just as much right as anyone else in the universe to judge him. (Of course, trying to prosecute him might put humanity in danger...)

-- Michael A. Burstein
Mike S.
5. dfs_toronto
#3. Magentawolf

Riker had gotten snared when they approached the house by a telescoping pole that popped out of the ground, and had to explain to Kevin who they were while hanging upside down. The image is Data getting him down.
Joel Cunningham
6. jec81
"It never shows up in anybody’s best-of list, and that’s a crime."

It's in mine! Top 5, too. One of the most memorable episodes of the entire series.
Mike S.
7. Pendard
I haven't watched this one in several years. I remember liking the idea of a godlike being living as an ordinary person and falling in love with a mortal woman but the episode never made a big impression on me. Thanks to this glowing review, I'm going to watch it again and see if I like it any better.
Mike S.
8. JoeNotCharles
This is the first TNG episode I remember seeing (although it was already in reruns at the time), and I don't think I've seen it since. But I can still remember the tone of Kevin's voice when he says that he destroyed ALL the Husnock. I'm glad to hear it holds up!
Mike S.
9. Alexander K.
Glad to see other people like this episode as much as I do.

It's a wonderful use of a sci-fi premise to present meaningful emotional content, which is what (in my opinion) TNG does best.
Adrian J.
10. LightningStorm
Absolutely agree with this review. This is so good because the watcher is made to relate to and even admire the "enemy" in this episode. Even after the full reveal of his crimes you can't dislike the guy. It was an emotional overreaction of epic porportions, but you really almost understand it.
Mike S.
11. Seryddwr
Agree. A simply fabulous episode.
Keith DeCandido
12. krad
Honestly, Mike, I don't agree that we should have seen a flashback. It would've blown the budget out of the water and still probably wouldn't have been half as effective as John Anderson's heart-wrenching confession in Troi's quarters. This is definitely a case where less is more.
Mike S.
13. PJP
I remember enjoying this years ago when I was much younger. Used to be one of my favorite episodes.
Mike S.
14. Chessara
A very good episode indeed! I remember being so struck by the reveal, it stayed with me for several days, and it holds up just as well all these years later.

We've arrived at last!! Let's enjoy the ride through the best of TNG!! :D
Mike S.
15. Randy McDonald
Another strong episode. The deployment of the earworm from hell is more terrible than it might seem at first viewing--Sirtis did a good job. And Picard, wonderfully self-contained and confident as always, handled the matter superbly.

"We are 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."

He said that without giving away any hint of wanting to back away very, very quickly and quietly from the man who committed genocide with a thought. Good show.
Mike S.
16. Anony
My impression looking back is that the episode structure was a little weak. Less actually happens than appears to. There are some logical gaps in how such a powerful being falls for their fake retreat, unless deep down he wanted to. But I was captivated the first time I watched. It's a melancholy premise delivered in a believable way, with the unusually powerful attacker adding suspense and mystery. Memorable episode.

This episode is also the main source of content for the most entertaining Star Trek vs. Star Wars mashup video I've encountered.
Mike S.
17. Christopher L. Bennett
A fine episode, particularly due to John Anderson. A superb actor, and he did an awesome job here, though it's sad to learn why he was able to bring such convincing grief to it.

And I'm with Keith -- no need for flashbacks. That would've just gotten in the way of that brilliant performance.

Very good script, too. As a rule I'm not fond of the cliche of godlike aliens who can make magic happen with the wave of a hand, but this is one of the few really worthwhile things ST did with the trope.
18. graftonio
Am I the only one that had a Star Wars Episode 2 flashback with Kevin as Anakin and Picard as Padme? If you don't know what I mean just google Anakin hates the sandpeople and add a British accent to Padme.
Mike S.
19. Christopher L. Bennett
@18: Uhh, no, because this episode came out 13 years before STAR WARS Episode 2. And was actually well-written and well-acted.
Mike S.
20. RobinM
This is one of my favorite episodes even though it's very sad. I always enjoy Mr. John Anderson in all kinds of tv. He did have a recurring role on another little 80's show you may have heard of called Macgyver. He played Mac's grandfather. I also enjoyed Worf's dialog in this episode too.
Mike S.
21. ChrisG
I've always enjoyed this episode too, and this discussion prompted me to go back and watch it again. Good stuff.

The "Good Tea. Nice House." line gets quoted around my house rather frequently. (Strangely, so does the "...all Husnock everywhere" line.)

The music in Troi's head was a nice touch. and quite sinister. I think the cruelty of it is nicely in tension with the peaceful-but-tormented image that we get of the Douwd in the rest of the episode.
Mike S.
22. John R. Ellis
One of my favorite of the "Planet with a mystery" episodes.

I especially like that, for once, yeah, there's not even a possibility of giving a moral. Sometimes, all you can do is feel the pain of a bad decision.
Mike S.
23. Mkelm
Out of curiosity, is there a count of the number of times Troi gets psychically attacked. She may honestly rival Worf in the number of times one can get attacked- in her case mentally versus Worf tossed across the bridge (again). Season 4 "Clues", Season 5 "Violations", Star Trek Nemesis, this episode, "The Loss", "Night Terrors", "Man of the People"... You'd think she'd learn to block this somehow.
Nate Shouse
24. MnemonicNate
This is an excellent episode, and it deals with loss in a different way than what we've seen before in this case, Kevin wants to be left alone, to grieve in his own way, and it almost paints the crew in a negative light by them desperate to solve the 'mystery.' Granted, we as viewers are able to see from both perspectives and figure out what's happened before Picard and Co. do, but it's sad to see Kevin's confession reduce him to such a small man.

I struggle with the ethics in this one; is Kevin wrong for destroying an "evil" (and I use the term lightly) race? He had the power to stop them, and he did, but can you justify the cost? Is the saving of countless billions of lives worth the deaths of antagonizing billions? That question alone, and ones like it, make for great sci-fi.
Mike S.
25. trekgeezer
This is one of the types of stories that Star Trek does so well.
Keith DeCandido
26. krad
Nate: Except part of why they're compelled to solve the mystery is because Kevin is torturing Troi.....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
James Whitehead
27. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Late to this post - found it from Keith's season 3 summary - but I'd like to say that while this episode doesn't automatically spring to mind when I think of the 'best' episodes, I do watch it whenever it is on tv.

The episode is so understated in so many ways that it can slip your mind. Until, that is, you remember that line "...all Husnock, everywhere..." with that voice of his; goosebumps.

What's scary is that you are taken aback by what he has done but you empathize with him and not, ironically, the Husnock. You 'know' what was done was horrible beyond comprehension but to watch Kevin & Rishon together, as recreated by Kevin, you get an idea of an immortal's pain. And you can envision him rage & weigh the Husnock and find them wanting...

28. jlpsquared
This is my favourite episode of star trek PERIOD. I think it is perfect. The acting, the guest stars, the sci-fi mystery, the music, the torment of troi, the alien ship, the mysterious house. I remember when I first saw this episode (admitadly late at night) when Wes said the house had come BACK, I literally got goose bumps.

Everything about this episode is perfect. There is one other episode that I won't call perfect, but has the same quality of this one of "best episode no one remembers" and that is booby trap. Both of these are just mesmarizing. Something about the 3rd season, every episode, even the bad ones, are so watchable. This is the height, when the characters were all firing at their peak, and were all still there. They weren't boring yet (hello season 5), and as much hype (deserved) BOBW gets, IMHO, this episode is the height of story-telling.
Mike S.
29. stevem
One of my alltime favourite episodes, Troi's growing desperation to stop the music implanted in her mind always struck me as one of the highlights of Marina Sirtis's time on tme show, Picard's mix of horror, disgust and pity when Kevin reveals what he has done and that reveal itself when Kevin says "You don't understand. All Husnock, everywhere", still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up after all these years all that plus Worf and the "nice tea nice house"
Mike S.
30. Stargazer4
Very good episode. But I think there is a reason that although most people like it, few of them have it in their fav lists. As others have already stated, I too thought that while it WAS a fine episode, something was missing.

I agree with the flashback idea. For me, it would have been good sci-fi. I appreciate mr Anderson's fine acting, but it's a sci-fi show, not a theater play. Which is why the overly human character of the immortal being struck me as odd.
Keith DeCandido
31. krad
Stargazer4: I can't agree. No flashback, especially on a weekly TV show budget, would have been as powerful as John Anderson's agonizing retelling of same.....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Mike S.
32. Stargazer4

In the "Inheritance" review you wrote "There’s a reason why the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell,” and all this episode does is tell".

That's exactly the point I am making for this episode. It's FICTION, not a play. Yet this rule about fiction that you wrote for another episode somehow doesn't apply for "Survivors"... because you loved Anderson's monologue so much (?).

By the same logic, I could tell you that the budget would have skyrocketed in "Inheritance" if they used flashbacks, plus I also loved Juliana Tainer's storytelling and found it quite powerful, too.
Keith DeCandido
33. krad
Fair point, but every rule of fiction has exceptions, and I believe this was one of them. Telling rather than showing can work if the telling is skilled.

Indeed, every rule of fiction can be broken if it's done with enough skill. It was here. It wasn't in "Inheritance."

---Keith R.A. DeCandido

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