“The Inner Light”
Written by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Peter Lauritson
Season 5, Episode 25
Production episode 40275-225
Original air date: June 1, 1992
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise has found a probe of fairly unsophisticated design, which immediately changes course to move alongside the Enterprise. The probe emits a beam, and Picard collapses. Riker catches him, and tells him he’s got him—but then Riker is replaced by a woman, and the bridge is replaced by a home. The woman calls him “Kamin,” and Picard demands to know what this place is. He tries saying, “Computer, end program,” looks for a combadge that isn’t there, tries to contact the Enterprise, all to no avail. The woman assures him that this is his home, and that he’s obviously still feverish. He’s been sick for days, and she doesn’t want him to push himself.
However, he insists on going outside. The sun is shining very brightly, and Picard sees children playing and then observes a ceremony where a man plants a sapling as a symbol of life in defiance of the drought. The man recognizes Picard as “Kamin,” and is glad he’s feeling better. This time, Picard plays along with the fever-took-his-memory theory and questions the man, who is the council leader, Batai, and an old friend of Kamin’s. Picard learns that the woman at the house is Kamin’s wife, Eline, who insisted on caring for Kamin herself rather than checking him into a hospital. He’s in the village of Ressik on the planet Kataan. Picard doesn’t recognize the planet name, and he tells Batai that he’s going to take a walk to try to “refamiliarize” himself with his surroundings. He hikes up a big hill, which gives him a view of Ressik.
By evening, he works his way back to the house he woke up in. Eline was worried sick—she had people out looking for him. She asks if he’s hungry, and he testily answers that he’s hungry, thirsty, and exhausted—which, if nothing else, proves this isn’t a dream. Eline is obviously hurt by his insistence that he doesn’t belong here, that this isn’t his life, but she fetches him some soup. Picard is rather surprised at how good the soup is.
She indulges him by letting him ask questions. They’ve been married for three years, and he’s an iron-weaver who plays a flute—though Picard’s attempts to play the latter could charitably be called poor. When Eline tries to get him to come to bed, he notices the charm she wears on a necklace, which looks exactly like the probe.
Cut back to the Enterprise, where only a moment has passed. Riker calls sickbay. Crusher rushes to the bridge—the captain’s mostly healthy, except for the whole being-unconscious thing, but his neurotransmitter activity is severely elevated. The beam from the probe is going directly to Picard. Worf suggests destroying the probe, but Crusher advises against it. The Enterprise backs off slowly, and the probe moves alongside it, as if it’s tethered.
On Kataan, five years have passed. Both Eline and Picard—or, rather, Kamin—have let their hair grow. Kamin is using a telescope that he’s built and Eline teases him about trying to find his starship, though he insists he’s just charting the course of the sun to try to explain the drought. Kamin also insists that his memories of the Enterprise are as real to him as his life in Ressik is now. Eline wants him to let go—she wants to know when she no longer has to share her husband with the memories of another life.
An administrator is making his monthly visit, and he asks Batai how the sapling they planted five years ago is still thriving when crops all over Kataan are dying. Batai explains that its symbolic importance has led to the Ressikans giving over some of their water rations to keep the tree alive. Batai discusses methods of reclaiming their water supply, and Kamin suggests building atmospheric condensers, but the administrator fobs them both off as alarmists. Batai is impressed that Kamin actually has spoken as a member of the community for the first time in five years. Kamin also wishes to talk with Batai about building their own atmospheric condensers.
That night, after demonstrating that he’s playing the flute much better after five years of practice, Kamin admits that he has been a terrible husband, giving Eline nothing while she’s given him so much. He asks her permission to build a nursery.
Back on the Enterprise, La Forge has found a way to track the probe’s origin, while Data has determined a possible method of severing the beam. Crusher’s ambivalent about trying it, but Riker isn’t willing to let the thing continue to drill into Picard. Worf agrees, saying that the probe is attacking the captain.
We jump forward a few more years on Kataan. Kamin and Eline have a daughter, Meribor, and we observe as they have the naming ceremony for their newborn son, whom they name Batai after Kamin’s friend, who died a year earlier. Kamin says that he used to think he didn’t need children in his life, but now he can’t imagine life without him.
Then he collapses. Data’s attempt to sever the beam causes Picard to have a seizure. Crusher and Ogawa work to save him, but he doesn’t stabilize until Data reestablishes the beam. La Forge has traced the probe to a system called Kataan. The sun went nova a thousand years earlier, wiping out all life in that system.
Back on Kataan, Meribor is grown, and has become a scientist like her father. She and her father discuss the reality that the soil on Kataan is dead from intense solar radiation. Meanwhile, Batai embraces music, to the point of leaving school to pursue it—he plays the flute even better than his father does.
Kamin speaks to the administrator, insisting that the planet is dying. The administrator, however, is still, thirty years later, insisting that such talk is alarmist and will only cause trouble. Finally, the administrator admits that the government came to the same conclusion as Kamin two years earlier—but they were hardly about to announce it to the public. They also have a plan in place, but it’s classified, and he can’t tell Kamin any more than that.
Before the conversation can continue, Eline collapses and Kamin runs home in time to be with her as she dies.
More time passes. An elderly Kamin is playing with his grandson when Meribor comes in to invite him to come see the launch. At this point, the sun’s damage is beyond simply killing soil—people don’t go outside for long periods of time, and everyone wears hats when they do. Fashions have changed to clothes that cover almost every inch.
Kamin grumpily wonders what this launch is, and Meribor says he’s already seen it. Batai appears as he was three decades earlier, as does Eline—they explain that the launch is of a probe that they hope will find someone who can tell the universe about Kataan. It found Jean-Luc Picard, and brought him to live the life of Kamin of Ressik. Through Picard, they will live again.
Kamin watches as the probe launches...and then Picard wakes up on the bridge of the Enterprise. The beam has shut off and the probe has gone inactive. Picard realizes that he’s back in the life he took so long to forget. Riker tells him he’s only been unconscious for twenty-five minutes. Crusher escorts him to sickbay, and he smiles, realizing that he’s back home.
But he’s not smiling later we see him in his quarters, refamiliarizing himself with being Jean-Luc Picard again. Riker had Worf bring the probe on board, but it’s wholly inactive. They found a box inside it, which Riker brings to Picard: it has a Ressikan flute.
Riker leaves Picard alone, and he clutches the flute, and then starts playing the same song he played at Batai’s naming ceremony.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The Kataan probe can penetrate shields, and ties itself to Picard’s life signs, to the point where every attempt to sever it causes Picard harm. But when its program is done, it’s rendered inert. Kataan was just at the beginnings of space travel when their sun started to make the place uninhabitable, so the probe was the best they could do in terms of allowing the people to live on.
No Sex Please,We're Starfleet: Picard resists acting in any way like Eline's husband at first, but to Eline's credit, she never gives up, and always stands by Kamin no matter how crazy he seems. It takes Picard five years to finally accept that he is her husband, and she his wife, and he talks about starting a family. The relationship between Kamin and Eline is the episode's spine.
I Believe I Said That: “You’ve been brooding behind that flute all evening.”
“I’m not brooding, I’m immersed in my music.”
“I find that it helps me to think. But the real surprise is I enjoy it so much.”
“No, the real surprise is that you may actually be improving.”
Batai making fun of his friend Kamin.
Welcome Aboard: Margot Rose is charming as Eline, and Jennifer Nash does well, and looks like Rose’s daughter, as Meribor. Veteran character actor Richard Riehle does a fine job as Batai, while Batai’s namesake, Kamin’s son, is played by Daniel Stewart, the son of Sir Patrick Stewart, which wins some kind of most-appropriate-casting-ever award. Also of note is the administrator played by Scott Jaeck, who will return to play the ill-fated Lt. Commander Cavit, Captain Janeway’s original first officer on Voyager.
Trivial Matters: Picard’s new ability to play the Ressikan flute will be seen again in “A Fistful of Datas” and “Lessons.” The flute also appeared in a deleted scene between Picard and Data in Star Trek Nemesis. One of the songs he plays on it is “Frère Jacques,” which he also led a singalong of as a morale-booster in “Disaster.”
Oh, and for all that it’s called a “flute,” the instrument is, in truth, a tin whistle with a fringe on it. Sir Patrick Stewart’s fingering in no way matches what’s being played, and indeed his fingers only change position when notes change sometimes.
Morgan Gendel pitched a sequel called “The Outer Light,” which was never produced but, in collaboration with Andre Duza and Don Ellis Aguillo, he is producing a comic book version, which is currently being serialized online. Gendel also wrote an article for this very website about five issues raised by the episode, that is very much worth a read.
Picard’s living Kamin’s life came into play in your humble rewatcher’s comic book miniseries Perchance to Dream.
This episode won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the third Star Trek episode to do so (the original series episodes “The Menagerie” and “City on the Edge of Forever” also won), and the first of two TNG episodes to receive the award (the next would be the finale “All Good Things...”). Director Peter Lauritson accepted the award at ConFrancisco in 1993, and your humble rewatcher was in the audience.
Beyond the Hugo, this is one of TNG’s most acclaimed episodes. It’s listed as one of the ten essential TNG episodes in Star Trek 101 by Terry J. Erdmann & Paula M. Block, Entertainment Weekly ranked it third in their list of top ten TNG episodes in 2007, and Michael Piller, Patrick Stewart, Peter Lauritson, and Michael Westmore have singled it out as one of the show’s best in various interviews and such.
The DVD menu for this episode plays the flute music Picard played for Batai’s naming ceremony and again at the end. The music is a bit from “Scottish Fantasy” by Max Bruch, recomposed by Jay Chattaway.
Make it So: “Remember to put your shoes away.” One of the finest episodes of any version of Star Trek ever produced, this is a delightful story, a unique take on the Enterprise’s mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. One wonders if Kamin was an actual person, or if the Kataan people created a fictional character that lived in Ressik to represent their people. (For what it’s worth, Gendel’s sequel story goes with the latter, though Eline is based on a real person.)
So much praise has been deservedly heaped on this episode that it seems almost pointless to add to it, so I want to mention one thing that isn’t discussed as often (at least not where I’ve seen it), and that’s the episode’s embrace of the importance of storytelling. We’ll see this again in “Birthright” next season—the foundation of civilized culture is the stories that it tells, and in the end the whole point of the probe making Picard live the life of Kamin is so that he can then go forth and tell the story to other people. I love the fact that the Kataan people thought that the best way for their civilization to be saved was, not to evacuate and hope to find another world or send genetic samples into space (both suggested by Kamin in the episode), but instead for someone to simply tell their story.
If the episode has a flaw, it’s the same problem “First Contact” had, in that these alleged aliens are a little too human (down to having handshakes as a greeting), though one could perhaps chalk that up to the probe adjusting to be familiar to the species who found it. At least, one hopes, since if they were found by, say, Klingons or Horta, it might’ve been problematic....
Overall, though, a magnificent episode. Michael Westmore said on the DVD extras for the TNG set that on any other show, Sir Patrick Stewart would have won an Emmy for his performance (hell, if TNG was on the air now, when mainstream television is far more accepting of genre, he would’ve won in a walk), and it’s absolutely true. Kamin is a fascinating blend of the man the probe said he was and the Jean-Luc Picard we’ve seen for five years.
Warp factor rating: 10