Jan 22 2013 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Dark Page”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page“Dark Page”
Written by Hilary J. Bader
Directed by Les Landau
Season 7, Episode 7
Production episode 40276-259
Original air date: November 1, 1993
Stardate: 47254.1

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is hosting a delegation of Cairn, a telepathic species that never developed speech. They are being trained in how to speak verbally by Lwaxana Troi. Her star pupil is a girl named Hedril (who gets to compare enhancement devices with La Forge; she has a vocal enhancer, he has a VISOR). At one point, looking at Hedril causes Lwaxana distress, but she fobs it off as being tired.

When Troi arrives, Lwaxana immediately introduces her to Maques, with whom she is trying to set her daughter up. (Maques’s wife, Hedril’s mother, has died.) The next morning, the inevitable argument between mother and daughter over the former’s endless attempts to matchmake the latter modulates into concern as Lwaxana once again looks distressed. But once again, she fobs it off.

Maques apologizes to Troi for being forward. He also tells Troi that he discovered, when he communicated telepathically with Lwaxana, that she had a dark part of her mind, a piece that was hidden. Lwaxana called it privacy, and Troi explains to Maques that many species are not as open as the Cairn.

Later, Troi and Riker talk in Ten-Forward. Troi’s worried about her mother—she’s even dressing in a subdued manner. Riker doesn’t think it’s that big a deal, right up until Lwaxana storms into the bar and yells at Riker to get away from her, that it’s all his fault, if he had done the right thing years ago, she’d be married by now.

Troi immediately takes Lwaxana to sickbay. Her psilosynnine levels are low, so Crusher tells her to avoid telepathy for a while. Troi gives the Cairn a tour of the arboretum. Lwaxana is tagging along, and she looks like hammered crap. While Troi shows Maques and two others the flowers, Hedril starts walking around the perimeter of the pond.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

She loses her balance and falls in, recovering immediately, but then Lwaxana collapses. Troi rushes her to sickbay; she’s lapsed into a coma, and there’s no way to bring her out. Picard and Troi talk to Maques, to see if this might be a side effect of Cairn telepathy. Maques tries to explain again about the dark part of her mind, but he can’t do it well with words—finally he speaks telepathically to Troi, who’s momentarily overwhelmed. Eventually, Troi parses through the images Maques provided her: something is affecting Lwaxana’s metaconsciousness, a part of the Betazoid psyche that helps protect them from psychic trauma.

Maques tries to contact Lwaxana telepathically, but all he sees is images that are meaningless to him. He suggests using himself as a telepathic bridge so that Troi can contact her and bring her out of it.

Troi finds herself in a darkened Enterprise corridor. Lwaxana’s voice can be heard in the distance, asking for help. Troi also hears the sound of water.

Picard appears, ordering Troi to sever the connection—but that’s something Maques can do, there’s no reason for Picard to be interpolated into this image. Picard then speaks with Lwaxana’s voice, asking to be left alone. Troi is then chased through corridors by a wolf.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

Entering a door, Troi finds herself in a house on Betazed and is confronted by her father, wearing an older Starfleet uniform. He apologizes for going away when she was so young, and sings “Down in the Valley” to her—but Troi recognizes it as a stall and reluctantly leaves her father behind.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

Reentering the corridor, Troi sees Hedril—but without the exposed flesh that all Cairn have at their temples, and with the darkened eyes of a Betazoid. Lwaxana then angrily tells Troi to go away, and she wakes up unexpectedly.

Troi talks to Hedril, who says that she makes Lwaxana sad. Troi goes through her mother’s things, reads her journals for the past five years, talks to Mr. Homn and all her friends on Betazed, and the only bad thing that seems to have happened to her is Troi’s perpetual not-married state. Picard suggests going back further than five years, and they sit down to start at the beginning of her journal, shortly before she and Ian Troi got married.

To their surprise, there’s a seven-year gap starting about a year after Lwaxana and Ian married, and ending when Troi was about a year old. There were journal entries, but her mother deleted them thirty years ago.

This just increases Troi’s determination to go back into Lwaxana’s mind. She sees Hedril-as-Betazoid again, with the wolf. When Troi calls out to her, she asks, “Who’s Hedril?” Turning a corner, she sees a door open to space, and hears Lwaxana calling for help. Troi jumps through into space—

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

—and winds up in the arboretum. Lwaxana is there, now asking her to go away. Troi gets Lwaxana to finally open up. She sees a picnic: Ian and Lwaxana, an infant Troi, and Hedril-as-Betazoid playing with a dog. Lwaxana calls the girl Kestra, and Troi realizes to her shock that that’s her older sister, who proceeds to accidentally drown chasing after the dog. The trauma of losing her oldest daughter is so great that Lwaxana deletes her journals, erases all traces of Kestra, completely represses any memory of her to avoid the trauma of facing that she let her child die.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

Troi forces her mother to confront her daughter, and Kestra appears, this time not looking at all like Hedril, and Lwaxana apologizes and hugs her. Kestra fades away and Lwaxana finally wakes up.

Mr. Homn saved one picture of Kestra in case Lwaxana ever decided to remember her again, and Troi then asks her mother to tell her about her sister.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Psylosynnine is a neurotransmitter connected to telepathy. Overuse of telepathy can deplete it.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi has a weird-ass reunion with her dead father, finds out she had a sister all these years and didn’t know it, and finally finds out why her mother is such an overprotective bitch.

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data is able to contribute to the speculation regarding what happened to Lwaxana thanks to his own recent experiences with dreams (as recent as last episode...).

There is no Honor in Being Pummeled: Lwaxana once again refers to the Klingon security chief as “Mr. Woof,” and Michael Dorn beautifully plays it, starting to open his mouth to correct her, thinking better of it, and then just shaking his head ruefully.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

I Believe I Said That: “If two Cairn were having this conversation, it would have been over minutes ago.”


Lwaxana describing Cairn telepathy, and Picard wishing that it were so.

Welcome Aboard: Majel Barrett makes her final appearance on TNG as Lwaxana—she’ll appear twice more on Deep Space Nine in “Fascination” and “The Muse.” (Carel Struycken was unavailable to reprise Mr. Homn, and this is the only TNG episode in which the two characters don’t appear together.) Norman Large, having played Proconsul Neral in “Unification” and “Unification II” and a Kobheerian in “Duet” on DS9, returns as Maques; he’ll be back as an Ocampa on Voyager’s “Cold Fire,” and a makeup photo of him from “Unification” will be used as a wanted poster in Odo’s office throughout DS9’s run.

But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is the very young Kirsten Dunst, a year prior to her career-making turn in Interview with the Vampire (and nine years prior to her role as Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man), as Hedril and the image of Kestra.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

Trivial Matters: This is the first sighting of Troi’s father, who was first mentioned way back in “Encounter at Farpoint,” and who was named in “The Child.” Your humble rewatcher made him a primary character in the novel The Art of the Impossible, which also dramatized his death on Raknal V, and which made use of much of the backstory established in this episode.

Troi says at the end that Mr. Homn had kept the picture of Kestra all this time in case Lwaxana decided to remember her. However, “Haven” established that Homn was a new hire. Your humble rewatcher covered this in the short story “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” in Tales of the Dominion War, which established that Lwaxana had discovered that Xelo had been hoarding some keepsakes of Kestra. Lwaxana discovered this and grew furious, firing him and destroying those keepsakes, then making up the story about how he thought lewd thoughts at her that she told in “Haven.” Xelo passed on the one picture he was able to save to Homn, which he provides at the end of this episode.

In one of the alternate timelines seen in your humble rewatcher’s Q & A, a grown-up Hedril took over the role of ship’s counselor from Troi after she left to serve on Titan following Star Trek Nemesis.

Finally, just so there’s one note that doesn’t connect to me: Though Bader got sole credit, the script was rewritten by Rene Echevarria for production, and it apparently went through many different central characters before settling on Troi’s mom.

Make it So: “Your brain isn’t sophisticated enough.” It’s an impressive feat to take a character in serial fiction that everyone is familiar with and come up with a surprise revelation that retroactively illuminates their character and explains so much about them. Chris Claremont pulled this off in Uncanny X-Men #161, a comic book published in 1982, some twenty years after the X-Men debuted, revealing that Professor X and Magneto were once close friends before they were separated by philosophical differences. This has become so ingrained in the X-Men mythos—heck, they built an entire movie around it—that people forget that it wasn’t part of the original conception of the characters.

TNG pulled off a similar trick here. (The franchise would do it again on DS9 with the revelation in “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” that the title character was genetically enhanced.) So much of Lwaxana’s character is pulled into focus here, particularly her almost fanatical overprotectiveness of her daughter. And Barrett is brilliant, never losing Lwaxana’s trademark lunacy, but utterly convincing you of the tremendous pain she’s hiding. Her anguish, her sadness, her fear, they’re all heartbreakingly real. And the moment when mother and daughter wake up in sickbay and are holding hands is just a warm, wonderful bit.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page

Les Landau’s direction mostly serves the episode well, using the simple expedient of changed lighting for Lwaxana’s dreamscape (a trick Sir Patrick Stewart could’ve used for Data’s dreams in “Phantasms” the previous week), and not overplaying anything. In particular, he does a good job with Norman Large’s Maques, convincing us of a person who is unused to language without slowing the story down—that sort of stumbling speech pattern can grind an episode to a halt, but Landau and Large pull it off nicely. It almost makes up for the silly intense stare that Large does every time he communicates telepathically.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Dark Page


Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido sure has written a lot of stuff about the Troi family, hasn’t he?

Joseph Newton
1. crzydroid
Watching this now, I find some of what has become stereotypical "exploring a person's mind" imagery a little hokey and tiresome, but when I first saw this, I was really into. This episode really intrigued me and kept me watching the show. For the record, I do still like the other parts of this episode.
Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
Although introducing a hitherto-unknown secret sibling for a long-established regular could've been one hell of a contrivance, Hilary Bader (and Echevarria) made it work quite effectively here, or at least put in enough good stuff that the contrivance is forgivable. And it's not surprising that after "Half a Life," when Majel Barrett showed what a hell of a fine actress she could be, the writers continued taking Lwaxana in more dramatic directions.

Still, it suffers from the standard episodic-TV syndrome of redressing the standard sets to look like a dream environment, much like DS9's "Extreme Measures" a few years later. It would've been a stronger episode if they'd had the budget to do location work for the dream sequences.

Also the episode creates a continuity hitch. "Haven" said that Deanna got her accent from her father, but here he was played by a man with an ordinary American accent. So where did Deanna's accent come from?
3. Tesh
I love the depth this gave to Lwaxana's character. I also love that she wasn't depicted as a villain in any way, but as a grievously wounded, ultimately loving person who just... broke. I love that Deanna didn't blame her or judge her.

I haven't lost a child. I hope not to. I don't know how I'd get through it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't turn out like Lwaxana, but I would definitely be changed.

I especially love that the show implicitly asks us to reevaluate Lwaxana and her behavior, and perhaps, to be a bit kinder in judging her. Would that we could do that on a regular basis for those around us. Nearly everyone has pains, sometimes great ones, that no one else can actually see or understand.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
4. Lisamarie
This episode was so painful for me to watch. I'm not sure if I am glad it was semi spoiled for me or not (I knew it was about something bad in Lwaxana's past and that Troi had a sibling, but I had it in my head that it was a miscarriage). If it hadn't been, I think I would have been even more sucker punched than I already was - which would have certainly made it a more powerful episode but I don't know if I could have handled that. We watched this one over Thanksgiving and usually our Star Trek time is a time to kind of decompress...especially a Lwaxana episode. I was pregnant at the time too (and I have an almost-two year old already). So to watch this was horribly painful for me.

It's hard for me to judge it objectively - it definitely did it's job in eliciting an emotional response (at least for me) and it unsettled me for days. Maybe it was just being emotionally manipulative (dead child plot!) and I fell for it, or maybe it really did a good job (I do think it had some really positive aspects to it) But I'm not sure I would ever rewatch it.

I do think it shows the potential Lwaxana had as a character - some of my very favorite episodes were Lwaxana episodes (Half a Life stands out, and I actually enjoyed the one with her and Alexander even if the holodeck setting was really weird), and some of my LEAST favorite episodes were Lwaxana episodes. There are times she just came off as simply annoying and silly, and times she came off as a free spirit and vivacious and had some depth to her. I never saw her as an 'overprotective bitch' though. Really not a bitch at all - to me a bitch is somebody who is malicious, whereas she (at her worst) just stuck me as somebody who was a bit self absorbed and oblivious and just kind of ran over other people, but not out of spite or malice. Probably not somebody I'd want to spend a lot of time with in real life, or maybe only in small doses.

I am not even sure how I could handle something like this - I don't think I could ever, ever get over it, especially if it was something I perceived as my fault or was preventable. I live in fear of that every day, really. I don't even think the resolution in the episode would have helped me (similar to Geordi's resolution of his own arc in Interface) because it wouldn't erase the fact that a child I was supposed to protect died under my care, and their last moments were full of terror and pain. This is not to say we should judge her overly harshly (truly, I felt a lot of compassion for her), but I know I would judge myself that way and never truly get over it, at least not completely. Maybe her character doesn't really either, but can still move on. I don't even know how I would manage that though.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
5. Lisamarie
@2 - on a totally ligher note, I thought that too!!!
6. Chris Scholl
I have never liked this episode probably because of Barrett's acting kind of reminds me of Sally Field's acting in Steel Magnolias but I can't blame Mrs. Gene Roddenberry for trying again.
Shelly wb
7. shellywb
I thought Barrett's acting was incredibly wooden in this, which surprised me because I've seen her act so wonderfully in other episodes. I was also put off by the fact that when Troi contacts all her mother's friends and Mr Homm about a past tragedy that could be KILLING her, none see fit to mention the death of a daughter that practically destroyed her. That's seemed to be a big hole in the plot. Yes, some might think Troi knew, and some might take the notion of privacy that far, but not all.
8. critter42
I have to go in the other direction. Emotionally manipulative? Yeah, I'll give you that, but it was still no less effective on me - this is in my top 10 favorite TNG episodes on Barrett's acting alone.

I don't see the explanations as contrivances - in fact, I consider it more than plausible that telepathic beings have many safeguards and abilities when it comes to dealing with psychic trauma - while by our standards it might not be rational, I don't think we would have the capacity to understand what such events might do to minds like theirs.

This was a great send-off (in TNG, we'll see her later in DS9 of course) for a great character...
Keith DeCandido
9. krad
shellywb: I have no trouble with that, because it was more than three decades ago. It didn't come up in conversation, because Troi was focused on some kind of recent trauma that might have been triggered her mother. It wasn't until they'd exhausted all the recent possibilities hat Troi even looked back that far.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Mike S2
10. MikeS2
Now we know why Mitt Romney had such a hard time connecting with voters - he was used to communicating telepathically with a flood of images.

And yeah, I agree with the others the darkened sets for dreams has become a cliche by this point. I liked the character reveal, but found drowned child too depressing to be enjoyable.
alastair chadwin
11. a-j
This episode wasn't originally shown in Scotland (I don't know if it has been subsequently) as it came too soon after a group of schoolchildren were massacred in the small Scottish town of Dunblane. It was obviously felt to be too close to the bone.
12. Lsana
I enjoyed the episode, but it did not prompt me to have any sort of reevaluation of Lwaxana or feel more charitable towards her obnoxious behavior in other episodes. The things is, looking back, none of Lwaxana's actions strike me as being "overprotective" of Deanna. She doesn't seem like she's trying to mess with Deanna's life because she's worried her daughter might be in danger but more because meddling with every detail in Deanna's life and everyone else's is what she does. An overprotective mother reminds you to wear a sweater because it's cold out; a meddling mother insists that you wear the red sweater than the blue one and picks out the socks you should wear with it. Lwaxana always struck me as more the latter than the former.

Again, it was a good episode. It was nice to see Ambassador Troi actually being a pretty skilled diplomat, and I sympathized with both mother and daughter during the whole thing. I just didn't find it the earthshattering revelation other people seemed to.
13. MvComedy
I watched this episode recently. My feelings echo most of what has been said already - Barrett's acting was superb, IMO. Troi discovering she has a sister that nobody mentioned to her in 30 years is a bit cliche and hard to swallow (I'll buy that Lwaxanna didn't talk about it, but nobody in the extended family ever mentioned it?), but all things considered it was handled a lot better than it could have been.

On rewatch, I was reminded of two things that stand out to me whenever I watch this episode. First of all, I like the way Norman Large plays Maques. He is someone who has been transported from his own culture into another and he is really struggling to adjust, so while he's genuine in his actions he comes off as rude or creepy at times because he isn't familiar with social norms outside of his own culture. He appears in Troi's room uninvited, is very blunt when speaking, and has difficulty explaining himself in the local way, which makes the viewer wonder about his intentions at first. But in reality it's because he is simply unfamiliar with social protocol, and doing what would be normal for him coming from a culture where there are no secrets, no need to explain yourself because everyone is already aware of what you are thinking and doing. Anyone who has found themselves in the midst of another culture that is so foreign to their own and has to stumble along to learn the basic dos and don'ts can relate.

Secondly, I thought it obvious that the angry noises from the wolf were done in post-production, and it looks like they had to work hard to get it to act agressive. I imagine it was a very good-natured animal off camera.
Shelly wb
14. shellywb
@9, I would agree except that she found that very obvious gap in the diary. Isn't the first thing you'd do is call home and start asking why?

I'm the first person to admit things easily remain hidden in a family. This weekend I found out that I'd had an uncle who'd died at the age of 6 on the operating table, 80 years ago. But if I'd had my grandmother's diary from that time and she'd skipped 6 years, I'd have asked questions, especially if she showed evidence of trauma.
David Corless
15. phonos
I'm watching through these episodes as Keith reviews these, so I watched it for the first time on Monday. It was pretty difficult for me having had my 2yo son drown 3 years ago. It made some parts of the episode seem really trite, particularly how a few words from Deanna makes everything ok, despite the issue eating away at her for 30 years and practically killing her. I suppose when you only have 45mins an episode there's not much you can do about that. But I think my experience made the response of Lwaxana of hiding it more believable. How do you tell your daughter that her crying as a baby is what distracted you whilst your daughter drowned?

I thought considering the constraints they did a reasonable job with a difficult subject
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
16. Lisamarie
@15 - I am so sorry to hear about that. :( I can only imagine how awful that must have been and how hard this episode must have been - I've only encountered this kind of thing in my nightmares and overactive imagination and I still found the episode rather triggering. I hope you have been able to find some peace and healing.
17. Adam Byrne
Very well done but extremely difficult and upsetting to watch. I couldn't go through it again.
Lee VanDyke
18. Cloric
I've always liked this one, but then again, I've always liked all the Ms. Troi episodes. I love the play on the name of the "race of the week:" Cairn - a heap of stones piled up as a memorial.
19. Heather Dunham
Wow... this is the first episode in the entire rewatch that I really didn't remember. And yet, somehow I think I did see it when it originally aired... the bit where Deanna says "even her clothes are subdued" was definitely familiar. And as soon as the little girl fell in the water, I knew "Deanna had a sister that died", though I couldn't remember the details.

For whatever reason, this one really didn't stick in my brain the way others did. Most of season 7 are episodes I only saw the first time around and have, for whatever reason, never caught again in reruns. But I remembered Picard being the pirate Galen, and I remembered the cellular peptide cake and the mouths, and I remember warp drive tearing spacetime apart, and I remember Crusher and Picard being telepathically linked, and I remember Data's mother, and I remember the terrible de-evolution, and I remember All Good Things -- each one, I'm sure, I only saw once, but I remember them. But this one was nearly completely blank for me.

Maybe I blocked it out the way that Lwaxana blocked her memories... because by the end of watching it I was an emotional wreck! As cliche as all of it was, it got me. Maybe because I'm a parent now, it really affected me. Mrs Roddenberry was heartwrenchingly believable. And also, even before we got to the dead-child bit, I was terrifically moved by the scene of Deanna meeting with her father. It was so sweet and beautiful and sad. Hit me right there, as Q would say...

And I recognized Kirsten Dunst in her last scene... heh... very cute!
20. Rosemary Karalius
I really enjoyed this episode, but the whole plot begs the question - how could a telepathic mother not know that her child was in trouble?

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