Jan 8 2013 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Interface”

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

1. Electone
Blech. This continues to reinforce my opinion that LeVar Burton is one horrible actor and that Geordi-centric stories should be skipped.
Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
While the episode did have its contrivances, and while I agree the crew was perhaps too skeptical about Geordi's theory (although in their defense, it was insanely unlikely that the Hera would've just happened to be accidentally transported to the same planet its captain's son was currently orbiting), I still found this a reasonably interesting episode. I liked the idea of the telepresence probe; Trek did far too little with robotics, placing drama over logic and thus sending humans into potentially dangerous situations that would realistically be handled by drones, or at least surveyed by them first. (The Stargate TV franchise proved that this wasn't necessary; their teams always sent robot probes of one sort or another through the Stargate before sending people through, and it didn't undermine the drama and adventure.)

I also like the depiction of the drone as a VISOR-less Geordi, the kind of figurative and symbolic portrayal that was unusual for Trek. Not a surprising thing coming from Joe Menosky, who always liked writing about reified symbols, archetypes, and myths.

Another thing I like, or at least respect, was the decision not to answer the question of what happened to the Hera. It is kind of a dangling thread, and there have been times, both back when I tried pitching for Voyager and later as a Trek novelist for Pocket, that I've considered developing a story that revealed she'd survived somehow, maybe been thrown into the Delta Quadrant or something. But there's something to be said for just leaving it a mystery. It's more realistic if not every question gets an answer. (Although the Geordi-centric novel Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee does offer an explanation for the Hera's fate.)
3. JM_DUSTwalker
So ... is LaForge's mother really dead? Did anyone ever resolve it definitively one way or the other?
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
@3: As I said, there was a novel that offered an explanation for Captain La Forge's fate, but since the novels aren't canonical, I wouldn't call it definitive.
Keith DeCandido
5. krad
Christopher: thanks for the reminder of what David did in IFM. It's been added.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido, who LOVES the edit function.......
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie
Not a huge fan of this episode, because I really can't stand the way Geordi's grief is resolved. I know it is something that would NOT work for me. I know he 'felt' like he got to say goodbye and apologize, but he didn't. Also, as a mother of two boys (as of December 31st :D ), he damn well should feel guilty for not sending off an email or whatever in three weeks or making time to see his mom when he had a chance ;)
Joseph Newton
7. crzydroid
@6: But saying goodbye doesn't really mean anything. It's how you lived.

The interesting thing I've been noticing about season 7 (we're a little ahead) is that there don't seem to be the crazy sci fi b-plots that you saw with a lot of earlier episodes. They seem to mainly deal with the one main storyline. This episode seems like an exception, though the scifi b-plot is related to the A plot. It would've been interesting if this show were such that Geordi could deal with grief over his mother's death in a realistic way and that was straight up, much how I think they could've done with Marla Aster. However, like that episode, this had the deceased being copied by some crazy alien.

Another theme of season 7 that this episode DOES do is that it's an episode that starts off and remains fairly interesting until a point near the end, where there is some weird crazy sci fi twist that makes it a little less palatable.
8. RichF
Although this is, as KRAD put it, a Roots reunion, a very interesting coincidence is that there was a Star Trek "preunion" in "Roots: The Gift": Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Jerry Hardin, Tim Russ, and of course LeVar Burton himself.
Jenny Thrash
9. Sihaya
I get tired of TV show plots where a group of friends decide that this time the episode's protagonist is unbelievable, whereas he has always been believeable in the past, and he's given no indication that he's lying or otherwise compromised now, and what do you know, by the end of the episode we discover that he's still honest and correct.

But this isn't one of those plots. Geordi has always been a dependable worker only until his personal life gets involved, and after seven years the crew probably knows this. Plus, the mental backflips he goes through in his path of wishful thinking are kind of obvious. Geordi's friends don't believe him, but they don't tell him so because they're angry with him. They do so because it's important to the mission and his life. The plot was never very exciting, but I was glad to see a story where the regular protagonist really was unreliable. For eighties and early nineties TV, that was pretty cool.

On the other hand, a Starfleet ship has gone missing from a deep space outpost for nine days? Nine days? Pft. It's an exploration mission on the edge of space - on Star Trek. Starfleet should keep the listening posts' ears open, list the crew as MIA, and not hold the funeral yet.
Christopher Bennett
10. ChristopherLBennett
@9: That's a good point about Geordi. Essentially he was wrong here. He was really perceiving an image of his mother, but he jumped to a totally erroneous conclusion about what it meant because he was in emotional denial about his personal loss.

And that's also a good point about it being premature to write the ship off.
11. RobinM
I thought the Roots connection was interesting and wish we could have seen more of Ben Vereen to give it more of a conclusion than I got to say goodbye to my mother by talking to a look alike alien. I knew it wasn't Geordi's mom as soon as I saw her and thought that's where there going with this. Really? I was just suprised it didn't have a happy ending and the ships remains lost.
12. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
I loved this episode and found it extremely touching. I thought it was very insightful into how people project grief and guilt onto things that are unrelated and how people can use those feelings to manipulate others into taking self-destructive or reckless actions. The aliens that he encountered while driving the probe were indeed dangerous, but because he felt so much denial over his mother's death, they were able to manipulate him into saving them, even at the risk of his own death.

I thought Counsellor Troi was right; his grief over his mother's death and unwillingness to accept it was what was behind the illusion.
13. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
I don't agree that LeVar Burton is a bad actor. Anyone who has seen "Roots" will understand how believably he portrayed Kunta Kinte.

I simply think he tried to play Geordi as too much of a "goody-two-shoes" character, when in reality there was a slight dark streak to him. I think he had a emotional problem throughout most of the series in which he was ashamed of himself and was afraid to face reality as a result of it. (See how he basically fell in love with a fictional representation of a female scientist on the holodeck or was tricked by aliens into believing his mother was still alive).

The scene in which he tells Troi "I'm not going to talk about my childhood to you" is very telling because it indicates that there really is something dark about his past that he's not willing to divulge.
Mike Kelmachter
14. MikeKelm
I agree with #13- Burton isn't a bad actor, it's just that I feel like the writers never really gave him enough to work with. What makes LaForge tick- why is he an engineer and not a scientist or a security officer or a nurse? He's a Starfleet brat, but we never hear him talk about it- did he grow up on a dozen starships and bases and planets or with extended family on Earth or what? Any brothers, sisters? Simply put, the only thing we know about Geordi is that he sucks with women- we've never had any reason to care about the guy behind the uniform, and now we're supposed to be caught up in his concern about his missing Mom?

Besides, as was pointed out earlier, the Hera was only missing for a week and a half- Geordi should have been more casual about it- an ion storm, a system failure, a wormhole, whatever- not jumping to a conclusion that his Mom was dead, and his friends should have been the ones trying to convince him that it was more serious than that. After all, as a Starfleet brat (not to mention what the Enterprise has been through the last few years) a week and a half without a message is relatively minor.

But I am going to disagree with everyone who says Geordi didn't get to say goodbye- if he felt he got to say goodbye, he got to say goodbye. People lose loved ones all the time without a proper goodbye- heart attacks, car wrecks, whatever, and find their own way to say goodbye to them. Whether its through a eulogy, or prayer, or talking to a grave or whatever, there is no one way to "say goodbye" as a therapist might say- the more important thing is that the patient find a way to come to terms with what they have lost. So if Geordi says goodbye by chatting with some aliens and that works for him, that works for him.
15. RMS
Honestly, I thought William Shatner's acting was far far worse than anyone on this show.

I think his acting is terrible, and he is such an egomaniac you cannot forgot who he is regardless of the role he is playing.

He makes me cringe.
Christopher Bennett
16. ChristopherLBennett
@14: I've been saying for years that TNG would've been more interesting if they'd made Worf the chief engineer and Geordi the security chief in season 2 instead of the reverse. It would've broken Worf away from the warrior stereotype he was saddled with throughout TNG, and made much better use of Geordi's enhanced sensory abilities (including the lie-detection ability he mentioned once in "Up the Long Ladder" and then never used again).

And you're right about saying goodbye. It's more about coming to terms with a loss in your own mind, finding emotional closure, than anything else.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
17. Lisamarie
I get that it might have worked for Geordi - I just know that it never would have worked for me. I still would have felt pretty guilty for not seeing my mom when I had the chance. I agree that ultimately, just 'saying goodbye' doesn't do much, and many times we do lose people without that tangible goodbye...but that's why it's important to make sure you don't have many regrets and don't ignore the relationships that are important to you.
18. Lsana
@9, 14,

You both picked up on the point that bothered me in this episode: the Hera wasn't missing nearly long enough for everyone to start "dealing with grief" and "planning memorial services." Given the number of things that we have seen happen to Starfleet vessles including but not limited to the Enterprise, I can't believe that one going off the grid for a week or two is really so unusual. It's like when I was three hours late getting home from work one night when my phone was out of batteries; cause for concern, yes, but it's a bit premature to start signing death certificates.

This episode would really have benefited from a little continuity; in Episode 2 or 3 of this season, have Geordi find out that the Hera is missing, have a little subplot about him worrying, but don't do this episode until after midseason when they notify him that they have given up the search.
Keith DeCandido
19. krad
I think that LeVar Burton is one of those actors who shines under the right circumstances (like the right director or the right script), but wilts without it. His consistency is all over the map on TNG -- sometimes excellent ("The Mind's Eye," e.g.), sometimes awful (this episode). He was indeed great in Roots and also a biopic of baseball player Ron Le Flore that aired the same year as Roots (1977), and was also good in an episode of the underappreciated cop show Boomtown. On the other hand, he's been simply dreadful in the TNT show Perception.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Joseph Newton
20. crzydroid
krad--what was bad about his acting in this episode?
Keith DeCandido
21. krad
crzydroid: Uhm, I discussed that in the rewatch above.....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
22. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
The acting on this series is light years beyond the acting on The Original Series and even season 1 of this series.

Has anyone seen the episode "Angel One" from TNG recently? The acting from the guest stars reminds me of the acting in a porn movie.
Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@22: It's not that the acting was better in TNG than on TOS, just that acting styles had changed. Remember, before film and TV, all acting was stage acting, and that had to be big and exaggerated to carry to the back rows. The acting in '60s TV was in that same theatrical tradition. But television itself put drama on a more intimate, up-close scale, and led to the eventual emergence of a more subdued style of acting. People raised on that style tend to see the performance style of earlier eras as hammy and unrealistic, but it doesn't mean the actors were less talented. They were just directing their talents toward a different goal.
Joseph Newton
24. crzydroid
@21: Well, you certainly mention that you feel that he had no emotional weight here...I guess I'm looking for more of an explanation as to why you felt that way.
25. Tom Green
One thing I never understood about the episode. Sure, it's been discussed here that 9 days was too early to write off the ship. But why did Picard tell Geordi the news about his mom's ship being missing right before he was using the probe to visit the distressed ship? It certainly wasn't time critical information. Let the guy do the rescue, THEN give him the bad news.

Of course, if that happens, he doesn't have his mother as a projection and the episode doesn't happen. But bad form, Picard. Bad form.

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