September 8, 2014
Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Survivors"
"The Survivors" is an episode that starts as a rather perplexing mystery, then segues into being a fairly light-hearted encounter with a charming old couple, and then concludes with an ethical dilemma over genocide. Talk about a rollercoaster ride.
It begins with some wonderfully surreal imagery. There's a devastated planet, with all traces of human colonization burned to ashes, except for one perfect square of lawn with a house in the middle of it. It feels an awful lot like an episode of the original Star Trek, which reveled in this sort of strangeness. The two surviving residents (played by John Anderson and Anne Haney) are incredibly down-to-earth and shockingly normal, going so far as to invite the Enterprise away team in for tea.
These early scenes absolutely nail Worf in a way the series hasn't previously managed. He's always been deadly serious, going on all the time about honour and warriors and Klingon traditions. Here they finally add the missing element: pitch-perfect deadpan humour. 'Sir,' he gruffly tells Kevin, 'may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay, with a non-functioning weapon, was an act of unmitigated gall.'
'Didn't fool you, huh?' asks Kevin.
'I admire gall,' is the deadpan reply.
Michael Dorn does great work with Worf, and now that the series is matching his performance the character only gets better.
The episode's second half is considerably darker, once Picard wises up to the fact that Rishon is long dead and that she and her house are illusions created by Kevin - actually a massively powerful alien entity. Not only that, but when he watched the alien invaders murder the colony he retaliated by committing genocide on their entire race. When it seemed that Troi's psychic powers might have given the game away, Kevin psychically implanted music in her head so loud that it drives her into a coma.
How do you respond to that? How do you bring justice to someone who's all-powerful? What it a suitable punishment for the murder of 50 billion lives? Picard wisely treads very carefully. There's no easy solution at the conclusion. What could the Enterprise's crew possibly do? They back away slowly, and leave the all-powerful, immensely remorseful alien to his grief. It's all rather unsettling.
Three episodes into the season, and we're running at three for three. I like these kinds of runs. They're much easier to watch than the bad patches.