203. Half a Life
FORMULA: Manhunt + A Taste of Armageddon + 3 grams of Soylent Green
WHY WE LIKE IT: Lwaxana is actually palatable. More than palatable.
WHY WE DON'T: She's still Lwaxana.
REVIEW: A Lwaxana episode is normally something I dread, and the brow furrows as soon as we catch sight of Picard slinking through the ship uncomfortably à la Qpid. We're in sitcom land again. Majel Barrett has the annoying tendency to over-emote, especially in those telepathic conversations with Deanna. Ugh, if I never see one of those...
But there must be some truth to the idea that great actors bring out the best in lesser ones (something she tried to disprove every time she's in a room with Patrick Stewart), because her work with David Ogden Stiers is the best we'll ever see. His Dr. Timicin is a sad, usually quiet figure, whose euphoria quickly turns to anguish, and it's all done brilliantly. Barrett was never so subtle and grounded as when he refuses to go into her quarters, or at the episode's resolution.
Now, we call this the "euthanasia episode", but it's not really the issue, is it? Timicin isn't ill or otherwise suffering, so it fails as a euthanasia debate. No, it's really about how to deal with an ageing population. It's about retirement homes, health care, the fears of GenXers who will work all their lives to pay for Baby Boomers' pensions while possibly getting none themselves, and the general fear of ageing and becoming irrelevant. Timicin's assertion that before the Resolution, elders would simply try the patience of younger people is harsh, but how far is it from the truth? In the early 90s, this was a concern, but today, there are more people retired than in the work force. And it's only getting worse.
Half a Life makes the case for both sides, it explores the issue without beating the pulpit on one side or the other. In the final analysis, it remains true to the characters and the setting. The Prime Directive ties Picard's hands and he DOESN'T interfere (he's learned his lesson in The Drumhead). Lwaxana truly loves this man and in the end, respects his culture and wishes (too bad that character growth didn't really stick). It's really quite touching, and a twist on the viewer's expectations.
Take note of Michelle Forbes who appears as Timicin's daughter. Sadly saddled with a stupid hairstyle, she's very strong and affecting here, and I can see how this was viewed as her audition piece for the role of Ensign Ro.
LESSON: It's better to make me think than tell me what to think.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Normally, an episode that focuses on guest-stars would be iffy, and a total disaster if one of these were Lwaxana Troi. That it manages to be moving and uncompromising is something of a miracle.