Star Trek 232: The Inner Light

232. The Inner Light

FORMULA: The Paradise Syndrome + The Nth Degree

WHY WE LIKE IT: The acting. A beautiful concept.

WHY WE DON'T: The make-up gets in the way.

REVIEW: The notion behind The Inner Light is a beautiful one. A dying planet has sent out a life experience into space to preserve its culture and way of life. Instead of deciphering writings and artifacts, a would-be archaeologist experiences 40+ years in the life of a man. (Let us hope the program is adaptable to your decisions and that it can be "turned on" and directed at will, or else Picard is the last ever repository of K'taan culture.)

It's a beautiful idea, but it matters to us because it's changing Picard's life. Sure, we know from the beginning that it's all in his head - no final twist or reset button to cheapen this one - but it gives him the chance to have what he never has, what he never allowed himself to have, i.e. a family. Picard thus lives a full, rich, but simple life, and the bonds he forges there are as real to him as any on the Enterprise. As we'll see, this has subtly transformed the character forever, leading us to Generations and perhaps even Insurrection and beyond. The end of the episode has Picard return to the ship, now a hazy memory (did he have to retrain or did it all come back to him?), and we hear the haunting Ressikan flute melody one more time, leading us to the credits instead of the usual horns. Very beautiful and a sign that this will stay with the captain.

The success of The Inner Light relies a lot on the acting, but it's Patrick Stewart, so you're in good hands. He has to give us a Picard that's in a totally other environment now, and a few years from now, and 10 years from now, 20, 40. He has to play age, and the depth and variety of emotion: resigned to his new life, he asks Eline if he can build a nursery; interacting with his children; the sudden death of his wife; his heart breaking at the idea that his grandson won't have a rich, full life. It's beautifully done, and in large part because Margot Rose is so effective as Eline as well.

The episode has long been considered one of the best TNG had to offer, usually placing 1st or 2nd overall, but I do think it hasn't aged as well as it should have, and that's because of the ageing make-up. The performances are very strong, but the last two acts have to be played under tons of latex. At the time remarkable, I'm sure, but they seem very stiff now. A small nitpick, but it did bother me.

LESSON: Time flies when you're under the influence of an alien probe.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Still one of the best by virtue of its acting and original concept. The DVD offers a small treat, using the Ressikan melody on the episode's menu screen, and I can't wait to hear it again in Lessons.


omne51 said...


...everytime I see Picard playing his flute in a future episode, I fondly remember this one. So good on so many levels... I was floored when I saw this episode.

You just know that deep down, living this life was a dream of Picards, making it so heartfelt for him.

This episode also helps explain the wisdom Picard shows in later episodes, as he has, in effect, lived TWO full lives.

FoldedSoup said...

This one actually brought me to tears. A Freckin' *Star Trek* episode!

Easily one of the best ST's ever. And, I'd put it in the top 5 best Sci-Fi TV episodes of all time.

An absolutely phenomenal story. It still haunts me.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to read about how this episode has changed Picard's character. I remember watching it first time round and thinking that it hadn't changed his charater at all when I watched later characters, and assuming it was just another TNG return to status quo thing. But I wasn't very old at the time, so I'd be interested to find out what I missed.

Also, what do you think of the similar DS9 episode that shows Sisko's son at different stages of his life?

Siskoid said...

Well, keep reading these reviews for more detailed thoughts, but I can tell you now that the flute returns in a number of episodes, for one thing. For another, there's the film Generations, which features Picard's deep need for a family of his own. Overall, I suppose Picard's always been older and wiser than the rest of the crew, so it would be a subtle change, but the next two seasons will show him easily slip into other roles (undercover work), and less of an obsession about the Borg (until First Contact blows it all wide open). We'll see how it actually plays out daily (I'm watching these as I go along to get a fresh opinion on them).

As for The Visitor, we'll get to it eventually, but it's one of my favorite episodes ever. Very, very touching.

Alain Degrace said...

Top 5 episode in my book. Refreshing to see that this episode will actually impact Picard's character. For some reason, he's often the only character that accumulates experiences that are later referenced.


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