Myriad Universes: Divided Light Part 1: Companionship

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This is far and away among the weirder story arcs in the DC Star Trek: The Next Generation series. And given this is a comic book line that had the Enterprise literally meet Santa Claus in 1987, that goes a way towards saying something. And yet Divided Light is *just* audacious and weird enough to work: Michael Jan Friedman's signature deft hand at writing the crew and his knack for having his stories' main themes and motifs reoccur on multiple levels makes this one memorable for all the right reasons instead of all the wrong ones. Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, it marks the beginning of a critical and formative time when the spin-off media, particularly the comic books, steered the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
 
Lwaxana Troi is aboard, and is regaling her daughter with stories of her recent tryst with Constable Odo on Deep Space 9. Deanna seems a bit unconvinced that Odo is quite as malleable and impressionable as Lawxana seems to think he is, but as far as Lwxana is concerned Odo is her dream man. But Lwaxana isn't aboard the Enterprise solely for social reasons; she's been asked to participate in a diplomatic conference on the third moon of Sakerion, where it is expected that Ergeus, Sakerion's neighboring civilisation, will petition to join the Federation, thereby bringing a long period of isolationism for that culture to an end. Lwaxana thinks the move would be a strategic gain for the Federation given that Ergeus is on the border of Cardassian territory, but is concerned about stories she's heard about the brutal Triumvirates that have historically been known to rule Ergeus. Meanwhile in the phaser shooting range, Captain Picard and Commander Riker discuss how the Federation wants the Enterprise to send a contingent of engineering, operations and medical personnel to the conference as well, the idea being to present an “open and friendly image”. The two commanding officers remark that, given this, Ambassador Troi was the best possible choice.
 
In sickbay, Doctors Crusher and Selar are discussing the conference. Bev wants to send Selar over as a representative, to which she eagerly accepts. In the holodeck, Lwaxana, dressed as Snow White, has taken Alexander back to the time of Earth's dinosaurs. It is casually mentioned in passing that Lwaxana's powers of telepathy extend to the level of being able to effectively mind-meld with the Enterprise itself. Although Alexander loves the mesozoic adventure, he confesses to Lwaxana that he often feels frustrated that he isn't allowed near anything “important”, and expresses a desire to visit the diplomatic conference. Lwaxana begins to broach the idea of taking Ms. Kyle's class (including Alexander) with her to Captain Picard as an “educational opportunity”, but Jean-Luc accepts her proposal before she even finishes proposing it, although he suggests ending Worf and a security detachment with them just in case, to keep everyone safe. Evidently Captain Picard can read minds too.
 
At the conference, Lwaxana shows the kids around the great hall of the Sakerions, pointing out statues they erected in commemoration of their resilience and ability to build a prosperous society out of such a challenging environment. Soon however the kids' attention is drawn to the Eregeans, whom they are concerned seem sick. Worf escorts them away, but the diagnosis is shared by Doctors Crusher and Selar. Suddenly, a firefight breaks out in the hall: There's a lot of phaser fire and, in the chaos and confusion, the crew can't get a clear beat on their attackers.Thankfully, when the dust clears, no-one seems hurt...But Lwaxana, Deanna, Selar, Alexander and Geordi have disappeared. Doctor Crusher reports the situation to the bridge, and Commander Riker takes an away team to investigate.
 
We cut to Lwaxana, Alexander and Geordi, who awake bound to a series of flat slabs in an undisclosed location. They're unharmed, but something seems...off about them. Alexander notes his internal monologue feels different: He remarks the last thing he remembers is trying to protect “the children” (as if he himself wasn't one) and seems to confuse Lwaxana with his mother. He soon realises he's right on all count, because it turns out, he's sharing his mind with that of Deanna Troi. Alexander and Deanna seem to have become a kind of gestalt entity, with each person occasionally taking control of Alexander's active consciousness. Deanna (as Alexander) manages to wake Geordi, but it soon becomes evident the same thing has happened to him: Geordi is now sharing body and mind with Selar, to which they both react with bemused fascination. Finally, Lwaxana wakes, but her voice is quickly repressed by that of Worf. Worf is not entirely happy to find out he has become joined with Lwaxana Troi and proceeds to freak out. Lwaxana isn't wild about it either and promptly snarks right back at him.
 
In the observation lounge, the remaining bridge crew discusses the situation with the Sakerions, who admit, somewhat sheepishly, that the Ergeans are likely responsible for the attack and abduction as they've traced the ballistics residue to weapons they use. When pressed as to why the Ergeans might have been driven to commit such an act, the Sakerions basically look at their feet, shuffle them around a bit and say “Well, you see...” and stress the Enterprise crew *might* find it “difficult to believe”. Back with the gestalts, Alexander (as Alexander) with help from Geordi (as Geordi) figures their shackles were not built to hold kids, and he frees himself and Deanna Troi. Deanna (as Alexander) then frees the other four. Selar (as Geordi) leads the party out a nearby door, but they are quickly cornered by three pissed-off looking Ergeans.
 
There's no arguing that this story sets up one of the most left-field plotlines in the comic book's second volume. But this has always been one of my favourite arcs regardless. First of all, it's just good: Michael Jan Friedman remains the Star Trek: The Next Generation creator par excellence, and his handle of his characters' voices is without compare. No-one is randomly shoehorned into bafflingly strangled plot points or written weirdly out of character. Just picking up this issue for the first time in awhile reminded me of how good this series is and how talented Friedman is as a writer. He is, however, admittedly a somewhat formulaic one: His pattern of exposition, rising tension and his general plot beats are all starting to feel a bit familiar by now. But he is, let's remember, a comic book author, and a certain amount of hackishness comes with the territory. In fact, I'd argue the TV show writers could have stood to be a bit *more* hackish-It likely could have saved a fair few scripts over the years.
 
(Speaking of, it should be noted the comic book line's rate of turnover does mess things up a bit for this story: Because it's meant to take place during or after the seventh season, Lwaxana's presence here directly referencing "The Forsaken" feels a bit strange coming in the wake of "Dark Page", but it ultimately works.)
 
But secondly, Divided Light means for its weirdness to be allegorical in a variety of actually interesting ways. The mere fact Lwaxana Troi is one of the participants and the action of this issue is centred around a prospective diplomatic conference leads us to believe this is going to be a story primarily about empathy, and that's before it literally comes out and has people sharing each other's consciousnesses. Then we have Lwaxana reading Alexander's mind diegetically because she's a telepath and extradiegetically because they're such close friends. A scene that is echoed a few pages later when Captain Picard seems to be able to “read” Lwaxana's mind by anticipating what she's planning to say and finishing her sentences, another trait of hers. Even the offhanded callback to “The Forsaken” is significant, as that episode was largely predicted on the rapport and bond between Lwaxana and Odo. Hell, there's Lwaxana forming a telepathic bond with the Enterprise itself, in some ways a callback to the themes swirling around Lwaxana's very first appearance.
 
But really, this whole first issue hinges on its climactic reveal. And with a conceit that fundamentally weird, how could it not? It's not that the Freaky Friday concept of body-swapping or even the idea of sharing your consciousness with another is all that strange, after all; It's a hallmark of B-grade genre fiction, and even the Original Series did it on more than one occasion. But that's precisely the thing: We're entering an era when genre fiction is so desperate to feel legitimized it takes itself so terribly seriously, often getting (and warranting) the opposite reaction instead. This seems like the sort of thing current Star Trek, or rather its most vocal fans. would want absolutely no part of, which is of course why it's the populist comic book series that does it and why it so self-evidently ought to have been done. And “Companionship” is no mere fluff either-Lwaxana's presence and the empathy theme hint that Divided Light has higher, more oversignified aspirations as well. Which is really as it should be. Genre fiction is fundamentally ridiculous, but when it's at its best it can be ridiculous in a fun and oversignified way that, if we're not careful, might just cause us to ponder some deeper thoughts every once in awhile.

Comments

Ozman Jones 11 months, 4 weeks ago

A great read, thanks. As someone who’s never been an avid Trek watcher (or reader) I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time enjoying reading critical analysis of it.

Particularly liked the brief discussion on the nature of genre fiction in the final paragraph, its basic ridiculousness and that in this genre, among the crazy and the camp can be gems of real insight.

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David Brain 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I went and dug this little run out from my files because I didn't remember it at all (perhaps because it came shortly after the "Worst of Both Worlds") but got sucked back in very quickly.

The set-up is certainly weird (getting Alexander down onto the planet is a bit of a reach) but there are enough dangling hints that nothing in the subsequent issues feels like a terrible cheat.

And yes, the Picard/Lwaxana scene is a joy.

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