Myriad Universes: Separation Anxiety Part 6: Restoration


Most Star Trek: The Next Generation stories would have ended by now. Packed things in after the Sztazzan and the Enterprise crew had achieved a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the crisis, maybe given us a nice little pat wrapping-up scene with Captain Picard and Commander Riker looking forward to a more peaceful future.

This series does not tell stories typical of what most Star Trek: The Next Generation looks like.

“Restoration” is every bit as low-stakes and low-key as “The Lesson”, and every bit as memorable to me. First of all it's an absolute lyrical masterpiece: From Captain Picard's opening rumination on Plato's theory that humans and human longing were created when a singular flawless being was split into man and woman at some point in prehistory (and his belief the metaphor need not be gendered to be effective) to Doctor Crusher's counsel to a shaken Terry Oliver distraught over her actions with the injured Sztazzan crewmember, this issue is crafted out of the sort of wordplay and turns of phrases so haunting they linger with me long, long after the story is done. And also like “The Lesson”, this is more or less an interlocking series of vignettes centred around a specific theme. This time, it's, very fittingly, reunification and moving forward.

As the Enterprise slowly recovers and rebuilds after its pan-galactic adventures with the Sztazzan, Miles, Keiko and Molly O'Brien watch as their friends, a couple literally separated by the dividing ship sections, happily reunite with each other. Captain Picard checks in on a busy Doctor Crusher in sickbay, her team stretched taking care of the massive casualties sustained during the stardrive section's numerous battles. Nevertheless, she expresses confidence that sickbay will be “empty again soon”, and they both look forward to a future with the Sztazzan that is “at the very least non-violent”. Geordi tells Data he's glad to see the engine room again, and the two have a brief discussion about the nature of objective correlatives before Data accidentally tips Geordi off that he has some “unfinished business” to attend to.

Said unfinished business is not the billiards tournament with Miles O'Brien, however. If you will recall, Geordi was called away from the game at a crucial moment when the artificial moon relay station was first discovered, and Miles had subbed in Deanna Troi at the last second. Geordi and Miles decided it would have been unfair to ask for her help and then turn her away when it became convenient, so Miles kept Deanna on as his partner, despite her warning that “Betazoids do not play pool”, as a point of honour. Deanna then proceeds to shock everyone at the table by winning the game singlehandedly. It seems that while Betazoids do not play billiards, humans do, and she is, after all half-human. Her father, as it turns out, was a billiards champion and “taught his daughter everything he knew”.

Worf insists on taking Alexander to Mott's barber shop to make him apologise to the Bolian for his earlier insensitive remark. He is surprised to learn, however, that the apology is not necessary as it was Mott's tactical plan that saved the saucer section and help pave the way for peace with the Sztazzan, and Alexander was the one who brought it to Commander Riker's attention. In fact if anything, Mott argues, it's Worf who owes Alexander an apology for doubting his son's capacity for empathy and remorse. In the ready room, Commander Riker privately reveals to Captain Picard that while Mott did indeed come up with the plan, he and Alexander only managed to inform Will of it “after [he] had already begun to implement it”. However, the two agree it would be best for all involved for Mott and Alexander to go on thinking that they helped save the ship. After all, it's always good to have others to turn to for help in a time of need.

Terry Oliver is wracked with guilt over her rescue of the Sztazzan officer she saved. Even though she was instrumental in saving all three crews, she confesses to Doctor Crusher that she feels she let her former shipmates down by forsaking her one chance to get revenge on the Sztazzan for the murders and war crimes they committed. But Beverly helps her interpret her emotions a different way: By her measure, the deaths of Terry's former shipmates were incredibly meaningful, despite what Terry might now think. Because, as she tells her
“They made you sick of death. So sick of it, in fact, you couldn't countenance any more of it.”
Beverly seems to think this, a capacity for mercy and forgiveness no matter who is suffering, is what makes the Federation special...But then she would tell somebody that in order to justify to herself, as much as to her interlocutor, the existence of the monolithic institution she's found herself working for. We all know these aren't really Federation values-They're Enterprise ones. This ship and crew lives and breaths the ideals the Federation can only pretend are theirs as part of their state-sponsored propaganda rhetoric.

And yet even so we still have one small bit of unfinished business to attend to. There's one person noticeably missing from this issue's celebratory loose-end-tying. In fact, she's been egregiously absent in any major plot capacity since the second part of this miniseries. And so, perhaps fittingly, we end where we began. Not with Commander Riker or the Sztazzan or with Worf or Alexander or even with Terry Oliver, but with Ro Laren.

It's Moga Nivan, a deeply significant and meaningful Bajoran holiday meant to be spent with one's closest friends and family. And Laren is all alone, looking out into space from a deserted ten forward. Until, that is, she's suddenly and unexpectedly joined by Geordi, who's brought Data, Worf and Guinan with him. Apparently, during their conversation in engineering about objective correlatives, Data had let it slip to Geordi that a holiday can make one feel sad if one has nobody to spend it with, and that Laren had told him she was feeling this way before they encountered the artificial moon. Geordi put everything else on hold to look up all he could find on Moga Nivan so that he could give Laren the best celebration he could put together for her, and roped in Data, Worf and Guinan to help. Geordi tells a stunned Laren that, on the Enterprise, you've got to expect the unexpected. But of course the real meaning in his words is that he considers Laren to be part of his family, the Enterprise family, and hope she feels the same. As Laren leads them in the ceremonial poem, they are joined by Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Deana Troi and Doctor Crusher. The Enterprise warps away as Laren wishes a brave Moga Nivan to us all.

This is one of my favourite moments in all of Star Trek: The Next Generation, printed *or* televised for so incredibly many reasons.Yes, there's the fact this makes me ship Geordi/Laren every bit as hard as anything in “The Next Phase”. But thematically, it's perfect that Separation Anxiety end here, with Laren's reminder of who her real family is when it was the most important driving home the miniseries' larger concepts of reunification, rekindling and moving forward to new beginnings. And it's even more fitting that this be Laren specifically, as she's someone the narrative has done some incredibly deft and clever sleight-of-hand with over the course of the miniseries. It was Laren's subplot about feeling lonely at Moga Nivan that opened this whole story and Laren herself was set up as the positive Enterprise counterpart to Terry Oliver in the second issue, but that thread was promptly dropped immediately afterward. From that point in the arc, this section of the story became about exclusively about Terry Oliver overcoming her own personal demons. It almost seemed like Michael Jan Friedman had forgotten about Laren.

But he hadn't.

Remember, Laren didn't drop off the face of the book after “Bone of Contention”: Instead she became a crucial component of the battle bridge crew, and in particular she became Captain Picard's partner. They were breathing in perfect sync for the whole middle section of the story arc, and Jean-Luc wouldn't have been able to pull of anywhere near what he was able to during those time-stalling shootouts with the Sztazzan if she hadn't been there. So Laren's feelings about being lonely and ignored actually become extradiegetic, meant to call our attention to the fact her subplot is doing something unorthodox and interesting. And why wouldn't it, and why wouldn't she work so well with Captain Picard? They are, after all, the two characters in this series who have the best mastery of improvisational theatre, inserting themselves into holes in the narrative canvas by playing whatever roles need filling during a crisis so the show can go on. So of course the narrative turns back to Laren at the end of an issue all about “tying off loose ends”.

The book didn't forget her. And neither do her friends.

(In fact, to add to the cleverness, who's the other main character on the battle bridge? Deanna Troi. And her story hinges on Miles' billiards rivals, and thus us, forgetting she had been pegged as his teammate and the tricky wordplay of the phrase “Betazoids do not play pool”. Thus, she too slips into the background of the narrative counting on us to underestimate her and forget she has a stake in the action. And who is Marina Sirtis' Deanna Troi if not the ur example par excellance of someone gamely playing a role that isn't theirs but that needs to be filled in order to save the show?)

As good as it is for Laren and the miniseries on the whole, this is also a moment that speaks very much to Geordi's character and hearkens all the way back to “The Icarus Factor”: That episode has a similar conceit, where Worf was upset that a major Klingon holiday was coming up and he had no Klingon family to spend it with. The crew banded together to give him a proper celebration too, but in that episode it was played all tonally off and wonky. Doctor Pulaski was uncharacteristically squeamish, Geordi had to be badgered into participating and Wesley did everything. This scene portrays characters who are far more recognisable as the ones I love and admire, and is far more effective and arresting. So the fact that Geordi, Worf and Data are here has weight because of that, and the fact that they're doing it for Laren holds an incredible amount of personal significance and emotional resonance for me.

This is, in fact, probably my second favourite Laren story after “The Next Phase” and actually the one I find myself reminded of the most when thinking about who she is as a character. This is who I remember Laren as: Not a brash, hotheaded insubordinate snark queen, but a moody, melancholy and quiet person whose traumatic past weighs heavily on her conscience. She's a loner by nature and necessity, if not by choice. Someone who needs to be shown a little kindness, attention, warmth and love, and while she won't always know how to react to it, it will mean more to her than you could ever imagine. That's why I think it's so special that Geordi be the one to do this for her (and it very explicitly is him and his idea: He specifically tells Data he's “heard enough” when he starts to go on about holidays and objective correlatives and while Guinan does a lot of the talking, Geordi is very clearly the one who spearheaded it all), because listening and bringing people together through stories is his job: Who better than the host of Reading Rainbow to reach out to someone by learning from their oral myths and traditions?

It's the perfect scene to cap off a perfect story. “Restoration” is right up there with “The Lesson”, “The Wounded”, “The Next Phase” and “Encounter at Farpoint” among my very favourite and most treasured stories. This is everything Star Trek: The Next Generation is about to me.


Ross 5 years, 4 months ago

Plato's theory that humans and human longing were created when a singular flawless being was split into man and woman at some point in prehistory (and his belief the metaphor need not be gendered to be effective)

Except that (Puts on "I attended the 1997 Loyola College Colloquium on Plato's Symposium" hat) it's not Plato's theory. It's Aristophanes. And it's the comic relief. (The punch line of the whole segment is Aristophanes declaring that gay men are superior since in their prefallen state, they were 100% male rather than hermaphrodites. Also, fun fact, one of only two direct references to lesbians in greek literature of the period)

the deaths of Terry's former shipmates were incredibly meaningful, despite what Terry might now think. Because, as she tells her “They made you sick of death. So sick of it, in fact, you couldn't countenance any more of it.”

I dunno. I find something kind of ooky about ideas like "Your death served the higher purpose of being an object lesson to someone else."

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Daru 5 years, 4 months ago

The ending of this tale sounds quite beautiful and as with you. I am glad that this experience is Laren's as she is in my mind very deserving, having been pretty poorly served by the show.

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