Beneath the stones, the beach; beneath the beach, Cthulhu

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Adam Riggio
    May 20, 2015 @ 1:23 am

    One good thing about TNG having become an established piece of pop culture is that we can understand the role of Lwaxana as a recurring character with her associated comedy tropes without having to sit through the mediocre episodes if we don't want to. Because when I watch an episode with my girlfriend on a lazy evening, how my Star Trek is consumed today, I look up which one I should see with reference to Wikipedia and you.

    So many people are media and trope literate that we can get the subtle recurring jokes of the character with some research to guide us. It isn't quite the same as having watched the whole thing sequentially, but when you don't have that kind of time, it schools you on what to anticipate so the divergences still intrigue you.


  2. T. Hartwell
    May 20, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    One of the continually interesting things about the consumption and interaction with art is the ways in which our individual experiences with different books, plays, shows, etc. all impact the way we perceive and interpret new works–in a way we're all our own psychochronographers, travelling the history of a work through our own beaten paths and outlooks.

    All of which is a rather pretentious way of saying that when I saw this episode, the first thing I thought of was a musical. My background and passion has always been musical theatre, and there exists a particular one called Chess, about a championship during the Cold War between an American and Soviet player, where the main thrust of the plot centers around the Soviet player defecting from the Soviet Union after falling in love with the American's second. Complications ensue, and the Russians try a number of tactics to get him to come back, including sending a relative over to guilt him of his decision, and the show ends with him choosing to return to his country for the safety of his friends and his own personal wellbeing.

    Of course, the likelihood of the show having ever influenced a single writer on the show is absolutely nil, seeing as the musical ran exactly two months on Broadway and was never much of a critical or mainstream success, but I think it suggests some interesting parallels, and at least when I watched the episode, it had me thinking less of euthanasia and more of defections and their consequences. There's a part of me that might even try to argue it as an intentional allegory, were it not for the fact that this is 1991 and the Soviet Union is in the middle of falling apart (also, as you say, this is TNG and not the Original Series).

    Anyways, fantastic essay as always on one of my favorite episodes. I must confess it took me a long while to warm to Lwaxana, but this one made me outright fall in love with her character and helped me realize the possibilities her character offered when not reduced to the tripe of stuff like "Menage a Troi". This is a lovely, nuanced take on an similarly lovely, nuanced episode. Great stuff.


  3. Ross
    May 20, 2015 @ 4:01 am

    Chess might not be as obscure as you think, though. It's what gave us the Murray Head song "One Night in Bangkok"


  4. K. Jones
    May 20, 2015 @ 11:12 am

    I really appreciated the earnestness that came with this episode being such an organic outgrowth of previous "Annual" episodes. We saw a similar subversion of expectations a few episodes ago with The Nth Degree, where it becomes clear with the Data's Day/Wounded Reboot that they'll no longer be content to use these Annual guests to further their stock origins. Well, except Q, sadly.

    This episode is notable for other reasons, too, of course. The truly excellent guest casting of David Ogden Stiers, as well as the short but totally promising casting of Michelle Forbes (I'm pretty eager to get into the time period when we've got the whole damn gang – Michelle Forbes, Colm Meaney, Rosalind Chao, Woopi Goldberg, and Denise Crosby all showing up in episodes), as well as the Kalon makeup, which is essentially the first appearance of (retroactively) the Trill.

    And while I know they used euthanasia for their hot button argument, but what this episode really always felt about to me was Retirement. Retirement is an interesting phenomenon – it's a very privileged entitlement. For instance, in my working class poor family it's practically unheard of. And in that way, forced retirement almost does seem like slow death – this is after all, a century (or was) where individuals (typically male, though by TNG time obviously female too) were really defining themselves by their work. Rendered irrelevancy makes it absolutely appropriate that it's Lwaxana, from the Old Generation, and Timicin dealing with this – and it's also entirely appropriate that Jean-Luc ironically can't get too deep into it – because as we continue to learn, through various means and motives, he's not a member of that Generation, even though he's from the in-between where he could've gone either way.

    Lastly I'll just say that for as much as this is Lwaxana's episode, it's a surprisingly good ensemble piece. Even as she owns the episode, there's no character that doesn't get something worthwhile to do. Oh, and her cheeky odd motherly nudge that Deanna could stand to get laid more seemed pretty ironic, too, for a telepath.


  5. T. Hartwell
    May 20, 2015 @ 12:41 pm

    Yeah, plus "I Know Him So Well", which was #1 in the British charts for a while (actually those two were I believe the last hit songs to originate from a stage musical, though I may be wrong on that). From what I know the show is huge in Sweden and the album at least is popular in the UK, but it's always been a lesser-known work in the states (particularly the Broadway version, which is the one with the closer parallels to "Half a Life").


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    May 21, 2015 @ 7:58 am

    Lovely piece: I've nothing to add!

    "(I'm pretty eager to get into the time period when we've got the whole damn gang – Michelle Forbes, Colm Meaney, Rosalind Chao, Woopi Goldberg, and Denise Crosby all showing up in episodes)"

    Well, everyone except Diana Muldaur and Suzie Plakson, sadly.


  7. Daru
    May 29, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

    I don't have too much more to add that hasn't been said above, especially by K.Jones – but what a beautiful story and Majel Barrett and David Ogden Stiers are amazing in this. Great storytelling and really using the framework of the series well for the kind of stories that can be explored.


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