With the Sztazzan demanding they leave the area based on territorial claims that are questionable at best and Geordi, Worf and Data stranded on the artificial moon due to its alloys blocking communication signals (and the distinct possibility it is in fact no moon at all, but a superweapon), the Enterprise is faced with a difficult set of options. Captain Picard eventually decides to separate the saucer, with Commander Riker taking the saucer section to safety while he stays behind with a skeleton crew on the battle bridge to deal with whatever the Sztazzan decide to throw at them. Joining him in playing the waiting game are Ro Laren, Deanna Troi and relief officers Solis, Burke and Thorne. Commander Riker will take Doctor Crusher, Jenna D’Sora, conn officer Dooley and Terry Oliver with him along with the civilians to Beta Cangelosi.
It’s nice to see the battle bridge again. It’s also nice to see Deanna Troi on it instead of twiddling her thumbs off screen in the saucer section with the civilians and “non-essential personnel”. Not that I should be surprised by this of course, as Michael Jan Friedman is the single best author ever to write for Deanna Troi, and her expertise with extraterrestrial cultures would obviously be needed during what amounts to a diplomatic incident (also, I should hasten to add, it’s not like Friedman would be so incompetent as to completely ignore the action on the saucer section, especially as he has one of his narrative prime movers aboard it). I dig Pablo Marcos’ rendition of the battle bridge: It strikes me as a cross between the set we saw in “Encounter at Farpoint” (and that we haven’t seen since as it’s been scrapped and repurposed so many times it’s by this point in various states of disrepair) and the main bridge redress from “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, which I find to be appropriate.
(I also quite like Captain Picard’s little aside observation in his internal monologue that “it’s been a long time” since they last separated the saucer because it’s an intricate and complicated maneouvre that requires an annoying amount of preparation; a nice meta nod to how laughably impractical saucer separation has always been from both a narrative and material TV production reality perspective.)
Story-wise this issue is a bit of a holding-pattern one, serving mostly to present the key saucer separation scene itself and recap the miniseries’ major story arcs. It’s handled fairly elegantly, though, with Worf and Geordi bringing their respective subplots up with each other as conversation to pass the time. By interesting contrast, Laren exposits not to a friend, but directly to us through an internal monologue. This is noteworthy because while Captain Picard isn’t the only character in the series to have the internal monologue as his explicit signature, he is the one who uses it the most frequently, typically as an extension of his captain’s log entries. As a result, on rare occasions you could slip into the mistaken assumption that he might be Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s narrator. Laren is the first character in awhile (at least that I can remember), who gets more than a few panels to talk to us, and in fact she gets the majority of a whole page. Naturally this got me very excited, because it tied in so nicely with how I read “Conundrum” as having catapulted Laren to Captain Picard’s level of narrative influence as a diegetic improvisational performer.
It doesn’t last though, as the very next page affords the same treatment to, of all people, Terry Oliver. At first I was confused and mildly irritated by this purely because, I confess, I’ve been slowly developing a rather strong bond of affinity with Laren over the past season (more than I expected to, actually, and far more than I ever did back in the day) and I will admit I’m growing a bit protective of her and her uniqueness. But then I realised this actually made sense and was perfectly appropriate of the story to do for a number of reasons. First of all, it plays into Friedman’s tick of paralleling the two different crews aboard the saucer and stardrive sections: Terry and Laren are framed as both compliments and mirror images of each other, delivering monologues with similar sound and body.
This is critical because they’re also both relative newcomers to the Enterprise from somewhere else, but have reacted in two diametrically opposed ways. Terry goes full-on Benjamin-Maxwell-From-“The Wounded” on us here in regards to the Sztazzan (though to be fair to her a better example would probably be Stiles from the Original Series episode “Balance of Terror”), demonstrating she’s not yet an arbiter of Enterprise values and culture, though she might be if she makes strides to better herself and move beyond her pain. Terry’s monologue is all about being wracked with guilt over the Sztazzan incident and how consumed by a desire for vengeance she is, even though she admits that’s unbecoming (and it’s also a nice, subtle indication of how perceptive Captain Picard is that he had her leave with Will and the saucer section instead of staying behind to fight).
Laren, however, in delightful contrast to the way she’s all-to-often portrayed on television, seems to have no such hangups and her monologue is about how happy and honoured she is to have the chance to stand with her friends, as she would just hate to have to stand aside unable to help them-Another nod to “Conundrum” where we learned what bothers Laren more than anything else is feeling helpless and powerless. And yet Laren also confesses to us that she’s secretly glad on some level to have a temporary “distraction” from her feelings of loneliness and isolation, even if she’d prefer it didn’t happen this way. That’s when it finally struck me why it was significant that it be these three characters in particular, Laren, Terry and Captain Picard, who speak the most freely and openly to the audience: They are, essentially, the three loneliest characters in the story. Laren’s whole subplot is about feeling like she doesn’t *really* have any friends, even though her crewmates are nice enough and she’s certainly loyal to them, Terry is a recent immigrant with a whole swath of her own personal issues and Captain Picard constantly, willfully cuts himself off from his crew needlessly.