Myriad Universes: The Outer Light
Right, here’s another essay on a story I had a lot of high hopes for and had planned to look at in extreme detail only to have those hopes deflate pathetically as soon as I looked at the story in question. Well, let’s just get it over with so we can move on, shall we?
I guess in hindsight I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Sequels inevitably always ruin anything, and doing a sequel to “The Inner Light” of all stories seems like a recipe custom-tailored for disaster. This seemed like it had potential though-In one of his many chats on AOL, Ron Moore had this to say reflecting on “The Inner Light”:
“I’ve always felt that the experience in ‘Inner Light’ would’ve been the most profound experience in Picard’s life and changed him irrevocably. However, that wasn’t our intention when we were creating the episode. We were after a good hour of TV, and the larger implications of how this would really screw somebody up didn’t hit home with us until later (that’s sometimes a danger in TV – you’re so focused on just getting the show produced every week that sometimes you suffer from the ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ syndrome). We never intended the show to completely upend his character and force a radical change in the series, so we contented ourselves with a single follow-up in ‘Lessons.’”
Thing is, “Lessons” more or less sucks, as we’ll see next season. And this is interesting, as it’s claimed Rick Berman and Michael Piller had a fairly strict “no sequels” policy on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and this was used as justification for turning away a pitch for a follow-up to “The Inner Light” penned by the story’s original writer, Morgan Grendel. So if the producers were opposed to sequels sight unseen, why did “Lessons” (and a fuckton other things, like everything having to do with Worf or the Borg) get greenlit? Or if they were actually open to sequels to things like “The Inner Light”, why did they turn away the one the original writer himself came up with?
The answer comes when we take a look at “The Outer Light”, a fanfiction comic Grendel produced in 2013 in collaboration with Andre Duza and TrekMovie. And it seems that answer is simply that “The Outer Light” isn’t very good.
Responding to a distress call on…some planet, the Enterprise finds a crashed starship that looks suspiciously like the Kataan probe that engaged Captain Picard in the ancestor simulation exercise that leaves him wanting more than anything else to become Kamin again. Beaming down against Commander Riker’s protestations, the Captain discovers the crashed ship contains Kataanian scientists who have been preserved in suspended animation for centuries, one of whom miracuolsly happens to be Kamin’s wife Eline! Unfortunately for the Captain, Eline has also brought her husband with her, some dude who’s not named Kamin and is so forgettable despite being the primary antagonist I’ve since forgotten his name and don’t care enough to go back and check.
By this point I’m already confused, because I’m not entirely sure who this specific Eline is supposed to be and why she’s here and this is never really explained. The Eline in “The Inner Light” wasn’t the scientist-her daughter Meribor was. Eline was just Kamin’s loving and loyal wife. “The Outer Light” seems to suggest that it was really Eline who programmed the ancestor simulation, and that it wasn’t *really* an accurate representation of what her life was like, but rather an amalgamation of the kind of life she would have *liked* to live set at some point in a heavily embellished and idealized version of Kataan’s history. It’s really unclear though, and just manages to raise as much confusion as it does unfortunate implications. Anyway it turns out Eline, whoever she is, is in a bad way because their stasis technology is based around the ancestor simulation and is apparently a narcotic and also keeps them from aging somehow. If she and her fellow scientists were to be cut off from it for a prolonged period of time they would rapidly age and die.
So while that’s happening, not-Kamin is doing some shady business with a group of renegade Romulans because of some reasons. The Romulans want to use the mineral resources of this mining planet to build some new weapons, but abandon that plan when the Enterprise shows up because Starfleet has better weapons than they could ever build (which is odd considering I thought the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire were supposed to be on a fairly equal level technologically speaking) and fuck the Enterprise anyway. Also, there’s a Romulan suicide bomber done up like that henchman with the cell phone in his chest in The Dark Knight who’s somehow also connected to a bomb in the main mine shaft that will somehow blow up the whole planet and the Romulans will detonate it if Captain Picard doesn’t surrender the Enterprise and I don’t care because my eyes glossed over and I’ve long since stopped paying attention. So Captain Picard tricks the Romulans with the simulation tech, Eline, not-Kamin and all the other Kataanians rapidly succumb to “To Serve All My Days” syndrome and we all learn a valuable lesson about letting go of the past. Or something like that. Hooray.
Alarm bells should start to go off for you once you hear about the actual writer’s pedigree of “The Inner Light”. Grendel came up with the initial treatment, yes, but the original pitch had been one Michael Piller had been chewing on for a long time. And pretty much every member of the writing staff pitched in at one point or another because they all believed in it and wanted it to succeed. In fact, it was Piller himself who polished off the final draft. So I mean no disrespect to Mr. Grendel who I’m sure is an incredibly talented writer, but the fact is a lot of what made “The Inner Light” such a masterpiece was just as much thanks to people who weren’t him. And none of them were involved in this sequel. As for the people who were…Well, I can’t speak for them personally, but all I know is that “The Outer Light” features a whole bunch of Frank Miller-esque broody, ansgst-ridden third person omniscient narration in textboxes that dictate like 75% of the story to us. Don Ellis Aguillo’s art straddles a very fine line between intriguing stylization that provides a compelling reconceptualization of the look-and-feel of Star Trek: The Next Generation and slapdash stylization just done to cover up a lack of actual artistry.
When I read the first part of this story a few years ago, I was under the impression Eline wasn’t the real Eline and that she and the other scientists weren’t actually Kataanian. I thought they were just going to be a group of scientists who had also encountered the Kataanian probe, had experienced their own version of the ancestor simulation and had asked Captain Picard to join an archaeology summit on it because of his own experiences. This was the primary reason I wanted to cover this story, actually: I figured it would be about this group of people who *kind of* knew each other, but not really, having to work together and what the dynamics that would emerge from that would look like. Presumably, for example, the Kamin character in other people’s simulations wouldn’t have become a scientist-I always assumed that was largely due to the fact Captain Picard was playing the role, and that he had brought a lot of scientific curiosity to the part. So in essence, each person’s experience with the ancestor simulation would have been different, and each person would have gotten a different account of the final decades of Katann’s life: A bit like Rashōmon in the sense everyone would have remembered it differently, thus accentuating the differences in their respective positionalities.
If there was ever going to be a sequel to “The Inner Light”, that’s what I think it should have looked like. It’s the only thing I can think of that adequately follows up on the themes it introduced in an appropriately Star Trek: The Next Generation manner without cheapening them with hackneyed drama tropes. But maybe that’s just my own memory betraying me.
If this essay has for some reason convinced you to read “The Outer Light” for yourself, it’s posted online for free at Morgan Grendel’s website here.
September 9, 2015 @ 4:55 am
But since a major theme of this blog is memory's betrayal of the facts to create a better future, that's entirely appropriate.
September 9, 2015 @ 9:50 am
continues to point at "Hard Time" as the correct way to do a sequel to "The Inner Light" that addresses Piller's concern about coming back from such an experience
Your idea for an "Inner Light" sequel is intriguing too, though. I've actually been trying to get something similar going as an RP within Star Trek Online–the idea is that we're ALL the game's player character, and thus all have experienced similar lives, but with slight differences due to our variant choices, positionalities, and origins, and now we're off to explore together the mystery of how we can all exist at once in the same world.
"Oh gee, Froborr's talking about STO. What an utterly unexpected and novel turn of events."
September 14, 2015 @ 9:08 pm
"If this essay has for some reason convinced you to read "The Outer Light" for yourself"
Nope, don't feel tempted to read it. Well, I did have a little peek but quickly closed the page down as the artwork is just awful. In my reading of comics the artwork it often the first thing I judge on – as an artist it's just what clicks me in and I don't really know even if would be able to read a good story that had terrible artwork!
September 14, 2015 @ 9:09 pm
And I will be simply pretending that this does not exist as the original is pretty perfect for me, in fact my favourite Trek basically.