Star Trek: The Next Generation: Where Silence Has Lease   Rewatch 
July 6, 2020 5:49 AM - Season 2, Episode 2 - Subscribe

When an immortal entity from outside the universe subjects the Enterprise to cruel experiments, each crew member anxiously checks the color of their shirt.

Consider the marvelous complexity of Memory Alpha:

• The title is taken from a line of the Robert Service poem "The Spell of the Yukon."

• This is the first episode to feature a completely original script after the 1988 WGA strike.

• This episode marks Winrich Kolbe's directorial debut on Star Trek. He later went on to direct many more episodes of TNG, including the series finale, "All Good Things...", as well as episodes from the other spin-off series, including the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, "Caretaker" [FF previously --ed.].

• With no new sets, this episode is a true bottle show.

• For Kolbe, the challenge was to make the show visually interesting while shooting five days on the bridge set. He noted, "The bridge is intriguing when you step on it for the first time and you look at it for about ten minutes. Then it becomes an utter crashing bore, because it's nothing but tan walls and a few twinkling lights. I did a lot of choreography on that show. It's probably the script that has the most notes on where actors move – every step, which I very rarely do. I usually like the actors to drive themselves where they have to go. On something like 'Where Silence Has Lease' you have to keep the camera constantly moving, and that was a hell of a challenge. I spent a lot of time on that bridge on my belly, hanging down from the rafters and in any other position to try and figure out what I would do with the camera."

• Worf's Klingon legend about a space creature eating starships may have some basis in fact, as seen in VOY: "Bliss" where just such a creature is encountered. It also might refer to the giant space amoeba in TOS: "The Immunity Syndrome".

• The original USS Enterprise encountered a "hole" in space which couldn't be penetrated by sensors in the "The Immunity Syndrome", yet Data states "There is no record of any Federation vessel encountering anything remotely like this."

• The registry of the USS Yamato is NCC-1305-E in this episode, but was changed to NCC-71807 for the later season 2 episode "Contagion".

• O'Brien, manning the transporter during this episode, is referred to as "lieutenant" by Riker, suggesting that he is a commissioned officer. Later episodes contradict this, and O'Brien would eventually be the token enlisted man on both TNG and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. See also: Miles O'Brien's rank history

• According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, the name "Nagilum", "Mulligan" backwards, was an homage to actor Richard Mulligan, who was originally set to play the role, much as Sha Ka Ree was named for Sean Connery, the original choice to play Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier [FF previously --ed.].

• Nagilum's voice actor Earl Boen is best known for playing Dr. Peter Silberman in The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Besides Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is the only actor to appear in the first three Terminator films.

• The story appealed to Maurice Hurley as it was true to the series' premise of exploration. "I hate to keep saying it, monsters and creatures just didn't work. One of the things that sometimes has to be remembered, and I forgot it as much as anybody, was that you forget these are scientists out here, not soldiers. They're out there to learn, so that sense of learning and investigation is really important, more important than all of the running and jumping, more important than the Ferengi, more important than the Borg, more important than any of that stuff is to deal with an idea or something new."

• Director Winrich Kolbe thought the premise was interesting, although he wished it could have been further developed. He noted, "We look at things in our little universe and interpret people in a certain way and they make sense of us or they don't make sense of us. A foreigner, for instance. The way he or she thinks or sees things. You put that in outer space and have a totally different organization looking at us, now it seems to me that you want to push it further. You want that experiment to go further and us become almost like whatever they want us to be. Unfortunately it didn't go so far. That is probably my major beef."

• Patrick Stewart quoted from Picard's conversation with the fake Data about death during the memorial service for Gene Roddenberry in 1991.

• In 2020, Patrick Stewart gave his personal annotated copy of the script for this episode to Pete Buttigieg on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! late-night talk show.

"I think it is perhaps best to be ignorant of certain elements of Klingon psyche."
- Picard

"Why do I get the feeling that this was not the time to join this ship?"
- Dr. Pulaski after the decision has been reached to self-destruct the ship

"Sensors show nothing out there, absolutely nothing."
"Sure is a damned ugly nothin'."
- Data and La Forge

"To understand 'death', I must amass information on every aspect of it. Every kind of dying. The experiments shouldn't take more than a third of your crew. Maybe half."
- Nagilum, after killing Ensign Haskell

"What is death?"
"Oh, is that all? Oh, Data, you're asking probably the most difficult of all questions. Some see it as a changing into an indestructible form, forever unchanging; they believe that the purpose of the entire universe is to then maintain that form in an Earth-like garden which will give delight and pleasure through all eternity. On the other hand, there are those who hold to the idea of our blinking into nothingness, with all our experiences, hopes and dreams merely a delusion."
"Which do you believe, sir?"
"Considering the marvelous complexity of the universe, its clockwork perfection, its balances of this against that, matter, energy, gravitation, time, dimension, I believe that our existence must be more than either of these philosophies. That what we are goes beyond Euclidean or other 'practical' measuring systems, and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what we understand now as reality."
- Nagilum as Data and the real Picard

Poster's Log:
Best one yet as far as I'm concerned. It's one of the scarier TNGs, and as I've previously argued, TNG may have been the best Trek when it came to being scary—although on rewatch I was surprised at how long it takes Nagilum to show up. Of course, like the shark in Jaws, that only helps w/r/t ramping up tension, but like any such mystery story, some of the oomph is lost when you've seen it like ten times. But by no means ALL oomph, and I largely credit the cast and Kolbe with keeping the tone right-on throughout. I also always thought the Nagilum face effect, despite looking unsophisticated, was effectively freaky. This ep's at least in the bracket for consideration as one of my Top Ten TNGs; regardless, I'd call it a must-see TNG episode (though I suppose the irrelevant and kind of dopey Klingon-calisthenics teaser scene could be skipped if one was pressed for time).

Picard's speech about death is *chef kiss* and may be pretty exactly my own belief on the subject too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this episode was written by Jack B. Sowards, whose only other Trek writing credit is that he co-wrote…Wrath of Khan!

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Greatest Generation" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Before rewatching this, I think that I'd thought of the episode mostly for its meme fodder: a) the Nagilum, and b) the redshirt dying. But I was a little stunned at how well it establishes a mood of dread and holds it. They respond to the weirdness of the void by methodically testing how big this thing is, and eventually coming to the conclusion that they've fallen into (or been grabbed by) a bottomless hole in the middle of space. Even the fact that the pattern shown on the screen doesn't change when they keep bumping up the magnification is creepy; it's like a fractal pattern, like the Mandelbrot set, where you keep seeing iterations of the same thing no matter how far you zoom in. It's worse than The Immunity Syndrome because, as freaky as the giant space amoeba was, at least it gave you something to shoot eventually. This only has the Nagilum, and that entity gives the impression that it's only putting on a face for its own amusement. It's way spookier than the godlike beings that we've seen so far. (I'm also a bit chagrined that I didn't recognize Earl Boen's voice, since Terminator 2 is a movie that I literally never get tired of watching.) We get the impression that the Nagilum is very interested in humanity without really caring about it; that distorted face is very much like what we'd expect to see if we were in a lab and were about to be experimented on by some being with a face that was a giant nightmare version of our own.

Also, although the Klingon calisthenics program may not be directly relevant to this episode (aside from reminding us of Worf's aggro tendencies, as if we needed that), we'll see it again later this season, and the repercussions from what happens then will reverberate practically all the way to the end of DS9.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:11 AM on July 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

There's not much to say about this one because it's super good. It's not perfect, the pacing can be a little not what a modern viewer is used to- and while still ok the effects are not... great. But it's a great ep for establishing characters and motivations and that sort of TNG ethos that will come into play in more substantial episodes. I'm not sure it's top ten for me- but top 15 yeah.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really like this episode, but seeing this quote - "To understand 'death', I must amass information on every aspect of it. Every kind of dying. The experiments shouldn't take more than a third of your crew. Maybe half." - during the pandemic era made me shiver in an unexpected, unwelcome way.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

How very convenient for Wesley to not be at his customary post at one random time!

This material suits Winrich Kolbe really well, he'll get to stretch further in a similar direction in 'Identity Crisis' later on.

Cards of the episode: often in the Star Trek CCG we can see how closely the cards represent what happens in the episode, colloquially called 'Trek sense'. The two cards from this episode have pretty good Trek sense:

In the Premiere set, you could send your Federation and Klingon crews to solve the mission Study "Hole in Space". The Span of 4 represents the difficulty of traveling the void, and you solve the mission by demonstrating Diplomacy and Leadership with Integrity. Fair enough, though I can see the case for outsmarting Naggy (with Cunning rather than Integrity.)

A card to represent the plot complication of encountering Nagilum was also part of the initial set. Either you talk your way out of it, or you're Too Stronk, your Nagilum kills half your crew! Potentially nasty, though as the game developed it became much more likely to have the 3 Diplomacy on any given crew, and so one was more likely to play this card on yourself for the 5 bonus points.

The Wesley's Card of the Day review for Nagilum provides more insight into how it was used at the time.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think this is the seventh godlike being, in 28 episodes now, so we’re up to 25% gods in spaaace. Unless The Child counts, in which case this is the eighth or 28.5%, but Ian Troi doesn’t do much except conceive himself and grow fast, which admittedly is pretty miraculous and ah fuck I don’t know.

I get this one mixed up with Skin Of Evil in my head. Weird black entity traps our heroes and kills someone just ‘cuz etc… but this is a far better show. They do a good spooky vibe, it feels like a Twilight Zone episode, in spaaaace.
posted by rodlymight at 6:10 PM on July 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

In the end, Nagilum was left with... an empty nest.

This one holds up fairly well outside of Pulaski’s continued othering of Dah-tuh. I also really enjoy seeing the slight overemoting throughout: Picard’s reaction when Pulaski first suggests they’re in an experiment is a little much (big eyebrow raise!), and Data tries on Creepy Smirk too much. But given the characters are still working themselves out, again, pretty good outing.
posted by hijinx at 6:32 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Somehow, I'd never seen this episode before. I watched the show primarily in syndication but saw the last few seasons as they aired. I've never done a regular rewatch. So thanks for piquing my curiousity to watch this episode because the description of it here was interesting and unfamiliar.
posted by acidnova at 11:00 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised to see this one so highly though of. It seems kind of bland to me, I mix this episode up with a bunch of others in my head (I hadn't noticed the parallels with Skin of Evil, rodlymight, but yeah, they seem like basically the same episode to me now, except this one was done much better). I'm sure I've seen it a half a dozen times but couldn't remember which godlike alien was responsible until a few moments before Nagilum's reveal.

The thing with these god-like aliens, sure they have all the power in the world, and we are but ants to them, but they are constantly failing to recognize the indomitable spirit of the human race. Kind of a rookie mistake.

I also would make a terrible starship captain, because after Nagilum introduced himself I would have been like "I'm sorry, what was that? Na-gee-ah? Na-gee-lah? One more time please, I'm sorry.
posted by skewed at 7:21 AM on July 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

My current sense is that the Pulaski/Data interactions is one of growing acceptance for Pulaski and affirmation of Data's personhood, we'll see if that holds throughout the season.

We're robbed of any true resolution by the producers continuing to tool around with the contracts of female actors on the series.

On a slightly more fun note: the Riker/Worf sequence in the beginning of the episode really strongly alludes to motifs in the stock music from the original series, I don't think anything like this happens again later on in the show.
posted by StarkRoads at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

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