Star Trek: The Next Generation: Half a Life   Rewatch 
March 1, 2021 8:00 AM - Season 4, Episode 22 - Subscribe

Lwaxana Troi causes trouble when she finds out that a scientist she has fallen in love with is due to commit ritual suicide

Memory Alpha can make enough conversation for both of us.

Story and script
  • This was the first Star Trek episode written by Peter Allan Fields. Fields took a crash course watching Lwaxana Troi-centered episodes to prepare for writing this script. He recalled, "I saw both "Haven" and "Ménage à Troi" quite a while before I even began writing and I didn't refer to them at all when I was writing my first Lwaxana Troi except to find out her title was 'holder of the chalice…' and all of that sort of thing. I went through the script for 'Haven' to find out who the hell I was writing about and that wasn't difficult to accomplish. I couldn't figure out at first how much rank and privilege she had and then I realized you give her as much as they'll let her have. She takes it." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 220)
  • The cast and production staff saw this episode as a chance to show a different side to Lwaxana.
    • Director Les Landau observed, "It showed a whole new side to Majel Barrett as an actress and the character of Mrs. Troi. She's usually this flimsy, whimsical Auntie Mame of the universe, but in this episode she's a very sensitive, warm and caring individual." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 220)
    • Marina Sirtis noted, "It's a much different type of Mrs. Troi episode. It's not quite as flippant or light as they tend to be. It starts off quite light, but then it has a real message with a little morality play, which is something I like to do. I didn't have much to do, which is good since I don't want it to be a given that every time mom comes aboard, I have to deal with her. I think it's more interesting that when she does come back, other characters have to deal with her." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 220)
  • Marvin V. Rush, the show's regular director of photography, sat out this episode in order to prepare to direct the following episode, "The Host". Thomas F. Denove took over the role for this episode, getting his only on-screen Star Trek credit.
  • "Half a Life" was filmed between Wednesday 27 February 1991 and Thursday 7 March 1991 on Paramount Stage 8 and 9. Second unit and insert shots were filmed on Thursday 18 April 1991.
  • This is the only episode where Deanna Troi does the opening log entry.
  • The first scene in which Picard exits the turbolift and peeks around the corner in fear of encountering Lwaxana is mirrored in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine first season episode "The Forsaken", when Odo, then Lwaxana's love interest on Deep Space 9, does the same thing. Yet eventually he, like Picard in this episode, fails to avoid the confrontation.
  • The brooch that Lwaxana wears on her coat at the very end of the episode was originally part of Palor Toff's costume and would later appear several times, on the clothing of an unnamed beaked alien.
Cast and characters
  • Michelle Forbes' performance in this episode was instrumental in her casting as Ro Laren later in the series. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 164))
  • Doctor Crusher only has one line of dialogue in this episode; a second line that can still be found in the script was cut.
  • An homage to David Ogden Stiers' time on the series M*A*S*H was made during Timicin's test. The camera is focused for long stretches of time on a display titled "Composite Sensor Analysis – 4077" – a callback to the 4077th unit number of Stiers' M*A*S*H days. (Star Trek Encyclopedia (1st ed., p. 343))
Poster's Log:
David Ogden Stiers was probably most well known to US audiences at the time for his six years as Major Charles Emerson Winchester on "M*A*S*H" (referenced above) from 1977-1983. He'd also appeared in the 1985 teen comedy "Better Off Dead" alongside TOS alum Kim "Miri" Darby, and would go on to voice a number of characters in Disney animated movies.

I think I'd originally assumed that Betazed was a Federation member until Lwaxana's "his Prime Directive, not mine" speech.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
To me, this is the episode where Majel Barrett finally showed real acting chops. This is a much more deeply nuanced Lwaxana Troi than we've ever seen, and a direct line can be drawn from what's revealed here to her interactions with Odo that are coming. The emotions she brings out in the transporter room scene, the hurt dismissiveness when she contrasts Timicin's Resolution with his species' attempt to save their sun, the stolid acceptance and promise she makes Picard before joining Timicin to beam down - all of that feels leagues beyond anything I can recall seeing from Majel going back to "The Cage".
posted by hanov3r (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think I'd originally assumed that Betazed was a Federation member until Lwaxana's "his Prime Directive, not mine" speech.

The Prime Directive only applies to Starfleet. Remember in "Angel One," Data explains that because the Odin wasn't a starship (i.e. apart of Starfleet), it's crew was not bound by the Prime Directive.
posted by Stuka at 9:18 AM on March 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

This week's episodes are sort of another twofer, the theme being Really Heavy Personal Drama. It was interesting that, even though Deanna's personal log starts the episode, but aside from being hilariously brief ("My mother is on board"), she's there mostly to support Lwaxana, really an inversion of her usually being appalled/irritated/embarrassed by her behavior. Really, the first part of the ep is a sort of head-fake that it's going to be a typical Lwaxana episode, until we find out what's really going on with Timicin, and then it becomes something entirely different, and not unwelcome IMO.

This is Majel Barrett's best Trek performance in a while, although I'd note that, before Christine Chapel was stuck with the role of having an unrequited crush on Spock, she had a solid first appearance in the TOS ep "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" as Roger Korby's ex. I think that she also would probably have had more to do as Number One if the original casting of "The Cage" had transferred to TOS. Anyway, she does a great job here; I'd note that even her costuming (and in particular her hair) seems to be toned down a bit compared to earlier appearances; having a more natural hair color is echoed a bit in DS9's "The Forsaken" when she ditches her wig entirely as Odo loses control of his form. And Stiers is likewise fantastic as Timicin, conveying his initial timidity and growing emotional openness even as he becomes more distraught. Hardcore MASH fans may disagree with me on this, but I generally prefer the replacement characters on that show (Winchester, Col. Potter, BJ) to the characters that they replaced (Burns, Blake, Trapper John), and I wonder if Winchester might have been some inspiration for the character of Frasier Crane. Michelle Forbes doesn't have much to do, and I was kind of distracted by her character's hairstyle, but she'll have a much better Trek role before very long.

One other thing that I'd like to mention is the Resolution, which is like an extended version of the societal set-up in Logan's Run. There's some justification given for it, aimed particularly at the current practice of warehousing elderly people who can't take care of themselves in nursing homes, never really a great alternative and particularly awful during the pandemic. But geriatrics has much improved in the Federation; at this point, going by Memory Alpha dates, Picard is sixty-two, and even in our own times, sixty isn't that old. (He said, going on fifty-seven.) Things may be different for the Kaelons, of course, but I really wonder how they picked that number.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:32 AM on March 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

First time I'd heard David Ogden Stiers' natural voice, outside of M*A*S*H.
posted by Melismata at 9:50 AM on March 1, 2021

Stiers is a commanding and continually watchable screen presence here, and I totally get the performance choice of "restrained resignation tinged with anticipatory grief," but the outcome is that many of his reactions just make him look overtired or stoned or something.

To me, this is the episode where Majel Barrett finally showed real acting chops. This is a much more deeply nuanced Lwaxana Troi than we've ever seen

I definitely agree, and yet for the episode as a whole, I'm not sure it's enough.

It's a decent story concept, but pinning it to Lwaxana and a new guest character drains it of much of its import, as does the languid pacing. The quick changes that might've saved it?: put a main cast member in either the Lwaxana or Timicin spot, and maybe also threaten the Enterprise just a bit more solidly. We have other episodes with this general formula that nevertheless feature a pretty compelling space anomaly accompanying the relationship story; in fact, we'll get one in just a few episodes. But this one? I watched this episode less than a week ago and I've already forgotten what the space threat was.

I won't forget the performances of Barrett, Stiers, and Forbes, however. Nor Forbes' mushroom hair; give her a vest and she's Toadette.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:41 AM on March 1, 2021

I wonder if Winchester might have been some inspiration for the character of Frasier Crane

Late in Frasier's run, Stiers did a guest appearance in which he is so much like Frasier and Niles in interests, mannerisms, and even choice of drink that Martin starts to wonder if his late wife cheated on him with Stiers' character and maybe he's their real father. In the end it's not so, of course.
posted by Servo5678 at 12:53 PM on March 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Things may be different for the Kaelons, of course

My thought when Lwaxana tells Timicin that he could have 20 more good years (or something like that): how do you know? Maybe life after 60 is really terrible for this species?

Of course, on Star Trek, we can usually assume that aliens are just humans with a few cultural differences and some face makeup. I recognize it as a somewhat necessary limitation of how difficult they chose to make it to write, create, and watch the show, but it gives me so many thoughts in so many episodes.

Anyway, hats off to this episode for telling an interesting story about a culture clash and a moral dilemna, and for letting Lwaxana be something more than comic relief.
posted by polecat at 2:02 PM on March 1, 2021

I'm not a big fan of the character, but I do love this episode. Ironically, when my daughter and I are cycling through episodes to watch over lunch and come across the Lwaxana ones, I go through the routine of, "Nope, too awkward. Nope, too awkward. Nope, too awkward. Oh, that's a great one... nope, too sad."
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:24 PM on March 1, 2021

Majel Barrett does fine in this one. There is one throwaway line about how Timicin's species is immune to Lwaxana's telepathic powers and I think the fact her telepathic powers are a non-factor goes a long way towards helping her act like a regular person.

Stiers is always very good in what he does. Timicin is a well rounded character.

Michelle Forbes does well as Dara the daughter, but her character is... Yeah.

This leads me to the central question of the episode that is somewhat alluded to by Lwaxana when she is talking about how maybe it is time for Timicin's planet to die, but the Kaelonian position isn't elaborated upon at all:

They have thirty or forty years until the star does whatever it's going to do, which they don't really spell out besides using the word "die." Timicin's grandson, Dara's son, is seven. Dara shows up on the Enterprise and is all, "my beliefs, what you taught me, where will you be buried, Father? I want to lay you next to Mother and I want to lay next to you when my time to Resolve comes..." Their planet only a few decades away from death, well within the lifetime of the grandson and maybe even Dara, and she's more interested in seeing dear old Dad get down to his Resolution. Why? Resolution is an important ritual, the important ritual, but their planet is facing its doom, their species an Extinction Level Event. Does she not care about her son making it to his Resolution?

Hardcore MASH fans may disagree with me on this

I do, yes.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:24 PM on March 1, 2021

I was impressed by this one. I'm actually glad that the central action had very little to do with the regular crew, because while they're all fine actors, at this point in the development of their roles they're all kind of... hammy. Like, a lot. Like "alien moons over my hammy" hammy. It's a function of having to keep these characters, written all over the place by a multitude of authors, somehow consistent. This approach gives us the best of both worlds: a story frame that is familiar and requires little explanation, but characters who can go through powerful emotional changes over the course of a single episode.
posted by phooky at 8:43 PM on March 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

One Star Trek CCG card from each of the first three sets:
Test Mission, easy, straightforward and basic. Bring a physicist and some moral fiber. Done! Enhanced Premiere included Test Mission II, which trades a free outpost to report your Feds to for 5 points. Usable!

Hail is a flavorful interrupt, making an opposing ship answer the phone rather than passing or battling.

himself provides perfectly reasonable skills, an appropriate portrait, and a fitting special ability and restriction box: he enhances your Test Mission, but he ain't gonna be around forever.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:30 PM on March 1, 2021

Very surprised how much I liked this on rewatch, I thought I just didn't enjoy Lwaxana episodes. I like how it's a bit of a change of pace, with the regular crew playing only a supporting role.

I'm also on-board with the MASH replacement crew, but I am not a hardcore fan, I just saw a lot of repeats that my dad watched. Stiers on that show was probably the first villain I enjoyed watching.

Timicin accepting the Resolution and having vague faith that someone else will step in and do his work makes sense in a real-world science kind of way, where developments are incremental, and one achievement is used as a stepping stone for the next. But that is absolutely not the Star Trek world of science, where every development is a huge breakthough produced by a solitary genius.

Troi's opening log entry was great.
posted by skewed at 10:29 AM on March 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lwaxana telling Deanna to dress for a man struck me, considering all of the complaints I've heard from Sirtis about her wardrobe.

It does seem worrying for the future of the project that Timicin doesn't have any younger collaborators working with him.
posted by ckape at 9:27 PM on March 7, 2021

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