Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cost of Living   Rewatch 
May 24, 2021 9:37 AM - Season 5, Episode 20 - Subscribe

Lwaxana Troi is on board the Enterprise-D to hold her wedding ceremony, and she also takes an interest in Worf's son Alexander, encouraging him to adopt her carefree ways.

I don't wish to be authoritative, my dear, but Memory Alpha says that now is our proper time for discussion of certain details.

Story and script
  • Rick Berman recalled the original premise as "Auntie Mame arriving aboard and taking Worf's son under her wing to bring him out of his shell in her own flamboyant way." While Berman was initially skeptical of the idea, he was very happy with Peter Allan Fields' first draft of the script. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 244)
  • A scene that can be found in the script, but cut from the final episode, had Troi and Worf discussing their frustrations with parenting, from the perspectives of being a child and being a parent respectively. Troi remembers an event in which her mother embarrassed her on her sixth birthday party, and claims that she often feels like she is the parent and her mother the child. The conversation concludes with Troi saying it's been said that grandparents and grandchildren get along so well because they have a common enemy. This deleted scene appears on the TNG Season 5 Blu-ray set.
  • According to Michael Piller, Worf and Deanna Troi's mutual concern over Alexander was inserted as a hint towards a potential romance between the two characters. The idea was later pursued in the seventh season. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 198))
  • The main plot of this episode focuses on two recurring characters instead of main characters. "It's Only a Paper Moon" from the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine also did this.
  • Brian Bonsall makes his third of seven appearances as Alexander in this episode.
  • Majel Barrett appears for the fifth time on Star Trek: The Next Generation portraying Lwaxana Troi. She makes her final appearance on this series in the seventh season episode "Dark Page". Lwaxana's line of dialogue in which she tells Alexander, with noticeable sadness, that she is alone, likely had personal significance for Barrett, who lost her husband, Gene Roddenberry, only four months earlier.
  • This episode also features one of the few occasions in which Majel Barrett talks "to herself", portraying both Lwaxana Troi and Computer Voice of the Enterprise-D. This happened also in the second season episode "Manhunt".
  • Carel Struycken appears as Mr. Homn for the last time.
Poster's Log:
Marina is really settling into the "Troi as therapist" role here. The early session and discussion about setting rules is well-scripted. Shout-out to Dorn, too, for his handling of Worf's emotions in that segment.

Lwaxana and Alexander are a cute team. Brian Bonsall is trying his hardest here (and succeeding, mostly), and this is Majel at her over-the-toppest.

Tony Jay, playing Minister Campio here, is probably best known for his voice work. He's responsible for, among others, the Supreme Being in "Time Bandits", MegaByte on the CGI show "Reboot", and Judge Rollo in Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame".

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
I rolled my eyes when I saw this one on the schedule, but it's (mostly) better than I remember. Some of the Lwaxana/Alexander dialog is kind of stilted, and I still hate almost all of the Parallax colony holodeck sequences, but the emotional story underneath those trappings is solid. Alexander is learning about rule-following and also, obliquely, when it's ok or justified to ignore rules (which, despite Worf's objections, feels like a very Klingon part of his education).

Shout-out goes to Majel's costume designer. My girlfriend, watching this one with me for the first time, highlighted how hard Brian Bonsall was working to not stare directly at Majel's cleavage while they were talking in Troi's office.
posted by hanov3r (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere included Nitrium Metal Parasites(eh), Wind Dancer(eh), The Juggler (ok, rather Magic-The-Gathering-ish) and Lwaxanna Troi (Yup, they really spelled it that way on the original printings. Somehow, getting this as my first-ever rare card didn't kill my interest in the game.)

Alternate Universe featured Fire Sculptor and The Higher... The Fewer, a phrase which in the card game actually means something! Really good in combination with Dead End in particular.

Q-Continuum introduced Mr. Homn, perhaps most notable for including a photoshopped 'You Rang' on Homn's robe, which is sorta-visible on the images you can find online, which were hi-res in the dialup era. Parallax Arguers was used in mass quantities with Kivas Fajo-Collector to draw through the entirety of a niche deck very rapidly.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:56 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

That holodeck program is the worst kind of "this is what kids like, isn't it?" bullshit EVER. This is why nobody likes clowns.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

It sounds like they cut out the most interesting scene and the best line.

The juggler guy's ear/horn appendage is body-horror nightmare fuel to me. His juggling is on-point though. The holodeck scenes were just not good though.
posted by skewed at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2021

There are other details I may come back and mention later, but I want to throw this out:

Has Trek ever addressed the situation people like Campio and his assistant found themselves in? They are two guests aboard the ship with no real reason for being aboard besides the Enterprise serving as a convenient point for everyone to have a wedding. While Campio is being a stick in the mud along with his protocol expert, the ship is being digested by a parasite with malfunctions becoming more and more serious. Finally things get to the point that life support is down, people are unconscious, and they are seconds away from containment field failure. But in the end, Campio and his guy are at the wedding, completely unfazed by the fact they almost died on some ship far from home.

We talk about other stuff all the time with technobabble and god-like beings and planets of hats and resetting at the end of the episode, but have we ever had a discussion or have any of the shows looked at how the B plot actors react to the A plot that doesn't involve them?
posted by Fukiyama at 10:44 AM on May 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Just remember: the higher, the fewer.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:47 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thanks for reminding me, Servo5678, to mention The Higher... The Q-er.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's really confusing for this episode, the worst Lwaxana episode, to have a title so similar to "Half a Life", the best Lwaxana episode.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:52 AM on May 24, 2021

Continuity nerdery ahoy:
It seems really weird that Deanna and Lwaxana have a whole back and forth about arranged marriage and there's not even a passing mention of "Haven".
posted by StarkRoads at 10:59 AM on May 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

This week's two-fer would be Get Me to the Church On Time (Church Optional), both featuring women with remarkable qualities and abilities who disrupt the E-D's usual routines considerably. This is a better-than-average TNG Lwaxana episode, in large part because of the scene that is mentioned above of her talking to Alexander about settling; the camera comes in to Majel Barrett's face and stays there, and I realized the timing of the scene WRT Gene Roddenberry's death right in the middle of it. (That scene may have had some extra resonance for a certain commenter who may have turned fifty-seven a couple of weeks ago.) And that final scene with the full Monty in Ten Forward was also great; even if a body double was used for the rear shot and Barrett was clothed below the collarbone, it's still pretty gutsy. A certain commenter may have also had some experience in finding out the hard way that giving up too much for the sake of having a relationship is a bad gambit in the end.

On the other hand, the B plot was purely distracting; the most interesting thing about it was seeing the crew sweat all the way through their uniforms. And, as Fukiyama points out above, it's weirdly firewalled from the A plot (except for the bit where Lwaxana ends up with some pretty disgusting looking sausages in her tea). They could have tied the two together by having Picard suggest that the ceremony be put off for a few days while they recover, and the prissy protocol guy says, no, that just wouldn't do, it simply isn't done.

I'd put the Parallax colony holodeck thing in the "mixed" category. I think that it reproduced the style and spirit of a generic arts fair pretty well, but in terms of the various dramatis personae being provocative and/or thought-provoking, VOY did it better, with "The Thaw" and "Death Wish." And, I hate to say it, but the painted dancer was just kind of distracting; I kept thinking, "This aired on broadcast TV?" On the other hand, I literally LOLed at the mud bath scene at the end, with Worf in all the way up to his neck, so that paid off well.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:05 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

the worst Lwaxana episode

There's a DaiMon Tog here who'd like to thank you for hating this one more than "Ménage à Troi".
posted by hanov3r at 11:05 AM on May 24, 2021 [8 favorites]

with Worf in all the way up to his neck

That always makes me shudder because MUD in his BEARD and that's THE WORST.
posted by hanov3r at 11:07 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Agreed that Worf's final line, and Lwaxana's speech about aging, are good. But otherwise, I've just…never known quite what to make of this one, all the moreso because writer Peter Allan Fields also wrote "In the" freakin' "Pale Moonlight." The Greatest Gen guys did a good job of really digging into what went wrong here.

On this rewatch, thanks to hanov3r's work on TAS, it occurred to me that there's something very TAS about all of this. (Or, as Ben and Adam rightly mention, something very public-access.)

"Wind dancer" actor Larry A. Hankin is known to Seinfeld fans as playing the raisin-stealing actor who plays Kramer in the pivotal episode "The Pilot."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:22 PM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's a DaiMon Tog here who'd like to thank you for hating this one more than "Ménage à Troi".

Seriously, if she's that desperate, at least DaiMon Tog seemed to dig her style. Of the things that piss me off about this ep, the fact that we've stepped right back "Lwaxana has no self awareness" is at the top (this after "Half a Life" gave her some credibility). And she's supposed to be some important person on Betazed? They must have some really fucked up system of hereditary titles. Everyone finds her unbearable, and yet she can't ESP it--are we still blaming this on menopause? Gah!

I would have preferred if the episode could have explored the economics of this Parallax colony:

APPLICANT: We want to set up a space colony that's all about mime and mudbaths and belly dancing and shouting inscrutible poetry all the time...
CASE MANAGER AT DEPT. OF POST SCARCITY: Excellent! Excellent! I can offer you either planet GZ732358, QW2858239, or YB293328.
posted by polecat at 12:57 PM on May 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Risa is Planet Club Med, Parallax Colony is Planet MFA.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:06 PM on May 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Previously, on Star Trek: The Next Generation, we made you care about Wesley Crusher. This week, can we make you care about... Lwaxana Troi?

... well, to be brief, no. She does have some good scenes here, and Majel Barrett is really effective, but the episode isn't actually about her. You see, it's a Very Special Episode. It's a cautionary tale about the horrors of Burning Man.

I mean ffs it starts with an asteroid exploding into a cloud of glitter. We've got all your stock playa characters: the juggler, the clown who won't leave you alone, the stoned dude with the pointless pronouncements, the arguing couple with vastly different expectations of what expanding your mind means. And of course this was written in the 90's, when mud baths were part of the whole thing. And guns!

And of course it all goes off the rails pretty quickly. Some dude shoots the clown. No one can stand anyone else's fake laughing. The juggler gets on a bad trip and starts howling around telling everyone he meets oh god help me, i ate my own balls and now they're all gooonnne-- and come on, if you've been to Burning Man I am absolutely certain you've met this guy on the playa and he suuuuuuuucks-- and of course worst of all glitter gets everywhere. Then everybody passes out and the one weird robotic dude who is chemically incapable of processing drugs has to fill them in on what happened the next morning.

Also: the glitter almost kills everyone.

This was absolutely, 100% about Burning Man.
posted by phooky at 5:18 PM on May 24, 2021 [12 favorites]

I mean ffs it starts with an asteroid exploding into a cloud of glitter.

Thank you for reminding me of one of the other points I wanted to address! What the hell are they doing at the start of the episode? An asteroid is on a collision course with a planet. They never say why they are working to destroy the asteroid. Is the planet inhabited? It must be in order to have them intervening in what is a natural event. Are the inhabitants Federation people or spacefaring people in general? They never call down, they just take off without informing whomever is down there that things are safe. So the inhabitants of the planet are probably pre-warp.

Now, why are they intervening to save a pre-warp culture, if that what is in fact down there? What makes this different from "Pen Pals"?
posted by Fukiyama at 5:49 PM on May 24, 2021

(Or, as Ben and Adam rightly mention, something very public-access.)

The most surprised I have ever been is when I remembered seeing the exact same show they mentioned.

She's still out there, apparently.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:20 PM on May 24, 2021

TOS had an episode where the Enterprise tried very hard to stop an asteroid from wiping out a pre-warp civilization (unsuccessfully, but it turns out the ancient aliens responsible for everyone in the galaxy looking like humans with occasional bumps on their heads left an asteroid-be-gone machine behind that amnesiac Kirk pushed the button on before a second coconut fell on his head and he remembered who was and abandoned his new wife and family and went back to the Enterprise). In conclusion, the Prime Directive is a land of contrasts.

Michael Dorn can really redeem an episode with a dry line delivery.
posted by rodlymight at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thank you for reminding me of one of the other points I wanted to address! What the hell are they doing at the start of the episode?

Shoehorning in an explosion to falsely convey an impression of sci-fi action in the promos?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:35 AM on May 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I really kind of hate those Wojak memes, but I feel inspired to imagine one that would be like:

Panel 1: Enterprise blows up asteroid in orbit

Wojak gasping: Wow, sci-fi action!

Panel 3: juggler with weird makeup

Wojak crying tears of rage: NOOOOOOOO

Bonus panel of Q: nerd go brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:10 AM on May 25, 2021

The B-plot seemed far to consequential for how inconsequential it was. Also seemed odd that in the opening bit where they destroyed the asteroid, Picard came up with the alternate destruction method instead of asking for options and having Data come up with it.

And, speaking of inconsequential, I noticed when they walked on to the holodeck only the opening was visible, instead of the whole door like you usually see.
posted by ckape at 8:44 PM on June 21, 2021

Count me in for "this is actually a good episode". The family stuff is great - Troi's proposal of the contract, and how Worf and Alexander relate to that idea differently was a great way to start off the main themes of the episode. Lawaxana gets some depth. Personally, yes, with the discussion of loneliness. But we also see how good she is with Alexander; It seems that she was probably a good parent for smaller children, while being bad at teen and adult children. That's good characterization which the deleted scene mention would cut against by making it grandparents/grandchildren thing instead.

I enjoyed the holodeck stuff too. I think it helps that I didn't interpret it as actually representing a real place. I think it's a program designed for kids that Lawaxana knew about. The design elements of it felt very Old Trek to me - the floating head guardian is very much a goofy version of something that could have been right out TOS. The dancer even more so is a TOS throwback.

I saw this episode a couple times as a kid myself. The part that most stuck in my memory was the Juggler after he ate his worlds.

The less said about the B plot, the better. It was a fine threat, but served no purpose in the episode.

> And she's supposed to be some important person on Betazed? They must have some really fucked up system of hereditary titles

It's not clear to me how important she actually is. It's entirely possible based on the evidence provided that her hereditary titles are the Betazoid equivalent of the various dispossessed would-be nobility hanging out in Europe these days. There's no longer any official backing to the titles, and people outside those circles don't care about it. Just some rich families styling themselves a certain way and remembering the old days when those titles had some real weight.

That's not a very flattering interpretation but I think it's generally consistent with what we see, and much of Lawaxana's portrayal isn't flattering.

She's not completely unimportant, certainly. She is an ambassador for Betazed, but it's also very common in today's world for low-stakes ambassadorial roles to be filled by wealthy individuals as a reward for political support of whoever gets to appoint the ambassador. We could reasonably assume that there's actual Betazoid state department functionaries doing the behind the scenes work.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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