Star Trek: The Next Generation: Imaginary Friend   Rewatch 
May 31, 2021 11:03 AM - Season 5, Episode 22 - Subscribe

As the Enterprise explores a nebula, a little girl's imaginary friend becomes terrifyingly real.

I'm just afraid she's not making any real friends. She spends all of her time with Memory Alpha.

Story and script
  • Rick Berman was an early supporter of this episode's premise. He commented, "Where else but in science fiction could you do an idea about an imaginary friend who turns out not to be imaginary? It's a story about an alien who takes the form of a little girl's imaginary friend and begins to perceive our world through the eyes of a child." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • The script for "Imaginary Friend" passed through several freelancers' hands before the final rewrite was given to Brannon Braga. While Isabella was a curious and friendly alien in earlier drafts, Braga took the character in a darker direction. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 201)) Braga recalled, "It wasn't quite working in its original guise and Jeri Taylor and Peter Fields and I broke the story and tried to make the imaginary friend more of a bad seed. Before, it was more like Puff the Magic Dragon and it was that the alien was simply curious and didn't have an evil intent. It just kind of laid there and was playful fluff. We decided to make the alien malevolent, where it's mean to the kid." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • A working title for this episode was "Invisible Friend". ("The Perfect Mate" call sheet)
  • Earlier scripts did not have Guinan appearing in this episode at all. When Whoopi Goldberg became available, her character was written in only days before shooting began. The cloud-watching scene with Data was originally written for Crusher and Troi, and later Guinan and Troi. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 201))
Cast
  • Noley Thornton later appears in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as Taya in the episode "Shadowplay".
  • This episode marks the final appearance of Sheila Franklin's Ensign Felton who previously appeared in four episodes of the fifth season.
  • This episode is the first Trek role of Jeff Allin who later plays Gedrin in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Dragon's Teeth" and Ralph Furlong in the video game Star Trek: Borg.
  • Stuntwoman Christine Anne Baur filmed a scene as stunt double for Marina Sirtis (her fall into the closet) on Friday 28 February 1992 on Paramount Stage 9. This scene, however, was not part of the final episode. ("Imaginary Friend" call sheet)
Reception
  • Brannon Braga named this episode's script as the most gratifying he had written in the fifth season. He credited this for the chance to write a show in which children played a large role. He commented, "I've taken to calling it Romper Room: The Next Generation. Kid stories appeal by their very nature. There's an innocence to kids and kids can have conflict. The funny thing about kid shows in the Star Trek universe is you can get conflict with kids because they're not developed yet like our perfect adults. In a strange kind of way, kids can have more problems and conflict than our regulars. They can still be imperfect. It is a fun episode and hopefully people won't be so sick of seeing children on the show." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 245)
  • In another interview, Braga admitted, "I think it's one that people don't like very much. It was a cute little story, maybe a little predictable. The concept might have been better as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode than an hour of The Next Generation." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 257)
Poster's Log:

Another "kid" episode, the sixth or seventh (if you count the Alexander parts of "Ethics") of the season. And, we're again expected to not ask the obvious question, "what the heck do kids DO all day on a starship?"

I love the sequence with the nebula life-form flying around the ship investigating and eavesdropping before "becoming" Isabella. A combination of excellent camera work and convincing SFX. On the other hand, that sequence has been forever "spoiled" (in the best possible way) by ST:LOW S1E2 "Envoys".

Nurse Ogawa's kind of prim and strait-laced, isn't she?

Clara's description of Isabella mentions pierced ears, but the "real" Isabella doesn't have pierced ears.

Geordi's description of his family will be revisited in season 7's "Interface".

Sometimes, I really question the fabric choices made by the costume department. The smocks used in the children's ceramics class are a prime example, as is the shiny-but-probably-not-absorbent towel Troi gets to clean up her hot chocolate.

Alexander's come a long way in his anger management.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

There is a surprising amount to like in this one. Troi works hard at validating Clara's feelings and beliefs while gently steering her into "reality". I'm glad Whoopi became available to shoot this one - Guinan's ability to talk to anyone serves to bring home how normal Clara's beliefs actually are (one can almost imagine Isabella telling the others "kill them all, except the nice lady in the big hat"). Once again, Brian Bonsall's taking steps forward in his portrayal of Alexander and is obviously starting to become comfortable in the makeup. Stewart masterfully delivers Picard's explanation of the relationship between children and parental rules; the addition of "let's feed them on the way out of the nebula" highlights Picard's humanity and generosity.

While not an episode I recall enjoyed in the original run, it's a good palate-cleanser after "The Perfect Mate", and nice prep for the run of strong episodes taking us to the season's end.
posted by hanov3r (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Just two this time! And yet, there's not a whole ton to say:
FGC-47 Research becomes easier to cross for each Navigator in your crew. Navigation is common as dirt, so it could get pretty easy to cross. You could add Ensign Tuvok to your crew to both aid the crossing and as Borg Ship protection, so that's not terrible.

Isabella is just...unlikely to work. Youth is also a super common skill (which helps solve the above mission, naturally). Killing your opponent's Greed when they exploit a Worshiper? Interesting story crossover but eh.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:59 AM on May 31


HEAD WRITER: Okay, so who should we model the little alien girl after?
WRITER 1: Wednesday Addams!
WRITER 2, SIMULTANEOUSLY: V.I.C.I. from Small Wonder!
[brief pause]
WRITER 3: Porque no los dos?
posted by phooky at 12:04 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


Poor Brannon Braga: Braga named this episode's script as the most gratifying he had written in the fifth season
(Later) Braga admitted, "I think it's one that people don't like very much."

I've been there, dude; that whiplash of when your pride in something is ground down by others' reactions suuuuucks. I'm rarely into the kid episodes, but this is far from the worst one they did, and it makes me sad people have left him with this feeling about it.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:33 PM on May 31


It's pretty lightweight--hanov3r correctly notes that we've had a surfeit of kid episodes this season, and I'd call the two-fer "More Space Kids in Trouble", with the next one a really memorable ep that has consequences later in this series and much later in another one--but not bad at all, buoyed by the performances, which are exceptional for child actors in this series: Noley Thornton is good, and I knew that I'd seen her before (well, after, going in chronological order); Shay Astar is scary in the best Stephen King-esque spooky child tradition. Ditto for the adult actors, although, again, I think that Whoopi will have even better stuff to do next ep.

Great catch with that LD homage/parody. Speaking of space kids in trouble: "now the pre-K is gone!" Good times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:47 PM on May 31


A slow one, no doubt, but some nice subtle horror in here. You half expect the camera to turn down a corridor and see two Isabellas asking Danny to "come play with us." And Sirtis nails the key moment when Troi sees Isabella. Essential viewing only for those who are suckers for Scary TNG, like myself.

Shay Astar also appeared in the late-1980s instructional short video "The Clean Club," riffed upon by the ex-MST3K alums Mike, Kevin, and Bill for their Rifftrax project. Her "Clean Club" character is inexplicably a fan of the Yankees and the Mets. Interestingly, she was not the strongest child actor of the three featured kids in that short—that honor belongs to the first of the two boys, who showed some impressive comedy chops when faced with the cosmic horror of everyday objects imbued with speech, personalities, and erratic stop-motion movement.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:56 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much these Kid Of The Week episodes have to do with:
A) Wil Wheaton leaving the series, and
B)The studio looking at their audience demographics, and deciding they needed some fresh faces on the screen.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:04 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I mostly just lurk the rewatch threads but I wanted to mention my love of those buttons on Isabella's dress. This is one of the few times outside of the holodeck or time travel that we see buttons on clothing at all, and just look at them! Completely nonfunctional, no buttonholes, and they aren't even round. I don't know if it was intentional or they were just trying to make her look future-y, but I can totally see these as something a little girl living in Roddenberry's "there are no buttons or zippers in the future" utopia who's never used a button in her life would cook up in her imagination based on buttons sounding cool in old stories.
posted by Poogle at 8:01 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much these Kid Of The Week episodes have to do with:
A) Wil Wheaton leaving the series, and
B)The studio looking at their audience demographics, and deciding they needed some fresh faces on the screen.


Probably. KidTrek is sort of its own thing, throughout the different series.

I can totally see these as something a little girl living in Roddenberry's "there are no buttons or zippers in the future" utopia who's never used a button in her life would cook up in her imagination based on buttons sounding cool in old stories.

I remember being fascinated as a kid at seeing some pirate-type shirt that laced up the front; it just seemed like the wackiest thing, because laces were for shoes, obviously. And when they put Velcro on shoes? Must be the future already!
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:22 AM on June 2




From CoB's Fashion It So link:

I guess when I was his age, I wore one of my dad’s old shirts as an art smock, and I feel like Worf a) doesn’t really have any old shirts because he only ever wears a uniform or his martial arts outfit and b) if he did, he would probably send them out into space with a Klingon ritual that thanked them for their honorable service of covering his flesh.

As according to the guidance of Marie of the House of Kondo.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:54 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Kondo is a perfectly cromulent Klingon family name.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:06 PM on June 3


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