Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Loss [4.10]
Troi suddenly loses her empathic sense as the Enterprise finds itself being towed to its potential destruction by a swarm of two dimensional beings. As she struggles to deal with her sudden disability, the Enterprise is makes vain attempts to escape their bondage. Eventually, Troi helps the crew to figure out how to momentarily distract the creatures and allow them to go free. This also frees Troi, giving her abilities back.
Teleplay by Hilary J. Bader and Alan J. Adler & Vanessa Greene. Story by Hilary J. Bader. Directed by Chip Chalmers.
The Loss is a tricky story to pull off, since it deals simultaneously with two concepts that really I find impossible to conceptualize. First, there is the loss of Troi’s empathic powers – something that’s meant to be a natural part of her biology but to us in the audience always comes across as a bit of a limited superpower. Secondly, there are these beings that somehow exist in only two dimensions, and fly around drawn toward cosmic strings. Both of them are nifty-science fiction concepts that read as interesting on paper but really have to be sold to the audience to give us a real connecting point as far as story is concerned.
Of course, with the Troi story there are meaningful parallels to be made with normal, “real life” disabilities, and certainly those are worth making. But they ultimately aren’t enough to make a compelling episode. It’s kind of hard to take the story seriously when Troi acts so blatantly incapable of dealing with her trauma. I’m not sure that’s the best way to express it – I don’t mean that she should act like it doesn’t phase her, but there’s something sort of pouty and whiny about how we see her deal with things – alternatively denying that it’s an issue and yelling at people for not understanding her. Or maybe those things are sort of plausible – it’s just that the writing, direction, and acting don’t quite gel to give the drama the nuances that we’d like. It feels more like it’s time to give Marina Sirtis a focus episode (everyone else has had a turn this season, except for Geordi), but the result is sadly uninspiring (sort of like Wesley’s story last time).
It doesn’t help, of course, that there’s not much else going on to watch, aside from one failed attempt after another to stop these two dimensional mosquitoes from dragging the Enterprise to its doom. Troi herself is barely involved in this situation until the end, so she doesn’t have much to play off of except the well-intentioned attempts of her friends to be nice. And it’s quite narratively convenient that Troi has this one therapy patient who is handling her loss in almost exactly the same (poor) fashion that she does.
Probably the best moments is when Riker is able to both crack through her resistance and also give her a bit of a stern talking to. It comes across a little harsh but feels like the sort of thing that someone that close to Troi would be able to say. And in the end it does seem like it results in genuine growth for Troi, so I guess there is that.
The “action” plot of the swarm is really nothing more than functional. There’s no attempt to really explain or justify the concept other than with the general Star Trek-ian philosophy of there being lots of new and crazy life forms out there. Troi having to sort out the “psychology” of these beings is not all that interesting – would have been much more engaging if we could have seen her using her insights to genuinely help the crew deal with a menace we could understand. And the ending, where Troi smiles warmly as all the little flat fuzzies apparently emote the thought of “home” to her makes you think that maybe it would have been worth it if the writers had taken away her empathy permanently.
Setting up the Future:
• There is a brief reference to the Breen, a race that will shop up in the future on Star Trek
• Kim Braden, who appears as Ensign Janet Brooks, also played Picard’s Nexus-inspired wife in Star Trek: Generations. She also played Anne Shirley in a 1972 miniseries of Anne of Green Gables that I have never heard of before.
• Someone just listed as “Cameron” appears uncredited as Ensign Kellogg – a part she will play again many times as the series went along, as well as in the first two Next Generation movies.
• Fun bit of character business between Picard and Riker at the beginning about riding horses: “Nonsense. We program an appropriately docile steed…”
• As implied by the prior episode, Wesley is not listed on the opening credits of the series anymore
• Fun moment with Riker teasing Data about seconds: ”I have discovered, sir, a certain level of impatience when I calculate a lengthy time interval to the nearest second. However, if you wish….”
• Nice line from Beverly after Troi tells her she understands the psychology. “You may understand it but you’ve never had to live with it.”
• Little Imzadi reference
• I guess in retrospect I do like the fact (although not necessarily the way) that Troi cuts off Picard’s generic attempts to to give her another perspective.
• Funny line from Riker: “Sure. You’d be surprised how far a hug goes with Geordi, or Worf.”
• Guinan’s back, and her “lesson,” such as it is, is a bit dull
• I like Troi’s apology to Beverly, and her response. “Therapists are always the worse patients, except for doctors of course.”
Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This episode could be told with Captain Riker and First Officer Shelby with barely a rewrite.
Dialogue High Point
I guess I go with the most obvious, which is where Riker sells some tough love to his Imzadi…
You always had an advantage. A little bit of control of every situation. That must have been a very safe position to be in. To be honest, I’d always thought there was something a little too aristocratic about your Betazoid heritage. As if your human side wasn’t quite good enough for you.