Star Trek: The Next Generation – Lonely Among Us [1.6]

The Enterprise diverts briefly from a mission to deliver two antagonistic races to a peace conference in order to briefly investigate a mysterious cloud, but end up accidentally bringing a strange energy being on board in the process.  The being jumps from one crew member to another, and into the ship’s computer, eventually finding it’s way to Picard.  Picard brings the ship back to the cloud and beams himself back into it.  The alien is returns to its home but Picard is able to return to the ship.

Teleplay by D.C. Fontana .  Story by Michael Halperin.  Directed by Cliff Bole.

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Comments:  Ugh.  This is easily the weakest episode of the show since The Naked Now.  Watching this, it’s hard to imagine that the show would possibly survive for seven years.  And it certainly couldn’t have if it had maintained this quality.

So the story is about this alien energy being who accidentally comes on board the Enterprise when they scan a cloud.  It first enters Worf, then goes to Dr. Crusher, then goes into the ship’s computer.  It breaks the ship and then repairs it, it accidentally kills an assistant chief engineer, and finally gets into Captain Picard.  At this point there’s a lot of blah blah blah about whether Picard is in control of himself and whether they can relieve him of command.  This includes Picard refusing to obey Dr. Crusher’s order that he submit to a medical examination followed by a retaliatory order that Crusher and Riker themselves submit to medical exams.  But even after this avoidance and a whole bunch of strange behavior, the crew are apparently still bound by regulations, unable to relieve Picard of command, even after after Picard basically admits it right to Beverly’s face that he is under the influence of an alien being!

Beyond that, the crew shows a flagrant inability to investigate themselves out of a paper bag.  When Geordi tells Picard that he saw something strange just before Worf was unexplainedly knocked unconscious and started acting crazy, Picard’s first guess it that Geordi’s visor is malfunctioning.  Dr. Crusher decides not to say anything about the fact that she’s completely blacked out for an extended period of time after examining Worf.  Geordi decides not to tell people that he saw the same strange glow around Picard just before he started acting so strangely that he saw around Worf just before he started acting so strangely.  Various characters ignore Wesley when he tells them that the ship’s engines couldn’t have just been repaired, and even go so far as telling him that it doesn’t really matter how they got repaired.  Troi fails to tell anyone of her concerns because humans confuse her (then what good are you as a ship’s counselor?)  And at the end, when Picard starts making his little speech about how the alien has zapped around the ship into one person after another, nobody does anything about it until it’s too late.

The alien doesn’t get off free either – it claims to have tried to communicate about it’s plight, but nobody could understand it.  However, it didn’t seem to have any problem communicating all sorts of other stuff as Dr. Crusher or Captain Picard, including questions, orders, obfuscations, and so on.  Pretty pathetic efforts, if you ask me.

At the end of the story, the nonsense continues.  Picard manages to be reconstituted on the transporter, but nobody will explain to him what’s been happening.  Lt. Yar gets rebuked for wanting to immediately tell her commanding officers about a potential murder that’s taken place.  And in the face of a diplomatic fiasco, Picard decides to take a nap.  It’s just amazing that any of these people (except Wesley of course, who remains completely in the right here) could keep the ship from flying into a brick wall.

On top of that, Data gets to babble on like a lunatic about his ingenious deductions because he’s temporarily obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.  It’s extremely annoying.

The whole episode is not just dopey, it’s highly unsatisfying.  There’s no discussion of Picard’s experience in being joined to an alien or beamed into an energy cloud, or living in the ship’s computers for a bit.  There’s no real explanation for what kind of life form the creature was in the first place, why Assistant Chief Engineer Singh was killed (even accidentally), or why the alien’s plan to bring Picard along fails (instead, there is Troi who suddenly gets a enough of a telepathic download to gloss this story point over).  There’s no significant character development to keep us going in this inane plot (except that Data is a bit of a goof and that Riker seems to allow him to do whatever he wants).  And unfortunately, there is what proves to be an ultimately useless subplot about some lizard aliens and some dog aliens who are going to a peace conference but actually want to eat each other.

Anticipating the Future:

This episode introduces Picard’s interest in detective stories, which we’ll begin to see in the “Dixon Hill” episodes on the Holodeck.  Similarly, it introduces Data’s interest in Sherlock Holmes, which will get even more significant Holodeck treatment.

Guest Cast

Kavi Raz, who plays Assistant Chief Engineer Singh, was a regular on St. Elsewhere for a long time

Colm Meaney makes his second appearance on the show, this time as a security guard.  Presumably, this is still Miles O’Brien, who was apparently bouncing around jobs before he found his calling as a Transporter Chief.

Observations

• The Next Generation dress uniforms make their debut here.  They look pretty awkward, especially on the men.  I’m not sure if they are same ones they continued to use or not.

• Worf and Geordi describes themselves as “Junior” and “not Junior” officers in one scene.  Before Next Generation actually premiered, in promotional material Geordi was described as Lt. (JG) Geordi La Forge, with JG standing for Junior Grade.  That was apparently changed before the show got this far, and next season we will see that Geordi has been promoted to Lt. Commander, where Worf stays a Lieutenant for the duration of the show’s run (he gets promoted on Deep Space Nine, though).

• I don’t know if it was every mentioned in the original series, but it’s indicated here for the first time that the Federation, or at least the crew of the Enterprise, is basically all vegetarian.  Of course, this might be a matter of economics (easier to replicate meat than to actually bring livestock on board) rather than some sort of enlightened view about animals.

• Beverly’s medical hat looks a bit cheap, but then I guess this is franchise where salt shakers were redressed as medical instruments.  Somehow, that worked better than the hat, though, which looks like a kid’s playset.

• Assistant Chief Engineer Singh is the first person to die on screen in Next Generation.  It’s implied that some hapless aliens might have died in the bombarding of the local village in Encouter at Farpoint, but we didn’t see anyone die.

• Speaking of Assistant Chief Engineer Singh, he is the fourth Chief or Assistant Chief that we’ve seen in the series so far.  In this story, they refer to the chief, but don’t name him.  As far as I can tell, the Enterprise only has Chief or Assistant Engineers, and no plain regular Engineers, as the engineering section of the ship is always completely empty of anyone else actually doing any work, even in the middle of the crisis of this story where the engines stop working!  And why in the word isn’t the Chief, whoever he or she is, there working on things when the engines break down?  (Well, I guess is the ship where the Captain takes a nap when he learns that a diplomat has been murdered.)

• Data “plays” Sherlock Holmes here.  We’ll see Brent Spiner getting to play lots of other characters in addition to Data, often via the mechanism of Data’s role play.  This is the first time we’ve had this.

• All right, I’m sorry, but Troi hypnotizing people to help them realize that they’ve lost part of their memory, especially when there is already so much other evidence of this, seems just a bit silly.

• There is a reference that energy can travel at any velocity it wishes.  Um, I don’t think that’s true.  Maybe in Star Trek-land?

• It is nice that even though it’s a Star Trekky alien that just wants to get home, it still threatens Picard’s life – so there’s still a clear and imminent danger.  It’s just unfortunate that the story never really develops this.

• There’s a brief mention of the Ferengi, still attempting to set them up as the Federation’s greatest current threat.

Dialogue High Point
While Riker stands around and giggles at Data’s needlessly unprofessional Sherlock Holmes impersonation in the middle of a life and death crisis, Picard says what the audience is already thinking.

Data, let’s proceed without the pipe. 

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Lonely Among Us [1.6]

  1. It’s definitely not a great episode. The B-plot with the delegates was actually oddly enjoyable, and Spiner did a good job with the Sherlock Holmes stuff. The main plot had a sorta-OK premise, but handled badly.

  2. I’m amazed by how many people seem to enjoy Brent Spiner’s take on the Data as Sherlock Holmes thing. It’s obviously well received, I think even today. But I just found it annoying, both here and in “Elementary, My Dear Data.”

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