While investigating a mysterious dark “hole in space”, the Enterprise becomes trapped by a near-omnipotent being called Nagilum who insists on experimenting with the crew, killing one officer and threatening to kill many more to complete his investigations. Picard determines to avoid this by self-destructing the ship. When Nagilum realizes he means to carry this threat out, he lets them go, declaring he has learned all he needs to about humans.
Written by Jack B. Soward. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Where Silence Has Lease continues on in the same vein as The Child with improved production values and sense of style and rhythm over season 1 of Next Generation. However, also similar to The Child, the story fails to be completely satisfying. This may be in part a consequence of the writer’s strike that delayed the beginning of the season. Of course, we’ll never know what might have been, but it is clear so far that these early episodes of Season Two have a bit of a haphazard feel.
The first three quarters of the episode are pretty interesting with quite a procedural (albeit slow) feel to them. We watch the Enterprise investigate this mysterious dark cloud for quite a while before they realize they are trapped. The “tests” they undergo a couple with the fake vessels (Romulan & Federation) and other things provides some interesting business for the cast. The primary encounter with Nagilum is engaging and pretty intense, especially with the violent death of Mr. Haskell. The meeting amongst the senior staff where Picard decides to self-destruct the ship is fairly dramatic and compelling.
Unfortunately, the last act, with the fake Data and fake Troi trying lamely to convince Picard to turn off the self-destruct, is a bit tedious. You’d think a semi-omnipotent being like Nagilum could do a better job of deceiving Picard, or that in general he’d have a dozen different ways of shutting down any system on the ship that he wants to. Then the climax, when Nagilum abruptly lets them go is dramatically convenient and feels like the writers had just written themselves into a corner.
Actually, the fact that Picard is apparently spending his last minutes sitting around in his ready room (not on the bridge) listening to Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie (a piece, coincidentally, that I had played as part of a flute-piano duet not long prior to this episode being aired) and reading a book, just so he can be alone for the obvious attempt at trickery, already feels like it was written with no more care than this blog post. It certainly makes the character feel detached and a bit unnatural. This is in contrast to Riker, whose frustration in the story is very human.
The critical failing of the episode, though, is the fact that Nagilum’s conclusions about humanity don’t really relate to anything in particular that occurred in the episode. It reads more like a laundry list of Next Generation values than character qualities that were demonstrated in the story. If his “observations” had felt more insightful, it would made the whole process feel a lot more worthwhile. In it’s many years, Star Trek has made a bit of a subgenre of stories about semi-omnipotent creatures or highly advanced aliens who have apparently never encountered “regular” or “mortal” people before, and are completely mystified by their general life processes, ability to feel love, or taste for chocolate (trust me, this is actually coming up) – so with such familiar ground, making Nagilum’s “learning curve” about humans meaningful was really critical to making this episode work. And if Picard’s counter-observations had been sharper (rather than just saying curiosity is something we share), it could have made the end of the story much cooler and powerful. As it is, the episode just sums up by basically saying something like, “Well, we don’t want to do that again.”
The other random side-theme of this story (it’d be too much to call it a sub plot) is some business with Lt. Worf. Through the simulated battles at the start, some of his reactions on the bridge, and to the sequence where he and Riker explore the faux-Federation ship, we see Worf’s “animal” side coming to the fore quite a bit. I suppose it’s meant to be character development, but it all comes in spite of the plot rather than in service to it. It’s interesting, but it makes you wonder how this guy, with his difficulty controlling his emotions or his temper, could be a bridge officer (a similar problem Tasha Yar had, although in her case it was more about her emotional immaturity).
Though these comments sound pretty negative, I did enjoy watching this show a fair bit. The episode is ultimately a disappointment, but you don’t really realize this until the end.
Shout Outs to the Past:
Nothing direct, but as mentioned, we’ve seen lots of advanced aliens investigating humanity in the past.
Earl Boen, who plays Nagilum, played Dr. Silberman is three Terminator movies.
• The fight at the beginning on the holodeck has a very “classic series” vibe to it. Riker in particular pulls a particularly cool kicking maneuver.
• The scenes on the holodeck and investigating the faux-ship mark the beginning of an occasionally-developed “brotherhood” of sorts between Worf and Riker.
• It’s interesting to see the continuing responses of Dr. Pulaski to Data.
• It’s very non-genre savvy of Picard to think there will be no difficulty getting away from the dark hold once they are inside of it. In fact, it’s a bit lame that nobody seems to get concerned that darkness moved and seemed to jump on them of it’s own free will.
• There’s a pretty cool rack focus shot between Picard and Riker’s hand on the bridge.
• O’Brien is back again, still unnamed, and this time referred to as a Lieutenant.
• Haskell’s death is pretty horrifying. Dr. Pulaski’s response to the attack on him is pretty slow, though.
• This episode is the second time we’ve had the Enterprise‘s auto destruct sequence. The process is basically the same, but this time they have the option for a desired time interval. Last time (in 11001001) it seemed to be pre-set for five minutes.
• “Steer clear of any holes,” someone orders Wesley at the end. My wife commented, “I could have told them that.”
Dialogue High Point
Data has a pretty interesting line about how the admission of ignorance is the foundation for science and wisdom. It was pretty good, but in the end I prefer Picard’s line to Worf when he hesitates to share his Klingon myth-fueled thoughts on the strange phenomenon that they face:
Mr. Worf, this starship operates best when my officers share what’s on their minds.