The Enterprise crew are confused and suspicious about how an elderly couple became the only survivors of an attack by an aggressive alien upon a colony world. Even more suspicious is how unwilling the couple are to either offer explanation or accept any future assistance. Adding to that suspicion is the odd behavior exhibited by the attacking alien ship when it returns. Picard eventually deduces that much of what they are perceiving is an illusion created by the husband of the alien couple, who is really a super-powerful alien pacifist who lived like a human, married, then lost his wife and his temper during the alien attack, an act he now greatly regrets.
Written by Michael I. Wagner. Directed by Les Landau.
The Survivors is hard for me to think of objectively, because so much of the drama is based on not knowing the resolution. So watching it another time feels like a bit of a chore: you’ve got to go through all the business of multiple encounters with the alien ship, knowing that it’s sort of all for nothing. I think this is the first episode of the Star Trek franchise to use that trope: where the standard-looking science fiction plot turns out to have a somewhat more “enlightened” twist behind it. It’s not really an attack from an aggressive alien species – it’s really an illusion created by a relatively benign powerful alien. Later in the show, we’ll have similar revelations, like it’s not really a crazy lady holding Picard hostage, it’s really an experiment being conducted by a relatively benign powerful alien. And it’s not really an extravagant Romulan plot, it’s really a cry for help from a benign but lonely powerful alien. Sometimes the show could have done better just to have a genuine science-fiction threat coming against the characters, even if it would have lacked the high-minded concepts that the show seemed to strive for.
Now, of course Picard’s discovery of the truth could have been an engaging story to watch, even more than once, but I had a hard time following his deductive process here. Sure, it becomes pretty clear that there is something odd going on, and even that all the events with the ship are just designed to get the Enterprise to leave the Uxbridge’s alone. But there’s quite a jump between that and determining that Kevin Uxbridge is a super-powerful alien who has somehow brought his wife to life as some sort of manifestation, but Picard seems get it all right with uncanny accuracy. I don’t mind Picard having super-cool insight, but it’d be nice to feel like I could understand how he arrived at those conclusions over any of the other far-out variations that could have also been possible.
Most unsatisfying is Picard’s conclusions at the end of the story. Probably the single most interesting thing in the episode is the revelation of what Kevin Uxbridge did in his moment of lost temper: destroyed not just his enemy attackers, but rather destroyed the entire existence of their race and civilization. The implications of this are astounding. But there is very little dwelling on those implications. Picard determines that they have no right to judge this being (I suppose, because the race they destroyed was not in the Federation) and then “lets” him return to his planet and get back to his side life: in other words, allow him what he wanted to do all along. Picard even sermonizes in his Log that he knows the best thing is to leave this alien alone. It’s hard not to read this moment of Picard acting as a moral judge as really having simply practical motivations. I imagine Picard’s thought process to be something like this: “Hmm, this guy has the power to destroy entire worlds just by thinking about it. He says he’s a pacifist but, he could lose his temper with pretty bad implications. If I try to arrest him, hurt him, or kill him, he could destroy the entire Federation. He’s probably too powerful for us to kill anyway, so I think the best course of action is to say our goodbyes and get the heck out of here as fast as we can.” But of course that’s not how the moment is played.
Now all these comments are made on the canvas of the series relative strength in its third year. The production values and performances are all very satisfying, and it only becomes dull because of the foreknowledge that comes with repeated viewings. If this episode were made in the first season I’m sure it’d stand out as one of the better ones. But for me, it’s a hallmark of one of the least interesting things about Next Generation (especially as opposed to the original series), where the show could get too high-minded to really be interesting.
John Anderson, who plays Kevin Uxbridge, has literally hundreds of acting roles, including as the pilot on the classic Twilight Zone episode, Odyssey of Flight 33. He was not an independent presidential candidate in 1980.
Anne Haney, who plays Rishon Uxbridge, also has lots of credits, including as a judge on about a dozen episodes of LA Law.
• This colony does not have interstellar spacecraft. Isn’t that a bit strange? How did they get there? Maybe they were just dropped off, to “tough it out.”
• I’m sure this isn’t new to this episode, but it’s the first time I’ve really noticed it for a while: Counselor Troi wears an awkwardly tight clothes, especially when compared to Dr. Crusher’s very sensible uniform.
• Why doesn’t Troi explain her dilemma of the incessant music in her head straight away?
• Wesley nearly quotes Star Wars (“Look at the size of it!”) in nearly the same tone of voice as Wedge.
• “Good tea. Nice house.” – a memorably amusing line form Worf, but not the episode’s best.
• The alien ship’s shields looks like a pretty dated computer effect now.
• Maybe the crew would appreciate it if Picard explained why he is not responding to the threat of the alien ship
Dialogue High Point
Worf has the best line of the episode, after he tells Kevin Uxbridge that he has a lot of gall threatening them with non-working weapon. After a pause, he adds
I admire gall.