Star Trek: The Next Generation – Half a Life [4.22]

Lwaxana Troi is shocked when she discovers that Timicin, a scientist from who is attempting to develop a means to extend the life of his world’s dying sun, is due to follow his world’s custom and voluntarily giving up his life when he turns 60.  She tries to convince him of the wrongness of this, and for a time Timicin decides that he wants to extend his own life as well.  But he chooses to go through with the ceremony when he sees the pain and devastation his actions are causing his family.  Lwaxana disagrees, but out of love attends the ceremony.

Teleplay by Peter Allen Fields.  Story by Ted Roberts and Peter Allen Fields. Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: The Drumhead • Next Episode: The Host

Where the weakness of The Drumhead is how it fell into the trap of just being someone’s soapbox, Half a Life transcends this trap, tackling a genuine social issue, but in a way that takes full advantage of Star Trek‘s science fiction setting and dramatic format to be both thought-provoking and narratively engaging.  So much of the strength of this story comes from the outstanding performance of David Ogden Stiers as Timicin.  It is without doubt one of the best guest performances we’ve had in the series – creating an understated but intense man whose quiet demeanor is punctuated with bursts of temper and frustration over his people’s situation.  He is excellent in scenes such as the one where the experiment fails, in his relating to his daughter, in his frustration with his home planet, in his final resolve, and really all over the place.

Often, the best guest performances on the series have been played against Patrick Stewart’s Picard, but in this case it is Lwaxana Troi who holds up the other side of the duet.  I have never been the biggest fan of Lwaxana’s particular brand of oversexed humor, but she is used very well in this episode, and Majel Barrett really shows her capabilities as an actress.  It’s the first time in the franchise that Lwaxana is used to tell a truly dramatic story, which is made all the more effective by the fact that she acts so typically ridiculously for the first act or two.  It really treats her as the star of the episode (with the rest of the regulars functioning as supporting players), and does a great job expanding the scope of the character.

Half a Life reminds me a bit of First Contact, (and to a lesser extent Suddenly Human) from earlier this season, in the way that it deals with someone realizing that change may be necessary for his world, but being ultimately unwilling to force the issue.  I would say this story is even more heartfelt, though, thanks to reasons mentioned above.

The script is to be commended for how it gives strong voice to arguments both for and against Timicin’s world’s custom of ending life at age 60.  Neither side is treated casually or dismissively, which is certainly a pitfall that Star Trek and it’s fallible human production team can fall into.  This episode hasn’t made me change my mind about physician-assisted suicide, but I feel like I’ve been part of an insightful, emotionally heartfelt debate over the topic.  And that debate added to the story, rather than taking away from it.

Shout Out to the Past:
Of course, Lwaxana’s presence reminds us of her prior appearances, but no specific reference is made.

Guest Cast:
• David Ogden Stiers plays Timicin.  He’s been in many things but is obviously best known as Charles Emerson Winchester III in the final six seasons of M*A*S*H.

• This is the debut of Michelle Forbes (Dara) on Next Generation – she’ll go on to play the recurring role of Ro Laren later on.  She also had regular or recurring roles on several other shows, including Homicide:  Life on the Street and in 24 (up until she was pushed down a set of stairs and was hospitalized for the rest of Day Two).

Great opening line from Troi in her log that says all that is necessary:  “Counsellor Deanna Troi, personal log, stardate 44805.3. My mother is on board.”

• Lwaxana gets lots of funny moments, especially toward the beginning:  “Diplomacy. I adore diplomacy. Everyone dresses so well,” and, about some Bridge controls, “What does that little one do, Mister Woof?”  Later, after being told she has been asked to clear the Bridge, “I don’t see why. There are lots of other people here.”

• I’m glad to see that Lwaxana, in all her loopiness, respects marriage

• Lwaxana talks about how Deanna needs to try “dressing for a man.”  This is a bit ironic, perhaps intentionally, considering how Deanna often dresses.

• Considering the scope and magnitude of Timicin’s experiment, you’d think there might be other scientists involved here?

• Riker tells it as it is when the sun is about to explode: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

• A contender for my favorite dialog of the story:  “If that’s the way it is, I don’t know why anyone’s bothering to try to save your world at all. If its time has come, let it die. Where’s the difference, Timicin? Where?”

• As often is seen in this series, the leader of Timicin’s planet ends their communications without any indication of hanging up, pressing a button, giving an instruction, or anything like this.  It’s like their communication systems just work on thought control.  Or maybe they are pressing a little button with their feet.

• Why does Picard have to have the computer locate Counselor Troi rather than just use the communicator to just speak to her?

• Lwaxana is also good in her anger and frustration.  “I am a Betazoid ambassador. I’m a Daughter of the Fifth House, and those people are going to answer to me! So you just energise this damned thing and get me down there!”

• There are a number of other good dialog exchanges in the story.  Troi tells her mother about O’Brien’s orders.  She replies, “His orders don’t apply to me.”  Troi responds, “No, they apply to him.”

• It’s effective how the conversation between Troi and her mother goes back and forth between telepathy and audible speech.  Good scene in the transporter room.

• Timicin says, truthfully, “Even if I find the solution, you will not accept it! Because I do not terminate my life, they terminate my work. Alive, I am a greater threat to my world than a dying sun.”

• That is one goofball hairstyle on Timicin’s daughter

• “And where will you die?” asks Timicin’s daughter.  Must be a terrible thing for people from a world where everyone’s moment of death is known.  But then on the other hand, there must still be accidents and disease and so on.

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
Half a Life would have worked fine with Captain Riker and Commander Shelby.

Dialogue High Point
Timicin and Lxawana’s nearly final exchange is my favorite, ultimately:

TIMICIN: Do you believe I love you? I do, you know. But finally, if that is my only reason to stay alive.
LWAXANA: It’s not enough.
TIMICIN: Almost. Almost but not quite. I can’t be that selfish, Lwaxana. I am not the person to lead the revolt.

Previous Episode: The Drumhead • Next Episode: The Host

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