Star Trek: The Next Generation – Imaginary Friend [5.22]

A powerful disembodied alien comes on board the Enterprise and takes the form of the imaginary friend of young Clara Sutter, the child of a single engineering officer.  “Isabella” is at first curious, but then becomes a more malevolent presence on board the ship.  She interprets the treatment of Clara by other adults as cruelty rather than simply protective discipline, and decides that the crew can all die when the rest of her people turn up.  Clara and the crew convince her that her interpretation of things is wrong, and Isabella allows the ship to leave.

Story by Edithe Swensen and Brannon Braga.  Teleplay by Jean Louise Matthias & Ronald Wilkerson and Richard Fliegel.  Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

Previous Episode: The Perfect Mate • Next Episode: I, Borg

It’s been several weeks now since I’ve watched Imaginary Friend (thanks to a wide variety of work and family traveling activities) and I find it has disappeared from memory very quickly, a bit like an unremarkable dream.  I’m not really sure whether I’d ever seen it during it’s original airing, such was it’s forget-ability.  That’s not to say it’s a terrible story (in the same way that I’d consider Cost of Living to be).  But I’d say that it’s a story that features an inventive premise, with reasonable execution that is ultimately let down by a disappointing ending.

Watching it, the thing I was most relieved by was the fact that Isabella was actually genuinely threatening, and not just confused and misunderstood.  It gave things genuine menace and raised the suspense as to whether they would discover her presence before it was too late, and how they would stop her.  But then the story’s last act came along and it turned out Isabella was just confused – the series’ first example of a semi-omnipotent but stupid alien for a while.  Having the threat of this creature undone by people explaining they didn’t mean to hurt its feelings does not make for satisfactory drama, in my opinion.

Actually, the story behind Isabella had the potential to be quite meaningful and profound, if the episode had really sold me on the idea of this creature being so alien that it really just took on some sort of distorted-child’s perspective to interpret all that was happening.  Isabella seems far too clued-in and manipulative at the beginning for me to buy that.

A positive element of the episode is that it gave a decent chance for us to see some of our heroes just undergoing fairly normal crew operations.  Troi of course, gets to do lots of counselor-ish things, and also I always like seeing Geordi actually getting to be a chief engineer – working with his team to keep the ship running.  So while it’s not a particularly great episode, it’s helpful for the series overall to get to see the characters like this from time to time.

Guest Cast:
• Noley Thornton, who plays Clara Sutter, also played the holographic Taya in the Deep Space Nine episode Shadowplay.

• Shay Aster, who plays Isabella, also played August – Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s girlfriend – on a bunch of episodes of Third Rock from the Sun.

• Jeff Allin, who plays Ensign Sutter, played artist Alex Corey in four episodes of St. Elsewhere, as well as the character Gedrin in the Star Trek Voyager episode “Dragon’s Teeth”.

• This was Shiela Franklin’s last appearance as Ensign Felton

• There is a reference to Keiko O’Brien.  It would be nice to have had her appear.

• Crusher and Ogawa speak about Ogawa’s love life, which becomes a recurring motif.  Patti Yasutake does a good job in the scene. “I don’t think I’m going, Doctor. I hear it’s a very uninhibited atmosphere. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of fun.”

• Little blobs of light float around the Enterprise, again unseen by anyone, similar to the little creatures in Cost of Living.  We need to get better shields / sensors that will tell us when living energy things are floating through the ship!

• The little blob of light effect isn’t always effective, but it’s nice when it goes through the little tube / scope in the arboretum and behind the flowers, etc.

• How do families function on the Enterprise?  Ensign Sutter just keeps his daughter at home, by herself.   Worf sends the children back to their quarters.  There are areas that I guess are designated for children and others that aren’t, including certain corridors.  Children aren’t allowed in Ten-Forward.  Seems like a strange life on that Starship.

•  I enjoy seeing the normal activity in Engineering.  For some reason whenever we see engineers actually doing engineering, I always appreciate it. I like Ensign Sutter.  It would have been nice if the show had allowed Geordi to have some regular people on a team in engineering.  I guess the same could be said of  Worf with security.

• Cute bit with Data and Guinan looking at the cloud.  “It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit.”

• Pretty good Guinan scene with Clara, although Clara never takes a sip of her drink.

• Oops – Isabella has creepy glowing red eyes – that’s definitely bad!

• Nice bit of direction when Troi’s cup falls down the second time – it’s up, she walks away, returns to find it knocked over, all in one shot

• In Ten Forward and the Turbolife, Clara can apparently see Isabella, though no one else can.  It here where Isabella begins to show her creepy side.  But this is the only time when this takes place – every other time that Isabella wishes to be unseen, she seems to disappear from Clara as well.  It’s a bit unclear.

• Any particular reason why they all assume that Isabella is going to be in the arboretum?  It would have been nice if they had sensed some energy down there or something.

• Picard’s speech at the end is a little too intelligent and understanding, a little too contrived, and the ending quite a little too easy.  It would have been better if this thing had been a bit more threatening in the end.

Dialogue High Point
Nothing brilliant, but it’s a cute moment with Data when both LaForge and Sutter suggest naming the nebula after themselves.

Given the selections, I prefer FGC four seven.

Previous Episode: The Perfect Mate • Next Episode: I, Borg

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