A strange probe in space zaps Picard, sending him into a dream world in which he experiences a lifetime on a peaceful and developing world as a husband, father, and eventually grandfather. In his advanced age, the world prepares to suffer a catastrophic disaster, and Picard realizes that his experience is the last message of a dying culture. In reality, the entire experience has taken only 20 minutes of real time.
Teleplay by Morgan Glendel and Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Peter Lauritson.
I suppose, on the surface, it’d be possible for someone to dismiss Inner Light as being pretty irrelevant to the overall Next Generation series. Nothing particularly important or notable takes place in it, no major story arc is introduced or advanced, and overall most of the action takes place in less time than it takes to watch the show. Yet in spite of this, it’s one of the most powerful and affecting installments of the entire franchise.
The key of course is Picard, and the actor who plays him, Patrick Stewart. Ostensibly, the show is about the long dead culture of Kataan, sending out their final message to the universe. But Kataan by and large is not that interesting a place. It’s a lot of work for any franchise to create a believable culture that is truly alien, and it’s not likely to happen in a single episode. So Kataan ends up being a mirror of earth, with a few cosmetic changes, and at a bit more peace with itself. The result is a nice place, but not really memorable. They key is just the contrast that is created with Picard’s normal life, as Captain of the Enterprise.
And so what stands out in the story is all the things that a forced life on Kataan represents for Picard: family, community, legacy, home. These are all qualities that the good Captain is usually denied (albeit by his own choices). Naturally, he struggles against it at first, but we’re not really surprised when he gives up that struggle after a few years of loyal tender kindness from his loving wife, Eline. After so many years of science fiction (Star Trek and otherwise in which the hero comes to realize that his supposed paradise hides a deep dark secret, it’s refreshing to find one in which the idyllic world that the protagonist finds himself in is basically just that: a nice place to settle down and raise a family.
Dramatically, there’s very little tension in the episode. Of course, Riker and Crusher and Worf get to all bark out comments in born from frantic concern, but really these moments serve to just break up Kataan sequences, to give us an easy way to jump things forward in time. Even the ecological problems on Kataan are played more for character than they are for tension. Really, after watching Picard command the Enterprise for five years, watching him live out his life in such altered circumstances is really drama enough, especially when sold to us by someone so skilled at his craft as Patrick Stewart.
• Margot Rose (Eline) has made guest appearances in Deep Space Nine, Lois & Clark, Starman, and in a few episodes of Night Court as someone called Charlotte Lund.
• Richard Riehle (Batai) has had over 300 listings on IMDB. This has included playing Principal Rooney in the TV version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the holographic Seamus Driscoll in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, Dr. Jeremy Lucas in two episodes of Enterprise, Officer Jack Sloan in two episodes of The West Wing, and Tom in the movie Office Space.
• Scott Jaeck (Administrator) also played Captain Janeway’s original First Officer (the one who dies) on the first episode of Voyager.
• Daniel Stewart (Young Batai) is Patrick Stewart’s real-life son.
Setting up the Future:
• There will be references to Picard and his flute playing again, in the next year’s Lessons.
• Troi is not in the episode
• Again, something just easily penetrates the shields. We’ve really got to work on that!
• Funny that Picard thinks at first that he’s on the holodeck
• The administrator’s visit is incredibly brief
• Eline telling her husband’s friend to go home is a nice moment.
• Some good humility from Kamin / Picard: “No, not such a wonderful husband. I spend my spare time charting the stars. I disappear for days at a time exploring the countryside. My life is very much as it was. Old habits.”
• The episode is nicely structured. Each time we move forward, everyone gets older of course, and Picard gets better at playing the flute.
• The aliens come from Kataan? Does that mean they are the Settlers of Cataan?
• Picard’s old age make up is reasonable, though not brilliant.
• “I want to concentrate on my music” – that all sounds pretty juvenile. That son of Picard’s seems pretty old to be just barely making choices for his life. But maybe that’s the way things role on Kataan.
• Picard sounds like Jor-El. He should rocket his infant son to earth.
• The fashionable sun protective wear is a good touch. It makes sense that when there is a clothes item that everyone must wear, there would be an element of fashion in it.
• It’s very touching moment when Picard figures it out and comes to understand what is happening.
• Great final moment, in Picard’s cabin with the flute. Patrick Stewart nails it.
Dialogue High Point
It’s a moment of true revelation, right at the end.
Oh, it’s me, isn’t it? I’m the someone. I’m the one it finds. That’s what this launching is. A probe that finds me in the future.