Monday, October 22, 2007

TV at its finest: Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Inner Light

The Inner Light is one of the most well-loved episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG), and for good reason. It won the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation given at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco. It was the first television program to be so honored since the original series Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever in 1968.

Here's a quick rundown of the story: The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters an alien probe which emits a beam that renders Captain Picard unconscious. He wakes to find himself in a unfamiliar planet with a woman who claims to be his wife of 3 years. She says he is Kamin, a simple iron weaver. The planet is Kataan. He notices that she is wearing a pendant that closely resembles the alien probe they had encountered on the ship.

On board the Enterprise, the doctor is unable to revive the Captain. She advises against the destruction of the probe for it seems that any disruption of the beam puts the Captain's life in danger. Meanwhile, in Kataan, five years have passed and Picard has settled into his life. A drought is destroying the planet, and he suggests solutions but the administrator laughs at his outlandish ideas. Later, on the ship, Geordi and Data trace the origins of the probe to a planet that has long been dead, destroyed in a supernova explosion a thousand years ago.

As minutes pass aboard the Enterprise, years pass for Picard - as Kamin he has a son with whom he later discusses life choices, and a daughter who eventually realizes that Kataan is doomed. His wife Eline and good friend Batai pass away. His first grandchild is born. Kamin is 85 years old, and the drought has almost completely destroyed the planet.

Kamin's children and grandchildren insist on bringing him to a missile launching. He doesn't understand why everyone is excited, knowing that it will not save the planet or its people. As the missile takes off, his family, together with Batai's and Eline's spirit, explain that they are launching a probe so that someone in the future may find it and come to know of Kataan and its people, so that they may in some sense, live on and be remembered. Picard realizes that he is that someone, and the probe is the one that sent him to this planet some 30 years ago. He wakes up aboard the Enterprise where a mere 25 minutes have passed as he lived a lifetime.

Later, Riker brings Picard a box that is found inside the probe - it is Kamin's flute, the same one he played at his son's naming ceremony.

I have a lump in my throat just writing this and remembering the episode. This is why I love TNG, stories like this that speak so much about what it is to be human.

This episode was also very well-written and well-acted, one of the most moving Trek stories ever. Patrick Stewart should have won an Emmy for this. (But we know how award-giving bodies have always been stingy with sci-fi and fantasy shows, so it's no surprise that the only nomination this got was for make-up - which was quite outstanding too, btw.) One other thing that makes this story memorable is the music. I also get a lump in my throat whenever I hear the theme of this episode. Which, thanks to youtube, I can now share with you.

Below is a fan-made music video which features scenes from the episode (thanks to funfastonelover), and said theme composed especially for The Inner Light by Jay Chattaway. Now excuse me while I get some Kleenex.

(If the video above doesn't work for you, try this one.)

No comments: