Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Quiet Perfection of "The Survivors," An Unlikely Winner From Star Trek: The Next Generation!

The Good: Plot, CHARACTER, Theme, Moral, Acting, Everything!
The Bad: Nothing.
The Basics: In the most under-recognized great episode of the series, "The Survivors" puts the Enterprise in a dangerous situation and a philosophical dilemma.

Some time ago, I wrote a negative review of Star Trek First Contact entitled "Degradation of the Philosopher Kings" (that's available here!), a feat that earned me the disdain of many readers and fans of that Star Trek The Next Generation film. Part of the crux of my argument was that the one-trick pony writer Brannon Braga, who wrote the movie, completely got the characters - especially Picard - wrong. "The Survivors" is a perfect episode to use to prove my point, though I will not waste this review proving the other thesis. Instead, I would like to sell you on the idea that "The Survivors" is a perfect episode of Star Trek The Next Generation and a must-see episode of television for those who are not fans of science fiction or this series.

"The Survivors" finds the Enterprise visiting a remote Federation colony that has been obliterated. The planet has suffered massive bombardment from an alien race, yet on the surface there is a small patch of utterly undisturbed land. It has a house on it yet and two colonists who have survived the attack. Kevin and Rashad Uxbridge appear to be the sole survivors of the alien holocaust and Riker and his Away Team are unable to determine why. Add to that that Counselor Troi is, rather abruptly, suffering from hearing the music from Uxbridge's music box in her head, over and over again. Incapacitated, Troi begins to have a rather serious breakdown. But the bigger mystery is below: Why did the Uxbridges, one of whom - Kevin - is a conscientious objector, survive this massacre.

The answer is a surprise and if I revealed it here, it would ruin the episode, so I won't. But, rest assured, it makes a lot of sense and rewatching the episode does not diminish the magnitude of the resolution. In fact, if anything, it enhances it. The idea of the end works even better when we can see the clues that lead up to the natural end.

So, what makes this episode perfect? In a word: everything. This is the best, least acknowledged episode of Star Trek The Next Generation because it has the most poignant moral without once feeling preachy or overdone. This is the height of writing with philosopher kings as the subject.

On the plot front, everything is necessary. Troi's incapacitation makes perfect sense. Picard's actions fit wonderfully. Kevin Uxbridge's actions work amazingly. The villain, the Hushnock, are wonderful and truly villainous. They make the episode worth watching just to see their very cool starship. Every step of the episode advances the plot and adds new information. The order of the actions is methodical and deliberate and brilliantly constructed.

Add to that that the characters are all utilized well. Picard plays the sleuth well, Troi's painful experience is quite telling. Riker, Data and Dr. Crusher each have roles that expand their characters in one direction or another, all of which is sensible growth. Here the philosophers encounter a god and they experience an awkward sense of growth.

Kevin and Rashad are intriguing characters to visit with for an hour. They challenge the crew and there is more to them than the usual guest of the week.

Even better, both are well acted. In fact, the acting in this episode is subtle and fitting for the episode. Kevin is underplayed, Rashad is overplayed and their foil is Marina Sirtis as a screaming Troi. Sirtis gives the part everything she can in "The Survivors." And Patrick Stewart takes a very uncertain set of lines in the conclusion to the episode and makes the words resonate with truth. That's what great acting does.

Perfectly paced, "The Survivors" is an episode that challenges the intellect while wonderfully expanding the characters, which is what great drama does. And this is great drama in both a pulse pounding and philosophical sense. It's what a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation deserves; it's what those who enjoyed the horror and violence of Star Trek First Contact ought to aspire to appreciating.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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