Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dying Hits The Late Middle-Aged Hard In "Half A Life."

The Good: Great actors, Interesting story idea, Wonderful character development
The Bad: Moments of disappointing delivery
The Basics: In "Half A Life," Lwaxana Troi returns in a tight dramatic role that explores a culture where the elderly kill themselves as a method of keeping an orderly society.

Star Trek The Next Generation had a remarkable way of getting wonderful actors to appear and play intriguing characters. Indeed, all of the Star Trek series' have managed to woo great actors, actresses and personalities. For example, Sally Kellerman and Teri Garr appeared in Star Trek, Star Trek Deep Space Nine managed to get Richard Beymer, Louise Fletcher and Frank Langella for multiple episodes and by this point in the series, Star Trek The Next Generation had been visited mostly by genre greats, such as DeForest Kelly and Mark Lenard. In "Half A Life," Star Trek The Next Generation is visited by a truly great actor, David Ogden Stiers, of M*A*S*H among other things.

The Enterprise journeys to a planet whose star is dying and there they meet Timicin, a scientist who is incredibly intelligent and has a plan to try and save his planet. Almost immediately, the mission is compromised by the presence of Counselor Troi's mother, Lwaxana. Lwaxana takes an instant liking to Timicin who is closer in age to herself than any of the other prospective mates Lwaxana has chosen in the past. When the initial results of the procedure appear positive, the crew is elated and Timicin is hopeful. When, however, the technique ultimately fails, Timicin reveals that he will never have a chance to try again; he is returning home to die. It seems that Timicin has reached the age that his people decide to kill themselves as a part of a population control and health care program.

More than anything, this is Lwaxana Troi's most serious and profound episode to date. Rather than being used as inane comic relief as she has been relegated to in her previous three outings, "Half A Life" puts Lwaxana in the middle of a serious dilemma. Lwaxana has fallen in love with Timicin and the societal pressures on him to kill himself come in conflict with her personal ethics and her feelings for Timicin.

The strength of the acting in this episode is surprisingly not in David Ogden Stiers, who is a phenomenal actor. Instead, the show is stolen by Majel Barret-Roddenberry. Instead of being a continual annoyance, here Barret plays Lwaxana Troi as a well-rounded, passionate character acting out of a very real sense of injustice. And how easy it is for the audience to identify with her! Who wouldn't be initially outraged over the idea of killing off the senior citizen population?

And this is possibly the most creative way of dressing up a current events issue that Star Trek The Next Generation ever came up with. Instead of tackling the problem of what to do with the elderly in 1990s Earth, "Half A Life" explores a possible solution and does it with an amazing amount of balance. Timicin, as a character, is caught between two conflicting societal pressures. On the one side, he loves his planet and wants to save it, on the other, he wants to be equally selfless and do what is expected of him, which is to die before he becomes a burden on his family and loved ones.

The only disappointment in this episode is the acting in the last half of the episode by Mr. Stiers. Usually great and creating the character of Timicin wonderfully, David Ogden Stiers' performance falls apart in the second half. From the moment he reveals that he is returning home to kill himself, Stiers' performance - not the character's actions - become uncertain, as if he completely lost direction for the character. It's disappointing considering how well he initially creates this unique character.

Michelle Forbes, who will end up playing Ensign Ro beginning in the fifth season, appears here as Timicin's daughter and gives a very different performance to what we expect from her later on. Similarly, the regular cast of the show backs up what is essentially a two-character debate. Most notable is Marina Sirtis, who plays Counselor Troi with less disappointment and more compassion than in previous Lwaxana Troi episodes.

Fans of Star Trek The Next Generation will enjoy "Half a Life" for the moralistic play, people who have not classically been fans will find a compelling drama in this episode. Instead of being terribly out there as a science fiction piece, this quickly becomes a focused character drama. And who could not enjoy that?

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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