Thursday, June 30, 2011

When Lwaxana Comes To Town And Does Her Thing . . . The "Cost Of Living" Gets High!

The Good: Funny in parts, good acting, some character development
The Bad: Often overly silly, Awkward presentation of Lwaxana
The Basics: When Lwaxana Troi returns to the Enterprise, she disrupts life for Worf and Alexander in a somewhat disappointing episode.

Up until this point in the Star Trek The Next Generation story, Lwaxana Troi has been a subplot and when she appears, she usually - like Q - manages to get a barb in against Worf. And that has been fine in the past. But in the fifth season of the series where Worf has more responsibilities and obligations, it becomes harder to use him simply as the brunt of her effortless sense of humor. In "Cost Of Living" Lwaxana Troi is finally made accountable for what she says and does. It's about time.

When Lwaxana Troi visits, she finds her daughter engaged in what she ought to be; counseling a member of the crew. In this case, it is family counseling and she is doing her best to help Worf establish guidelines for his son, Alexander. She also has news of her own; she is going to be married. When Lwaxana interferes with the delicate situation between Worf and Alexander by trying to allow Alexander to have some fun, she opens herself up to ridicule from Counselor Troi. While working around a somewhat contrived emergency in space, Counselor Troi and Alexander learn that Lwaxana is possibly marrying for all of the wrong reasons.

It's refreshing to see Lwaxana trapped in a situation where she seems like a hypocrite and this one certainly qualifies. While she tries to help Alexander explore what it is to be uninhibited, she does a good job of picking out one of the most conservative men in the quadrant for a relationship. Unfortunately, this kills much of the surprise in the episode. We know in the first moments Lwaxana meets her potential husband that there will be no love connection.

Better than Lwaxana's appearance is the development in the relationship between Worf and Alexander. It's refreshing to see that all of their problems have not been miraculously solved since we saw them together last. This adds an air of realism to their relationship that bears notice.

The acting in "Cost Of Living" is decent. It becomes immediately apparent that Brian Bonsall, the actor who plays Alexander, can act and is not afraid to do so. It's a rare thing for a child actor to be able to pull off a recurring guest role and in the case of Alexander, it must have been especially difficult for Bonsall to do without falling into the same "role" over and over again. But in "Cost Of Living," Bonsall does an excellent job of progressing the character forward. So while Alexander and Worf are still two character in conflict, Bonsall does an excellent job of adding some reason to the character such that it is not simply a repetition of the petulant child routine from "New Ground" (reviewed here!).

Equally impressive is Michael Dorn, who does an excellent job spitting out every parental cliche while seeming reasonable about it. That is, Dorn takes what could be flat lines and breathes some life into them, which is refreshing to say the least. Marina Sirtis here is given the chance to do more with Counselor Troi than play her as annoyed with her visiting mother and she rises to the occasion.

But the awkwardness comes in Majel Barret, who returns as Lwaxana Troi. When last we saw Lwaxana (back in the fourth season's excellent episode "Half A Life," (reviewed here!), she was learning to accept the death of her latest beau. So, when Lwaxana appears here, it makes less sense for her to have such a drastic dichotomy. When she is serious and resigned to being married, that makes sense given the tremendous loss she feels over Timicin's death. When she is freewheeling and alive, that makes some sense as well, if one wished to believe Lwaxana is either over the death or in denial of it. But the drastic oscillation between moods is unsettling and hard to reconcile. Part of the problem certainly is Barret's; she plays Lwaxana as incredibly freewheeling as she engages Alexander, without a hint or thread of sadness and as a result, she creates the strange split-personality aspect to Lwaxana here.

Ultimately, the problem with "Cost Of Living" is that it tries to be funny and ridiculous by having Lwaxana and Alexander in the most pretentious, esoteric holodeck environment yet seen and contrast that with some parasite that has infected the starship Enterprise. This has the result of making the silly portions seem completely ridiculous and the threat to the Enterprise is very difficult to take seriously. In the end, we fail to.

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


For other Star Trek episode reviews, be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

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