Monday, August 8, 2011

Lwaxana Troi's Lasting Pain Fills A "Dark Page"

The Good: Excellent character development, Nice acting, Good imagery
The Bad: Plodding pace, Repetitive feel
The Basics: When Lwaxana Troi is inexplicably stricken down in "Dark Page," Deanna must journey into her mind to find the root of the problem.

Star Trek The Next Generation's use of Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi's mother, often came in the form of distracting comic relief. Lwaxana flamboyant nature was used to play off Deanna's straight-laced demeanor and the joke quickly wore thin. Lwaxana's annoying lack of depth was challenged by the philosophical "Half A Life" (reviewed here!) and then promptly re-established in the ridiculous "Cost Of Living" (reviewed here!). "Dark Page" is Star Trek The Next Generation's final use of Lwaxana and it attempts to leave the character with some semblance of a serious impression.

When Lwaxana returns to the Enterprise, she is in the company of the Cairn, a race of telepaths who had no notion of spoken language until Lwaxana met them and began to work with them. The interaction of the powerful telepaths is not without consequences, however, and soon Lwaxana falls into a coma. While Picard and Dr. Crusher investigate the possibility of foul play from the Cairn, Deanna's own investigation reveals that her mother may be hiding a troubling secret. Unsure what the "dark place" the Cairn see in her is, Deanna enlists one of the Cairn to be a telepathic bridge between her and her mother, allowing her to enter her mother's subconscious to get to the root of the problem.

What makes "Dark Page" intriguing is that the writers of the episode seem to have a very firm grasp on subconscious imagery, making Deanna's journey into Lwaxana's mind an intriguing look at the psychology of this flamboyant character. The tormented matriarch expresses a great deal through the imagery of her unconscious and the viewer feels like the have to work a bit to understand all that they are seeing. That "reads" as very real.

The character study of Lwaxana Troi in this way could easily have been botched, and it comes close to failing. Much of the episode drags as Deanna is thwarted repeatedly inside Lwaxana's mind. The pace on "Dark Page" is way off, taking a great deal of time to get started and then more time to get to the resolution. There is an inorganic amount of delay in the episode and it suffers from a repetition of language barriers between Troi and Maques, the Cairn representative. As well, the repeated imagery of a young girl - who is the key to Lwaxana's psychological problems - takes a while to become meaningful, a problematic aspect considering the importance of the image.

Those who are fans of Kirsten Dunst will recognize the young girl, Hedril, as Dunst. Indeed, the rising celebrity was once a guest star on Star Trek The Next Generation. Her simplicity and innocence play off well against Majel Barrett's complicated and flamboyant Lwaxana. Dunst's potential as an actress is clearly visible in this early performance.

The episode, however, hinges on the performances of Barrett and Marina Sirtis. Barrett's usual over the top portrayal of Lwaxana Troi is muted in favor of a more dignified and complicated presentation this time around. Barrett gives Lwaxana anger, shame and guilt, a whole gambit of emotions she has not been forced to utilize until now. Barrett's efforts pay off in spades, making the Lwaxana far more accessible as an individual than she ever has been before.

Supporting Barrett's emotive performance is one of Marina Sirtis' greatest portrayals of Deanna Troi. This time Sirtis plays Deanna along a finely balanced line of caring and emotional and dispassionate detective. The two may sound incompatible, but Sirtis makes it work, keeping her character's emotional motivation - wanting to help her ailing mother - subdued by the search for the root of her pain. As a result, Sirtis leaps her character forward as an individual with a great deal of professionalism and skill. This would not be possible with a lesser actress than Sirtis.

In the end, "Dark Page" is a sad tale that is one of the most accessible episodes Star Trek The Next Generation ever did. It manages to be a science fiction mystery rich in psychological imagery and influences, even if the pace is stifling at times. This episode may be enjoyed by any adult who enjoys the mysteries of the mind and a good, character-driven story.

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


Want to see how this episode of Star Trek stacks up against others in the franchise? Check out my index page, with reviews organized by the rating of the Star Trek work by clicking here!

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