April 22 2024


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Half a Life

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 10, 2009 - 11:54 PM GMT

See Also: 'Half a Life' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Lwaxana Troi visits the Enterprise while the ship is conducting experiments to help save the dying sun of Kaelon II under the supervision of their leading scientist, Timicin. Timicin makes it clear that he is as attracted to Lwaxana as she is to him, but he is reluctant to begin a relationship with her, which she believes is because of stress related to his work. The engineering crew tests torpedoes on another aging star that has no planets, hoping to use Timicin's research to stabilize the star's energy output, but after initial success, the star's core temperature continues to rise, and the Enterprise barely escapes the resulting supernova. When Lwaxana tries to console Timicin by suggesting that he can try another experiment, he confides that he is returning home to die. She barges into a meeting between Picard and the engineers working on the solar problem to announce that Timicin comes from a planet of murderers - his people have a ritual called the Resolution in which they commit suicide at the age of 60 so that their children do not have to care for their parents and the elderly do not feel useless or infirm. Picard insists that the Prime Directive prevents him from interfering, so Lwaxana encourages Timicin to refuse to participate in the Resolution as a statement of protest. Because Timicin believes he has discovered the solution to saving his planet's sun - and because he has fallen in love with Lwaxana - he agrees, asking Picard for asylum aboard the Enterprise. But once Kaelon II launches warships and refuses to accept any scientific data from Timicin, and once Timicin's daughter arrives to beg him to honor the heritage he taught her, he changes his mind, choosing to return to the planet to die surrounded by family and colleagues. Because she loves him, Lwaxana accompanies him to take part in the ritual.

Analysis: One of the many excellent episodes of The Next Generation's fourth season, "Half a Life" suffers from a bit of illogic in its plot, but outstanding performances and an emotional character-driven storyline more than make up for that flaw. Lwaxana - who isn't known for her rational analysis - puts her finger on the crux of the problem when she points out that if Timicin dies at 60, none of the children currently living on the planet are likely to survive to anywhere near that age. We're never told the scientific details of what's going on with the sun of Kaelon II, but since the Enterprise is able to test Timicin's torpedoes on a similar star, it's presumably the natural death throes of a Sol-type sun, meaning that the planet will be suffering from all sorts of problems before the sun actually becomes a red giant; solar flares and radiation should already be an issue for the people of Kaelon II, not to mention magnetic disturbances and chaotic climate changes. Since the Resolution was created to prevent an aging population from becoming a burden to the youth of the planet, it seems preposterous that old people go happily to their deaths knowing that their species may be annihilated soon after...or that young people would want them to, knowing that they may inherit a planetary disaster they are unable to resolve on their own. Because of this, it seems briefly plausible that Timicin's revolution will be successful, and Lwaxana will be hailed for once as a brilliant interplanetary diplomat.

Sadly, it is not to be, because "Half a Life" chooses to focus on the emotional drama rather than the social issues. It's a brilliantly written emotional drama, but I can't help but feel that it's a bit of a copout for Star Trek, given that we've seen both Kirk and Picard lead social revolutions, stop centuries of war between implacable enemies, and overthrow deities with extraordinary powers. At the time this episode was written, quite a bit of press was focused on the fact that aging baby boomers would soon outnumber young people paying for their social security and medical benefits; no one was proposing anything remotely as drastic as the solution of Kaelon II, but the issue generated a lot of attention. We've seen Picard cite the Prime Directive in such circumstances so many times that it comes as no surprise when he refuses to interfere or even to talk to Timicin about his options, though he seems a bit too cold-hearted, just as Lwaxana seems a bit too judgmental. Of course, her distress isn't only that she may lose a man to whom she has become attached; she's also feeling her own age and mortality, and this ritual reminds her that even her own daughter sometimes treats her as useless and embarrassing.

I know there are fans who hate Lwaxana - I didn't like a lot of her episodes the first time through, I thought she was being used to perpetuate stereotypes about menopausal women - but even at her most outrageous, she's invaluable as a character. Originally she was used to provoke reactions from Troi and to some extent Picard that we wouldn't otherwise see, but the relationships are very different in this outing; since she isn't flirting with Picard, he actually talks to her as an equal, and she experiences some role-reversal with Deanna as the daughter must nurture the mother...a moving exchange, and something the inhabitants of Kaelon II miss entirely, since they kill off their elders rather than caring for them. Picard is concerned at first that Lwaxana's ebullience (to put it politely) will scare off someone from the reclusive society they're about to encounter, but he couldn't be more wrong; Timicin finds her delightful, a happy distraction from his difficult work and impending demise, which makes theirs one of the few single-episode Star Trek love stories that's actually believable. Although Deanna accuses her mother of being insatiable as well as incorrigible, it's nice to see that Lwaxana lusts for people her own age as well as ogling Riker; nothing about this relationship has to do with svelte bodies or seductive behavior, for a change.

Certainly this would be a stronger episode with a stronger backstory for the Logan's Run-type practices of the aliens - a history of devastating famines, even a fake scientific condition caused by the solar decay that causes rapid decline in people past their late 50s - and some hint that the practice might be rethought on the planet facing catastrophe would make for a more hopeful ending more in keeping with Star Trek's general optimism. What if the science minister, fearing sharp declines in population as the sun aged, decided to insist that the age of Resolution should be pushed back to 50? What if Timicin's daughter, terrified that her own son might not survive their sun's death throes, had supported his decision and sparked a revolution he never intended to lead, wishing only to continue his research and spend some happy months with Lwaxana? I can wish for more at the same time as I admire what we're given, the first episode that makes Lwaxana a fully sympathetic character and an allegory for a contemporary issue that doesn't smack the audience over the head like some of the first season episodes.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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