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Star Trek TNG - Season 5 - Episode 25

Star Trek TNG - 5x25 - The Inner Light

Originally Aired: 1992-6-1

Synopsis:
Picard lives another life on a faraway planet. [DVD]

My Rating - 10

Fan Rating Average - 8.38

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Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode is a candidate for my "Best Episode of TNG Award".
- This episode won the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. This episode was the first TV show episode to be given such an award since TOS: The City on the Edge of Forever.

Remarkable Scenes
- Picard's reaction to his new location. "Freeze program! End program!"
- Picard talking to his "old friend" trying to get information about where he is.
- The revelation that the probe is making Picard live a completely new life and that for him, years are going by.
- Picard getting sick in his dream world thanks to the disruption of the beam transmission.
- Picard's wife's death.
- Picard's old friend returning from the dead to explain the probe to Picard.
- Picard having to rediscover who he is.

My Review
This episode is a fan favorite, and with good reason. The story that develops within Picards mind is captivating and just when it starts to seem familiar and warm, the characters explain to Picard what his new life really was. The idea behind the story is very simple. Picard is taken into a dream world by an alien probe in which he lives a completely new life. It's not the idea of the episode that is superb, but the execution. This episode features an absolutely stunning performance by Patrick Stewart as Picard. Arguably the best performance he's ever done. In the end, we're left with the tragic story of a civilization destroyed by their own sun going nova and a profoundly affected Picard. He will never be the same man again after this truly life changing experience. A TNG classic.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Rich Dixon on 2006-04-20 at 6:37pm:
    Patrick Stewart never quite fully received the accolades and recognition from the Emmy's for his portrayal of Jean Luc Picard during his stint on TNG. The show as a whole was disregarded come Emmy time. We all know the reason why. It was a science fiction show, syndicated no less. In the early 90s, there was no way in hell a sci-fi show would be nominated for best drama on TV. Now in the 21st century, things have changed of course. Shows on Cable TV are routinely nominated. I still wonder if TNG and Stewart would garner nominations even still today. Not that the Emmy's are the end all to be all. My point is this. Somebody had to give this man an award! Stewart's performance in this episode was a tour de force. It was just stunning. The Inner Light although simplistic in its story telling, encompassed everything that Star Trek represents. The aliens in this episode will never be forgotten. At least not for Picard, who was controlled by an alien probe from a world long since vanished. During a span of 25-30 minutes, he lives a lifetime of another man complete with a loving wife and two kids. He watches them grow up along with the decaying of his planet. We watch as Picard stubbornly and defiantly refuses to play along with these people who seem to believe he's another man. Eventually, Picard assumes the life of this man and leads the life he never had and longed for. He has a family. He has a companion who is loyal, patient and nurturing. Picard's brilliant mind leads him to find ways to save his planet to no avail. Ultimately, the aliens reveal themselves and inform Picard the truth about themselves and their planet. This was their way of being remembered. What an effective way to let others understand who you are. Let them live a lifetime as one of you. One of the most moving and touching scenes came at the end, in Picard's ready room. Riker walks in and gives the captain the only contents that were found in the alien probe. A flute Picard learned to play as this other man. When Picard was first abducted, he didn't even know how to hold it properly. As Riker leaves the captain to his thoughts, Picard stares out the window. He begins to play it with a feeling and passion that conveys everything we need to know. These memories will stay with him forever. This is an excellent episode. It's the very reason why I loved this show.
  • From Pete Miller on 2006-05-04 at 11:08pm:
    Is it just me or does the second version of picard (aged once) look a hell of a lot like Jimmy Buffett?
  • From Pete Miller on 2006-07-18 at 6:30pm:
    Sorry to come back and post again, but after I finished the series I decided to award my personal Best episode of TNG award.

    When I picked my "Best of..." episodes, I took into consideration what each series was really about. The Next Generation is truly about exploring the unexplored, discovering new people and cultures, and above all self-improvement. It is not like DS9, which focuses on more darker themes and contains more action. The Next Generation aims to paint an optimistic picture of the future, and to affect its audiences profoundly.

    The Inner Light accomplished all of TNG's goals. It is a masterful story of the tragic death of an entire species whose sun went supernova. The culture is not lost, however, but preserved through the memories of Picard, who is a changed man. It is a story of life in general, and of growing old and losing loved ones. The bottom line, though, is that the future is a bright one, and those things that we may consider to be lost causes today may yet live on in the future.

    This was a very moving performance by Patrick Stewart, the best actor to ever grace Star Trek. It was a perfectly written story, demonstrating the awesomeness of TNG's writers. I cannot subtract any points from anything, and the episode basically epitomizes TNG.

    It is with all of these things in consideration that I bestow my "Best of TNG" award to "The Inner Light". As soon as I finish Voyager I'll re-evaluate all episodes to find the best overall.
  • From DSOmo on 2007-10-05 at 3:29am:
    This is one of my favorite TNG episodes of all time. That is not correct. This is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all time! Jean-Luc Picard is one of my favorite Star Trek characters (it doesn't hurt having an amazing actor like Patrick Stewart playing the part.) However, yes, I have even "discovered" a problem with this episode.
    - This is a society with the technological level of midtwentieth-century Earth. It manufactured a device that can create an alternate reality within an unknown alien mind. Look at what this probe accomplishes. It scans the Enterprise and overpowers the ship's shields. It finds Picard and attaches an energy beam to him. This energy beam creates an alternate reality so complete that "it is as real as his life on the Enterprise." Does this sound like a project undertaken by a community who have just begun to launch missles? In the late 1950s, if the nations of Earth discovered that the Sun would soon explode, is it even conceivable that those nations would be able to build such a device?
  • From baron on 2010-12-11 at 2:49pm:
    After watching this I found the society that he lived in pretty unbelievable. All Picard seems to do is play his flute and look through a telescope. How did he raise a family just by doing that? Wouldn't he need a job and income of some kind? This isn't a futuristic society with food replicators and unlimited energy. They say they have to grow crops. Towards the end they say the crops are failing. Where are they getting their food from then? They say it takes a day just to send a message to the next village. It's pretty impossible that society could have built the probe in the first place.

    In an earlier episode someone mentioned that it would have been to impossible for a time traveler from the past to take a phaser and try to manufacture it back in his own society. Since their society wouldn't have the infrastructure in place to be able to manufacture it. Perhaps a phaser needs a mineral from another star system but they don't have the ability to leave their planet. But yet in this episode a 1950's era society can make technology more advanced than the enterprise.
  • From Autre on 2011-03-04 at 2:32pm:
    They are aliens, and regardless if they are in a 1950's era situation they are much different from humans. Rather than creating atomic bombs or weapons to destroy one another they all banded together as a race with a single goal in mind.

    If you were to take every scientist in the world and work them to one cause it is very likely something astounding would come from it.

    But again, the main point behind this is that they are aliens, and TNG has many episodes with aliens that appear to not be advanced but turn out having technological marvels.
  • From Robert Koenn on 2011-04-29 at 11:46am:
    This was a very good episode but not nearly my favorite. In fact I rated it a 7. Stewart did do an excellent job of acting in the episode. But why I lowered my rating was that I did not find the scenario and the overall plot that exciting. While I could also say it was technically absurd, a race that seems to live a simple agrarian existence creating this marvelously advanced spacecraft that was launched on a very basic solid fueled rocket, that is not really my main complaint. It just wasn't that exciting or even enticing to watch Picard live this imaginary life. I am not a particular fan of massive doses of action or such but found this more of a soap operaish plot line. It appears I am the minority in this take on the episode but those were my thoughts while watching it. I found the interplay between characters much more interesting in the episode where Picard returns home and visits his brother.
  • From Alvlin on 2011-05-26 at 11:45pm:
    I agree with Baron. While this is a great episode both emotionally & executionally, logically it has a HUGE flaw -- there is no way that such a "technologically primitive" society could manufacture & launch a probe that would be able to pierce the defenses of a ship 1,000 years into the future, not to mention reach directly into Picard's mind and play out a scenario based on his own reactions. A real strech which unfortunately hurts the overall credibility of this one.
  • From Bronn on 2011-09-25 at 1:33am:
    I just want to comment on some of the scientific critique's of this episode. One of the reasons I can buy is that I don't necessarily think their technology had to evolve at a similar rate to ours. Just because they weren't advanced in the field of space travel doesn't mean they weren't advanced in other areas-they just may not have been interested in space travel. It's worth wondering how interested humanity would be in space travel if this planet had no moon. The extreme advance of technology during the space race is partly owed to the existence of an easily definable objective: Let's put a human on the closest celestial object. It helps also to have such a close orbit body to fuel the curiosity of planet-dwellers, to give them an actual urge to reach space.

    What we see of the planet during this episode also represents a single agrarian community. It's not necessarily the best cross-section. If you visited 20th century Earth and all you saw was a farming community in Nebraska, you might not catch on that we can generate nuclear power, or that there is a laboratory in Geneva that can isolate atoms of anti-hydrogen. The native culture in this episode may have simply had some specialization in ways to affect brain chemistry, and this was a technology unique to their development.

    "But how does it pierce the defenses of the USS Enterprise!?" Well it's just possible that the Enterprise's defenses aren't designed to defeat the specific thing that the probe was doing. The shields are designed to repel only specific types of energy, and presumably solid objects (there are many inconsistencies with THAT). The shields clearly allow certain types of energy to pass through-as evidenced by the fact that the crew can actually see out a window even with the shields are activated, so visible light is not stopped by the shields. The crew is also still able to use communication frequencies with the shields up, so perhaps other parts of the EM spectrum are not screened out. It's not like this beam utterly defeats the Enterprise, since it takes the crew a whopping 5 minutes to figure out how to interrupt it (if that)-they are only stopped because removing it nearly kills Picard.

    Okay, so there's a little bit of a hand-waving in that the probe apparently "scans" the crew, or least has some method of identifying that there are life forms on board the Enterprise, and it manages to isolate one to communicate with, but it's not like we ever learn much about how the USSE itself scans for lifeforms. There's not really an issue with bad science in this episode, at least not enough to destroy willful suspension of disbelief, unless you're just looking for reasons not to like it.
  • From Rob on 2013-01-27 at 1:05am:
    I love this episode, it could be my own personal experiences that leads me to this but it seems to me to be an analogy to a psychedelic induced state of mind wherein the 'traveller' can experience an entire lifetime in the blink of an eye.

    Once returning to their original understanding of their reality and normal perspectives there is a struggle, a conflict between the person they were before the event, the person they were during the event and who they need to be to move on from the event. Everything that took place was easily as real as the present and past to them, completely linked with emotions and feelings as real as any other memory in their mind.

    The only way for the traveller to move on is to merge the persona they lived into their ego, challenge the resistance from the higher ego and accept that they experienced a true existence and that perception combined with perspective is all there is, we accept our current one as the only one in order to live.

    This analogy would have been complete if after returning to the enterprise when Picard was given the flute he was able to play it as proficiently as he did in the mental projection.
  • From skye_sken on 2013-03-27 at 8:31pm:
    Just thought to comment on the allegations that a civilization such as theirs could not produce the technology needed for the probe to exist: I always figured the dreamworld that Picard experiences is rather an ideal representation of this people, or perhaps a "play" of a sort, rather than a full-on realistic portrayal of the advanced civilization they fostered just before the supernova event which eradicated it's people.

    When you think of it, some might say that a fine way to express one's civilization would be through art. It can be argued that technology is kind of homogenic in the way that any alien species can produce the same quantative results and inventions, whereas art I would suppose is always subjective and thus unique. I mean, showing aliens a play by Shakespeare would cover an immense amount of human emotions, those we hold so dear to us, and in a way sleek the image of humanity for the alien specators (after all, not many of us would sooner paint impressions of war, rape, extortion and other realistic qualities expressed by mankind).

    As someone before me noted, Picard doesn't seem to be doing any work, well, expect for his scientific research, which I guess many a folk do care for, and might deem important enough to sustain through their own labor. In the INNER LIGHT, art plays a key role in cultural preservation. In the dreamworld, we see art approached in the manner of the flute Picard gradually learns to play, the music of which in a way is a strong symbol of the lost people and a means to immortalize a part of their civilization.

    While we're making assumptions, I guess it's possible that if Picard's dreamworld was indeed a play, it was not entirely truthful, and this civilization never actually disappeared in a super nova after all; Picard just became a buffoon of an elaborate cosmic jape. But that's not nearly as romantic an idea, so forget it.
  • From railohio on 2014-07-27 at 11:03am:
    You guys are forgetting that while the probe was advanced, it certainly did not overpower the enterprise. The enterprise could have easily destoyed it, or severed the link (which they did), but they wouldn't because it would have been fatal to Picard. Even before he was connected by the beam, the Enterprise's mission is to explore new life and civilizations, so they could not simply destroy it on sight.

    As far as creating the probe in the 1st place. We can say the beginning of the episode took place somewhere in the 1950's. He lived almost a full life on Katan so it is feasible to say 40 years passed. That would put the society somewhere in the 1990s. With 1990s technology, it was seem like a far stretch to create such a device. However with the entirety of the planet working on such a desperate cause, one can conclude that it is somewhat possible to create something like this.

    Overall I loved this episode, and found it extremely interesting. A solid 9
  • From Axel on 2015-03-24 at 11:53pm:
    I'm in the minority that didn't enjoy this episode, and it's not because of the technological issues discussed above. It's because I really can't believe Picard or anyone else doesn't give a second thought to the ethics of what the Kataan have done.

    This probe is designed to take control of a person's conscious, force that person to relive a lifetime with the Kataan, and then awaken that person after making clear that this experience was just a recreation designed to keep the memory of their civilization alive. So twice you are confronted with years and years of your life being an illusion. The first time would be enough to make anyone question their own sanity. As for the second round of news at the end, Picard takes it pretty well. But the Kataan seem not to have considered (or cared) that others might not handle it that well. A person could leave this entire experience with serious mental and emotional problems rather than fond memories. Many might not have adjusted to living with the Kataan in the first place.

    Maybe the Kataan think that the collective memory of their civilization is worth all of this. But that issue is never really explored. Instead, Picard is released from his fake probe life as a happy man with a flute, never once wondering about the roller-coaster the Kataan just put him through.

    The acting in this episode is superb, not just Stewart but the guests as well. Still, the details of Picard's life with the Kataan isn't enough to redeem this one for me, nor was it interesting enough to put the episode's plot above average.
  • From Harrison on 2016-06-25 at 7:50pm:
    A dramatic masterpiece, by far the best episode of any of the Star trek series. Stewart's performance is simply magnificent.

    Of course it is easy as pie to poke holes in the sci-fi logic underpinning the plot. That's true with any episode in the series, and it is hardly significant in light of the outstanding screenplay, character formation and plain old dramatic compulsion. A little suspension of disbelief won't harm you, and in the laws of the Star trek universe, there's nothing terribly difficult to accept.
  • From dominic on 2016-06-26 at 1:11am:
    The thought did cross my mind that such a primitive society shouldnt' have been able to build such an advanced piece of technology in the probe, but I was able suspend my disbelief and get over that.

    What really bothers me about this episode is what Axel mentioned above. Surely the victim of this probe is put through an unfathomable amount of emotional trauma...not once, but twice. When Captain Picard "came back" and they asked him to go sickbay, I was totally expecting him to say something like "I don't need to go to sickbay. I need to see Counselor Troi." Not only did he not say that, but he didn't even see her. Was she even in this episode? Seems like a huge oversight to not have her play a more important role.

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