Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S04E22 – Half a Life

In the twenty-second episode of the fourth season of The Next Generation, Lwaxana Troi meets a potential love interest on the Enterprise, only to realize it’s at the worst possible time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For suicide, assisted suicide, ageism.

I think that, for the sake of my mental health, this may not be the longest review ever, despite that I’ve thought a lot about the meaning behind “Half a Life.” For a topic so fraught with emotion and fear, this episode handles suicide with respect, nuance, and character, so I’m not about to write a criticism of it. It’s just that I don’t want to dwell on it too much; I’ve had a complicated and painful history with suicide myself, and it’s one of my major triggers.

That’s not saying that this episode triggered me, and I’m actually surprised it didn’t. I think the focus of it is why I didn’t feel dejected, though. At the heart of “Half a Life” is Lwaxana Troi, who fiercely fights for someone to live. In that sense, this episode felt uplifting. It felt like someone fighting for me to choose life over everything else. As a fan of Lwaxana Troi, too, I think I was bound to love this episode anyway. I’ve always enjoyed her appearances on this show, but “Half a Life” makes her into a character that’s so much fuller than she’s been before.

It’s one hell of a challenging episode to watch, though. I was convinced that we’d be watching another episode where Lwaxana’s wacky exploits messed up something for the Enterprise and they’d have to fix it. It seemed pretty obvious that Lwaxana’s affection for Dr. Timicin couldn’t end well, given that his race was so much more reserved and quiet than Troi had ever been. But the story itself slowly unwound any theory I had, especially once it was clear that Dr. Timicin liked the attention he got from her. Perhaps this was the man that Lwaxana could actually court and would return the affection!

And then the big twist hits, and this episode isn’t about Lwaxana Troi embarrassing her daughter or the Enterprise. It’s a deeply disturbing moral conundrum, one that invokes the Prime Directive as much as it addresses the value of human life past a certain age. It’s a conversation about ageism, and it’s a conversation about suicide, too. I don’t know that the show itself necessarily takes a side on the issue, and the ending leaves things so morally ambiguous that the audience is the one left to make a moral judgment on what’s happened. I think the script sides more with Lwaxana, but it doesn’t do so in a way that suggests she’s 100% right, either. The Next Generation has often concerned itself with the right to life and the value of life, too. We’ve seen how often people who are both young and old are able to affect events positively, and so it makes sense that people onboard the Enterprise would be horrified of the Kaelon ritual of Resolution.

That’s certainly the case for Lwaxana Troi, who is perhaps the character here most full of life. The idea of reaching a specific age and just giving up is blasphemous to someone like Troi, and now, at the precise time she’s found someone she may want to spend her life with, that man is going to leave his life behind. Of course, to Dr. Timicin, that’s not what this means to him. I think one of the most rewarding things “Half a Life” does is show us that this truly is a different culture, that they don’t look at life as we do, and that it is not so easy to claim that one cultural belief is superior to another. I credit part of that with David Stiers, who portrayed Timicin with a gorgeous subtlety, which allowed us to understand the severity of the issue. Through him, we’re able to get a sense for how much he and his people view the Resolution as a beautiful ceremony, one that affirms life, not denies it.

Unfortunately, Timicin’s interaction with Troi begins to – in Dara’s words – poison his certainty. Does he have life to offer beyond sixty? If his work to save his planet’s sun could be finished with his assistance, doesn’t that validate his existence? Or is he merely being selfish? I honestly thought he’d maintain his asylum onboard the Enterprise, but the appearance of his daughter complicated that immensely. Like, could any of us deal with their child telling them that they’re ASHAMED of us for abandoning our culture?

There’s no easy answer to any of the questions raised by “Half a Life,” and I don’t think the show should have come down on either side of the issue. I found this to be more challenging (and satisfying) because the writers left this up to us. It’s a devastating episode, one that gave Lwaxana Troi depth as much as it hurt us. It’s simply a good story, and I think it was handled as well as it could have been.

The video for “Half a Life” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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