"Oh! It's me, isn't it?"
May 31, 2017 11:39 AM   Subscribe

On the 25th anniversary of the episode's airing, the Nerdist sits down with screenwriter Morgan Gendel to discuss a pinnacle of Star Trek storytelling: "The Inner Light". Gizmodo also published a feature last year on the episode interviewing Gendel as well as some of the cast.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (53 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
:)
posted by Melismata at 11:42 AM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


* bursts into tears just reading the title *
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:51 AM on May 31, 2017 [26 favorites]


Somehow despite being a super TNG at the time and since, I've managed to miss this one entirely. I guess in recent years I've avoided because how can it ever live up to 25 years of hype? It's like there's some deep fear in me that I won't like it and it's best not to know that about myself. But hey, maybe this is the time to find out.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


Years ago there was some TOS/TNG documentary that was about this big prop auction at Chrystie's. They had footage of the Chrystie's staff going through all the bins and boxes and stuff, getting the auction ready, or footage of the fans at the auction bidding on stuff, and every so often someone would pull something out of a box and say "oh, I know what this is!" and then that would be the chance to spin off into an interview with a cast member about the episode it was in.

The Ressikan flute was one of the things that they did this with - it opened with someone at Chrystie's pulling the flute out of a box and saying "oh, I know what this is..." And then there was a whole series of cuts back and forth, between Patrick Stewart humming the tune from the episode interspersed with tons of fans all gushing "omigod THAT FLUTE!" or "I would KILL to get that flute" or "that was my FAVORITE EPISODE, I need that flute..." ending on a clip of Patrick Stewart finishing his humming the tune. Then he chuckled and said "It's not real, you know. It doesn't work."

It still went in auction for something like $48K.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2017 [18 favorites]


I guess in recent years I've avoided because how can it ever live up to 25 years of hype?
Don't worry, it still holds up as not just one of the best Trek episodes, but I would argue one of the best TV program episodes, period.
posted by xedrik at 12:00 PM on May 31, 2017 [23 favorites]


There are FOUR inner lights..
posted by k5.user at 12:02 PM on May 31, 2017 [19 favorites]


Fifty-five years. Not bad, Captain Picard. You kinda wasted your thirties though with that whole birdwatching phase.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:04 PM on May 31, 2017 [7 favorites]


Gendel eventually turned his proposed episode into a fan-fiction graphic novel.

Anybody know if this is available for viewing?
posted by Lexica at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


Somehow despite being a super TNG at the time and since, I've managed to miss this one entirely. I guess in recent years I've avoided because how can it ever live up to 25 years of hype? It's like there's some deep fear in me that I won't like it and it's best not to know that about myself. But hey, maybe this is the time to find out.

I'm not often jealous of people, but I am jealous of you for getting to experience "The Inner Light" for the first time.
posted by Automocar at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2017 [15 favorites]


Ok well I'm going to throw a little shade based on my recollection of my feelings when watching it, namely, if you can build a damn probe that's so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why can't you build spaceships (an existing tech, the one that got you to your colony originally) and get off your doomed world?

It's a good episode thanks to Patrick Stewart acting the shit out of it, but it made me very grumpy at the time.
posted by emjaybee at 12:19 PM on May 31, 2017 [6 favorites]


emjaybee - I feel the same way about Krypton and their ability to jail people off planet.
posted by idb at 12:22 PM on May 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


And also the flip side of this heartwarming piece was on DS9 when O'Brien had to experience a fake lifetime of imprisonment, starvation and heartbreak! Count on DS9 to take things you loved on ST:NG and turn them inside out and make 'em a nightmare.
posted by emjaybee at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2017 [29 favorites]


It wasn't a real flute.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:25 PM on May 31, 2017


The depth of feeling this brought me when I first saw it was incredible. It is a masterpiece of "what if" storytelling. I'm sorry the sequel never got made, as I wondered at the time what the people in his dream life would do if they encountered him for real.

Stewart's performance was amazing. And yes, I did cry at the end . . . .
posted by birdhaus at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


I feel like I finally need to come out with my less than exuberant appraisal of "The Inner Light". My favourite part of TNG was always the competence porn; the respect, professionalism, and teamwork of the crew, and their ability to solve problems sometimes without even being able to coordinate amongst each other because they know that they can rely on everyone else being super crafty and 100%. I know it's not exactly the best episode, but "Disaster" is still kind of my favourite episode of TNG.

I think "The Inner Light" is a great episode of sci-fi, but its doesn't really communicate (for me) what makes Star Trek so great.
posted by Alex404 at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2017 [9 favorites]


Oh so great. Also see the Adventure Time homage, "Puhoy", where Finn lives out a human lifetime in a world inside a pillow fort (in turn, both are an homage to the 9th C. Daoist story "A World Inside a Pillow"). Jonathan Frakes voiced Old Finn in the Adventure Time episode. Beautiful and moving.
posted by PandaMomentum at 12:35 PM on May 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


emjaybee: "And also the flip side of this heartwarming piece was on DS9 when O'Brien had to experience a fake lifetime of imprisonment, starvation and heartbreak!"

My wife and i had a long discussion about that episode. Never actually connected the two before, but it makes sense.

Frankly, while the TNG episode was a well done episode of TV, I found the DS9 version more thought provoking. How did they develop that simulation? How common was this (recall everyone on the station treated O'Brien as though he went through all the years in prison)? How did they come up with the specific trails O'Brien went through? Was it torture? Was is really punishment if he really walks away five minutes later?

(For the last point: O'Brien got the decades of imprisonment, but only he did suffer. His daughter still grew up with her dad, etc.)

Count on DS9 to take things you loved on ST:NG and turn them inside out and make 'em a nightmare.

And still be awesome and thought-provoking.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:36 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


As only an enthusiast of the show and not an expert, does Picard ever record his experiences?

It seems like a pretty big risk to embed your society's culture into one person in the hopes that the person, you know, lets other people know about it.
posted by Phreesh at 12:37 PM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


I never got into Star Trek: TNG or the other Star Trek series (nothing against it whatsoever and TNG is on my to-watch list just didn't make time for it) but this is one of the few episodes I have seen front to back. I don't have much to contribute but I did like it, although I get hives whenever someone isn't believed when they tell the truth. At least in this case the people at least were good sports about it and treated it like a quirk rather than with menace.

Farscape had their own take on character(s) living out their lives. Looks like this episode.
posted by Green With You at 12:44 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Ok well I'm going to throw a little shade based on my recollection of my feelings when watching it, namely, if you can build a damn probe that's so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why can't you build spaceships (an existing tech, the one that got you to your colony originally) and get off your doomed world?

I don't think there's anything in the episode to suggest that the planet is a colony. Apart from the beam that sends the memories into Picard, the crew of the Enterprise describe the probe as extremely primitive.
posted by justkevin at 12:51 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


according to The Last Temptation of Christ, they had fake lifetime technology as early as 33 AD
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:53 PM on May 31, 2017 [5 favorites]


This episode and "Chain of Command" were the two most emotional episodes for me. That they both showcased Patrick Stewart's acting is no coincidence.
posted by tommasz at 12:55 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


I remember stumbling upon this episode last year as my wife and I were watching STTNG on netflix. We were in a comfy two episodes per night routine, but we had to take a few minutes break in between episodes to hold each other and cry.
posted by sleeping bear at 1:00 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


Of all the wonderful moments in that episode, the one I find the most touching is when Meribor confronts her father with what she has realized, knowing that he knows it too:

Meribor: You've taught me to pursue the truth, no matter how painful it is. It's too late to back off now. This planet is dying.
Picard/Kamin: Perhaps I should have filled your head with trivial concerns. Games and toys and clothes.
Meribor: I don't think you mean that.
Picard/Kamin: ... No, I don't.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:01 PM on May 31, 2017 [9 favorites]


Ok well I'm going to throw a little shade based on my recollection of my feelings when watching it, namely, if you can build a damn probe that's so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why can't you build spaceships (an existing tech, the one that got you to your colony originally) and get off your doomed world?

Was the planet a colony? I don't remember that being the case, but it's been a while; I do recall that they explicitly call out only having recently been able to put satellites in orbit -- the society has neither the technology nor the infrastructure to put people in orbit, yet. Their research led them down other roads.

And the bigger issue -- as the episode again explicitly says -- is that the planet's leadership actively suppressed research and speculation into whether evacuation was needed, for fear of precipitating a crisis; and that by the time they realized evacuation might be warranted, evacuating the entire planet's population was a logistical impossibility.

One of the reasons the story works so well is that it is presented as a very, er, human tragedy: that the disaster was foreseen, and was -- perhaps, maybe (but perhaps not) -- preventable, but that fear and short-term prevailed. It's a tragedy not only of circumstances, but of psychology; of inaction on the part of society as much as action on the part of the environment.

Why can't they build a starship and leave? Because to do so would mean they would have to confront the fullness of life's fragility; far easier, in the moment, to turn a blind eye and hope for the best.
posted by cjelli at 1:02 PM on May 31, 2017 [16 favorites]


A theme that is even more relevant today than twenty-five years ago.
posted by tavella at 1:04 PM on May 31, 2017 [15 favorites]


So good! More than any other episode, this one makes me wish they had tried harder for character continuity between episodes. Other than the few episodes it takes Picard to get over his having been assimilated into the Borg (and an occasional reference to it here and there), and maybe the developing relationship with Q, for the most part it seems like the characters reset between episodes. I wanted to see more about how this experience changed Picard, cause it really seems like it should have made an irrevocable shift in him. I guess I can see why it makes sense to do a bit a reset between each episode, but i do wish this episode had not been forgotten within the series so quickly.
posted by cubby at 1:06 PM on May 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


As only an enthusiast of the show and not an expert, does Picard ever record his experiences?

It's implied at the end of the episode, while he's talking to RIker, that he's told everything. He also remembers how to play the flute.

IIRC, he also repeats a quote or two in Star Trek Generations. *goes to Star Trek wiki* ah, here it is.
Kamin pleads with Meribor to "make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again." Picard would later echo those words to Commander Riker following the destruction of the USS Enterprise-D in Star Trek Generations.
posted by Melismata at 1:13 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Picard was exactly the sort of guy who would beat cancer and then go back to working at the carpet store.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2017 [7 favorites]


Just re-watched the episode on Netflix. The planet isn't a colony. The possibility of evacuation is discussed and dismissed since there's no where to go. They apparently don't have warp technology and the sun going nova wiped out all life in the star system.
posted by justkevin at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2017 [5 favorites]


Gendel eventually turned his proposed episode into a fan-fiction graphic novel.

Anybody know if this is available for viewing?
posted by Lexica at 12:10 PM on May 31 [+] [!]


Looks like Gendel no longer has the original site so off to the Wayback Machine - Some of the images seem to be broken unfortunately: The Outer Light
posted by Seboshin at 1:20 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


It seems like a pretty big risk to embed your society's culture into one person in the hopes that the person, you know, lets other people know about it.

Huh. It's been awhile since my last rewatch so maybe the satellite blows up or something, but I always assumed that after the episode, the satellite would keep beaming its memories to one crewmember of every ship that passes by.
posted by muddgirl at 1:22 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


I also love the competence porn aspect of ST:TNG, but I also love the exploration of "humanity" foiled against alien civilizations, culture clashes within the crew, etc. And I think this episode does an amazing job of exploring that particular part of it - Star Trek always has a very unique take on this particular aspect of sci-fi, and I loved this.

Also the flute tune is my ring tone.
posted by olinerd at 1:26 PM on May 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also the flute tune is my ring tone.

Also IIRC, someone composed an entire symphony based on the flute tune. :)
posted by Melismata at 1:41 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


Huh. It's been awhile since my last rewatch so maybe the satellite blows up or something, but I always assumed that after the episode, the satellite would keep beaming its memories to one crewmember of every ship that passes by.

Riker has it brought aboard for further study. That's how Picard gets the real flute -- it was onboard the probe.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:43 PM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


You can get the Orchestral Suite from Inner Light at Amazon. I love it so.
posted by Silverstone at 1:58 PM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


The Orchestral Suite is also available from Apple.
posted by Silverstone at 2:01 PM on May 31, 2017


Y'know Picard would've needed like ten years of therapy after that, and I mean real therapy, not Troi therapy
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:15 PM on May 31, 2017 [11 favorites]


Obviously the story is great, but the chemistry between Stewart and the actress that played his wife is what really makes The Inner Light transcendent to me. Their marriage and their love is so resonant it blows me away every time. It feels so authentic that who honestly cares about the sci-fi plausibility...
posted by dry white toast at 3:49 PM on May 31, 2017 [6 favorites]


I found the Chrystie's Star Trek Auction clip I was talking about earlier.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 PM on May 31, 2017


I just re-watched this on Netflix. I didn't not cry.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:23 PM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


While we're at it, here's the YouTube video of the orchestral suite. The conductor's wearing a Starfleet admiral's uniform!
posted by chrominance at 5:36 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


if you can build a damn probe that's so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why can't you build spaceships

I think the effort of moving billions of people off a planet is *several* orders of magnitude greater than building a single probe. As it was, it took them the majority of the lifetime of Kamin's adult daughter to understand the problem and come up with a response that consisted of a single rocket. I would imagine it would take an entire generation or two of the entire planet doing nothing but building ships to get everyone off world. Assuming they could develop that technology.

Consider where we are: we have satellites and spaceships and we've sent stuff out of the solar system--so, a higher level of tech than Kamin's planet was shown to have. If we found out today we needed to get everyone off the planet, how long would it take? 200? 300 years? And where would we even go?
posted by danny the boy at 6:15 PM on May 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


Gazorra TNG edit 24
posted by anarch at 6:18 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also Gendel lamenting that he wasn't able to write a sequel episode, really makes me glad for Michael Piller's influence on Trek (making him rewrite the damned thing 5 times until it was good). Gendel's brilliant idea was to freeze a bunch of their scientists, including Kamin's wife, so Picard could meet her? UGGGH.

Same scenario as George Lucas thinking the first three Star Wars movies were good because of him, and not despite him.
posted by danny the boy at 6:19 PM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think "The Inner Light" is a great episode of sci-fi, but its doesn't really communicate (for me) what makes Star Trek so great.

Oh, I can't agree at all.

This is a story about a people who send a single ship, all they can do, to tell... someone, anyone... "We are all dead, and we do not know who you are, but we love you."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:14 PM on May 31, 2017 [18 favorites]


Building a probe is not the hard part, building a mind- control device that Starfleet was unable to block/understand is. We have not reached that tech level. I know I'm beanplating, it's ST and Magic Science handwaving happens, though.
posted by emjaybee at 9:07 PM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


if you can build a damn probe that's so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why can't you build spaceships (an existing tech, the one that got you to your colony originally) and get off your doomed world?
More obvious is the question, if you can build a probe so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why wouldn't you also create a massive library with all the scientific knowledge, artwork, music, and personal records of your civilization and send it off in the same vessel?

Remembering an entire planet only through the one boring song Picard learned to play on his toy flute and a hand full of half-remembered personal experiences is a pretty disappointing end to a civilization. When Picard dies, all we'll have are a hand full of log entries and some of the second-hand things he said to his colleagues. Given how far the Earth today is from building and launching such a probe, including a copy of wikipedia's database seems like a no-brainer. Even Earth probes from the 60s came with a few Bach tracks.

Adding eight seconds of dialogue in which data says, "We're received 3 petabytes of data from the probe, as well as this goofy flute" would have made the whole thing seem far more reasonable. I can forgive TNG for most things: using hand-turned brass instruments to convince your friends to build an interstellar alien mind-control space probe is fine. Reatedly deploying the shittiest age makeup ever to appear on broadcast television get a pass. But not bothering to include any actual information on the probe is one step too far.

Also, I really want to see the version of this episode in which Kurn or Sela get hit with the probe and have to deal with a lifetime on the dead planet. That's be some great Trek.
posted by eotvos at 9:51 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


My biggest question was more about the ethic of packaging a life long intimate relationship with this woman Eline and through that relationship eventually a family as a tie in to the world for whoever happened to randomly stumble upon the device. Sure, they're dead and all, so in that sense what would it matter to them, but it nonetheless struck me as a creepy from their end and invasive and controlling on the side of the recipient of their history. It's effective I guess, but that might not be enough to make the revelation I've been living a lie, even if only for a half hour of "real time", seem quite so benign.

Then again, they did provide free flute training along with the package, so maybe the trade off was worth it after all.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


More obvious is the question, if you can build a probe so sophisticated it can make people experience a fake lifetime, why wouldn't you also create a massive library with all the scientific knowledge, artwork, music, and personal records of your civilization and send it off in the same vessel?

Aliens gonna alien?

Putting a memory of a specific person's life in the probe isn't what I would do, were I building a probe, but I'm also a human from a civilization that has invented basic rocketry but has not yet invented wacky memory-transference devices; one of the reasons I find the story affecting is precisely because it's, from our perspective, an odd approach -- an alien one. But also, in the ways the memory unfolds, in the way Picard lives his other life, a relatable one -- one worth seeking out. One that justifies spending so much time and energy in search of new life and new civilizations.
posted by cjelli at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


"Put your shoes away."

Gets me Every. Single. Time.
posted by zooropa at 11:12 AM on June 1, 2017


Just so I don't come across as too much a gloomy gus, only wanting to see the inner dark, I'll add that one of the reasons why the episode does work so well is that it eseentially violates the necessary demands of a continuing series with a set cast of characters.

Picard's hijacking by the beacon sets up the expectation Picard will realize his plight, confront the aliens, solve whatever issue is presented, and return to the Enterprise. Nothing else "makes sense" in general show terms as he is the star of the show so must resume his place for the show to go on. That he solves his problem is the basic working conceit the show operates from, the crew of the Enterprise meet and resolve issues they are confronted with every episode. That's how the series works.

Here though none of that happens. Picard doesn't realize his plight and effect a solution or escape and the issue facing him is not solved. He and everyone else on the planet die in the end. This sneaks up on the viewer as they await Picard's realization of himself and predicament, while we wait, the story of the village unfolds, first removing suspicion of hostility, moving the viewer to a solve the plight of the town concern, and then in removing the feeling of struggle as "Picard" doesn't challenge his place in this world. The episode does this while providing the suggestion the viewers expectations will be met, by having Picard first reject his new identity, continue to study the stars as if that might be a subterfuge he's engaged in to fool the villagers or, later, something that might cause a realization of who he really is as we know him to be and so on.

But since those suggestions aren't fulfilled, the viewer is left waiting for something to happen that will not occur, all the while, through our connection to Picard, growing more interested in the characters he is becoming increasingly connected to and involved with. The viewer's experience of the show then aligns with the story being told, where, like Picard, the viewer resists, adapts, and through defeat of expectation and uncertainty over where that might lead, eventually succumbs to a new paradigm over the story of the village and waits with Picard for some clarity in the end. It's in the anticipation of the viewer's response and slow breaking down of their expectation or resistance that allows the viewer to accept the premise and more deeply feel the ending as both natural and sad or bittersweet. It relies on our affection developed over the run of the show for Picard as a kind of proxy for developing feelings for these villagers in less than an hour, by making Him one of them and simultaneously still the captain we've come to know.

It really is a fine episode of serial television, even if thinking about some of the detail does occasionally give me a little bit of a twinge.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:29 PM on June 1, 2017 [13 favorites]


More than any other episode, this one makes me wish they had tried harder for character continuity between episodes.

Picard does play a duet with Nella Daren in "Lessons" using the Ressikan flute that he's played "a long time".
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:01 AM on June 4, 2017


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