Written by D.C. Fontana, Michael Halperin, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Cliff Bole
This extremely well-written Star Trek: The Next Generation first-season episode really made me pause and think about so much.
Lonely Among Us starts out in one direction as the Enterprise is transporting two warring alien species to mediate their dispute at a place known as Parliament. The trip is eventful enough trying to keep the representatives apart when the Enterprise encounters an energy cloud.
After making a close sensor sweep of the energy cloud, a strange force seems to travel though various members of the crew. Strange occurrences also begin to take place, such as the warp drive deciding to stop working for no apparent reason.
Once the alien force takes hold of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), he orders the Enterprise to return to the coordinates of the energy cloud. The crew helplessly stands by and watches as they know their Captain is not behaving normally, but by regulation he has done nothing that would put the ship in danger.
What makes the episode so intriguing is the alien/Picard’s desire to live as a pure energy being. What he describes essentially sounds like taking one’s soul out of the body and living in the universe outside of that.
Is this death? The body is gone, but the soul in the form of pure energy lives on? What a thought-provoking concept. It intrigued me enough that I thought about this story for days after watching it again. Could our soul just be this sort of energy with the ability to inhabit our bodies for a period of time? Is “death” an existence like this pure energy? We are told heaven is just so different from what we know that it cannot be described to us. Could it be living as an energy being – a form we cannot relate to living as humans?
In the end, Picard’s energy returns to the ship and the body is re-created using the pattern logged in the transporter. Conveniently, of course, this also renders him unable to recall anything that happened to him once he transported off the ship.
The profoundness of the writing in this episode is extraordinary for the first season episodes. The depth with which the spiritual question is asked is tremendous. Unfortunately, what makes this episode not work to its potential is the schizophrenic nature of the episode itself. The warring aliens attempt to provide comedy, yet it seems more like it is an entirely different episode going on within the other one. Even Picard’s description – while under the influence of the alien – of what life is like as an energy being must be cut short for the timing of the episode. I would’ve liked to have heard more of that and less about the aliens.
The crew’s seeming impotence in the face of their Captain’s possession by the alien also seemed ridiculous. We can see that the Captain is not rational – he continuously talks about being “too busy” to respond to the crew’s requests that he go for medical and psychiatric evaluations. All he seemed to do during this time he was “too busy” was stare out the ship’s porthole in his ready room and sit at his desk with his feet up. One time when he declares himself “too busy” he then stretches back in his chair and puts his feet up. It seemed as if he was daring the crew to challenge him.
Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as his First Officer and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) should have removed him from command before he had the chance to put the ship in danger. Instead, they chose a wait-and-see attitude. If I were Picard once I returned to the Enterprise, I’d send every last one of them back to Starfleet Academy to take their Officers’ Training over again.
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