Written by Jack B. Sowards
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
This episode starts out so good. We get to see the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) and Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) in the holodeck together. Worf has invited Riker to enjoy his daily “Klingon calisthenics”. It is a sort of ritual and this gives the viewer the feeling that we are about to see a great episode about Klingons.
Unfortunately, it’s all a lie.
The Enterprise encounters a mysterious hole in space. It is some sort of void without matter or energy of any kind. As they attempt to investigate further it engulfs them. Try as they may, there seems to be no way out.
When this entity reveals itself to be an intelligent life form which calls itself Nagilum, it decides that it will use the Enterprise to help it learn more about death. To this end, he informs them that his experiment will only cost Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) about half of his crew.
Instead of responding as a Starfleet Captain, Picard takes this on almost as two boys quarreling over a bag of gumballs on the playground. When confronted with the bully demanding half of his gumballs, Picard decides the best way to handle it is to destroy all of them. Together he and Riker engage the auto-destruct for twenty minutes later.
Since you know that there are five more full seasons and almost all of this second season left to the series, it’s not a spoiler to say the Enterprise does not auto-destruct. Nagilum decides he’s learned enough about death and lets them go.
The episode suffers from a lack of a coherent and meaningful story. Characters like Picard do not seem to be behaving in the manner in which we’ve been led to believe a Starfleet Captain in general – or he in particular – would behave. They themselves seem to recognize the weakness in the script, for while they start off with performances which seem to be struggling against the script, near the end it seems almost lackluster.
I can’t fault the actors for that. They must have been thinking by that time that if this was the quality of scripts they were going to get, all of their careers were doomed.
There is so much more that could have been delved into during the time that the auto-destruct is engaged, but Jack B. Sowards who wrote the episode misses the boat entirely on what could have made it a strong episode. More focus on the Entrprise crew rather than the boring time they spend trying to free themselves from the black void would have been a start.
That’s right, I called a Star Trek episode boring. And the majority of this episode is. The Nagilum character seems to be a re-tread of Armus from Skin of Evil where Tasha Yar was killed off. In this case we see Haskell – the “red shirt of the week” – killed off.
So if you’re checking out Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time and you happen to see this episode come up on the screen, don’t judge the rest of the series by it, please.
(Note: The “red shirt of the week” phenomenon was originated in the original Star Trek series where you could be sure that the new guy in the red shirt was going to hear the immortal words “He’s dead, Jim”)