Written by Peter Allan Fields, Ted Roberts, David Carren, J. Larry Carroll, Joe Menosky, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau
Probably the most remarkable point I’ve taken from this episode is a new respect for Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. At the time of this episode, her husband, Gene Roddenberry (creator and executive producer of Star Trek) was dying from cancer. This episode was filmed in the spring of 1991 and aired on May 6, 1991. His death occurred on October 24th of that same year.
In Half a Life, Majel reprises her role as Lwaxana Troi, mother of the Enterprise‘s counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The times Lwaxana has appeared on the show before, her performance has been over-the-top and full of comic moments. Here, fans are treated to a somewhat more subdued performance.
The Enterprise has journeyed to the planet Kaelon II to aid a scientist, Dr. Timicin (portrayed by David Ogden Stiers) in his quest to save his planet’s dying sun. Timicin’s research has produced a possible solution to the problem, but he needs the help of the Enterprise
Lwaxana is known for chasing men, and soon becomes smitten with the more reserved Timicin. After his experiment fails and Timicin laments wanting to have more time to find a solution, Lwaxana learns he is returning to his planet to die.
Much as we are now faced with an aging baby-boomer population and have to deal with the issues they bring with them, at one time Kaelon II had the same issues. To solve the problem, it was decided that at the age of 60, citizens would take their own life. This is done at a ceremony called Resolution with family and friends around as a celebration of the person’s life.
Lwaxana finds the practice barbaric and wants Timicin to refuse to return for his Resolution. Bolstered by her love and the fact that he feels with a little bit more time he can come up with a working solution for his planet’s dying sun, Timicin wavers.
This is an excellent episode on two levels. On one, it looks at one possible solution to an aging population and shows the negative side to it. We have a man here who could still be an active contributor to society – and possibly save it from catastrophe – and yet he must take his life in order to do what is expected of him by that same society.
The other side is that it sends a message about how we judge other cultures’ practices. Lwaxana’s initial reaction to Timicin’s announcement that he is returning to the planet to die is the same as most of ours would be: she is outraged. However, as the episode went on, I found myself wondering what right do we have to judge those societies by our standards. Indeed, those same societies might find keeping people alive by machines or in pain just as barbaric.
Stiers gives a powerful, yet subdued performance as Timicin. This is probably the meatiest role I’ve seen him tackle since those moments on the television series M*A*S*H where he showed that there was more to Major Winchester than was shown to those around him in the camp. He makes us believe that a man who is the antithesis of Lwaxana can fall for her. His quiet thoughtfulness conveys to viewers that none of his decisions are taken lightly, and in the moments of his wavering, it is not simply a boyish crush on a woman that makes him reconsider.
The real gem here is Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, however. I’ve gained more respect for her as an actress with this episode, not just as Gene Roddenberry’s wife. Looking back now, it’s obvious she drew on the emotions of what she was going through with her husband at the time, and it buoys her into the finest performance I’ve ever seen from her. It had to be one of the hardest performances she ever had to give. Gone is the comic relief from Lwaxana, although at times in the episode she is as whimsical as ever. Majel makes us believe that both sides of Lwaxana’s personality are very believable.
The regular cast of the series is not given much to do, and that would probably be my only complaint. Although the performances by Barrett-Roddenberry and Stiers do a lot to make up for it, it’s still something glaring in the episode. The regular cast are supporting players; Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) helping Timicin with his experiment, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) playing diplomat when Timicin is exploring the possibility of not returning for his Resolution.
One scene that does stand out, however, is between Lwaxana and her daughter, Deanna, as she is coping with the decision Timicin reaches. Sirtis is subdued here, but for a change she is not portraying the embarrassed daughter of the effervescent Lwaxana. Instead, what viewers get is a truly touching moment between mother and daughter, further strengthening the relationship between the two.
Also of not here is the casting of Michelle Forbes as Timicin’s daughter, Dara. In the fifth season, Forbes will become a recurring character on the Enterprise, Ensign Ro.
While not giving a solution to the societal problems an aging population causes, Half a Life manages to take one possible solution and show its positive and negative ramifications without becoming preachy. It’s not something that’s easy to do, but this episode manages to pull it off very well.