Half a Life (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
|"Half a Life"|
|Star Trek: The Next Generation episode|
|Episode no.||Season 4
|Directed by||Les Landau|
|Teleplay by||Peter Allan Fields|
|Story by||Ted Roberts
Peter Allan Fields
|Original air date||May 6, 1991|
"Half a Life" is the 22nd episode of the fourth season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 96th episode overall. It was originally broadcast on May 6, 1991 in broadcast syndication. The episode was the first of the series to be written by Peter Allan Fields, who later joined the writing staff. Director Les Landau said that "Half a Life" was a morality play about "how society deals with the elderly".
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the crew of the Federation starship Enterprise. In this episode, Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett) falls in love with Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), a scientist who is participating in an experiment to test his theories of stellar ignition. Timicin hopes to use the technique to save his world's dying star, but the experiment fails. Although Lwaxana encourages Timicin to continue his research, the scientist reveals that he can't. It's time for him to undergo a ritual suicide invoked at the age of sixty to save children from the burden of a parent's aging.
In addition to Barrett and Stiers making guest appearances, the episode featured the first appearance of Michelle Forbes in the Star Trek franchise - she would later be cast as Ensign Ro Laren during season five. The cast praised the script's subject and the expansion of the Lwaxana character. Reviewers were positive about the performances of both Stiers and Barrett and their character's love story, as well as the changes made to Lwaxana compared to her earlier appearances in the series.
The U.S.S. Enterprise takes aboard Deanna Troi's (Marina Sirtis) eccentric mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) and Dr. Timicin (David Ogden Stiers) of Kaelon II. Timicin has been brought aboard to conduct an experiment which he hopes will save his threatened home planet. The lives of the people of Kaelon II are in jeopardy as the sun their planet orbits is in a state of near-collapse. The Federation has enlisted the Enterprise to take Timicin to a sun in a similar state of decay to conduct experiments which may yield a method for saving the Kaelon system from destruction, a peril which will certainly occur if its sun fails.
Upon arrival at their destination, the crew assists Timicin in modifying a photon torpedo to be fired into the proxy sun in the hopes that it will repair the damaged star and prove that the technique can be safely applied to the Kaelon sun. The torpedo is fired and, although the experiment seems initially to rectify the damage, the effect is short-lived and the experiment is declared a failure. The Enterprise returns to Kaelon II and Timicin is crushed. After some questioning by Lwaxana, Timicin reveals that experiment's failure is not the only fact troubling him. Indeed, Timicin is about to turn 60, and on Kaelon II, everyone who reaches the age of 60 kills him or herself in what is known to their people as "the Resolution," a means of ridding their culture of the need to care for the elderly. Lwaxana is outraged by this fact, and when Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) makes it clear that he will not interfere in the planet's local affairs, Lwaxana tries to beam herself down to the planet to halt the process. When she is thwarted, she goes into hysterics until Deanna comforts her.
After Lwaxana and Timicin end up spending an evening together, he tries to explain the custom of the Resolution to her, stating that they should never expect to be repaid for the care they show their children, and a fixed age had to be selected because just randomly choosing a time to die would be heartless. However, she still considers the custom barbaric, and refuses to accept their tradition, listing an example in Betazed history of a woman who went against the tradition of wearing a ridiculous wig and changed their civilization for the better. When Timicin's analysis of the failed test turns up some promising options, he suddenly realizes that no one else has the knowledge to carry on his work to save his world, and requests asylum on the Enterprise.
B'Tardat (Terrence E. McNally), the Science Minister on Kaelon II, is outraged, and sends up two warships to ensure that the Enterprise does not leave the system with Timicin on board. As Picard orders the bridge crew to analyze the offensive capabilities of the Kaelonian ships, Timicin realizes that his situation is not as simple as he had hoped, for the planet below will not accept any further reports from him. Indeed, he's informed that even if he finds a solution they will not accept it. The final straw comes when his daughter Dara (Michelle Forbes) beams on board to insist that he return. She cannot bear the thought, she says, of him being laid to rest anywhere but next to her mother and, although she loves him, she is ashamed of him. Timicin realizes that he is not the man to forge a cultural revolution, and agrees to return to Kaelon II. Lwaxana, despite her disagreement, realizes that Timicin's decision is his to make and, as it is the custom for loved ones to be present at the Resolution, beams down with him to be at his side as he dies.
"Half a Life" was the first Star Trek credit for writer Peter Allan Fields, who would later scribe "The Inner Light" before becoming a staff writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation during season five. He watched the previous two Lwaxana Troi episodes, "Haven" and "Manhunt", some time prior to writing the script but didn't use them as reference except to see what level of privilege Lwaxana had. He remarked that "I realized that you give her as much as they'll let her have. She'll take it."
Marina Sirtis, who played Lwaxana's daughter Deanna Troi on the show thought that "Half a Life" showed a different side of her character's mother compared to earlier episodes. She also thought that the interactions that Lwaxana had in this episode broadened the character considerably as previously when she appeared, those episodes had been primarily Deanna/Lwaxana-centric. Sirtis felt that the plot of the episode was similar to a morality play. Likewise, director Les Landau believed that the episode was similar to those morality play-style plots that franchise creator Gene Roddenberry had included in Star Trek: The Original Series. He said that "It deals with the whole issue of growing old and how society deals with the elderly and, in my mind, it was one of the most pertinent story-lines I have done."
The episode guest starred David Ogden Stiers, best known for his appearances as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III across six years of the American television series M*A*S*H. He was a "major fan" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so when the producers asked him if he would be interested in appearing in an upcoming episode, he was enthusiastic. This proposal became his role in "Half a Life". During the production, he met the series producer Gene Roddenberry on set - someone that Stiers described as "a grand old man - not in his behaviour but in people's deference to him". He subsequently visited Roddenberry's house over the weekend as the production was split across two weeks, so that he could practice scenes with Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett.
Stiers praised the story in "Half a Life", saying "It was an emotionally involved piece. The script quite responsibly argued both sides [of the suicide] issue and left the viewer to determine whether such a practice is acceptable or not... That episode was more powerful than simply a discussion." In addition to Stiers, the episode was the first appearance of Michelle Forbes in The Next Generation, who would later return as Ensign Ro Laren as a recurring character from season five onwards. Her performance in "Half a Life" was directly linked to her later casting in that larger role.
Reception and home media release
"Half a Life" was first broadcast within the United States on May 6, 1991 in broadcast syndication. Keith DeCandido, whilst reviewing the episode for Tor.com, praised the performance of Stiers, saying that the actor gave "a noble, nuanced performance as Timicin." He also praised the episode itself, saying that it was the first time that Lwaxana Troi had been used in a way that doesn't "induce cringing, mainly because it treats her as a character rather than a caricature, without losing any of what made the character what she was in her previous three appearances." He said that it was one of the best episodes to feature a Prime Directive debate, and endorsed the writing idea not to take sides. He summed up "Half a Life", saying "This is a magnificent, tragic love story, one that takes a thin character and gives her depth, one that gives us a beautifully realized guest character in Timicin (casting Stiers was a masterstroke, as he always brings subtle nuance to his roles), and one that takes its issues seriously." He gave the episode a score of eight out of ten. He later said when summing up the season that the episode featured "one of the show's most tragic love stories."
James Van Hise and Hal Schuster praised the performance of Majel Barrett in their book The Unauthorized Trek: The Complete Next Generation, saying that she was "so good in this episode that one wonders why she tolerated having her character written as a cartoon before this." They went on to say that she was "capable of depth and feeling", and described the ending of the episode as "touching and disturbing" saying that the ritual suicide aspect was not part of the natural evolution of a society but opened up questions related to similar ideas such as the one-child policy in China.
Zack Handlen watched the episode for The A.V. Club, and said that Timicin served as an "excellent foil" for Lwaxana and made her "seem less ridiculous". The felt that the relationship between the two "has a believable core" even if it was "broad and arguably rushed". He summed up the episode, saying that "There are some powerful moments in 'Life,' and it's pleasant for once to see Lwaxana adding, rather than subtracting, from a storyline." He felt that the episode had a flaw in that "it pushes too hard to force Timicin into an untenable position, and in doing so, it turns some of its supporting players into villainous caricatures." But added that "the episode largely redeems itself by staying true to its main point: No matter how much time you have left, it's never enough."
The first home media release of "Half a Life" was on VHS cassette on July 23, 1996 in the United States and Canada. The episode was later included on the Star Trek: The Next Generation season four DVD box set, released in the United States on September 3, 2002. The first Blu Ray release was in the United Kingdom on July 29, 2013, followed by the United States on July 30.
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- DeCandido, Keith (May 25, 2012). "Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Fourth Season Overview". Tor.com. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
- Van Hise & Schuster (1995): p. 109
- Handlen, Zack (January 27, 2011). "Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Half A Life"/"The Host"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
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- Gross, Edward; Altman, Mark A. (1993). Captain's Logs: The Complete Trek Voyages. London: Boxtree. ISBN 978-1-85283-899-7.
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- Van Hise, James; Schuster, Hal (1995). The Unauthorized Trek: The Complete Next Generation. Pioneer Books. ISBN 978-1-55698-377-1.
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- Half a Life at StarTrek.com