Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Half a Life"

**

Air date: 5/6/1991
Teleplay by Peter Allan Fields
Story by Ted Roberts and Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

What is it about the Trois that, given the starring spotlight, ultimately make me want to crawl under my kitchen table and hide? Whether it's "The Child" or "Manhunt" or "Menage a Troi" or "The Loss" — they just never seem to work. Bad stories? Bad characterization? My own anti-Troi bias that I don't want to admit? Maybe a little of all of it? I'm not sure, but good intentions misfire here.

In "Half a Life," we have Lwaxana Troi aboard the ship (rarely a good sign, although this episode ultimately tries to utilize her better than most) at the same time as Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), a scientist about to test an experimental procedure on a dying star that will hopefully allow his people to save their own dying sun. Lwaxana and Timicin meet and fall instantly in love, pursuant to every unrealistic timeline in every love story in every TV show and movie. This November-November romance isn't bad, but not compelling either. But then the other shoe drops: Timicin, in accordance with his people's longstanding culture, is scheduled to kill himself on his 60th birthday, mere days away.

To me, the episode was basically unsalvageable once Lwaxana came to her daughter wailing ("wailing" isn't a word I have reason to use very often) over the fact that Timicin must die "JUST BECAUSE HE'S SIXTY!" There's drama, and then there's melodrama. And then there's nails on a chalkboard. Lwaxana Troi wailing is maybe two steps beyond the chalkboard. I'm being mean, but when you have a story based on arbitrary alien customs, performances matter.

What can I say? Lwaxana is right. (Her message is fine, even if I still want to shoot the messenger.) Far be it for me to judge a fictional belief, but Timicin's society's custom is hopelessly silly, and based on all kinds of nonsensical logic and assumptions about the dignity of death in the face of aging, and avoiding getting so old you're soiling yourself, or whatever. The allegorical point here, somewhat rendered useless by stretching the story past the absurd point, seems to hint at our own society's general disregard for the elderly. But just as "The Loss" was an ineffective allegory for disability, "Half a Life" is a failed allegory for getting old. Do we blame the Trois? Well, maybe I shouldn't be that unfair.

Previous episode: The Drumhead
Next episode: The Host

Season Index

21 comments on this review

Jake - Fri, Mar 21, 2008 - 11:00am (USA Central)
I actually enjoyed "Half a Life." That episode(and "Dark Page") kept Lwaxana from becoming as bad as Neelix or Jar Jar. It showed her to be, shall we say, a more human person as she found happiness with a kind man who actually returned her affections, only to be held back by his own society's obligations(we can call those obligations 'silly,' but, hey, there are some here on Earth that I find silly, too).
"Qpid" was another fun episode. Granted, there was no suspense, per se(like Q would allow Picard & co. to die in a fantasy he created), but it was witty, and how could you NOT love Worf's classic "I am not a merry man."
I actually cherred when Satie broke down at the end of "The Drumhead." I thought it worked because Picard referenced her father, so the fact that it was a personal nerve that set her off made sense to me.
Eduardo - Sun, Mar 23, 2008 - 3:09pm (USA Central)
I never really understood the overwhelming hatred towards Lwaxana.

I never had a problem with either the character, or Majel Barrett's interpretation of the character. Once you accept what she represents, I think she can be pleasant to a certain degree. And when she's not, it always pays off to notice the crew's annoyed reaction to her.

She was never my favorite, but I've seen worse characters on Voyager.

Half a Life was actually one of my favorite episodes that season. It dealt with the issue through Timicin's internal conflict as well as Lwaxana's own guilt and struggle. Despite the cornball romance being grown within 2 minutes, I actually enjoyed the chemistry between both actors.

As for Wesley, he was never the strongest character, but his best moments were the ones Wil Wheaton played against Patrick. Picard was as close to a father figure as anyone could get.

Final Mission was also a favorite of mine, which would eventually get a stunning direct sequel through The First Duty. I look forward to that particular review.

On the other hand, I would have been harsher on both The Loss and Suddenly Human.

As a whole, I actually enjoyed this season a lot more than the third. It felt a bit more consistent and entertaining.
Markus - Sat, Oct 17, 2009 - 8:50am (USA Central)
In "Half a Life" I couldn't stop laughing, when directly in the beginning Deanna says to the log "my mother is on board" and then picard looks carefully around before leaving the turbolift. great!
Tim - Thu, May 24, 2012 - 3:15pm (USA Central)
The weeping scene was somewhat over the top! This episode left me feeling a little glum after. Normally the message at the end is quite uplifting and I expected them to make inroads into changing the custom, but no, it just showed that resistance is futile, and one must surrender to such customs. Qpid was much more uplifting!
Jess - Sat, Mar 2, 2013 - 1:45am (USA Central)
And no one is mentioning the novelty of having Winchester from M*A*S*H* playing a Star Trek alien?
Grumpy - Sat, Mar 2, 2013 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
Maybe after 7 years of watching the original Father Mulcahy on DS9, a one-off guest shot isn't as exciting.

(And the original Hot Lips in "Where No Man..." and the original Painless as the Klingon Ambassador, etc.)
mike - Wed, Mar 6, 2013 - 12:15am (USA Central)
Jammer, you must be very young, otherwise you would recognized that is episode had a poignancy that middle agers understand--dignity in old age. Timicin and Luxwanna weren't in love. They just saw in each other a chance to not be lonely. When you're young you can have friends aplenty. But in later years they drift away until finally you are as Timicin glumly observed "the recipients of young people's patience"

The story wasn't terribly exciting but give it some credit for showing us Luxwanna can rise above being just comic relief. As soon as she's told Timicin must commit ritual suicide, she sobers up and behaves like anyone else who might be appauled by the idea of euthanasia. And that's the issue here. Star Trek is always tackling one social issue or another and this week it's euthanasia.

Whereas Luxwanna is usually self absorbed and silly in every episode that features her character, this time we find she can logically debate a serious issue. "ah, celebration of life," she mocks as she hears Timicin explain his society's ritual suicide. "What you really mean is you got rid of the problem by getting rid of the people". And you can't laugh it off because she's absolutely right.

Of course her over extended talking while weeping is a bit over the top but by the end the hour the gaudy wardrobe and shrill vocals are gone. She actually calls Picard properly by his rank in the last scene.

I'm glad the story ended realistically with Luxwanna gracefully accepting Timicin's decision to adhere to his culture's demands. Too many times we've seen our gallant Starfleet crew miraculously convert planetary cultures and leave orbit.

Hat's off as well to David Ogden Stiers who played an alien with a very human dilemma. The fact that he didn't have awesome powers or could walk through walls kept his character easy to attach to the euthanasia issue.
T'Paul - Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - 9:35am (USA Central)
I tend to agree with the pro-Lwaxana camp here... it was a good performance in character with her previous development.

And this episode was far more coherent and dare I say it meaningful than other episodes in this season such as Night Terrors and and Identity Crisis that are throw away one off techno-babble mysteries.

In fact the poor rating of this episode surprises me as a whole given how Jammer generally defends character-based stories and to me tends to suggest a bit of an anti-Lwaxana bias.

I also thought the "alien of the week" was excellently played, and even if the message was somewhat laboured, it wasn't a bad discussion to have
Dom - Thu, Jun 13, 2013 - 10:07pm (USA Central)
I don't think this episode was about disability. Rather, I thought it was about intergenerational conflict. When people live longer, is it fair to society that they also consume resources and the young don't have as many opportunities. We're facing this problem right now. Yes, enforced suicide is a silly solution, but guess what - it's not far off from what might happen. What if government cuts medical care for the elderly? What if we stop research into anti-aging technology precisely so we don't run into these sorts of problems? This is the type of episode that for me at least still makes TNG relevant today.
mephyve - Sat, Jun 22, 2013 - 7:02pm (USA Central)
Half a life was just plain stupid. Euthenasia would have made it more palatable. Accepted suicide? Cmon. Even a show like Dinosaurs was smart enough to come to a logical and objective conclusion on this subject. As much as I would have loved to see Earl hurl his mother in law off a mountain and into the tar pit, Robbie actually made sense out of the situation.
Half a Life's stupid premise doomed it ftom the get go.
William B - Mon, Jul 8, 2013 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
While I like the movie, my "M*A*S*H" is the TV show and so I do love having David Ogden Stiers in the episode more than the other examples listed by Grumpy (well, I mean, I love Rene Auberjonois as Odo more than Stiers as Timincin obviously, but I don't really associate Auberjonois that much with M*A*S*H; he had a bigger role in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" anyway in the Altman canon).

I agree that the Lwaxana scene in the transporter room was pretty unbearably acted, though many of the sentiments worked for me. I do think this and "Haven" are the two main candidates for best Lwaxana episode of the series, which, granted, is not saying much. And unlike Jammer, I think that the romance actually is believable for more reasons than the ones given. Lwaxana is on vacation and is especially flirtatious and lonely; she is always as forward as she is here, but it's almost never that other people reciprocate. And Timicin is going to die in a week -- so there isn't exactly the time for dawdling. It's possible that they exchange "ILY's" too quickly, but I think that's again somewhat forced by the situation -- everything is more intense when there is no time for indecision.

The premise borrows from "Logan's Run," but is less absurd than that (pushing from 30 to 60, naturally). The killing of the elderly once they cease to be vital is also an element in "Brave New World." I suppose I don't really think that the allegory in this episode is so ludicrous, though I can't say why I find it easier to accept (as premise) than many here do. What Timicin speaks of is something I understand, looking at my own family history: their society is dedicated to "protecting" everyone from dealing with what it means to become old -- very old. The last years of a person's life are difficult and frightening. Lwaxana, more so than any of the main cast (though this story *could* be told with Picard), is approaching a period in her life, akin to the one Quaice mentioned in "Remember Me," in which (at least she fears) she's going to continue losing people she cares about and it is unlikely that her life will get better. Her quality of life will be lowered and she will become a burden to others rather than a the strong independent woman she prides herself on being.

In much of Western society these days, the elderly are not really sufficiently cared for. Timicin's description of death watch facilities where people simply waited to die is not far off from what some nursing homes are. Ideally, people would be cared for in the last years of their lives rather than (ultimately) abandoned to a system which cannot sufficiently provide for them, but for the most part we don't live in that ideal world, though I do think it seems plausible that the Federation does. "Die at sixty, regardless of one's situation" is a reducto ad absurdum, but the episode is certainly not arguing in favour of it, or even (imo) presenting it as a reasonable hypothesis. I think what it's more doing is showing why Timicin would prefre to die rather than live out his last years in a way that terrifies him; and Lwaxana does not have the right or jurisdiction to tell him not to. The forced-death is also an allegory for forced retirement (note how his work stops being taken seriously), as well as a general impression from the young that the elderly are not worthwhile contributors to society. Timicin dies, ultimately, because he doesn't have the courage to fight a world that tells him he's useless, and it's a tragedy that I find rather touching. He gives up, and take that as representing whatever reality of aging in our world you like -- no longer fighting for his usefulness, accepting forced retirement, moving to a nursing home and waiting to die. Lwaxana has compassion for him, though she is the model of what to do instead -- to carry on despite the sadness and fears that she have; and of course Deanna is a positive contrast to Timicin's daughter, who I think does care for him but is unable to conceive of what he's going through.

I think Timcin is well-performed, though it might just be that I like the actor. Majel Barret Roddenberry, sadly, is not up to the task that the episode requires of her, and so I like Lwaxana's role in the episode much better in the abstract than in reality. While I don't really mind the "resolution" part of the episode's premise, exaggerated though it is, the standard-issue "alien warships to start incident!" part of the story was unnecessary and silly. The episode has significant flaws but I still have some fondness for it: 2.5 stars, I'd say.
Corey - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 1:51pm (USA Central)
@WiliamB:

William, you usually write pretty good reviews, but I think your comment that the warships come to the Enterprise was silly or unnecessary wasn't on target - if the Enterprise doesn't return Timicin, they are abetting breaking an obviously important law to the people of that planet.

Think of it another way - American parents think dearly of their children - what if the Mexican government was sending its agents to kidnap our children? The parents would contact their congressman, and it would not surprise me to see American Navy ships in Mexican ports, to basically say quit this practice or else. This is a similar situation.

Also note that Timicin is well known - if he gets away with it (not doing the suicide ritual), it could send ripples through society - the planetary government realizes this quite well, and thus sends their warships.
William B - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
@Corey: what I meant was that I thought it was unnecessary within the episode to cause dramatic tension (and a pretty familiar device for this show, see e.g. "Suddenly Human"), not so much that it's unbelievable or out of character for Timicin's people to send warships. So they are different arguments. And while I agree that it's plausible that Timicin's people would send warships, I don't think that it's so certain that the episode would be unbelievable without that element (I don't see myself sitting through the second half of the episode thinking, "why aren't they sending warships?" if that hadn't happened). I think the threat of major diplomatic tensions is sufficient, especially since Timicin is already going to suffer exile for his decision.
Corey - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 5:41pm (USA Central)
@William - I see where you are coming from. Except, actually, I think it was actually necessary for the story. Lwaxxanna, had nearly convinced Timicin to stay alive, when the news about the warships approaching the Enterprise arrived. In the story, that was the turning point, Timicin would not choose his life if meant risking the lives of the Enterprise or his fellow citizens on the warships, he would do what was right in the eyes of his people, and that was that.

Without the warships, Timicin would choose life, which apparently was not the ending the writer wanted. That would be happy ending for Lwaxxanna, but not more dramatically powerful. So thus, they WERE necessary, contrary to your argument.
William B - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 9:29pm (USA Central)
@Corey: I know what you mean, but I took the true turning point -- and indeed the bigger emotional whallop -- as being Timicin's conversation with his daughter. When Picard asks Timicin at the episode's end if he's going back to relieve diplomatic tensions between their peoples, Timicin says, "it's not just that."
Coffeeaddict - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 8:06pm (USA Central)
This is one of those episodes that always tended to annoy and anger me. Not merely because of the characters, but the whole mess of a story. Is it trying to make an argument/cause debate about the actual issue of euthanasia, or about the dangers of euthanasia being taken too far? It doesn't do the former, and the latter just seems unnecessary, beating us over the head with the point that this action taken against Temicin was wrong when no one in their right mind was thinking this was a good idea.

Look at the arguments made by the culture for doing this. They claim to want to spare individuals the indignity of becoming sick, but they don't wait for anyone to actually become sick or even begin to diminish. They want to spare children the burden of caring for their parents when that's not anywhere close to being an issue for anyone yet. What happens if someone becomes ill or infirm at 55? Do they have to wait until 60? Is an exception for early death made for them? Do they up an start making everyone die at 55 because of one sick person? But most damning of all, they show that they don't give a damn what the 60 year old's own wishes are, as shown when they force Temicin to die despite his wish not to. And at the end of the story absolutely NO progress is made towards their culture examining what they're doing, or the reasons for it, or Timicins brief resistance having any effect. Indeed the only positive I took away at the end was that hopefully their foolish actions will doom their whole planet, ending the practice once and for all.
Daniel Davis - Wed, Aug 28, 2013 - 12:04pm (USA Central)
CoffeeAddict, I completely agree with you.

It would be awesome to see someone write a novel or future Star Trek series episode where a mention is made of how the-now dead, lifeless world doomed itself due to the people's utter stupidity.
K'Elvis - Thu, Nov 7, 2013 - 8:52am (USA Central)
Only someone very young would think that you can't have dignity or enjoy life when you reach the "ancient" age of 60. Only someone very young would think that people can't find love at 60 or older. That perspective is that of a child, who thinks being old must be a terrible thing. But when people to get older, they find it not such a bad thing at all.

The problem with this episode is that it is muddy with its ideas. If you try to cover all aspects of an issue, you make a muddy mess of it. This episode started well as an exploration of ageism. His culture demands that people die at 60, but he doesn't want to die, and decides not to die. So far we're fine. He could have left his planet.

Instead, they trash the anti-ageism message, and we get "accept the demands of your culture, even if it means your death." If you want to explore two different ideas, then write two different episodes. He wants to live, and wants to be with Lwxana, but has a sudden about-face and goes happily to his death. He exchanges what he wants to avoid exile, the scorn of his family and of his culture. Someone might well accept death to avoid exile and scorn, but they aren't very likely to be happy about it.
Moonie - Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - 7:44am (USA Central)
I'm really surprised by the low rating you gave this episode. And four stars for the Barclay Technobabble dumbness?? Sometimes I think it must be a generational thing.

Anyway, it was so nice to see Lwaxanna as a real person versus just a caricature of a middle-aged woman. (As a soon-to-be middle-aged woman myself, I was often wildly angered by her portrayal, and the fact that even though she's around the same age as our dear Captain,he recoils in horror at her advances....pretty misogynistic if you ask me.)

I really wish this episode would have ended differently but I know Timicin would crack when his daughter showed up to direct him back on the right path. Oh, children and their self-righteousness.

It's episodes like that that really make me wonder about the whole "non-interference" rule. "It's their culture! (tradition, religion)" is, in my opinion, a pretty weak reason to accept barbarism. In such a case the prime directive basically is the equivalent of civilised nations turning a blind eye to stonings and honor killings because "it's their culture".

I don't agree with this at all. I guess I can't join Starfleet after all.
William B - Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - 8:08am (USA Central)
@Moonie, I agree with most of what you say here (though I love the Barclay ep in question), and I like this episode more than most. But I disagree a bit about Picard. His "recoiling in horror" is...actually how he deals with almost all interpersonal issues where someone gets close. He pretty much recoiled in horror from Wesley the first few times he saw him in season one, for example. He reacts pretty similarly to young women approaching him on Risa in "Captain's Holiday," and only grows to like Vash as a result of their adventure together. And I think "Manhunt" screwed this up by having Deanna tell Picard helpfully that he's not allowed to turn her down because it might hurt her feelings, so that his only options are to enter into a relationship he doesn't really want with the mother of one of his crewmembers, or to hide. Or, of course, to ignore Deanna (best option) and just be honest with Lwaxana. Personally I think "Manhunt," with the "middle-aged women just so crazy yo, nothing you can do!" attitude, is a huge problem pretty much throughout.

That scene with Timicin and his daughter (and indeed the whole episode) reminds me of the 1950's movie "All that Heaven Allows," where middle-aged Jane Wyman has an affair with a much younger man and her children keep pressuring her to give it up because It's Right. SPOILERS she eventually relents, and then of course her children go on and go back to ignoring her and then get her a television set for company. I'm not wild about aspects of the execution of this episode but I think emotionally and thematically it's fine.
SkepticalMI - Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - 4:50pm (USA Central)
This is probably the best Lwaxana episode, not that that's saying much. I think I like the idea of her more than the actual presence of her. Some of the stupid Lwaxana tricks (such as nearly launching a photon torpedo) are just silly, but seeing some of the reactions to her works well. It just doesn't help when the plots surrounding her shows are awful (see Menage a Troi as an example). So it was nice to see a good plot for once. And it was nice to see Lwaxana forced out of her annoying mother character and into something more sobering.

I won't get too much into the death/respect of elders aspect, because I felt there was another theme there too that nobody else commented on. And that is the theme of love vs one's tradition and culture. Timicin did find himself falling in love with Lwaxana, and was then forced to choose between that love and everything that he was. Lwaxana was, essentially, asking him to sacrifice his entire way of life just to be with her, while Timicin was demanding that she put aside all of her morals and beliefs and accept his fate. And, to the story's credit, Timicin simply could not abandon his life for his new love (just as Worf couldn't in Emissary). Relationships ain't easy, and it's not clear how much of yourself you can bury for your partner. Yes, this is a more fantastic version of this theme than, say, one person wanting kids and the other doesn't, but it still demonstrates it all the same. And because of the fantastical nature of the rift between Troi and Timicin, the helplessness and anger Lwaxana feels hits home just a little bit more.

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