Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Cost of Living"

*

Air date: 4/20/1992
Written by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Here's a great idea: Let's get two of arguably the most annoying recurring characters in the annals of TNG and pair them together for long stretches of time! And put them together in one of the corniest, worst-conceived holodeck programs ever depicted! While undermining any attempt to take seriously the fact that Worf is a single parent trying to raise a brat of a son! And tie it all together with a wedding premise that makes no sense whatsoever! And to throw a bone to the sci-fi fans who don't want to watch only lame characterization, let's have Yet Another Season Five Enterprise Jeopardy Premise!

"Cost of Living" is pretty much an obnoxious mess of an hour that fails as comedy, fails as drama, fails as technobabble disaster, and fails at making me want to see another story about Alexander (played by the generally grating child actor Brian Bonsall) ever again. The arrival of perennial motormouth Lwaxana Troi should've been a warning indicator. (The thing is, Lwaxana is not inherently awful as played by Majel Barrett; it's the writing that time and again seems to saddle her with these bad sitcom plots and obnoxious behavior.)

Let's start with the impending wedding: Why is Lwaxana agreeing to marry a guy (and vice versa), sight unseen, who clearly is not a match at all for her free-spirit personality? This is doomed to failure from the very first frame, and all I could do was wonder why either of these people were wasting their time. Then we have the pairing of Alexander and Lwaxana, the latter who takes on a sort of crazy-aunt role and undermines everything Deanna and Worf are trying to accomplish in teaching Alexander rules (which wasn't exactly a plot that was going swimmingly as it was). It's yet another example of how poorly this show depicts children as a part of the ship's daily reality. Meanwhile, the holodeck scenes are mostly unwatchable, and I couldn't help but wonder why Lwaxana seemed to think a striptease-like dancer qualified as appropriate "entertainment" for a child of Alexander's age.

There are plenty of weakly portrayed scenes here that make a mockery of Worf's attempts to raise a child, perhaps none more so than Alexander's need to have a "laughing hour" during dinner hour. Ugh.

The riveting sci-fi plot here is that the Enterprise has come down with a nasty case of space termites that are eating through the ship. This subplot is largely ignored until the last act or so, in which it becomes yet another race against the clock to find the technobabble solution while the computer ticks down the minutes and seconds until the contrived calamity will supposedly destroy the ship. Yawn.

Regrettably, I think there might be a subtext to Lwaxana's story here, who has dialogue about old age and loneliness that could be read as sadly poignant given the death of Barrett's real-life husband and Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, only a few months prior to the episode being made. But given the end result, I hate to think that "Cost of Living" was in any way intended as a memory to the man.

Previous episode: The First Duty
Next episode: The Perfect Mate

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29 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 7:03am (USA Central)
Whenever my DVR grabs this one, I fast forward to the wedding scene, and that's all I watch of this one. It's a least a good laugh.

But seriously--WHAT was that holodeck program? That was fun?
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 8:03pm (USA Central)
I myself watch this one for the old-age allegory. Forget the subtext about Gene, it's genuinely moving and well played by Barret. The Alexander/Worf stuff is as cheesy and stupid as it was earlier this season in "New Ground."

I have to disagree about Lwaxana being "annoying." I always enjoy her presence, though often the stories around her are a yawn or wince.

1.5 stars
Dimitris Kiminas - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 7:12am (USA Central)
If you want to see Majel Barrett excel in a serious Sci-Fi TV role, you have to see her in Babylon 5's 3rd season epidode 'Point of No Return' as Lady Morela. The episode currently is rated 9.5/10 in imdb.com (too bad you have to see the whole B5 arc that led to that episode to truly appreciate her relevations...)
philosopher-animal - Sun, May 29, 2011 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
I've heard it suggested somewhere that Majel played Lwaxana as a version of herself. (Think of the DS9 episode where she tells Odo that nobody has seen her real hair.) I have also heard that she was a wonderful and caring person - Wil Wheaton mentions this, for example. So I do wonder about the expression of loneliness. I also read that Majel had partial native american roots, and my native american friend has some of the same attitudes as Lwaxana, which if you don't understand the context do make her annoying in ways that aren't easy to fathom (though, yeah, L is annoying in other ways too). A complex puzzle.
Van Patten - Mon, May 30, 2011 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
Having followed your site for more than 14 years, the reviews are always well worth waiting for and reading, regardless of some less charitable commentators. This episode was one of the most startlingly misconceived I have ever seen. The holodeck scenes have dated exceptionally badly and Messrs Dorn,Burton and even Stewart look simply bored. Unarguably Peter Allan Fields least impressive hour. From a writer who either scripted or wrote the teleplays for 'the Inner Light' and the DS9 episodes 'Duet' and 'In the Pale Moonlight' it is beyond my comprehension what he was thinking here. Would probably have gone for 0.5 stars. A strong contender, even taking into account the First Season, for the weakest episode ever bar 'Shades of Grey'.
Stef - Wed, Jun 1, 2011 - 9:40am (USA Central)
The only Luxwanna Troi I can stand is her first appearance in DS9. She was very good in that. Her writing was much better, and when she took off her wig to show her 'real' self, she showed she could act as more than one character.

This episode though? Bloody awful.
pviateur - Mon, Aug 22, 2011 - 1:52pm (USA Central)
And was anyone seriously disturbed by the final scenes where 1) Luxhwana shows up naked at her wedding with children in attendance? and 2) the final group mud bath scene? Ich!
Elliott - Mon, Aug 22, 2011 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
@pviateur: Well, if homosexuality is something you find intrusive upon "family programming" I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you are equally disturbed by something as innocuous as nudity.

Then again, your nitpicking at equally innocuous plot holes should tell me all I need to know about your level of appreciation for art.
CC - Tue, Aug 30, 2011 - 1:14am (USA Central)
And why would a betazoid woman like Lwaxanna think it at all odd to show up nude for her wedding in front of children? That's the custom, in fact, everyone at the wedding would have been nude. In a society that finds that normal, there is no problem because no one is there to oogle and no one believes that the nude body is an object of sin.
Jeff O'Connor - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 3:18pm (USA Central)
Lwaxana Troi's appearances on TNG and DS9 were good ones exactly twice -- "Half a Life" and "The Forsaken". Majel Barrett was a terrific actress; like you said, Jammer, it's what she's given that matters here.

"Cost of Living" is easily one of the elder Troi's absolute worst appearances.
Jack - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 9:04pm (USA Central)
Am I the only one who found something Freudian in Lwaxana's tea coming out full of sausages?
Jay - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
In the closing mud scene, why was WOrk neck depe in the mud when the others were about chest deep...you;d think Worf was the shortest of them...either that or he;s at the deep end of the mudpit.

Also, what was with Troi's Cher-like coiffure in that scene?
Nathan - Wed, Oct 5, 2011 - 10:35pm (USA Central)
One of three episodes I watched at double speed rather than my normal 1.4x (the others were Shades of Gray and Sub Rosa).
Captain Tripps - Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - 12:09am (USA Central)
Were you really disturbed by that priv? That's a bit of a puritan attitude, there's nothing inherently wrong with nudity. She came as she was, and if the episode had any theme it was be who you are.
Percivale - Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - 3:13pm (USA Central)
I agree with the general consensus here that this episode is exceptionally weak. I also liked the comments about Lwaxana's expression of loneliness - I felt that, if you took them in a bubble, it was a great moment of dialogue, truly heartfelt. But the context in which the lines were spoken was a complete waste. The episode was over for me the moment we met her entirely implausible groom-to-be.
Robots4Ever - Sun, Nov 27, 2011 - 12:15am (USA Central)
Best way to view these episodes is on the PC where one can readily skip the painful scenes. Children and silly-females have no place on Star Trek. Not much to redeem but the would-be husband and his advisor's formal stances acted as some counterpoint. Of course we had the parallel plot of the infection as some modicum of distraction.

All would have been forgiven if the final wedding scene had been full-frontal.
John - Thu, Jun 28, 2012 - 10:02am (USA Central)
I'm no fan of Lwaxanna or Alexander (or this episode) but I have to say that the way she 'gets him' and can connect with him makes some sense.

And provides further evidence of Deanna's overall crappiness as a counsellor, and therfore uselessness as a character. Surely she must see that the fundamental issue between Worf and Alexander is that they are not connecting and that the child needs some fun in his life in addition to rules and responsibilities.
R.D. - Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
Great points, John. This could have been an easy, even poignant Deanna-Worf character story--hopefully just a b-story--about differing methods of "reaching" Alexander. That would have even given much more believeable fodder for their (ridiculous) Season 7 romance. Bringing Lwaxana to the Worf-Troi-Alexander storyline was a disaster. No more than one half-star for Majel Barrett at least giving this material her best effort.
defiantmacho - Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - 11:55pm (USA Central)
Well, a veeeery bad one indeed. However, I do have to admit that during the 'loneliness' speech, watching Majel's eyes made it hit home. I was moved as I wondered if she thought of her husband while acting the scene. It's hard not to think of the elderly in your lives, say grandparents or parents for that matter, as that scene played.

But I agree with the rest here otherwise.
T'Paul - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
I don't mind this episode that much... I think Alexander was as he should have been and Worf as well... I also think that the Lwaxana theme was a reasonable issue for her character to go through.

Maybe she is the "crazy aunt" of Star Trek but all families do have 'em, and it makes the show a bit less dry than it could be. It doesn't hurt to have a few cringes every now and again, we can't all be model starfleet officers and we shouldn't take ourselves so seriously either. It's good to shake up the dynamic a bit too...

Plus I think the "fun" shown on the holodeck was as "fun" as "fun" could ever be as conceived by TNG.
mephyve - Wed, Jul 24, 2013 - 9:00pm (USA Central)
This one begs to be buried in a landfill in the Mexican desert, with the Atari ET games. Move along folks, nothing to see here.
William B - Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
After the one-two punch of "Cause and Effect" and "The First Duty" which redeems the season which had been floundering in its first half ("Darmok" and a few other strong shows aside) comes the season's most difficult-to-watch episode. The good news is that Lwaxana's story, shorn of its excesses, is actually touching -- while her scene, talking to Alexander about growing old and being forced to compromise, is a tiny bit forced in comparison to other scenes in the episode, it still pinpoints an emotion recognizable both to aging at large and to Lwaxana's character in particular. Her obsession with finding a husband -- Picard, Riker, Timicin -- has led her to the stage where anyone who consents to be with her, and to escape from a doomed marriage Lwaxana does have to face her fear of being alone, and acknowledge that loneliness is bearable if she does not compromise the core of who she is. The idea that Majel Barrett is devastated by the loss of Gene, and the emphasis on the disconnect between parents and children, suggest the extent to which the elderly struggle somewhat alone with this, though eventually the gap can be bridged. Certainly the idea of having Lwaxana bond with Alexander over being the only people in the show's main recurring cast of quite their generation was a bad one in terms of entertainment value, but it does make some sense that both are reeling from a permanent loss (Alexander's mother, Lwaxana's husband and, perhaps, even Timicin, maybe the last real shot at love she had) and are unable to communicate even with the parent/child (Worf, Deanna) who experience that loss with them, because of a generation divide. And so the bare-bare-bare-bones idea of the episode does have some value.

The trouble is, alas, besides that one scene -- of Lwaxana telling Alexander of her loneliness -- nothing in this episode plays as even tolerable, let alone genuine or insightful. Worf and Deanna are flattened to one-dimension, and Alexander is...well, Alexander is very rarely more than one-dimensional, and certainly is not so here. Lwaxana perhaps manages to be at least a two-dimensional cartoon here, though it feels as if her personality alters significantly scene-to-scene. Worst of all is Lwaxana's groom-to-be, written as such an excess of stodginess that it's impossible to imagine why he would even consider marrying Lwaxana; at least Lwaxana's desperate loneliness is clearly established. The holodeck program is cheesy, and only a few moments are anything but grating (I do like Worf popping that floating head).

Oh yeah apparently there's a sci-fi jeopardy plot in this episode. I am pretty sure it didn't make sense, though I couldn't even quite pay attention. (I love how everyone on the whole ship falls unconscious and that this has zero impact on the Lwaxana plot.) 1 star.
Jack - Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - 1:40am (USA Central)
I though that watching the scene with Lwaxana and Alexander in the absurd land was the most embarrassed-for-all-concerned episode Star Trek could ever fathom and could never possibly top.

And then Voyager introduced Flotter.
Nissa - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 12:08am (USA Central)
"There's nothing wrong with nudity"

Really, people, really? Fine. Go out in the street with no clothes on. Pfft.

There's a time and a place to be naked. It's not with children, and it's not in public. Outside of a nudist colony, I suppose.

The episode? One of the worst ever. Top ten.
Moonie - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 5:53pm (USA Central)
@Nissa, but didn't you get the meaning of that scene??

I often seem to disagree with the rest of you all - heck, I even like Nemesis,lol. This wasn't brilliant, but - worst ever? No way. I can easily think of about a dozen worse episodes in TOS and TNG. I this episode actually redeemed Lwaxana Troi for me. She and Alexander are not characters I'm too fond of, but I think they worked well together here.

Pollyanna - Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
I think the metal parasite scheme was very lame. But I liked everything else. This is one of the best mrs. Troi episodes and I found the interactions between word and Alexander very realistic? Deanna is providing the good, solid advice but children like people who are a bit kooky. I wish we had that holodeck program available here. There is a huge lack of laughter and whimsy in our culture right now...far greater since 9//11. Which is why the most reliable news program on cable is on Comedy Central . When a culture marginalized those who are a bit different, it loses its heart. Via mud baths!
Pollyanna - Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
Oh...and there was nothing at all risqué about the nudity. I think it is possible that we would have dropped a lot of nonsense about body shame by the 24th century. The only persons who looked at Mrs. Troi in askance were elderly males. Everyone else was fine with it. Children like running around without their clothes on. It is an appropriate and no sexual display of nudity.
Andrew - Sun, May 4, 2014 - 1:53pm (USA Central)
Alright so this isn't a very good episode. But I kinda like some parts of it. I kind of enjoy the strangeness of the holodeck program for one thing, floating heads in bubbles and jugglers.
karaokejoe - Mon, May 5, 2014 - 11:45pm (USA Central)
Just saw this episode a couple of days ago. Not sure what lesson was being promoted. "The idea of thinking about what you are doing is an unenlightened notion"? "Adults are silly unless they act like children"? "We are supposed to embrace our cultural differences-unless of course our culture is to overplan, then run like heck!"?

Just a horrible, preachy, poorly grounded episode.

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