Lwaxana Troi comes aboard the Enterprise to help facilitate new diplomatic relations between the Federation and the Cairn, a race of telepaths who do not normally use verbal communication. Naturally, this being Lwaxana, she first tries to set up Deanna with the Cairn representative, Maques (Norman Large), a widower who has a daughter (played by a young Kirsten Dunst) who reminds Lwaxana of ... someone. Soon Lwaxana begins exhibiting strange emotional outbursts, before finally collapsing into a coma-like state.
Maques tells Deanna that Lwaxana had previously communicated with him telepathically and he became aware that there was a dark place in her mind — something she was hiding. Deanna, only being half Betazoid, cannot enter her mother's mind to find the truth on her own, and after much setup and jargon concerning telepaths and their abilities, it's decided that Maques will act as a telepathic bridge between Deanna and her mother.
"Dark Page" is the sort of episode that I frequently ask for in theory — an episode that uses sci-fi concepts to tell relatable human stories. But I guess be careful what you wish for, because in practice, this episode is a total dud. It provides a piece of backstory no one was clamoring for (the older sister Deanna never knew she had, who died as a child), and suffers under fairly awful execution. For starters, Maques' constant inability to find the right words in his scenes (which ostensibly stems from his lack of experience with verbal communication) simply makes the storytelling grind to a halt that's infuriating to watch. And consider the utter hokiness of the sequences where Maques creates the telepathic bridge between Deanna and her mother. First the camera tracks in on Lwaxana. Then the camera tracks in on Deanna (who stares straight into it). The technique is hackneyed enough the first time around, but then we get the same series of shots the second time. Okay, we get it. Successful telepathy apparently involves a really good Care Bear Stare. It's hard to become involved in scenes that are so cheesily staged.
When Deanna enters her mother's mind, we get a barrage of Strange Dream Images Shot Through a Fisheye Lens and Signifying Important Things, as if the producers had forgotten they had just made "Phantasms" the week before. "Phantasms" was also a mess, to be sure — but it was a fun and breezy one that didn't take itself so damned seriously. "Dark Page" feels like a bunch of melodrama cliches from the 1950s. The scene where Deanna's long-dead father appears to sing her a lullaby moved me so much that — full confession — I just about wanted to puke. (It's the epitome of false manipulation that fails.) And I love how the story doesn't even let Deanna solve the mystery on her own; it takes Picard's brilliant thinking to find the seven years of deleted entries in Lwaxana's journal. Thanks, captain!
I could maybe overlook all of these problems if the emotional payoff at the end were worth it. Alas, it is not. There's a lot of sobbing and maudlin excess, but I didn't find any of it convincing beyond the most general idea of, well, yeah, it's pretty sad when a child dies. I suppose I'm glad the story actually resolves itself with character and emotion instead of pointless sci-fi and technobabble. But none of this feels necessary or organic. I felt more embarrassed for Majel Barrett's inability to rise to the occasion and deliver a credible performance than I felt invested in this tragedy that Lwaxana has supposedly been repressing for 30 years. I guess the lesson of "Dark Page" is that some storytelling stones are better left unturned.