Our episode tonight starts out on a particularly chilling note:
The Federation is offering assistance to Kaelon II, an alien world whose sun is slowly going out; one of the inhabitants, one Dr. Timicin, believes he has developed a method to "stoke" the sun, so to speak, and the Enterprise is to assist in testing the device. As Captain Picard is heading to the transporter room to welcome Timicin aboard, he is desparately trying to duck, dodge and hide from Lwaxana Troi, which works about as well as you'd expect (c'mon, hide? from a telepath?). So Lwaxana pops up out of nowhere, and does her usual shtick of bugging, bothering and annoying Picard all the way to the transporter room... until Dr. Timicin beams up, and Picard is able to fob the still man-crazy Lwaxana off on him.
Timicin's experiment for rekindling his sun involves launching a modified torpedo into the star. Fortunately for all involved, there just happens to be an uninhabited star system right over there, whose star is in the same state of decay, where they can test the device. On the way to this system, Lwaxana continues to perform her Plucky Comic Relief duties by being her usual pain in the arse self to everyone, including Timicin, though he starts to warm up to her rather quickly. Anyway, they reach the test system and Timicin's device is deployed. It initially shows promise: The dying star's internal combustion does indeed increase. And increase. And increase, and increase and increase, until they finally have to get the hell out as the star reaches critical mass and goes supernova.
The experiment, Timicin's life's work, is a failure. Lwaxana goes to him to try to offer consolation, but it turns out there's more to his depression than the experiment. Specifically, she tries to assure him that he still has plenty of time in life, both for his experiments and for their still-blossoming relationship. Timicin, however, reveals that he actually does not have that time: "You see, I'm going home... to die."
Turns out Timicin's society practices ritual euthanasia, dubbed "Resolution", upon reaching the age of 60 (which Timicin is rapidly approaching). Lwaxana is appalled by this practice, even as Timicin defends its merits (preventing the old from becoming a burden to the young, or from losing their dignity due to old-age ailments); she is further infuriated when Picard cites the Prime Directive and refuses to intervene (which, if it applies, means the Enterprise shouldn't be helping their planet at all; funny how the Prime Directive constantly fluctuates so that it allows and disallows exactly what the plot requires).
Meanwhile, Timicin has been re-examining his experiment notes and begins to see how he could address the problems therein, but because of his impending euthanasia he doesn't have the time to do so. If only he could put off his Resolution for a while... Timicin goes to Picard and officially requests asylum, believing he can work out his experiment's flaws and then go home to die in peace. While this action pleases Lwaxana, Timicin's government is less than thrilled and actually dispatches warships to retrieve the 'rogue' scientist. Wow, I guess Major Winchester really was worth some serious crap. Making matters worse for Timicin is that, as long as he stays in his self-imposed exile, his government keeps him locked out of his own work, refusing to let him communicate any new findings on how to correct the experiment (adding salt to the wound, Timicin does indeed find some things he could fix, but his government simply will not listen).
But the final straw comes when Timicin's own daughter beams up and pleads with him to go through with his Resolution, even shooting Lwaxana a "Reason You Suck" Speech for her presumptuous presumption that her anti-euthanasia beliefs are just automatically and inherently superior. Timicin's resolve caves in like so much card house, and he returns home to attend to his funeral. Lwaxana, though still unhappy by the whole thing, ultimately relents, and in the end insists on attending the Resolution ceremony with him as a "loved one."
This episode features examples of the following tropes:
- Actor Allusion: A display screen features the number "4077", the number of the medical unit in M*A*S*H.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: Discussed. It seems that Kaelon II has enough contact with the wider galaxy for the Federation to offer help with their solar problem, but not enough to be a member planet that the Federation can impose its will and norms upon. Lwaxana tries to exploit Loophole Abuse and beam down herself to read the Kaelons the riot act (after all, while she sometimes speaks for the Federation, she is only a private citizen on this voyage), but Picard orders O'Brien not to allow her to leave.Lwaxana: Well, it's your Prime Directive. NOT MINE!
- Attending Your Own Funeral: The "Resolution" is a ceremony which celebrates the person's life, just before they are euthanized.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Lwaxana and Timicin debate the merits of mid-life euthanasia as compared to growing old and dying naturally; although Timicin does go through with it in the end, the episode paints neither him nor Lwaxana as explicitly right or wrong (his daughter's objection to Lwaxana is more about her self-righteous attitude).
- Break the Haughty: Seems to be this episode's raison d'etre. At one point Lwaxana bursts into tears (something she apparently hasn't done since her husband Ian died); at the end, when she elects to observe Timicin's Resolution, she exhibits uncharacteristic humility, contritely asking Picard for permission to go and promising not to cause trouble.
- Cerebus Rollercoaster: This episode marks the first time Lwaxana is shown in a truly dramatic tone, departing from her usual role as Plucky Comic Relief. Her next appearance, in "Cost of Living", will see her return to her familiar comic hijinx (albeit including some semi-serious Character Development), and then escalating the drama with her final TNG episode "Dark Page".
- Deadly Euphemism: "Resolution." Downplayed in that the term is more about the celebration held in the person's honor than about the actual euthanasia that immediately follows.
- Defector from Decadence: Timicin seeks asylum on the Enterprise when he realizes he could find a way to correct his experiments if only he had a few more years. The asylum, and his resolve, prove fleeting.
- Gone Horribly Right: Timicin's 'star re-igniting' device actually works. The problem is, it doesn't know when to stop.
- Hint Dropping: At one point Lwaxana, in her own words, "fishes for a compliment" from Timicin. Played with in that he probably knows what she was doing, but he's in a funk and not in much mood to talk.
- Honor Before Reason: During Timicin's short-lived asylum, he starts documenting ways he could correct his failed experiments; however, his government declares him an outlaw and will not allow him to share his new findings even though it could (and is intended to) save their doomed planet. Lampshaded by a furious Timicin: "Even if I find a solution, YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT IT!"
- Large Ham: David Ogden Stiers is mostly reserved as Timicin, but he has his moments.
- Mercy Kill: "Resolution," upon reaching age 60. According to Timicin, the practice is to prevent people from becoming old, feeble, helpless, and a burden to others, allowing them to die with a measure of dignity and with their faculties intact. Of course that last point (intact faculties) is exactly why Lwaxana objects to the whole thing.
- Nobody Ever Complained Before: The Kaelons ritualistically kill themselves on their 60th birthdays, and they seem shocked and baffled when one of their own refuses to do so (because he needs more time in order save the whole planet—also, he'd fallen in love with Lwaxana). Apparently none of their 60-year-olds had ever had any qualms about dying before.
- Except that if someone does complain, the Kaelons shut them out of society and refuse to acknowledge their existence... meaning it may happen fairly often, but since society refuses to acknowledge the dissenters, they act like it never happens.
- Older Than They Look: Timicin does not look anywhere close to 60 (David Ogden Stiers was 48 at the time). Of course, it's possible that Kaelonians age differently from humans.
- The Silent Bob: Lampshaded by La Forge:Lwaxana: That's my valet, Mr. Homn. He doesn't say much.
La Forge: How could he?
- Solar CPR: Kaelon II's sun is slowly dying out; it's got about 3040 years left. Dr. Timicin's life's work is to find a way to revitalize it. His test involves using modified photon torpedoes to seed a similar star with hydrogen that it can begin fusing, attempting to use a precise amount and sequence so that it stabilizes at the optimum temperature. This fails, and the test star continues heating until it goes supernova, with the Enterprise barely warping out in time.
- Take That!: The angry speech Timicin's daughter gives Lwaxana ("How dare you question my beliefs?") could be seen as a knockback against all the times Kirk and Company visited some backwater world, told the inhabitants in a nutshell that their belief system sucked, then destroyed the lynchpin of their society and flew off into the sunset after telling them how much better off they were for it. Not forgetting, of course, that Kirk usually did this because his ship and/or crew were in peril; but the attitude was always there.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Lwaxana is notably more glamorous than the rotund and awkward Timicin.
- Visible Boom Mic: A boom mic pole appears in the reflection the first time Lwaxana passes by the mirror in Troi's quarters.
- We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: Zig-zagged; The Federation does not practice it (although they don't specifically outlaw it, as seen in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), whereas Timicin's people celebrate it.
- What Does This Button Do?: "Madam, please! That is a photon torpedo launch initiator!" We'll just ignore, for the sake of the gag (and because it hasn't happened yet), that the episode "Hero Worship" firmly establishes that the control panels will not operate if the 'operator' doesn't have proper clearance. Unless Worf installed that feature in anticipation of her next visit.