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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S5E20 "Cost of Living"

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"What the heck are we looking at?"
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Original air date: April 20, 1992

"Photon torpedoes armed! FIRE!" An asteroid is about to Colony Drop onto a nearby planet but, thanks to some judiciously Applied Phlebotinum, the Enterprise averts the disaster. Well done, everyone; off to the next mission! Only, on the way out of orbit, the ship picks up a bit of sparkly space dust.

Hey, look who's back! It's none other than Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's Plucky Comic Relief mother! And she has a big announcement: she's engaged! Lwuxana announces that she's engaged to a mysterious aristocrat named Campio. However, she's incredibly cagey about the details of her romance when pressed by Deanna. At any rate, she plans on marrying him right on the Enterprise once it picks him up. Upon hearing that he'll be about to "give away" Lwuxana (and finally be rid of her), Picard readily grants permission for the ceremony.

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Mrs. Troi also strikes up an Intergenerational Friendship with Worf's son Alexander, who is having discipline problems and who, at Counselor Troi's suggestion, has entered into a "contract" with Worf to establish ground rules. Mrs. Troi sides with the boy on this issue, earning his trust but annoying everyone else in the process. For her part, Mrs. Troi seems to be deliberately trying to undermine their attempts to teach Alexander responsibility, but she sees it as teaching him to be a Blithe Spirit like herself and to enjoy life. To that end she takes him to a Holodeck representation of Parallax Colony, a whole camp of free spirits—except for one Comically Serious dude who spouts Ice Cream Koans in a ridiculously dire tone: "Remember... 'The higher, the fewer!'"

This gives Alexander an idea, and he runs up to a perpetually arguing couple (whom they had met a minute prior) and grinds their argument to a halt by interjecting said "conversation stopper"—an action which pleases Mrs. Troi. During a mudbath, she tells Alexander that each person has a host of little people inside their heads, telling you what you should do, and you should never be afraid to listen to them.

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In the meantime, Mrs. Troi admits to Deanna that she hasn't even met the man she's about to marry. They've merely exchanged profiles on the 24th century equivalent of a dating app. Deanna is further aghast that her mother won't follow the Betazoid tradition of going nude at the ceremony. It isn't like Mrs. Troi to subvert her own wishes and inclinations in deference to what others might think, but Lwaxana insists that everything is fine... except for the mug of sausage she gets from the food replicator instead of tea.

The replicator malfunction, it turns out, is not just a random incident; systems all over the ship are beginning to fall apart. In the course of investigating, La Forge and Data are bathed in a slimy goo which is the waste product from unseen parasites (the sparkly dust) eating the nitrate out of the ship's systems. The good news is, the parasites only eat that specific metal. The bad news is, nitrate is in every one of the ship's systems, including the life support.

As the crew works on this problem, Mrs. Troi is having troubles with the truly hideous wedding dress Campio will have her wear. Alexander comes in to chat, and over the course of their visit, Lwaxana reveals the real reason she's so quick to marry. She may or may not still be under the sexual effects of Betazoid Phase, but one thing is certain: she is desperately lonely in her old age and has become desperate for companionship of any kind.

Campio arrives, and he instantly proves to be both a bore and a prude. Both he and his hyperprotective aide are completely unprepared for Lwaxana's free spirit. Mrs. Troi, in turn, is clearly unimpressed with this stuffed shirt and ducks out of her own wedding-plan-a-thon to have a playdate with Alexander. On their playdate, Alexander intuits Mrs. Troi's lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming nuptuals and repeats back her own lesson about everyone being a collection of different people. Mrs. Troi quickly shoots him down and then just as quickly apologizes, realizing that he is in fact entirely correct.

The Enterprise is still suffering systemic failures all over, including life support and engines. But they've found an Asteroid Thicket rich in metals, and Data manages to lure the sparkly dust parasites over to the asteroids and out of the ship—after which everything starts working again.

On to the wedding! Naturally, Mrs. Troi is late to her own wedding, but when she finally does arrive, we see why: She has arrived in the full buff. Deanna and Alexander especially are quite pleased by this, but Campio and his aide are horrified by the lack of decorum and flee.

And so the day is saved. Mrs. Troi has taught Alexander how to enjoy life, and Alexander has taught Mrs. Troi that there's never a time when you must stop enjoying life. Lwaxana, Deanna and Alexander celebrate with one final mudbath on Parallax Colony. Even Worf has joined then, sitting up to his chin in mud and grousing, "We just sit here?"


Tropes featured in this episode include:

  • Be Yourself: Mrs. Troi tries to fit with another race's ultra-conservative views to get married. Alex ends up pointing out that this will make her miserable, and she shows up to her actual wedding in the buff, as per custom for her people.
  • Blithe Spirit:
    • What Lwaxana Troi is, and what she thinks Alexander should be.
      Deanna: We still have to live in the real world, Mother... all of us.
      Mrs. Troi: She's absolutely right, Alexander. But only when necessary!
    • Parallax Colony seems to be a whole society of these. Well, mostly.
  • The Cameo: Campio is played by the late, great Tony Jay, in one of his rare on-screen appearances.
  • Character Development: Annoying as many people find the character, and as off-putting as her aggressive manhunting can be, this episode takes a moment to give Lwaxana Troi genuine, relatable motivations besides her bizarre alien menopause: loneliness.
  • Comically Serious: Mr. Ice-Cream Koan
  • Dating Service Disaster: Campio and Mrs. Troi are so unbelievably mismatched, you can only wonder what exactly the two of them said about themselves in their online profiles. It probably focused on their careers involving negotiations and diplomacy, and their family backgrounds, where the vast differences of style and personality were probably less obvious.
  • Delayed Reaction: Mrs. Troi has an epic one when first introduced to Alexander:
    Worf: We are having troubles with our... contract.
    Alexander: It's not fair!
    Worf: The boy is unreasonable!
    Mrs. Troi: Well of course he's unreasonable, he's a child! And such a child! You know, making little boys be reasonable only gives them pimples!
    Deanna: Alexander, this is my mother.
    Mrs. Troi: Alexander? What a wonderful name! You know, I used to know a handsome warrior named Alexander. Oh, he utterly adored me! And we went everywhere, simply everywhere together! Have you ever been anywhere, my little— CONTRACT, WHAT CONTRACT?
  • Give Away the Bride: Picard is initially annoyed at Mrs. Troi having her wedding on the Enterprise as if it's her own private yacht. He changes his mind, though, when he hears that he's been requested to play the "father of the bride" role.
    Picard: Nothing would give me greater pleasure than giving away Mrs. Troi.
  • Hates Being Alone: Lwaxana reveals this to be part of the reason she is so desperate to marry.
  • Hypocrite: During one of Campio's and Mrs. Troi's wedding planning sessions, Campio's aide states, rather snootily, that "a servant may not be present" (referring to Mrs. Troi's manservant Mr. Homn). And what, exactly, does the aide think he is?note 
  • Hitler Cam: Used when Alexander peers aaaaalllll the way up at Mr. Homn.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: "The higher, the fewer!"
  • It's All About Me: In addition to Mrs. Troi's ongoing habit of talking about her past lovers entirely in terms of how much they adored her, Picard objects to "that woman continuing to use this ship for her convenience just because her daughter happens to be one of my officers!" Of course, in Mrs. Troi's mind (and true to her self-serving bias), getting married on the Enterprise, in the presence of her daughter and all her "friends," is only logical.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Lwaxana Troi and Alexander, Son of Worf.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: In all honesty, that wedding dress (which had belonged to Campio's mother) is objectively horrible. It's made of tinfoil, people!
    Mrs. Troi: Oh, bad enough to have to wear anything to my own wedding; but THIS?
  • Kick the Dog: When Picard extends his hand to welcome Campio onto the ship, Campio ignores it and bows. This is the first among many instances of him being rigid and stuck up.
  • Loophole Abuse: Worf and Alexander's rocky relationship is established by the fact that Alexander didn't pick up his clothing today.
    Alexander: You told me that yesterday, not today!
    Worf: You know very well the same rule applies today!
  • Malicious Misnaming: At one point, Mrs. Troi calls Erko, Campio's even stuffier aide, "the Jerko".
  • Metal Muncher: The alien parasite eats nitrium alloy, causing the ship's systems to fail.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Somehow removing the parasites from the ship is enough to bring life support back online, even though seconds before, everyone except Data was passing out from heat and lack of oxygen. (Although it doesn't magically fix everything; Picard states in his final log that they've had to carry out repairs.)
  • No OSHA Compliance: Picard warns Data that the whole bridge crew might pass out in the next few minutes due to a failure in life support. Apparently the bridge has no emergency backup suits or masks to keep the ship temporarily operational in case of a ship-wide life support malfunction. Even airliners have oxygen masks that drop from the ceiling.
  • Notable Non Sequitur: Mrs. Troi's woes with the food replicator clue us in to the B-plot.
    Mrs. Troi: There is no mystery... except for this petrokian sausage. Tea, all I wanted was some tea!
  • Not So Above It All: At the end, Deanna and Worf both join Lwaxana and Alexander for a mudbath — though Worf does seem nonplussed at the concept.
    Worf: You're just supposed to sit here?
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Lwaxana Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, is actually going to wear clothing to her own wedding??? Even Deanna, who often scoffs at these traditions, is taken aback by this and lampshades the trope. But it's only later that Lwaxana confides to Alexander that she's willing to do practically anything to alleviate her loneliness.
  • Opposites Attract: Played with: Mrs. Troi is ready to marry Campio before ever meeting him, because her "online profile" seems to match up so very well with his. When they finally meet, however, it becomes patently clear that they are completely mismatched, and though they both try to work it through, the relationship ultimately falls apart—although Campio does get a brief little light in his eye at their aborted wedding.
  • Runaway Groom: Actively invoked by Lwaxana, by arriving at the ceremony wearing traditional Betazoid wedding garb, i.e. absolutely nothing.
  • The Silent Bob: Mr. Homn, as usual, is limited to communicating with his expressions.
  • Starfish Aliens: The "sparkly dust" creature that eats the ship's circuitry in the B-plot.
  • Talking to Themself: Majel Barrett-Roddenberry plays both Lwaxana Troi and the Enterprise Computer, who interact in this episode. Apparently this is the only time in Star Trek history where two Barrett characters interact directly. Lwaxana is amusingly awkward when addressing the computer.
  • Verbal Backspace: Alexander tells Counselor Troi that he wants his father to stop yelling:
    Worf: I DO N— I do not yell.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Pointed out with the perpetually arguing couple at Parallax Colony:
    Alexander: Don't they like each other?
    Alien Guide: They're the best of friends!
    Alexander: Then why are they fighting?
    Mrs. Troi: Well, who are you going to fight with if not your friends?

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