In this episode Geordi will completely abuse some experimental technology and lose his mother. The Enterprise will once again forgive an alien species slaughtering an entire crew on “accident,” and these vast abuses of authority and endangerment of life and property will be punished with the slight disapproval of Picard. Picard is pretty much the king of “I’m not angry. I’m disappointed,” followed by some slight, warm comment.
The episode starts with one of the most shocking images in Star Trek canon, Geordi with his visor off. When I was a kid Geordi was so inseparable from the visor to me that I asked my parents why Levar Burton didn’t wear it in Reading Rainbow. Could this have been the first time that I learned that actors are different from the roles that they play? Maybe!
But Geordi with his visor off tells us immediately that there is something major going on with this episode. Is it an alternate history? Are we in the future? Things could be about to get very seriously strange.
Considering all of the possibilities it’s actually fairly mundane, in that it does not require creating an entirely different universe or bending the very dimensions of space to breaking point. Geordi has his brain hooked into an experimental interface probe and to save money on special effects the show has chosen to portray the probe as Geordi himself. We see the probe itself only once, as a white, slightly pinched cylinder in a reflection. Geordi still feels like himself, but in reality he is a floating drone on a spaceship being controlled by a mind from a distance. Which is, let’s be honest, what we’re all doing. We are piloting around meat probes with minds that are capable of completely uncoupling from them, assaulted on every level by sensory input that we don’t quite understand.
This experimental, and somewhat invasive, new technology does not come along with any innovative scientist or technician. There is no specialist to train the crew on this completely new technology. We are not introduced to the person who invented the technology. Apparently operations manual writing technology has advanced along with all other technologies to the point where reading them is actually capable of providing some actual knowledge about a device’s operations. Go find the manual for literally anything you own that is more complicated than a blender. Helpful? I thought not.It is nice to see Geordi’s visor inputs being used for something nice though. In the first episode of this season he was targeted by Lore and Evil Data to have his brain replaced with artificial filaments because of his visor interface. Previously he was plucked up by the Cardassians for torture and brainwashing because the interface provided them with easy access to his brain. Now he gets to pilot a superpowered probe. Good for him.
Enough about the probe though, the real kicker is coming up. Geordi’s mother’s ship has gone missing. Search and rescue has yet to find them and things are looking pretty grim for her. At the same time, the Enterprise is tasked with retrieving a stranded ship from the lower atmosphere of a non-specifically unique gas giant. They mention that it’s unique in some way, but never define it. I guess the ship that was supposed to investigate got stranded though, so we never find out what actually makes this planet so special.
The ship in the lower atmosphere is full of corpses, and somehow, Geordi’s mother. She tells him that her ship is stuck on the surface and she needs Geordi to lower the other ship to make a rescue attempt. When he reaches out to touch and reassure her a huge surge of energy burns his hands and puts him into neural shock. This seems like a completely reasonable thing for his mother to do, so, as the entire crew attempts to talk him out of this being his mother, nobody points out that touching his mother has never nearly burned his hands off.
The rest of the crew is, of course, less than convinced by Geordi’s insistence that his mother is communicating to him on the ship. This is actually a chance for Star trek to display some of the damage that living in a technological wonderland can bring. You see, in the Trek universe there is no situation that is impossible. Ships are frequently discovered whole and fully crewed years after their disappearance. Hell, the Enterprise itself has inadvertently nearly destroyed the entire human race just by focusing one of their various beams on the wrong place in space. The Enterprise has survived so many absolutely insane situations that it seems silly that a ship should just be lost.
That must take a toll on the crew and their relation to the rest of Starfleet. No matter how sensible it seems that Geordi should give up on his mom, there’s always a slim chance set of circumstances that could mean she’s just fine. Wild gambits are a way of life. Tachyons will always be able to be channeled through the deflector into some kind of disruption field. Subspace can be endlessly manipulated. Shields can laways find the right harmonic. What reason is there for a ship to go missing? Surely some freak element of the universe has simply slowed them up and they are working on a solution.
Geordi should do is accept his mother’s death. He struggles the whole episode with it. We should be shouting at him to get it together and accept the inevitable conclusion, but there’s also a part of us that sees his reaction as totally reasonable. Why shouldn’t there be a warp bubble or a temporal anomaly that’s to blame? It’s a regular occurrence on the Enterprise.
This all culminates in Geordi highjacking the probe, naturally. The whole episode he’s been pushing and pushing for the probe to operate closer and closer to 100% tolerance, meaning a more complete integration with his own nervous system, so now he isn’t just obsessively chasing what is almost certainly a hallucination of his mother, but getting a fix. When Data easily predicts Geordi’s rogue turn and confronts him he is just as easily convinced to help because he can, “Hardly punish [Geordi] for something he has not yet done.” Which is a really good Data-selective-rationalization. Honestly, Data’s rationalizations for backing his crewmember’s emotionally off the rail bad behavior never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Geordi, having stolen an experimental, and one presumes very expensive, probe, now proceeds to endanger the ship that the Enterprise came to salvage by lowering it deeper into the atmosphere so that he can save his mother’s ship, supposedly lost down on the “surface” of the gas giant. It’s not like he is taking drastic action and risking his life to accomplish the mission. He is abusing Starfleet property and endangering the mission entirely for his own agenda. Sympathetic or not, that’s not generally the kind of behavior one encourages in an officer of a pseudomilitary organization.
As the ship descends Geordi’s interface with the probe weakens. Data warns him that he must raise the ship because if the connection to the probe is suddenly severed Geordi will die. Geordi, ignoring all rational thought or definition of friendship, essentially puts a gun to his head. He refuses to raise the ship, at his mother’s urging, and points out to Data that if he doesn’t boost the signal he will die.
Having used a threat of suicide to bully his friend into helping him, his mother grasps the probe’s head and shoots knowledge beams into it! It wasn’t his mother. It was a race of subspace aliens, who, having gotten what they want by lowering the ship to a point in the atmosphere where they can leave it, decide to explain themselves at the last minute. Luckily the interface is enough of a buffer for this to not kill Geordi like it did the entire crew of the ship.