Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Lonely Among Us

Review James Hunt 19 Oct 2012 - 07:17

In his weekly season one reappraisal, James comes to a TNG episode best avoided. Here's his review of Lonely Among Us...

This review contains spoilers.

1.7 Lonely Among Us

This episode combines two stock Star Trek plots: "humans mediate a conflict between two alien species" and "energy being loose on the ship". The problem is that it also combines those plots with the concept of completely awful television.

The episode opens with the crew welcoming aboard some comedy delegates in bad costumes, whom they're supposed to transport to the subtly-named planet of "Parliament". En route, they plough the ship into some kind of energy cloud which causes Worf to get zapped through one of Star Trek's famously unearthed touchscreens. (Two words: surge protector.)

The energy is some kind of alien life form, and it spends the bulk of the episode hopping from character to character and making them act completely irrationally towards everyone they know, derelict their duty, and generally cause havoc. Rather than flag up that something might be wrong, the entire bridge crew just sort of shrugs their shoulders and lets it happen until the alien gets into Picard's mind, at which point the situation is way out of control.

This is one of those episodes that requires literally everyone to turn into a complete idiot in order for the plot to work. At one point Crusher awakes from her possession to find herself on the bridge with a giant chunk of missing time. Rather than mention this to anyone, she just sort of looks confused then goes back to work. As you would, right? No? No.

When the problems come to light, Troi decides to help out with a little hypnosis. Because apparently, in the twenty-fourth century, mesmerism is back in fashion. They do learn that the entity is on board, but unfortunately it's too late. Mr Singh (introduced earlier this episode) has been accidentally killed, and Picard has been taken over. When the crew try to point this out to him he counters with a logically bulletproof catch twenty-two situation "You say I've been compromised? Maybe I say YOU have been compromised!" Yes, that's right, logically bulletproof.

Eventually, Picard announces his intention to beam back into the energy cloud with the energy being so that he can travel the universe as an immortal formless ball of electricity and everyone kind of shrugs and lets him do it. Oh, those pesky regulations!

And here's where it gets really stupid. After beaming himself into space without a body, Picard is freed from his possession. Now an energy being, he enters the Enterprise computer and draws a little "P" on every screen ("P! For Picard!" sez Riker.) They then restore his body from the transporter backups (what) and everything is fine and dandy. Oh, except the two alien delegates (who have literally been jumping out of hiding places in a "hilarious" manner throughout the entire episode. Seriously, these idiots are candidates for joining the Federation?) have finally succeeded in causing a fatality between their groups. Picard puts Riker in charge and goes for a lie down. End episode.

Okay, it's not quite as bad as that racist episode earlier this season, but that set the bar pretty low. Instead, this is an episode of Star Trek that doesn't work because it isn't actually about anything. It's just a bunch of stuff happening with no moral quandary underpinning it, or even a logical progression of events. Utterly, irredeemably dire.

TNG WTF: As if the write-up didn't tell you, this episode is full of WTF. We can forgive the horrendous costumes on the visiting delegates as reach exceeding grasp, but that doesn't excuse the rest of it.

For example, Mr Singh, a valued department head and beloved husband and father (probably) is discovered dead – possibly murdered - and yet whenever the subject comes up everyone spends their entire time smirking at Data's newfound Sherlock Holmes impression. Ho ho! A man is dead! Elementary, my dear Riker!

And sorry, you don't get to end an episode with the whimsical version of the theme when Picard "hilariously" goes for a nap instead of dealing with the recent murder of a Selay delegate on his ship. You just don't.

TNG LOL: Although massively inappropriate for the situation, Brent Spiner doing Data doing Sherlock Holmes is completely brilliant. And this episode contains probably one of the top 5 deadpan Worf moments in all Star Trek, when Doctor Crusher asks to speak to him about his memory blackout and he replies "I still don't remember having one."

Mistakes & Minutiae: You can't remotely tell, but under all that make-up, Badar N'D'D the Antican is Mark Alaimo, who would eventually go on to play Gul Dukat on DS9.

Time Until Meeting: 13:28, and it's a good'un. Not only does it begin with a zoom into the meeting room from outside the ship (nothing close to seamless, but a nice idea nonetheless), it's also full of people who aren't in the regular cast, getting speaking lines and everything.

Captain's Log: This is the first "bottle" episode of TNG, and it shares a lot (in structure and execution) with some of the Season 3 TOS episodes. By which I mean it looks cheap and appears to have been written by a child, in yellow crayon. Aside from establishing Data's interest in Sherlock Holmes, it contributes nothing to the series that anyone wanted to go near ever again. And who can blame them?

Watch or Skip? Ugh. Don't. Just don't.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Where No-One Has Gone Before, here.

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I love the meeting countdown. Not only is it a great part of every episode when they sit down to have a meeting, but it always makes me think that Picard's defining characteristic (at least early on) as a captain is how good a manager he is.

Ehm, I never watched ST:TNG beyond 'Encouter at Farpoint', but I like Star Trek as a whole. Watching ST:TNG from Season 1 to ST: Nemesis is on my 'to do' list, but after reading this reviews for some weeks now, I'm a bit wary to begin. If this is a classic, epic science ficition series, when does the good stuff come?

Unfortunately, most of season 1 is pretty weak (especially when compared to how the characters develop in later seasons). Towards the end of the first season to the middle of the second season is when things start to pick up.

This had some very weak moments, but I like the music in this episode. Also the effects for the nebula/cloud that the ship encounters all look impressive for the time. It had the mystery of the energy being (whether it is truly good or evil) and was better than next week's episode 'Justice', which is so bad it's funny.
Not the best ep, but not the worst of the hit-and-miss first season.

This was back when TNG was relying on TOS' formula for storytelling, and it shows.

Season 1 has had far worse episodes, and this one is about 'average'. The good stuff wouldn't come for another 6 or eps, though, as production changes would start to come about, be improved on considerably in season 2, and perfected for season 3...

The plot is badly handled and - as for many season 1 stories - could have benefited from a script editor to iron out the rough parts, but there are a number of set-pieces:

The lion species (Anticans?) had a moral outrage over the humans because the humans stopped eating meat and all ate synthetic versions of meat. It's a hilarious (for the right reasons) yet eye-opening scene. TNG's early days were not perfect, but this isn't the first scene shown that would point out humanity's little ironies in so many ways, and this aspect is something TOS - that I recall - never did.

I liked the concept of taking Picard out into space, to exist as energy. It's been a while since I've seen the episode, but as I recall the crew was rendered powerless BY the energy being. So they just didn't sit there of their own accord, letting Picard mosey off the ship...

True, Crusher should have reported in...

Season 1, when seen from the angle of "set pieces" and "ideas" isn't half-bad. It's the execution that stinks, and once we get through the first 13 or so episodes, quality improves - clearly production new team members were being brought in. But "Justice" -- the original concept was so much better than how it got translated into the on-screen joke that it became...

For season 1's standards, especially early season 1, "Lonely Among Us" is a classic.

By TNG standards, season 1 is pretty much the weakest until season 5 or 6 (both of which have more solid, decent stories and are solidly produced (unlike season 1), but the creative rot starts to set in at that point...)

Wasn't the Mutara Nebula footage from Trek II used in part, to save on costs?

"Justice" is next week - that's good because that's the last real clunker... and given the concept the show brings (the penalty for crime), how it got turned into (the garbage aired on screen) makes me feel more sorry for all involved. "Justice" could have been a real masterpiece, but all of it was squandered... and the result, yup, is extremely bad -- and I laughed at it too. When not shaking my head in disbelief over the tacky dialogue and double entendres... the sad part is, "Batman" (1966) did the same sort of tacky dialogue with self-assured class!

Have they stopped doing these reviews?

Sorry, there was a slight hold-up because I went on holiday and didn't have time to file the reviews before I left. They should be back on track soon!

Brilliant. Thanks :)

What's happened to these job for life 'weekly' reviews of the TNG episodes? As of 6/10 the last review seems to be this one on the 19/10.

Sorry! Marc Alaimo!!! But not one of my favourite episodes! The Wounded is much better.

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