Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Survivors

Review James Hunt 7 Mar 2014 - 07:17

The crew of the Enterprise need to talk about Kevin in James' latest TNG season 3 look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

3.3 The Survivors

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Federation Colony only to discover the entire planet has been wiped out, save for a small plot of land on which they find a house and two aging scientists, Kevin and Rishon. Troi correctly senses something unusual about this couple, but before she can explain in more detail she begins to hear a tedious, endlessly repeating sound in her mind, which crueller people might say is an experience not unlike taking counsel from Troi herself.

While the psychic earworm drives Troi insane, the Enterprise crew gently interrogates the two survivors about how they came to not be vaporised alongside everyone else. Suddenly, the Enterprise is attacked by a large warship which runs away the second they fire a return shot. Picard gives chase of the space cowards, but is unable to find them.

When Data points out that there's no record of this warship ever having existed before, Picard returns to the survivors in their home, hoping for more answers. At this point Troi has effectively lost her mind and can do little more than beg those around her to stop, which cruller people might say is an experience not unlike being a patient of Troi herself.

Convinced that there's something special about these indestructible pensioners, Picard tries to take them back to the Enterprise. They refuse vociferously, and before he can force the issue the warship returns. This time, the ship is much stronger and less cowardly and even their most over-charged phasers fail to make so much as a dent. This time, they're the space cowards, and Picard runs away.

Ignoring the fact that correlation does not equal causation, Picard surmises that Troi's brain-music and the survivors' stubbornness are connected. He returns, once again, to the colony planet to find the warship gone and the survivors completely fine. Better than fine! They're even having a little celebration! They're surprised by Picard and Worf's interruption, and Picard starts to get annoyed at their evasiveness and half-truths.

After declaring that the Enterprise will not leave until they get answers, Picard returns to the ship Almost instantly, the warship arrives and, rather than attacking the Enterprise, nukes the survivors from orbit. The ship is then destroyed by a single photo torpedo. Pretty much everyone is horrified by this, except Picard, who insists they stay put. After three hours, the house and its occupants suddenly reappear. Picard beams the survivors directly to the bridge for a stern talking to.

Sick of the lies, Kevin makes a surprise announcement. He's an immortal alien with vast and strange powers who decided to live as a human on the colony with his human wife. When it was attacked, he held back rather than reveal his powers while she went to help fight, and died. Despite being a committed pacifist, he used his unspecified great powers to commit genocide on the entire race, then recreated his house and wife from his own memories. Living in self-imposed exile, he admits he created the warship to try and scare the Enterprise away, and then switches off the music in Troi's head.

After hearing all this, Picard decides that he's not really qualified to deal with the situation and lets Kevin return to the surface. They add a note to the planet's Wikipedia entry telling people not to bother the guy. Another job well done, I guess.

TNG WTF: So, here's the thing. Kevin's powers. Vague doesn't even begin to describe them. He's powerful enough to create an indestructible warship capable of besting the Enterprise, but he can't manipulate their sensors so they don't see him. He's powerful enough to psychically invade Troi, but doesn't notice when Picard's hiding around the next tree. Oh, and he KILLED EVERYONE IN AN ENTIRE RACE. EVERYONE. EVEN THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN. Whatever his race is, they must have led a very odd lifestyle to develop that sort of power set.

TNG LOL: A moment of deadpan Worf as he drinks tea:
"Well, what do you think, Mr. Worf?"
"Good tea. (Looks around) Nice house."

Also, Picard's final thought: "I am not certain if he should be praised or condemned." Let us remind you that he KILLED EVERYONE IN AN ENTIRE RACE. EVERYONE. ESPECIALLY THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN. I'm pretty sure he should be condemned rather than praised.

Time Until Meeting: 11:25. Picard tries to figure out the situation, just as Troi begins to hear the ice-cream van music in her head.

Captain's Log: This is one of those episodes where the serviceable mystery ("How did they survive?") and reasonably good high concept ("Immortal alien deals with his regrets") are utterly undone by the execution, which consists of the Enterprise constantly arriving and then leaving the same location and having the same conversations over and over.

Worse still, for the plot to work it has to rely on a huge number of contrivances around Kevin's abilities (not least the ability to be an alien called Kevin without it seeming ridiculous). He can do almost anything, except the few things that might be useful in hiding him. Maybe he just suffers from a paucity of ambition, but the fact that he almost immediately thinks "I know what'll get these people to leave, I'll simply make sure the one suspicious person goes completely insane!" suggests that his problem is more that he's fundamentally an idiot.

Basically, this is one of those episodes where things happen a certain way because the way they have to happen for the plot to work. The lack of any underlying logic, or even character reasoning, means it's hugely unsatisfying and the ending isn't smart enough or convincingly well-executed to excuse that.

Watch or Skip? Skip. It's been a while since I've said that about a non-clip show episode, but even the sight of Riker hanging upside down in a snare trap doesn't make this worth watching.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, The Ensigns Of Command, here.

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