Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Half A Life

Star Trek: TNG tackles the thorny ethical debate around euthanasia in its latest season four episode, Half A Life...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

4.22 Half A Life

Lwaxana Troi accompanies Captain Picard to meet a visitor from the planet Kaelon II, where the Enterprise has recently arrived. The man – Timicin – is a scientist seeking the Federation’s help in restarting his system’s dying star. Unfortunately, Lwaxana Troi is more interested in restarting Timicin’s dying libido.

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Timicin explains to the crew that with some modified photon torpedoes they can restart a star, so the Enterprise rushes him to a valid test site. Meanwhile Lwaxana Troi is spending all her time trying to get Timicin to notice her, which he eventually does. I mean the only way you’d find it easier to notice her is if she wore christmas lights all the time.

Like all attempts to play God, the plan to restart the star backfires in Timicin’s face and it blows up, while the real God looks on and laughs. Timicin also reveals to Lwaxana Troi that he can’t stay and be her new boy-toy because he has to go back home and kill himself. Ah yeah, we’ve all heard that excuse to get out of a date.

Unfortunately, Lwaxana isn’t going to let this go. She eventually convinces him that his planet’s strange and weird customs are strange and weird. Timicin insists that killing yourself is a big party and that he doesn’t want his kids to have to look after him when his mind starts to go. Just keep reminding yourself, it’s their custom.

But Timicin realises he might have a way to fix the experiment and uses a computer model to reassure himself. Convinced of his value to society by Lwaxana’s aggressive badgering, he asks Picard for asylum. Picard, ever the administrator, is clearly just thinking about the paperwork this’ll involve but agrees anyway.

Unfortunately, Timicin’s decision to save the world means he’s ostracised by his family and friends, all of whom are looking forward to their star incinerating them into a fine mist. Even his daughter comes to visit him and try to make him change his mind (though she mostly seems to be crying about her own haircut). As a result of this isolation and coercion, Timicin “decides” that he will go through with the suicide after all. Completely of his own accord. Yep. Not at all pressured into it.

Ultimately, the episode ends with Timicin returning home and Lwaxana following him to the planet to watch his suicide ritual occur, representing that she has come to terms with this insane and unrealistic culture clash. As they beam down to the planet, Timicin and Lwaxana hold hands. I always wondered if some screaming Kaelon/Betazoid hybrid lands on the planet instead. It worked when they did it with Tuvix, I guess…

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TNG WTF: I mean the concept of a euthanasia planet is pretty bizarre, but then it’s not half as weird as about 90% of the planets they visited in the original series. And let’s face it, they go fairly deep on the logic behind the culture too, whether or not you agree with it. By the standards of Star Trek this episode is virtually pedestrian.

TNG LOL: This is the only episode in seven seasons where Troi gets to give the personal log intro narration. And you can sort of tell why. Where Picard and Riker et al are making diary entries for the posterity of future listening, Troi turns out to be the sort of person who scrawls one line (“My mother is on board.”) and then stops. You’d think the counsellor would be a little more in touch with her feelings.

To Boldly Go: The Enterprise is helping out the people of Kaelon II in their attempts to restart the fusion in their dying star. Noble? Yes. Bold? Well…

Mistakes and Minutiae: Picard cites the Prime Directive as a reason not to convince Timicin not to kill himself, which is a stretch even for him. Timicin isn’t from a pre-warp culture and he wasn’t being given knowledge he didn’t already have. Maybe Picard’s just jumpy because he almost got prosecuted for breaking the rules last episode.

Who’s That Face?: Timicin’s daughter is Michelle Forbes, aka Ro Laren, aka the woman who has been in absolutely every TV series and you always recognise her because you’re sitting there going “It’s bloody Ro Laren!” (or is that just me?)

Time Until Meeting: 4:38. We barely make it out of the credits before there’s a lecture about Helium Fusion Enhancement in the meeting room. Be still my heart.

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Captain’s Log: I mean there are two types of Star Trek episodes: the ones centred on a heavy-handed allegory, and the ones centred on a REALLY heavy-handed allegory. This episode doesn’t even try to disguise the fact that it’s about euthanasia. In fact, despite the fact that I don’t think anyone actually uses the word, they just stand around spouting euthanasia arguments at one another. Quite brave, given that it was twenty years ago, though also depressing because the arguments haven’t exactly moved on since then.

On my rewatch of TNG I’ve come to appreciate the Lwaxana episodes a lot more than I used to. Majel Barrett’s performance is completely over the top still, but it doesn’t grate like it once did. I was actually sad she didn’t get more scenes with Troi in this episode, because I like seeing that relationship on screen. It’s a little odd, in fact, that the episode focuses on two non-regular characters. Doctor Crusher gets one line. One! In what is, effectively, an episode about medical ethics!

Still, it’s a memorable episode for its concept, if not anything that actually happens in it. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t really take a position by the end of the story. Is Timicin being given the ability to decide his own fate and take a dignified death? Or is he succumbing to societal pressures and being shamed into killing himself. Who knows! Not the writers. Cowards. 

Read James’ lookback at the previous episode, The Drumhead, here.