This review contains spoilers.
Hurray! It’s the first episode starring Deanna Troi. Wait, do I mean hurray?
The episode begins with the Enterprise arriving at Haven, the kind of subtly-named planet we see a lot of in TNG‘s early days (although it’s probably better than hearing the likes of “Rigel III” again). And in an unusual turn of events, this week there are two things happening!
The first is that Troi’s husband-to-be, to whom she was betrothed as a child, is finally cashing in his chips. Almost literally, as the first indication Troi (or anyone else) gets of this is the moment a treasure chest vomits coins all over the transporter pad. Troi’s mother, Lwaxana, as well as Doctor Wyatt Miller and his family, follow soon after as Troi comes to term with the idea that she’s going to be quitting her job at short-notice.
Meanwhile, the people on Haven are upset about a ship containing the last few Tarellians is hoping to visit their planet. The Tarellians are infected with some kind of horrible disease that wiped out their civilisation (although curiously, one which appears to manifest no symptoms) and just want a place to live out the rest of their lives in isolation. Haven, not unsurprisingly, isn’t keen on having them on the ground.
Wyatt and Troi pursue a tentative and not at all stilted romance (cough) while Riker makes annoyed expressions, vaguely acknowledging a previous romantic link with Troi that most of season one’s writers presumably forgot to hint at in their script after it was first mentioned in Encounter at Farpoint. As Troi and Wyatt grow closer, the in-laws bicker monstrously, not least over whether the wedding will be a Human ceremony, or a Betazoid (which is to say, naked) ceremony.
Although Troi reluctantly decides to honour her betrothal to Wyatt, he isn’t quite so committed. Turns out he’s been dreaming about some girl for years, sketching her face, generally doing all sorts of things that would have him thrown in prison (or a psychological unit) in any normal society. And just as it looks like Troi’s leaving the cast forever… it turns out that the girl is on the Tarellian ship. Wyatt transports there to be with the woman of his (literal) dreams, they agree not to land on Haven now that they have a doctor on board, the wedding is off (on account of the groom’s recent infection with a genocidal plague) and everything goes – you guessed it – back to normal.
Whether this is a happy ending or not is debatable. Troi gets to keep her old life, and although he’s got a new girlfriend, Wyatt has been forever separated from his family and infected with a plague that wiped out an entire civilisation. Let’s face it, it’s unlikely he’s going to succeed in curing it.
That said, the episode itself isn’t bad. Admittedly, it’s one about “relationships”, which are never anyone’s favourites as far as sci-fi TV is concerned, but the plot’s got a fairly sane grounding; it hints at having an opinion on arranged marriage but isn’t too didactic about it; and if nothing else, it introduces Lwaxana Troi, who’s an intentionally annoying character and thus great fun in how she gets the largely stuffy TNG cast riled up. It’s not great, but at least it feels competent. Things are definitely coming together.
TNG WTF: The Betazoid Gift Box is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen, to the point where almost twenty years after first viewing this episode, I still can’t hear the word “Rejoice” without thinking of a silver face screaming it in an inhuman voice.
TNG LOL: There are a lot of genuinely funny moments in this episode, normally involving Lwaxana Troi’s reluctance to sugar-coat her opinion of anything, and Data’s rather inappropriate (but genuine) anthropological curiosity in the inter-family bickering that precedes Troi and Wyatt’s wedding.
But the biggest laugh? The bit where we see that one of Riker’s down-time activities involves listening to harp music played by two miniature holographic women. You can sort of see why they thought that might be a reasonable way to spend time in the future, but it just comes off as incredibly ridiculous.
Who’s that Face?: The Gift Box is Armin Shimerman, aka Quark of DS9. Lwaxana Troi is, of course, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who played Nurse Chapel in ST: TOS and was married to Gene Roddenberry. And Mr. Homn is Carel Struycken, who turns up playing a giant dude in all sorts of things, but was also notably Lurch in the Addams Family remake films of the 1990s.
Time Until Meeting: 18:56. Everyone (except Worf and Wesley, who aren’t in this episode) sits down for a chat about what to do about the Tarellians. It’s mainly used as an excuse for Data to give a big infodump about the plague-carrying crew. Presumably they don’t bother with printed notes in the future.
Captain’s Log: Troi episodes tend to test the patience of even the most devoted Trek fan. In fairness, everyone’s favourite Betazed hasn’t quite had the time to settle into the role of walking plot device just yet, and if we look at it objectively, this episode actually delivers quite well on the story thread of Deanna and Riker having some kind of shared past. It’s just a shame it’s been almost entirely ignored since Encounter at Farpoint.
More importantly, though, this episode is one of the first to properly execute the idea that TNG episodes can have an A and B plot which dovetail nicely in the final act. Prior to this, episodes have either been very linear downhill rides to the inevitable moment where Wesley saves the day, or jazz freeform stories that veer wildly from one idea to the next before declaring the plot concluded. Haven has two threads – Troi’s arranged marriage, and the Tarellian’s plight – and by the end of the episode, the two neatly solve one another.
Watch or Skip? Watch, if for no other reason than Lwaxana Troi is a fairly important (and recurring) guest star whose introduction is worth seeing.
Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Hide and Q, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.