Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Where Silence Has Lease

The Enterprise is messed with by a giant floating space face in this week's look-back at TNG's second season...

This review contains spoilers.

2.2 Where Silence Has Lease

The Enterprise is in the Morgana Quadrant doing some charting (ah, charting. The stuff explorers dream of) when they encounter a weird spacehole. It’s like a hole in space. Clearly, this is the first interesting thing they’ve found in weeks because they fly towards it and start shooting probes into it. Unfortunately, said probes just disappear without trace. Naturally, this intrigues Picard so he inches the ship ever-closer to it.

Suddenly it engulfs the Enterprise! Oh no! Wait, we all pretty much expected that to happen, right?

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Inside the spacehole, the crew performs various scans and recover no interesting information. At one point Dr. Pulaski turns up and starts having a go at Data for being unable to work his console (no wonder I never warmed to her. She’s insulting the one crew member everyone else loves. She’s a robophobe!) but eventually they decide there’s nothing to learn and try to leave. Except they can’t! The Enterprise is stuck!

Attempting to escape, they drop a beacon and fly away from it. Suddenly, it’s in front of them! Oh no! Non-Euclidian space! (Well, more Non-Euclidian than usual.) Deciding that they’re sick of going in circles (literally) Picard orders a stop. Suddenly, a Romulan Warbird appears out of nowhere and fires. Everyone freaks the hell out, until it blows up after a single shot. “There’s no debris”, says Data. “That’s because instead of blowing up models, we simply overlay explosions on top of model shots to save money” says the visual effects director.

They’ve barely started to figure out that things have gone a bit crazy when the USS Yamato – another Galaxy Class starship – appears. There are no lifesigns. It’s a ghost ship! Things are obviously tense and confusing, so Picard sends an away team consisting of his most expendable men: Riker and Worf. On board, everything’s confusing. Rooms are in the wrong place, and Worf gets into a fight with a door because he finds it leads to the room he’s already in. No-one let him play a game of Portal.

Picard recovers Worf and Riker as the Yamato disappears, but meanwhile a gap has opened up in the anomaly showing a possible exit. Picard asks Ensign Haskell, everyone’s favourite crew member, to move the ship towards it. But every time they try, the gap moves or closes. Eventually they give up. Pulaski points out that they’re being experimented on, and Troi suddenly chimes in saying that now Pulaski mentions it, she can sense a vast malevolent intelligence at work. Thanks for the timely update. Picard decides the best course of action is to do nothing.

Suddenly, a giant floating face appears on the viewscreen, introducing itself as Nagilum. After checking everyone out, it determines that Data is a robot, Pulaski is a woman, and everyone else is uninteresting. In an effort the understand the life cycle of humans, Nagilum uses his limitless psychic power to kill Ensign Haskell. OH NO! He then nonchalantly mentions that he plans to kill another 30-50% of the crew too. Uh-oh.

Picard calls a meeting and decides to initiate the self-destruct as a way of preventing Nagilum from getting what he wants (wait, WHAT?). He and Riker decide on twenty minutes as a nice round amount of time to prepare for death (come on, not an even half hour?!) and retire to their quarters to wait for the inevitable. Nagilum comes to Picard in the forms of Troi and Data, but the ruse is spotted when they both accidentally use his first name (the swines). Angered by this over-familiarity, Picard has a quick rant at Nagilum and suddenly the Enterprise is back in normal space.

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Picard isn’t so easily fooled, though, and he takes the self-destruct sequence right down to the wire before cancelling it. Literally the last ten seconds. Presumably everyone on the lower decks was weeping and screaming and then confused about how they managed to stay alive, but luckily we only care about the bridge crew. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and Picard heads into his ready room where Nagilum appears on a laptop and has a chat about how hostile and militant humans are, unlike the giant floaty-faced race to which he belongs. Unable to argue with this nigh-omnipotent being any longer, Picard gives him the brush off and returns to the bridge, ordering the Enterprise back on course and to avoid any holes.

TNG WTF: You don’t get more WTF than the episode’s main antagonist being a giant floating face. In that way, Nagilum is classic Star Trek. By which I mean, he could’ve come from classic Star Trek. A ridiculous low-budget effect hovering in space, issuing vague philosophical gibberish and passing judgement on the crew. This episode couldn’t be more like TOS if it tried. Apparently it was the first script specifically written for Season 2 of TNG, but this is as Kirk-esque as Picard has ever acted. Maybe that was intentional.

TNG LOL: Ad-break peril! At the end of the first act, Picard asks all stations for a report and gets no response. There’s a dramatic music cue! It fades to black. When it comes back. Picard immediately announces in voiceover that “After a brief disruption, our ship’s communications have returned to normal.” Okay then!

There are a couple of genuine laughs, though. Picard cutting off Data shortly before he launches into an extended infodump is never not funny, and Riker confirming the self-destruct deactivation one of TNG‘s most memorable moments:

Riker: “Yes, absolutely, I do indeed concur wholeheartedly.”Picard: “A simple yes would’ve sufficed, Number One.”Riker: “I didn’t want there to be any chance of misunderstanding.”

There’s also an unintentionally funny Riker line, when he describes being inside the weird spacehole as “like looking into infinity.” Er, which is basically what you spend your day doing anyway, isn’t it?

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Who’s that Face?: Nagilum is mostly face, but strangely you might recognise the actor – Earl Boen – as the voice of the Zombie Pirate LeChuck from Monkey Island. He’s also Dr. Silberman in the first three Terminator films (the guy whose neck Sarah Conner sticks a syringe into in Terminator 2.)

Time Until Meeting: 34:52. A late one! Presumably because they’ve spent almost the entire episode on the bridge and fancy a change of scenery.

Captain’s Log: There’s a fair amount of dumb stuff in this episode – primarily the length of time it takes them to figure out that they’re stuck and then that there’s an intelligence behind what’s happening – but in general, it’s pretty good. The tension is nicely built, defused, and then built up again. The characters approach their situation methodically and logically (you know, like you’d expect a science and exploration vessel to do.) The weirdness is genuinely unnerving, but even then the character moments are fun and subtle. It’s not a particularly great episode, but it’s actually showing signs of becoming as good as we remember.

Of course, on the downside it’s an episode that takes place almost entirely on the bridge area. There’s an opening scene in the holodeck for no apparent reason, and a scene in Picard’s quarters, but for the most part it’s all bridge, meeting room and ready room. Not very dynamic.

Still, for many people, this is what Star Trek should be. Seeking out new life and boldly going into situations that are so far beyond normal experience that they can barely be articulated. When the bulk of an episode’s action takes place in a spacehole with no dimensions, no energy and no mass, while a giant face performs experiments on the crew, it’s fair to say it’s not taking the easy way out.

Watch or Skip? Watch. Not just because it’s a very Star Trek-y episode of Star Trek, but because it’s full of fun character moments and interesting direction.

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