The Inner Light

Remember that time Picard had a wife and kids and mastered playing the flute? Except it wasn’t Picard – it was the entirety of Kamin’s life, played out on the dying planet Kataan. Find out what lessons Picard learns from walking a lifetime in someone else’s shoes when we put The Inner Light into this week’s Mission Log.

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  1. Resender says:

    This is in my top 5 TNG episodes.
    Also imagine the sheer agony of the government knowing full well what’s going on but having absolute no power to do anything about it, but opting for not letting the people know to avoid mass panic.

    What I was wondering allways, what else was onboard the probe except for the flute, did they include an archive of their history…

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      Ya, what if it was encountered by a species incapable of meshing with the mind probe.

    • deaddropsd says:

      It would be a shame if there were not at least the traditional time capsule/message in a bottle extinction prep… type stuff…history of the planet, species, bio samples, a message of what happened, star charts…etc….

  2. Gail Gerard says:

    Really looking forward to listening to this because it’s one of my favorite episodes.

    And given what just happened with our President Elect, yeah..I think we all need some distraction from the baktag show that’s going on.

    *edited because I haven’t had coffee yet and I mixed up my Klingon curse words*

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      Please no political stuff from the real world

      • deaddropsd says:

        I was thinking a climate change thread would be here….kinda sad to think of us going out like that or “Interstellar” w a very sad grim ending…bummer

        • Earl Green says:

          Give it about five billion years and our sun will, in fact, do that to us. And maybe there’s a mostly-obscured message there: “How’s your space program doing?” Kataan has advanced neurotechnology as evidenced by the probe, but only rudimentary missile technology; a lot more emphasis on missile technology might have made them a multi-planet species, which is the beginning of a hedge against extinction.

          (Besides, if they colonized another planet, they’d be – wait for it – settlers of Kataan.)

        • Dave Steph Taylor says:

          Ya, this catastrophe was unable to be fixed. The first few years there were options to make things better, but the fate was sealed.

    • deaddropsd says:

      I think it is on everyone’s top 10 or 5 ! I plan to Netflix this w my wife later….

  3. CmdrR says:

    Sir Patrick’s reaction to the auction of his Ressikan flute is priceless…

    • Wildride says:

      One of his credits it the replacement Merrick in the Buffy TV show which also had an episode where a character “wakes up” to be told her life so far in the series was a dream of sorts.

  4. Dave Steph Taylor says:

    Good thing the mind probe did not just scramble Picard’s brain. They had no idea what kind of species they would encounter. Did the program adjust the characters of this world to look like humans, or is this just another example of everyone looks alike? I would have preferred them to do a few minor prosthetics to at least make them look a little bit different.

    For a society that is still developing rocketry, their neuro tech is top notch.

    And, (as is often the case with these episodes), I wish there had been some continuing thread of Picard’s entire other life lived as Batai.

    • CmdrR says:

      A-a-a-a-a, you’re thinking. Stop it. Stop it now. Not with this episode!

    • Jason8957 says:

      The only basis for comparison we have for what technologies develop at what rates is our own. The needs or desires of a society would seem to drive which technology is developed. For example, I think of batteries as a really old technology (Benjamin Franklin had batteries) that we neglected for a century and now we are scrambling to improve them because of a recent need for them to be better (devices and cars).

    • deaddropsd says:

      I think if a Klingon had found them, they would look Klingon, but not BE Klingon…just whatever makes the finder feel comfortable….

      • Dave Steph Taylor says:

        The guys mention this on the podcast. Would the whole town look and act Klingon??

        • Earl Green says:

          “You want us to build atmospheric condensers? YOU HAVE NO HONOR!”

          On the balance of things, I think it’s best that it latched onto Picard. LOL

          • Dave Steph Taylor says:

            As discussed, on the podcast, would the events be changed per the person? If so,would it be their society or just what matches the person’s ideal.

            Clearly this society and those in it appealed to Picard enough so that he was able to put aside his former life and live happily as Kamin. I can’t imagine a Klingon being happy in Kataan, nor a Ferengi, nor a Vulcan, etc.

            Gotta stop thinking too much and just enjoy this great episode.

  5. Mike B says:

    Great podcast. Thank you.

    Is this a Star Trek story? Star Trek is lucky to have it as a story. This kind of story, and City on the Edge of Forever and In the Pale Moonlight, shape the tone of the entire series. Deep, meaningful and genuinely emotional (I teared up too). The message is there and the message is beautiful–enjoy, treasure, cherish.

    As for Picard, the path not taken (archaeology or home life) is not necessarily the path he wants. All Good Things shows him as being exactly where he wants to be — but just a bit friendlier and he gets there steadily from here to there.

    As for our guest stars, I want to put a word in for a documentary called That Guy Who Was In That Thing. It is a good piece about working actors that includes a line “Everybody does Star Trek.” and shows all the featured actors in their Trek roles.

  6. Earl Green says:

    Does Picard walk away from this with a better appreciation for carpe-ing his diem? I’d actually argue that no, he doesn’t, at least no more than in any other installment of TNG. Jumping the timeline just a bit, it seems like we’re at the series finale before he’s actually integrating that lesson into his life, finally showing Beverly his feelings and opening up to the rest of his crew. Arguably, he’s still espousing that viewpoint in Generations as well, at least in the very last scene.

    Until then…he’s pretty much standard-issue Picard.

    This episode hits me a lot differently than it did before I had kids. It’s a beautifully constructed piece of television, never overplaying its hand in any aspect, never quite descending into schmaltz or sentimentality.

    It’s interesting that the poll-toppers for the best Star Trek episodes ever were all so off-format. I’ve become a little self-conscious that my personal favorites for any given show tend to be episodes that are wide of the “safe area” in which they usually do their storytelling; I worry that there’s a little hipster in me, ready to emerge like a chestburster with a little man-bun and a little bottle of craft beer. This makes me feel a little bit better.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      My thought is that he lived this other life. From now on, Picard no longer has to wonder what it would be to have a family.

    • deaddropsd says:

      I also had a newfound appreciation for this episode and I recently completed the video game “The Last Of Us”….yeah, fatherhood really impacts one’s appreciation of stories and their impact!

  7. Wildride says:

    Speaking of “… Interest rates fluctuate.” It would be hilarious if, as Kamen is watching the probe leave, he turns and says, “I’ll miss you most of all, Scare Crow!”

  8. nathankc says:

    Great podcast and great Trek episode. One question / comment from me regards the editing of the show. I’ve always liked this episode but have wondered how different it would play if, after the probe, we never cut back to the Enterprise until Picard is free from the probe. I think taking the audience on the journey with Picard and doubting what is real and what isn’t, rather than being shown over and over again that this is just an illusion would be an interesting way to tell the story.

    • deaddropsd says:

      That would have been EPIC!. absolutely they way this episode and “Remember Me”, “Clues” should have gone….keep us in that uncertainty zone for a longer time!!

    • Div Collins says:

      I logged in to ask this exact question of the structure. Would have loved to see if it had ever been considered..

      I’m also reminded of that recent clip of Rick & Morty – “Keep Summer Safe” – as in what sort of weapon capabilities does such a device have? Zap an enemy, make them live a lifetime of peace, family, progress, empathy – then bam they return back to the present. I imagine pulling a trigger would be the least thing on their mind.

      • nathankc says:

        that’s very similar to the DS9 episode where O’Brian is imprisoned in much the same way. “Hard Time” I think it’s called

  9. Jason8957 says:

    I have thought of this episode as the “City on the Edge of Forever” of TNG.

    A compelling story of love that ends in tragedy in a far off place that the captain has to live with.

    There are a couple of plot-hole nit-picks I have, but I don’t have the heart to talk about them.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      Except that in this one, he lived a full life with her and she died of natural causes. In Kirk’s episode he has to make the choice of letting her die.

      • Jason8957 says:

        The tragedy I was thinking of was the planet dying. It was a sad ending that neither character could really do anything about.

  10. deaddropsd says:

    I also appreciated the “Batai, go home…” comment. I grew up across the street from 2 of my best friends. Same age, for all three of us…wow, how lucky…. Still good friends and it’s just like family/growing up on the same street….

  11. JGG1701 . says:

    Beautiful episode. One of the BEST!
    -Jim G.G.

  12. FeltLuke says:

    Any time this episode is on TV, I can be heard loudly proclaiming “NOPE!” before changing the channel. Not because it’s bad, I love it, but because you have to be ready to have your day wrecked. Jurassic Bark (Futurama) gets the same reaction from me.

  13. Danny-wa says:

    One of the very best of all series. I have to agree with “City . . .” and “Pale Moonlight . . .” It’s these episodes that show how well the actors have taken the material and become the characters. And that last scene before the end of the experience, when there’s the “curtain call” at the very end of the episode, just makes it for me. Just so good!

    • Muthsarah says:

      Fitting that each of the “greatest” is probably the best example of what made each series so unique:

      TOS/City – Pure anthology, very broad themes, quick romance, idealism, moral dilemmas with clear (if not always easy) solutions, meant to point humanity on the way forward.

      TNG/Light – Semi-anthology (the flute comes back, but only once), deep emotional focus, “Tech gonna tech” plot, an inCREDibly strong central actor, the deepest of dives into human values and the very nature of life and how one should decide how to lead it.

      DS9/Moonlight – Serialization (you just can’t grok the episode without context), swan-diving into the murky grays, intensely political, character conflicts abound, a warning that morality, or life itself, is never as simple as we’d like it to be.

      None of these episodes are my favorites of their respective series, but they’re all VERY close, and I totally get why they’re so beloved.

      • Danny-wa says:

        Thank you for the clarifications. I found I was reading and re-reading your post because I agree 100% with you.

  14. Muthsarah says:

    John, you say you cried a lil’ watching this. I barely prevented myself from crying just listening to you recap the episode’s ending. I haven’t seen it in…maybe two years. I know it backwards and forwards. Doesn’t matter, it’s still so incredibly moving, I can’t help but get sucked into it. And, given the subject matter and Picard’s role in the story, I have to believe it will only get more poignant as I get older. This is probably one of those works that will only mean more and more the longer we keep it with us.

  15. Nic Anastassiou says:

    My wife passed away a few years ago. The last 8 years of her life were marked by an illness she fought as fiercely as she could. I did my best to walk the path hand in hand with her and the intensity of the moments we shared contributed to make the time we had truly feel like a lifetime. I’m 45, but at the time of her passing felt like I had the experiences of a man twice my age crammed in my head & in my heart.
    Though I would trade those experiences in a heartbeat to have her back, it did give me a unique outlook I never had before.
    A few months after her death I was running, listening to music, when the Inner Light suite came on. I hadn’t thought of that episode in a long time, in fact at that point I hadn’t watched TNG in years.
    Less than a minute into listening to the suite I was flooded with emotions and broke down crying in the middle of the road, as I felt a surge of sadness but also understanding.

    The Inner Light is more than sci-fi poetry. It’s a beautiful story about the linearity of life, the power, the gift and the curse that is memory. Every time I rewatch the episode now, when it comes to the end scene and Picard stands by the window with his flute, thinking, reliving, utterly alone yet also enriched with a whole life’s worth of experiences, I know *exactly* how he feels.

    Objectively speaking I think the episode is in the top 10 or 20 of all Trek, though I know some are better. Personally, it’s my all time favorite.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      Sorry for your loss so young. I am not too far behind you in years and can not imagine if my wife passed before we got old.

      Picard is the one who never got married. He then found himself in another life, falling in love and then loosing that love and then returning to “normal” life. Hello Troi, I need an appointment ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Nic Anastassiou says:

        Thank you Dave. It is difficult to find words to describe that kind of loss. It’s like being a compass without its needle.. I would not wish the experience on my worst enemy, sincerely.
        Your description of Picard’s “journey” is dead-on, another reason why that final image of him by the window resonates so deeply with me ๐Ÿ™‚

    • ramodou says:

      This was my husband’s favorite episode. He died eight years ago at just 49 years old. I have not been able to watch that episode since then. I think that even after this long, I’d still completely break down crying with it.

    • deaddropsd says:

      Thanks for sharing. Painful as it was…these losses do shape us and make us who we are. Still sucks though. I am 44 and although I lost my Dad last year, it pales in comparison to what you have been through….ugh…damn linear time. Be well…

  16. Scott Newland says:

    XLNT episode, and an equally XLNT podcast. I enjoyed every minute of it.
    This sort of story, with its “road not taken” theme, gets me every time. This episode and many others (“Tapestry”, “The Visitor”, etc., even “This Side of Paradise”) as well as movies I love such as”The Family Man” and of course “It’s a Wonderful Life”) are great in that they challenge us (me, anyway) to question our life’s choices and priorities. I’ve literally made major life decisions based on these sort of stories!
    Post script:
    The other TV-based podcast I enjoy, “The West Wing Weekly”, just covered season 2’s “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” in which, like yours, I rewatched the episode before listening to the podcast. This particular episode featured – yes, Richard Riehle! And he’s sitting here now having a Grand Marnier on ice with me!

  17. Earl Green says:

    Almost forgot the customary syndication synopsis – sorry about that. (Hey, we found plenty to talk about, I doubt anyone noticed.) Interesting how the TV Guide log lines for this episode barely even begin to scratch the surface.


  18. Durakken says:

    Touched lightly on an interesting topic…
    The borg took away Picard’s Identity, The Kataan gave Picard a new identity. It would be interesting to see that play out more… that conflict.

    Funny thing to think about… When they ask the name of the planet and such they say it’s name is Kataan which means the Vulcans or one of the allied races were there, documented their civilization and let it die, because with tech of any of the races that could have seen them at the time they would have been able to fix or at least see the problem long before it happened… That would sting if I was one of them and knew that was the case.

    • Earl Green says:

      Man, I’d never thought about that. If this had happened, say, right after “Family”…you know, does Troi have staff, does she have a counseling staff and she’s the head of that department, or is she the only one? I’m just saying… she’d be really busy in that scenario because Picard – or anyone else for that matter – would be a quivering wreck after that one-two punch.

      Considering how many times various crew members get their heads messed with as it is, I’m amazed she’s got so much time to sit in Ten Forward and lovingly spoon her chocolate around the bowl. Not that I mind her doing that. Not one bit.

      Sorry, drifted off there. Which episode are we on again?

  19. Durakken says:

    I just remembered you talked about being in a situation and knowing there is no way out… That’s not quite what Picard is in. He’s in a situation that he has on some level knowledge that it isn’t “real” and so there is a way out, he just doesn’t know what it is…He knows that he there are options he just needs to figure them out or that the Enterprise needs to figure them out.

    Being in a trap and knowing there is a way out or not realizing your in a box or not knowing how futile it is is such a better situation than Knowing the situation is futile. Whatever stress it puts you in is made worse by knowing you can’t escape and any pleasure it gives you is damaged by knowing you have no choice. It’s torturous in any way you look at it. But since Picard isn’t in this situation he has the choice to sit back, relax and have fun with it.

    • Dave Steph Taylor says:

      The way I saw it, Picard as Kamin at first held onto the idea that he was Picard. At some point in the 40 years he believed he was Kamin.

  20. John Anderton says:

    This is the very essence of good science fiction – develop a science fiction device that tell us about what it is like to be human in the character development of it’s protagonist. By contrasting Picard’s two lives in the space of a few minutes it shocks us into understanding something about ourselves.

    This episode is why we watch Star Trek. It could be the best, if such a ranking is possible.