An alien scientist, Timicin, comes aboard the Enterprise to test his method for rejuvenating his planet's dying sun. In the process, he strikes up a relationship with Counselor Troi's mother, Lwaxana. But soon it's revealed that on Timicin's planet, people at age 60 are expected to take part in a ritual suicide called the "Resolution" -- and that he's only days shy of that mark. Worse, when his experiment fails, he questions whether any other scientists from his world will be able to take up his work after his death and save the sun before it fails completely.
If the writers were going to center an episode around its guest characters, they at least set themselves up for the greatest chance of success. For the critical role of Timicin, they cast the brilliant David Ogden Stiers. IMdB lists more than 150 credits to his name, and though I'll probably never see them all, I can say I've never seen him in any role of substance where he was any less than brilliant. He has a wonderfully real, yet carefully understated method of performing that instantly draws the audience in. Here, he has several incredibly challenging scenes, but handles them all with skill. When Timicin's experiment fails, you can feel the crushing weight he feels: a life's work wasted, and all for nothing. When he explains the reasoning behind the custom of the Resolution, he does so in a way that makes it more than a "wacky sci-fi premise"; you can actually almost believe a society might find it logical.
Then, of course, there was Majel Barrett. In a way, she was almost "family" and not a guest star, having appeared three other times as Lwaxana Troi, and of course providing the voice of the ship's computer virtually every week. But the decision to use her here in a dramatic storyline, rather than as comic relief, was a very risky one. Frankly, there are moments in the episode where she's not quite up to the challenge -- her breakdown to Deanna in the transporter room feels a bit manufactured, for example. Still, she holds her own in her scenes with Stiers, nailing the two critical moments on which the story really hangs: first, the scathing "if your planet's time has come, why save it?" moment that drives Timicin to seek asylum; and lastly, the closing moment in which Lwaxana accompanies Timicin to his Resolution.
There's also one more important guest star here that you might otherwise forget was in this episode: Michelle Forbes. She has a single scene as Timicin's daughter Dara. It's not a very long scene, but it's a dense and layered one. Dara pleads with her father to go through with the Resolution, curses Lwaxana for corrupting him, and ultimately disowns him as someone she no longer knows. Forbes hits every beat perfectly, and is just as strong in her performance as David Ogden Stiers is in his. She reportedly made such an impact on the producers that they thought of her when they were casting for Ensign Ro Laren just a short while later. If they had any concern about using the same actor twice so soon, and so recognizably, the summer hiatus between seasons and the quality of her work here clearly put any such concerns at bay.
From one point of view, this story of this episode isn't particularly original. Compulsory suicide has been examined in other sci-fi settings, most notoriously in Logan's Run. But the writing here is clever enough to bring some new things to the table. It's the first Star Trek script from Peter Allan Fields, who would later contribute two more episodes of The Next Generation (including the brilliant "The Inner Light") and 10 episodes of Deep Space Nine.
For one thing, there's coy dialogue leading up to the big reveal. Timicin talks wistfully of wanting to rescue his planet's sun before he dies, and of a wife who died a few years earlier. There are well crafted lines, such as Deanna's comfort to her mother: "You will never be one of those who dies before they die." But on a deeper level, it's nice to see an older couple falling so quickly and completely in love -- a bit of a rarity for television. And the debate about the Resolution between Lwaxana and Timicin does really raise some provocative points about assisted suicide. (Though, of course, the notion of it being mandatory does place quite a weight on the scales.) There's also a thoughtful reflection on the impact a single revolutionary can have in a defiant act against a long-standing custom. And there's even a brush against the subject of religion, when Lwaxana realizes that in puncturing Timicin's belief in the Resolution, she's taken his "faith" away from him. It's a shame the story doesn't find a way to use more of the main characters in better ways, but it's otherwise a very solid script.
- This may be a serious episode overall, but Lwaxana is still used for comic moments early on. Patrick Stewart plays a great beat at the top of the show, with Picard nervously on the lookout for her. And Lwaxana calls our resident Klingon "Mr. Woof" for the first time.
- Marina Sirtis was gracious to share her on-screen mother with other actors in this episode. In a later interview, she said: "I didn't have much to do, which is good since I don't want it to be a given that every time mom comes aboard, I have to deal with her. I think it's more interesting that when she does come back, other characters have to deal with her."
- Director Les Landau saw parallels between this episode and another he directed earlier, "Sarek," as both dealt with the issue of old age. And perhaps when you look at the mental deterioration of the esteemed Vulcan in that episode, you can begin to see the point of view the alien race of this episode.