Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode Title: Remember Me
Episode #: 79
Star Date: 44161.2
Original Airdate: October 22, 1990
Written by: Lee Sheldon
Directed by: Cliff Bole
As my blogging friends John Kenneth Muir and Sci-Fi Fanatic would perhaps agree, a program I once adored, Star Trek: The Next Generation, has not aged as well as I’d have hoped since it initially hit the analog airwaves (those are now gone, but not forgotten) back in September 1987. Star Trek, the original series, has fared far better in retrospection. See Sci-Fi Fanatic’s look into the series, if you don’t believe me. Glancing back from more than 20 years out at the series, a few of the episodes can be a cold slap in the face for the Star Trek follower in me. What I once found ideal — or even cutting edge…maybe it was just New Agey — is now a bit uneven and dated, at times.
I have a personal connection with the sci-fi program because, when it debuted, a light was also dawning on me regarding one special person I’d known at work. My future bride. We dated, became engaged and married during the show’s first and second seasons, in fact. It was a commonality for us in our first years of wedlock, too. We watched the program devotedly all the way through to its final episode.
So, it comes as startling sometimes when we take in its repeats on syndicated, and now digital, television. Some of the episodes don’t stand up as they once did. Yeah I could say the same for myself, too. Yet, I find some solace these days looking back at what are considered the finest episodes of ST:TNG. Just about all of these manage to tell a story involving science-fiction in a meaningful, thought-provoking manner that I can still relate to. Although, the fall-off in quality when viewing the lesser installments seems greater now.
If you’re a long-time viewer, you probably have your own list of critical favorites. Among them are likely the shows like Inner Light or Best of Both Worlds. Perhaps, Yesterday’s Enterprise, Chain of Command, or Q Who? and All Good Things… are there, too. The few I’ve mentioned here make many ST:TNG ‘best of’ lists (and for good reason). Yet, there was one series installment that remains quite personal to me. It’s the only one that ever had me tearing up by its conclusion, and inwardly examining the very reason for that reaction. It may not be high on some of the best of inventories, but the fourth season Remember Me episode certainly is on mine.
“Chief medical officer’s log, stardate 44161.2. We are docking at Starbase 133 for scheduled crew rotation. I look forward to welcoming aboard my mentor and dear friend, Doctor Dalen Quaice, who will be traveling with us to his home planet, Kenda II.”
Synopsis: while the Enterprise is stationed at Starbase 133, Dr. Beverly Crusher greets her close friend and mentor as he comes on-board. Their brief conversation covers fond remembrances and the painful loss of loved ones, which is especially keen on the elderly Dr. Quaice as he’s recently suffered the loss of his long-time wife. Beverly sympathizes with her colleague’s lament of growing old and the subsequent tribulations of losing friends to that fact. Drs. Quaice and Crusher have a common burden of now both being widowers. Afterwards, directly due to that affecting conversation, she seeks out and visits her son, Wesley, who is conducting an experiment to create a static warp bubble.
While Dr. Crusher watches her son’s eager attempt, the trial appears to fail (with a short flash of light from the warp core). As the Enterprise departs starbase, Beverly returns to Dr. Quaice’s quarters only to find her mentor missing, and no record that he ever came onboard. Or, that he ever existed. His loss, and Dr. Crusher’s ever desperate attempts to track him down or even explain it all, along with her ever dwindling, disappearing friends and crew-mates on the Enterprise, is the central storyline of the episode.
“I won’t forget. I won’t forget any of you.”
Why It Sticks With Me: Having a series where most of the stories were led by the main male leads (Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, Geordi, and Wesley, when he was there), it was always a wonderful and wanted change of pace when the women of the series were allowed to step up. While the character of Deana Troi got a good amount of that attention (a tight, form fitting uniform tends to do that… did I already mention my attraction to brunettes?), I never forgot the Dr. Crusher-led episodes. I always thought Gates McFadden was an under-utilized and underrated actress in this series. She even reminds me a great deal of my sister-in-law. Plus, they happen to share the same first name.
As well, the actress really shined and anchored the tale as the protagonist using her head and heart to solve the mystery at hand. Besides, the dynamic of a strong, intelligent woman, who happens to be a single mother, holding her own among the bachelor men of the command crew always drew me to the character. Her character’s mostly unspoken sexual tension with her departed husband’s friend, who just happens to be the captain of the ship, was a pleasant distraction. But somewhat irrelevant to her persona.
The core of the story was of love and loss, though. Within our mortal constraints, it seems you cannot have one without the other. You live long enough, and you will eventually find out not all of those that hold a place in your heart can stay in this world forever. Or even for the duration of your own lifetime. This Lee Sheldon written story conveys that powerfully (and literally) in this episode. That it was situated in a science-fictional setting certainly helps to present the allegory’s conundrum in the first half of the episode, and which was seen entirely through Beverly’s point-of-view. And it’s here where McFadden really stood out.
Each perceived loss of her friends, and eventually her son’s, registers deeply on her characterization of Dr. Crusher. She suffers a high sense of guilt over all of the people she’s lost, and for the lack of appreciation while they were around. The thought imparted by Quaice earlier, along with a wrenching desire to understand it all. And, it’s palpable to watch. Even when the audience reaches the reveal of the episode at the half way mark, [spoilers from here on out] it doesn’t lessen the impact of those losses since it’s really Dr. Crusher who has been lost to her son Wesley and her crew-mates by way of his warp bubble experiment gone awry.
“We all got it coming, kid.” ~ William Munny, Unforgiven
Death being the underlying symbolism of the episode, at least for me. Specifically, the demise of a loved one. Few things in life are as traumatic as that, or more universal to the human condition. Live long enough, each of us has/will experience this. That this show flips the perspective — whereby we experience the sensations of the lost one as those around her disappear from her existence — made it more than compelling for me.
What I finally figured out, years ago, the reason this episode tugged at me so came down to my own painful parting. Having lost my mother at age 23 has left a mark, and the unique storyline of Remember Me‘s Dr. Crusher and Wesley went over that memory like a wheel entering a wagon rut. It still does. For me, the episode followed it all the way down, metaphorically, to those parts that never heal.
I certainly was never a critic of the Wesley Crusher character (or Wil Wheaton for that matter) on the program. There were enough of them. He was sufficiently geeky and awkward that I could still relate. Hell, I’m still inept even in my late-50s. Condemning the character for that fact shortsighted. The writers who took some lazy outs by propping him up as the boy wonder for the series. But it was here, on this occasion, where I found I could relate to him most, and his desperation and guilt as he attempts to bring his mother back from wherever she went.
When I watched this the first time, it hurtled me right back to that St. Francis hospital room in March 1978 where (my) mom lay in her coma. An earthly equivalent of a loved one lost to her crew-mates, if there every was one. Watching this happen then, understanding none of it, felt as if another dimension separated us, her sons and loved ones, from her. Figuratively, the program’s story-line of Wesley and his mother.
Curiously, this episode also reminded me of a short story I once read by author Stephen King, That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French. In both the short and the ST:TNG episode, the characters bring their own reality and memories into their respective one step beyond. For the King story, the female character through which the reader encounters the tale starts to re-experience aspects from the past. Over and over, where we learn of her and her husband’s death from a mid-air collision.
However similar, Remember Me‘s situation at least offered a bit of hope, even if its situation was just as dire. When she’s caught in the experiment with the warp fields, Beverly created her own reality based on what she was thinking at that precise moment — the deep distress of losing close friends. King’s darker take, natch, was that we bring our own guilt, beliefs, and mistakes with us and live those last fleeting eternal moments over and over. The author himself has said, “Hell is repetition”. Lee Sheldon’s story gives his heroine a possibility of gathering it all in and to at least say good-bye to loved ones — even if it’s within her own reality. Wouldn’t we all like to be given that kind of chance?
“You know what the worst part of growing old is? So many of the people you’ve known all your life are gone; and you realize you didn’t take the time to appreciate them while you still could.” ~ Dr. Dalen Quaice
As you can tell, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Remember Me episode resounds with me, still. It freakishly retraced in its telling a heartbreaking memory of mine. I don’t believe there is closure to the loss of a loved one. Some loops never close. Still, this proved to be one of the best shows of the ST:TNG fourth season, and a turning point, of sorts, for me. Thankfully, the producers of the show didn’t accept the initial draft of the story where it turned out to be all a dream (!). It never would have had the impact that it does, at least for me, if they had gone that direction.
For all I know, the woman who was my mother brought with her in those last moments the loved ones from this world. I’d like to think so. Perchance, this life of ours is finite and the universe we inhabit is at once infinite. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Who knows?
Yet, this episode exemplified the outer space and future of Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Star Trek brought and introduced a realm of possibilities to its viewers, and ST:TNG continued the tradition. Plus, there was a genuine optimism in the original and next gen series. Those characters, from each iteration of the show, still moved from strength, selflessness, and smarts. If there’s anything I want my mother’s grandchildren to inherit, it would be those traits. It doesn’t matter in the least that it came from a ‘TV program’.
By the end of this episode, ST:TNG’s mother and son pair found a way to re-unite as the static warp bubble collapsed, with a little help from The Traveler. Maybe, my mother and I couldn’t figure a way to make anything like that happen in real life. Or at least have her awaken from that final sleep for a bona fide farewell. But Beverly and Wesley Crusher certainly did by the 79th show’s finale. It was that ending which still squeezes my heart and causes me to blink back my eyes. Gets me every time…
Note: this review was something I wanted to get down in writing for some time, but held back. I was inspired by two superb and heartfelt posts awhile back by my friend and author, John Kenneth Muir: CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Road (2009) and CULT TV FLASHBACK # 111: The X-Files: “Sein Und Zeit”/”Closure”. Both are very much worth reading. That I got this done (and posted originally on my birthday last year, in fact), is in thanks to you, John. BTW, in re-watching this particular episode, I found it also employed a certain use of silhouettes in telling its tale. See screen captures 1, 2, and 3.