Friday, February 25, 2022

Star Trek: The Inner Light

Episode: "The Inner Light"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 25
Original Air Date: June 1, 1992

The Enterprise discovers a mysterious alien probe.  The probe emits a particle beam which penetrates the ship's shields and zaps Captain Picard rendering him unconscious, at least from the crew's perspective...

Picard is transported to another life on another world.  He is Kamin on the relatively primitive Kataan.  He is married.  While he resists the new life at first, eventually he accepts it as his new reality.  For 40 years.  He has meaningful friendships, children, grandchildren.  He learns to play the flute.  He offers what scientific knowledge he has to help save a dying world.  Eventually, just before his adventure ends, this second family explains everything: before their world was destroyed by a supernova, the Kataanians sent out the probe to find someone like him with whom they could share their culture.

"The Inner Light" is named for a Beatles song written by George Harrison, in turn inspired by Laozi's Tao Te Ching, the most important book most people have never read.  Harrison's lyrics were based on the following passage:
Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows. Therefore the sages got their knowledge without travelling; gave their (right) names to things without seeing them; and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.
"The Inner Light" is a beautiful story.  It's a popular choice for best Trek episode, not just for NextGen but for the entire franchise.  Obtrusive though their approach certainly is, the gift the Kataanians grant Picard is profound.  As Star Trek continues to grow in the 2020s, I would love to see deeper exploration of alien cultures and this episode provides an avenue for how that could work.  The ex-pat perspective can be a meaningful one.  My one regret is that the Kataanians are, at least physically, human.

I might be willing to jump on the best ever bandwagon if not for this: while it is an outstanding stand-alone story in its own right, I believe that in order to fully appreciate what "The Inner Light" is truly about, you need broader context.  It is a glimpse of the other life Jean-Luc Picard could have lived.  It is, in many ways, a sequel to Season 4's "Family."  What if he'd stayed on the family farm instead of joining Starfleet?  All of his fussing about water and soil on Kataan - couldn't he just as easily have devoted that same energy to growing grapes for wine in France?  It's a nice life he has on Kataan.  A wonderful life.  As viewers, we are certainly grateful Picard made the choice he did.  But in "The Inner Light," we feel with him the cost of that choice.

Acting Notes

Margot Rose plays the role of Eline, Kamin's wife.  She was born July 17, 1956 in Pittsburgh.  She trained at Interlochen, Yale and North Carolina School of the Arts.  

In addition to extensive stage work, Rose has guest-starred on numerous TV series including Hill Street Blues, E/R and The West Wing.  "The Inner Light" is the first of her two Trek appearances.  Films have included 48 Hrs. (in scenes with Denise Crosby), A Civil Action and Brewster's Millions.  She's a composer, too, having written the score for the film Sordid Lives and the subsequent television series of the same name.


  1. Dear Squid, excellent post. You've pretty much nailed it, but I'll add a personal take. When "Inner Light" aired I was in my mid 40's putting 2 kids through college while Norma home-taught our younger 2 at her County-designated creation, "The Family Academy Of Arts And Sciences" --our house and property. Happily, hundreds of California families were home-schooling back then, our kids had playmates and friends from weekly park meetings. I had a special closeness with STNG"Inner Light" episode. From idea to production, all departments worked from their non-violent and teachable bests. It still holds up.

    1. I can see how you would identify with the community in "Inner Light." It's very warm.

      And yes, the episode is solid, top to bottom. For me, it's one of five that stand apart from all of the others. I've hit them all on this current run.

  2. This does sound like a good story (and after watching reruns of the original Star Trek, I haven't spent much time with watching the newer stories-but then I don't watch much TV.

    As for your other interest, in light of the current world situation, you should offer some non-Russia vodka options!

    1. Haha! I just checked my shelves. I have three vodka products at the moment. Fleischmann's and Smirnoff are both American companies. Absolut is Swedish. Interestingly, our governor has just announced that Vermont liquor stores will not carry Russian products until further notice.

    2. Is Smimoff made in the US? I know that there are a number of distilleries in US make vodka

    3. It is. And I must correct my previous comment. The company is British-owned.

  3. My favourite episode and one that I am glad they don’t have funky noses or a weird forehead. It was intended for us to relate even more to this life. We could easily relate if we “did this or that” and had a totally different life. How many times have we contemplated this but with the same people we love. Anyway, it’s a powerful story without laser beams that destroy stuff.