Friday, September 15, 2023

Star Trek: Eye of the Beholder

Episode: "Eye of the Beholder"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 28, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Lieutenant Daniel Kwan commits suicide by hurling himself into the plasma stream.  While Counselor Troi is investigating, she experiences a telepathic flashback of memories not her own to the time of the Enterprise's construction.  She suspects someone was murdered.  What's more, the murderer may still be aboard the ship.

The mystery story is interesting enough but to me, "Eye of the Beholder" feels like a missed opportunity.  The creators balked at what could have been a meaningful exploration of mental health.  In the beginning, no one, not even those close to Lieutenant Kwan, understand how he could have taken his own life.  Of course, there has to be a reason.  The past murder visions become the reason.

But why couldn't it have been a story about depression?  Was that really so taboo in 1994?  Or was that yet another disease for which Earth had found a miracle cure by the 24th century?  Picard says he'd never had to inform a family about a suicide before.  That seems unrealistic.

Historically, active military personnel have a lower suicide rate than the general population.  That would still have been the case in 1994, though the rate wouldn't have been zero.  More recently, the gap has closed and not the way you would want it to.  The rate for the military has gone up.  Retired military are another matter.  Veterans are significantly more likely to commit suicide than non-veteran adults.  PTSD is the most likely culprit.  Maybe Earth will have the answer to that, too, in a few centuries.  But I'm getting away from my main point.

Far too often, suicide is used as a literary device while ignoring the most difficult questions.  It's the narrative copout for problems the author doesn't otherwise know how to solve.  Romeo and Juliet is the most obvious example but it happens all the time.  In this case, suicide launches the mystery and is then mostly forgotten in favor of the story they really wanted to tell.

Part of that story does have long-term significance.  In Troi's alternate, hallucinated reality, she and Worf become romantically and sexually involved.  As noted in previous posts, I am 100% in favor of this pairing.  Stay tuned.

Just in case you ever need it, for the suicide hotline in the US, dial 988.

Acting Notes

via Dubbing Wikia

Mark Rolston played Lt. Pierce, the murderer.  Rolston was born in Baltimore, December 7, 1956.

When someone is described as a "character actor" we generally think of comedy specialists, someone with considerable talent and also looks that fall short of leading man/lady expectations.  And they're funny.  Rolston isn't funny - well, he might be hilarious in real life but it's not his calling card professionally.  Instead, he mastered a chilling, icy stare that makes casting directors' dreams come true.  

100 years from now, Rolston will still be best remembered as the deeply evil Bogs Diamond in The Shawshank Redemption, also released in 1994.  Other films include Aliens, Rush Hour and The Departed.  He's also had creepy guest star roles in Babylon 5, The X-Files and Supernatural.  He's had a successful voice acting career as well, particularly in the DC Universe where he has voiced Firefly, Deathstroke and Lex Luthor.


  1. You bet it was still taboo to talk about suicide in a regular TV show. They are only now exploring it I regular TV. Do t get me wrong, they did explore it in hospital shows here and there but not in shows that were no hospital and not delving into the why's and who is this person. I bet many still don't want it I regular TV because it's depressing anyhoo, I thought the same thing that Troi could have used her abilities to understand the man who died not a who dun it. On the other hand, we never would have seen the pairing g of Troi and Worf. They made a much better couple than Troi and Riker who work better as friends.

    1. Stories like Ordinary People - ones where authors or filmmakers delve into what mental illness is truly about - are so unusual. It's not healthy for us as a culture to be unwilling to talk about it. It's one of so many reasons why The Bear is just so damn good.