Star Trek at its finest, quietly replacing a main character with a random crewmember they can kill off without repercussions. Quality. Extra realism points for making the redshirt who gets killed without provocation a black man, I guess?
The evolution of the Enterprise auto-destruct system is interesting. Not only has it gained a variable countdown duration (instead of the fixed five-minute timer it had in "11001001") and timer displays integrated with the LCARS screens (instead of the LED dot-matrix displays used in "11001001"), but the sequence can also be aborted without any physical contact with a console. Picard and Riker need only verbally order and confirm (respectively) the destruct sequence's cancellation, where a second palm scan was needed before.
Nagilum's animations visibly freeze-frame at several points. I don't remember noticing that in reruns on TV, but the high-definition version of the show makes the effects' age very obvious. From clips of the original footage, it looks like Nagilum was actually recreated with smaller mouth movements for the blu-rays—which ultimately looks worse than the original 1988 effects… Oh well.
"Where Silence Has Lease" lends itself poorly to nitpicking overall—especially since I'm watching the remastered version, which corrected one of the most glaring mistakes (that of the Yamato's bridge displaying a dedication plaque reading Enterprise).
Joking aside, there aren't really any plot holes here to complement the "hole in space". It's a standard noncorporeal-alien-toys-with-corporeal-Starfleet-people plot. We've seen them before, and we'll see more by the time we reach the end of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Most of this episode's strength lies in how it paints a character study of Picard. A bit of Worf's development happens here too. Data's doesn't really count, because the Data talking to Picard about the nature of death was actually Nagilum speaking through fake-Data.
It's interesting enough, though it's quite slow-moving. Q does much of the same stuff, but with more flair.
[6.9/10] Seventy percent of this episode is the kind of storytelling you can only get in Star Trek. It epitomizes the show’s scientific problem-solving bent. Here is a weird phenomenon in the vast reaches of space. Let’s examine it. When it envelops us, let’s test its limits incrementally. When that doesn’t work, let’s theorize and hypothesize and figure out what other possible options we may have. There’s no real antagonist, no urgency even, just a thorny and almost unknowable problem to have to solve.
And then, in the last thirty percent of the episode, “Where Silence Has Lease” falls off a cliff. Yet another humanity-testing demigod arrives, to pontificate to our heroes, fail to understand our mortal ways, and eventually declares us barbarians who nevertheless have potential. It’s a well that The Original Series went to time and again, and which The Next Generation has already done much better via Q and other beings.
That’s what’s so interesting about “Where Silence Has Lease.” That later development doesn’t just weaken the episode’s ending, it retroactively casts a pall over the cool sense of mystery the episode had built up to that point. When the Enterprise first approaches an impossibly dark void in space, it defies their understanding of spatial phenomenon. It has no mass, no energy, nothing that registers on their instruments, but it plainly exists and, for that matter, gobbles up probes like they’re skittles.
The apparent presence of some intelligence, albeit one initially undetectable by Counselor Troi, only complicates matters further. Whatever this void is, it has the power to make ships appear and disappear seemingly at will. When Riker and Worf beam over to what they think is their sister ship, the U.S.S. Yamata, its geography makes no sense. Walking through one door on the bridge just leads them to the entrance on the opposite side.
There’s something unnerving about all of this, magnified by the uncertainty of our usually unflappable space geniuses as to what’s really happening, as well as the inscrutability of who or what is doing this to them. The notion of unknowable forces, swallowing you up in a realm that doesn’t play by the normal rules of time and space, forcing you to adapt, is not only a compelling one, but an appropriately scary one. As Riker himself notes, for all this ship’s advanced technology, it’s not enough to allow them to escape or even make sense of this incomprehensible place and the nudges -- some gentle, some not so gentle -- it gives the crew of the Enterprise.
But the second we see a ridiculous looking void monkey appear on the screen and speak directly to our heroes, all of the mystery goes out the window. Dr. Pulaski realizing that they’re being tested, like rats in a maze, makes for a unique setup and challenge. Having the “Nagilum” announce its tests shortly before performing them is obvious and tired. The most frustrating part of this one is how the episode squanders so much of a great build and eerie atmosphere in favor of the same resolution Star Trek’s done umpteen times by now.
And look, it’s churlish to complain about special effects from thirty years ago, but it’s worth noting that the presence and impact of your nigh-omnipotent higher being is all but neutered when it appears as a chimp face on a green screen background and speaks in the same booming stentorian voice that every god-like being seems to have in the Enterprise’s various “as flies to wanton boys” adventures. It’s hard to represent unknowable things in a visual way and not dampen the intimidation factor to begin with, but the Nagilum’s appearance turns the tenor of the episode from ominous to silly.
That’s a shame because I love the slow-boiling sense of exploration and investigation to this one. There’s such a steady progression to each choice Picard and company make. They’re tentative with the void to begin with, sending probes until they’re accidentally swallowed by it. From there, they try examining it with sensors and magnification, to no avail. Their inability to escape it or find their bearings results in a clever plan to use a stationary buoy to orient themselves. And when that fails, they soon realize that they’re being tested, if not outright screwed with, when being teased by friendly or fearsome ships, disappearing exits, and other bits of confusion and temptation meant to test their temperaments and resolve.
It’s particularly spooky when Riker and Worf beam over to their sister ship, where nothing is quite right. It’s a clever way to use the same set as always, while giving it a sinister bent, another detail that makes this episode feel of a piece with “The Tholian Web” from TOS. But it also follows up on Worf and Riker’s holodeck monster mash in the episode’s cold open, showing the two of them as allies in challenging situations and exhibiting Worf’s warrior impulses that have to be tamped down in his guise as a Starfleet officer. There’s a sense of “What the hell is going on here?” that exudes the duo’s brief escapade.
But from there, it’s just the usual game of “What is man?” from another callous and condescending demigod, and one who’s not nearly as entertaining as Q for that matter. The crew’s conversation with Neglium is standard issue, as are its shows of force (although Haskell’s death spasm is scene-chewingly delightful). We’ve done this so many times already, and there’s no real twist or wrinkle to an all-powerful being wanting to examine humanity here.
Picard decides that the solution to this “test” -- which will involve Nagilum killing half of the crew in myriad ways -- is to initiate the ship’s autodestruct. Now we know that won’t happen, given that there’s several more seasons to go, but you can still wring some tension from the situation if you create compelling emotional reactions from the characters. Instead, everyone on the Enterprise spends their last twenty minutes on this mortal coil acting like it’s another boring Tuesday. There’s no emotion or excitement to the resolution, just another pair of generic Picard speeches about humanity and mortality.
Infinity diversity in infinite combinations -- that’s one of those foundational mantras in Star Trek. Exploring new phenomena, meeting new forms of intelligence, seeking out the endless mysteries of the galaxy and having to methodically think your way through them is the core of what this franchise is about. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see such an unnerving, deliberately paced exploration to the unknown end with just one more demigod clash and the same song and dance TNG and its predecessor have done many times before and will do several times again.
@finfan I admired Picard in the first season thanks to his ability to confront others. He is very good with aliens too. The Nagilum character was interesting, but I was hoping for a more scientific mystery, maybe investigating a wormhole or something like that, instead of having another superior entity to defeat somehow. Good episode, though.
Was he bluffing? Destruction sure was serious decision to take. My favourite part was the use of a beacon to create the fixed point in space and the sound effect to give you a sense of distance LOL
The Doctor is clearly biased to machines, therefore my view on the Doctor is negative now. I forgot to mentioned, the better looking Number One, it was very weird to see him with no facial hair lol, in the first season he looked very young compared to his season 2 appearance. Another red shirt bites the dust. The discussion between Picard and Data is fascinating and is the highlight of the episode.
So there's a black guy in a red shirt at the helm nobody has ever seen before and he gets killed for no apparent reason other than satisfying the curiosity of that omnipotent entity. Yeah, that's Star Trek.