Saturday, December 29, 2012

I am Locutus - of Borg. Resistance - is futile. Your life, as it has been - is over. From this time forward, you will service - us

The 25th episode, in the 5th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is entitled "The Inner Light" and I think that everyone should go and watch it right now; even if you've seen it before.

Now, I am a fan of ST: TNG and have been since it first aired on broadcast television, starting in the late 80's and into the mid-90's. I realize that my attachment stems from feeling like I grew up watching this show, and while I do like all things Start Trek, I don't love any other show, movie, comic or fan-fiction creation like I do TNG. But, all this matters not where the specific episode mentioned above is concerned.

Some might say that the following is needing a "SPOILER ALERT" to avoid ruining the episode I've directed everyone to watch. However, I'm thinking that not many of you will go and watch it, but most importantly, I can write page after page about this episode and still not ruin it for any virgin viewer. So, here is a quick synopsis of the episode:

A routine investigation of a unknown interstellar satellite or spacecraft quickly turns dangerous (as far as the Enterprise crew is concerned) when a beam of unknown and powerful means overtakes Capt. Picard, rendering him unconscious and in a dream state. Meanwhile, Picard is shown waking up disoriented but apparently living another person's life on a planet with a civilization on the cusp of achieving space exploration. Picard is supposed to be a young man when he "arrives" on this planet, and has a wife and young children. Back on the Enterprise, the crew and Dr. Beverly Crusher attempt to break the Captain away from the controlling energy beam, but when they do, Picard's vitals fall and he begins to crash, so they reinstate the beam. Picard is shown growing into an old man, with grown children who are beginning their careers and schooling decisions. Also, it is found that the planet is doomed, as one of the nearby stars is about to destroy the planet. And, at this point, some of the people that were in Picard's dreamed life on this planet present themselves and explain to him that he has just gone through a program designed to allow the memories and lives of this civilization, now a thousand years gone, to survive, if only in the memory of one individual. Picard awakens on the Enterprise, everything is okay again -- then, at the very end of the episode Number 2 comes to Picard's quarters and brings him a flute, which was the only thing found in the satellite. A flute that Picard feels like he spent the last 40 years (or so) playing as he lived as another man, a man with a wife, children and a full and satisfying life on a  planet that has been destroyed for a millennium.

It is worth noting that up to this point in the show's progress, Picard has been shown to dislike children and have very little romantic interests; the one possibility (Dr. Crusher) is the widow of one of his best friends. After this episode, it has been noted that Picard softens significantly.

Now, I will grant that this episode isn't a cinematic or television masterpiece in terms of production, acting (except for a few key scenes with Sir. Patrick Stewart) or script, but what it does have is an eternal message that hits at the heart of human existence: what if I had chosen differently? It could be argued that every single moment of existence is full of choices, and that each one could lead into completely different futures. There is an idea that there are parallel universes that are constantly spinning off, where there is versions of "us" in each one, where all possible variations of all choices are being fulfilled in different dimensions. Okay, maybe this is happening, but it matters not, unless we can figure out how to manipulate (much less, prove this is the case) or affect such parallel worlds. So, whether or not this is the case, it seems to me that when one looks back, there are certain decisions that loom larger than others. For instance, Picard chooses to pursue a career in Star Fleet, consciously choosing to sacrifice a wife, children or a family at all. Sometimes these choices are well contemplated and mindfully chosen, at other times we make choices that can only be judged to carry such weight when we look back in hindsight (which, I would argue is heavily skewed by confirmation bias and in no way is "hindsight 20/20!") can we see the fork in the road and how far the roads eventually diverged.

While I most likely will never be a Captain of a starship, I am on the path to becoming a physician, which calls for similar (granted, I know this is quite a stretch) sacrifices, in terms of time sacrifices and stressful situations (at least, in the emergency room and other high pressure specialties) and I will most likely never get the opportunity to live another life in the span of 25 minutes, I can always turn to Netflix and watch this episode and let my mind imagine what things would be like had I chosen some other prongs of the proverbial fork.

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