"Dark Page"

Season Seven, Episode 7
Written by Hilary J Bader
Directed by Les Landau
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Capt Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Cmdr Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi
Norman Large as Macques
Kirsten Dunst as Hedril
Amick Byram as Troi's Father
Andreana Weiner as Kestra

"I do not care for telepaths. They make me uneasy."
"Don't worry, the Cairn couldn't read your thoughts, even if they wanted to. Your brain isn't sophisticated enough."
-- Worf and Lwaxana

The Enterprise is hosting a delegate of the Cairn, a telepathic race being taught spoken language by Lwaxana Troi. Lwaxana, however, is not her usual flamboyant self, being unusually reserved and moody. She has become close to Hedril, a young Cairn girl who falls into the pond at the arboritum. Although Hedril is unharmed, Lwaxana collapses and enters a deep coma. With the help of the Cairn, Deanna enters her mother's psyche to try and get to the root of the problem, which appears to be connected to Hedril. Although Lwaxana tries to block Deanna's attempts to get through to her, she is finally forced to reveal a secret she'd kept from Deanna all her life. When Deanna was a baby, she had an elder sister named Kestra -- a young girl who bore a resemblance to Hedril. A family picnic turned to tragedy, however, when Kestra was killed. Having finally acknowledged this tragedy, Lwaxana comes out of her coma and begins the healing process.


Dark Page immediately had two things riding against it. First of all, the juxtaposition with Phantasms is extremely unfortunate (and quite careless on the part of the writers) in that both stories are practically the same; involving subconscious secrets and a fair degree of mind-hopping. Secondly, this is a Lwaxana Troi story. Now, I don't passionately despise Lwaxana with the malevolent zest displayed by a large number of fans, but based on track record I can safely say that Lwaxana episodes aren't generally renowned for their quality. So you'll forgive me if I didn't exactly hop, skip and dance in anticipation of another outing for Trek's "Auntie Mame". 

But against all expectations Dark Page proves to be a remarkably pleasant surprise. There are indeed problems but on the whole this is a  surprisingly effective, poignant story and undoubtedly the most successful attempt to make Lwaxana into a reasonably rounded human being (yes, I know she's a Betazoid, Mister Smarty Pants! But you get my point).

Undoubtedly the episode's biggest problem is the fact that on a fundamental level this is practically the same as last week's Phantasms. I'm completely dumb-founded that the writers didn't seem to notice this (there's even a reference to Phantasms) and at the very least re-shuffle the episodes a little to take the heat off Dark Page. It's bad enough that they're repeating themselves at all, but to do it the very next week is just ludicrous. At the very least, this invites comparison between dream scenarios. In terms of the imagery, Phantasms was certainly the most inventive and innovative; Dark Page seemed ill thought-out and rushed by comparison. There is absolutely no logical reason to have Lwaxana's mind represented by the dreary old Enterprise sets other than the producers being cheapos and trying to save on the budget. There's an absolutely pointless sequence where the corridor cuts off to open space and were we really expected to believe that cute little doggy was actually a bloodthursty wolf?! Still, what the episode may lack in style, it makes up for in substance. With a powerful emotional core and strong characterisation Dark Page makes Phantasms and its invasion of the invisible leeches look fluffy and downright silly in comparison.

A lot of the build-up to Lwaxana's breakdown was actually rather routine, hampered by some problems in terms of execution. For a start, despite the interesting concept, the Cairn didn't come across as as entirely convincing. Not only was Norman Large far too goofy as Macques, but the actual use of telepathy was quite hokey, including intent staring, ridiculous sound effects and unimaginative camera moves. I've long believed that when you're dealing with a subject as intangible as telepathy, it's exceptionally difficult to effectively dramatise without seeming nebulous. Dark Page didn't entirely escape this trap. 

But there's a lot of meat to the main story which involves Lwaxana suffering a "psychic trauma" precipitated by an unknown trauma in her past. When faced with overwhelming pain, it's only natural that the mind shuts out the trauma -- it's a basic survival mechanism. The human mind is something I'm fascinated by and I applaud any attempt to get to the crux of a real human issue such as this. I might hasten to add that the same theme has since been dealt with far greater sophistication and realism in DS9's seventh season episode It's Only a Paper Moon. But this is still a decent effort, bolstered by an excellent performance by Marina Sirtis (one of her very best) in an episode that is commendable for its characterisation of Deanna as much as anything. Throughout Deanna is portrayed as compassionate, genuinely caring and good at her job (she ought to give Ezri Dax a few lessons in the finer points of counselling). 

The tragedy that befell Lwaxana also did leaps and bounds in making her a rounder -- and certainly more sympathetic -- character. The scenes where Deanna helps her mother confront the trauma that she's held back for many years were powerful and touching in a way the series didn't often manage. Majel Barrett was fair game, doing a decent, if erratic, job as Lwaxana. At time she could be less than convincing -- her outburst at Riker was a prime example, coming across as far more crass than genuine. But there were times when she effectively conveyed a tortured soul and during her final breakdown my heart genuinely went out to her, be that due to Barrett, the strength of the material or its execution.

This isn't a perfect episode, but it's by far the most successful character piece up to this point in the season. The plot execution probably did more harm than good, but at its heart there's a truly poignant, well-observed character piece struggling to get out.

Rating: 7

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