Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Lonely Among Us”

“Lonely Among Us”
Written by D.C. Fontana
Story by Mike Halperin
Directed by Cliff Bole

Season 1, Episode 7
Original air date: November 2, 1987
Star date: 41249.3

Mission summary

Enterprise picks up delegates from warring planets in the Beta Renner system, the animal-like Anticans and snake-like Selay, unlikely new candidates for Federation membership. En route to planet Parliament, where their guests can hopefully work out their issues peacefully, perhaps over a nice home-cooked meal, they happen across an unusual energy cloud. They swing by for a closer look, and a powerful electrical discharge from a sensor panel envelops Worf, knocking him out.

In Sickbay, the blue energy transfers from the unconscious Klingon to Dr. Crusher. She begins acting strangely and displays a sudden fascination with Enterprise’s navigational controls. Worf wakes up with no memory of what happened to him, but Dr. Crusher is no longer interested in her patient—she would rather visit the Bridge and study helm control at a science station. Electrical energy leaps from her body to the computer and she experiences a memory blackout just like Worf. The console is soon inoperable and warp drive and transporters malfunction, which shouldn’t be possible since the new ship is still under warranty.

For someone who enjoys mysteries, Captain Picard only wants solutions to their mounting problems. Careless remarks from him and Riker lead Data to assume the role of consulting deductive. He launches an investigation into the seemingly disconnected occurrences on board, annoying his crewmates with an exaggerated Sherlock Holmes impression as he slowly murders them with secondhand pipe smoke.

Troi does what she does “best”; she hypnotizes Worf and Dr. Crusher—really—to confirm what we already know: they were possessed by an alien intelligence. But it’s too late, because their strange visitor manages to take over Picard, who orders they reverse course back to the space cloud. His suspicious behavior alerts the Bridge crew that someone else is controlling his mind, but even when he admits as much, there’s nothing they can do because of Starfleet regulations. Besides, he hasn’t done anything really out of line, like assign rank and duties to a teenage boy with no Starfleet training.

The alien mind delivers some exposition, apologizes for accidentally killing one of the engineers, and says Picard agreed to the energy being’s offer to explore space together. “Picard” resigns from command and zaps everyone on the Bridge with blue energy, then escapes to the transporter room to beam himself back into the space cloud as energy only.

There seems to be no way to track or recover Picard, so they don’t sweat it, until there’s a tiny glimmer of hope: a P flashes on the navigation console. “P for Picard!” Riker blurts out, remembering his favorite alphabet book from childhood. Gambling that the captain is hanging out in the ship’s circuits and will make his way to the transporter console, they energize the beam. He materializes from his most recently stored pattern, having forgotten the entire incident. Riker convinces Picard to skive off work early and report to Sickbay for an examination–but only after the captain learns that the Anticans have hunted and killed a Selay delegate for dinner during all the excitement.

PICARD: Riker, with the peace delegates and all, I think I do need a rest. Take charge, Number One.


This episode is comprised of a series of near and total misses, elements that don’t fit together or add up to anything approaching a satisfying plot. The B-plot surrounding the Anticans and Selays is offensively simplistic, a storyline that only barely ties into the main plot and seems an attempt to add either humor or tension, but utterly failing at both. It reminds me of the worst of Babylon 5—a diplomatic altercation that might have been interesting had the alien races not been so transparently modeled after Earth animals, and been treated as another opportunity for Picard to celebrate human superiority or for the crew to show their disdain for other cultures.

PICARD: But do you understand the basis of all this nonsense between them?
RIKER: No sir. I didn’t understand that kind of hostility even when I studied Earth history.
PICARD: Really? Oh, yes, well these life forms feel such passionate hatred over matters of custom, God concepts, even, strangely enough, economic systems.

Tasha and Riker clearly show their surprise and disgust at their guests’ culture and beliefs, and while the reverse is also true, they are playing host to the delegates and rarely demonstrate appropriate levels of professionalism in their dealings. Though it isn’t necessary for the subplot to fit thematically with the A-plot, it shouldn’t feel like a story from a completely different episode either. However, I did like the makeup for the Selays, so that’s something.

The biggest problem is that characters don’t behave believably, and I’m not referring to alien possession. The worst offenders are Dr. Crusher, who fails to report a mental blackout immediately even though she should know better, and Counselor Troi, who is even more useless than usual when her telepathic abilities make her uniquely suited to tip them all off about what’s going on. Even so, she has to rely on hypnosis to provide evidence that someone has been pulling the crew’s strings. Worse still, the crew responds ineptly to the possibility that the captain is being influenced by a dangerous alien entity, even after hearing a full confession that he has been possessed. No Starfleet protocol can be that shortsighted. Cadets on a training mission would have handled this situation better. The only people who keep it together are Geordi, who reports his observations via the VISOR right away, and Wesley Crusher, when he helps out Engineer Singh. (Who, by the way, dies later. That’s what he gets for taking credit for the boy’s work!)

Speaking of Wesley, this is only his first episode as acting ensign, and they’re already pointing out how ridiculous his role is:

DR. CRUSHER: Hi. Solve any new problems today?
WESLEY: I was starting to, maybe. Mister Singh sent me off to class.
DR. CRUSHER: Wes, you’re only an acting ensign. You’ve got to let the commissioned officers do some of the work.

I can’t quite tell if she’s humoring him or if she’s serious. I’m worried it’s the latter.

Nearly every attempt at levity in the episode is strained and the comedic timing is off, centering mostly on Data’s role-playing as Sherlock Holmes. It’s a little fun, but it wears thin quickly, and it’s inherently outlandish really. Fortunately, his affection for the role will be revisited later, more successfully, as will Picard’s fascination with crime solving and mysteries.

The alien energy being itself isn’t even consistent or believable. It first possesses Worf, but knocks him unconscious, then it successfully enters Dr. Crusher’s body—without killing her. It spends some time in the computer console before accidentally killing Singh, and once again manages to not only assume control of Picard, but also—supposedly—communicates with him and gets his permission. It also immobilizes the entire crew on the Bridge without any serious effect. It seems like it can do whatever the plot needs it to do, just like everyone else in the episode, whether it makes sense or not. The alien also seems capable of communicating what happened to it, either through a human or the computer, but fails to explain itself until the very end. But I suppose there wouldn’t have been much of an episode if it had simply asked for their help to return it to its space cloud.

I’m not even going to dwell on the idiocy of Picard’s mind surviving in the Enterprise computer and yet another magical transporter solution, which is still new to TNG, but not Star Trek. Boy, will that change, and we’ll see plenty of alien possession plots too. Stay tuned.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: This surgical cap or whatever it’s supposed to be looks like a cheap Borg Halloween costume, or maybe it’s something Wesley made for his mother in art class. It seems designed to allow Dr. Crusher to see something that her medical tricorder or the bed diagnostic monitors can’t, or maybe it’s just supposed to appear futuristic. At least it isn’t made of gold lamé. Either way, we won’t see this gadget too often, for obvious reasons.

Best Line: DR. CRUSHER: Yes, concerning your memory blackout.
WORF: I still don’t remember having one.

Trivia/Other Notes: Marc Alaimo, who plays the Antican leader Badar N’D’D, would reappear in three other roles on TNG before assuming the part for which he is best known: Gul Dukat on DS9.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 6 – “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 8 – “Justice.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.