Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Survivors”

“The Survivors”
Written by Michael Wagner
Directed by Les Landau

Season 3, Episode 3
Original air date: October 8, 1989
Star date: 43152.4

Mission summary

Enterprise responds to a distress call at planet Rana IV, which was reportedly under attack by an unknown ship. But by the time they get there, the enemy is gone—along with all life and buildings on the surface. Eleven thousand colonists have been wiped out. No wait, make that 10,998. Scans show that there are two survivors located in an improbably intact square of land that contains a house and plant life.

Riker leads an away team to investigate the strange oasis and promptly steps into a noose trap set by Kevin Uxbridge. The old man and his wife, Rishon, are the last living colonists.

RIKER: Mister Uxbridge, as far as we’ve been able to determine, you and your wife and this house are all that survived that attack. That’s was either a bizarre coincidence or by design, and I don’t favor the coincidence theory.
KEVIN: Are you saying that we were kept alive intentionally?
KEVIN: I don’t understand. You don’t think Rishon and I did something that merited survival, do you? I mean, betrayed the others?
RIKER: I’m not accusing you of anything, Mister Uxbridge. The attacking force spared you for some reason. We’d like to know why.

Kevin reluctantly cooperates and tells them the colony was razed by a massive ship, then they just up and left. Riker knows there’s something different about the Uxbridges but he can’t quite put his finger on it. The colonists refuse to leave with him, so he passes Rishon his communicator and tells her to call him, maybe.

Meanwhile, back on Enterprise, Deanna Troi begins hearing a melody that echoes the one Rishon’s music box plays. Although the empathic counselor is the only one tormented by the increasingly loud tune, she tries to keep her anguish to herself. Picard is concerned, but he has a bigger problem when they’re attacked by an unidentified enemy vessel which takes a couple of weak shots at them before tearing off. The captain realizes it is trying to lure them away from the planet, so he pays the Uxbridges his own visit under the guise of a door-to-door replicator salesman. He is determined to uncover the colonists’ secret, convinced they had some deeper role to play in the planet’s devastation, but Rishon assures him that her husband is a gentle, peace-loving man who abhors violence and killing.

Troi’s condition deteriorates and the enemy ship returns, packing a bigger punch that forces Enterprise to retreat away from the planet. Picard is beginning to piece his suspicions together, but he’s only willing to divulge cryptic fragments of his working theory that the enemy ship is somehow responding to the Uxbridges’ wishes; they wanted Enterprise to leave, and they nearly have. Stubbornly, Picard returns to the planet and discovers Kevin and Rishon dancing a waltz. The old man is surprised to see the captain, as though he expected him to be gone.

KEVIN: This is a form of intimidation. I have my rights.
PICARD: Your rights? What about Rishon? Is she in favor of being here left here? Come to the Enterprise. Let me take you where you’ll be safe.
RISHON: No. I can’t leave Kevin.
KEVIN: I’m staying. She’s safe here with me. in this house.
PICARD: Why are you safe?. Why is this house a sanctuary? Does it have to do with you? With your refusal to fight? Tell me this. If Rishon were in danger, would you kill to save her life?
KEVIN: No, not for her. Not for anyone. I will not kill.

Picard insists that Enterprise will remain in orbit to protect the Uxbridges for as long as they live. When he returns to his ship, he is unsurprised when the enemy reappears and allows it to attack Kevin and Rishon’s house. The Enterprise easily destroys the formerly formidable vessel with a single photon torpedo. They seemingly have no reason to hang around, but hang around they do; Picard orders them to keep a close eye on the planet from a high orbit. They don’t know what they’re looking for, but they’ll know it when they see it.

Three hours later, they see it: The Uxbridges’ home inexplicably reappears. Picard beams Kevin and Rishon directly to the Bridge and launches into a passable imitation of Columbo, walking everyone through how he solved the mystery. “There was only one survivor of the war on Rana IV,” he says – Kevin Uxbridge. It turns out that Rishon was killed in the attack on the colony, and Kevin somehow recreated her and their home. Rishon vanishes and he calls Kevin out as a nonhuman lifeform.

Kevin does the honorable thing and relieves the unconscious Troi of the music that he has been using to keep her from detecting the fact that he is a Douwd, “an immortal being of disguises and false surroundings” who has been living as a human for more than fifty years, setting aside his power for the woman he loves. He reveals that with a single thought he could have wiped out their attackers, a race known as the Husnock, but preferred not to. But his guilt is much worse than that. After Rishon was killed in the fight, he completely lost it and destroyed her murderers:

I didn’t kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock everywhere. Are eleven thousand people worth fifty billion? Is the love of a woman worth the destruction of an entire species? This is the sin I tried so hard to keep you from learning now. Why I wanted to chase you from Rana.

That is way above Picard’s pay grade. He decides the best thing to do is send Kevin back to the planet, allow him to recreate his wife, and leave him the hell alone.


Even knowing Kevin Uxbridge’s nature and his horrific act ahead of time, this episode still packs a wallop at the end. His admission of guilt is shocking, and the mystery around what happened on the colony and to the Husnock is compelling. This has always been a favorite of mine, not least because of its Twilight Zone-esque reveals and its melancholic tone.

In some ways, I feel like Captain Picard is copping out on his duty, and I wonder what Starfleet’s response to his report would be.  He says “We’re not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime.” And I guess that’s probably true. But it’s also true that there’s nothing they can do to Kevin even if he had committed a crime, given how powerful he is, and perhaps that’s even more significant. Moreover, Kevin is such a being of conscience that no punishment they can enact would be worse than allowing him to live alone with his guilt, or worse, with a recreation of his wife that reminds him of his failure every day. Bummer.

I want to love this episode, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that it only works on a very superficial level. Digging deeper shows flaws that writers generally hope you will ignore, miss, or forgive because the drama is compelling, the dialogue works, and so on. I can believe that Kevin might strike out against the Husnock, even all of the Husnock, in anger, despite his strong moral code. But he suggests his only options were to try to trick the Husnock or kill them, and I can’t believe those are the limits of his powers. He clearly has been able to affect Troi’s mind somehow, which means he has some telepathic ability, so why doesn’t he know more about what’s happening on Enterprise? He can recreate Rishon, but not the other colonists? How powerful is he?

Even though Counselor Troi is showing off her flashy new dress, she’s still the lowest point of this episode for me. Anguished acting aside, it’s absurd for a telepath to a) fail to recognize a telepathic attack and b) try to hide it from everyone, particularly when it could be relevant to their situation. Little did Kevin know, but he had nothing to fear from her, because she just isn’t that good at her job. It might have been nice if the music had gotten weaker the farther they got from the planet as well, but instead it seems to be something he has to “help” her with, as opposed to just stopping the thing that he started.

I’m also a bit irked at how little Picard shares with the crew and certainly with Riker. Dramatically it serves a function to withhold from the viewers, but he takes chances and makes assumptions on his own. I mean, why not hold another meeting to discuss his suspicions? Unless he’s worried that Uxbridge will know what he’s doing? However, I did otherwise enjoy the way he figures out what’s happening, given his affinity for mysteries—but he acts like a dick in more ways than one. He really does seem to torment Kevin a bit, even once he feels like he’s figured him out, and I can’t discern if he pities him or despises him. Apparently, neither can he.

The episode also bandies about the word “holocaust” twice, once in reference to a nuclear holocaust when they don’t know what happened to the colony, and the second time to the attack that destroyed them. It’s never used in connection to what Kevin did to the Husnock, and I’m disturbed that perhaps it is meant to matter less because he calls them “a species of hideous intelligence who knew only aggression and discussion.” Was that really all they were? Are there really no other consequences, did their abrupt disappearance have no other affect in the entire galaxy? And what would the response have been if he had wiped out the Klingons, or the Romulans, or even the Breen instead?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: Normally I’d be mocking Deanna’s outfit of the week, but the first iteration of her blue dress actually isn’t bad. It’s definitely better than anything else she’s worn in the last two years. But hey, check out Kevin Uxbridge’s fancy duds. As soon as I saw him, the first thing that popped into my head was “Space buccaneer!” This frame could almost be a promo shot for some wacky serial SF adventure. Kevin, aren’t you supposed to avoid attracting too much attention? Nothing says “I’m totally a human” better than a yellow tunic and pirate pants.

Best Line: WORF: Sir. May I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay with a nonfunctioning weapon was an act of unmitigated gall.
KEVIN: Didn’t fool you, huh?
WORF: I admire gall.

Trivia/Other Notes: The original title of this episode was “The Veiled Planet,” which was changed sometime after the first draft of the script.

This is the first appearance of Deanna Troi’s casual blue dress.

This episode mentions the Andorians for the first time on TNG.

Actor John Anderson (Kevin Uxbridge) said this was one of the most difficult roles of his career as he had recently lost his own wife before playing the episode. He has appeared in many genre television shows, including Quantum Leap and several times on The Twilight Zone (“The Old Man in the Cave”, “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”, “The Odyssey of Flight 33”, and “A Passage for Trumpet”.) Oddly, he also appeared in an episode of Little House on the Prairie titled “Haunted House,” in which he played Mr. Pike, a man obsessed with music boxes and waiting for the return of his dead wife.

Anne Haney (Rishon) returns to Star Trek in DS9’s “Dax” as Bajoran arbiter Els Renora. She also guest-starred in two episodes of Quantum Leap.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 2 – “The Ensigns of Command.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 4 – “Who Watches the Watchers?”

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.