Dark Page: In Search of Lwaxana

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Dark Page” is one of those episodes that admittedly impacted me more on this most recent viewing than it did when I first saw it in the nineties. In 1993, I was eleven, only five years older than Kestra would have been when she died, so for me, the loss of a child was a purely academic concept. Even four years ago, the last time I’d watched this episode, I shared more common ground with Deanna than with Lwaxana, but now, I have a far greater appreciation for the depth of Lwaxana’s grief, even if it still remains an intellectual understanding.

Plot Ahoy!

The Enterprise hosts a delegation of Cairn, a purely telepathic people interested in joining the Federation. Because they are purely telepathic, the Cairn have no concept of language, so Ambassador Troi has been tasked with teaching the Cairn how to communicate verbally. The episode opens with a reception held to welcome the Cairn, and Lwaxana hurries to introduce the Cairn Head Diplomat Maques to her daughter. Maques, making a valiant effort to speak, explains to Deanna that her mother has informed him that she is in need of a husband just as he is in need of a wife.

Later, Lwaxana wants to know what Deanna thought of Maques, but Deanna tells her to stop trying to play matchmaker. Lwaxana seems distracted, showing signs of physical discomfort, so Deanna tries to talk to her. Lwaxana demurs, and Deanna heads to her office where Maques tries to apologize for his forwardness. Deanna informs him that she doesn’t blame him, and Maques tells her about a “dark place” that he senses in her mother’s mind. Deanna explains to him that the “dark place” represents thoughts Lwaxana prefers to keep private, and while Maques struggles to grasp the concept of privacy, he accepts that privacy is the “way” of Lwaxana and her people.

Deanna meets Riker in Ten Forward, where she discusses her mother’s strange behavior. Riker barely has a chance to respond when Lwaxana storms into the bar to berate him, specifically for being the reason her daughter is still unmarried. Deanna whisks her mother to Sickbay where Dr. Crusher informs them that Lwaxana is fine but for low levels of a neurotransmitter specific to Betazoid telepathy. Lwaxana must therefore avoid using her telepathy for a time in order to give her neurotransmitter levels time to stabilize. Lwaxana agrees grudgingly when Deanna offers to help her work with the Cairn, who still struggle to communicate verbally.
Deanna and Lwaxana escort Maques, his daughter Hedril, and other Cairn officials to the arboretum, where Deanna explains the concept of poetry to the very confused Cairn diplomats. Meanwhile, Hedril takes a tumble into the small pool in the arboretum, but because the water is very shallow, Hedril has no problem standing in the water. Deanna looks over to find her mother collapsed on the ground. They rush Lwaxana to Sickbay, but Dr. Crusher has no answers.

With Maques’ help, Deanna determines that her mother has retreated into her metaconscious mind. Maques offers to form a connection between Deanna and Lwaxana that would allow Deanna to contact her mother telepathically, but when she does, Deanna encounters several obstacles, including an enraged Lwaxana. Convinced a traumatic event caused her mother’s psychological collapse, Deanna searches her mother’s belongings and her logs for possible causes but can find nothing. Captain Picard suggests looking farther back than five years, and he discovers a seven-year gap in Lwaxana’s logs. Confuses, Deanna resolves to return to Lwaxana’s mind where she and her mother relive Kestra’s tragic death by accidental drowning. Deanna compels her mother to face the loss, and an image of Kestra symbolically forgives Lwaxana. Lwaxana and Deanna awake in Sickbay holding each other’s hands. The episode ends with Deanna asking Lwaxana to tell her about the sister she never knew.

Analysis

Lwaxana Troi is a fairly polarizing character in TNG fandom circles, much like her daughter is. Lwaxana is flamboyant in her mannerisms and in her dress. She badgers her daughter for being single, and she insists on referring to Worf as “Mr. Woof.” She remains convinced of her own superiority as a Betazoid and is unapologetic in her belief. She forthrightly acknowledges her sexual desires, and in short, she generally seems resolved to live life to the fullest. Unfortunately, the show wants us to find her tedious. In “Manhunt,” the script plays off her interest in Picard as a ridiculous version of menopause, something to be ridiculed or endured by the other characters around her. She becomes enough of a running joke that Deanna uses a visit from her mother as a threat in order to force Picard off the ship in “Captain’s Holiday.”

Despite all of that, Lwaxana just refuses to be entirely restricted by that image of her character. In “Menage a Troi,” Lwaxana’s cleverness saves the day. In “Half a Life,” we see her wrestle with her own loathing for a cultural practice that will cost her happiness with Timicin, but despite her deep objections, she accepts Timicin’s decision and indeed accompanies him for his ceremony with great dignity. She’s also the only person on board the Enterprise who remembers that Alexander is a child, and she steps up to offer him the opportunity for fun that the other adults in his life frequently forget that he needs. Finally, she doesn’t blink at allowing Odo to see her at her most vulnerable because she has the emotional intelligence to recognize that what Odo needs to trust her in order for him to revert to his liquid form.

What “Dark Page” does is give us a view into Lwaxana’s history that throws all of what the show expected us to take as her excesses into an entirely new light. Lwaxana’s grief feels visceral and real, and that moment just pulls her entire character into focus. The loss of Kestra must have profoundly changed Lwaxana’s relationship with Deanna, explaining her near fanatical protectiveness of her daughter. From “Half a Life,” we know that Lwaxana fears most being left entirely alone, so in “Dark Page,” she strives to protect her daughter from precisely that fate. Her obsession with living and with experiencing life has everything to do with the losses Lwaxana has suffered, and frankly, the episode gives her character depth and nuance that elevate her from being an interesting character to a great one. She gets short shrift from the show, but most of that ill-treatment stems from TNG’s own struggles with misogyny. Lwaxana falls outside the structures of what the show generally portrays as acceptable femininity, and I do wonder what the general response to her character would have been had she been male. “Dark Page” gives her back some of legitimacy she should always have had.

Structurally, I really like how the episode handles the dream sequences. Each obstacle Deanna encounters reveals something about Lwaxana. First she appeals to Deanna’s loyalty to Captain Picard, and when that doesn’t work, she throws Deanna to a literal wolf. The wolf in this case reflects not only the traditional fears with which the animal is associated in fairy tales but also Lwaxana’s own complex emotional response to the dog that inadvertently caused Kestra’s death. Finally, Lwaxana, desperate, cruelly manipulates Deanna’s feelings regarding the loss of her father, both to protect herself and also to hint at the root of her own trauma. I even like the reuse of Enterprise sets but with different lighting because the visual repetition gives the sequences an atmosphere that is both surreal but also strangely grounded in the present of the narrative.

There are weaknesses in the story to be sure. There’s a brief feint in which the plot casts suspicion on Maques, taking us back to “Violations,” which is wholly unnecessary. It takes up screentime that could have been better spent exploring more of Lwaxana’s life and past. Still, it’s a surprisingly good episode for this season.

Rating:

Four Cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. I really like the concept of the Cairn. I have always wondered why telepathic species would develop the capacity for speech, and this episode establishes that they don’t necessarily do so. The Cairn have to use some sort of device to allow them to speak. I also really love that the episode grapples with different types of telepathy. The concept of the completely open nature of the Cairn really deserved more development. Here, the implication is that the nature of the Cairn’s telepathy has been chipping away at Lwaxana’s internal walls, which is what prompts her collapse. I wish that had been made a little clearer, but the episode had other things to do with its screen time.
  2. While Normal Large deserves much credit for managing to balance Maques’ difficulty with language and keeping the story moving, the weird stare when he’s doing his telepathy thing throws me off every time.
  3. I wish Picard hadn’t been the character to offer Deanna the solution to the episode, honestly, but it makes some sense.
  4. Fun fact, a very young Kirsten Dunst appears as Hedril.

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