Season seven is not TNG’s greatest, which is unfortunate, but there are a few gems scattered throughout the duds. “Interface,” however, is not one of these, though it certainly isn’t as terrible as some of the episodes this column will cover. The episode could have been so much more, but instead, we get a story with the potential to play to TNG’s strengths that for some reason simply falls flat. I find that flatness especially frustrating considering that “Interface” could have provided LaForge with long-overdue character development, but the episode misses that mark.
The episode opens with LaForge testing a new technology—an interface that allows LaForge to control a probe via his VISOR ports. They plan to use the interface to allow LaForge to investigate the wreckage of the USS Raman, which has been discovered in the atmosphere of Marijne VII after a mission to collect samples of same. During preparations to use the probe aboard the derelict shop, Picard receives word that the Hera has disappeared with all hands aboard. While Starfleet plans to continue the search, no one expects to find any sign of the ship or her crew, and Picard finds himself faced with the unpleasant task of notifying LaForge that his mother, the Hera’s captain has been lost. He gives LaForge the option to recuse himself from the mission, and LaForge refuses on the grounds that he has nothing to grieve because his mother is not dead.
The Enterprise crew successfully deploys the probe to the Raman, and via the interface, LaForge discovers the entire crew dead on board. Back on the Enterprise, Dr. LaForge discusses Captain LaForge’s memorial service with his son, and Geordi refuses to consider that his mother might truly be dead. Back on the Raman via the interface, LaForge sees his mother who tells him that the Raman must be lowered into the atmosphere because the Hera is on the planet’s surface.
LaForge tries to convince his shipmates that he actually saw his mother, but Data can find no evidence that he did. Picard sends LaForge to Counselor Troi. Their session goes so well that LaForge, still strongly in denial, walks out. In the conference room, Picard, Riker, LaForge, and Data discuss how best to retrieve the Raman and the remains of her crew. A distracted LaForge demands to know what they plan to do to rescue the Hera and proceeds to explain how the Hera could have been trapped on the surface via a warp funnel. Data admits that while technically possible, LaForge’s wild theory is highly unlikely to be correct. Undaunted, LaForge returns to the lab and initiates the interface in order to use the probe to send the Raman into the lower atmosphere, directly disobeying Picard’s order with Data’s help. Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard rush to the lab to find LaForge in distress and at maximum tolerance levels with the interface connection. Picard wishes to cut the connection, but Crusher believes doing so will send LaForge into potentially fatal neural shock.
Meanwhile, LaForge converses with the vision of his mother and discovers that she is actually a member of a species of subspace entities native to the planet’s lower atmosphere who had become trapped, nearly fatally so, aboard the Raman. Their attempts to communicate their situation to the Raman’s crew resulted in the crew’s deaths, but the interface protected LaForge sufficiently enough to allow them to scan his mind for images they could use to communicate with him. Unfortunately, they seized on his memories of his mother. LaForge sends the Raman lower into the atmosphere, freeing the aliens and destroying the ship in the process. Later, Picard calls LaForge to his ready room to reprimand him, but LaForge explains that even though he understands the reprimand will appear on his permanent record, the entire ordeal gave him the opportunity to say goodbye to his mother.
“Interface” really should be one of TNG’s better episodes because TNG has previously done better with small, intimate stories, and nothing can be more personal and more intimate than LaForge coping with his mother’s death. LaForge reveals to Troi that he’s currently wracked with guilt because he did not take the chance to see his mother when he could have, some two weeks prior to the events of the episode, and we see him re-watch his mother’s last message to him, one to which he never responded. Most of us have a story like that—one in which we blow off someone or something only for that to be the final interaction with someone, so even with story focusing on the particulars of LaForge’s situation, there’s enough universality to his experience, that ensuring audience connection should have been the simplest thing to do. LaForge should have been desperate to save his mother, but during the observation lounge scene, LaForge seems mostly distracted. Even when he slams the chair in front of Captain Picard, the action is awkward because LaForge’s frustration with Picard’s decision seems too forced.
Ronald D. Moore commented that this episode was the episode that really drove home for him that TNG needed to end, and he is, unfortunately, correct. He argues that doing a story about LaForge’s mother is scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as inspiration goes, and unfortunately, that attitude really reflects all of the ways in which LaForge gets treated as a throwaway character by the show. By this point, we’ve met everyone else’s relatives, so getting a better glimpse into LaForge’s backstory is entirely overdue. However, LeVar Burton’s performance in this episode never quite rises to the level necessary to carry the story, nor really do most of the other performances. I can’t really point to any individual aspect of the performances, but there’s a tangible level of fatigue that chokes everything about this episode. Picard and Crusher are just going through the motions. Ben Vereen as Dr. LaForge phones in an incredibly flat scene in which the character just writes off his son’s very clear denial.
Riker and Data do get two solid moments. Jonathan Frakes gives us real grief in Riker’s admittedly well-meaning and yet awkward attempt to generalize his experience of his mother’s death to LaForge’s current reality. Brent Spiner opts for a more understated performance when Data agrees to help his friend find closure even though it presents a risk both to LaForge’s health and their Starfleet careers, and the emotional impact of Data’s devotion is all the greater for it. Even Counselor Troi gets to have another bite at the competency apple when she attempts to help LaForge in her professional capacity, but none of these moments can elevate the episode out of its own plodding stolidity.
The episode represents such a missed opportunity. That LaForge’s mother simply disappears is a fantastic element that could have provided the show an opportunity to discuss the strangeness of space or that sometimes, horrible things happen without pat explanations. The episode does try to invoke how much harder it is for LaForge because closure, but for the mindreading subspace alien, would be impossible for him because the Hera is simply missing. Unfortunately, the episode does not manage to capitalize on that in any meaningful way. For sure, “Interface” constitutes a marked improvement over both “Descent Part II” and the utterly terrible “Liaisons,” but coming from a show that also produced “The Inner Light,” that improvement just isn’t enough.
Two cups of a Earl Grey Tea and a Saucer
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Rene Echevarria gives Joe Menosky’s script an uncredited polish, which possibly could have gone farther?
- Jeri Taylor commented that this episode constituted a way to show that LaForge had a family, which was long, long overdue, so I can’t take credit for that observation. She was quite correct, however, and it’s really just unfortunate that the show only attempts this kind of character development for him in its final season.
- Madge Sinclair, who plays Captain LaForge, seems to have made a bit of a habit of playing captains of ill-fated starships. She previously appeared as the captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek: the Voyage Home, though one supposes that the probe’s departure from Earth restored the ship’s power in the film.
- I liked that they used the absence of LaForge’s VISOR to indicate when he interfaced with the probe. It was a nice touch, though seeing Geordi LaForge without the band across his face is always somewhat unsettling.