The Inner Light (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 5, Episode 25) When a probe-zapped Picard lives lives snuffed by a star, that’s a-plot twist

Rewatching ST:TNG

When a space probe zaps Picard unconscious, he wakes up in a civilian house, where a woman calls him “Kamin,” and says he has been feverish for days. 

Out exploring, Picard happens upon a tree planting ceremony. The leader is Kamin’s friend Batai, who answers Picard’s questions with concern. When Picard returns to the house, a relieved Eline feeds him and listens, baffled, to his questions. As far as she is concerned, he is Kamin the iron weaver, they have been married for three years, and he is not a very good flute player. As she tries to encourage him to come to bed, Picard notices she’s wearing a pendant shaped just like the space probe.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, only a few minutes have passed. Crusher is examining Picard where he collapsed on the bridge, and Data is unable to interrupt the PCF (plot-contrivance field) the probe is generating. 

Five years have passed for Picard, during which he has studied the sun in order to learn about the ongoing drought. When an administrator from the central government stops by on a monthly visit, Picard tries to get him to build atmospheric condensers to save the crops, but the administrator gives him smiling lip-service.  Batai notes that this is the first time “Kamin” has spoken as if he is a member of this community.  That evening, Picard coyly asks Eline if it’s time they built a nursery.

After a brief visit to the Enterprise, where the crew discusses plans to disrupt the probe, we see a little girl playing outside Kamin’s house, as someone plays a lovely flute melody inside. That someone turns out to be a very proud Kamin, standing next to Eline, who is holding a baby. Eline speaks of father and daughter hiking in the hills together. This is the “naming day” ceremony for their second child, named after the recently departed Batai. We see that Picard has fully accepted his lot and is making the most of his new life.

He then collapses, and we cut to the bridge, where his body is undergoing “massive somatophysical failure” after the crew tried to separate him from the probe’s beam. After the Data restores the beam, Picard’s condition stabilizes.

About 15 years later, Meribor is a young woman; she confirm’s her father’s observation that there are no microbes in the soil, meaning their planet is dying. Meribor accuses him of changing the subject, but Kamin is dead serious when he tells her, “Seize the time, Meribor. Live now. Make now always the most precious time.”

On the Enterprise, we learn that the probe came from a dead system where the sun went nova over a thousand years ago.

Kamin, now considerably older, is looking through a telescope. He frets over Eline’s frail health and grumbles about his son Batai (played by Patrick Stewart’s real-life son Daniel Stewart), who hasn’t found a focus in life, but finally says he wants to quit school to play music. Kamin is grumpy and reserved, but from Eline’s delighted reaction we see that the father has accepted his son’s decision.

Later Kamin confronts the administrator, who admits their scientists have already come to the same conclusion their planet is dying. Because they don’t have the technology to evacuate the planet, there’s no point in upsetting the public. He assures a distressed Kamin that “there is a plan in work.” But before Kamin can press him for details, Batai rushes in: “It’s Mother. Hurry.” 

Years later, an elderly Kamin and his little grandson are roughhousing joyfully on the floor. Kamin is sentimental, a bit brusque, and a bit unfocused, as everyone in the community has gathered for “the launching.” 

In a scene that’s masterfully written and executed, Kamin’s family and friends break the fourth wall, explaining that what they are launching is the probe that would eventually find Picard and let him experience life as a part of this doomed civilization.

Picard wakes up on the carpeted floor of the bridge, after living through decades of memories. Watching him re-acclimating himself to how the doors work on the Enterprise really helps to sell the transition, but the big payoff comes when Riker delivers the only thing contained inside the now-deactivated probe: Kamin’s flute, which a visibly moved Picard plays with passion and skill.

This is an excellent episode, though sadly the old-age makeup doesn’t really hold up for anyone but Picard. (Looks like they invested in some wrinkly facial prosthetics for the elderly Kamin, but the makeup for Eline, the administrator, and random townspeople was not very impressive.)

There’s no explanation for why this alien civilization, which had just started launching unmanned probes, has the technology to interface with a human’s brain, why they can penetrate the shields and keep pace with the Enterprise’s evasive maneuvers, etc., etc., other than that the plot required it. 

I hadn’t seen this episode since it first aired. Because I knew exactly where it was headed, I found myself bored by the bridge scenes, which ate up precious minutes that could have been spent “showing” some of the many moments in Kamin’s life that the actors only had time to mention through dialogue.

It was a nice touch that, as Picard was teaching himself to play the flute, he played “Frère Jacques” (which we heard him singing when trapped in an elevator shaft with children).  Later episodes will show Picard playing his flute during downtime, which is a rare bit of consistency during an era when stand-alone TV episodes were the norm.