The cold open features LaForge crawling through a Jeffries Tube without his visor, reaching through flames with his bare hands.
He’s actually in a lab, hooked into a VR interface, controlling a drone that’s inside the Reman, a science vessel that got stuck in the dense atmosphere of a gas giant planet.
Riker asks a few questions that give Crusher the excuse to explain the concept of a haptic VR interface, for the benefit of the 1993 audience.
Picard has to pass along to LaForge the bad news that another Federation ship, the Hera, has disappeared. The captain is LaForge’s mother.
We get a glimpse of LaForge’s family life as he watches a video letter from his mother (played by Madge Sinclair) and later converses by video link with his father (played by Ben Vareen). Around the time this episode first aired, I remember seeing promos built around this reunion of three actors from the influential 1977 mini-series Roots — and I remember being disappointed by how little we saw of the guest stars in this episode.
Data is making use of some downtime by studying poetry, including a particular poem that includes a silent pause that lasts 47 minutes. When Data too bluntly asks, “Do you need to be comforted,” LaForge at first brushes him off, then snaps at him, then apologize. For his part, Data invites LaForge to “experience the emptiness with me if you wish,” logically undercuts down LaForge’s faint hopes for his mother, and shows patience and intellectual empathy. (“Your reactions are not surprising.”) It’s a good scene that develops both characters.
The Space Thing that happens is that, while LaForge is hooked up to the probe and the probe is deep in the gas giant’s atmosphere, a vision of his mother appears, asking him for help. When he reaches out to it, the probe gets a shock; back in the lab, LaForge goes into “neural shock,” for technobabbly reasons.
As LaForge interprets the event, his mother’s ship is down on the surface of this turbulent planet, and she’s asking for help. As Crusher sees it, the probe sensed something very unusual, and LaForge’s brain didn’t quite know what to make of the input, and so his brain conjured up something familiar — his mother. Troi rather bluntly tells LaForge that he’s clinging to the fantasy that his mother is still alive.
In the conference room, Data suggests a technobabble way of cutting through the Plot Contrivance Field and tractoring the Reman to safety, but LaForge recommends a much more complex, riskier plan of action, based on the assumption that his mother is alive on the planet surface. Picard is empathic but firmly rejects LaForge’s suggestion.
Riker has a good monologue about how he came to terms with his own mother’s death, but the lesson doesn’t land, because LaForge is convinced his mother is still alive.
LaForge sneaks in to the lab, intending to activate the probe against Picard’s orders. Data is there because he suspected, but instead of turning LaForge in, he offers to monitor the equipment, on the condition that LaForge will “consider the possibility that what you see is not real.”
Following guidance from the image of his mother, LaForge takes the Reman deeper into the atmosphere, and doesn’t seem to notice how distracted his mother is when he tries to make personal comments. It’s no mystery to us that she isn’t what LaForge thinks she is, but before we find out the truth, there are lots of shots of concerned people looking at readouts and updating us on what’s happening.
The final reveal isn’t really anything we haven’t seen on Star Trek before, but it gets the job done.
Although the amount of time the script devotes to explaining VR does date the episode, everyone but Worf had plenty to do, and it’s a good LaForge story. Still, LaForge disobeyed a direct order from the captain, yet he only got a terse scolding (tempered by Picard’s on-brand empathy).