Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Half a Life

I'm reminded of this episode of 'Star Trek TNG'. One Dr. Timicin (played ably by David Ogden Stiers) comes aboard the Enterprise with a plan for saving his home planet's dying sun. The plan ultimately fails, but the thrust of the episode involves Timicin's impending death by euthanasia. It seems that on his world, people are put to death when they reach the age of sixty. It's a cultural tradition named 'The Resolution', formed in the days of rampant overpopulation, and is also justified as 'a means of ridding their culture of the need to care for the elderly.' (Wiki).

Counselor Troi's mother happens to be along for the ride on this mission, and naturally, being the horndog that this character always was, she immediately sinks her empathetic claws into Dr. Timicin. Unsurprising, she is shocked and outraged at such a 'barbaric' tradition, and immediately sets about putting the kibosh on the whole deal, getting everybody involved and instigating a diplomatic froufrou. At one point in the episode, I remember her self-righteously riposting to Timicin's 'care for the elderly' argument with something like "Why SHOULDN"T our children take care of us? They OWE us!"

She actually gets Timicin to go along with her little vicarious rebellion for a while, pissing everybody off in the interim (as that character always did), but in the end he decides he's not the man to fight this fight, and acquiesces to the cultural norm. I really liked this episode, as I thought the writers created a genuinely balanced tension between the two world views, and didn't cop out with a convenient condemnation of Timicin's choice. They came close, mind you, but at times you could sense Troi's over-the-top denunciations as something close to visceral prejudice. An approach that I felt was quite refreshing.

There was another episode I remember liking, I think it was 'Star Trek Voyager', where one of the 'Q' continnum was imprisoned inside a comet to keep him from committing suicide. Seems he was experiencing Deific Strength ennui, and just wanted to blow the scene. The rest of the 'Q' were definitely against the idea, because if one Q were allowed to do it, why, it might bring into question that all was peachy in Paradise!(Q style) Sound familiar?

Here's that episode. I looked it up just for you, dear reader, so make sure you read it. I just did, and found it extremely relevant to what we talk about here. Appropriately, the episode was entitled 'Death Wish'.

Enjoy the day!

UPDATE: Just in case you don't feel like reading through the Wiki, I thought I'd cut and paste the last couple paragraphs for you, solicitous guy that I yam-

Quinn shows the court the Q continuum (or rather how it would be interpreted by their limited human minds) as a road stretching around the entire planet with one rest stop, a country gas station and store, and some Q standing around, bored. Quinn describes immortality as dull, that it is only possible to experience the universe so many times before it gets boring. Q tries to dismiss it and makes a poor attempt to show that the other members of the continuum are happy, but Quinn sees through it and confesses, to Q's surprise, that it was Q's earlier unrestrained behavior in an attempt to make his life fun that was the motivation for his own actions. He makes an impassioned speech comparing his eternal boredom to suffering from a terminal biological disease for which suicide is the only humane release, and that being forced to live for all eternity against his will "cheapens and denigrates" his life, and indeed all life. Janeway is clearly moved by this and agrees to grant him asylum. Keeping his part of the bargain, Q makes him human. At this point Quinn chooses his name.
While trying to decide where to assign Quinn so that he won't use his knowledge to evolve humanity overnight, Janeway and Chakotay receive a message from the Doctor that Quinn is dying after ingesting a poison. After realizing that the Doctor did not keep any of the poison on hand, and that the computer would not replicate it due to its harmful nature, Q then appears and admits that he was the one who gave Quinn the poison. He's taking up Quinn's rebellion against the staid order of the Q.


metamorphhh said...

It occurs to me the point could be made that the real message of the story is that death is what ultimately makes life precious. That somehow joy can only be found in finitude, for some reason. Fair enough, although that doesn't speak well for a variety of metaphysical afterlives all of us are familiar with.

On the other hand, I was delightfully surprised at hearing a dramatized discussion during primetime of a subject we rarely hear people talk about, outside the bounds of automatic dismissal and/or condemnation. And in the end, when Quinn is allowed to become human, he immediately offs himself...and with Q's help, cast in the role of humanitarian. I miss some of these old episodes, even though on the whole all of it seems a bit dated. But at its best, the writing was a cut above the usual fare, I think.

CM said...

I'm inclined to lean towards your second interpretation.

Consider Battlestar Galactica (the reimagining). Classic case of sour grapes. I can't believe I kept watching that pile of shit until the very end.

I particularly like the part when the only remotely rational being in the whole show, Tory (who is, of course, a villain), asks what the fuck makes the toddler so special. The response, of course, is: "But what if she can bear children, duh!". Then she asks, "So what, am I supposed to die happy now?" But we are not given much time to contemplate the question because Tory gets murdered by her fellow Final Fiver pretty soon after that. Everybody's happy.

Another great part is when, upon studying the hominids' DNA on Earth, they find out it's close enough to their own. Light bulb goes off. In case we missed it, Dr. Baltar says "It means we can interbreed with them" with a lusty expression on his face. Later we learn that Hera's only significance was that her parents succeeded in forcing her to engage in what amounts to bestiality with one (or more?) of the hominids, and she is later revealed to be Mitochondrial Eve.

But I suspect that if we asked most people if they would prefer the ability to live forever or breeding, the choice would be pretty damn near universal in favor of the former. Especially if the option to die permanently was still available, like in the cylons' case.

metamorphhh said...


I'm afraid I never saw any of the new battlestar Galactica stuff. Around the middle of the final Star Trek reincarnation, I became burnt out on all those shows. About the only sci-fi I watch these days is reruns of 'Futurama'...LOL! Bender rules!

metamorphhh said...

Speaking of Futurama, in the first episode, Fry meets Bender outside of a suicide booth, where Bender is planning to end it all. Of course, he botches the job...otherwise there wouldn't have been a series :)

CM said...

Here's the the finale summary. Not that it merits any attention whatsoever. That show really pissed me off because it started off all interesting and quickly devolved into affirming the value of breeding at all costs without providing any justification (I guess it's supposed to be self-evident).

Oh and Futurama rules! I'm so glad they brought it back! The new season premiers tonight on Comedy Central.