Eek. No other writeups about my favorite TNG
ep ever. Which means, of course, I gotta weigh in
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: 225 (production number)
First aired on: June 1, 1992
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Inner Light begins with the Big E and crew encountering a mysterious unmanned probe, which they naturally approach to study. While they are nose to nose with it and carrying out their examination, it suddenly broadcasts a beam which envelops Picard as he stands on the bridge. He collapses to the floor, apparently unconscious.
We find, however, that he isn't really unconscious. He awakens to find himself in bed on an unknown planet, with his wife caring for him tenderly as he recovers from 'a fever.' He tries without any luck to determine where he is and to contact the Enterprise, but doesn't manage to do so before night falls and he retires, hoping the next day will bring recovery.
It brings recovery, but no change - he is still on a strange world, surrounded by people who all claim to know him and to have known him since childhood. Eventually, he comes to realize that the Enterprise isn't anywhere within reach, and he begins to grudgingly explore his new world and its people.
We the viewers are treated to the highlights of his new life, including the birth of his children, his exploration of the society and world, and finally, his acceptance of his situation as the Enterprise and his prior life fade into a distant memory. However, he makes a troubling discovery; retaining all his skills and experiences, he sets out to determine why his adoptive community is suffering from an unprecedentedly severe drought. He comes to find out that the star his new home orbits is unstable, and is in fact sliding towards going nova in the very near future (a matter of a few years).
At this point, we unexpectedly return to the bridge of the Enterprise, where Dr. Crusher and company attempt to sever the probe's connection with Picard as he lies on the deck. Back inside his mind, Picard suffers a severe heart attack as they make the attempt. Seeing the danger, the crew backs off, and Picard recovers.
He badgers the world government until an official finally admits to him that the government is quite aware of the impending nova, but is keeping it secret in order to not panic the populace. He assures Picard that they are accelerating their infant space program to attempt to preserve whatever they can. Picard accepts this, and we see him growing older. His wife passes away, leaving him with his son and daughter. His best friend on-world, who met him when he arrived, dies as well. Picard has taken up the flute, and we watch him improve over the course of his life; every few years, he is seen playing again, and finally (at the birth of his second child) he plays for the assembled crowd with skill and panache. After his wife dies, he finds comfort in playing the flute.
An old man now, he is taken to watch a space launch by his children and grandchildren. They are forced to wear sunscreen and straw hats to protect themselves from the glare of their sun, but the launch takes place without a hitch. As they watch the rocket lift to the sky, Picard comments on what a beautiful sight it is. At this, his daughter turns to him and tells him that he's seen it before. As he reacts, confused, he turns to find himself surrounded by people that have passed away - his wife, his best friend, etc - and they're all young again as when he first awoke. They explain to him that the spacecraft is a teacher - it contains all they could record about their people, their culture, and their homeworld, and its purpose is to find a single being out there whom it can educate and transfer this wonderful gift of knowledge to in order that they not be lost forever when the star explodes. This person can then teach others about them from experience.
This moment is one of those times where it pays unbelievably well to have an actor of Patrick Stewart's ability and experience involved with Star Trek. The subject material here finally rises to the level of his skill, and the scene as we see him realize that in fact he is the one destined to be that teacher, and that he's not really here, is worth watching over and over again. Then everything fades, and he's left lying on the Bridge of the Enterprise, the crew surrounding him with concern and relief.
The final scene of the episode sees Picard staring out the port in his Ready Room. Commander Riker enters to tell him that the probe has been taken aboard, and that it appears to be dead. Picard doesn't acknowledge, but Riker continues to tell him that a box was found on board. He leaves it on the desk and exits. After a few moments, Picard turns to examine it; opening it, he finds his flute, the one physical connection with his 'other' life. He turns back to the stars, and hesitantly puts the flute to his lips - and plays, with all the skill and grace he'd mastered over the years 'inside.' The episode closes with the Enterprise sailing off, Picard's flute notes sounding a sad but powerful memory of the people he has had the chance to know, and whose home sun they have found to be a dead nova several light-years back along the path of the probe.
Rent this one if you haven't seen it. It's really, really, really good.