Revelations on the good of marriage and family
“The Inner Light” is one of Star Trek: the Next Generation’s most highly rated episodes (see Memory Alpha). What is it that is so striking about this episode? Is it the action? No. There isn’t much action here. Is it the sci-fi technology that tickles our spirit? No. There was not much time focused on any sort of encounter with a new phenomenon or a scientific puzzle. Is it maybe a philosophy that is tackled in story form? Yeeaawell….Let’s look at the episode that is not only highly regarded but is also considered by Patrick Stewart to be one of the hardest episodes that he was involved in.
The first scene opens with the Captain. They’ve encountered a probe. As soon as they start surveying it, they see a beam come from the probe, penetrate their shields, and incapacitate the captain. His vision of his life on the Enterprise fades out as the face of a concerned woman fades in. “Oh finally,” she says. “How are you feeling?”
At first, he thinks he is on the holodeck. Then, he thinks he can contact the Enterprise by calling out to them as he would have normally done with his “communicator.” He’s gruff and somewhat frantic towards the woman as he tries to figure out where he is. He says, “What is this place?” She replies, “This is your home of course.” She tries to persuade him to stay, but he ventures out of the house to figure out where he is.
The first person he meets outside is someone who calls him friend. This man has just planted a sapling “as an affirmation of life…in defiance of the drought and with expectations of long life…a symbol of survival.” He gives the captain an indication of where he is–on a planet he has never heard of–and who the woman is–his wife, Eline. Before this episode, he had been pretty much tagged as the perpetual bachelor. How could he, a devoted single man, be married?
After wandering around for several hours, he returns to Eline in a foul mood. He tells her he was hoping it was a dream, but he wouldn’t be worn out if it were. So then he asks her if there are other planets around. She doesn’t seem to understand the question. So then he asks her how they communicate with other communities. He sounds scientific in his questions for her. She wonders why he hasn’t asked about them. He, looking down at the “delicious” soup she had given him, says “We’re married.” He quickly shovels another spoonful of soup into his mouth. She confirms that and tells him the day of their marriage was the happiest day of her life. After that, he wants to know what he does. Among other things, she tells him that he plays music on the flute (not a typical flute). He doesn’t know how to play.
For several years (which back on the Enterprise is only a couple of minutes), he continues to wander around, look at the stars, trying to figure out how he came to be in a place where he is a husband. His wife waits patiently. One day, however, she speaks up. She wants to know what was so much better about his old life. She asks him why he “clings to it with such stubbornness.” She also wants to know why he never “mentioned anyone who loves” him as she does. “For five years, I’ve shared you with that other life…When will you start living in this life? When will we start a family?” His friend comes in, interrupts the conversation, and begins to take him to a council meeting. His friend asks if she needs him for something. Upset, she says, “You do very well on your own.” At this point, he begins to show signs of a transformation from the commitment to bachelorhood to the commitment of husbandhood because he tells his friend that she had every right to be upset with him.
When he goes to the council meeting, he begins to participate in the discussion, to his friend’s surprise; then, when they return home, he plays the flute and tells his friend that it helps him think. His friend leaves with Eline’s prompting, and she apologizes for being so pushy earlier in the day. The captain, however, says, “No. I’m the one who’s sorry…I feel that I have given you so little and you’ve given so much.” Wow! What a great admission about the mystery of reciprocation! So then he asks her permission to build something. She tells them that he can build anything he wants; he doesn’t need to ask for her permission. But, he says in this case, he does because he wants to build her “a nursery.” She tears up, taken aback, and gives him a hug. He has finally committed to being a husband.
A few years later, we see that the couple now has both a daughter and a son. He tells Eline that although he was scared when he held their firstborn, a daughter, for the first time, he now feels more complete with children and cannot imagine living without them. He is concerned. He shows that he cares for the people around him. Rather than living the life of a man who keeps his distance from familial relationships, he becomes a committed husband, a concerned father, and a caring part of the community, in some ways a good brother to the rest of humanity.
His children grow into adults (his son played by Patrick Stewart’s real son), and they have children of their own after he encourages them to live, but no longer does he mean to live for oneself as he had done before, but now living means to have a family! After he becomes a grandfather, they tell him about the purpose of the probe and say, “Now we live in you. Tell them of us.” Alas this life ends, as if only a really good dream. He rouses back on the Enterprise, disoriented.
In the last scene where the captain seems to be rediscovering his own room, Riker brings him a box they had found on the probe. Riker exits, and the captain opens it. It is the flute he had played. He hugs it to his heart and begins to play into the blue lit room, looking out the window to the silence of the stars. Does he miss his family? Does he miss that inner light?
The underlying causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labor, urban, residential and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for family, so that it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly. –The Gospel of Life by John Paul II (564 ToB).
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery–the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them: He who loves his son will not spare the rod…He who disciplines his son will profit by him…Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in discipline and instruction of the Lord. (CCC 2223)
The home is a natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid compromising and degrading influences which influence human societies (CCC 2224).
This episode in the Star Trek mythology strikes at the core of what it means to be human. This episode shows the absolute tenacity to embrace life and to reciprocate love to others; he learns from his wife and his friends. In the face of death, they believe in working for life and love. In the final scene, Captain Picard seems sad to not be a part of the family and friends of that world. The confirmed bachelor longs for his new vision of inner light–the gift of being a part of a family. He has boldly ventured into fatherhood and brotherhood and has given the audience an episode that strikes an all to wonderfully human chord.
As to why Patrick Stewart found that this episode was difficult to make, I am going to guess that it required a lot of his time. He had to be at the studio at 1:00 am for the scenes that required the aging make-up so that they could begin shooting by 7:00 am (see Memory Alpha link), and every single scene had Patrick Stewart in it. Sounds like the dedication of a husband and father to me. It’s funny how those things happen.