In 1993, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Inner Light” became the first Start Trek episode in 25 years to win the Hugo award, and more impressive, only the second episode of Star Trek to ever win the award. It’s a fan favorite, and a personal favorite of mine. I was very excited to see on the program for this year’s New York Comic Con was a panel featuring the writer of the episode, Morgan Gendel.
(more after the break)
The episode begins rather typically for a TNG episode, with the good old NCC-1701-D discovering a probe in space, Worf wanting to immediately blow it up and Picard calling him off till they can study it further. Before long the probe makes a connection with Picard’s mind and the captain is seemingly transported to another planet, inhabited by a rural society he has never heard of. What’s more, the people there (including the wife Picard now has) claim he is a man named Kamin who has lived there all his life. And the rest of the episode is him just sort of struggling with the rest of his life on the planet Kataan in the village of Ressik.
Morgan Gendel was not a typical of a television writer: eloquent, slightly jaded and self-assured, intelligent. Morgan began the panel with a story about how he had been inspired by a flying probe. After he got the reaction he was hoping for, which was a “holy fuck this guy is crazy” face from at least some of the audience (though I am sure many of the Trekkies in the audience found that statement to be absolutely sensible), he revealed what he meant: a Fuji blimp.
After some ethereal ponderings about shared dreamstates and talking blimps, he got to the crux of the issue, which was his inspiration for the episode. This blimp, which was essentially a probe meant to share information, led him to think about how society would share information in the future. Enter the Kataanian probe, which shares the story of Kamin and the Ressikan people by allowing Picard to experience it directly. After pitching several versions of the story to the TNG writers, they finally greenlighted “The Inner Light” and Morgan began to write the story of Picard’s other self, Kamin, who was a family man and actually experienced an on-screen romance.
Morgan shared some insight into the inner workings of TNG. He was a freelance writer who wrote this episode, and one other called “Starship Mine”, so his experience with the writers was as an outsider. He also shared some amusing stories bout the cast. For example, he told us about how Michael Dorn (Worf) was developing a romantic comedy starring Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi), which is an absolutely hysterical thought.
He went on to joke about the episode’s success being confirmed in his mind when it was referenced on Family Guy. And of course, he wouldn’t be a very good LA-based TV writer if he didn’t badmouth current movies he had nothing to do with, like The Green Lantern, which he called an abomination. He also jokingly took credit for inspiring the creation of Inception with his episode of TNG. And then he told a seemingly unrelated story about eating barbecued chicken pizza with William Shatner.
He talked a bit about the “holes” some of the more persnickety fans find with “The Inner Light”, the most common of which being that if Kataan was destroyed while it was still a rural planet, how did they build the probe that contacted Picard in the future? His answer was simple and amusing: he compared it to Groundhog Day and said that explanations in that movie were unnecessary and indeed would have detracted from the impact of it. And then in a moment that earned him raucous applause he said this: “If you need an example of something simple being over explained, I have one thing to say to you: medichloreans.”
Then Morgan sort of contradicted himself, though he admitted to the contradiction. He announced that he was writing a graphic novel called “The Outer Light” about the last days on Kataan, and the building of the probe. He defended this by saying that almost 20 years later, it’s okay to tell the story without detracting from it.
If you’ve never seen the episode, watch it. It’s one of those great stand-alone episodes that, while not contributing to the major arc of the show, highly impacts the characterization of Captain Picard. As for the upcoming graphic novel, I’m excited and apprehensive, but I’ll sure as hell read it.