Retro Review: Eye of the Beholder

After an officer’s suicide, Troi suffers from visions that appear to mirror her own budding relationship with Worf.

Plot Summary: As an anguished Riker watches, Lieutenant Kwan claims that people laughed at him and throws himself into the engine’s plasma stream. Troi is flabbergasted why a seemingly happy crewmember would commit suicide, as is Kwan’s girlfriend, Ensign Calloway. She and Worf investigate yet find no evidence that Kwan was depressed. When Troi climbs up to the platform from which Kwan jumped, a sense of fear overwhelms her. Crusher reminds Troi that Kwan was an empath like herself and offers to suppress Troi’s telepathic abilities in case Kwan left an echo of his feelings of despair. When Troi returns to the platform with Worf, she has a vision of being in the same room while the Enterprise was being built at Utopia Planitia, where a man threatened a terrified woman. Later, investigating the Enterprise’s construction records, Troi recognizes the man from her vision – Lieutenant Pierce, who now works in Engineering. Troi and Worf question Pierce, who claims not to remember working with Kwan, though Troi and Worf both sense that he is being evasive. They discuss the fact that they both have had experiences with visions, and end up spending the night together. In the morning, Crusher gives Troi a neurotransmitter to inhibit her empathy so she can continue to investigate in engineering while Worf works with Calloway. Near a wall panel, Troi feels a strange sensation, and when LaForge scans it, he finds a human skeleton hidden inside. Calloway and Worf test the DNA and identify a Starfleet officer whom Troi recognizes as the terrified woman from her vision. But Troi has also had visions of the dead woman laughing at Pierce, and now keeps seeing Worf with Calloway. When Worf tries to question Pierce again, Pierce goes instead to Troi’s quarters, telling her that Worf is with Calloway. As Troi bursts in on them, Worf and Calloway laugh at her. Troi pulls a phaser, shooting Worf dead. Fleeing, she bumps into Pierce, who directs her to the plasma stream, but a live Worf pulls her back before she can jump in. Looking around the nacelle tube, Troi realizes that she never left it earlier; everything that has happened since she first arrived has been part of her vision. Research reveals that Pierce and the dead woman disappeared at Utopia Planitia; Troi believes the woman was killed by the jealous Pierce, who then killed himself. Because Pierce was an empath, Kwan and Troi both inadvertently accessed feelings left in his DNA traces.

Analysis: I had remembered “Eye of the Beholder” being a real stinker of an episode, but to be fair, it’s merely mediocre, not unwatchable. I dislike “it was all a dream” plots unless they’re serving some grand plot function – though it gets ridiculed, I think Pam waking to find Bobby in the shower on Dallas was a stroke if genius, since it allowed the writers to erase an entire season of stupid decisions – yet in the case of “Eye of the Beholder,” it’s ultimately all rather pointless, and nothing can be proven since the skeleton in the closet itself is part of the vision. Even the leap forward for Troi’s and Worf’s relationship happens only in Troi’s mind, which, considering that they’ve previously been lovers only in an alternate future of Worf’s, seems silly and timid. I might forgive the storyline if it had been a shared experience for Troi and Worf – which would have made sense both because we see events from Worf’s point of view (like his hilarious conversation with Riker in which he seeks permission to court Troi, which Riker doesn’t quite understand) and because, as Worf says, they have common experiences with visions that the others on the ship might label supernatural. But in the end it’s just a cold case in which we have no investment in the first place, since the people from Utopia Planitia are long dead and we only met Kwan moments before his suicide. Plus we’re expected to believe that an empath’s feelings can live on in his biological residue, and that nobody in Starfleet could pick up traces of that residie in the plasma conduit where he died after covering up a murder.

I always like when Troi’s skills as an empath are put to good use, but here she isn’t using her abilities so much as being used by them, even after Crusher tries to suppress her telepathic neurotransmitters. We’ve seen her take it very personally when crewmembers under her care have failed to thrive, but she doesn’t seem to feel guilty about Kwan’s death, just puzzled. Since she usually can’t feel lingering emotions from the dead, it’s unclear why she decides to retrace Kwan’s steps up the ladder to the platform from which he jumped to his death in the first place, and we never get even a gobbledygook technobabble explanation of how the human Pierce left such a strong psychic signature that he could make both Kwan and Troi – neither a full telepath – relive his experiences long after his death. If there’s supposed to be a moral implication, such as murder is such a horrific crime that it leaves traces no matter how hard the murderer works to cover it up, we don’t get it stated as explicitly as usual. Mostly it seems like a supernatural detective story, and since we had one of those involving a female crewmember just a few weeks ago with “Sub Rosa,” it’s not a nice change of pace but an ominous hint that the writers may be completely out of science fiction concepts to explore in any meaningful way.

It doesn’t help matters that the woman playing the girlfriend of the deceased is the worst guest actor ever on the show, and her dialogue is just as bad (“It’s not like Dan to take his own life!”). When I first saw the episode, I was sure Calloway had a hand in Kwan’s death because she’s so unemotional about it. She claims to be in shock, which might explain her complete failure to grieve at first, but later she’s as cheerfully businesslike as ever. No wonder Troi casts her in the role of the villain when Troi internalizes Pierce’s love triangle! They’re someone else’s memories, but it would make the drama more compelling if we could take them as an indication that Troi doesn’t fully trust Worf, or at least the ability of their friendship to withstand a failed romance. There’s simply nothing at stake for Troi beyond a bit of emotional jerking around. I can’t help feeling the producers dropped the opportunity to focus on the real love triangle – that of Riker, Troi, and Worf – where despite everyone’s careful dance around everyone else’s feelings, using humor to deflect potential conflicts, the emotions must run pretty raw. Riker is Worf’s best friend on the ship, someone he deeply respects and treats with Klingon honor. If either Riker or Worf had a vision of the other with Troi, laughing at the outsider, that I could believe might drive someone to momentary violence and crushing guilt…the emotions of the story would linger even after they all knew it had been triggered by an empath who died nearly a decade earlier.

Even so, the Worf/Troi relationship and its impact is what makes “Eye of the Beholder” entertaining. We see that although their backgrounds and interests are so different, they’re on the same page when it comes to investigating – they both expect Kwan’s quarters to be out of order, they have the same reactions to Kwan’s personal logs, and if Worf is thinking that there’s no honor in such a death, he keeps his thoughts to himself. Worf accepts Troi’s sense that her dead grandfather might have left a telepathic echo by her fireplace just as she accepted his belief that his will could summon Kahless, though she likely believes in psychological origins of events to which he would attribute a spiritual meaning. Although some tension between Riker and Worf would be nice for dramatic purposes, it’s interesting from a character standpoint that Riker never gets his hackles up either when he thinks Worf may be interested in his current date in Ten Forward or when the prospect of Worf dating Troi arises. I remember being terribly disappointed in Deep Space Nine when Worf was afraid to date Dax because he thought he’d hurt her, and although I always thought Riker/Troi and Worf/Dax were better couples than Worf/Troi in the long run, I never had any doubt that Worf knew he wouldn’t hurt a woman who could hold her own like Jadzia or like Deanna.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: The Next Generation forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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