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July 13 2024


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The Loss

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 9, 2009 - 7:22 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Loss' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While Troi is engaged in grief counseling with a crewmember whose husband has died, the Enterprise is caught up by a powerful, mysterious force that sweeps the ship along an unknown trajectory. Troi becomes dizzy, and by the time Crusher is able to reach her, she has lost all of her empathic abilities. The doctor discovers that the counselor has suffered brain damage. Troi's first response to this crisis is to throw herself into her work, but when she is unable to sense the emotions of the grieving crewmember, she panics and concludes that she cannot continue in her role as ship's counselor. Picard is very reluctant to accept her resignation and Troi goes to drown her sorrows in Ten Forward, where Guinan says that her experiences as a bartender make her an ideal candidate to take over the counselor's job. Once Troi realizes that Guinan is only trying to be provocative, she admits that her instincts about people are still fairly accurate even without empathic abilities. Meanwhile, LaForge informs the captain that the ship is being towed in the gravitational wake of a massive group of two-dimensional entities. Worf discovers an anomaly in space that seems to be drawing the beings, which Data identifies as a cosmic string. Realizing that the ship will be destroyed if unable to break free, Picard asks Troi to develop a psychological explanation for the beings' behavior. Troi concludes that the creatures must be driven by instinct toward the cosmic string, which inspires Data to create a replica that distracts them long enough for the Enterprise to break free. Moments later, they disappear into the cosmic string and Troi is overcome with happiness as she realizes both that the string is their home and that her ability to sense it means that her empathic powers have returned.

Analysis: "The Loss" is a more enjoyable episode than I had remembered, though I'm not sure I'd say it's a better episode. Its science is shaky at best, particularly so far as the cosmic string is concerned, and Crusher and Picard aren't very well written. I would think that two-dimensional beings would only affect a two-dimensional slice of the Enterprise, like a less-than-one-atom-thick segment being yanked along instead of the entire ship in three dimensions, but that would probably either have no effect or else wreak havoc with the matter-antimatter mix and make the ship explode, so I guess it wouldn't make for a very good story. That the crew devotes only a few minutes to discussing whether the beings are alive, sentient, and worthy of a first contact is indicative of the extent to which the critters are a plot device rather than New Life and New Civilizations. The science fiction drama is pretty thin, but since Next Gen at its best is always character story first, sci-fi second, it puts most of the focus on Troi and her particular dilemma.

The very beginning of the episode sees Troi counseling a woman who claims to have recovered from the loss of her husband without going through any of the usual stages of grief - no denial, no anger - and after Troi loses her powers, we get to see her attempt the same thing, with just as little success. I don't think there's any truth to Riker's accusation that she's always used her Betazoid heritage to make herself feel aristocratic, but he's definitely right that it makes her feel safe and in control around other people; her panic when she loses that advantage makes clear that this isn't just about her career. Indeed, she behaves far worse than the grieving Engisn Brooks. First she snaps at a concerned Riker, insisting that she wants to be left alone to do her work when he calls her Imzadi and says he knows she's frightened; then she lashes out at Crusher, blaming the doctor for the loss of her empathic powers because Crusher was in the middle of treating other patients when Troi first complained of dizziness.

Crusher admittedly is not at the top of her game here, clucking sympathetically after announcing that Troi appears to have suffered brain damage rather than launching immediately into an investigation of possible degeneration and treatments - we've seen this doctor far more focused on crewmembers with far less serious conditions. Picard isn't much help either. When Troi shuts down his attempt at an inspirational anecdote and asks him to accept her resignation, he doesn't outright refuse, demand that she start with a leave of absence, and tell her to pull it together as he would have with any other crewmember. The result is that Troi really does seem as alone as she's supposed to feel. Riker can offer comfort (as well as the best line of the episode, when she asks him if he handles all personnel problems the same way and he says, "Sure - you'd be surprised how far a hug goes with Geordi or Worf").

We're usually stuck with Troi as the touchy-feely, comforting character to the point that it becomes cloying, so it's fun as well as enlightening to see her angry, closed-off and bitchy. Guinan has her number perfectly, smoothly suggesting that a good bartender could do the counselor's job just as well as a trained professional, which irritates Troi even though she's been saying that all her education and experience amounts to nothing without empathic abilities. In fact I think we see what a good counselor Guinan really is during this scene, though also the impression that Guinan is quite happy where she is, as the shoulder-to-cry-on without the burden of keeping crewmembers in top Starfleet condition. I'm sorry we don't get to hear more from Data or Worf, both of whom have very different attitudes about the value of emotional exploration than the human crewmembers.

The conclusion is all a bit abrupt. Troi comes to terms with herself as a counselor who isn't an empath, then she gets her abilities back, and the entire incident seems to be forgotten. Plus Data and LaForge somehow create a fake cosmic string with a subspace resonance (or something like that) equivalent to thousands of black holes...that's some science project, and they do it without Wesley! Yet the episode ends with humor and crew bonding, and it ends up being a feel-good story in spite of its shortcomings. Beyond nice performances from Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes - who are so consistent that it's easy to take them for granted - there's not much greatness in "The Loss" yet I wouldn't mind watching it again.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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