There’s no shortage of great Star Trek episodes, though it’s rare that an episode could mine as much pathos from its storylines as it could action and philosophy. Enter “The Inner Light,” a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that many consider to be the best entry in any iteration of the franchise. In honor of its 25th anniversary—it aired in June of 1992—Nerdist’s Eric Diaz spoke to “The Inner Light”’s writer, Morgan Gendel, about its creation and legacy.
The episode found Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), struck by an energy beam from an alien probe, passing out, and living for 50 years in an alternate universe. There, he tries to prevent the extinction of the planet Kataan while building a family with Eline, a woman with whom he spends a lifetime. Meanwhile, only minutes pass with his Enterprise crew.
According to Gendel, he was desperate for ideas in advance of a pitch meeting and found inspiration in none other than the iconic Fuji blimp.
“So my original concept was ‘what if the Enterprise comes across something very strange, like a probe, and next thing you know, Picard, Riker and Ro Laren would find themselves on another planet. And my concept was an ancient, yet futuristic, version of the Fuji Blimp, that could essentially advertise TV commercials right into your brain that would make you feel like you’re living an experience,” says Gendel. “A lot of people thought that the impetus of this episode was Picard’s whole ‘the life not taken’ emotional journey, but in this instance, the ‘tech’ part of the story came first, before the emotional arc of Picard. Since then we’ve had a lot of theater of the mind movies, like The Matrix, but at the time there wasn’t a whole lot of that.”
Considering the events of “The Inner Light” are enough to alter one’s entire mindset, Gendel was a smidge annoyed that the show barely mentioned the experience going forward. He also had a sequel in the tank that unfortunately never made into an episode.
One of the greatest Trek episodes of all time almost had a follow up. “In my pitch, the Enterprise comes across a ship that’s in the same shape as the probe, so they know it’s something familiar,” Gendel told us. “And in that ship are a bunch of people in suspended animation. What had happened was the scientists from Kataan who created the probe, they kind of had to play the parts in that simulation they made. In other words, his wife Eline, who was played wonderfully by Margot Rose, she’s actually a real person. These scientists had to keep it in a small group that their planet was dying.”
Gendel elaborated further on the sequel idea, saying “to an extent, this was like an interactive video game, but they had to be played by real people. So at the last minute they discovered that they could send a small amount of their people into space, and that’s when they send a group of scientists in suspended animation. So Picard discovers them, and to him, he sees his wife Eline among them. But to her, she’s like “who the hell are you???”
The good news is that Gendel eventually did tell the story. Not on TV, but in graphic novel form. You can get a copy here.