This particular episode of Star Trek The Next Generation is one that can keep me talking for days on end. What a rich supply of thoughts & ideas this show is! Star Trek has had some of the best stories in all of science fiction nay fiction in general yet ones like this that can be discussed in present day era terms as well are so much more fulfilling & thought provoking.
In Half A Life, Dr Timichin (played admirably well by David Ogden Stiers) a leading scientist of the planet Kaelon II is beamed on board the USS Enterprise to conduct an experiment of the utmost urgency. His planet’s sun is dying and the closed off society of Kaelon II doesn’t seem to want to migrate elsewhere to save their species. The Kaelon society is also highly xenophobic and has so far restrict almost all contact with the Federation and other alien factions. It is the crisis which they face that has brought the Federation starship to assist them in any way that they can. The Kaelon people wish to remain on their planet and find a way to prevent their home from being destroyed when their sun goes supernova which is why Timichin is on board. He works with the science & engineering team on board the Enterprise and experiment with trying to revive another sun, similar to his planet’s own, in hopes that that will be the solution to their problem. It fails.
Meanwhile Timichin has caught the eye of Lwaxana Troi, Deanna’s boisterous and vibrant mother, who takes it upon herself to make sure the alien scientist is entertained and shows him around the ship. Apparently the widowed Timichin soon falls for her, as different as she is from his shy & reserved self. Once the experiment fails the Kaleon authorities asks captain Picard to Timichin back to his planet. As Timichin bonds with Lwaxana he informs that this will be his last attempt at the experiment; he is turning 60 years old and as per the custom of his people he is to undergo the “Resolution”, ritual suicide, Lwaxana becomes livid with protest. She immediately goes to Picard and demands he intervene to spare Timicin’s life, but Picard refuses to do so, as he is bound by the Prime Directive not to interfere. Furious, Lwaxana storms out of the Ready Room. Lwaxana considers the practice barbaric, while Timicin attempts to explain that in his culture it is an accepted practice for all to undergo the ritual on their 60th birthday to avoid old age, infirmity, indignity, dependence on others, and the cruel uncertainty about when the end would come. Each ends up finding the other’s point of view cruel: Lwaxana because she sees it as arbitrary murder in an uncertain universe when death can come both well before and well after the designated age, Timicin because she is denying people control of their fate and the opportunity to end life with dignity.
However just before he is to leave, Timichin discovers that he is not far off from finding the solution to solve the crisis and needs more time. He asks the authorities permission to not undergo the “resolution” so that he may continue working on the project but they refuse to let him continue. They say that it doesn’t matter if Timichin is the best qualified to finish the project, others will take over. Timichin asks Picard for asylum which does not sit well with the Kaleon government and they sent two warships to intercept the Enterprise. They also send Timicin’s daughter Dara on board the Enterprise to attempt to convince her father to return to the planet. Timicin finds his daughter’s arguments very convincing, and ultimately decides to return to his planet and carry out the tradition, thus concluding the diplomatic incident. Lwaxana, though she still disagrees with the tradition, packs her bags and sets out to accompany Timicin to the planet to be with him at his ritual. She promises Picard not to cause trouble on the planet. Picard gives her permission to go, and Timicin and Lwaxana beam down hand in hand to the planet.
How can one society who seem evolved enough allow such a barbaric tradition to continue? And yet who are we to condone such a tradition as barbaric and interfere just because we do not see eye to eye with them? This is what is discussed within this episode. As a human, we might find the ritualistic suicide a tragic situation and practice and will find nothing good about it. Yet they find it comforting and honourable and they cherish the tradition. They find that it suits their way of life and have not questioned it for centuries. Now the real world – do certain practices in other nations and cultures not seem barbaric to some of us? And yet they value those practices. Similarly they might find your traditions and values barbaric in return and despise you for continuing on with them. Who are we to judge? And yet do we stay diplomatic and neutral and let things continue as they may, no matter what we feel inside?