“The Inner Light” is the 125th episode overall and the 25th episode of the fifth season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The episode was written by freelance writer Morgan Gendel based on his original pitch. It was partly inspired by The Beatles’ song “The Inner Light”, written by George Harrison and based on verses in the Tao Te Ching. Gendel is credited as writer of the story and co-writer of the teleplay with Peter Allan Fields. It is the penultimate episode of the season and was first broadcast on 01 June 1992.
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is struck unconscious by an energy beam from an alien probe. While minutes pass for the rest of the crew, the probe makes Picard experience 40 years of lifetime as Kamin, a humanoid scientist whose planet is threatened by the nova of its sun. Toward the end of Kamin’s “lifetime,” Picard – who had come to accept his new life, though he never forgot his life on the Enterprise – learns that the purpose of the probe and the 40 years of virtual life it gave him was to keep alive the memory of Kamin’s race long after the death of their civilisation. Brought on board afterwards for analysis, the probe also contains Kamin’s flute; Picard, having mastered it during his 40 years as Kamin, finds he retained the musical skills he learned and can still play it. He keeps it as a memento for the remainder of the series.
The episode is widely considered by critics and fans as one of the best episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise. In 1993, “The Inner Light” won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The flute melody, featured prominently in the episode, was composed by Jay Chattaway and has since been re-arranged for a full orchestra. The episode has also been cited as a favourite by members of the show’s cast and crew.
On stardate 45944.1, the Enterprise-D finishes a magnetic wave survey of the Parvenium system and finds an unknown probe. The device rapidly scans the ship and directs an energy beam at Captain Picard, who wakes up to find himself on Kataan, a non-Federation planet. His wife, Eline, tells Picard that he is Kamin, an iron weaver recovering from a fever. Picard speaks of his life on the Enterprise but Eline and their close friend Batai try to convince Picard that his memories were only dreams and incorporate him into their society as Kamin. Picard begins living his life as Kamin in his village, Ressik, starting a family with Eline and learning to play the flute. Kamin spends much time outdoors and with his Dobsonian telescope studying nature. As years pass, he begins to notice that the planet is suffering a drought owing to increased radiation from the planet’s sun. He sends reports to the planet’s leaders, who seem to ignore his concerns.
On Enterprise, the crew continues attempts to revive Picard. They try to block the influence of the probe but Picard nearly dies, so they are forced to let it continue. They trace the rocket’s trajectory to a system whose sun went nova 1,000 years before, exterminating all life in the system. Years pass and Kamin outlives Eline and Batai. Kamin and his daughter Meribor continue their study of the drought. They find that it is not temporary; extinction of all life on the planet is inevitable. Kamin confronts a government official who privately admits to him that the government already knows this but keeps it secret to avoid panic. The official gravely points out to Kamin that they have only recently launched artificial satellites using primitive rockets: their race simply does not possess the technology to evacuate people before their planet is rendered uninhabitable.
One day, while playing with his grandson, Kamin is summoned by his adult children to watch the launch of a rocket, which everyone seems to know about except him. As he walks outside into the glaring nova light, Kamin sees Eline and Batai, as young as when he first saw them. They explain that he has already seen the rocket, just before he came there. Knowing that their planet was doomed, the planet’s leaders placed memories of their society into a probe and launched it into space, in the hope that it would find someone who could tell others about their species, with Kamin used as the avatar through it will be experienced. Picard realises the context: “Oh, it’s me, isn’t it?”, he says, “I’m the someone… I’m the one it finds”.
Picard wakes up on the bridge of the Enterprise to discover that while he perceived many decades to have transpired, only 25 minutes have passed. The probe terminates and is brought aboard the Enterprise. Inside, the crew finds a small box. A somber Riker gives the box to Picard, who opens it to find Kamin’s flute. Picard, now adept at the instrument, plays a melody he learned during his life as Kamin.
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Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Peter Lauritson.
- Writer(s): Morgan Gendel.
- Release Date: 01 June 1992.
- Running Time: 45 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.