Saturday, April 9, 2022

Endings That Open New Horizons

This is a Facebook post I posted some weeks ago. It's about the climactic scene of "All Good Things", the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It's a brilliant finale. It features Q, a mysterious and almost-omnipotent figure who was a recurring character in the series. In fact, he featured in the first episode in which he puts the  whole human race on trial (the crew of the Starship Enterprise being their representatives). They survive that, of course, but in "All Good Things", Q tells Captain Jean-Luc Picard that "the trial never ended". Picard finds himself trying to stave off the impending doom of humanity, which comes in the form of a "spatial anomaly".

In "All Good Things", Picard travels through the past, present and future (thrust back and forth by Q), and realizes that the spatial anomaly is growing bigger the further back he travels in time. If he doesn't stop it growing (backwards in time), it will eventually stop human evolution from ever happening at all, in the primeval past. His encounters with the other characters in the three different timelines have a tremendous dramatic and emotional impact on the viewer-- on this viewer, at least. The story touches on deep themes of loyalty, identity, and the unity of a human life.

(The framework of past, present and future is reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, a story which has provided a template for countless other stories.)

Q is a fascinating and ambivalent figure. He is a member of a species called "the Q Continuum", who are all near-omnipotent and who seem to act as a kind of cosmic judiciary. He seems sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly to the crew of the Enterprise. In "All Good Things", up to this last scene, he seems entirely hostile-- even terrifying.

You can see the climax here. Watch it before you continue reading. It's not very long.

And here is my Facebook post, which is shorter than my set-up:

I think this might be favourite climax of any TV drama ever. Not only that, but it's a kind of paradigm of how I think a story SHOULD end. "Charting the unknown possibilities of existence". The conclusion of a story should not be a closing down but an opening up of new horizons. That doesn't have to be a science-fiction understanding of new horizons; it can simply be a deeper understanding of life on the part of the protagonist, or new possibilities of some kind.

The part where Q leans over to say something to Picard and then his chair pulls him away is brilliant, as is "See you...out there". It gets the whole atmosphere of the show in one scene. Of course, in science-fiction guise it's essentially an encounter with an angel.

But then, I'm a fuddy-duddy who thinks fiction (indeed, all art) should be something that raises people up and inspires them. Even it has dark themes, it should ultimately inspire. I agree with Chesterton when he said the only thing worse than the oppression of the people is the depression of the people.

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