TNG: S5E22: “Imaginary Friend”

In which another tinkerbell shows up, rules are there for a reason, and this episode is neither complex enough to merit a third thing nor focused enough to stick to one. 

Man, it’s a good thing I finished my antibiotics in time for this one because I do not have fond memories of this episode. What I’m implying is that I may need a lot of scotch for this one. It centers around a child actor doing a counseling session with Troi. This child’s favorite breakfast is an omlette where you put grape juice in the eggs. Now, either the replicator is capable of following that instruction, or that family cooks by hand, and I’m not sure which is weirder at this point. Also, the child references Isabella, the sprog’s imaginary friend. Troi rolls with it because she’s good at her job, and reassures the dad that this is normal for a navy brat whose ensign father keeps getting transferred from ship to ship.

Question: How nondescript is this guy at his job that he’s still an ensign? I mean, maybe he started late, but Ro Larren, who I would peg as a quite a bit younger than him, made it up to Lieutenant, got busted down to ensign, and spent time in the stockade. For the timeline for this guy not to be tragic, even given the promotion pyramid in an organization like Starfleet, he’d have had to be in the academy after his daughter Clara was born. Maybe he just looks old.

I think I smell a counter being resurrected

I think I smell a counter being resurrected

The weirdness for today’s episode will be supplied by another tinkerbell. This one is red. I guess since the criminals from that other time were blue, this one must be a good guy. That’s how these things work, isn’t it? Anyway, this tinkerbell comes from a nebula around a neutron star, because neutron stars are cool. It wanders around the ship and we see Data and Geordi chatting, Beverly trying to help Nurse Ogawa get laid, and finally it settles on manifesting the imaginary Isabella for Clara.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the single line Isabella gets before the credits seem like they were pulled directly out of The Shining.

Clara’s dead-eyed-demonic-horror-detector is clearly going off, but she’s too young to know what it’s for. Ensign Sutter gets some screen time in Engineering with the bigwigs being vaguely competent before his daughter shows up to interrupt him at work. I’m starting to form the theory that his family life has interfered with his duties and blocked his promotion prospects. If true, this would be pretty disappointing, as we have laws against that sort of thing and Starfleet ought to be the kind of organization that actually tries to hold to their spirit as well as their letter.

"I don't think you really NEED all of those organs..."

“I don’t think you really NEED all of those organs…”

Isabella has the power to appear and disappear at will in order to hide from adults. What she doesn’t have the ability to do is modulate her tone of voice to sound even vaguely like the beings she’s been observing. Props to the actress, she manages ‘horrid little star-monster wearing human guise like a skinsuit and desperately hoping to wipe out all life other than itself’ fairly well. It even helps fix a brief problem with the engines, leading to more questions. Is it benevolent? Or attempting to lure the ship into its doom?

It’s hard to tell if Worf is just exerting his authority because some kids ran into him, or if there are actually corridors of the ship that are restricted to children. Certainly some rooms seem to be forbidden, but there’s no signage anywhere and it’s not like you should expect to rely on children to know better.

In Ten-Forward, Guinan attempts to teach Data to interpret shapes in clouds. I was prepared to go into Google’s pictures where they feed the same image of random noise back over and over again while having the engine enhance patterns it sees, but it seems like Data has either mastered this skill already or is getting good at humor. Either way, the moment is over, and instead Guinan provides a slightly different type of support for Clara than Troi does.

Kill it kill it with fire.

Kill it kill it with fire.

Now here comes the conflict. Isabella, now that she’s an independent entity, is making Clara go places she’s not allowed to, and Clara seems unhappy about it. Isabella is also starting to threaten. It’s not going to be long before she starts banishing people into the cornfield. When Troi comes to invite Clara to a pottery class to have some fun without Isabella (who she still hasn’t seen yet) the red tinkerbell in its flesh suit is pissed, and the mysterious impediment to the ships travel ramps up again.

The nebula is apparently full of plasma fragments that interact with warp fields and shields, and soon we’re going to find out that the Enterprise has been drawn into a horrible web. Clara initially tries to help out Alexander, who has remarkably improved on his people skills since the last time we saw him growling at schoolchildren. Instead, Isabella has started poltergeisting Troi for taking away her ‘friend’ and then wrecking Alexander’s clay project, and mentions that now Clara gets to die with everyone else. That escalated quickly.

Troi goes to help out Clara’s dad to help calm the sprog down, and does an elaborate monster hunt. Everything is going exactly as expected, until Isabella appears and lasers Troi in the chest with a bioelectricity-sucking-beam, and soon after the energy filaments dense up, capturing the model of the enterprise in red-illuminated Halloween spiderweb cotton. It’s honestly quite a nice effect. Of course, now a swarm of red tinkerbells shows up to eat the Enterprise because of their flawed understanding of friendship.

Finally, it comes down to Picard to talk to Isabella. Turns out she showed up to evaluate whether the Enterprise would make useful food, but now she’s making a moral judgement on their parenting tactics. Ugh. I can’t decide whether this increments the petulant energy being counter or not, but I’m leaning towards ‘no’ because, despite how terrible this whole thing is, the red tinkerbells are rational entities that can be reasoned with rather than tricked or have their power sources blown up. Frankly, I’m just glad this episode is over.

Did we miss something awesome?