Final Frontier Friday: 'Haven'

Hello and welcome back to ‘Final Frontier Friday’! This week, we’ll be taking a look at ‘Haven’, an early first season installment of ‘The Next Generation’.

‘Haven’ is early days for ‘TNG’, so much so that the episode filmed about two months prior to the series premiere. Originally developed by Lan O’Kun under the title ‘Love Beyond Time and Space’, it was eventually handed off to Tracy Torme. Torme would later recall that O’Kun’s version of the episode was so bad that virtually anything would be an improvement (an attitude which certainly bodes well for the finished product). Reportedly, the biggest change Torme made from O’Kun’s outline was to shift the tone to something more comedic. Reportedly, it was Torme’s work on ‘Haven’ that earned him the promotion from staff writer to executive story editor, a position that he would hold for much of the first two seasons.

But enough beating around the bush. If this episode is remembered for anything, it’s the introduction of Troi’s mother, Lwaxana. Played by Majel Barret Roddenberry in her third live-action ‘Trek’ role, the character would become a recurring presence on both ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’. Remarking on Lwaxana’s vivacious, larger than life presence, Roddenberry once summed up the character’s creation by saying that Gene promised her a great part on the new series “and he made me the mother in law from hell.”

And she isn’t the only first in the episode. In addition to Lwaxana, ‘Haven’ also features Armin Shimerman’s first appearance in ‘Star Trek’ (though his guest spot in ‘The Last Outpost’ aired first, that episode was produced later) as Troi’s gift box. Shimerman, of course, would later become a series regular on ‘Deep Space Nine’, where he played Quark.

The Enterprise arrives at Haven, a planet renowned for its tranquility and which is rumored to possess miraculous healing properties (though Data assures us that those rumors are “completely unsupported by fact”). Riker is summoned t0 the transporter room, where a strange package – a silver box with a face on its side – is beamed aboard. Conveniently, Troi just happens to wander into the room. When she does, the face on the box springs to life and delivers a message for her, and proclaims that “the momentous day is close at hand.” Once the message plays, a panel below the face opens and an assortment of jewelry spills out. Troi, meanwhile is obviously distressed. She explains that they are “bonding gifts” – wedding presents, basically. And they’re for her wedding.

Later, Troi explains to Riker and Picard that the marriage was arranged in accordance with Betazoid custom when she and the groom – whose parents were close friends of her late father – were children. But that’s not all. She will also be leaving the ship after the wedding, as is tradition. Riker is, as you might expect, less than pleased. Troi and Picard go to greet the Millersm and Troi meets her fiancé, Wyatt (who fans of ‘Prison Break’ may recognize as a young, bemulletted Robert Knepper). Wyatt and his parents, Steven and Victoria, are escorted to their quarters. Once they leave the room, Troi’s mother Lwaxana beams aboard accompanied by her attendant, Mr. Homn. After a tense greeting (Lwaxana insists on speaking telepathically with her daughter, who considers it rude in the presence of non-telepathy), she introduces herself to Picard and grants the captain the honor of carrying her luggage. He agrees in the interest of diplomacy but finds it unbearably heavy.

The conversation moves to the corridors, where a Troi vehemently insists that Homn do his job and carry the luggage. As they proceed to her quarters, Lwaxana speaks a mile a minute until Picard (to his threat relief) is able to excuse himself. In her quarters, Lwaxana reveals to Troi that the marriage is proceeding at the Miller’s insistence and Troi expresses her doubts about the whole affair. On the bridge, the First Electorine of Haven contacts the Enterprise to ask for help. An unidentified ship is has entered their territory and is not responding to communication, which they interpret as a sign of hostility. Troi goes to speak with Wyatt in his quarters and apologizes for her mother’s behavior. He tells her he’s a doctor and an artist. Troi notices that he has painted several portraits of the same blonde woman, and realizes that this is why she sensed surprise from him when they met: he thought she would be the Mystery Blonde. He explains that its a face that he has seen in his dreams since childhood, and that knowing of Betazoid telepathy, he had assumed that it was Troi projecting herself into his mind. Back on the bridge, Data is able to get a visual on the unidentified ship which is still several hours away. Picard recognizes it as Tarellian and summons Dr. Crusher to the bridge remarking that the Tarellians “must not be permitted to destroy us… or the planet.”

Time for a staff meeting! The crew discuss their situation, and we learn that the Tarellians – who were believed to be extinct – are a species that all but destroyed itself through biological warfare. While the Enterprise is bound by a Federation treaty to defend Haven, Federation policy calls for them to assist those in need, which by definition includes the Tarellians. Later, Tori’s pre-joining announcement dinner gets off to a great start as Lwaxana and the Millers argue over whether the wedding will be a Betazoid or human ceremony, though it’s calmed when Picard intervenes. During the meal, Wyatt mentions his fascination with the Tarellians and offers to assist Crusher who gladly accepts. Riker, who is not exactly having the time of his life, excuses himself. As the antagonism between Lwaxana and the Millers escalates from “thinly veiled” to “What’s a veil?” Troi gets fed up and storms out.

Troi finds Riker on the holodeck where he’s wallowing in self pity. Eventually, Wyatt arrives and Riker again leaves. Wyatt tells Troi that her outburst shamed their parents into compromise and the two kiss. Meanwhile, the Tarellian plague ship is approaching transporter range. The Electorine pleads with Picard to destroy the ship, but he refuses because ethics. He does, however, lock a tractor beam onto the plague ship. At last, the Tarellians answer a hail and when they do Troi recognizes one of them as the woman from Wyatt’s drawings.

Wyatt arrives on the bridge and is stunned to see the literal woman of his dreams on the viewscreen. He then learns that her name is Ariana and she has dreamt of him as well. Her father, the Tarellian leader Wrenn, tells Picard that there are only eight of them left on the ship, confirming that they all carry the plague that doomed their race. All they want, he says, is to live out their days in peace on some isolated beach. Picard agrees to relay the request to Haven’s government when Wrenn adds that they intend to die here, be it on the surface or in orbit. Wyatt goes to Lwaxana for advice. From there, he collects an assortment of medical supplies from sickbay, says a cryptic farewell to his parents and Troi, and beams himself aboard the Tarellian ship. On the bridge, Victoria is frantic, begging Picard to beam Wyatt back, even though it’s impossible. The Tarellians hail and Wrenn says they have what they really came for. Wyatt bids his parents farewell, explaining that he intends to find a cure for the plague. With that, Picard releases the tractor beam and the Tarellians depart. Lwaxana and the Millers depart – separately, of course – and the Enterprise goes on its way.

I have to admit up front that ‘Haven’ is an episode I’ve always had a soft spot for, mainly because growing up in the bygone days before streaming video or DVD box sets. It was one of the episodes I had available to watch and rewatch whenever I was in a ‘Star Trek’ mood (Hooray for videotape!). But taking a step back from my nostalgia and looking at it with some objectivity? ‘Haven’ is boilerplate at best. That being said, even boilerplate is pretty good by the standard of the first season ‘TNG’ and this is far from the worst that the first season has to offer.

The episodes greatest strength is simultaneously one of its greatest weaknesses: its guest stars. Majel Barret Roddenberry is delightfully over the top as Lwaxana Troi while still showing unexpected depth. Though the character would be considerably fleshed out over the years, she emerges remarkably fully formed here, largely by way of her interactions with Troi, which make plain not only that she genuinely care about her daughter, but that there’s more to her than the often clownish façade she presents to the world. But even as Roddenberry shines, Robert Knepper is completely wasted. The man is usually the sort of character actor you can’t take your eyes off of, and yet ‘Haven’ actually manages to make him boring. Which I suppose is impressive in its own way. Though on the bright side, Season One Wesley is mercifully absent. Data is also a highlight of the episode, despite not actually having much to do. He is at his best at the dinner, from his fascination leading him to “circle the room like a buzzard” to politely asking the guests if they can “resume the petty bickering.”

If the episode is undermined by any one thing, it would have to be the handling of Troi and Wyatt’s side of the story, which is unfortunate because in many ways it is the core of the episode. The biggest problem is that the two have hardly any chemistry. Not only does it make it hard to believe – cultural obligation or no – that Troi would be willing to essentially derail her career and uproot her life for this guy. Not only that, but it means that Wyatt’s decision to join the Tarellians – which is clearly meant to be a bittersweet ending – kind of falls flat.

On top of that, the whole situation with Troi’s arranged marriage is just bizarre. Despite it being a Betazoid custom, the only people who seem to care are the Millers, who you will recall are the human friends of her human father. They certainly aren’t all that close to Lwaxana (indeed, they can hardly stand each other), who despite her characteristic enthusiasm hardly seems to care whether her daughter actually goes through with the wedding. And even Troi herself only goes along with it out of a sense of obligation (though to who or what is never quite clear). It all feels like a whole lot of “just because.”

What do you make of ‘Haven’? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!