3 August 2019

Imaginary Friend

Episode: s5, ep 22

What Happens
Troi is playing tea party with little Clara, whose father is a new engineer on the ship. Clara is describing her imaginary friend Isabella. Meanwhile the Enterprise is exploring a weird nebula when a glowy ball of light enters the ship (never a good thing) and flies around eavesdropping and flying through equipment.It finds Clara planting in the arboretum and flies through her head. Suddenly Isabella is there, talking to Clara, who's suprised but pleased. Isabella is as Clara described earlier, but she's got a very sour look on her face.
The Enterprise stalls, like it hit something but htere's nothing there. Clara's dad is helping Geordi and Data to investigate when Clara goes into Engineering and Geordi almost trips over her. Her dad hustles her out, and isn't happy to hear that Isabella wanted to see Engineering, he instructs her to return to quarters. As soon as Clara's alone Isabella says she's invisble around grownups because they don;t believe in her. She disappears to do something, and whatever she does means the ship can move again, much to Geordi's surprise. Then Isabella decides she wants to be around people, so they go to 10 forward, literally running into Worf on the way. At the bar Guinan spots Clara, who seems to be alone, and discusses imaginary friends with her. Troi arrives to escort Clara back to quarters and tries to tell "Isabella" not to pressure Clara into doing things she's not allowed to do. Isabella has Clara deliver a warning to Troi. The counsellor has a word with Clara's dad and suggests they encourage her to make real friends.
Isabella is a toxic friend (even aside from being a glowy light from a weird nebula), she tries to emotionally manipulate Clara whenever the girl is reluctant to comply. Troi invites Clara to a ceramics class, but says that Isabella isn't invited. After they leave Isabella appears and her eyes glow red. The Enterprise keeps running into weirdness in the nebula. After investigating Geogrdi and Clara's dad find a plasma string. Knowing what they're looking for they adjust the view and suddenly the ship is surrounded by big plasma strings, it's like being in the middle of a heavily cobwebbed room. Troi introduces Clara to Alexander, then goes to her quarters where Isabella knocks over her cup a bit. Clara and Alexander chat and model nicely together until Isabella knocks over Alexander's cup and throws clay at him. Clara is acccused, gets upset and runs out. Isabella persues Clara to the arboretum, and angrily says that she won't protect her when the Others come and she can die with everyone else.
Troi and Guinan are chatting about Clara and imaginary friends when Clara's dad calls Troi because Clara is terrified by Isabella's threats. Troi tries to calm Clara and "looks" for Isabella. She's shocked when Isabella appears and zaps her unconscious. Troi wakes in sickbay reports the incident to Picard, and then Worf realises he saw Isabella with Clara 2 days ago.* Clara comes in and says Isabella is angry about being ignored. The ship keeps hitting plasma strands and slowing. More glowy balls apear from the nebula and start draining the shields, causing system problems. Picard, Worf and Clara's dad escore the girl to the arborteum where Pciard calls Isabella out for terrorising a child. Isabella came to investigate the ship, turns out the shield enrgy is delicious but the adults of the crew are cruel and uncaring (was Isabella even there when Guinan was talking to Clara?), so desrve to be destroyed. Picard points out that Isabella was using Clara, then speeches at her about how rules and restrictions are for protection of children. Clara asks Isabella not to hurt them and says they can still be best friends. Isabella turns into a glowy ball and leaves, taking the other glowy balls with her.

Guest Stars
The girl playing Clara looked very familiar to me. Turns out Noley Thornton was also in an episode of Deep Space Nine, she played a little girl who dax and Odo meet in a settlement of people who are (unbeknowst to them) holograms. I think that's where I know her from, although she was also in anepisode of Quantum Leap.
The girl playing Isabella didn't look quite as familiar, but I kinda thought I'd seen her somewhere. Turns out Shay Astar was also in an episode of Quantum Leap, but I think that mostly I know her a August, Tommy's girlfriend from 3rd Rock From The Sun. I expect I didn't recognise her because she's a fair bit older when she's in the sitcom.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is mostly involved in the nebula stuff, which is standard fare for the Enterprise. He only gets involved in what's happening with Clara after Troi is attacked. After the girl bursts in while adults are talking Picard asks her if they can rely on her when needed. She responds serious with "Yes Captain." This is far from her first starship.
When Picard goes to the arboretum with Clara he's the one who calls Isabella out angrily. Isabella tries to make out that Clara is being creully restricted by adults, but Picard sees that Isabella is only angry because the restriction stopped her from doing what she wanted. He speeches at Isabella and while I have often found this type of ending corny this is actually a pretty good speech about how adults use rules and restrictions to protect children for their own good. Like, I might memorise bits for when my kid is older. He also makes a pretty good point that a society should be judged by how it treats its children.

Blind Engineering
Clara's dad asks Geordi abut being raised in Star Fleet and moving around a lot, clearly thinking about Troi's conclusion that an imaginary friend is a point of satbaility for a child that's been moved around since she was 2. It's cool that he feels comfortable talking to his boss about this, it suggests that maybe Engineering is becoming a more friendly place, like how Sickbay is (see Girl Talk). Geordi describes a childhood of moving around a lot and not knowing which parent he would be stationed with if they were assigned separately. Clara's dad comments that that must have been hard and disruptive, but Geordi brushes that off and says he didn't think so then and it was all an adventure. He talks about how strong kids are as long as they know they're loved, which is certainly a nice thought. My thought is that surely it would be difficult for a blind child to be moving around a lot and living in various different places? Though being in the Federation it's likely that young Geordi was given all the support he could need for any transition.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi is doing so well with Clara, joining in with the imaginary tea party and taking what Clara says seriously. Even when Clara knows Troi doesn't believe her the counsellor is never patronising, she says if Clara believes in Isabella that's good enough for her. Troi also does well with Clara's dad, reassuring him at first, brining up the problem when Clara acts out and telling the dad to be more available for Clara so she can rely on him when she needs to talk. Troi facilitates Clara making friends, taking her to ceramics class and introducing her to Alexander, another child whose transition to life on the ship was tricky. It's shame Troi gets the sharp end of Isabella's attention, though considering Isabella is planning to kill (or facilitate the killing of) everyone on the ship Troi probably got away easy just having her cup kncoked over and being temporarily zapped. In fact it seems that if Isabella -and her people- were as murderous as claimed she probably could have done much more. Perhaps it was just more manipulation, if emotional manipulation doesn't work just move on the threats? I hope troi has some follow up sessions with clara about all this. Part of me feels like maybe Troi should have been able to sense Isabella, but of course Troi is much better counsellor than she is empath.

Guinan's Hat: Crimson
Clara knows that Guinan believes her about Isabella. They chat about imginary friends and Guinan is able to explain so well why grown ups don't really understand stuff they can't see:

"they get preoccupied by other things ... Like how much fuel it takes to power a star ship, or whether we should go to one star system or another ... So their heads can get so full that they forget about the things that are important to you and me, like imaginary friends."

I mean if you replace all the star ship stuff (which still sounds pretty cool) with bills and work and bad news, then... wow, that's powerful stuff! Being an adult sucks sometimes. Guinan describes her own imaginary friend, a razor beast (with an unclear gender but likely masc-presenting?) and reflects on how important that relationship was and how safe her friend made her feel.
Later similar sentiments are repeated when Guinan observes that Troi is worried about Clara and again discusses her imaginary razor beast friend. In this conversation Troi has identified Isabella as a problem (though not yet a material one), but is concerned about taking some magic of childhood (and a useful coping stratgey) away from Clara by discouraging her closeness to an imaginary friend.

Staff Meetings:1
Picard, Riker, Data and Geordi discuss nebula exploration, and the acceleration issues and how weird it all is. Only 4 of them are there and Picard and Geordi are standing, so it's less formal usual. Picard is positively giddy about "unique phemona" and Riker shows his interest by pointing out it "might be dangerous". They have to seem like they're disucssing it seriously, but they were always going to keep going. Picard's "proceed with caution" is just a fig leaf for taking a civilian population into a situation which, as Data points out, has impossible to estimate risks.

Girl Talk:
1. Troi and Clara - in Clara's quarters several times, in 10 Forward and the turbolift, also a little at the ceramics class.
2. Crusher and Ogawa - talking about Ogawa's date while doing equipment checks.** Crusher is interested but not pushy. It's great that Crusher immediately says Ogawa can be covered if she wants to go on shore leave with her date. It's also cool that Ogawa can admit to not really liking the uninhibited atmosphere of Riza, and not being ready for that kind of fun (I didn't get much sense of Ogawa's personality before, but I'm with her on this). She sounds a little embarassed, but I'm not sure if that kind of thing is not for Ogawa in general, or whether she feels it's a bit early in this particular relationship. Either way it's clear she's pleased to be asked, but also feels a bit weird about it due to the destination. I love that Crusher knows her staff well enough to suggest an alternative holiday destination, somewhere with beautiful natural features which sounds more romantic than sexy. Ogawa giggles as Crusher walks away, pleased but maybe a little bemused that her boss has given her this tip. It's a really lovely scene that's less than a minute long.
3. Isabella (is presenting as female, so I'm treating her as such) and Clara - in the aboretum a few times, in the corrdiors a fair bit, and in Clara's room.
4. Guinan and Clara - in 10 Forward, Clara identifies Guinan as a rare adult who gets what she's talking about and believes her.
5. Troi and Guinan - Who counsels the counsellor? It's Guinan! She knows Troi is worried about Clara, they discuss the power of childhood fantasies and how important they can be.

It's only in writing this blog post that I realised female characters talking to each other is actually a lot of the episode, especially if you count Clara and Isabella. Even if you only count adults there's still a lot more female interaction than usual.

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
-Traditionally this section is where I'd point out that taking your big civilian ship into plainly dangerous territory is a bad plan. Feels like a while since I did that (one gets desensitised to these things), but it seems very relevant here. (See Staff Meetings)

-Clara is unsupervised a lot. She's helping Keiko on the arboretum, but we never see Keiko at all and she doesn't seem to have any direct adult supervision there (it doesn't look that big for an arboretum, but maybe there's a more foresty bit off screen). Clara can stroll through the corridors alone and wander into Engineering -a very crucial and potentially dangerous part of the ship- without any kind of preventative measures. At least she's not some armed Klingons, but what will it take for them to install swipe card access or something? Then her dad just sends her off on her own, and Worf does the same thing with both girls later. Neither father considers that maybe a child who is already somewhere she shouldn't be might need to be taken back to where she should be. Also when Clara returns to their quarters, what is she supposed to do there alone?
Which brings us to...
-How are children supposed to occupy themselves here? I think there's a school, but we've only seen glimpses of it before. I don't understand the education system on this ship. Wesley seemed to have a lot of homework and projects, but he was older and also had definite future plans that required formal education. This episode features the children's centre (is that school or more like a play scheme?), which seems very free form. The ceramics class is clearly a drop-in session and I'm not sure if anyone is guiding the class or just providing materials. Is school not in session at the moment? Has Clara not been placed in a class? Clara helping in the arboretum seems like the kind of fun work-duty children can be given, which makes sense in a ship environment. Not sure if this is a general thing, or something for Clara specifically because she's new? I feel like when we've had sadder kid episodes in the past the children have been left to themselves a lot, and while those were kids grieving they didn't seem to have the kind of supportive adult presence or structured routine I'd have thought they needed.

-Troi tells Clara's dad he needs to be someone she can talk to, and he nods or whatever, but is he doing that? Should he take time off to be with her while she adjusts? Should he be making friends with other families? Should he just play with her a bit? It seems like he does care but doesn't really know how to be a presence in his daughter's life. Which is particularly not-great if he's a single parent. It's odd to me that after Troi is injured Clara's dad is hanging around at Troi's bedside, while Clara (who's just witnessed something very scary) has been left in a different room with Ogawa and has to burst in to see her dad and Troi. After what just happened Clara's dad shouldn't leave her side.

The End
Free of glowy balls and strings the Enterprise readies to leave the nebula. Picard orders Geordi to send a burst of delicious energy into the nebula, because after manipulating and threatening a child, and endangering the whole ship, why not send creepy Isabella and her people a little reward? Isabella appears to Clara, apologises for scaring her and misleading her and says she never had a friend before. Clara is very forgiving and is sorry that she's leaving the nebula. Both girls hope they'll meet again.
Is this heartwarming? I feel like Isabella was awful and got no comeuppence for what she did. It doesn't seem like Clara has learned anything from this either. I hope Troi or Guinan or someone gives Clara some advice about guarding aginst manipulation.

A behind the scenes picture, but one that looks amazing!

* I never know how much time is passing on the Enterprise. I'd put it down to the lack of natural light on the spaceship, but I'm often not sure how much time is passing when they're on a planet either. Unless they make an effort to show how time is passing most episodes feel like a day and a half.
**It's about the date itself and how Ogawa found it rather than the man (who has not descriptor besides 'he') so I think it's probably Bechdel-Wallace passing, not that that's the only measure.