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Loud as a Whisper
The Enterprise crew discover just how far some planets will go to provide excellent disability services
Picard is thinking about stellar mechanics for no reason whatsoever, before we go to the transporter room and beam down to an elaborate yet empty set. In walks a beardy man behaving weirdly. It's Riva the super mediator. He is swiftly joined by three other people - the Chorus - who speak for him. There's Scholar/Artist, who is verbose and pompous. Warrior/Adonis, who is passionate and sexual. And Cultured Woman (that's what the screenplay says, anyway) who holds them all together. Oh, but don't get used to having the Chorus speak, because in no time at all they're all disintegrated, and Riva ends up in a flap. Data learns sign language in about a minute so they can talk to the Riva, who decides he might as well teach sign language to the people who murdered his chorus. Now that's what I call a committed mediator!
The teaser to this episode is a mess. Why are we supposed to care about the orbital mechanics of a star system we've never heard of, and which forms no part of the episode going forward? Then the middle of the teaser is exposition, and the cliff-hanger moment is beaming down... to an empty set. What writer Jackie Zambrano was thinking here is quite beyond me, and although the special effects for the orbital mechanics hologram returns at the end of the episode, it still serves no purpose in the story.
Her story has a nice high concept - the Chorus - but in Act III they're all killed, which somewhat undercuts what was interesting in the story. Actually, Zambrano did not write it this way. In her script, crossfire damages a device that enables Riva to communicate with the Chorus. This would have been problematic, as clearly if all we need is a piece of technology the situation is reversible. I can well imagine why script editor Maurice Hurley switched this to atomising the Chorus so that there could be no way back.
I do find the names of the members of the Chorus in this script to be especially odd, though. They are entitled SCHOLAR/ARTIST, WARRIOR/ADONIS/PERSON, and CULTURED WOMAN. Seriously, what is the description 'Person' doing on the Warrior/Adonis member of the Chorus? And why is the voice of harmony between them described by how she looks ('Cultured Woman') rather than her role in the Chorus, as happens for the other two...? It's all rather strange.
"Before him there was no Klingon word for 'peace-maker'."
As you might expect, Howie Seago who plays Riva is deaf, and I expect he was especially thrilled to get to play a role like this. He not only got a chance to express the uniqueness of life without hearing, but also the opportunity to use sign language (which was very rarely seen on TV in the 80s). All this, and he gets to play a character who is lauded and distinguished in the world of the story. Seago won the casting lottery with this story.
His role is actually very hard to play, as he has three other characters speaking on his behalf, and his performance improves in my view after his Chorus is vaporised as he can then just throw himself into the situation more directly. Nonetheless, it's a very memorable character, and Seago is to be commended for bringing him to life.
LeVar Burton and Diana Muldaur have the tiniest of B plots. It's basically one scene, where Dr Pulaski reveals that it might be possible to restore LaForge's vision. Both are brilliant in this sequence, though - Burton is convincingly rattled by the proposal, and Muldaur is assured yet sensitive. It works surprisingly well, and of course it all makes for that rare early-season B plot that is actually linked to the A plot.
In the screenplay, the timing of this scene is placed right at the end of the episode, and it is LaForge who Picard praises in the final sequence, not Troi. This made a certain thematic sense, given that this is an episode all about the life experience of people with what are perceived as disabilities. Still, Troi plays a much more central role in this story, and the final edits make much more sense. I'm glad that they just repositioned the scene concerning LaForge to an earlier point in the story, though. It’s a great scene.
Meanwhile, Colm Meaney is back, but he still doesn't have a name (soon, Colm, very soon!). Still, it's always good to see him pretending to push buttons.
I remain amazed to this day that it took so long for them to give him a proper role - but this is probably rose tinted glasses on my part. Most of the examples of him showing off his skills as a character actor come in the 1990s, when TNG was halfway complete. The Commitments was in 1991, Last of the Mohicans, Far and Away, and Into the West were in 1992 (as was Under Siege, which is perhaps a less impressive credit). Still, even if nobody could have known it at the time, using him as 'Transporter Chief of the week' was an astonishing waste of talent.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
The prosthetics for the Solari are an example of the direction that we're heading with alien species. There’s a fair amount latex embellishment of the main features, although their outlandish wigs slightly ruin the overall effect. The make-up team get much more economical as the show goes forward, using less and less to do more and more.
As mentioned above, there's a gratuitous chunk of special effects in the opening and closing scenes in Picard's Ready Room, where there's a hologram of a stellar system overlaid.
As I noted in respect of “The Last Outpost”, these kinds of 'spot holograms' get phased out in favour of cheaper Okudagrams in later seasons. Speaking of which, there's a nice Okudagram sequence in this episode too!
There's also not just one but two brand new planetary matte paintings, both of which will of course get reused several times over the course of the show's run. Ramatis III is a nice cold blue, which I find very pleasing to look at. Solais V is less impressive, but it's a nice contrast to Ramatis III.
There's also a matte painting in the scene when we beam down to the hilltop where the Battle of Zambrana took place (yes, it is named after the writer). It's not brilliant, to be honest, but it makes for a nice establishing shot all the same, and I'm never going to complain about having a matte painting. It's certainly nicer than the shots that follow in Sound Stage 16, although at least we get some new polystyrene rocks this week.
And although it's not quite as extreme as the infamous sequence in "Conspiracy", there's still a shockingly explicit disintegration scene when the Chorus is shot. The effect is simultaneously impressive and clunky - impressive, because it looks great when its in full swing, but clunky because the integration with the live shot feels wrong. The Chorus all put up their hands in the air for about half a second at the start of the effect, which feels very wrong for the situation.
Still, for an story that is basically about the life experience of people with disabilities, it's an awfully expensive two-second shot in an episode that really spent quite a lot on its special effects.
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