I’ve had relative ease writing this series examining the character of Picard. I know the episodes of The Next Generation well. I’ve seen them countless times throughout my life. Yet no episode is as unique as “The Inner Light”, and I’ve been dreading how I’m going to approach this particular element of Picard.
By now, any Trek fan knows this episode well. In the first few minutes, an alien probe renders Picard unconscious on the bridge. To the befuddlement of Dr. Crusher and the Enterprise crew, Picard is unconscious but undergoing significant neurological activity. Yet Picard has been transported to the planet Kataan. He is immediately amongst a community, one of which he is a valued and known member. He has a wife, Eline. Picard still has his consciousness and awareness of who he is and where he is from. He insists he should not be on Kataan, but on the Enterprise. Eline and Batai, his friend, try and convince him he has been ill, and he is, in fact, Kamin and is from Kataan.
Through the episode, Picard slowly evolves into Kamin, forgetting his true identity. He lives a life with Eline. They have two children, who we begin to see grow up. Kamin works with others to prevent the known catastrophic disaster that will destroy Kataan. Kamin and Eline too age through the episode, well into their elderly years. Evenually, Eline passes on and we see Kamin grieve his wife of decades. In the end, Kamin and the others fail to stop the disaster. He knows his world will be destroyed.
Kamin towards the end of his life begins to live in two worlds. He attends “the launching”, which itself is the probe that the Enterprise encounters in the very beginning of the episode. He sees his deceased wife and friend, who tell him he is the one that will experience the probe in the future. This is the method the Kataanians will use to make sure their history is not forgotten after the destruction of their world.
Picard eventually wakes up. All this time, though, time does not pass in this way onboard the Enterprise. In the span of a half hour on the Enterprise, Picard lived an entire lifetime as Kamin.
I’ve long gone back and forth on whether this experience is a gift or a curse. Picard is a man who dedicated his life to his career. He never married or had children of his own, something which he regretfully contemplates on occasion. In this way, Picard was blessed by his experience as Kamin. He was gifted that which he would never experience in his actual life as Jean-Luc Picard. In this we see a tenderness and care exude from Picard that stands apart from anything else we see in The Next Generation’s entire run. It’s obvious that Picard has a care and friendship for his crew, but he maintains a boundary of commanding officer and his crew. This boundary helps him remain objective should there ever be a case where he needs to take disciplinary action (such as the one he threatens Riker with in “The Pegasus”). In this manner, “The Inner Light” is the portrait of Picard as a family man, and we experience the different challenges that he faced in this life alongside him.
Yet Picard’s life as Kamin is also a curse. He came to believe he was Kamin. He loved his wife. He loved his children. They were his family, despite the fact that they perished many years before Picard was even born. And Picard carries a memories of an entire lifetime with him through the rest of his natural life. This is no simple burden.
Nevertheless, “The Inner Light” is a gift to us as the audience. In addition to being a finely-crafted episode which has stood the test of time, it actually makes Picard the father-figure that so many view him as. He is that man, even if just for a mere episode. This element transcends the role model, leader, mentor capacity he takes through the course of the show. Here, Picard loves his children, and we have the blessing of experiencing what that looks like.