When an asteroid mysteriously changes course, it looks like it’s heading to Alpha, before it changes course a second time. After blowing up in space, the Alphans realize that they too have changed course and are heading into a black sun. As the gravitational forces increase, there’s no hope for the Alphans…
While this episode feels like it should have come earlier in the series, mostly to explain how the Alphans were so far from home, the fact that it follows Mission of the Darians seems appropriate. Just one episode ago, we were faced with the very real possibility that the Alphans are all that remains of humanity. Now, as they plunge into a black hole, we realize all hope is lost and humanity is about to be snuffed out once and for all.
Yes, it did take me a few minutes to realize that what they were calling a black sun was the 1975 equivalent of what we call a black hole, but by the time it hit me, the episode had already sucked me into its gravitational pull. This is not an action-packed episode; huge amounts of it are given over to waiting for the end. Yet it makes some remarkably engrossing viewing. I was also blown away by how close the black sun resembles today’s images of a black hole, considering when this was made.
After the death of one of their own (bringing our total down to 300 Alphans), the crew realize they’ve got three days to live. They setup a forcefield to buy themselves a few hours more. When Helena asks why, Victor says its for the same reason she wont give up on a patient until they are really dead. That really is it. There’s no way out, now warp manifold to invert, no quantum entanglement, no neutrino emissions to ride out a wave of technobabble… we spend the better part of the hour with the crew getting ready to die. Victor is remarkably good natured about it, hoping that whatever comes, it will be interesting. Koenig selects 6 people to go on a survival ship to try to escape and watching people say goodbye to one another is heartbreaking. As the end approaches, some play the guitar and sit in silence, some play cards, and some play chess. At the end of the day, it seems everyone just wants to play and try to approach the end with quiet dignity.
But the real win for the sequence is between Victor and Koenig who sit together in the command deck, trying to stay warm and enjoying Victor’s 60 year old brandy. (Comically, he goes to light a cigar and Koenig tells him he’s not supposed to smoke, presumably for health reasons – apparently he has a mechanical heart.) As the two friends sit there discussing life, Koenig asks Victor if he thinks there’s a god; Victor says he’s a scientist and doesn’t know about god, but does think there’s a “cosmic intelligence.” While I get it, I realize there’s really just a distinction in the word you give it. The two things are the same. “The line between science and mysticism is just a line.” Koenig raises a glass to “everything that might have been”, and Victor toasts “to everything that was.” And then something special happens…
We see the crew begin to fade; they see it happening too. Then Koenig and Victor are aged beyond anything possible and they begin to share one another’s thoughts. Koenig realizes that “every star is just a cell in the brain of the universe” and a kindly voice communicates with them. It says it was glad to have known them… and then they come out on the other side. They are alive and well. But the survival ship is gone; 6 crewmen – including Allen and Helena – went the other way. So much for that cosmic intelligence. Until that too shows up again. Helene says “something brought us home”. There’s a scene at the end of Victor raising his cigar as if to toast someone off camera, but it felt a little like he was toasting the viewer too. (Though I’ve never seen anyone toast with a cigar before… I guess, you use what’s at hand, eh?)
This episode was mesmerizing and beautiful. The last of humanity accepts their fate and they are rewarded for it. I don’t typically like the deus ex machina endings and really disliked the Star Trek magical fairy godparent model where an all powerful being whisks everyone away to safety, but this was introspective and beautiful. While they are saved at the end, it never felt like something saved them and we never see the speaker of the disembodied voice. The characters really carried it all the way.
Good science fiction should give us something to think about and this did, but it also gave us something to feel about. That may be far harder to do. We’re 10 episodes in… maybe this should have come sooner, maybe it was perfectly placed, but if we can get more like this, we are in for a special series indeed and I’m bummed it took me this long to sit down and watch it. ML