the story: Geordi uses a special interface to investigate his mother's death.
what it all means: This is one of those episodes that would've been so much better if they'd done away with the dramatic hogwash that develops during the course of the story and simply laid the groundwork in an earlier episode. Geordi's VISOR was one of the signature elements of the series, and yet with a few exceptions it was usually ignored as a creative devise. "Interface" tries to have its cake and eat it, too, by making Geordi uniquely fitted to using a new devise that allows the user to experience firsthand a special probe's sensory information, but then quickly barrels ahead into a more personal story that then further thickens into an overly familiar twist of things not being as they seem.
But this is by far the most character work Geordi gets in the whole series, and as such is the first episode of the season to answer the promise of "Descent, Part 2," which was about going deeper into the characters than the series had thus far managed (with the exception of Worf and Troi, which is probably why they ended up seeming like a perfect romantic match). Yes, it's a shame that the story is bungled, but it's fun seeing his parents, including Ben Vereen as his father. Years later, fans would be begging for this sort of thing from Voyager, even though that series would have to do far greater gymnastics, and far more successfully, to pull it off, which it did, without getting any credit for the work.
This is a textbook case of the series trying to be too clever, but if you can ignore what it gets wrong, it still does plenty right.
franchise- Don't watch it to see the franchise at its finest. series- Don't watch it to see the series at its finest, either.
- character - Definitely watch it to cheer on Geordi.
- essential - Because this is about as good as it gets for him.