"Our children are not for sale at any price!"
Disaster! Wesley Crusher is kidnapped. Stop smiling, it's a serious matter.
I have to confess, I've always found the idea that the Enterprise flies around with dozens of children on board very strange and rather implausible. This is a military ship, and the flagship of the fleet - bringing children along with you while embarking on dangerous missions is surely nonsense. Even if the Enterprise's primary job is diplomatic missions, it still goes into some pretty dangerous territory. And if exploring is still part of its remit - Picard's opening narration would certainly suggest it is - then this episode provides one of many reasons no vessel primarily designed for exploration should have a boatload of children on board.
Of course, to be fair, this particular situation would be pretty much impossible to predict. The inhabitants of a planet with a severe infertility problem and with a shield around it that prevents anyone not native from beaming in or out decide to try to buy some alien children. When this fails, they kidnap a group of 'special' children from the Federation's flagship, because apparently it hasn't occurred to them that whatever's causing their infertility might eventually affect the newcomers as well (they think it's genetic - they're wrong). Even by Star Trek antagonist standards, it's a staggeringly stupid plan.
You can't help feeling that this whole situation has been contrived to get Wesley into a position where he has to take the lead. And to be fair, he does rather well here. I'm a bit of a Wesley apologist, as you know, but I think the character genuinely deals effectively with a stressful situation, reassuring the other children and leading them in a hunger strike in an attempt to persuade their captors to let them go home. The idea that the aliens bring out the children's talents and help them to learn something about themselves, leading some of them to become conflicted about whether or not they want to go home, is quite interesting as well, if not explored in depth.
The scenes with the children work rather better than those with the parents. Caught somewhere between not-brilliantly-acted panic and military calm, there isn't room in the episode really to explore what they're going through - any parent's worst nightmare - and their scenes feel rather false and hollow as a result. Dierk Torsek as Dr Bernard comes off best, but no one really has the time or development to portray the situation realistically.
Like much of season one of The Next Generation, much of this feels like an Original Series episode - nothing more so than the Custodian that controls Aldean society. Societies run by out of control or otherwise broken computers that no one knows how to work is an old staple of 1960s Star Trek that feels rather bizarre in this 1980s episode. Still, it's actually a decent showcase for Wesley, which, considering how badly he comes across a lot of the time, is worth something.
Bits and pieces
- The idea of an entire planet that can cloak itself is rather cool. And Troi is actually useful (we should keep track of these occasions) as she identifies the presence of thousands of minds before they can be perceived any other way.
- When the Aldeans initially take Riker, Crusher and Troi, Picard comments 'interesting choices'. It's not clear whether he means it as a compliment.
- Never get Crusher or Wesley to work undercover. The Aldean woman in the room must have been asleep not to notice them waving an instrument around her head.
- Troi claims that humans are unusually attached to their children. Really? I'm pretty sure attachment to one's offspring is common throughout the animal world - not all, maybe, but most, and certainly not just humans. One would assume alien societies would be equally attached. The way the Aldeans talk about providing compensation for kidnapped children is how slave societies work - they're essentially trying to buy the Enterprise children as slaves.
- This episode was directed by the late Kim Manners of The X-Files and Supernatural fame, and guest stars Jerry Hardin, better known to many as Deep Throat in the former show.
Picard: The legend will die, but the people will live.
And a special award for one of the worst lines of dialogue heard since "Sand's rough... not like you... you're smooth":
Picard: Things are only impossible until they're not.
A bit implausible and far too Original Series in tone, but one of Wesley's finer hours. Two out of four interesting choices.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.