Star Trek The Next Generation: The Bonding

"On the Starship Enterprise, no one is alone."

The ship's archaeologist is injured during an away mission, confirming that apparently we still have a ship's archaeologist, despite the NX01's terrible track record with historians, archaeologists and anthropologists.

There's a really interesting idea behind this episode, which is to explore the ramifications of the death of a random redshirt and show us how the crew of the Enterprise deal with deaths on active duty - while also reassuring us that this is a process they go through every time and they don't actually cheerfully sacrifice expendable ensigns for the fun of it, there's just no need for us to see the whole process when there are no creepy aliens posing as the dead crewman involved. As an idea, it's a good one and you can see how it could work. (It's probably not a coincidence that this was the first episode written by Ronald D Moore, who would later go on to helm the early noughties version of Battlestar Galactica - this is the sort of thing that show did very well).

There are a few reasons this episode doesn't really work for me, though. It's a treat to see Troi actually doing her job - which she's good at - but she's thwarted at every turn by well meaning crew-mates behaving in rather inappropriate and not overly helpful ways, like trying to force Wesley to get involved and relive his father's death when he really doesn't want to.

Both Worf, who was in command of the away mission, and a member of the alien species inadvertently responsible for the archaeologist's death, react by trying to adopt her now-orphaned son. Both try to assuage their guilt over the death by trying to replace the woman, or at least fill the hole she left. While the crew manage to persuade the aliens this is a bad idea, Worf ends the episode adopting the boy Jeremy into his family as a brother, which considering how raw the wound is, and the fact the kid is going off to another planet to live with the aunt, doesn't seem like a terribly good idea. It's sweet, and Jeremy is left quite alone at this point, but will Worf do this every time someone dies under his command and leaves a child? They're in the military, this is something that is going to happen sometimes.

The episode also just isn't that well executed. It's not terrible at all - unlike seasons one and two, even the less successful episodes of this third season are starting to feel like solid installments of a quality show. But everyone's dialogue and reactions are just a little bit off for the seriousness of the subject matter - the whole thing is just a little bit too neat and clean, while the alien posing as Jeremy's mother, while providing the excuse for the episode, feels rather forced and not very convincing. It's an intriguing attempt to explore the ramifications of death in the military - but perhaps an episode focused on Troi dealing with the death of a redshirt and helping the people who knew them, without shoe-horning Picard, Worf and Wesley into it, might have worked better.

Bits and pieces

 - Picard expresses what I have often thought watching The Next Generation when he talks about how he doesn't like having children on a ship on active duty because while their parents might willingly have chosen to risk their lives, the children haven't.

 - According to Memory Alpha, Moore was also a big original series fan, which perhaps explains his use of the ship's archaeologist, a position not usually referenced in the later series.

 - The alien recreates Jeremy's cat, Patches, as well as his mother. But not his also-dead father, because that would have required hiring another actor.


Wesley: How do you get used to it - telling them?
Riker: You hope you never do.

Riker: We feel a loss more intensely when it's a friend.
Data: But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?
Riker: Maybe they should, Data. Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.

Worf: I cannot seek revenge against an enemy who has turned to dust centuries ago. Her death was senseless. The last victim of a forgotten war.

A nice idea, but falls a bit flat. Two and a half out of four recreations of cute cats.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

Excellent review, Juliette, and you hit it on the head. Exploring the fallout after the death of a redshirt was a great idea for an episode (and how cool is it that it was Ronald D. Moore's first script -- I swear I could tell it was his), and what a creepy idea, having his "mother" struggling with Picard and Troi for possession of Jeremy. But the acting did feel awkward. It just didn't jell.

But we did get a terrific performance from the cat.