Star Trek The Next Generation: Family

"Captain's Log: Stardate 44012.3. The Enterprise remains docked at McKinley Station, undergoing a major overhaul and refit following the Borg incident. I am confident that the ship and her crew will soon be ready to return to service."

'Family' is a masterpiece. A beautifully low-key episode that eschews spacial anomalies in favour of rich character drama and features one of Patrick Stewart's finest performances as Jean-Luc Picard. That fact he was never even nominated for an Emmy for this role remains a travesty to this day.

This was the very first Star Trek episode where the reset button didn't get pushed. For once the characters got to stop, take a break and actually deal with the fallout from the previous episode. Not only that, but they did so without a sci-fi or action plot being unnecessarily shoehorned in. There was no threat for the crew to tackle, no unexplained phenomenon causing problems, or sneaky Romulans up to no good. This was a character piece pure and simple.

Jean-Luc has just been through a truly traumatic, life changing experience, and this episode allows him time to deal with that. The show may never come out and say it, but he was essentially raped by the Borg. They violated him in mind, body and soul, and made him do things abhorrent to his nature. Like so many victims he blames himself for what happened, believing he was not strong enough to stop them. But there was nothing he could've done.

It is interesting that Jean-Luc chose to return home, to reunite with the brother who bullied him. To escape the memories of one abuser, he has sought shelter with another. Was Robert being honest when he said he enjoyed hurting Jean-Luc? There is clearly a lot of resentment and jealousy between the Picard brothers, but a lot of affection as well. Robert kept provoking his little brother to get a reaction out of him because, on that level that only siblings can really understand, he knew that it was what he needed.

Throughout this episode Jean-Luc is often withdrawn or emotionally numb, doing everything he can to avoid anything which reminds him of what happened, even considering leaving Starfleet. Finally standing up to his bully of a brother was the catharsis he needed. It allowed him to finally open up and talk about his experience. The episode offers no quick fix solution for what Jean-Luc is feeling. Robert is right when he says this is something that is going to be with him for a long time. He can't run away from his pain, he can only learn to live with it. As I mentioned earlier, Stewart is at his absolute best in this episode. The breakdown, in particular, may be his best work on the series. I also have to praise Jeremy Kemp, who is just fantastic as Robert.


Notes and Quotes

--Worf's very affectionate, very human parents show up at his workplace and embarrass him in front of his friends and co-workers, an experience I'm sure many of us can relate to.

--While it was a minor part of the episode, it was refreshing to see Wesley get a storyline that didn't involve him saving the ship or just missing out on going to Starfleet Academy.

--The Picard family home in La Barre was actually filmed at two locations. The house was a private residence in Encino, California, and a dryland near Lancaster stood in for the vineyards.

--The conflict between the Picard brothers didn't sit too well with Gene Roddenberry's idea that humans would be more evolved and past such petty differences by the 24th century. He told Ronald D. Moore to scrap the entire thing. Fortunately, Michael Piller and Rick Berman saw the potential in the script and told Moore to write it anyway and they'd sort it out with Gene.

--We learn that O'Brien's full name is Miles Edward O'Brien and that his rank is chief petty officer, although he still wears lieutenants' pips.

--The song sung by Robert and Jean-Luc after their fight in the mud is "Auprès de ma Blonde", an old and well-known French folk song.

--This is the only episode of The Next Generation where Brent Spiner doesn't make an appearance.

René: "You're my nephew Jean-Luc from the starship Enterprise."
Picard: "Then you must be my uncle René."

Sergey Rozhenko: "Don't call me sir, I used to work for a living!"

Picard: "You were asking for it, you know."
Robert: "Yes, but you needed it. You have been terribly hard on yourself."
Picard: "You don't know, Robert. You don't know. They took everything I was. They used me to kill and to destroy, and I couldn't stop them. I should have been able to stop them! I tried. I tried so hard, but I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't good enough. I should have been able to stop them. I should! I should!"
Robert: "So, my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now. Live with it below the sea with Louis, or above the clouds with the Enterprise."

Four out of four bottles of the forty seven.
--
Mark Greig is the lyrical gangster. More Mark Greig

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

You're right on all points, Mark. This episode should have gotten Patrick Stewart an Emmy, and I'm sure it didn't because it was sci-fi. I've never forgotten Picard sitting in the vineyard, covered with mud and sobbing that he should have been stronger, that he should have been able to resist something that no one could have possibly resisted.

Not having an adventurous B-plot worked, too. Instead, it was about Worf's lovely parents who did everything they could to bring up their alien adopted son the best that they could. I really loved that Guinan took the time to talk to them about Worf, since it was so difficult for Worf to open up. The holo message from Wesley's late father was the perfect coda.

This time through, I noticed how many shots there were of our cast members with their family members right behind them. Loved that.

Definitely a four out of four hankie episode.

Juan Alberto Roche Rodríguez said...

Just the best. Episodes like this is why I will always consider TNG my favorite series of all times and Jean-luc the best captain in Star Trek. I love medieval-future france by the way.

Tim said...

Lovely review of one of my favourite episodes. Thanks Mark.
I remembered seeing it when it was first aired and being surprised and impressed by the fact that it actually dealt with the consequences of events of a previous episode! As you said Mark, this was unprecedented. Patrick Stewart's performance of JLP's pain and guilt stays with me to this day.

Dustin said...

This is also the only TNG episode to not feature a scene on the bridge. Apparently they were going to add a space anomaly subplot but THANKFULLY dropped it.

Just an awesome episode for all the reasons listed above. The character development that this episode allowed by not hitting the reset button sets up Picard's character motivations in future episodes like "I Borg," DS9s pilot "The Emissary," and the movie "First Contact".

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

This and "The Inner Light". Masterpieces.

Billie Doux said...

I agree, Thomas. I love this three episode set piece, but "The Inner Light" is my absolute favorite TNG episode.