Star Trek The Next Generation: Suddenly Human

Responding to a distress call, the Enterprise takes on board a human boy who has been raised by the aliens who killed his parents.

"Have you ever been a father, Picard?"

This is an odd episode. On the one hand, when the crew pick Jono up and before they meet his Talarian father, it makes perfect sense that they would decide they should rescue him and reintegrate him into human society. As far as they know, at first, he has been kidnapped by enemy forces and brainwashed, and possibly abused as well.

However, over the course of the episode, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not the case. Sure, they think maybe he's suffering from brain-washing or Stockholm Syndrome, but they cling to that idea far longer than they needed to, with no consideration whatsoever for Jono's own wishes. And Jono is not a young child - he's a teenager who's clearly not far off an adult, and certainly old enough to know what he wants. Offer him the option to return to Earth, sure but the extent to which the crew insist that this must be what's best for him is rather uncomfortable. I sympathise with our crew and find the issues they're exploring quite interesting up to the point that Jono is offered a clear choice between returning to Earth and going home with the Talarians, he chooses the Talarians, and no one wants to accept his choice.

And then there's the one aspect of Talarian culture that we might expect them to refuse to accept, but which they simply go with - the sexism. Respect the customs of the Talarians among themselves, sure, but when Jono refuses to respond to any female members of staff, everyone simply decides he should interact primarily with male crew members instead of informing him that this is not how human culture operates and insisting he listen to female crew members. So, no one on the Enterprise will allow Jono to listen to Talarian music or mourn his dead friends and they don't like him wearing his gloves, but they're totally fine with his refusal to respect female crew. OK, then.

Choosing Picard to work with the young mane also makes no sense at all, other than it makes an interesting story. Troi says it's because Picard is the only one the boy has felt a connection with, but it makes no sense to insist that the ship's Captain - and one who does not do well with children and teenagers to boot - should spend his time dealing with a troubled teenage boy. If they insist on him talking to a male role model, then Worf, whose culture is more similar to the Talarians, or perhaps Riker, who is high-ranking but better with teenagers, would make far more sense. Really, anyone but Picard would make more sense.

The more I write about this episode, the more I'm really not convinced by it! To be fair, it is dealing with an interesting dilemma - even if I feel the solution quickly becomes obvious - and some interesting issues. I guess I'm just not entirely convinced by the execution. But having said that, the fact that our crew is in the wrong for half of the episode is probably the point, and it's part of The Next Generation's increasing interest in character drama and in exploring our heroes' flaws, rather than depicting them as perfect paragons of moral virtue, so in that respect it's a good step in the right direction.

Bits and pieces

 - The bit with Jono listening to loud Talarian music is so painfully stereotyped. And the Enterprise seems to have perfectly good sound insulation, so why not let him listen to it?!

 - We do get to see Jono talking to his grandmother, who is an Admiral, and Picard discusses the issue with Jono, so to be fair, they do address the sexism a bit.


 - Check out the fabulous squash rackets/bats of the future! (This is so small it's gotta be a bat rather than a racket).

 - This was the first episode Jeri Taylor worked on, and she has a co-credit on the teleplay. That's particularly interesting given the way Janeway and Seven of Nine's relationship developed on Voyager, which is quite similar to what Picard attempts to do with Jono - helped by the fact the Borg definitely did kidnap and brainwash Seven of Nine and were not raising her for her own good.

 - SPOILER WARNING, CONTINUITY NIGGLE: Picard gets stabbed and no one mentions his artificial heart. It never came up when he was Borgified either. For the very good reason that it was invented for a particular plot point in season 6!

Quotes

Picard: I probably skipped my childhood all together.

Picard: Are you saying that you are willing to go to war over this boy?
Endar: Would you not, for your only son?

Some interesting ideas, but I have problems with the execution. Two out of four greatest hits of Talarian rock music.

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

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Nice review, Juliette, and I agree with your points. This one had its flaws but it was a lot better than I expected. We don't often see the Enterprise crew in the wrong, and it actually took awhile before it was obvious they were wrong. I felt bad for the boy's grandparents. I wonder if they added some obvious sexism so that Picard could do all of the important scenes with Jono instead of Troi?

"Jono" later got a full time job doing a couple of hundred episodes of Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. He didn't do a bad job here, did he?

Juliette said...

He was good, Next Gen seemed to get some really good guest actors over the course of its run!

Icebox17 said...

Good review. A rebuttal to your continuity niggle...

Tapestry in season 6 is where we saw Picard get stabbed through the heart, but it was not the first mention of the artificial heart. It was first introduced in the Season 2 episode "The Samaritan Snare." I think the Borg might have respected Picard for having a mechanical heart.

With everything that happens to Picard during the series, I get the impression the Artificial heart issue in the 24th century is far safer and more manageable the we could perceive today.