Star Trek The Next Generation: New Ground

"I apologize for being late, Captain. I was enrolling my son in class."

This episode does so much to showcase Michael Dorn, who I think is one of the unspoken geniuses of TNG - he so very often manages to say so much with a single expression, a few truncated words. The episode also goes some way towards answering questions about the family life of the Enterprise and how family life fits in with all this dangerous exploring, but also leaves one or two salient points not yet answered. Gene Rodenberry's vision of the future is one of peace, but even in the best of circumstances life is not always peaceful, nor is it simple.

Worf has stowed his son in what, in his mind, is a safe space - the place where he grew up. But, as Troi makes Worf realize later in the episode, being in the same physical location doesn't mean being in the same intersectional space. Alexander has a living father roaming the stars and having adventures, and Worf has to go at warp speed, trying to learn the lessons of effective parenthood while grappling with his own emotions. I kind of loved his mother - I thought her behavior was odd at first, but then I realized she was simply taking the nicest possible approach to telling Worf to get off his butt and be a man.

There were several fantastic moments - the phone calls from the teachers and doctors while at work; defending his son, only to be betrayed by Alexander's thieving and lying; Michael Dorn turns Worf's journey into a virtuoso performance, the story of a man who won't give up. He also places parenthood firmly into the world of Trek, while keeping it firmly universal; how we answer challenges, and where the challenges arise, may be different - but the challenges of raising a child and learning to communicate with them are something which transcend time and even species. It's effectively done, and reaches the heart.

I also want, as a teacher, to point out how awesome Kyle, the teacher in this episode is. She's the epitome of teachers - retaining the excited and positive manner, glossing over sensitive spaces in the initial interview, noticing theft but waiting until she was alone with Alexander and Worf to point it out and demand the return of the sculpture. Kyle was persistent and patient and maintained consistently her positive estimate of Alexander's intelligence.

What I felt the episode didn't deal with was the evident reason for not having children on a Starship - the fact that they go to play with endangered animals during ship emergencies and nearly die. I mean, Michael Dorn clearly goes nuts when he realized his child came two seconds of suffocating from Picard venting all the air in the area and was only saved by the fact that someone remembered endangered animals were in the room. I was glad Riker saved the two animals, but I wanted someone to address the problem. Of course, this might simply be addressed in school in the class called "Starship Tips for Tots."

The end, with Worf essentially starting a new journey and inviting Alexander to join him in meeting the challenge, made me tear up and should make you tear up too. Sadly, while I've got a lot of great things to say about the plot of this episode and the work of Michael Dorn, I'm going to be less complimentary about the first appearance of what amounts to two years of blackface acting by Brian Bonsall, the young boy chosen to play Alexander who actually did a fantastic job acting in this role. I could see the makeup immediately, and it kept me wondering.
Brian Bonsall
Brian in the role of Alexander

While I do think someday in some fictional ideal world these types of castings might not matter, in the context of today and 1994 it seems odd that nobody seized the opportunity to hire a young Black actor for this role. Especially perhaps in the context of 2017 it seems very, very odd. I understand the Klingons are a species, not a race of humans, but it just stood out like, well, really obvious makeup. I think the only way to handle such things is to notice them as artifacts of their time, and at least Alexander is portrayed as a highly-intelligent animal lover.

Bits and Pieces

Picard's face during the Crusher and teacher calls, and afterwards when Worf leaves. With all these two have been through together, I kind of felt Picard was appreciating Worf's new journey.


Troi's role during this episode was a definite highlight. She not only pursued Worf through several rebuffs, she also engaged him in combat of sorts when they had their session and pointed out Worf's unhealed emotional injuries. She also made him realize how he'd hurt his son - and leapfrogged him to a point of realizing how the relationship could be healed. This is really necessary work especially among the command crew. I want to reiterate: Troi is necessary, how she's often portrayed isn't.

The secondary plot for this show was meant as background and highlight for the first, but did raise some interesting points - the potential for new technologies, for example - and spotlighted the dangers of starship life.

Quotables

Helena: It's not just his wilful attitude. He doesn't always tell the truth.
Worf: My son is a liar?
Helena: He's a boy, Worf, and boys sometimes take the wrong path.

Worf (personal log): I find that I would gladly fight ten armed Baldur warriors rather than face one small child.

Overall

Without that one glaring issue I mention above, this would be a stellar episode. It highlights the philosophy of the Trek universe by exploring the problem of parenthood and centers on the awesome Michael Dorn... I just can't get past the makeup. Two out of four endangered cute lizard aliens.

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