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Star Trek The Next Generation: When the Bough Breaks

"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.


  1. I enjoyed this one. I actually liked Wesley organizing the hunger strike, and I liked that Beverly didn't go all weepy and clutching her pearls but acted like the professional she is supposed to be.

    And Picard is acting more like my beloved Picard with every episode.

    Loved your review, Juliette. I don't really hate Wesley, either.

  2. I never have hated Wesley either.

    Thinking of the "Humans are attached to their children" thing--

    A week ago, I saw a story on the news. A bear cub fell into a trash bin. The mother kept trying to get her baby out, reaching from the retaining wall, crying for him the whole time. Good Samaritans wanted to help him get out, but they couldn't do it with the mama around him. So, they scared her off with bean bags. When she ran off, she continued crying for her baby. The Good Samaritans placed ladders in the bin and to the retaining wall so the cub could climb out and walk to the retaining wall. Once he got to the retaining wall, he climbed the nearest tree, calling for his mother. She came, he came down, and the two bears were seen snuggling with each other a couple hours later.

    No, humans are not the only ones attached to their children. Troi doesn't know what she's talking about.


  3. Wesley is cool in this episode. I kept wanting him to be kidnapped because his costume designer is CLEARLY a danger of sorts.

    Troi is from Betazed. Does she think her own people don't like children? Her mother's behavior shows otherwise...

    OK, OK, HALF Betazoid, but still....

  4. My favourite part of the episode was the ending with Picard looking silly. I actually thought it was interesting to think that there might be civilizations where children weren't as valued and as you pointed out Juliette human children have been bought and sold so we may be attached to our own children but not so attached to others. I don't hate Wesley but he's not my favourite character either. I think he did fairly well in this episode for a kid taken away from his mom and his home.

  5. My 9 year old daughter LOVES this episode, we've had to rewatch it multiple times. It is one of the few times in season 1 that Wesley's character is used effectively.

  6. The problem with Wesley in most of the episodes is that either he shows impossibly brilliant intuition or sees something so obvious that it requires the rest of the crew to be morons (Datalore). Thankfully, neither is true here, though I still don't find him to be much of an actor. Compare him to, for example, the kids in Stranger Things...

    But while Wesley isn't annoying here, the stupidity of the Aldebans sinks the episode for me. And yeah, except in the unlikely case of an advanced r-select species (one that produces very large numbers of offspring per individual, like spiders laying thousands of eggs), it's normal for species to be highly protective of their offspring.

  7. This is very TOS for sure, for all the reasons you state here, Juliette. It also reminds me of classic Who, as computers as gods/leaders/what-have-you were often present there as well, and not always in good stories, Underworld as one such example.

    Good one for Wesley too to be sure. I'm glad they're trying to make him more useful and likeable as opposed to other, similar characters that many celebrated when they were gone, such as Adric.

    The offspring comment from Troi felt like it was one of those 'let's make them sound alien' lines that writers like to throw in, even when it makes zero sense like this one. It just does not fit.


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