Monday, March 13, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 53 (The Bonding)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot details.  If you’re not into spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.

Among the five live-action Star Trek series, there were a lot of great episodes.  There were also a lot of bad episodes that were at least understandable.  I didn’t like them, but I could see why they were made.  Then, there were episodes that I thought that someone was either hard up for a script or someone lost a bet.  I’d like to know the story behind how this episode got approved.

Lieutenant Worf is leading an away team on a planet that was laid to waste by war.  Lieutenant Marla Aster is on that team.  She triggers a proximity mine and subsequently dies, leaving behind a son, Jeremy.  His father died several years earlier, leaving him an orphan.  He has family back on Earth he can live with, but the Enterprise remains by the planet to figure out what happened.

Worf, feeling a sense of guilt, wants to perform a Klingon bonding ritual, hence the name of the episode.  (Both lost their parents at a young age.)  There’s also Wesley Crusher, whose father died on an away mission with Captain Picard.  There’s no shortage of support for Jeremy.  Of course, it can’t be that simple.  We wouldn’t have an episode if Jeremy just deals with it and everyone lives happily ever after.  Instead, Marla Aster shows up, promising Jeremy that they can live together on the planet surface.

Actually, it’s someone or something posing as Marla Aster.  Why she wants to do this is initially unclear, but Jeremy’s ready to beam down with her.  The bridge crew, not so much.  They realize that something’s very strange.  At the very least, the recognize that the person claiming to be Lt. Aster is not Lt. Aster.  Well, it comes out that there were two races on the planet.  One was corporeal and wiped themselves out in an all-consuming war.  There was another, non-corporeal, race that survived.  This one assumed the shape of Jeremy’s mother so that Jeremy can live happily ever after.

Captain Picard points out that this is a very short-sighted solution.  Jeremy will grow up.  He’ll want to have friends and a career.  Can the aliens provide for that?  Both Jeremy and the alien realize that it’s not a good idea.  Worf gets his bonding ceremony.  I’m not really sure what happened to the alien, although I’m assuming she went back to the planet.

Here’s the thing.  Death isn’t anything new to the Star Trek universe.  We’ve had so many security officers die that redshirt became a term for any character that was fated to die just to show how serious the situation was.  The difference here is that the crew member in question had a child on board.  The episode deals with loss and having to face that loss head on.

There are a few odd things about the episode.  First, Worf seemed a little to eager to perform his ritual.  As I said, this isn’t the first person to die on a mission.  I’m sure Worf has lost other people on the countless missions that he’s been on.  Does he do this for every kid?  (Speaking of which, it seems like the Klingons have a ritual for everything.)

Also, I noticed that Jeremy was left alone a lot to watch videos of his mother.  It’s one thing to leave him alone for a few hours, but this is someone that just lost a parent and has no one to be there for him.  I would imagine that he had at least one friend on the ship that he could spend the night with.  If not, there had to be someone that could be there with him.

The biggest thing that got me was that the alien tried to impersonate Marla to take Jeremy off the ship.  I get the whole guilt thing and not wanting to have Jeremy suffer, but you’re not going to ask nicely?  You’re not even going to demand rudely or just beam him off the ship?  The alien goes through this whole charade to trick Jeremy into leaving the ship.  The alien doesn’t try to deal with anyone else at all.  That seems a little odd to me and would indicate ulterior motives.  This aspect of the alien’s behavior isn’t really dealt with.

The only scenes that I really remembered were two character-development scenes.  In one, Lt. Cmdr. Data gets to talk with Commander Riker about why deaths of different people affect the living differently.  As an android, he’s trying to learn about human emotions.  Riker tells him that this is a part of being human.  Our wars would have been a lot less bloody if we treated all deaths equally.  The other is from Wesley Crusher, who talks with his mother about his father having died.

I’d say that it’s a good-but-not-great episode, but it’s really not even that good.  It’s a totally forgettable episode.  Once again, I’m technically reviewing an episode on VHS.  Even if VCRs were still around, I’d say not to buy this episode.  Instead, save your money for the DVD set.  All seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are currently available streaming through Netflix, so that’s also an option.  You could skip this episode and easily not notice. 

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