Or The One Where Picard Gets A Roommate Who Majors In Stabbing
I'm all for Picard-centric storylines, and "Suddenly Human" makes good use of the character's on-going issues with children, but it's odd that Worf wasn't more involved with the plot. Jono, the human boy adopted by a Talarian starship captain after the Talarians kill the boy's parents, isn't exactly in the same situation as the Klingon, but it's close enough that I'm surprised Troi didn't try and force the two to bond through their shared experiences. Troi is a big one for forcing that sort of behavior on people. I think she just gets bored wandering around the ship in her absurdly low-cut uniform, so when a crisis occurs that requires her expertise, she just goes full puppet-master and starts pulling the strings for her own amusement. Perhaps Worf had displeased her; perhaps his gruff, straightforward manner was unresponsive to her psychological meddling. Whatever the reason (and yes, there is a reasonable plot explanation for this), when Jono needs someone to lean on in his time of crisis, Troi turns to Picard. Who gets all sputtery.
If you ever want definitive proof that TNG has gone from being a weak show with strong elements, to just being strong overall, well, you could watch any one of at least half a dozen classics we've gone through in the past few weeks. "Human" isn't quite the same level as, say, "Yesterday's Enterprise," but it is very, very good, and one of the reasons it's so impressive is that it takes a subject that could've been mishandled in any number of ways and manages to stick the landing perfectly. The Enterprise finds a damaged ship with five people on board. Four of them are Talarian men; the fifth is a human. Our heroes soon determine that the human has surviving family back on Earth, and they decide it's their job to bring Jono back to his "real" family. Also, they don't really trust the Talarians, and Beverly finds the boy has been injured in such a way that leads everyone to assume child abuse.
Imagine how this would've been handled earlier in the show's run. Contemplate that for a moment on the Tree of Woe. It definitely would've been child abuse, that's for sure, and Picard would've gotten closer to the young man, ultimately convincing him to betray his adopted culture for the inherently superior human one, right before Picard would give a speech about how great humanity is and how a person's heritage would eventually shine through. Something like that, anyway. There would've been no question that Jono belonged back on Earth, however long he'd spent with his new "dad," and that dad would've almost certainly been a villain. Maybe it wouldn't have been that bad, but I can't imagine it being much good, because in the early going, TNG lacked the courage of its convictions. It wanted to see the crew of the Enterprise triumphant, not chastened, and in order for "Human" to work, Picard and the others ... well, they have to be wrong.
There's a great scene two-thirds of the way through the episode which is mostly great because of what follows immediately after it. Picard brings the gradually thawing Jono to Ten-Forward, where they meet Riker, Wesley, and Data. Wesley is enjoying a banana split, and he offers it to Jono, with a typically dorky Wesley comment. Jono fails to master the complicated art of consuming soft fruit and frozen milk, and splatters a large portion of the dessert on Wesley. Riker starts laughing, and Wesley, and then Picard, and Jono, relieved, join in. Later, at the bar, Picard and Riker talk about how far Jono has come since his rescue, the implication being that he'll be fitted into a Starfleet uniform himself soon enough.
Next scene (or thereabouts): Jono wakes up in the middle of the night from troubled sleep, sneaks into Picard's room, and stabs him in the chest.
It's not a nightmare, it's not a fantasy sequence, and while we don't see the knife connect, we do see the results; this isn't a commercial break fake-out, where we come back and find that Jono has merely gutted a mattress. Good old Jono, who keens to mourn, plays a good game of space racquetball, and is occasionally troubled by horrible, mind-wrenching memories of his past, attacks Picard, who has been nothing but kind to him. It's a shocking moment in an episode that had generally seemed to be playing the safe game: Jono's "rehabilitation" from the Talarian experience was going apace, and while yes, his adoptive father, Endar, was threatening to start a war if his son wasn't returned to him, that was the sort of plot complication that could easily be worked around. Hell, "Human" even provides a possible solution: Jono is at the age of decision, which means that it's time for him to start calling his own shots, which means that, were he to tell Endar and the others to take a hike, a hike would be taken by them, post haste.
That's not what happens, though, and the assault on Picard is one of the reasons that Picard ultimately realizes he's been approaching the problem in the wrong way. Up until this, "Human" wasn't a bad episode. Picard's efforts to connect with the boy, Troi's insistence that he do so despite Picard's clear reluctance, Jono's odd behavior—they're all beats we've seen on the show before, but given how solid the ensemble is clicking by now, it was entertaining enough. Endar's appearance, and his non-creeapazoid status, starts amping up the ambiguity, but it isn't till Picard's final speech that the episode turns from an enjoyable but somewhat rote exercise in social reintegration into something much more satisfying. After an hour in which every human character on the show is determined to force Jono to do what they think is right, Picard finally acknowledges that Jono is old enough to make his own choices, and clearly, he's made his choice, at least for now.
Today's two-fer is going to be a little shorter than usual, as it's my vacation week, and I've got some serious Thanksgiving to get up to. Thankfully, neither of these episodes really requires a whole lot of unpacking. "Human" is by far the superior of the two, though. It's always a good sign when a show is willing to let its leads be occasionally wrong. TNG is not an anti-hero drama like The Sopranos or The Shield. Picard and the rest of his team are unquestionably decent and brave and true. But without the occasional lapses into arrogance or anger or cultural blindness their heroism is cheapened into something tinny and without cost. Picard learns the right lesson here and sends Jono back home. Their final parting, with Jono embracing the captain with the same gesture he used to embrace his father earlier (and even removing a glove before he does it) is beautifully done, right down to the slightly haunted look on Picard's face. But that moment wouldn't be worth as much if it hadn't taken a gaping chest wound to achieve it.
- Chad Allen plays Jono. He was one of Jane Seymour's kids on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I have nothing to add to that.
- It's could be a cheat that Jono is unable to kill a defenseless, sleeping Picard, but I'll give it a pass.
- "You're probably not aware of this, but I've never been particularly comfortable around children."
- Space racquetball: lame or lamest?
Or The One Where Beverly Keeps Losing Track Of ... Er ... Where Was I?
A story always needs to be a few steps ahead of its audience. That doesn't necessarily mean the characters have to be; some of the best stories ever told featured protagonists with, at best, a dim understanding of their circumstances. But the consciousness behind the tale needs to be aware of both what the audience knows directly and what they've almost certainly been able to piece together on their own. As audiences become increasingly savvy to the tricks of the genre trade, their comprehension becomes harder to judge. It's crucial, though. If you assume the audience understands more than they actually do, you risk alienating them and losing their emotional investment. If you underestimate them, though, you run the risk of boring them to tears.
It's the latter which gave me problems during "Remember Me," which features Beverly Crusher trying to solve the mystery of the rapidly disappearing Enterprise crew. The episode has its merits. The introduction of the central mystery is done with an admirable casualness, and the idea of people vanishing so entirely that every record of their existence vanishes with them is one of those collective nightmare style concepts that always has some potency, no matter how poorly handled. And while the execution leaves a little to be desired, it's nice to see The Traveler return, last having been seen in "Where No One Has Gone Before," aka, one of the first episodes of the show that wasn't terrible. We haven't had a traditional crazy-sci-fi-shit-happens ep in a little while, and I'm always a sucker for those. Unfortunately, there isn't enough story here to really carry a full hour, at least not as presented here, and because of that, we spend too much time waiting for Beverly and the show to catch up with us.
It's fun to have a Beverly episode again, though, isn't it? And we know it's a Beverly episode right away, because her log sets the scene. The Enterprise is at a Starbase, and Beverly is welcoming an old friend on board, her mentor Dr. Quaice. The doctor's wife died recently, and he's decided he needs a change of scenery; he also reminds Beverly the importance of staying connected to the people we love, which is important because otherwise when it came time to create a magical new universe she might've made up something involve leotards. Quaice's Pep-Talk of Imminent Doom also inspires the good doctor to go visit Wesley in Engineering. Things are surprisingly tense; Geordi is actually snappish, which is not a quality you usually see in him. Wesley's doing some crazy warp bubble magic thing, and while Beverly watches, there's a flash of purple light. Wesley doesn't understand what it means, and by the time he thinks to look, Beverly is gone.
Now, it's very possible that one could watch this scene and not immediately realize the light caused Beverly to disappear. I'll be honest, I didn't catch it. Soon after, we see her paying a visit to Dr. Quaice's quarters, only to find he (and his belongings) have vanished. There's no indication there's anything wrong with the ship or that Beverly herself is in danger (beyond the general sense that people disappearing isn't really good for anyone's health), and that's the best way to play this kind of twist; don't draw attention to it at all. I'm sure there are some clever folks who realized what was happening, but that's to be expected. There's always going to be someone who can see through a plot twist. That doesn't mean you shouldn't ever try to surprise anyone else.
The problem comes when, after Quaice fails to show himself and Data can find no record of the doctor in the computer, Picard takes Beverly to Engineering, and Wesley explains how he was working on this warp bubble, but they hadn't been able to stabilize it. Beverly theorizes that Quaice may have been trapped in the bubble, but no one suggests that it might have been Beverly herself that was trapped. This is because everyone else in the bubble apart from Beverly is a construct she created, and if she doesn't know something, they won't know it. Since Beverly is a doctor, I suppose it's only natural that she would assume that she would assume everyone else was sick and she was fine or something like that.
However, most everyone else watching at home will have figured out that Beverly is the source of the disturbance, and that furthermore, this isn't the "real" Enterprise. So we spend the next fifteen minutes watching as the problem escalates, hoping that she'll ask the most obvious question, and getting increasingly uninterested when she doesn't. At least, that's how my experience went. Having the ship's crew disappear is a lot less creepy when you're fairly sure none of them were really around at all (I mean, beyond the standard sense of them being fictional constructs), and the fact that the disappearances never vary turns it into a waiting game. Sooner or later, she'll realize what's going on, and then the next phase of the plot can kick in. Until then, we're stuck with second verse, same as the first.
What's odd is that when the episode does finally change its game-plan and let us in on the secret we already know, that doesn't fix the problem. Or rather, it fixes one problem but creates new ones to replace it. Beverly keeps seeing this strange light, and she believes it's dangerous, when in fact, it's a connection between the warp reality and the actual reality. Wesley and Geordi are struggling to re-create their experiment to bring her home and failing. It's only when the Traveler himself puts in an appearance that they manage to create a link that lasts long enough to work, and even that's a near thing.
It should be suspenseful, and there's drama in the idea of Beverly fighting against the one thing that could save her. In cutting away from Beverly, though, the ep loses one of its main points of interest: her increased isolation, and her horror at not knowing what's happening. It's strange, because showing us the real ship is basically putting us on the same page as the show, which is what I wanted, and yet I mostly just found myself wishing we could focus on Beverly again. It doesn't help that the Traveler is really not that great of a character; his nonsensical Zen platitudes sounded refreshingly simple in season one, but here, they just play like a sad Star Wars rip-off, and the less said about Wesley's gifts with the Force, the better.
"Remember" isn't terrible. Gates McFadden really gives it her all, and I liked her big monologue on the bridge near the end as she tries to logic her way out of her problem. The image of the ship disappearing around her is terrific, as is the way Wesley vanishes. Turn a corner, and he's gone. Because of a certain level of stalling and because it brought in some old plotting best left forgotten, the episode fails to live up to its concept. It's passable entertainment, but, if you'll pardon the pun, ultimately forgettable.
- Okay, so I guess this week's review wasn't that short. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
- Next week, we look at "Legacy" and "Reunion."