Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: When the Bough Breaks

The Next Generation, Season 1
"When the Bough Breaks"
Airdate: February 15, 1988
17 of 176 produced
16 of 176 aired


The Enterprise happens upon the legendary planet Atlantis Aldea. They are possessed of magnificent technology and offer to share it with the Federation. But their apparent generosity comes at a price. Due to causes unknown to at least the Aldeans, they can no longer bear children. Faced with extinction, they kidnap a handful of Enterprise children with the goal of passing on their ancient culture to a new group of Aldeans. Will Captain Picard be able to rescue the children from so powerful a foe? Does finding the cause of their infertility hold the key to both their problems?
On the other hand, with kids dressed like this...


Kevin: This should be a fairly familiar plot to everyone here. We have your standard advanced society atrophied from over-reliance on a sophisticated caretaker computer system. That being said, this is probably one of its more well developed outings. In the plus-column, I like that the decay of Aldean society took the form it did. People in these situations usually get portrayed as either mindless zombies or hedonistic maniacs, so the middle of the road approach that portrayed them as overgrown children themselves, too used to always getting their way actually played convincingly. Also, despite their despicable actions, the Aldeans were convincingly portrayed as something other than two-dimensionally evil. Several of the scenes of the parents trying, and failing, to care for the Enterprise children were actually quite touching, and lent credence to the threat the Aldeans felt to their society. The only line that really bothered me is Troi's line about humans "unusual attachment" to their children. Would a Betazoid ship really have said "Half a dozen children? Deal!" And the only plot point that bothered me was using the Aldean radiation poisoning for yet another sermon on the evils of 20th Century Earth. We get it. We suck. We know. Eeesh.

Matthew: Speaking of modern sci-fi analogs, "Children of Men" is the only other "we can't have kids" story I can think of. So it's at least somewhat unique in sci-fi. Relating it to the 1987 hot button "ozone" issue felt kind of forced, BUT there is a reasonably good scientific basis - exposure to cosmic rays (that the Ozone helps block) would indeed lead to a greater number of mutations (radiation strikes DNA, knocking off key segments)and possible infertility. Maybe if they had just refrained from saying "you know, like way back in the CRAZY 20th century" it wouldn't have felt so in your face. Not only that, but they fix it in a heartbeat, and the ending felt quite pat for it. I also noted the "UNUSUAL" attachment to children, which was just a dumb line. Obviously, we'll see that Lwaxana was unusually attached, enough to go cuckoo for cocoa puffs in a (very bad) later episode. The same intense connection goes for Jono and his dad, Admiral Jarok and his daughter... and so on.

Kevin: This was also one of the better Wesley outings in the first season. His taking command of the children made sense for both practical and dramatic reasons. I liked how he picked up on what Dr. Crusher was trying to do, and while the scene came off a bit hammy in the dialogue, it was nice to see Dr. Crusher expect a certain level of competence and Wesley deliver on that. I also liked that in several of the scenes with his mother and the other children, there were notes that Wesley must feel like the 15 year-old in a little over his head that he is. Overall, I thought his attempts to gain information and organize the children on the strike were a good balance that a lot Wesley storylines lacked. His actions showed his potential as an officer and certainly bought the crew the time they needed, but they didn't overwhelm the story or the talents of his shipmates in an unrealistic way. More scenes like these might have gone a long way to silencing the alt.wesley.die.die.die usenet crowd.

Matthew: Yeah, I don't see how you could dislike Wesley here. We wasn't petulant or annoying, and he displayed good leadership qualities. Also, nothing he did was unrealistic. He didn't remember wave patterns that he glanced at once a few years ago, or design a new tractor beam in an hour, or anything like that. Some other things I liked about the kids' scenes were the sly little comments on today's society they made. Harry, who is apparently 12 or so, wants to get out of "Basic Calculus." Ha! Take that, American education system!

Kevin: Of all the shutdowns of all the monolithic computers, I have to say this one has a lot going for it. There was no unnecessary logic match (TO THE DEATH!) between the captain and the computer, nor was there the arbitrary blowing up of a key part of a civilization because they felt like it. The computer was shut down long enough to get the children back, but it was left to the Aldeans to decide if they would turn it back on. It actually meets all the criteria I laid out in my Justice review for what I think a sane interpretation of the Prime Directive is. It interferes to the extent and only to the extent the Enterprise's interests have become involved, but makes no grander decisions on the behalf of these people. It also make the Aldean choice to not turn it back on a compliment to their character rather than merely being forced by circumstance.

Matthew: I agree, and the nice thing about the Aldean story, is that they're snotty and arrogant about it. They're like "Us? We don't need help. We're cool." It would have been nice to see more of their artistic achievements, and to have the connection better made that these people have sort of retreated into the humanities and arts, and lost their engineering knowledge. The music and sculpting were a good start, but it wasn't as developed as I'd like. Some nit-picks: How does the Aldean cloak mask the planet's gravity? Gravitational perturbations in stars is the main way that we, in the 21st century, detect planets. If you can't mask it, you're just as detectable as if it were visible wavelength observation. Also, at the end, didn't Wesley totally and willfully break the "no kids" rule on the bridge?


Kevin: A few of the scenes with the children were a little overdone, but not unforgivably. For a show with that many child actors, I never wanted to stab myself in the eyes once, and believe you me, that's a compliment. The kids by and large turned in solid performances. It wasn't Shakespeare or anything, but I bought their fear at the kidnapping, their initial fascination with Aldea, and their desire to go home, and that those emotions didn't exist solely in succession of each other. I particularly liked the scene when Harry carves the dolphin. He's clearly pleased at the opportunity Aldea affords him, but still immediately thinks to share his accomplishment with his father. Especially given the fight they put in the teaser, it's a fairly nuanced character for a kid we're never gonna see again. Also, call me a sucker, but when the little girl can only make the instrument play sad songs, I'm a little sad too.

Matthew:  Wheaton did a good job with the performance. McFadden did a good job yet again portraying motherly concern. Is it overdone by this point? Maybe. But she always sells it. Philip Waller stuck out for me as Harry. He seemed like a pretty real kid, who hates math. Maybe that is what spoke to me personally. I agree that his dolphin scene was good. I always like when kids are portrayed as having regrets. It makes them feel real, because having been kids, we all know that the general stupid one-dimensional portrayal in television or movies fails to capture the richness of a child's emotional life.

Kevin: I found Radu to pretty well acted. Jerry Hardin is a pretty good actor and he'll be back in Season 5 as Samuel Clemens. He was by turns flattering and threatening and it worked for a man in his position. Rashelle and Duana turned in capable performances as people who knew that their technology worked but not how.

Matthew: What I want to know is, was Rashella wearing a bra?

Just kidding. She was played by Brenda Strong, who was also featured on Seinfeld as the "bra lady." In addition to being pretty hot, hers was the performance that sold me on the Aldeans as dimensional, dynamic people. She wanted the kids, but was amenable to arguments the other way, especially given her status as the last kid on the planet. 

Production Values

Kevin: In the plus column, we get a lot of sets on Aldea, which lends credence to its size, but I always felt that they were all on the same floor of the same building. A little more variety would gone a long way to make the planet feel even more expansive. I did like the Okudagram for the custodian, and the architecture generally. It felt consistent in a way that lent credence to the people. I even liked the clothes. The graphic prints over Earth tone were visually interesting enough without being distracting.

Matthew: I also made special note of the Aldean Okudagram. Have we mentioned how awesome we think Mike Okuda is? The generator scene was quite reminiscent of "Forbidden Planet," if not quite as effective. The scale work was good, though. It was probably a 4 inch model that looked 800 feet high. I agree with all comments on Aldean set dressing, with the single exception of their window. A matte painting of the world would have helped make it feel like a civilization, as opposed to 9 or 10 creepy child molesters hanging out together.

Kevin: The effect of the Enterprise being thrown from Aldea isn't going to win any awards, but it was good. Not great, but good. I did like the reactor core. The effect was apparently achieved by filming a miniature and cutting the scene together with the long shot of the crew to give the impression of size. I thought the effect succeeded pretty well.

Matthew: Just a note on costuming - you know I am a Theiss fan. But these costumes.... not his best. Childrens' clothing has always been a weak spot for him (See "And The Children Shall Lead" for more strange kids' gear).


Kevin: When I sat down to watch this, I was thinking it would land at a 2, but now I don't know why I thought that. This is a solid 3. The story is a retread, but it's told well and avoids the worst the cliche has to offer. The acting gigs this time around weren't the most demanding, but what they needed, they got. And the design was solid to good, with at worst, no distracting clunkers. This is an average episode, but average in a way that makes me think the series has a future beyond the doldrums of previous weeks' offerings of Justice, Datalore, and Angel One.

Matthew: I think this is a 3, too, for a total of a 6. It just missed a 4 by just a hair, for having a too-pat ending and not going deeply enough into Aldean culture. But an episode that has non-annoying kids, some good design work, and an emotional through-line that is easily latched on to by the viewer deserves some praise. This is a solidly entertaining show. Definitely a step up from the stinkers you mentioned, and an indication to me that Season One was settling into a groove. Not an great groove, mind you, but a solid one.

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