Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: The Bonding

The Next Generation, Season 3
"The Bonding"
Airdate: October 23, 1989
52 of 176 produced
52 of 176 aired


An away team from the Enterprise is exploring the ruins of the lost Koinonian civilaztion, a race that destroyed themselves in an ancient war. Their conflict, however, claims one more victim when a member of the away team, Lt. Marla Aster, accidentally triggers a long-buried mine. She is killed instantly. Captain Picard is now left with the sad, and all too familiar, duty of breaking the news to Lt. Aster's 12-year-old son, Jeremy. As the crew tries to deal with their loss, a mysterious entity travels from the planet to the Enterprise, and magically, Lt. Aster seems alive and well again, and wanting to take Jeremy down to the planet to live. The crew know better than to accept the illusion at face value, but young Jeremy Aster is all too willing to accept it. How can the crew keep Jeremy from leaving when all they have to offer is the harsh reality of his mother's death?

Lt. Worf and his boy ward perform R'uustai upon each other.
Then, we never see the boy ward again.


Kevin: This episode was how Ronald D. Moore got into Star Trek. A fan of the show, a friend offered him a tour, and he managed get a draft of this story to the producers. When Michael Piller came on board, there were no scripts ready to shoot, probably due to last season's writer's strike. So he went through the stack of submissions and found the story that after a rewrite by Melinda Snodgrass (Measure of a Man, Ensign of Command, among others) and Piller, became this episode. It's probably the most dramatic example of TNG's shift in focus from "Alien of then Week" to the emotional development of the cast, and on that level, this episode works pretty well. We get nice moments from a ton of people. Picard and the Crushers' reactions were really well done, and they wove in the parallel to Jack Crusher's death really nicely. I found the exchange about how Wesley could barely remember his father's face and Beverly couldn't forget it to particularly affecting. Worf's survivor guilt is nicely mined, and tied into established canon about his parents. On both counts, the story mines the history the show established to creates new lovely moments, and it's stories like this that show how powerful continuity can be. Troi also has some nice moments talking about grief and coping mechanisms. Jeremy Aster fell a little flat for me. I don't know if it was the actor or that without the backstory of the others, I was innately less invested in his grief. Him watching home videos on the PADD was pretty heart-wrenching though.

Matthew: There was an odd note for me at the beginning - how did Troi know something was amiss, for what was essentially a landmine? Anyway, there are sort of 2 and 1/3 story threads here. We get the story of how people in this world deal with loss and death. Of course we also get the sort of "virtual reality" tale. Then, we have a bit of Wesley backstory. We get a tad about landmines. And we get some fleshing out of Klingon martial philosophy. They all congeal into a sort of OK show. But none get the development they deserve. We learn that Klingons all want to die doing their duty. OK, fine, but we got a better scene discussing this in "A Matter of Honor." It seemed as tough they were going to make Aster his ward, sort of a proto-Alexander. But then he completely disappeared. I actually may have enjoyed Worf raising a human kid more than the kid he actually did get. The actor was certainly better... The better scene, as you say, is Wesley recounting his emotional turmoil after his dad's death.

Kevin: The story has some sci-fi elements, but the episode doesn't really develop them. At what point is simulation so real that it's indistinguishable from the real thing? Is a simulated life worth living? I think had the character focus been on one of the main cast, we might have gotten that discussion. I don't think the episode is really harmed by its absence, but it would added some good philosophical discussion to an already solid emotional core.

Matthew: When the Marla-simulacrum shows up and screeches "Jeremeeee!!!!" I was creeped out. I can't imagine anyone not being creeped out. It was an off note. I agree that the ethical and emotional aspects of a false life were interesting, and could have borne a lot more development. There is also this angle of an ancient civilization, split between material beings and immaterial creatures. The resolution was a bit pat. Picard argues that humans need real growth and development, and that feeling pain is essential to human life. But real as opposed to what? He would be living among the immaterial people on the planet. They're real, aren't they?

Kevin: According to Michael Piller, Gene Rodenberry initially objected to the story stating that children in the 24th century would have a better understanding of death. I think I could personally live until the 24th century and still not have my arms wrapped entirely around how to handle death. I'm glad Piller fought and won, because the idea that loss is felt less keenly in the 24th century would actually disconnect me from the world of Star Trek.

Matthew: I certainly prefer what we got from this tale as opposed to a more hippy-trippy vision of the future in which human emotions have been evolved beyond. I think we get a few echoes of tis sentiment, with Jeremy Astor's wooden acceptance of death, as "stuff they teach us all about in school."

Kevin: Narratively, I think the only real weak spot in the episode is the lack of genuine tension or climax in the last third of the episode. The conversation with Wesley admitting how he was angry at Picard was great, both in dialogue and acting, but it never felt like Jeremy was really going to leave, but it didn't really feel like he chose to stay. The story happened around him, and that's a problem if he's going to be the focus of the episode.

Kevin: Side note. Did anyone else interpret Riker's line "We spent some time together," as a clear indication they had sex? Cause I did.

Matthew: I can see why that interpretation has some merit, but ultimately I reject it. It is too weird and strange to interpret Riker as having had a fling with this woman (a subordinate officer no less), and thereafter suffering basically no emotional consequences upon her death. He had no relationship with Jeremy? He "didn't know her that well?" I just don't buy it. Therefore, I have to think that "spent some time together" means being on the same away mission a few times, or riding in a shuttle together, or skiing on the holodeck, or something like that. But not sex. It also doesn't square with the conversation Riker had with Data about familiarity breeding a sense of loss. The clear implication was that both of them felt the loss of Tasha more keenly than that of Marla Aster. I simply can't think Riker would be so callous as to bone her and then dismiss her death.


Kevin: I'm going to create a macro that just inserts a paragraph about the ensemble in season 3 have really come into their own emotionally so I can just hit a button and insert it into every review this season. Picard, Worf, Troi, and the Crushers, both alone and in conversation manage to portray their respective emotional scars with serious skill. It elevates the episode.

Matthew: This episode continues the warming of Picard, which was quite evident also in "Who Watches the Watchers." Troi gets good counseling scenes, and does well with them. Worf plays well off of Troi, too, in his anger over losing a team member. The highlight scene of the show definitely goes to McFadden and Crusher. Sure, the schmaltzy music helped, but they definitely seemed sad and a little broken, and it was easy to empathize.

Kevin: Like I said, Jeremy came off a little flat, and I think it's a combination of the writing and acting. The episode happens around him, and I never really connected to him, though he avoids the worst cliches of child actors. He wasn't bad, he just wasn't great, either. I liked the actress who played Lt. Aster. She played maternal well.

Matthew: I actually think both guest actors did well. Jeremy's woodenness initially was due to writing. He showed that he could perform pretty well once the simulacrum showed up. Gabriel Damon did at least a passable job here. Susan Powell was also pretty OK - it's hard to tell because she never really got to play a real human.

Production Values

Kevin: The planet affects on the viewscreen were good. Not stunning, but good. I didn't quite get the room where Worf was doing his ceremonies. Does the Enterprise have a softly lit blue room just for that purpose? The effect for the room transition was good insofar as I wasn't distracted by the bluescreen composition. The energy creature was pretty standard. All in all, none of the production was particularly impressive, but it didn't really need to be.

Matthew: We see Worf hanging out in the computer core room for some reason. It's a nice set, but why have a conversation with Troi here? Otherwise, this was pretty much a bottle show. As you mention, there are a few relatively "small" effects, such as the projection of Aster's family home, or Jeremy watching videos on the PADD (with a slight reflection).  I liked the house set. It was dressed well, looking like a home, as opposed to the relatively generic quarters on the ship. There were also some force fields which we have seen before, and  the ghostly blue blob, which looked like something out of "Cocoon."


Kevin: This is a solid 3. The acting is exquisite and affecting. The only thing that holds this back from a 4 for me is the slightly underdeveloped science fiction elements, some slightly sluggish pacing, and anchoring the episode to a guest character who ended up with no a lot to do. Still, I defy anyone to watch when Beverly leans her head on Wesley's and not get teared up. Go on...do it. You can't, can you? That's right.

Matthew: I think I have to give this a 2, because it's kind of a half-baked snoozer. I am not, by any means, diminishing the Crusher aspect of the tale, which was solid. But The Worf-Jeremy thing was introduced only to be abandoned, and we didn't get into any truly meaty discussion of why a simulated life that promises happiness is worse than a "real" life that promises pain. I think this needed a bit more of a rewrite than it got. So that makes it a 5 altogether.


  1. I find myself wishing that the episode had gone further into the ethics of simulating a person. If the Marla simulacrum is truly sentient, and really believes that she is Jeremy's mother, is it right to keep her from him? If she it truly a replica with all of her memories and personality, who has a better claim to continuing her life, and why would you wish to prevent it?

    1. Which, of course, we both state to a lesser degree in the review above.