Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Family

The Next Generation, Season 4
Airdate: September 24, 1990
77 of 176 produced
75 of 176 aired

Introduction

Still licking their wounds from the Borg attack, the crew of the Enterprise has time to wind down and catch up with family and friends on Earth. Captain Picard visits his home village in France, and his estranged brother. Worf receives his adoptive parents on board, but chafes at their embarrassing demeanor. Doctor Crusher worries that a long-lost recorded message from her deceased husband Jack Crusher to their son Wesley might do him more harm than good.

Here's mud in 'yer eye.


Writing


Matthew: Apparently, this was the lowest-rated episode of Season Four. This is kind of hard to believe, given that it followed hot on the heels of one of the best-rated. The "next time" teaser must have really sold this as awful and boring. It's a shame, because despite its lack of action and excitement, and even a lack of hard science fiction, this episode is composed of a series of absolutely beautiful vignettes that deepen the lives of characters we have grown to love. On rewatching this, it became evident that this is a real tear-jerker. I got misty at several times during this show, and Kelly completely lost it with big, bountiful tears at the Wesley scene. But you know what? It never feels crass or manipulative. Each character development feels completely organic, had already been set up by dialogue and exposition in previous shows, and could have been foreseen by any astute observer of the show thus far. Ron Moore has hit a home run which is respectful of continuity but satisfying on its own.

Kevin: I suppose I could see how casual viewers might not be as gung ho on this episode as the rest of us, but still, this is an awesome hour of television by any stretch. I enjoyed the small details that really tie the episode together. The Stargazer label on Jack's suitcase, Picard's reference to the tectonic stresses on Drema IV when he was talking to Louis, the list goes on. They're things that wouldn't hurt the episode if they weren't there, but help it so much that they are. It's the best way to honor continuity. It rewards the longtime viewer without alienating the new one. I would go so far to argue that even without watching Best of Both Worlds or Sins of the Father, the exposition given is sufficient to communicate the gravity of Picard and Worf's experiences.

Matthew: The Picard story works really well. We get mentions of his counseling with Troi, and his nightmares. The theme of his tale, whether he will descend back to Earth and live under the sea, or stay above the clouds with the Enterprise, is interesting and evocative. His friction with his brother is believable (especially for me personally) and has interesting dimensions of old-world values vs. modern living. And Picard's relationship with Rene is a delight to watch (and should remain unsullied by any feelings stirred up by his eventual treatment in Generations).

Kevin: I particularly liked all of Troi's scenes in this episode. In her scene with Picard, she was a counselor who was also a friend, and with Beverly, she was a friend who was also a counselor. It read as appropriate to their actual relationships. I agree the dynamic between the brothers was very credible. The mutual resentment for a dozens of ancient slights was really apparent. I found the scene at the end particularly moving, the way they both seemed somewhat surprised and unprepared for how their relationship had improved. It would have been nice to see some in series follow up to see if they back slid to old fights or really improved their relationship.

Matthew: The Worf story was also quite nice. It offered a ton of charming moments for his parents, and gave us a view of Worf as crusty and resistant on the outside, but soft on the inside. Initially, you wonder "why is he so resistant to their visit?" Then, you realize how controlled he is based on where he's been and the challenges he's faced as a child divorced from his native culture. The Guinan scene, despite being yet another obvious "cosmic wise black woman" outing, was wonderful, and put a lump in my throat as it delivered the payoff, that Worf considers Earth "home," despite all those challenges.

Kevin: For me, I enjoyed how comedic elements were worked in a way that did not patronize anyone or derail the story. His parents were charmingly overbearing, but not in a unrealistic way, certainly. I really liked how Sergei started talking to Geordi about warp engines until Worf was out of earshot. It kept the character above cliche and really added some depth to their concerns as parents.

Matthew: The Wesley story might be the most transparent tear-jerker, since it is a message from a deceased parent. Luckily, it is pitched well, taking up the least time out of the episode. Jack Crusher's thoughts are well composed, and the writing is effective at making us happy that Wesley gets this sort of love from his dad.

Kevin: This one was not quite as impactful for me, but only by a hair. I think I found the set up a little forced. Maybe had it been framed a little more organically, like a recording of a message to Beverly, or a home movie. For me, the actor speaking to Wesley but not looking at him made it a little detached. I suppose that was part of the point, but still, it didn't quite fire on all cylinders for me.

Matthew: I felt cheated by the Riker story. What Riker story, you say? Exactly. I feel as though some mention of Riker's decision to renounce his field commission and stay on the Enterprise would have tied the theme up very well - this is his family, and he's chosen it over his previous ambitions. Other problems occur to me, but are of the "We wish this were longer" variety. I might have preferred a stronger sci-fi theme throughout, investigating the decisions people make to leave Earth or stay there, what life is like in this time - but what we got was satisfying enough. How did the Rozhenkos end up on Earth after Gault? Don't the Picard brothers have a hose they could have washed off with before ruining the carpets? Where is Data? Surely there is someone he could visit - Commander Maddox, perhaps? Synthehol never leaves you out of control? What does it do then? I have trouble with the concept of an intoxicant that can be shaken off by the will. How would it ever intoxicate you, then?

Kevin: The idea that would eventually turn into "Remember Me" apparently started here and involved visiting family getting lost in a wormhole on the ship, but I'm glad they cut it. It takes a certain amount of faith to rely just on the emotional depth of the episode to carry the hour. Part of the success for me is that the episode gives the big emotional moments time to breath. A sci-fi plot would have made the episode too dense.

Matthew: This is really a side note, because I don't think it's fair to penalize an episode for the poor decisions of the producers. But this is a situation in which a multi-episode arc would have been perfect. I can imagine a great story in which Picard stays on the Atlantis project for a while, perhaps finding sci-fi element #1 under the sea. Riker, in command of the Enterprise, finds sci-fi element #2, precipitating Crisis X. Riker is forced into a decision that costs him his command. Picard takes sci-fi element #1 into space to save the day, re-igniting his love for space exploration. He resumes command of the Enterprise, on the condition that Riker stays as his number one. In the process, we learn a lot about the characters, the society, and we have a final answer to the "why does Riker stay put?" question. Stories like "Gambit" and "The Pegasus" have the tone I'm imagining. But it could have been done to better effect here.


Acting

Matthew: The guest casting is, yet again, utterly superb. I mean, just look at the guest cast from top to bottom. Robert, Marie, and Rene Picard. Sergey and Helena Rozhenko. Jack Crusher and Louis. There is not a bum note among them. I'm going to single out Jemery Kemp for his performance as Robert Picard. The challenge is to create a character who treats Picard like a douche (which we hate) but still retains a certain lovability. And he does it! Everything he does reads as real. I really felt like they were brothers. Although I do wonder why all of the Picards have British accents. Perhaps it was a family trait.

Kevin: I. Love. Worf's. Parents. They amuse me deeply every time I watch this episode. They stay on just this side of the line of caricature, and their affection for Worf was obvious and palpable. I agree with you on Robert. He really sold the idea that at times Jean-Luc's accomplishments might be a little irritating, especially in his brasher youth. I also like Marie. I find it charming that the Picard brothers both go for elegant redheads who kept their looks after childbirth. 

Matthew: To me, this is Stewart's best turn as Picard, bar none. His emotional release after his fight, railing against how the Borg violated him, was just heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The one little line reading of "Robert" instead of "Ro-bear" is bothersome, but the scene is wonderful - there was probably no retake because of the mud. Dorn also nails it, yet again, making potentially annoying behavior understandabe and empathetic.

Kevin: This breakdown is better than his one in Sarek, maybe because it's about his own crisis and not someone else's, but watching him lose control was heartrending. Worf's stoicism also got some nice shading. It's not just humorlessness; it's how he copes with his isolation. It makes the moments when he cracks and smiles at his parents all the more poignant.

Production Values


Matthew: We start off with a nice but not necessarily great CGI effect of McKinley station surrounding the Enterprise. But even if the CGI isn't great, the way that the view from the observation lounge, combining Earth and McKinley Station, totally sells it. This is pretty much the main optical of the episode, but it works well.

Kevin: The shot of the station outside of the conference lounge almost made the episode for me on its own. It would have been easy to not show the window or leave out the station and assume it was not visible from that angle. The quality of the execution combined with the attention to detail was quite nice.

Matthew: The location for LaBarre was great. We get two exterior locations, one for the house, and one for the vineyard. A soundstage interior stand in for the house, and it was really well done. I wouldn't have known this was a set unless I had read it. The matte painting showing future-France was decent, and was well integrated with the location.

Kevin: Agreed. I liked a lot of the touches inside the house, like the firelight in the dinner scene. It subtely reinforced Robert's Luddite tendencies.

Matthew: The final optical, showing Rene under the tree looking at the stars, was only so-so. And I'll put this as a production question - How does Sergey recognize O'Brien as an enlisted man? Due to his "Chief" title? What's with the pips, then? I really wish they had established a uniform means of designating enlisted men, even if it were no pips. PS - that chair in Worf's quarters is ridiculous.

Conclusion

Matthew: In the end, it comes down to a question for me of whether the story surmounts its lack of a Riker story and a strong sci-fi through-line. And I end up having to say it does. It's just so emotionally rich and rewarding to view, it seems like it has to be considered in the upper decile of shows. All three of our areas of concern are way above average. Maybe two minutes of sci-fi flavoring would have improved the stew. But what we get is still wonderful. So it's a 5 for me.

Kevin: This is 5, hands down. Piller had to argue to keep this episode without an alien of the week, and I'm glad he did. The story of Best of Both Worlds is big, too big even for a two parter. The rare excursion to serialized storytelling reinforces the impact of the story by giving us another story about its after effects. The result is a show that showcases both the acting skills of the crew, and the emotional depth and complexity of the characters. That makes for a total of 10.

4 comments:

  1. I love this episode! That should be no surprise, since I care more about characters than about sci-fi stories. :) It has always bothered me a little that we get so much focus on some families and very little on others, but I think it works since we've already had stories about Troi's and Riker's families. Poor Geordi, though, whose family isn't really discussed until later.

    In defense on my tears, I am 29 weeks pregnant and cry at the drop of a hat. But, I will say that the Jack Crusher scene was SO MUCH more poignant for me now than it had been in previous viewings. I just really connected to the idea of what you would say to your kid, and I actually don't find the setup forced at all because I could totally imagine making a recording like this (and in fact might start writing letters to our kid now).

    I agree that some payoff on the Riker storyline would have been nice, but that doesn't detract from this episode for me.

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  2. I will be honest and admit that I have never seen this episode in its entirety until today. Thank you Netflix(also F*** You for the new pricing plan). I have to say I loved this episode. I totally agree about Worf's parents. The scene where his father quickly changes the subject with Geordi was so heart warming. And also loved how Worf asks his mom to bake him a Klingon pie was also great. It made Worf well seem human. But I agree what is up with that chair of his:-) How is that even comfortable.

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  3. Is there a Klingon word for comfort? "Unification Part 1" seems to indicate not.

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  4. Apparently, Worf's chair is his special "stare at myself in the mirror and twirl my hair" chair. He has a six foot tall mirror stand right next to it.

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