Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Suddenly Human

The Next Generation, Season 4
Airdate: October 8, 1990
75 of 176 produced
77 of 176 aired


The Enterprise comes across the damaged craft of a former enemy, the Talarians. When they rescue the crew, they find a group of juveniles, including a human boy, Jono. When they investigate further, it turns out that he is the grandson of a powerful Starfleet admiral. Their plans to repatriate him hit a snag, though, when he demands to be returned to his adopted Talarian father, Endar. Whose wishes will be respected, and is Jono old enough to decide for himself?

Wesley receives a facial from Jono.


Matthew: Oh, hello. I didn't see you there. I was quietly napping while this episode was playing. [YAWN] Let me collect myself and get fully awake here, and we can discuss it. I guess what I might be trying to indicate here is that there is a problem of boredom, here. I think it springs from two sources. One is the introduction of a culture we are supposed to fear and respect, completely fresh and without precedent in previous shows. They are the Talarians, of course, who are quite a bit different than the TarelliansTellaritesTerellians, Terellians , Terrelians , and the Terrellians. It took me five minutes to research all those links from Memory Alpha, and I still don't know one effing thing about any of them. I believe the Tellarites look like pigs. Do we see the problem? It's a samey sounding species with a samey martial culture (e.g. Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians) who just don't make much of an impact. Then, the writers go the extra mile by having Data declare that the Talarians are completely overmatched by the Enterprise, with antiquated weapons and ships. WTF?!?! These people are supposed to be fearsome, having fought a protracted war with the Federation, destroying a colony and taking a child as a trophy of victory. Sigh. This kind of crap writing really irritates me, and it undercuts anything nice that had been done on screen to make me give anything close to two shits about the Talarians.

Kevin: I understand that three dimensional space exponentially increases the amount of border you have, but by the end of DS9, there's going to be approximately a billion species with whom the Federation had a recent but unseen border war with a civilization that seems woefully under-equipped to actually fight the Federation. It was all a straw man to set up an artificial conflict to give Picard's decision more tension. The sad thing it, this kind of story could have sustained itself with far less bombast. Both Jono and Endar turn out to be good enough actors to carry off the emotional depth of the relationship and the questions about where Jono belongs are no less complicated because we aren't at war with his adoptive parents. A discussion missing from this episode was comparing Jono's situation to Worf's. Imagine a long-lost Klingon relative coming to claim Worf at the age of 10. Imagine the impossible to resolve conflict and emotions. That would be a complex and interesting story sans the contrived tension of a border skirmish.

Matthew: So, the "Family" theme gets played yet again in this episode, with the ethical question being whether the preferences of one's family and the cultural ties of one's heritage outweigh the preferences formed and experiences had by the same person in a foreign culture. Picard is called upon to act as a surrogate parent to Jono, and indicates his extreme discomfort. The problems with this theme are two. Firstly, it is not developed particularly well. The science fiction questions are ignored. How different is this species? Perhaps they respond differently to violence, pain, rigorous martial training. Maybe we could have seen how differently Jono, a biological human, responded. Studies showing how humans respond to isolation and violence as children spring to mind. The idea of Stockholm syndrome is bandied about, then abandoned. Sorry, none of it happens. The Talarians may as well be humans with bumpy foreheads. The second problem is that Picard had just shown some affinity for children, not two episodes prior, with his nephew Rene. The whole setup was artificial, even if it led to some OK acting moments. By the way - racquetball triggering a PTSD flashback was a bit tortured as premises that advance the plot go.

Kevin: It felt like they were trying to reference Picard in season 1, like his conversation with Riker in Encounter at Farpoint, or his interaction with the children in When the Bough Breaks. This is really the first time the idea of Picard as parental figure has been visited since they started playing the character as more sophisticated Brit than crotchety Frenchman. I agree, he did seem at ease with Rene, but that doesn't necessarily have to equate a wholesale turnaround on parenting. It just needed to be pitched better. Maybe buoyed by his recent experiences with his family, he could have made a more eager attempt to bond with Jono, gotten shot down, and fallen back on his default position on child rearing. That could have been fun, and left less time for plot devices about border wars.

Matthew: The B'nar. Ugh. How unbelievably irritating. Jono relates that howling incessantly is "the custom of my people when we are in distress." Why? In order to be found and killed? Perhaps howling like an effing moron is barely believable as a prisoner of war ritual (though I would think it gets them killed more than anything else), but some ideas are just  better on paper than in practice. There are things humans just don't want to be subjected to. Screeching as though one has a developmental disorder (all sympathies to those who do) is one of them. Spending several minutes subjecting an audience to this is just a terrible idea, writing-wise. I don't think there is an actor around who could have sold it.

Kevin: Between that and the "music," it was like they were trying to sell Jono as a typical rebellious, sullen teenager. This fails on a couple of levels. First, it reduces teenagerdom to the blandest stereotypes of an after-school special, and second, it robs his Talarian (and every time I type that, I have to double-check my spelling) upbringing of any impact. Also, it was really annoying to listen to. Really, really annoying. Lastly, this got a crappy resolution emotionally. I liked Picard's speech about their presumptions about Jono's best interest, but the plot doesn't give us any payoff with Jono. Endar isn't merely responsible for Jono's parents' deaths by association, he's directly responsible. Forgetting normal teenage rebellion, which we'll assume happens in Talarian society too, isn't that going to cause some resentment? Did Jono know about Endar's role in the attack before this? How is Jono going to reconcile human views on gender with Talarian. Those are interesting questions the show leaves unexplored.


Matthew: Well, Chad Allen was pretty decent as Jono. He definitely came off as a troubled teen (and if you google the actor, you'll see why). He played being caught between cultures pretty well. Our other big guest star, Sherman Howard, was also good as Endar. He seemed to genuinely care about Jono. It was a shame the writing rendered the Talarians so thoroughly uninteresting, because the actors were up to the task.

Kevin: Like I said, I would have enjoyed exploring their relationship more, but the scenes we got were nice. The actors had good rapport.

Matthew: Stewart was funny when he was trying to keep his stuff from being broken. His stiffness and discomfort came off as false, though, given the character's recent growth. Sirtis had some nice scenes counselling Picard and delivering recommendations with regard to the treatment of Jono. It's too bad the the script failed to give her and McFadden any truly interesting scenes when it came to unpacking Jono's past and the damage (or not) of being raised in an alien culture could have done.

Kevin: I loved the moment with Troi when she shuts off Picrd's computer and forces him to kep talking about the issue. It was a nice commentary on her position, and her relationship with Picard. It's forceful, but gentle, and to the die-hard fan, can't but hearken back to her counseling Picard after his experience with the Borg. And as a sidenote, does anyone else think Wil Wheaton has looked EXTREMELY tan this season. It was really obvious in Family, but even here, he's still a little orange.

Production Values

Matthew: The Talarian ship looked nice enough. On board, it had the traditional alternating light thingie that does nothing. So that was somewhat lame. The Talarian uniforms were pretty good. They looked a bit like something from Captain Eo, but I don't say that pejoratively. The Talarian makeup was boring. Yet another butt-head.

Kevin: They reminded me retroactively of the Cardassian uniforms, which come to think of it, would have made an awesome pairing with the forthcoming "The Wounded" to introduce them.

Matthew: The glowing racquetball court was... a glowing racquetball court. What was with all the targets? They seemed not to matter to the game at all. It would have been more interesting if they had gone to a chain link fence court in Harlem or something. Why does the ball glow? Because it's the FUTURE, I guess.

Kevin: This version of racquetball comes back in DS9, and I don't dislike it. It's visually diverting, I suppose. I'm more bothered by the racquetball onesies which look painfully tight on both actors.


Matthew: This is pretty much the definition of a 2. Lanquid and uninteresting, staffed by competent actors who are given nothing to do, and sabotaged by careless dialogue. It's an interesting character story, which co-writer Jeri Taylor excels at. But its flaws end up sinking it down into the depths of the "meh" episodes. It's not bad enough to be interesting, not good enough to be sought out in a marathon.

Kevin: When I sat down to write this one, I was figuring on a 3, but you've convinced me otherwise. There is a good story here somewhere, but nothing makes it off the drawing board. None of the interesting questions get tackled, and the antagonists get gutted of genuine drama almost immediately. This is a 2 from me for a total of 4.


  1. Wow, from Matthew's comments you can actually hear how hot it was in our condo while he was watching this. To be sure, it's a boring episode anyway, but I think the heat may have made it even less enjoyable. :) We have a tradition that Matthew writes trivia questions for the episodes and asks me right at the end of the episode (I get them all wrong if he waits any longer than that!). Usually I do pretty well unless I'm surfing the internet or something. On Suddenly Human, I was actually watching the whole time and still missed most of them because I just could not force my brain to pay attention.

    I agree with most of what you guys said. Picking up on what Kevin said about an interesting parallel to the Worf story, we also have Data who was discovered/rescued by Starfleet, and we've just seen his dad who asked about why he became a Starfleet officer. There could have been a really interesting story in there, since we explore Worf's two episodes ago and Data's last episode. But no.

    Also, I really expected Picard to take Jono to the holodeck to ride horses. That would have been much closer to Jono's wish to run along the river. And maybe the countryside could have looked vaguely like the colony, and that triggered the flashback. Or something. An actual visual flashback would have been nice too. Alas.

  2. The question of nature vs nurture and in the case of parenting, biological parents vs adoptive parents - the family you are born into and the one you are raised in and with - is an interesting one and I enjoyed how this was explored here too, but between species.

    Look, there is a woman out there who is our natural mother and there is a guy out there who is our natural father. But for some, those natural parents have not been part of their lives for the past 16 or 20 or 30 years. They have had no role in nurturing them , in molding them, in caring for them.

    They created a baby, but they had no part in creating the human being - that's Jono. Or in this case, the Talarian.

    I really liked that they explored this theme, if you so will, while exploring the notion of what makes us who we are, what constitutes family? A parent, a father, a mother. Home.

    One of the reason I like Star Trek, and despise its reboot by JJ Abrams, is that it delves into these complicated questions and themes - even as human beings have become space traveling and "advanced." And I like that these struggles are depicted to be universal, across species - which takes us back to Roddenberry's vision of the Trek universe etc.