Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: The Child

The Next Generation, Season 2
"The Child"
Airdate: November 21, 1988
26 of 176 produced
26 of 176 aired


The new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Katherine Pulaski, informs the captain of a shocking development: Counselor Troi is pregnant with a rapidly maturing alien child. Neither she nor Counselor Troi know how she became pregnant or how it can be growing so fast. Complicating matters, the Enterprise is transporting an array of deadly diseases to a research facility. Meanwhile, Acting Ensign Crusher has to decide if he should remain on the Enteprise with his crew and friends, or join his mother who has returned to Earth to head Starfleet Medical.
"No, Ian, you're not old enough yet to bang hot teacher. Wait until Thursday."


Kevin: So, here we are at the start of Season 2. There are some obvious changes across the board, and I have to say almost all of them are for the good. The story changes like Geordi's promotion to Chief Engineer are great. It gives an under-utilized actor an important job, and it gives us a reason to be in Engineering more often, one of my favorite sets. Riker has a beard, and a more relaxed attitude that will be more apparent over the course of the season. I always thought Riker's first season brio was a little forced, like he was trying too hard to be non-chalant. I think it worked for the character who was trying to hard to be an exceptional officer. As the series progresses, his relaxed charm becomes more genuine as he gets more comfortable with himself. And the biggest change for the season is the departure of Dr. Crusher for Dr. Pulaski. I think this one is going get its own post, but I miss Dr. Crusher. She's a good character and a great actress and she has some great chemistry with Picard when the remember to use it. Diana Muldaur does a great job with Pulaski, but I never felt like she bonded with the cast, and they relied on one too many McCoy traits to build a character. I will say, I did like the antagonism between Picard and Pulaski. It's fun to watch characters butt heads. I did not like the antagonism with Data, which seemed to be baseless and contrived. It's not fun to watch someone be mean-spirited, and that's how it usually comes off.

Matthew: Yeah, Pulaski was a mixed bag in this episode. She got a lot to do (way more than almost any Bev plot thus far), but it was soured a bit by her dismissal of Data. If we recall, Crusher is said to have researched all of her crew, including Data. Pulaski is portrayed as irritated and indifferent to Data's different status, as opposed to curious and inviting. Not a great start. As far as the other changes go, all are welcome. Wesley is given a chance to grow, Guinan is a great intermittent addition to the crew, Riker and Troi are given some emotional development by this particular story - Imzadi fans will probably have to wait a good long while for some more.

Kevin: Another, maybe less obvious change, is a tonal shift in the storytelling. The A and C plots of the episode deal heavily with the emotions of the characters, Troi and Wesley respectively. I could have done without the entire infectious disease subplot, and it probably would have made the episode better. But still, it was great that Troi wasn't just the remaining available uterus to propel this plot. Her feelings and reactions frame the story, and it was great to watch. Likewise, I though watching Wesley make a difficult, major decision was great both for the character and the actor. I particularly enjoyed watching him talk to Guinan. They were quiet, but interesting moments.

Matthew: The Wesley plot gets shortchanged by this script, but nonetheless it was enjoyable and interesting. In general, I want to say about this episode that it puts in place many of the elements (sans Bev) that make TNG the great series that it is. As you said, the plot revolves more around the characters. There is a heavier science emphasis, too, which is great. All sorts of sets are introduced or improved in this episode, and Guinan is a major addition. Probably the biggest change here is Geordi to Chief Engineer, which sets up a lot of the dramatic style we'd see in later stories, with Geordi being the primary deliverer of Treknobabble and science information.

Kevin: The infectious diseases plot was just silly, top to bottom. The urgency is contrived and pointless. They need these samples to start research on a vaccine that may take decades to develop. Talk about hurry up and wait. Why not bring the non-infectious researchers to this place than the diseases to them? Why use a ship with more than a thousand people, including civilians to transport it? Why not a smaller, even automated ship? Why can't they beam it into space? Can viruses really survive a photon torpedo? Everything about this plot was there only to set up a problem that could only be solved by having the child leave. Personally, I would have loved it if he stuck around for a few episodes, rapidly aging through adolescence and adulthood over a few episodes.

Matthew: I didn't find the disease plot as bad as some others. For one thing, it's present from the outset in the story, and we're given much more development of it than other plots. True, we don't ever see the plasma plague on Rachelis, but we get to see the stasis chamber, some Okudagrams on diseases, and the issue is more of a technical-scientific one than a false drama - the baby plot creates an issue of the Enterprise's safety (which we care about), as opposed to the welfare of the planet Rachelis (which we don't). I'm not saying it's a great aspect of the show, I'm just saying it doesn't reach the levels of absurd arbitrariness that other plots have. I would like to know, however, why and how jettisoning the module into a sun wouldn't fry it sufficiently. I also find it odd that none of Pulaski's copious scans of Ian indicated that fact that he was essentially a radiation-emitting light bulb. I also agree on making the child a temporary recurring character - but obviously this sort of arc-based story would wait until later series.

Kevin: A few other notes. I appreciate the implications on Federation policy on abortion. Worf's suggestion indicates it's legal, and no one, not even Worf, second guesses Troi refusal. So, yay for the Federation respecting women's reproductive integrity. Also, this episode introduces Guinan, and it's a credit to both the writers and Whoopi Goldberg that the character never felt like stunt casting. Goldberg has said many times how Uhura inspired here and she actively wanted to be in TNG, and her respect for the franchise, and the writers respect for her really shine. Her conversations with Wesley were quiet and empathetic and really nice to watch.

Matthew: Although I heartily agree on the abortion issue, I kind of wish the issue of rape had been broached (especially since Troi will become our go-to rape target in Trek...). Troi has been impregnated without her consent.Without getting bogged down in neo-feminist definition games, that certainly seems to meet at least some definitions of the term. Yet she bats nary a well-made-up eyelash over it.


Kevin: Sirtis did a good job. Crying is a hard thing to pull off convincingly and I think she did it. It's a far cry from PAIN and LONELINESS. Frakes should get a nod for his very subtle support role for Troi and how well he handled it. He was a bit of a jerk when he thought she was seeing someone, but got in line right away and in the birth and death scenes, he empathy and support were visible in a way that was apparent without having to be the focus of the scene. Well done for both of them on that actually. Both actors have talked about how they made sure their relationship was a current thing, even if the writers didn't, and it pays dividends here.

Matthew: Frakes and Sirtis have always had great chemistry. They do so here as well. It was very touching when he congratulated her after her delivery. I really liked Wil Wheaton's performance in this episode. He and Whoopie Goldberg had great chemistry. Goldberg is someone who can be death in large doses, at least when she is unscripted (I'm thinking "The View" here). But in this role, she is absolutely perfect, and we never get too large a dose. I can't think of a single performance on Trek that hit a wrong note. She was absolutely perfect, and she is here as well.

Kevin: My issues with the writing for her character, Muldaur does a great job establishing it from the word go.  I thought Hester Dealt did a fine job. The child actor they got for Ian Troi did a pretty good job as well. Curious, but a little too self aware for a small child, and it played well.

Production Values

Kevin: There's not a lot of special effects here. The ball of impregnating light was okay, but how do you really screw that up? The honeycomb container was neat. It looked like they put some effort into that. A few wardrobe notes. Troi's nightgown seems somewhat overwrought for sleepwear. Who wears a halter neck dress to bed? This is also the first appearance of Worf's silver sash and gold uniform, and I think it looks awesome. It's always been one of my favorite costume pieces.

Matthew: Actually, there are a few conspicuous effects which are rather nice. The opening shot of the shuttle departing for the Repulse was very nice. For one thing, it was great to see an Excelsior class ship. But to see it through the force-field shuttlebay door, while extras press buttons, and a shuttle launches? Maybe it was just so cool and seamless you didn't notice it. Compared to Season One, it's an FX extravaganza. Similarly, we get a nice HOLO-Okudagram when Geordi shows Picard the stasis chamber. But the best production element of all about this episode is Ten Forward. What a spectacular set. It's great to look at, and it provides a real alternate "stage" (besides the bridge) for interesting events to occur on ship.

Kevin: Lastly, this is the first time we see the warp effect from inside the ship, and I loved both how it looked and how they didn't comment on it. It makes sense they wouldn't be stunned by it or even mention it. So for both SFX and plot reasons, I enjoyed that moment.

Matthew: It should not be overlooked that Wesley gets a DRASTICALLY less stupid-looking outfit in this episode. Until he graduates to adult-jammies, it's easily his best look. Minor notes: the bridge gets a slight redress, in that it loses the wood-grained panels on the sides, and the Tactical column gets a stencil outline on the front. While I miss the wood grain, I like the stencil. It's a little detail that adds texture to the room. In Troi's quarters, we get a very rare look through the interior window that some sets have (usually obscured by gray Venetian blinds). The exterior shot looking into Ten Forward at Wesley was really cool, with reflections on the windows, and a neat close-up look at the hull of the saucer section.


Kevin: In the balance, this is a three. The  episode has several charming and moving character moments for Troi and Wesley. The little touches seem to indicate the show is on an upward swing in terms of quality. The contrived disease plot is really what pulls this down. Still, I always enjoy this one, and it starts Season Two off on a good note.

Matthew: I agree with the 3, for a total of 6. This story could have been lifted by a deeper investigation of the moral issues of unplanned and unconsenting pregnancy. It also could have been lifted by a better and more thorough explanation of "Ian's" life form - this is Trek after all, in which we seek out... etc. But even with these deficiencies, the whole package works out to be a solidly entertaining show, and a good indication of what is to come in Season Two.


  1. I have to admit that this episode always sort of stands out in my mind as a good Trek episode. Not a "great" Trek episode, but certainly solidly good.

    I think you're absolutely right that the relationship between Riker and Troi gets a little better definition here. Frakes shows jealousy, understanding, concern, and love. What was great about the performance was that his love was played very subtly.

    It may be because of this Frakes performance that the episode has always stood out in my mind as good Trek.

  2. HD highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    I had never really noticed the textures on the costumes of Wesley and Troi. WEsley in fact hasn't graduated from cable knit - it's just on his shoulders now. Troi's collar has a subtle stippling effect. The holo-Okudagram in the ready room looks amazing, the recompositing means there is no degradation of the image, and it looks like it is really there with the actors.

    OTOH, there was some untamed grain on bridge scenes that had a rather digital (not film-like) look to it, which takes me out of HD bliss now and again.