Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Child

Review James Hunt 19 Apr 2013 - 07:35

Back by popular demand! We present the first of James' look-backs at Star Trek: TNG's second season, kicking off with The Child...

Okay, I've given it some thought and since the overwhelming demand was to continue reviewing in order, that's what I'm going to do. Let's face it, after season one, how bad can it get?

Well…

2.1 The Child

It's season two, and that means everything's gone slightly different! Riker has a beard! Wesley has a halfway-decent uniform! La Forge has a job title! There's barely enough time to explain all of the changes they've made to the status quo before a weird tinkerbell-esque sprite of energy sneaks onto the Enterprise and merges with a sleeping Deanna Troi. This can mean only one thing: we're heading for a Troi-centric episode. First one back? Really? Okay…

After the credits, Picard starts asking what's happened to everyone's favourite new crew member (sigh) Dr. Pulaski. Turns out that instead of going to sickbay, she's in Ten-Forward! Whatever that is! Boy, they've really got a lot of changes to mention. Picard decides to go and meet her personally, and on the way he has a suitably awkward chat with Wesley where we learn that he's leaving the ship to rejoin his mother. Given that Wesley was responsible for 90% of the last-second solutions that stopped the Enterprise from being destroyed in season one, it seems like a bad choice to let him go, but fair enough.

Picard gets to Ten-Forward and HANG ON DOES ANYONE ELSE REALISE THAT BARTENDER IS WHOOPI GOLDBERG!? Picard sidles up to (sigh) Dr. Pulaski, but before he can deliver the theatrical smackdown he had planned, she shuts him up and introduces a clearly unsettled Troi. Picard calls a meeting and informs the rest of the staff that Troi is pregnant, all of whom are visibly horrified and disgusted by the mere notion of it. Before they can properly express how stupid they think she is for accidentally getting pregnant, it is revealed that the child is growing at an incredible rate. They bat around possible solutions until Troi dramatically announces her intention to take it to term. Yes, that seems wise.

To Picard's credit, he respects her decision and the ship continues to Odette 9, where it is to collect some massively dangerous viral samples for transport. While going about his android business, Data encounters Troi, who is going into labour. They go to sickbay, where (sigh) Dr. Pulaski happily helps deliver this terrifying child created by an unexplained alien lifeform. Troi gives the kind of quick, pain-free, entirely silent birth that Scientology members can only aspire to, and once they've wiped the chunks off him Troi names him Ianandra. "Ian" for short.

The following day, everyone belatedly agrees that this situation is probably a bit weird, especially when the kid has grown to age 8 within a few hours. The virus samples are finally transported onboard and all is well, even though one broken container could wipe out the entire crew. Picard, Troi and (sigh) Dr. Pulaski interrogate Ian about his sudden appearance on the Enterprise, but he's still too young to explain his decision. Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg speaks to Wesley about his plans to leave, but he's also too young to explain his decision.

Unfortunately, one of the virus samples is growing. Everyone is understandably concerned. The cause is some weird, rare radiation that shouldn't even be on the ship. One guess as to which freakishly fast-growing child is emitting it! Luckily, they don't make us wait for the answer: Ian simply declares himself the problem and immediately dies. Wait, what!? Suddenly, he turns back into Tinkerbell, says goodbye to Troi, and flies off. Back into space. Troi explains that he was merely curious about humanity and wanted to learn what it was like to be a human. Now he has his answer: you grow to age 8 within 24 hours then voluntarily die. An experience common to humans (and betazoids) everywhere.

With Ian out of the way, the Enterprise reaches its destination safely and transports the virus samples to the people developing the vaccine. Prompted by his talk with Whoopi Goldberg, Wesley finally requests that he be allowed to stay on board the Enterprise, and is told he can. So the Enterprise has lost one child but gained another. As the episode ends, Troi remains a dead-eyed rictus grin in the face of her recent child death. Er, is there a counsellor for the counsellor? Never mind, no time for that! Onward to the next episode!

TNG WTF: The most WTF thing about this episode is that at no point in the course of it does anyone address that what has happened to Troi is basically a form of rape. Sorry to get all heavy for a moment, but that's what's really going on here, right? She's been impregnated without her consent. You imagine she might feel upset, or violated, or angry. But no! She's fine with it. Happy, even!

In fact, when she says she wants to bring the baby to term, not one of her so-called friends steps in and says "Hey, do you realise you're probably being a bit mind-controlled?" – something which is clearly happening on some level because when she gives birth it's a pain-free and wonderful experience. So, not only has she been physically violated, she's been psychologically disempowered. Sounds familiar, right?

Clearly, that wasn't the story they wanted to do, which would be fine if they'd actually addressed the problem in the script. All they had to do was tweak it so that Troi voluntarily accepts the alien consciousness. But that's not what they did. Personally I think its gender politics are more inept than insidious, but it's hardly a good start to the season.

TNG LOL: Anyone who's been reading these episode reviews will know how much I enjoyed the scene in When the Bough Breaks where one of the learning activities was manipulating 3D shapes with a joystick. Well, it's back! At 26:11! Nothing has ever made me laugh harder that seeing this return. Let's hear it for prop re-use.

Who's that Face?: It's Whoopi Goldberg! From Sister Act 2!

Time Until Meeting: 9:43. It's an impromptu baby shower for Troi! Only instead of presents, they're showering her with disdain. If only Yar was still alive.

Captain's Log: Any hopes that season two would shed the amateur-hour plotting of season one and start acting like a proper TV show can be pretty much dispelled by this episode. Funny story: I have two pet hates in TV, and this one contains both of them.

The first thing I hate is when people cease to act like rational individuals just so the plot can proceed unimpeded (e.g. at no point does anyone say to Troi what the audience is thinking: "Hey, have you noticed that this is all insane?"). The second thing I hate is plots where the main characters have no agency. Nothing anyone does in this story actually affects anything. Ian is born, he realises (by himself) that he's endangering the crew, and then he voluntarily dies. Various characters explain what's going on, but they never actually steer it. They're just a bunch of ineffectual losers. Replace any main character in this episode with a parsnip and the outcome will be unchanged.

So there's bad characterisation and bad plotting. There's also the clunky introduction of EVERY new element the show added. It's a wonder someone doesn't say "Nice facial hair, beardo" to Riker because that's the level of subtlety they go for. Naturalistic it ain't.

To top it off, what makes this episode truly dire is the complete lack of a point being made about anything. When Star Trek is being didactic and preachy, it at least has something to say. Here, the episode sort of hints that it has some thoughts about a woman's rights over her own body, but it chickens out well short of actually raising them.

Watch or Skip? Oof. If it didn't introduce and explain EVERYTHING new about season two you could skip it. But unfortunately, it does. So there's really no choice...

Read James' TNG season one lookbacks, here.

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