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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Since the whole immaculate conception story line has obvious religious parallels and since the US is a aggressively Christian country, I can think of quite a few reasons why they wouldn't want to present Troi's experience as rape (though I agree with you). Voyager did this storyline much, much better.

I can just hear the writers trying to explain it: It can't be rape, she was asleep at the time and didn't know it was happening, and there was no pain... you can tell this script originated in the 70s with the aborted Star Trek Phase II series...

And could the "crisis" with the viruses be any more contrived?
"If the boy stays onboard, the virus will break free of its container! He must go!"
"Let's just stick the container in a shuttlecraft and put it in space."
"No, we can't afford it."
"Then let's just put the whole thing into space then."
"No, there's not enough room in space."

Big props to James for deciding to carry on doing these weekly - keep 'em coming, they're ace.

I liked this episode, particularly the scene where they are discussing
the pregnacy and Troi states that she is ‘having this child’. No one
argues with her, they all accept her decision and I think that it did
her character some service. I liked how the episode is quite creepy in
places.

I think that Rob Bowman really changed the tone of the whole series with
this episode, making it darker (literally) and more adult and mature.
Up to this point, Marina hadn’t been given much to do and I think that
with this episode the writers finally start to define her character and
her alien-ness. I dont object to the Pulaski as much as you and I can
see why the writers wanted to add her as a contrast to the (up to this
point) bland characters. Yet I was pleased when Dr Crusher came back.

Sooo glad you're carrying on. If only because season 2 is awful, and I like finding new ways to define the episodes awfulness

So happy to see this continue, for all us TNG nerds this is comic gold.

Great to see your TNG reviews continuing!

I think that was the best review yet as well.

"The Child" is definitely more about exposition rather than storytelling, and the issues you raise are as poignant as they get.

LOL!

I do wonder, though, if they were commissioned for a full year and, to save costs given what was coming, they opted to borrow disused scripts and skimp on f/x for certain episodes - including this opener-with-the-awesome-camera-pan-outside-the-ship...

It was indeed a wonderful opening shot, and that the show and Devil's Due were commissioned in anticipation of the Writer's Strike that occurred later that season...

The joke was good, if extraordinarily lengthy, for TNG Season 1, which stank to high heaven.

But we all know Season 2 was only a slight improvement. The show actually got interesting, and, for the most part, quite good, later.

Which means you will be stuck excoriating some episode this lifelong Trekker has long since forgotten when the big new Trek extravaganza comes out next month.

I think you should have stuck to your original idea of cherry-picking a few Season 2 eps and then picking up with the Season 3 Blu-Ray release.

Because you imagine that the American Star Trek audience isn't for the right to abortion in the case of rape?

Sorry, in the real world the folks you are thinking of were still entranced by Hee-Haw.

Awesome! Glad your continuing, it's really brilliant stuff!

Yay so glad you are continuing these reviews, and that you're doing them in order:-) the review brings me to this website every week, yeah the plot device about the growing sample is so weak ,

Fantastic! So happy that you're continuing, and please don't skip any yourself, season 2 is pretty awful too, but there are still rubbish episodes right up until the end, so keep calm and carry on..

According to the Blu Ray doc due to the writer's strike they just took a Phase II script and slapped on the new TNG season 2 intros at the start. No wonder it's all so clunky.

I just watched this season for the first time in a long time myself. If you thought this was bad, wait till you get to the season finale. Woof.

I've asked this at the beginning of the Season 1 reviews and now I ask it again: When does the awesomeness that everybody is talking about starting?

Awesome review as usual, especially every "(sigh) Dr. Pulaski". I hope you'll keep that up for the whole series! I found her very hard to like, and was very glad when Dr. Crusher came back.

You actually think they didn't consider the idea of 'rape'? Just because they didn't make it explicit enough for you, I thought the whole scene around the table when they discussed what to do with Deanna's baby was one of the first scenes I've seen so far (watching TNG from the beginning for the first time) that I enjoyed without a "it's pretty good considering..." mindset. It was mostly quite tastefully done, especially when Picard put a full stop on the discussion as soon as Deanna said she wanted the baby no matter what. Only thing I thought it was a shame is how Riker didn't give Deanna a cuddle after she lost her baby, it wouldn't have been inappropriate and she could have said no. What clunky intros are you referring to? You know the beard thing actually didn't happen right? After the vast majority of the episodes in season 1 being somewhere between 3/10 and 6/10 this was an encouraging watch for me and along with 'The Big Goodbye' they make me want to push on to get to the apparently excellent third season and beyond that I've heard so much about.

7/10

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