Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Family

Star Trek: The Next Generation goes way off template with shore leave/parental visit episode, Family...

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The Enterprise is in drydock (well, space-drydock), getting repairs following the Borg attack, when the crew decides to take some well-earned shore leave.

As Picard prepares to visit home, Troi stands around doing what is basically a parody of Freudian psychoanalysis (“Going home? Interesting choice. How does that make you feel?”) to the point where it’s almost a miracle he doesn’t fire her there and then. And as if that level of badgering wasn’t improper enough, she kisses him on the cheek before wishing him a good trip. Counsellor, your position has been upgraded to inappropriate.

On Earth, Picard has arrived in France, or as it is known in the future, RoboFrance 29. As he walks up to the Picard residence, Picard bumps into his nephew, Rene, and then his sister-in-law Marie. It appears that Picard grew up in some kind of vineyard in the 19th Century, because they don’t even seem to have a TV, but everyone seems relatively well-adjusted despite the fact that they’re apparently the Star Trek version of the Amish people.

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Picard heads into the field (literally) to meet his brother, Robert, who gives him as warm a welcome as you could expect from someone you’ve been purposefully avoiding for 20 years. Sorry, Jean-Luc, I’m with your brother on this one.

Back on the ship, Worf’s parents (Sergey and Helena) have come to visit and are generally making a nuisance of themselves, demanding a full tour, badgering La Forge and perhaps worst of all, treating O’Brien like an actual person.

Elsewhere, Crusher retrieves a box of her late husband’s stuff from storage, only to find that it has a holo-message in for Wesley. She gives the message to Wesley. He watches it. We ostensibly experience the appropriate emotional response. It’s not really a story so much as an attempt to prove that even Star Trek can make you cry, and not just in the way you cry when you realise you’ve tuned into one of those Troi Falls in Love episodes. Personally I don’t think it works.

Back at the Picard Ranch, the Picards are having dinner. Robert keeps making snide comments about replicators and synthehol, to Jean Luc’s obvious annoyance. Replicators are, of course, the means by which he gets his precious Tea, Earl Grey, Hot, so you can see why he’d be so upset. To try to defuse the tension, Marie reveals that the mayor of the village wants to hold a parade for Picard, but he strongly declines. Rene tells him he’s written a report on starships, and when Picard encourages his interest Robert becomes angry. What, Robert, you don’t want your son joining a pseudo-military organisation and getting potentially replaced by an alien clone, or sent into a parallel universe, or (more probably) electrocuted at his desk? How close-minded.

The next day Jean-Luc talks to his friend Louis, who works at the Atlantis Project, which is trying to raise a new continent on Earth and damn the environmental catastrophe that would cause. When Picard shows interest, Louis points outs that it needs a new project leader. Picard is reluctant but agrees to look at the job listing anyway.

When he does, he finds himself genuinely considering the prospect over a glass of wine. Robert interrupts his drink and starts mocking his brother for his need to be in control, before asking him what really happened with the Borg and starting an argument which continues as they head into the vineyard. Jean-Luc gets so annoyed by Robert’s insults that he punches him in the face and the two fall into the mud. Then they laugh at the absurdity, and then Jean-Luc cries a bit, and then he admits he’s not really over the whole “being used as an instrument of death” thing. With the tension between them defused, Robert asks Picard where he’d really rather be. On the Enterprise, doing mapping missions, or under the sea doing what is essentially the work of a super-villain.

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Back on the Enterprise, Worf is telling his parents off for embarrassing him. When he’s called away, Guinan reminds them that when he looks out of the windows of Ten-Forward towards home, he’s not looking to the Klingon homeworld, but towards Earth. Presumably her keen El-Aurian senses help her know the difference.

Later, Worf’s parents visit him in his quarters and he admits he’s glad that they came. Then they tell him they’re proud of him, and he takes their hands and smiles in a more genuinely touching moment than the Crusher subplot could scrape together on short notice.

Back at the Case De Picard, Marie finds the Picard brothers in the living room, drunk and still filthy. After she gives them a gentle telling-off, Jean Luc thanks her and admits that he wants to go back to space. He says his goodbyes to the family, and Robert gives him a bottle of Chateau Picard to drink later. Jean-Luc returns to the ship, and Robert and Marie watch as Rene looks up into the stars and wonders if he’ll ever be a starship captain too. The answer is no, because he and his father die offscreen in a barn fire during the events of Star Trek: Generations. Sort of undermines the end of this episode doesn’t it? I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.

TNG WTF: Sorry, The Atlantis Project? A plan to raise a whole new continent on Earth? Are they MAD? Presumably geoengineering and environmentalism have both undergone radical shifts in the future, because wow.

Also, I know Picard decided walk from the village rather than shuttle, but is there are particular reason he didn’t just… you know… beam directly to the place he wants to be like he does every other week?

TNG LOL: The fake smile Worf dons just before his parents beam on board kills me every time.

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Mistakes and Minutiae: This is, unless I’m mistaken, the only episode in which Data doesn’t appear. Presumably they were giving him a week off – they’d recently filmed Brothers, where he plays 3 parts simultaneously.

Who’s That Face?: David Tristan Birkin, who plays Picard’s nephew Rene, comes back in a future episode to play a de-aged version of the Captain. Because genetically, that makes a lot of sense.

Time Until Meeting: Meetings take the day off after a Borg invasion.

Captain’s Log: This is about as far off-template as Trek episodes get, being almost a pure character piece designed to follow up some of the show’s recent developments – Worf’s discommendation and Picard’s Borg experience. There’s almost no technobabble, aside from some casual engine discussion between Geordi and Sergey. It doesn’t even get to the point where someone has to ask Wesley if he can figure out how to stop everything exploding because they’re flummoxed.

The atypical nature of the episode means you’ll probably have a strong reaction to it, but I’ve always really liked it, not least because it’s a rare example of the show taking time to examine the effects of trauma on its characters. Who can forget that DS9 episode where O’Brien spends virtual years in some kind of mind-jail and then gets over it in the last 5 minutes of the episode?

In any case, Patrick Stewart is clearly enjoying the chance to do some ACTING, and that’s always fun to see. It’s fair to say that the episode probably takes on a much different character when viewed out of sequence, but as the unofficial third part of Best of Both Worlds, it’s worthy of standing alongside those episodes – not least because it’s a reminder of what the characters are fighting to protect.

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