Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Suddenly Human

Star Trek: TNG delivers a bottle episode so called because you need a bottle to get through it. Here's James' look at Suddenly Human...

This review contains spoilers.

4.4 Suddenly Human

After stumbling upon a Talarian starship which has suffered an engine malfunction, causing injury to the small crew, the Enterprise rescues the injured to discover that one of the five boys isn’t a Talarian at all – he’s a human!

The boy, named Jono, is initially defiant. He and his shipmates do nothing but rock and howl, like Wesley before his latest Starfleet entrance exam. Only when Picard arrives and is identified as the Captain do they engage with their rescuers, and Jono makes a formal request to return home. Meaning with the Talarians. At first, Picard is unsure what to do.

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An investigation by Dr. Crusher has discovered evidence that Jono has suffered multiple severe injuries over the last few years, and she believes that his captors brutalised him. They discover his real/previous identity as Jeremiah Rossa, the believed-dead grandson of a Starfleet Admiral. So as if this wasn’t a difficult enough situation, Picard now has to deal with pressure from his boss to not give away her miraculously-resurrected grandchild. He resolves to help Jono find his human side, and despite his protestations, Troi points out there he’s the only one there qualified to do it.

What follows is basically a montage of odd-couple type scenes where Picard stumbles over Jono listening to weird teenager music, or getting upset because Jono’s touching the priceless knick-knacks he keeps lying around his quarters. Although the two don’t get on, Jono has a grudging respect for Picard, and slowly rediscovers his lost humanity through the medium of collapsing and screaming, clutching his head as he remembers the Talarian attack that killed his parents so many years ago.

Unfortunately there’s only one therapist on board and Troi’s already used her strange administrative powers to defer responsibility onto Picard. Because hey, there’s nothing else he has to be doing (apparently).

Eventually a Talarian rescue ship arrives and Picard hands over the four Talarians they rescued (oh yeah, those guys) but insists Jono stays with them. The captain, Endar, reveals that he’s Jono’s adoptive father and explains that he took the child under Talarian custom after humans killed his son. Picard is confused by this moral ambiguity, and accuses Endar of injuring the boy. Endar explains that Jono wasn’t beaten, he’s just a bit rough on the old space-football pitch. Picard accepts this, but informs Endar that Jono will be reunited with his human grandmother.

Understandably, Endar is upset and threatens war with the Federation, then gives Picard an arbitrary amount of time to decide, so that the episode can proceed unhindered by plot logic. With this window of opportunity, Picard and Jono head off to play racquetball then follow it up with a banana split in to Ten-Forward – you know, normal human activities. Jono causes much hilarity when he covers Wesley in banana dessert, and then Riker has to explain “slapstick” to Starfleet’s most advanced robo-mind. It’s good that they’ve got time to laugh in the face of war.

That night, a confused and conflicted Jono decides to stab Picard while he sleeps. Crusher saves his life and Jono is arrested. Endar chooses now to demand the return of his son, and Riker informs him that he’s now in jail. Endar responds by giving them 5 minutes to comply with his request, or a space-battle will occur!

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Worried for the show’s budget, Picard speaks to Jono, who expects that he’ll be put to death. This convinces Picard his values and beliefs are so Talarian that he belongs with his loving, caring, non-abusive adoptive family. You know, like he did all along. Endar calls off the attack, Jono thanks Picard for seeing sense, and at last, everyone is happy. Except Jono’s grandmother, who’s been kind of out of the loop on this.

TNG WTF: This episode marks the first appearance of the futuristic sport, racquetball, or as I like to think of it, tri-dimensional racquetball. It bears some resemblance to actual racquetball which seems to be quite similar to squash. It also seems to be a product of the peculiarly American trait of playing completely different sports to the rest of the world, which makes me think it’s slightly wishful thinking to imagine it being played several hundred years in the future. I have no idea whether the TNG version is anything like the real one, but then it’s likely no-one on TNG knows either.

TNG LOL: Troi’s dressing-down of Picard is pretty funny, not least because she treats him like a child and then basically says “lol get over it” before flouncing out of his office while he scowls. I laughed, anyway.

To boldly go: The episode opens with them responding to the initial distress call. No word on what mission they’re interrupting to do so, but hey, those gaseous anomalies will still be there in the morning.

Who’s that face?: Admiral Connaught Rossa was Mildred Potter in the first season of AfterMASH. As august a role as anyone could hope for.

Time until meeting: 26:14. Picard, Troi, Endar and Jono meet to discuss Jono’s fate.

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Captain’s Log: You may have noticed that this episode is a bottle show. So-called because a bottle’s the only way you’re getting all the way through it. This is an episode with all the worst excesses of TNG‘s didacticism on show. Everyone knows what’s best for the boy, and even when they change their mind they don’t seem to address the consequences of their suddenly-corrected decision. Presumably Admiral Rossa, having had a single communication with her long-lost grandson, is going to be sending Picard a very stern letter of disapproval when she figures out what he did.

I mean, I get the conflict at the heart of the episode, and understand that it’s largely hinged on the relationship between Picard and Jono, but nothing surrounding that works. At the end of the episode I don’t feel like Picard has really connected with Jono (not least because of a murder attempt that comes out of nowhere) and the progress made reconnecting Jono with his human side is completely ignored. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle, especially when he’s clearly having PTSD-style flashbacks to his supposedly-forgotten attack. The ideas are there in the script, but the details don’t sell it at all. And for that matter, neither does Jono, whose acting inexperience really can’t stand up against Patrick Stewart.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Brothers, here.

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