Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Bonding

Cod philosophy and well-meaning metaphors make this week's Star Trek: TNG episode one to skip...

This review contains spoilers.

3.5 The Bonding

As the episode opens, Worf is leading an away team to the surface of a planet once inhabited by an alien race who knew only war. Unfortunately, his blatant disregard for the ship’s policy of placing only the most important staff in harm’s way causes problems when a long-dormant bomb explodes, killing Lieutenant Aster, the ship’s archaeologist. Oh no! Who will reassemble any old pottery fragments they find now?

As they wheel Aster’s corpse down to cold storage (presumably), Troi informs Picard and Worf that Aster had a son, Jeremy, who has also lost his father. Picard goes to tell Jeremy that he is now an orphan, and while Worf feels responsible, Picard makes him stay behind. Presumably he reasons that having an 8-foot tower of bone and forehead explain that your mother is dead probably won’t be the most comforting way to find out.

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Meanwhile, Picard takes action to find out what happened. He dispatches his best piece of cannon fodder, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge, to the surface to continue poking around (“Anyone for a suicide mission?”). On the bridge, Riker asks Wesley if he knows Jeremy, even though they’re vastly dissimilar in age and status (what an age-racist). He doesn’t, but he says he knows how Jeremy must be feeling, because he too is an irritating boy with a weirdly slick haircut. “How do you get used to informing people of deaths?” he asks Riker. “You hope you never do.” Riker replies, evading the question with some pseudo-philosophical misdirection.

Picard and Troi head to Jeremy’s schoolroom to break the bad news, pausing the turbolift en route for an extended discussion about Starfleet’s policy of stationing families aboard the Enterprise. Because hey, that kid’s mother isn’t getting any deader, right? What’s the rush? After being informed of his Mother’s death, Jeremy says to Picard “I’m alone now.” And in genuinely tear-jerking scenes, Picard says “Jeremy, on the Enterprise no-one is alone.” Except Chief O’Brien.

Confused by all this morbidity, Data goes to ask Riker if he can clear up some small confusions about the single most philosophically deconstructed experience in human endeavour. To Riker’s credit, rather than sighing and telling him to go and read a book, he entertains Data’s questioning. “Why do we not feel the same sense of loss when someone unfamiliar to us dies?” asks Data. “Maybe if we did, human history would be a lot less bloody.” Riker replies, evading the question with some pseudo-philosophical misdirection.

Worf is still upset because he feels responsible for Aster’s death, and decides to perform a Klingon ritual called “R’uustai” with Jeremy to make them essentially family with one another. Troi advises against this on the grounds that it’s absolutely crazy. Still, Worf goes to say hi and Jeremy is very polite, which worries Troi because if people aren’t in touch with their emotions, she’s out of a job.

Perhaps sensing that this episode is getting too touchy-feely even by TNG‘s standards, a wibbly thing suddenly arrives on the ship (in the Transporter room, weirdly. Just being polite?) and assumes the form of Marla Aster. “She” tells Jeremy the crew made a mistake and that she’s not dead. Worf comes to visit and is suitably taken aback, especially by the recreation of Jeremy’s house he finds himself in.

“Marla” tries to take Jeremy to the surface, but Picard and Worf separate him from his “mother” in a scene that might as well have the word “METAPHOR” flashing in giant letters on top. When the entity regroups, Troi and Picard figure out the truth: it’s an energy-based alien that feels bad that the war killed Jeremy’s mother and wants to stop him feeing bad by taking him to live in a facsimile of his own home.

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Between them Picard, Worf, Wesley and Troi successfully use their combined powers to convince the alien that Jeremy must deal with his mother’s death in the usual manner. Or, at the very least, they’re so sanctimonious that the alien would rather give in than listen to any more of their patronising explanations. The argument that clinches it happens when they point out that keeping humans is wildly impractical because they’re social animals. You need at least two and a massive cage. Preferably a Rotastak.

With prompting from Wesley, Jeremy finally acknowledges his anger towards Worf and can accept his mother’s death (hey, that was fast!). Worf offers to perform the R’uustai ritual again and Jeremy agrees. The energy being decides it can’t stand all this mushy stuff and leaves. The episode ends with Worf and Jeremy performing the R’uustai ritual. They are now as brothers, family members bonded for life. Jeremy is never seen or heard from again.

TNG WTF: However, the dumbest thing in this episode happens at the very start, when Troi suddenly “senses” a bomb about to go off and shouts to warn the away team. Not content with having long-range empathy and lie detecting skills, she’s now also precognitive. But only in situations where there’s not enough time to do anything with the information she’s giving out.

There is one scene that’s always puzzled me, and that’s the one where Worf and Troi are first arguing over his intention to perform R’uustai  with Jeremy. Because it takes place in a crazy room that neither of them has any reason to be in, and which never appears again as far as I can recall. 12:00 if you’re interested.

TNG LOL: At the opening of the episode, Picard says to Data: “Mr. Data, what do we know about the Koinonians?”, which makes me wonder how he’s managed to stay in the dark even though he’s flown his entire starship to their old planet. He might well have just said “Mr. Data, I haven’t bothered to read the mission briefing…”

Also, there’s a great bit where Picard and Troi are talking in his ready room and Picard suddenly gestures for them to sit on a sofa. Like “Hey, I just had this sofa installed, this would be a great time to sit on it.”

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Who’s That Face: Now, Gabriel Damon who plays Jeremy might not have a recognisable face, but close your eyes and send your consciousness back in time. Back to a land before time. Yes, that’s right, he’s only the original voice of Littlefoot in The Land Before Time! And he’s also Hob in Robocop 2.

Time Until Meeting: 11:26. Picard, Riker, Data and Geordi gather to look at one of the now-deactivated bombs and agree it’s very bad.

Captain’s Log: There’s lots about this episode that you can mock (and which I did mock) but the central premise of using a well-wishing alien as a metaphor for Jeremy’s grief is sound. It’s just everything about the execution that’s off. Even Data hitting up Riker for some lessons about human nature can’t save this one from being heavy-handed and tedious.

Watch or Skip? Skip.

Read James’ lookback at the previous episode, Who Watches The Watchers?, here.

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