Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's Always That Random Element: "When The Bough Breaks" Flounders!

The Good: Interesting plot, Some good acting, Some good character development
The Bad: Adult guest acting, production design, alien characters.
The Basics: Sunk by substandard acting, aliens and production design, "When The Bough Breaks" significantly advances the character development of two of our regulars.

In some ways, Star Trek The Next Generation shot its wad on the characterization of Picard in the first season. That is, the opening episode establishes that Picard is not good with children, he doesn't much like them and yet, every other week he is either interacting with Wesley Crusher and loosening up or he's encountering other children and is forced to see the value of their human life that loosens him up to them. This transition, by which Picard becomes more accepting of children in only one year, could only happen on television.

"When The Bough Breaks," then, is the next installment in the first season where Picard is forced to see the merits of children aboard his starship. In this case, it takes the most literal form of value when the Enterprise arrives at a legendary planet that has a cloaking device and discovers Aldea. The mythical planet decloaks and the inhabitants let themselves be known long enough to make contact and abduct all of the children from the Enterprise.

Trapped on Aldea by a shield that even the Enterprise's weapons could not penetrate - though being philosophers and worried that the planet will simply cloak itself if they try, then don't make the attempt - the Enterprise children are divided up by family units that acknowledge the hidden potentials of each of the children. Picard and Dr. Crusher negotiate with the planet's leaders for the release of the children, stalling in the attempt to find a way to beam the children back. Wesley Crusher uses the stalling tactics to organize some passive resistance with the other kids and the Aldeans begin to freak out and realize their plan might not have been the best idea.

The subtext throughout the episode is the Aldeans doing what they feel they must do in order to survive. They come across as rather civil, despite being kidnappers. They want to compensate the Enterprise for their children, without acknowledging they've done anything wrong. Instead, they offer technology in exchange and were it not for the incredible human cost, it would have been the best deal the Federation ever made. The root problem is the Aldeans are dying and their quest for privacy has ruined their ability to reproduce.

It's not exactly the most compelling question. In fact, it was only done a few weeks before on the show with the Bynars in "11001001." We get that desperate times call for desperate measures.

It seems, then, that the point of the episode is to put Wesley Crusher into a leadership role and have Picard see the value of the children that occupy his ship. The former works well. In fact, given the Traveler's prediction in "Where No One Has Gone Before," Wesley Crusher's development makes a lot of sense. Aware now of Crusher's potential, Picard has been putting Wesley in situations where he will attempt to tap that growth and now given the chance, it makes a great deal of sense that Wesley rises to the occasion.

But Picard? Well, it works, but only because of the dire circumstances the Enterprise children find themselves in. It would have worked far better a few episodes down the line or in the second season. Spread the development out.

What sinks the episode is the production design. Aldea is an advanced planet with an attention to art and yet every installation we see in the planet is sterile and the most awful puke yellow color. It's distracting how drab the planet appears. The outfits people wear are similarly uninspired. It's bothersome and it does detract from watching the episode.

While I'm a fan of Jerry Hardin's work (he played "Deep Throat" on The X-Files and he will later return to Star Trek The Next Generation in an amazing performance as Mark Twain), this episode does not use his talents well. In fact, most of the adult guest actors aren't nearly on par with the child actors on this one (and I'm someone who doesn't like kids!).

Even more disturbing than the guest acting, is the guest characters. The Aldeans are a supposedly advanced culture, yet they lack basic empathy for others. They never acknowledge how wrong the kidnapping of the children is and that's disturbing. They can't seem to see what we see moments into the episode about the morality of the situation.

Nor can they see the obvious technological cause. At this point in Star Trek The Next Generation, one of the overall thematic problems is it's ALWAYS the random element. That is, the aspect of the alien of the week that makes them different from every one we've already seen is always the cause of their problems.

A bit dry and philosophically heavy for non-Trek fans and not one of the best for those of us who are.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please click here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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