Monday, January 31, 2011

Sleep Before Dying: "The Bonding" Stagnates

The Good: Acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Pacing, Somewhat absurd plot, Obvious
The Basics: What could have been a humanist story about the loss of a mother, “The Bonding” meanders into a pointless alien of the week tale.

"The Bonding" appeared and almost no one noticed. Why? This innocuous episode of Star Trek The Next Generation appears in the third season, but has the philosophical weight of the second season. This episode also marks the unfortunate beginning of the "alien infestation" motif. What do I mean by that? Despite the fact that Brannon Braga would not appear in the writing department of Star Trek The Next Generation, for a few more years, "The Bonding" opened Star Trek The Next Generation up to his one-trick pony, "an alien is always behind it" philosophy of storytelling. In fact, in Star Trek Deep Space Nine's fourth season, there is refreshing episode that finally shatters that convention. Until then, we're left with the alien always doing "it." Whatever "it" is.

In this case, Marla Aster has died on an Away Team mission on an unexplored planet. This leaves her son, Jeremy, an orphan and Worf feeling a profound sense of guilt. Worf wants to adopt Jeremy, Troi thinks the boy needs a chance to grieve - and blame Worf for his mother's death. Jeremy is confused, however, when his mother appears to him and insists he returns to the planet surface. The rest of the episode that follows is an attempt to figure out who this new - alive - Marla Aster is and what her purpose is.

The high point of the episode is when Wesley Crusher, of all characters, brought in to talk with Jeremy about processing the death of a family member, finally confronts Picard on the death of his father. It's a great scene and Wil Wheaton did an amazing job in it. Playing off Patrick Stewart, Wheaton creates a wonderful scene wherein his character seems to process a number of restrained emotions without seeming overly dramatic and silly. It's a testament to the actor to meet the balance.

The rest of the episode is remarkably inconsistent, due in large part to problems with the episode's pacing. "The Bonding" never hits its stride, going from too slow, to less slow and back. The point of the episode is too slow in being revealed and when it finally is, it never seems compelling enough. The best aspects revolve around the question of "how do we overcome the death of a loved one?" Unfortunately, too much time is spend belaboring "Who is Marla Aster?"

In the end, it's hard to care.

The other aspect of questionable purpose is Worf's desire to adopt Jeremy. He has been security chief for over a year, how naive must we be to believe he has not lost an officer before? Why doesn't Worf have a whole nursery then? The whole aspect of Worf - where the title of the episode comes from - seems terribly forced. What's worse, it is never addressed in the series again. So, we have an episode that belabors Worf adopting a human child, then we never see him again. Someone on the production staff apparently slept through the lesson on "having a purpose" in film school.

Outside an utter lack of purpose for half the episode, the episode offers little. Wesley Crusher makes a memorable scene, but besides that, there is nothing to return to here. Not terribly interesting for those who are not fans already of the series as it bogs itself down in minutia of the "alien of the week" as well as continual references to Klingon culture. Well, to be honest, there's not much here for the fans, either.

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


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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