Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not the Next, Nor Best Star Trek The Next Generation: "Suddenly Human"

The Good: Well-acted, Intriguing issue
The Bad: Low on character, Plot drags in many points, repetitive
The Basics: In a largely uninteresting episode, Picard must decide a custody battle between the Federation and the Tellarians revolving around a young man.

One of the problems with the way the Star Trek The Next Generation (and Star Trek Deep Space Nine for that matter) videos were released was that they went in order of production number. This meant some episodes that followed other episodes in the storyline did not follow in the video series. The most blatant example of this is a Star Trek Deep Space Nine two-parter that is separated by a trip into the alternate universe, but back here on Star Trek The Next Generation, it is no less disturbing in that "Suddenly Human" appears before "Family," which is the immediate follow up to "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" (reviewed here!).

"Suddenly Human" tells the story of a Tellarian ship of young men which the Enterprise finds. Among the aliens is a human, Jono, who believes he is a Tellarian. He practices their rituals and when the crew wants to reintegrate him into human society, he resists. Picard takes Jono in and in the process learns that sometimes, race is what you make of it.

"Suddenly Human" is a pretty simple story and it is surprising that it is the sole plot in the episode. As a result, it often feels like the episode is stretching out. To that end, many scenes seem longer than they ought to be. Add to that that the same concept is continually illustrated. In the beginning of the first act, we learn that Jono has no respect for women and, as the alpha, Picard is the one he will unquestioningly respect. But the scene in Sickbay where Picard silences Jono is apparently not enough; later there is another scene where Picard must express dominance and Jono complies. Outside reiterating a basic misogyny in Tellarian culture, it's unclear what the point of this is.

Also unfortunate is that the episode does not advance the characters much. While Picard finally admits to Troi that he does not like children (an amusing scene, to be fair), his character does not advance at all. He's still uncomfortable at the end of the episode, possibly more so as now he actually has a reason not to like children. Moreover, elements of the plot are used at the expense of the characterization. Picard, for example, has a pretty cool dagger laying around his desk in his quarters for no particular reason. Picard has always seemed like the type who would proudly display relics of importance on a shelf, like a museum piece. The knife is a good example of how the writers seed plot devices in "Suddenly Human" that might not make the most sense for the characters in the episode.

On the plus side, the acting is good. Wil Wheaton acts well, taking a blob of whipped cream in the face. Patrick Stewart does a great job convincing us that he has issues with children as well as slowly melting the cold facade that Picard has long possessed. "Suddenly Human" is near the beginning of that process.

Ultimately, the strength of "Suddenly Human" is that it asks an excellent question, "What is family?" In this case, it has a very mature, evolved answer that works and that ought to be lauded.

Unfortunately, it's not enough to save the show. The plot drags on too long trying to express the themes and by the time the episode reaches the conclusion, the viewer has either made the same conclusion long ago or simply doesn't care. On the plus side, it's accessible to anyone, not just Star Trek The Next Generation fans, though I don't know why they would want to watch it.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth 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 films, episode and DVD boxed set reviews, please check out the appropriate index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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