Season 3, Episode 5
Watcher: Erin (flying solo)
Last night, I settled in to enjoy a very special episode of TNG: The Bonding. Off we go!
Worf is leading an away team down to a (presumably) uninhabited planet, when Troi becomes agitated and shouts for Captain Picard to beam the team back. Apparently Troi is now psychic instead of just an empath, because we learn that an undetected bomb detonated, killing the team’s archaeologist, Marla Aster. Aster, we quickly learn, is survived by her son, Jeremy, who is now an orphan as his father died many years prior.
Oh, we’re just getting started folks.
Worf is really upset, which is understandable – he just lost one of his team members. He looks pensive and then extinguishes a candle in what we assume to be some sort of Klingon ritual. He begins to sing, “Papa, Can you Hear Me” and… oh wait no, that doesn’t actually happen.
Guys, listen, I love me some Worf, but the music is so heavy-handed that it was distracting. Yes, it’s sad, but we need to lay off the synth just a touch.
Picard sends down another away team to find out what went wrong, and puts Geordi LaForge in charge (really? There are undetonated bombs on the planet’s surface and you send down more crewmen? Your Chief Engineer, no less?). We later learn that there were many undetonated land mines on the surface of the planet left over from the wars that ultimately destroyed the planet’s occupants: the Koinonians. Meanwhile, we take a moment to acknowledge that Wesley can relate to what’s going on since his father also died in the line of duty, and Picard had to break the news to him back then.
In the turbolift, en route to give Jeremy the bad news, Picard and Troi have a moment to discuss the dangerous nature of bringing children on starships. Do the risks of having children and families on board outweigh the benefits? Troi points out that nothing would have protected Jeremy in this instance from losing his mother (point goes to Troi). When Picard breaks the news to Jeremy, Jeremy handles it well (“too well” according to Troi, but we all know that can’t be true because this child actor is not really great). In all sincerity, we are treated to a sweet moment when Picard takes Jeremy’s hand to let him know that no one on his ship is ever alone.
God, Patrick Stewart… you just make life worth living.
We cut to Riker having a drink in Ten Forward. Data comes in to have one of his talks about how weird humans are. In this edition, we learn that he is puzzled by how the crew keeps asking one another how well they knew Aster. Riker explains that it is human nature to feel the loss of someone close to you more keenly than someone you know only casually, or don’t know at all. Riker reminds Data of how much the loss of Lt. Yar (RIP Tasha!) affected him. Data agrees that he experienced a greater sense of loss from Yar than he does with Aster, and thus Pinocchio is one step closer to being a real boy!
Worf is plagued by the frustration that he cannot avenge Aster’s death, as she was ultimately the victim of an ancient war. He informs Troi that, out of a feeling of responsibility for Jeremy, Worf would like to “bond” with him in a Klingon ritual known as R’uustai. Troi advises him that, since his Mom’s body isn’t quite cold yet, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Worf insists that, since they are both orphans, Jeremy will understand. Worf meets with Jeremy, and they have an interesting interaction, but the interaction would have been much more interesting if more than one actor had been acting well.
Troi and Picard have another discussion in which they volunteer Wesley to speak with Jeremy, since he would understand and they could relate to one another (because, you know, 17 year olds and 12 year olds usually have a lot in common).
Wes joins his mother for a chat in her office and, once again, Wes is asked to speak with Jeremy (guys – every single time this comes up, Wes is so visibly uncomfortable that it starts to really fluster me that no one will acknowledge how much this is dredging up for him. I mean, come on Troi!), and Wes starts to speak about his father. Here, we are treated to what I think was the high point of the episode: Wesley and Dr. Crusher have a beautiful moment where they share the grief that they have felt for years over the loss of Jack Crusher (I kinda got a lump in my throat).
I am going to sort of summarize very briefly the next bit, because it dragged on uncomfortably. So, Marla comes back and appears to Jeremy – only it’s not Marla!
It’s an energy based being from the planet below. Turns out that, once upon a time, there were two intelligent races on the planet below – one of matter, and one of energy. While those of matter destroyed themselves (the Koinonians), those of energy lived on in peace and were determined to make sure no one suffered again as a result of the wars that had ravaged their planet. These beings felt responsible then for Jeremy, as he was orphaned by a remnant of this war. These well-meaning beings attempted to recreate Jeremy’s old life, right down to his cat but, as Picard and Troi keep pointing out, it is an illusion. They explain to the being that suffering and loss are vital to the human condition and, without pain, we cannot know joy. Wes gets brought into this and explains that he was once angry with Picard at the death of his father, but not anymore. Jeremy then decides that he is angry at Worf, but then Worf decides to make him his brother through the R’uustai – joining their families to make them stronger. The beings are satisfied that Jeremy will be well cared for and they disappear. Worf and Jeremy have the Klingon ceremony but it has much more candles and far less blood and screaming than one would imagine from a Klingon ritual.
This feels a bit like that episode of Sesame Street when Mr. Hooper died, only more heavy-handed. It is not without its bright moments, but much of it just gets laid on way too thick. I love what we get to see from the characters of Picard, Crusher, and Wesley. Worf’s story here is an interesting one – a good performance – but he just keeps coming back to how he and Jeremy can relate because they are both orphans. Jeremy was literally just orphaned. He probably cannot relate to anyone right now! I like that we get to see Troi used well as an actual counsellor, but it does bug me that they make her psychic for a hot minute before ditching that concept.
Does the episode hold up? I’m am straddling the line on this one. The episode is a more philosophical one dealing with the nature of loss, grieving, and an eventual return to joy. Some of the episode lands nicely, and some falls flat on its face – specifically scenes with Jeremy. This young actor (Gabriel Damon) is just not very good, and much of the emotional weight of this episode hinges on his performance.
Ultimately, I still think the episode is worth a (re)watch, but manage your expectations on this one.