Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Family”

Family“Family”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Laundau

Season 4, Episode 2
Original air date: October 1, 1990
Star date: 44012.3

Mission summary

The Enterprise is docked above Earth completing some much needed, post-Borg repairs and upgrades, so everyone onboard uses the opportunity to phone home. Picard packs his bags for La Barre, his quaint little French hometown; Worf reluctantly prepares to receive his adoptive parents, the very kind, very Russian Sergey and Helena Rozhenko; and Dr. Crusher picks up an old box of Jack Crusher’s things from storage, including a holographic message he recorded for Wesley shortly after he was born.

Picard heads down to his home village and meets his nephew, René, who reveals a little too much about what his brother Robert Picard has come to think of Jean-Luc (“What does it mean anyway, ‘arrogant son of a …'”). Jean-Luc meets up with Marie, Robert’s lovely wife, and finds Robert amidst the vineyards. He receives a cold welcome, and it’s pretty obvious why Jean-Luc never visits this seething cauldron of angst. Robert is gruff, distant, and something of a bully. He has no interest in modern conventions like synthehol and replicators and rejects his son’s longing to be a starship captain, like his uncle. The latter really upsets Robert, who resents Jean-Luc’s successes, and doesn’t much want him there on the vineyards at all.

Jean-Luc seems to avoid Robert as much as possible, meeting up with an old friend named Louis who is working on raising the ocean floor. Louis thinks Jean-Luc is the right man to run the whole project, but Jean-Luc can’t imagine leaving Starfleet. Or can he? Louis sets up a meeting with the Board of Governors for the project, and Jean-Luc actually finds himself considering the new gig…

Meanwhile, the Rozhenkos get a truncated tour of the ship (much to Sergey’s chagrin), but take every opportunity to meet Worf’s friends and tell them stories of his misspent youth. When Worf has to report back to duty, though, they reveal that they feel disconnected from Worf, as if they hadn’t been the best parents.

HELENA: We knew it wouldn’t be easy for him, growing up without other Klingons to go to for guidance.
SERGEY: We had to let him discover and explore his heritage by himself, let him find his own path.

Guinan rightly points out that a lot of parents could learn from that example, and that they should know they will always represent Worf’s real home. Worf realizes it, too, because he thanks them for visiting and accepts their love and comfort in dealing with his Klingon dishonor.

The two Picards, meanwhile, have reached a boiling point. Robert thinks Jean-Luc is just seeking more attention and fame, and he’s jealous of everything his brother has made of himself, and the fact that he was able to leave the vineyards and break with tradition. They start a mud-soaked fist-fight in the vineyard ditches as Jean-Luc protests that his life is not all roses:

PICARD: You don’t know, Robert. You don’t know. They took everything I was. They used me to kill and to destroy, and I couldn’t stop them. I should have been able to stop them! I tried. I tried so hard, but I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I should have been able to stop them. I should! I should!
ROBERT: So, my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now. Live with it below the sea with Louis, or above the clouds with the Enterprise.
PICARD: You know, I think you were right after all. I think I did come back so that you could help me.
ROBERT: You know what? I still don’t like you, Jean-Luc.

But Jean-Luc has learned what he needed to learn. He packs his bags and prepares to return to the Enterprise, where he belongs.

The Rozhenkos return to Earth, but only after Helena promises Worf some homemade rokeg blood pie. Wesley, however, finally listens to the recording his father made for him:

JACK: Hello, Wesley. As I make this recording, you are about ten weeks old. I wanted you to know who I am today. You see, this Jack Crusher won’t exist by the time you’re grown up. I’ll be older, more experienced, and hopefully a little wiser. But this person will be gone and I want you to know who your father was when you came into the world. When I see you lying there in your crib, I realize I don’t know the first thing about being a father. So let me just apologize for all the mistakes I’m about to make as you grow up. I hope you don’t grow up resenting the fact that I was gone so much. That comes with this uniform. I don’t know if I can explain why Starfleet means so much to me. Maybe you’ll understand when you get this recording. Maybe you’ll even want to try one of these on. But you’ll probably be a doctor like your mother. You’re only a baby, but it’s remarkable. I can see in your face all the people I’ve loved in my lifetime. Your mother, my father and mother. Our family. I can see me in you, too. And I can feel that you’re my son. I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s this connection, this bond. I’ll always be a part of you, Wesley. Well, I hope this made some sense to you. I’m not sure that it does to me, but maybe I’ll do better next time. I love you, Wesley.
WESLEY: Goodbye, Dad.

Family

Analysis

I have real affection for this episode even if I acknowledge now that it’s not as good as it should be. I love the bittersweetness of it all, and how well it demonstrates that family means you can still love someone you don’t really like all that much.

I have to admit I am still drawn much more to Worf’s story than to Picard’s. Picard’s brother just strikes me as an unrepentant jerk, and I don’t really care to see them reconciled. I’m not sure either of them will ever get anything out of a relationship at this point, aside from some psychic relief over ancient grudges. They don’t even seem related–not two sides of the same coin, but totally different coins minted from wildly different materials. Their scenes are painful to me not because of the tension, but because there does not seem to be–even at the end!–any real tenderness between them, ever. Robert has always represented, in my mind, the thing that Jean-Luc cannot be. He goes home to see who he is not. And that’s fine, but that story isn’t as powerful when the alternative is so unappealing and distasteful. I see the alternative life Picard could lead as being a family man, with a fixed home and a legacy both past (the vineyards) and future (the son). But Robert is such a dick, who would want HIS curmudgeonly life??

I think I could forgive it, but the episode is so heavy and dark that I think you need to have a much stronger family story to carry Jean-Luc through. He uses the language of a rape victim to describe his experience of absolute powerlessness, and the violation of his body being used for something repulsive and violent. I applaud the show for having the guts to tackle something like that, but I think they did a real disservice to the idea by having Picard blurt it out after a man-fight and then never mention it again because no one will ever understand. That ending is too cold and too cruel for me. The narrative winds up being about whether Picard can return to his old life, not about whether he can ever embrace himself again. The concepts are related, but not identical. He has to learn to forgive himself if he wants to heal and be whole again, and I just don’t see that when he packs his bags to return to the ship. The story doesn’t come full circle or feel complete to me.

On the other hand, I adore Worf’s parents. Their relationship with Worf feels very real to me in a way that the two Picards’ relationship doesn’t. The Rozhenkos never for a moment treat Worf as anything other than their full son, highlighting the tragedy of Worf not feeling the same way about them (though perhaps he comes around at the end). I love how they brim with pride and joy for him, and I think it makes a great counterpoint to the dishonor of his “real” Klingon family, who do not know the good man that he is and never will. I also love their progressive parenting, all about letting Worf do whatever he needed to do to test the balance of his competing identities, as opposed to Robert’s iron grip on René and complete unwillingness to let the boy define his own path (until Marie seems to jump in at the end). This non-traditional family is more cohesive and more loving than the old world, daddy-knows-best family we see with Picard. My only regret is that these lovely people get saddled with stupid Alexander.

Lastly, though like most of us I never much liked Wesley, I find the Jack Crusher hologram to be incredibly moving. I remember being Wesley’s age and struggling to imagine my parents as individuals before I was born. In a way, it seemed incomprehensible that they were ever people with hopes, dreams, and obligations other than the ones they had for me. It breaks my heart to see Jack recognize that moment–that he will forever be changed by this experience, and he wants to memorialize the person he was not for himself, but for his child, so that maybe one day they can better understand each other. I’m sure I’m not the only Viewscreen-er with an absent father, so it’s doubly a gut-punch when Jack contemplates where he will be in twenty years, when we all know–Wesley, most of all–that it was a future that never came to pass.

But while thematically this episode resonates with me, when it comes down to it the episode is clunky, awkward, and uneven. Troi’s “intervention” in the very first scene, hovering and constant second-guessing of Picard’s decisions, serves no purpose (what is he supposed to do, hide in his quarters until the nightmares go away?) and seems inappropriate (who kisses their boss??). It’s not just her, though–all of the Robert/Jean-Luc dialogue is similarly clunky and unnatural. When Picard says “I wasn’t good enough!” he sounds like he came in second at the county science fair and I have to suppress an inappropriate giggle.

And for the hundredth time, men solve problems with man-fighting. It fixes emotions! Oh sigh.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: I like the loose-fitting men’s casualwear in France, but why does Marie have to wear these awful communion jumpers?

Best Line: SERGEY: Don’t call me “Sir”! I used to work for a living!

Trivia/Other Notes: Part of Jack Crusher’s hologram speech was edited for the final version. The deleted scene includes references to Jack’s assignment on the Stargazer, Wesley’s middle name (Robert), and several ancestors (a horse thief on Nimbus III–a ST:V reference, a Confederate, and someone who died at Station Salem-One).

Samantha Eggar, who plays Marie, was nominated for an Oscar for The Collector. She also appeared in Walk Don’t Run, Curtains, and the cult classic The Brood.

Worf’s parents, Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown, are well-known Yiddish theater actors. Bikel was nominated for an Oscar for The Defiant Ones and is the original Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He’s also played Trevye in Fiddler on the Roof over 2000 times–more than any other actor. Brown is the original Nancy in Oliver! and had the distinction of being one of the other acts on Ed Sullivan the night the Beatles debuted.


Previous episode: Season 4, Episode 1 – “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”

Next episode: Season 4, Episode 3 – “Brothers.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.