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

thebonding243“The Bonding”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Season 3, Episode 5
Original air date: October 23, 1989
Star date: 43198.7

Mission summary

An Enterprise away team is rummaging through the remnants of yet another alien civilization that destroyed itself, the Koinonians, when it stumbles across a booby trap that explodes and instantly kills Lt. Marla Aster, the ship’s archaeologist. The sudden, violent death is all the more tragic because she leaves behind a 12-year-old son, Jeremy.

Aster’s death triggers unresolved issues for several of the crew. Wesley Crusher is reminded of that time his dad died on a mission and Captain Picard broke the news to him. Worf kicks into extra-Klingon-mode, upset over losing someone under his command and making Jeremy an orphan, just like he was. Picard once again questions the wisdom of allowing families on a starship–children who may understand their parents’ duty but never signed up to be placed in jeopardy themselves. Typically, Data questions human behavior: Whether knowing someone “well” places more value on their death than someone they didn’t know.

Captain Picard tells Jeremy his mother won’t be coming home, and the boy takes it pretty well actually. However, Counselor Troi is concerned that he’s taking it too well and not allowing himself to process his emotions the way textbooks in her psychology classes said he should. Eager to justify her existence on Enterprise, she encourages Worf to reach out to him and asks Wesley to induct him into Starfleet’s dead parents club.

Jeremy’s coping just fine, watching home movies on his iPad, when his mother suddenly appears in their quarters. He’s a bit skeptical because she’s supposed to be dead, but hey, mistakes happen, especially in Starfleet. He starts to come around, while everyone else on the ship responds to Troi’s assertion that an alien presence has just come on board.

Aster brings Jeremy to the transporter room to beam down to the planet with him, which causes Chief O’Brien a moment of confusion. Worf arrives in time to stop them–he snatches Jeremy away from her and she vanishes. But she’s persistent: When Troi returns him to the Asters’ quarters, they’ve been converted into his old home on Earth, complete with creepy art on the walls and their cat, Patches. Aster insists she’s just trying to help the boy, to give him what he needs.

Data and La Forge discover that an alien power source on the planet is drawing energy directly from the ship to create the illusion, so they fiddle with the shield and cut off the signal. Aster and Jeremy’s house disappears, but the alien zaps the ship and tries to assume control of Transporter Room 3.

Picard goes to talk to Jeremy himself, and he brings in Wesley and Worf so they can all have a group therapy session together. Wesley admits that he was very angry at Picard because he survived when his dad didn’t, and Troi tells Jeremy he must also be angry at Worf. Jeremy plays along. The alien Aster explains that the planet below was home to both the Koinonians and incorporeal beings like herself, who are cleaning up the mess they thoughtlessly left when they all died off. She wants to atone for their technology killing the real Aster.

PICARD: I appreciate your motives, but his mother is dead. He must learn to live with that.
ASTER: I will be every bit his mother.
PICARD: But not his mother.
ASTER: Your philosophy is curious, Captain. What is so noble about sorrow? I can provide him an existence where he will feel no pain, no anguish.
PICARD: It is at the heart of our nature to feel pain and joy. It is an essential part of what makes us what we are.
ASTER: He is alone now in your world. A child, alone. How can you know he won’t be happier with me?
PICARD: For a brief moment in time, he surely would be. Any of us in his place would be.
TROI: What would Jeremy do for friends in your world?
ASTER: He will have any friends he needs.
TROI: And will you provide for his education, his health, his growth, a career, a wife?
PICARD: Yes, it’s quite an undertaking you’re proposing, isn’t it?
ASTER: It is our duty to make him happy again.
PICARD: Do you honestly believe he would be happy in this total fiction which you wish to create? What reason would he have to live? What you’re offering him is a memory, something to cherish, not to live in. It is part of our life cycle that we accept the death of those we love. Jeremy must come to terms with his grief. He must not cover it or hide away from it. You see, we are mortal. Our time in this universe is finite. That is one of the truths that all human must learn.

The alien realizes maybe she hasn’t thought this through, and when Worf offers to bond with Jeremy to make them brothers–so he is never alone again–she figures he’ll be all right and takes off again, this time for good. Worf and Jeremy complete the ceremony and the boy gets a neat little Klingon sash.

thebonding255

Analysis

I think I understand what Ron Moore was going for here, and I’m thrilled at the attempt to highlight the tragic consequences of being in Starfleet and having a family–even if the execution is somewhat wanting. At first it seems to be reversing the A and B plots, with Jeremy’s story taking precedence over the mysteries on the planet, until the two plots merge. Once the alien appears, the episode takes on a sinister quality and they try to ramp up the stakes, but it’s never quite as engaging or tense as I think it was meant to be. Mostly, it feels overwrought and plodding to me, and I feel that other episodes and films have dealt with the same issues in a more compelling way in shorter amounts of time.

In this instance, I wonder if they might have done better to play it straight, without the alien mother trying to help Jeremy, especially considering how it feels sort of slapped on. So this planet had corporeal and incorporeal beings living alongside each other–that’s kind of interesting. But really it’s just some low-rent Talosians who understand enough about humans to create people and things from their minds, but not enough to realize they’re totally out of line. She tries to trick Jeremy, tries to kidnap him for his own good, and then just sits back at the end and watches their group therapy play out before disappearing again.

It’s interesting that Data asks, “Does the question of familiarity have some bearing on death?” Because I think this episode ultimately doesn’t work because we’ve never seen Aster or Jeremy before. We’re being asked to care about some random crewmember’s random death and the effect on her son–who in turn is meant to represent what every child must go through when faced with the death of a parent. (On the other hand, in all likelihood, the senior crew didn’t even know who Aster was until she died, which is another angle they could have explored.)

The thing that bugs me most about the episode is that Deanna Troi maintains that there is only one way to deal with a tragedy like this, that Jeremy has to follow some scripted stages of grief, that his experience is identical to what Wesley Crusher went through. But Dr. Crusher points out his situation was different, because he still had a mother to help him through it. And we’ve also learned that Jack Crusher’s death was an accident resulting from a command decision Picard made. Aster died senselessly on a routine away mission, but what if she had saved someone’s life, or the mission had been more important? People are just too complicated to assume they will all handle tragedy in the same way.

It was nice to see more of what Troi must have to do on the ship, even if I still think she’s terrible at her job, as well as see how everyone processes death and their duties. I just view the effort as weak, and it doesn’t help that we’ll never see or hear from Jeremy, Son of Mogh, again.

Random thought: Does Enterprise only have one archaeologist serving at a time?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

vestsThread Alert: Aster’s outfit gets all my ridicule, but I’m more shocked that Jeremy’s outfit wasn’t that bad, considering he’s a Starfleet kid and all. In fact, his costume reminded me a lot of Captain Sisko’s vest in the style of the First Contact grey uniforms. What do you think?

Best Line: WESLEY: How do you get used to it? Telling them?
RIKER: You hope you never do.

Trivia/Other Notes: This marks Ron Moore’s first script for TNG, which was rescued from the slush pile and rewritten by Michael Piller and Melinda Snodgrass. In Moore’s original story, Jeremy recreates his dead mother on the holodeck. Apparently they didn’t want to do another holodeck story, and Roddenberry insisted that kids in the 24th century would handle death better because, you know, the future.

A scene cut from the episode had Deanna Troi working out her own daddy issues to help Jeremy.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 4 – “Who Watches the Watchers.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 6 – “Booby Trap.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.