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

“The Child”
Written by Jaron Summers, Jon Povill, and Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rob Bowman

Season 2, Episode 1
Original air date: November 21, 1988
Star date: 42073.1

Mission summary

As a shuttlecraft from U.S.S. Repulse drops off Enterprise’s new chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy Katherine Pulaski, the recently promoted Chief Engineer La Forge shows off his elaborate new containment module to Captain Picard and Commander Riker, who is showing off his new beard. The modules have been designed with completely independent environments, the better to transport dangerous specimens of a plasma plague from ’aucdet IX to a science station for research.

Meanwhile, Commander Data detects a “random energy transference”—a small light that enters the ship through its aft hull and flits through corridors and crew quarters until it darts under Counselor Troi’s blanket and enters her body, uh, aft. Troi wakes up all hot and bothered.

Captain Picard hunts down Dr. Pulaski in Ten Forward, miffed that she’s gone straight to a bar instead of reporting in. He finds his new doctor there with her first patient: Troi. He immediately calls a meeting with senior staff to share the counselor’s happy news: She’s pregnant! “She is going to have a baby,” Picard clarifies. And the alien fetus is growing rather quickly—she’ll give birth in less than two days. Worf supports abortion while Data defends the baby as a new life form to study, but Riker is more concerned with who or what the father is. It seems the baby breeding inside Troi is based only on her DNA: a half-human half-Betazoid, like her. Troi decides she’s going to keep it.

As Troi’s pregnancy continues at warp speed, the ship arrives at ’audet IX and beams up Hester Dealt, a medical trustee in charge of the plasma plague transfer who insists on checking La Forge’s modules thoroughly until he’s certain they’re safe. Data stays by Troi’s side as Dr. Pulaski delivers the baby, Ian Andrew Troi, with security standing by to watch the miracle of life in case it’s dangerous, and Riker watching because he’s creepy and wistful. Troi has the easiest delivery ever—and shortly after giving birth, it’s as if she’s never carried a child at all! Meanwhile, little Ian already appears to be a talking four-year-old boy at only a day old. This precocious kid could give resident boy genius Wesley Crusher a run for his credits. He politely greets Picard: “Hello. Please don’t worry. Everything is okay.” The captain looks far from reassured by this freakish display.

Gratuitous puppies!!!

Now eight years old, Ian is playing with a litter of puppies and some other kids, when Troi picks him up from day care. “He wants to touch and feel everything,” Miss Gladstone says, with a weird smile. Right. A little while later, the boy demonstrates this by intentionally burning his finger in a bowl of hot soup—just for the experience. Picard gently questions him about his intentions, but Ian is not yet ready to reveal his reason for being there.

Chief O’Brien!!!

The transporter chief beams up the plasma plague samples to La Forge’s containment modules, which are supposed to store them in stasis and prevent them from growing. Apparently these specimens are so deadly, if one of the mildest strains gets loose on the ship, it will kill everyone within a few hours. So they’ve evacuated non-essential personnel to the saucer section… just in case. Which seems fortunate, since one of the samples starts growing in response to the unexplained presence of rare Eichner radiation onboard. Gosh, what could be causing that?

Ian knows the jig is up. He voluntarily ends his corporeal life and dies in Troi’s arms. The lifeless body transforms back into a ball of light, delivers some telepathic exposition to his mom (“Sorry for violating you, I just wanted to see what it was like to be human!”), and zips off to impregnate some other unsuspecting person out of curiosity or boredom. As soon as the light leaves the ship, the growing plague sample settles down and all is well, except for the grieving Troi.

With everything back to normal and all of the crew determined never to mention this bizarre event ever again, they drop off the plasma plague samples and Dr. Dealt, who wavers between optimism and negativity at their prospects of finding a cure. La Forge is just worried that they went through all of this for nothing, as well he should be.

Bolstered by advice from Guinan (the wise and witty bartender in Ten Forward), Wesley requests permission to remain onboard Enterprise instead of returning to Earth to live with his mother, the new head of Starfleet Medical. Picard contains his overwhelming enthusiasm and pretends to mull it over on the Bridge.

PICARD: Ensign Crusher has requested to remain on the Enterprise.
RIKER: I’m not surprised. How did you respond?
PICARD: I haven’t as yet, Number One. I didn’t think it was my responsibility alone. His remaining will create difficulties for us all.
RIKER: Yes, indeed. With his mother gone, who will see to his studies?
PICARD: Exactly. Of course, that duty will fall to Commander Data.
RIKER: And who will tuck him in at night?
WESLEY: Come on, Commander.
WORF: I will accept that responsibility.
TROI: Well, we know he’ll get his sleep.
PICARD: That takes care of the practical, but there’s more to growing up than that. It’s my belief, Number One, that you’re best qualified to supervise that. Are you willing to serve?
RIKER: Difficult decision. Yes, I can do that.
PICARD: Well, Mr. Crusher, communicate with your mother at Starfleet Medical headquarters. Give her my regards, and tell her you have my permission to remain on the Enterprise, but I will abide by her wishes.
WESLEY: Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I know she’ll agree.

At the navigation station, Acting Ensign Crusher lays in a course for Morgana Quadrant and they’re off! The prepubescent human adventure continues…


At first blush, I was kind of surprised that this episode wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered. Perhaps following so closely on the heels of the lackluster first season, it simply improved in comparison. Although the way the A and B plots intersected was just as contrived as ever, the pacing of the episode feels tighter and the writing is decent with less clunky exposition, though some of that could be attributed to the fact that this was adapted from a preexisting script in the wake of the infamous writers strike.

I also think the direction and cinematography was a step up from most of what we’ve seen before, with some interesting shots and camera angles and movements—both on set and outside the ship—which made the episode feel more dynamic and interesting. I quite liked the choice of muffling the discussion about the baby while focusing close on Troi and a heartbeat as she makes the decision to keep it. This also, perhaps more practically, distracted from the fact that Worf is arguing for terminating the pregnancy, in case that horribly offended some viewers. I appreciated that they had this discussion, though Picard handled the situation remarkably poorly—and I was glad to see that it ultimately fell to what Troi wanted to do, though it’s strange that she never appears to resent this alien violation of her body. Her emotional responses to the whole situation feels off, even for an alien encounter that doesn’t proceed by the books.

There’s also more for viewers to enjoy outside of the ongoing story, thank goodness. The sets have been tweaked since the previous season and there have been numerous promotions and changes: Worf, La Forge, and O’Brien now sport their familiar gold uniforms for operations, and Worf has a nicer baldric and overall appearance. The biggest changes and additions (other than Riker’s facial hair) are of course the introduction of Ten Forward, Guinan, and Dr. Pulaski.

I don’t know if we’re meant to assume that Ten Forward and Guinan have always been on board Enterprise, but characters certainly act like they’ve known her for a while. Whoopi Goldberg is a remarkable addition to the cast, easily the best actor on the show alongside Patrick Stewart; no wonder they are so often paired with each other. I love the new dynamic she provides, as someone who can advise everyone—even the captain. Her scenes with Wesley are my favorites of the entire episode, with some of the best writing.

GUINAN: What do you see when you look out there?
WESLEY: The Lorenze cluster, and there Arneb and there Epsilon Indi.
GUINAN: That’s not what I mean. I mean, when you look there, don’t you see your future?
WESLEY: It’ll still be there.
GUINAN: How about a cup of nectar direct from Prometheus?
WESLEY: No, nothing. That’s the third time you’ve asked me.
GUINAN: It’s what I’m expected to do. Don’t you always do what’s expected?
WESLEY: I try.
GUINAN: Even if it’s not what you really want?
WESLEY: Sometimes. Sometimes it’s more important to consider others before yourself.
GUINAN: Yes. But sometimes the game is to know when to consider yourself before others. Give yourself permission to be selfish.

First of all, this is not at all the advice most people would expect, but it’s exactly what Wes needs to hear. (What the writers needed to keep him on the show, anyway.) But her whole manner is refreshing and strangely comforting. I also wonder, in a way, if she’s teasing some knowledge about Wesley’s fate as a Traveler—beyond his desire to be on a starship. That’s probably reading way too much into it, but I sure hope Picard’s thinking about what he was told of Wesley’s potential. (I also like that we see the ship enter warp via the windows in Ten Forward. Very cool!)

I never really disliked Dr. Pulaski, but that may also be because when I first saw the second season, I knew she was only temporary, and thus interesting as a change of pace. Admittedly, she is a bit too much like Dr. McCoy right off the bat, though her avoiding the transporter was pretty subtle in this episode. Her only fault to me is her apparent instant dislike for Data—and this time around, it seemed she was more amused and interested in him than anything. Friendly rivalry like Bones and Spock, obviously, but I didn’t mind it overly much. I was a little thrown off by how brusque and curmudgeonly Picard seems in this episode though, both to the doctor and Wesley. I suppose he misses Beverly, but still, he can’t even remember Pulaski’s name?

As for the actual plot… Well, I could barely figure out what was going on with those plague samples, which seemed like some kind of an afterthought and really had no major impact on anything. Their mission was unclear from the start, and really, wouldn’t it be better to bring scientists to the planet to study the disease rather than risk contaminating other ships and planets, a plan which requires someone to invent an entirely new storage unit for this specific purpose in a hurry? It would have been more interesting to focus on Ian a bit more. I can almost figure out a way of linking the two storylines—something handwavey about accelerated growth and new life, maybe Ian becoming infected and somehow creating a cure, I don’t know—but there isn’t enough there.

I did, however, like that there’s a little subplot going with Data and his own fascination with life and being human. Having him there with Troi was a lovely touch, and it seems they could have explored that theme more through this alien being.

Overall, though it’s still a bit rough, the show seems more assured than it did at the end of the previous season, more closely resembling what it will be later. The cast has truly settled into their roles: Marina Sirtis has reined in her overacting a little and Wil Wheaton brings more maturity and gravitas to Wesley. At first I resented Picard and Riker discussing Wesley on the Bridge as if he weren’t there, which seemed kind of insulting, like what you would do to a kid, but then I realized it was friendly ribbing—showing he was really part of the crew now. It was funny too, especially Worf’s line about tucking him in at night. Because of nice little character moments like this throughout, I left this episode feeling much more positive about it and the future of the show.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: What are things coming to when we can’t even pick on our old standbys, Wesley and Troi, for fashion disasters? Their new regular uniforms don’t look half bad, a major improvement over their previous outfits. Even Troi’s maternity clothes aren’t worth mocking. I thought about calling out Dr. Dealt’s isolation suit, which probably doesn’t work as well with the face mask down, but fortunately we can always count on the children to showcase truly poor costume decisions. Ian’s shirt isn’t the worst thing to assault our eyeballs, but it isn’t good either, especially with that hair. He gets his fashion sense from his mother, naturally.

Best Line: DATA: My name. It is pronounced Data.
DATA: You called me Da(h)ta.
PULASKI: What’s the difference?
DATA: One is my name. The other is not.

Trivia/Other Notes: This episode was a rewrite of Summers and Povill’s unproduced script “The Child” for Star Trek Phase II, recyled because of the Screen Writers’ Guild strike that delayed production on season 2. In the original draft, it is Ilia who is impregnated, and her child helps save the ship. Maurice Hurley maintains that he borrowed the story but never read the script. I call shenanigans. Povill recently adapted the script again for the fan-produced Star Trek Phase II.

Jonathan Frakes grew his beard during the filming hiatus. Supposedly, Gene Roddenberry polled the audience at a convention he and Frakes attended and they were all in favor of keeping the facial hair, as were the producers.

Obviously, Gates McFadden did not return this season. New actors Diana Muldaur (Pulaski) and Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) receive only guest star credit on the show, at their request. Goldberg specifically asked for a part on the show through her friend LeVar Burton (La Forge).

Wesley gets his own commbadge along with his grey acting ensign’s uniform, but his commbadge is silver instead of the standard silver and gold. It also switches from scene to scene.

Chief O’Brien figures out that they’ve been using the transporters wrong all this time, and begins utilizing the glowing stripes on the transporter console, swiping his hand over them to energize the beam a la the sliding controls on the original series.

Ten Forward makes its first appearance in the series, located on deck 10, Forward Station 1.

Director Rob Bowman requested and received permission to use additional cameras and equipment for this episode.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 26 – “The Neutral Zone.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 2 – “Where Silence Has Lease.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.