Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Family”

“Family”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau
Season 4, Episode 2
Production episode 40274-178
Original air date: October 1, 1990
Stardate: 44012.3

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is undergoing repairs at McKinley Station. Worf’s human parents are on the visitor’s list, to the security chief’s surprise and consternation, and Picard is taking a trip to his home village — the first time he’s been back at the house where he grew up in twenty years.

Sergey and Helena Rozhenko beam on board — late, to Worf’s loudly expressed and long-suffering annoyance — and they immediately start fussing over him. Sergey thinks he’s put on weight (perhaps a commentary on the new uniforms?) and also bonds with O’Brien, as Sergey is a retired chief petty officer. Helena notices that he’s grown his hair. Sergey also wants to see the ship, and when Worf tries to caution him that a full tour may not be possible, Sergey pushes until Helena slaps him down.

Picard arrives in LaBarre, where he’s met by a young boy who says, “You’re my nephew, Jean-Luc!” Picard wryly observes that the boy, René, must be his uncle. René escorts Picard to the house, where he finally meets his brother Robert’s wife, Marie. Picard, who is very obviously melancholy and a bit choked with nostalgia, is overwhelmed by how little the house has changed.

He goes out to the vineyard that has been the family business for many generations to see his older brother Robert. The reunion is spectacularly awkward, and Robert’s disdain for his younger sibling is palpable.

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Back on the Enterprise, Crusher receives a container that she’d left in storage of her late husband’s Jack’s things. She rediscovers a recording Jack had made for Wes when he was an infant — intended to be the first of many, he only did the one, and Crusher debates whether or not to show it to Wes, but ultimately decides to give it to him.

Elsewhere, Worf brings Sergey and Helena to engineering, and they tell La Forge embarrassing stories from Worf’s youth. Worf takes Helena off to the arboretum leaving La Forge to show Sergey — who was a warp-field specialist on the Intrepid — the engine room. After Worf and Helena leave, Sergey grows serious, wanting to ask La Forge some questions about Worf.

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Back on the surface, the Picard family dinner is an awkward affair, despite the best efforts of Marie to broker peace between two brothers who don’t agree on much of anything. It comes out that Picard’s father was something of a Luddite, viewing advanced technology as something that is taking away from the core values of humanity — an attitude Robert inherited, and Jean-Luc, obviously, did not. Several arguments almost start about it before Marie defuses it.

The next day, Picard talks with his old friend Louis, who is a supervisor on the Atlantis Project, which is trying to raise the ocean floor, forming a new sub-continent. (Picard, in a moment of whimsy we’d never see on the Enterprise, but is to be expected with a childhood friend, jokes that the aspect of the project that confuses him the most is what a rotten swimmer Louis always was.) Louis tries to recruit Picard, as they are looking for a new project leader, and he’d be perfect for it.

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Back on the Enterprise in Ten-Forward, Worf comments that he wishes Sergey and Helena would be more reserved, and they apologize, saying that they’re just excited to be on board with him. Worf is called to duty, and Guinan introduces herself. She asks them why they never gave Worf prune juice, which he now can’t get enough of after Guinan introduced him to it. But when he was a boy, all he would eat was Klingon food. Helena boasts that she even learned how to make rokeg blood pie, though Sergey adds with a smile that they never quite learned how to eat it.

Sergey and Helena visit Worf in his quarters, and for the first time they talk about Worf’s discommendation from the Klingon Empire. Helena admits that they didn’t entirely understand it all, but Sergey firmly says that they didn’t have to. Worf, typically, insists he must bear the dishonor alone, but his parents decry that as a fallacy — he’s their son, and they’re proud of him and they love him.

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On the surface, Picard is drowning his sorrows in wine, and Robert starts provoking him, asking him pointed questions about what happened with the Borg, peppering it with insults. “I gather you were hurt — humiliated. I always thought you needed a little humiliation. Or was it humility? Either would do.” Picard leaves the house, and Robert goes after him, continuing to poke at him, complaining that Picard got all the glory and the accolades while breaking every one of their father’s rules, while Robert had to be the responsible one, and the one to look after Jean-Luc.

Picard finally hauls off and belts him. The fight starts out nasty, with the two of them falling into the vines and the mud, but quickly dissolves into ridiculousness, and the brothers are laughing and throwing mud at each other before too long. Picard finally opens up to Robert, telling him how helpless he was as the Borg forced him to kill and destroy, and he wasn’t strong enough to stop them.

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The brothers reach an understanding, as Picard realizes that he came back to LaBarre so that Robert could look after him one more time. They return home and clean up a bit, sharing some wine while singing “Auprès de ma Blonde,” when Marie walks in. Her outrage at the muddy floor modulates to laughter at the brothers’ rather pathetic attempts to explain what happened. (“Well, er, uhm, he fell down and then I fell down and then we both fell down…”) Picard, however, has realized that his place is on the Enterprise, and he must return. If he ever forgets that again, he now knows where to go.

Worf escorts Sergey and Helena to the transporter room — Worf requesting that she send him one of her homemade rokeg blood pies — just as Picard beams back. Their meeting is brief and hilarious.

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Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi has a conversation with Picard at the beginning of the episode that has overtones of a counselor-patient talk, but is far more two close friends bantering. (Picard mutters, “I hate it when you do that,” when she pulls a standard psychological question-with-a-question ploy.) She supports the captain’s decision to visit home, but tries (with some success) to get him to examine the choice. She also prophetically cautions that, just because the nightmares have stopped, he’s not fully recovered.

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Troi also says that she and Riker are talking about visiting Angel Falls in Venezuela for shore leave. (And Crusher was absolutely right, it’s gorgeous there. Your humble rewatcher visited the falls the summer before this episode aired, and it was amazing.)

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf doesn’t want Sergey and Helena on board at first, and he bitches about them at great length to O’Brien before they beam up. But the moment they materialize, Worf’s joy in palpable. He is obviously embarrassed by his parents’ excessiveness, but it’s tempered by fierce love for them. The scene in his quarters, where he admits that he didn’t want them to come at first, but is glad they’re there, and when they remind him that they love him, is just touching as all heck.

The Boy!?: Wes gets to see what his father looked like when Wes himself was ten weeks old, as Jack Crusher recorded a holographic message that Wes watches on the holodeck. It’s a nice quiet family moment in an episode that has its share of bombast.

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Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan talks to Sergey and Helena, showing them what a good job they did with Worf, refusing to accept their modest insistence that they did nothing special. They let Worf find his own path, and encouraged him as best they could — a lot of parents, Guinan says, could learn from their example.

I Believe I Said That: “I have all the specs and diagrams!”

Sergey Rozhenko on no less than three occasions.

Welcome Aboard: This episode may have the most impressive collection of guest stars of any episode of Star Trek. First off, you’ve got solid performances by Doug Wert as the image of Jack Crusher — he actually looks like he could be related to Wil Wheaton — and Dennis Creaghan, who has an easy banter with Sir Patrick Stewart in his two scenes as Louis. David Tristan Birkin does such a good job as René that he’ll be brought back to play Jean-Luc Picard as a child in “Rascals” in the sixth season.

But one of the many reasons why this episode shines is in the letter-perfect casting of Picard’s brother and sister-in-law and of Worf’s parents.

As Robert, Jeremy Kemp does an amazing job of radiating powerful emotion with what is a fairly stony face, modulating from Robert’s utter contempt for Jean-Luc to his deep affection for his wife to his sage advice while covered in mud at the end. Samantha Eggar is simply radiant as Marie, trying desperately to keep the peace between the contentious brothers and even occasionally succeeding.

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And Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown are magnificently delightful as the Rozhenkos. I was married to a Russian Jewish woman during my twenties (this episode first aired about two months before we got engaged, in fact), and those two reminded me so much of my in-laws. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, I love my ex-in-laws. In particular, Bikel’s Sergey was almost a perfect melding of my ex’s father and grandfather. Their chemistry was also superb, acting pretty much exactly like an old married couple. Best of all, despite getting ample opportunities to do so, they never bled over into parody, especially as they leavened the performance with genuine emotion.

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Trivial Matters: This episode, obviously, picks up where “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” left off, a rare instance of TNG diverting from the episodic structure that was its hallmark by doing a story that deals with the aftermath of a major event. In particular, Michael Piller felt that just having Picard be all better again the following week defied credulity just a bit.

Rick Berman originally agreed to do this follow-up only if a science fiction plot could be inserted, but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t going to work. However, one of the plots that was considered was expanded out into the episode “Remember Me.”

This is the first episode of TNG not to have a single scene on the bridge. (“Shades of Gray” came close, as all the new scenes were either in sickbay, the transporter room, or on the planet, but there were bridge scenes in the clips.)

Much is revealed about Worf’s and Picard’s families. We are introduced to the Picard family business of winemaking, one that Picard rejected in favor of a Starfleet career, and are told of his old-fashioned father and meet his similarly old-fashioned older brother. Meantime, we meet the human parents whom we were told raised Worf back in “Heart of Glory,” and learn a bit about his sometimes-difficult upbringing.

The Worf subplot also serves as a sequel of sorts to “Sins of the Father,” as Worf’s discommendation is a cloud that hangs over Sergey and Helena’s visit to the ship before they finally address it in Worf’s quarters.

Where “Heart of Glory” established that Worf was raised by someone in Starfleet who rescued him from Khitomer, and “Sins of the Father” established that the Intrepid was the first ship on the scene at Khitomer, this episode puts it all together, as Sergey introduces himself as a former chief petty officer on the Intrepid.

Heart of Glory” also mentioned that the Rozhenkos had another child who was born to them, but he’s not mentioned in this episode. We’ll meet him in “Homeward.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch:Your humble rewatcher showed Sergey’s meeting Worf following the Khitomer massacre and his and Helena’s decision to adopt him in the Lost Era novel The Art of the Impossible.

At the beginning of the episode, Riker is seen to be a commander again, and is acting like a first officer, indicating that he has accepted a demotion following his field commission to captain in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”

The holographic image of Jack Crusher wears a version of the Starfleet uniform that resembles those that debuted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but without the turtleneck and with a combadge rather than a simple insignia, similar to those worn by the Enterprise-C crew in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

When talking with Louis about the Atlantis Project, Picard mentions the solution to the tectonic stresses on Drema IV that they came up with in “Pen Pals.”

The bottle of Château Picard that Robert gives Jean-Luc at the end of the episode will be opened and shared with Chancellor Durken in the episode “First Contact.”

Picard will look at pictures of Robert and René in Star Trek Generations, but those images will be of different actors.

This is the only episode of the series that Data does not appear in. (Brent Spiner will make up for this next episode.) We also finally learn O’Brien’s full name, as he introduces himself as Miles Edward O’Brien to Sergey, and he’s established as being enlisted rather than an officer (despite having two pips on his uniform; this would be changed in the sixth season to another symbol, which he would keep when he moved over to Deep Space Nine).

Make it So: “Don’t call me ‘sir,’ I used to work for a living!” Something you all should know about me as both a writer and a consumer of fiction: I’m far more interested in the “what happened after that?” story. When there’s been a crisis, I want to know how people deal with it and recover from it and put themselves back together. That’s why, after the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Wildfire — in which half the crew of the U.S.S. da Vinci was killed, including one of the main characters — the story I wanted to write was Breakdowns, which dealt with the characters’ recovery. (Indeed, I often called it the “Family” to Wildfire‘s “Best of Both Worlds.”) It’s also why I wrote A Singular Destiny after the devastation of the Destiny trilogy.

And it’s why I think this is an absolute high point of TNG and one of the best episodes they ever did. This episode reminds us that these are people and that they have lives — and that the actions they take do have consequences. Picard was assimilated by the Borg and forced to lead a massacre. Worf was exiled from his own people as a pariah and traitor. These aren’t things that you just recover from in time for your next adventure.

For one week, we get to see the characters that we’ve come to know and enjoy for three years actually be people. Picard returns to the life he abandoned. Worf visits with his parents. Wes gets to learn a bit more about the father he never really knew. Riker and Troi plan a vacation to Venezuela. La Forge gets to hear embarrassing stories about a crewmate’s childhood. Heck, we even learn a bit about O’Brien — not just his name and full rank, but also that his father’s a lecherous old bastard.

On top of that, the acting is simply phenomenal. Michael Dorn simply beams every time he’s with Bikel and Brown, Worf’s love shining through the “Klingon glacier” façade he always wears. Wil Wheaton does a nice job playing both the joy and regret Wes feels upon seeing the message from his father. Sir Patrick Stewart is simply amazing (again), so obviously haunted by his experiences, and then having a desperately needed emotional catharsis, made no less powerful by having the actor delivering it covered head to toe in mud. (I have no idea if this was deliberate, but while the mud covers most of his head, the parts of his flesh that can be seen are all the parts that were replaced by Borg implants.)

It is a testament to the strength of the characters and of the actors that an episode like this could be done at all without a science fiction plot grafted onto it as originally required, and it’s a testament to scripter Ronald D. Moore, who made the episode work and cemented his place as one of the top writers of the franchise.

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Warp factor rating: 10


Keith R.A. DeCandido is amused that both times he wrote an “aftermath” story — both Breakdowns and A Singular Destiny — it was to deal with a mess left by a story by his dear friend David Mack.

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