Feb 28 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Suddenly Human”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human“Suddenly Human”
Written by Ralph Phillips and John Whelpley & Jeri Taylor
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
Season 4, Episode 4
Production episode 40274-176
Original air date: October 15, 1990
Stardate: 44143.7

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Talarian observation craft. Data points out that the Talarians have used their observation craft as bait in the past — rescue teams have beamed over and then set off booby traps. Another Talarian ship is en route, but it’s hours away. Despite the risk, Picard sends a team over. They find four Talarian teenagers — and one human teenager. All the children, including the human, are in uniforms, and Riker figures it to be a training ship.

The kids are all injured with radiation burns, and Crusher beams them back to the ship. Jono is the human kid, and he’s the only one who isn’t suffering radiation burns. However, Jono has completely assimilated into Talarian culture — he considers himself one of them, and demands that he and his four brothers be returned to Captain Endar immediately. At one point, all five emit a high-pitched wail, which Jono later describes as the B’Nar — the mourning. When Worf escorts him to quarters, he lets loose with the wail again, until he is reunited with his brothers (who are still in treatment in sickbay). Crusher is also concerned because she finds many bones that were broken, and remnants of a concussion.

Jono, it turns out, is Jeremiah Rossa, the grandson of Admiral Connaught Rossa. His parents were killed in a Talarian attack on the Galen IV colony. It was believed that no one survived, but Jeremiah was apparently taken in by the Talarians when he was four.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

The only person Jono responds to is Picard. The Talarians are a patriarchal, authority-driven culture, and Troi tells Picard that he is the only person who can get through to him. It has to be a male — Talarian culture precludes Jono from listening to women (Jono at one point expresses confusion when Worf takes orders from Crusher) — and it has to be the person in highest authority on the ship.

Jono informs Picard that he usually stays with his captain, which Picard very reluctantly agrees to. Jono makes a hammock out of his bedsheets because the comfy bed hurts his back. Picard shows him images of his parents, which prompts memories of the attack on Galen IV that he has apparently repressed.

The Talarian warship Q’Maire arrives. Captain Endar identifies Jono as his son. Picard deems this “unacceptable,” but to avoid conflict, he invites Endar on board. Endar explains that he found a four-year-old boy on Galen IV. Having lost his own son to the Federation, Talarian culture allows him to claim the child of a slain enemy in return. Jono’s injuries were all sustained in accidents and horseplay, not from abuse.

Picard reluctantly agrees to let Endar see Jono. They immediately touch foreheads, a sign of affection among Talarians. When Endar asks Jono what he wants, he says he wants to go home with Endar, though he does hesitate. Endar goes back to the Q’Maire, leaving it to Picard to decide what to do with Jono — and to take the consequences of the wrong decision.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

The Enterprise receives a recorded message from Admiral Rossa for Jono. This only serves to confuse and frustrate Jono further, especially when he realizes that his grandmother, a female, outranks Picard. Picard takes him to play handball to blow off steam, and he starts to remember what happened on Galen IV. It only makes things worse, because Jono was strong before he remembered these things.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

In the middle of the night, Jono, conflicted between his Talarian upbringing and his awakening human memories and feelings, stabs Picard.

Two more Talarian ships show up, and Endar demands Jono be returned to him. Riker tells Endar that that isn’t possible because Jono’s in custody for trying to murder the captain. Endar points out that if Jono’d been returned when he asked, this would not have happened.

Jono admits to stabbing Picard and now awaits being put to death, as is proper. It’s the Talarian equivalent of sucide-by-cop, but he doesn’t realize that Starfleet doesn’t kill people for stabbing a captain. Jono reveals that his growing happiness as a human was a betrayal of Endar, and he was suicidally ashamed.

Picard brings Jono to the bridge and tells Endar that he will return him, admitting that the only crime committed on the Enterprise wasn’t Jono’s when he stabbed Picard, but Picard’s when he tried so hard to convince Jono that biology mattered more than upbringing — or a father’s love.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

Talarian tradition is that they always wear gloves when around aliens so they don’t have to touch them. Before beaming back, Jono removes his gloves for the first time, and touches his forehead to Picard’s.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi presents a maddening dichotomy here. On the one hand, she’s the only one who is even remotely considerate of the fact that Jono is, in all the ways that matter, Talarian. On the other, she is the most vocal advocate for restoring him to his humanity by exposing him to as much of his human background as possible.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Jono and Worf have only one scene together, which is a lost opportunity in an episode filled with them. After all, Worf and Jono were in similar situations, but their responses to it were 180 degrees apart. Though raised by humans, Worf did not assimilate, remaining true to his biological heritage. Nowhere in the episode is this blindingly obvious parallel even mentioned. Worf would’ve been a much better person to act as Jono’s father figure than Picard precisely because he also was orphaned at a young age after an attack on the colony where he was living.

The Boy!?: Wes gives Jono his banana split, but Jono isn’t used to using spoons, and wields it like a dagger, which results in Wes being splurted in the face with ice cream, which is sixteen kinds of awesome.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

I Believe I Said That: “This no doubt is a variation on ‘pie in the face.’”

“Now do you see why it’s funny?”

“No, sir. But I will take your word for it. This is very amusing.”

Data and Riker after Jono accidentally splurts ice cream onto Wes’s face (which, I believe I mentioned, is sixteen kinds of awesome).

Welcome Aboard: Chad Allen does a very nice job as Jono, shortly before his career-making turn on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Sherman Howard, who at the time was playing Lex Luthor on Superboy, nicely combines menace and bombast with deep affection for his adopted son. Howard will return on Deep Space Nine as a Vulcan and Voyager as a Klingon.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly Human

Trivial Matters: The Talarians were first mentioned in “Heart of Glory,” and are first seen here.

The uniform worn by Connor Rossa in the image of him and his family that Data digs up from a decade and a half earlier is the old unitard seen in the first two seasons.

Picard still has the d’k tahg he was given when he was Worf’s cha’DIch in “Sins of the Father.” He keeps it on his desk, which makes it real easy for Jono to grab it and stab Picard with it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch covers Suddenly HumanEndar shows up as the Talarian ambassador to the Federation in Destiny: Mere Mortals by David Mack, which takes place a good fourteen years after this episode.

This episode is the first script by Jeri Taylor, who was hired to be on staff following this. She would go on to become Michael Piller’s second in command in the writers room on TNG, and become the show-runner for Voyager in its early years.

This was the second episode of the season filmed, and as with “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II,” LeVar Burton’s one and only scene had to be inserted later on due to having to undergo emergency surgery.

The episode apparently prompted outraged letters from people who viewed it as condoning sending a child back to an abusive parent, which were obviously written by people who didn’t actually pay attention to the episode.

Make it So: “I’ve always lived with my captain.” What a dreadful episode. It takes the entire 42 minutes for Picard to come to a realization that he should’ve had after spending any time at all with Jono. The crew comes across as arrogant and humanocentric to a degree that is the complete opposite of how we would expect a Federation crew to behave. This is a culture that has been shown to embrace cultural relativism to an almost appalling degree (cf. “Who Watches the Watchers?”), yet when confronted with this kid, suddenly they abandon all that?

There is a conflict to be had here, but Taylor doesn’t do anything with any of it. Picard, Crusher, and Troi speak in absolutes, that they must keep the kid and reunite him with his grandparents who thought he was dead, with nary a thought given to the possibility of letting him stay in the culture he’s been raised in. The issue of abuse is a legitimate one, but not one that’s given nearly enough weight — nor is the fact that it’s an admiral’s grandson we’re talking about. Political pressure from a ranking officer might have made this more compelling.

Some good ideas are presented and then just pissed away. To make matters worse, the Talarians just aren’t that interesting — Spartans with bumpy foreheads. Snore.

In the previous season, Michael Piller hired Ronald D. Moore and René Echevarria on the strength of “The Bonding” and “The Offspring,” respectively, two great episodes. The third time was not the charm, as there’s little in this script (or, indeed, much in any of her subsequent ones) to indicate why Piller thought Jeri Taylor would be a good hire.

The scene in Ten-Forward with the banana split is genius, but the rest of the episode is a gigantic wasted opportunity.


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Lunacon 2012 in Rye Brook, New York in the middle of March and at I-Con 31 in Stony Book, New York at the end of March. You should come see him. You should also go to his web site, as it is from there that you can a) order his latest books, b) go to his blog, his Facebook, and his Twitter, and c) check out the various podcasts he’s involved with: Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.

Rancho Unicorno
1. Rancho Unicorno
I didn't watch BoBW when it first aired, so I didn't have the suspense of wondering if Picard survived. As a result, this may have been the most jaw-dropping episode of TNG that I ever saw. Looking back, however, I think that was a result of bad writing more than artful suspense.

The Picard and crew that I knew would probably have fought with the admiral about sending the boy back - defending his freedom to live as he would choose, etc. But, the majority of the episode had me convinced that they were supposed to keep him - that it would be an episode about the superiority of the Federation and its enlightenment over other backwards civilizations. When they let him go, I was shocked. I was sure the denounement would reveal that he attacked the captain to be forced to stay with humans and thus could leave without abandoning his "father." Far-fetched, but it seemed reasonable based on the episode to that point. Like I said, not art.
Rancho Unicorno
2. Rootboy
The thing about Worf is what bugs me the most about this one.
Chin Bawambi
3. bawambi
There are very few episodes I would rate worse than this one. I give a deuce out of ten. If you didn't show me the pictures I would have never remembered this awful episode even with the complete description. This is where Keith earns his pay. I recommend a bonus.
Chin Bawambi
4. bawambi
Ugh. Double-post. I'll take this opportunity to ask if anyone else is going to the Tor.com leap-year party tomorrow?
Jay Hash
I never really cared for this episode either, mainly because I saw no incentive to seeing an episode where the guest star acts like a brat the entire time, and then is contrite at the end. This episode is also what is preculding me from finishing the most recent Typon Pact novel, The Struggle Within (which is doubly shameful since it's written by Christopher, and I love his work). Maybe I'll be able to get past my prejudices for this episode, if anything so I can finish the novel, but the Talarians just aren't interesting to me.

I rank this as one of the worst "Picard deals with children (something he hates)" episodes. "Disaster" is of course the best, but this one is almost as bad as him finding out he has a "son" in the 7th season...
Rancho Unicorno
6. John R. Ellis
Man, do I wish I had re-watched Disaster instead of this thing.

Count me as one of the people shocked that apparently no one on either side even vaguely considered having our "Suddenly Human" boy ponder making a visit to his relatives without pressuring and obligating him to give up everything he was raised with.
Rancho Unicorno
7. Dyfta
Jeri Taylor is a somewhat divisive individual, but it seems to me that Keith is needlessly harsh about her in this post. Her Trek writing credits include, among others, Final Mission, The Wounded, Galaxy's Child, The Drumhead, Silicon Avatar, Unification Part I, The Outcast, Descent, The Maquis Parts I and II, Caretaker, Eye of the Needle, Resolutions, Real Life, Hunters, and One. Are those all classics? No, but none of them are without merit. So, despite the weaknessed of this particular episode, it's flat-out wrong to say, as Keith did, that there's little in "any of her subsequent " to justify her hiring.

This gets to a larger issue, though. There's a startling lack of nuance to Mr. DeCandido's TNG rewatch, especially when compared to some others such as the TOS rewatch that preceded it and the ongoing Trek rewatch from The AV Club. Instead of thoughtfully critiquing the episodes as they are, many of his reviews boil down to, "Well, it would have been a better episode if this very specific thing had happened, or, this character should have done this instead of that." This is just grousing and silly speculation, which really is not the job of a critic. KRAD, if you're reading this, you're a fine writer but you're a poor critic, and you need to read some of the greats for guidance.
Rancho Unicorno
8. Seryddwr
Forget the dodgy plotline - the worst thing about this episode by a country mile is the hideous 'pop music' Jono is listening to when Picard walks in. It's as though the composer for the episode suddenly thought, 'Well, this has to sound really awful, loud, and grimy... so, a bit of jazz noodling on the synths, then!' Urgh. At least Patrick Stewart actually sells the line that he can't hear a thing. Most of the time, when actors act as though they're in a noisy room, they hardly raise their voice above talking level. This time, Picard screams his line.
Keith DeCandido
9. krad
Dyfta: Sorry you're not liking my approach to the rewatch. FWIW, the Taylor-penned episodes you listed range, in my not-so-humble opinion from good-but-flawed to out-and-out awful. (Fair warning: Anybody who actually likes "The Drumhead" will probably want to skip my rewatch of that one.)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Rancho Unicorno
10. Christopher L. Bennett
I agree that the Starfleet characters should have been more open to the idea that a human by biology could be a Talarian by culture -- but what I like about this episode is that it's refreshing to see a TNG episode where the heroes don't behave as they should. "Suddenly Human" is cool because it exposes a blind spot in the Federation's idealism, one that's all too common in cultures that consider themselves to be especially enlightened and benevolent. I've always felt the reason the characters assumed Jono had been mistreated was because the Talarians were a warrior culture (and a very sexist one) and so the Federation folks unconsciously thought of themselves as superior to it and were predisposed to judge it harshly. True, they accept the Klingons, but they've had time to get to know them as allies and rise above that prejudice, whereas the Talarians, at the time of this episode, had historically been a hostile culture.

And let's face it, the key difference between Jono and Worf is that Khitomer wasn't attacked by the Intrepid. Jono/Jeremiah was adopted by the commander of the same military force that killed his parents -- in a real sense, the man responsible for their death -- so it's not that surprising that our heroes perceived him as an undeclared prisoner of war rather than an adopted refugee. And that colored their perception of the situation. They didn't know enough about Talarian customs to understand the real situation. True, they should've been more open to learning; I grant that the episode makes them a bit too parochial and slow to open their minds, and that's a flaw. But I appreciated that the show was willing to tell a story where the whole crisis arose from the good guys making a mistake. TNG too rarely allowed its protagonists to be wrong.
Rancho Unicorno
11. Brian Eberhardt
You nailed it. The banana split scene is the best part of the episode.

They touched on so many topics, but didn't go into them in depth, I think this was the biggest let down about the writing.
Rancho Unicorno
12. Sean O'Hara
I've always thought the Talarians were a roughdraft for the Cardassians -- harsh and militaristic, but with a proud cultural heritage that allows them to call the Federation on their overly smug attitudes. Thank God the Cardassians turned out better than this.
Rancho Unicorno
13. Lance Sibley
I have to disagree with your evaluation of Chad Allen in this episode. I thought his acting was atrocious. I don't know if a lot of his dialogue got redubbed, but he never sounded like he was responding to the other character(s) in the scene. He sounded very much like the lead alien in "The Ensigns Of Command" (whose dialogue was redubbed by a different actor).

It didn't help that most of his dialogue was incredibly stilted. The line explaining why he wore the gloves stands out in my mind as one particularly bad example. The line wasn't needed. Just show him wearing the gloves throughout, and at the end, when he says goodbye to Picard, he takes them off. The symbolism of the act would have been self-evident.

I do, however, agree with you 100% that Worf would have been a better mentor for Jono given the parallels and contrasts between the two. It would have gone against the earlier line about how Jono would only respect the Captain, but that was another completely unnecessary piece of business, and only served to give Jono the opportunity to stab Picard in his sleep. (I like Rancho Unicorno's suggestion that Jono attacked Picard only to give Starfleet an excuse to hold him, but that suggests cunning that Jono, as performed, never demonstrated.)
Chin Bawambi
14. bawambi
Can't wait for your trashing of The Drumhead, Keith. There are much better examples of Federation hypocrisy than this episode. However, in the Unification episode part 1 (which was on last night - part 2 is tonight) is imo a much better episode than part 2. Of course, I discount any Crosby episode by a minimum of 1 (part 2 is -2) just on general acting principles. I've gotta agree with Lance about Chad Allen's lack of acting chops. The only reason I give this episode a deuce is because Shades of Grey exists and I can't give a zero like Keith did.
Rancho Unicorno
15. joyceman
So the Federation recognizes "right of conquest" as a valid argument in ajudicating custody disputes?

In my mind this is one of the more cowardly and morally relativistic acts made by Picard in the series.
Rancho Unicorno
16. Rob B.
One more gripe I have with this episode is that the Talarians are annoying as hell.

First, there's their disrespect of women.

Second, we have Endar threatening to destroy the Enterprise when A) he's an idiot if he thinks he can since, as Data points out, his weapons suck, and B) you killed this kid's parents and then kidnapped him, you jackass. No, it would not have been cool to just leave him there to starve to death, but you might have sent him back to Earth. Your customs are stupid.

Third, for all that KRAD said about the Federation people speaking in absolutes, the Talarians are just as stubborn, if not moreso. At least on the Federation side, we have Crusher saying that as a parent, she understands why somebody might go to war to get a son back. On the Talarian side, it's all just "I'm his father, that's all there is to it, I'm not interested in trying to understand your position, your opinions don't matter, give my son back or I WILL BLOW YOU UP WITH MY PRIMITIVE WEAPONS!"

Fourth, there's the fact that they made that infuriating wailing sound and that Jono tried to assault everybody in sick bay because they wanted to look at his hands.

Fifth, there's his reason for flipping his shit when they wanted him to take off his gloves: Talarians don't want to touch aliens, because apparently aliens are filthy or unclean or something and they don't want to get human cooties on them.

They're almost as bad as the Sheliak. But at least Picard was eventually able to give the Sheliak a taste of their own medicine. Here, the Starfleet people just take a lot of crap from the Talarians and finally end up saying "We're so sorry, please forgive us." And Endar is like "Yeah, you should be sorry, fucksticks! Let that be a lesson to you to jump when we tell you and to ask how high on the way up!"

If we were talking about a real world culture here, then I would be more understanding, I would not be in favour of any individual physically hurting any other individual. I would advocate diplomacy, I would be totally against war for precisely the reason that Endar mentions: in war, innocents--like Endar's biological son--are inevitably killed or worse.

Since this is fictional, though, I found myself wanting to see Worf knock Jono on his ass when he went crazy, and I found myself wanting to see the Enterprise fire on the Talarian ships and at least disable them without killing anybody. Because Jono was driving me crazy (I'm sure that Worf was tempted to get violent, but restrained himself because he's professional like that), and the Talarians were talking to Picard and Riker like they were underlings that better damn well know their place and do what they were told. It would have been immensely satisfying to me as a viewer if Riker had fired phasers, knocked down the Talarian shields with one shot, and then said something like "You don't seem to be in any position to make threats, Endar. Now you have a choice. You can either power down your weapons, calm down and we can discuss this like reasonable people, or you can continue to be bellicose, in which case we'll target your weapons systems and take them down just like we did your shields. Besides, this isn't your decision; as you said yourself, it's up to Jono. So until and unless he says that he still wants to go back to you instead of staying here, then according to your own customs there is no reason to turn him over to you."

I'm sure that's not how Riker would have phrased it, but something along those lines.
17. jlpsquared
I wonder if Dyfta IS Jeri Taylor.

Don't worry Krad, I completely agree with you about taylor. I don't think she is "bad" at writing, and I always like the ideas behind her stories, but after looking at the series as a whole, her episodes always feel like the one where the characters aren't quite acting "the way they should". I can't quite point it, but I feel like it is a forced friendship issue that some writers have. I feel she got the show, but never quite got how the characters worked with each other.

All that being said, I actually LOVED the Drumhead. And this one, for the matter. Taylor got worse with age.
Rancho Unicorno
18. Etherbeard
Season 4 got off to a rough start. With the exception of 'Family' the episodes have been pretty meh so far.
Rancho Unicorno
19. Russell Thayer
Well, apparently the people who sent letters to the writers of the episode weren't the only ones who didn't pay attention. I say that because you, Mr. Decandido, are oblivious to the fact that Chono is a Federation Citizen who was kidnapped by the Telarians during A time of war. He did not become a Telarian of his own volition, and this is the reason why Picard, along with the rest of the senior staff, are so insistent that he be returned to his planet of origin.

Sometimes, I question your ability to accurately judge the quality of Star Trek episodes.
Rancho Unicorno
20. FDS
This is certainly late to the party but the internet is forever, as even the Snapchat folks now know .... Taylor admitted that she had no clue about science fiction (OR Star Trek) before this, that the techno babble she used in the episode was cleaved word-for-word from a previous script provided to teach her about ST and just dumped in by her for Suddenly Human. It's different to re-watch TNG as an adult; as a pre-teen, the ending was jarring and confusing to me but otherwise wouldn't have called this dreadful then - without even considering the treatment of females, Troi's outfits (much less most of the outfits for females on this series), humancentricity, etc.

I'd agree that the biggest problem with this particular episode is that many ideas are raised but not carried forth; the entirety of making Jono's main living relative a Starfleet Admiral is merely dismissed as a female out-ranks Picard. As mentioned, it could have provided an added dimension, but got bumped for the 'war' over a 'child' idiocy. Even before TNG, I realized people on TV did not die and wars/engine failures/what-have-you got resolved right before the end of the episode - this particular one was just, frankly, a dumb way of doing that.

Chad Allen was fine, it's a good example of TNG doing a bad job to differentiate how humanoid aliens differ from Terrans; the dialogue he was given to deliver was incredibly stilted, awkward; again, this goes back to Taylor but in her defense, I have to say that there were show runners overseeing her, other writers on this, and a director (plus actors who, by this point, had been on the series for some time), etc. to chime in. Perhaps they had spent too much energy (or were doing EFX, editing or other on BoBW to spend time on this?), but they should share in any of her blame.

It's a good recap, detailed enough without being a scene by scene rehash as these sometimes can be. As an analysis and critique, agree that it does not come up to what one generally finds (and come to the site for) on TOR.

Finally, even as someone who likes and knows a lot of the entirety of Trek (excepting DS9 which I've watched less than 10%), while re-watching this on Netflix tonight, I had spaced the whole back history of Worf's non-Klingon family; I fully appreciate the comments folks have made and agree that it might have at least been mentioned/explored by Troi (if she was really doing her job - and therefore fully endorse the reviewer re her characterizations here and elsewhere), and agree the whole Picard hates children became tiresome over the series run, the failure to use Worf did not feel like a make or break item to me (unlike the failure to mention the possibility).
MaGnUs von Tesla
21. lordmagnusen
I simply cannot agree with your assesment, Keith. I wouldn't go as far as #19 and say that "I question your ability to accurately judge the quality of Star Trek episodes", as I believe they are usually spot on, but I do agree with that poster that Jono was an undeclared prisoner of war, and I would add that he's a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, he was kidnapped by the Tallarians, and he should not remain in their care under any circumstances.

They should get him back to the Federation, not only because he's the grandson of an Admiral (who certainly would have more clout than a random citizen), but because the duty of the Federation government would be to get him back, as with any prisoner of war. This is not Worf being adopted by a crewmember of the ship that came to his rescue (though I agree that they should have used him with Jono), this is a child that was appropiated by the people who murdered his parents, the same way military officials in countries with dictatorships (like in my country, Uruguay, and its neighbor, Argentina, both in the 70s) appropiated the children born of female political prisoners, and raised them as their own, denying them contact with their real families and contact with their heritage.

In this case, I believe you made a grave error in judgement, and it's not a matter of opinion like our disagreement about the "terrorist" label in "The Higher Ground".

This is not about respecting the customs of another culture, or the feelings of an orphan boy from a marooned ship. This is a war crime, pure and simple.

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