“When the Bough Breaks”
Written by Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Kim Manners
Season 1, Episode 16
Production episode 40271-118
Original air date: February 15, 1988
Captain’s Log: While Riker is en route to the bridge, one of the children literally bumps into him—and falls to the floor. Harry apologizes, then tells his father, Dr. Bernard, that he hates calculus. I was thinking he’s way too young to be studying calculus, but whatever.
When the first officer arrives on the bridge, Picard tells them that they’ve been finding hints of Aldea, a mythical planet of philosophers and scientists that is filled with wondrous technology. The planet has supposedly remained hidden from the outside world for millennia.
Said planet suddenly appears out of nowhere and greets them warmly, asking to meet. Their leaders beam on board—their shield prevents all but Aldean transporters from working—but prove sensitive to the bright lights of the Enterprise. Shortly thereafter, Riker, Troi, and Crusher are beamed suddenly to the planet.
The Aldeans have a modest proposal: they can no longer reproduce, so they would like to take some of the Enterprise children. Riker, Troi, and Crusher make it abundantly clear that this is not acceptable—so the Aldeans send the three back and just go ahead and take the kids they want anyhow.
They insist on providing compensation for the children, but the parents (understandably) just want their kids back. However, returning the children is non-negotiable, but the Aldeans have information and technology far beyond that of the Federation, and they’re offering it.
During negotiations, Crusher insists on seeing Wes. She palms him a medical scanner, and he surreptitiously scans one of the Aldeans. After they’re beamed back, the Aldeans drop the other shoe: they send the Enterprise three days away at warp nine, making it clear that yes, they are bullies and kidnappers, and the whole polite thing was just a front.
Crusher’s scan reveals that they have radiation poisoning due to gaps in their planet’s ozone layer caused by their shield. They not only have chromosomal damage that prevents them from reproducing (and causes their sensitivity to light), but they’re dying. Riker and Data beam through a fluctuation in the Aldean shield (an earlier conversation between Wes and an Aldean revealed that they haven’t even maintained their equipment in ages), and are able to neutralize the Aldeans’ computer. While Picard beams the children back, Crusher explains that the children will suffer the same as the Aldeans if they remain on Aldea.
With the Enterprise‘s help, the ozone layer is re-seeded, the Aldeans undergo therapy to cure the radiation poisoning, and Harry reluctantly agrees to continue studying calculus.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: “And we know they’ll make good parents.” Troi says this at the end, even though most of the evidence presented in the episode shows that they, in fact, make lousy parents….
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Data tells Wes that the cloak around Aldea bends light waves. Two problems there: One, if light waves are bent around Aldea, how can the Aldeans see? Two, sensors are supposed to be more sophisticated than visuals. If it’s just bending light, radar and sonar would detect Aldea easily, much less super-duper 24th-century sensors, so there has to be more to it than that. This is a rare case where more technobabble would’ve been useful.
If I Only Had a Brain : Apparently Data has never before been exposed to the notion of lying about a Starfleet regulation to someone who wouldn’t know better as an excuse to bring someone else onto an away team (in this case, Crusher, to represent the parents). As with many things Data learns about on the show, you wonder how incredibly boring his pre-Enterprise assignments must have been for him to miss all these bits of human behavior..
The Boy!?: Due to his being the oldest, the tallest, and the only one listed in the opening credits, Wes emerges as the leader of the kidnapped children. He organizes a hunger strike and other bits of passive resistance among them to protest their being taken from their families.
He also apparently sleeps in his clothes (all the way down to the boots), which is just weird….
Welcome Aboard. Jerry Hardin makes his first of two appearances on TNG—he would return as Mark Twain in the season-bridging two-parter “Time’s Arrow.” The children do fairly well, particularly Jessica and Vanessa Bova, who were just adorable as Alexandra.
But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment was when I saw Brenda Strong, whom I had forgotten was in this. Strong is probably best known now as the voice of the deceased narrator of Desperate Housewives, though she’ll always have a warm place in my heart for her recurring role as Sally Sasser on Sports Night.
I Believe I Said That: “What’s your hurry, Harry?”
Riker’s inevitable response to Harry running down a corridor and crashing into the first officer.
Trivial Matters: This is the first of five writing credits on TNG for staffer Hannah Louise Shearer, and the only TNG directorial credit for the late Kim Manners, who would go on to acclaim as a producer on The X-Files (on which Hardin would also have a recurring role as “Deep Throat”) and Supernatural, before dying of cancer in 2009.
Make it So: “The legend will die, but the people will live.” A mostly harmless episode that lifts quite a bit from The Cliché Handbook. You’ve got the Mysterious Legendary Aliens who turn out to have a Horrible Secret, and who are Meaner Than Expected. The children fit all the types, including The Really Really Adorable Little One With The Stuffed Animal (which amusingly appears to be a stuffed tribble) and The Kid Whose Last Conversation With His Father Was An Argument (And The Father Regrets It Later). Oh, and the Kidnapper Who Becomes Overly Attached.
Still, the performances are all fairly solid, the ozone-layer message unsubtle but not too sledgehammery (certainly less so than other first-season attempts at pointing out things humanity is currently doing wrong), and the twins playing Alexandra are cute as all heck. Where the episode shines most is (as usual) in the performance of Sir Patrick Stewart. His anger and outrage and justified self-righteousness at the kidnapping of children modulates nicely into diplomacy when negotiating with the Aldeans and amusingly into total discomfort when he has to actually deal directly with the children. That last gives us the episode’s final cliché, the Ending Where Everybody Gets A Chuckle, as Alexandra hugs Picard, leaving her stuffed tribble attached to the back of his uniform without him noticing.
I’m especially forgiving of this episode because it’s the first time since the pilot episode that the show has even acknowledged that there are children on board the Enterprise (beyond a single, brief scene in “The Last Outpost“). With the weight given to that particular aspect of the ship in “Encounter at Farpoint,” it was disappointing for it to take 15 episodes before it was even dealt with, much less made a plot point.
Warp factor rating: 6.
Administrative notes: Tor.com is taking Independence Day off, so the next Rewatch (“Home Soil”) won’t show up until Thursday the 7th of July. Also, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you might want to consider attending Shore Leave 33 in Hunt Valley, Maryland from the 8th to the 10th of July. I’ll be one of the guests, as will several other Trek authors, as well as actors John deLancie (Q), Gary Lockwood (Gary Mitchell), and Sally Kellerman (Dr. Dehner).
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel is a high-fantasy police procedural, Unicorn Precinct, and is currently available for the Kindle, and will be available in other eBook formats, as well as trade paperback, from Dark Quest Books in July. It’s the long-awaited sequel to his 2004 novel Dragon Precinct, which will be re-released by DQB later this year. A subplot involves one protagonist, Torin ban Wyvald, being reunited with his father who wants to take him home to Myverin, a distant paradise where they focus on art and philosophy—much like Aldea, only without the technology and radiation poisoning. (Hey, at least I connected the book to Star Trek this time!)