Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “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.


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