Sunday, July 3, 2011

4-04. Suddenly Human

Jono and his Talarian "father."
















THE PLOT

The Enerprise receives a distress call from a Talarian ship. They approach warily, given that the Talarians are a warlike people who have been responsible for numerous deaths of Federation citizens. But when Troi senses that there is life on the ship - "and it is fading" - Picard orders a medical team over. They discover a radiation breach, several teen boys with various degrees of radiation burns... and one human boy, dressed in Talarian uniform.

The boy, Jono (Chad Allen) is unharmed, but refuses to answer questions from Dr. Crusher or Counsellor Troi (showing good judgment in the later instance, at least). He does respond to Picard, and requests that Picard take him home - back to the Talarian Captain Endar (Sherman Howard). Meanwhile, Starfleet is able to provide Jono's true identity. He is Jeremiah Rossa, the grandson of Admiral Rossa (Barbara Townsend), whose parents were killed when Talarians attacked their colony. Jeremiah was listed as missing, presumed dead. But he refuses to answer to that name, says of his parents that "death is a part of war," and insists he be considered a Talarian. Matters are further complicated when Picard is contacted by Capt. Endar. Endar demands Jono's return, having raised the boy as his own son!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: When Troi confronts him with the idea of acting as a father figure to Jono, he comes very close to balking. "I have never been very comfortable around children," he tells her, in a way that suggests profound understatement. He admits to Troi that he never really had much of a childhood, something we probably already guessed from what we saw of his family home. In a way, Jono becomes a reflection of Picard. When Jono boasts that he "always wins at the games," it sounds very close to Picard's brother complaining that he always won the ribbons and got all the attention. In Picard and Jono, we see two people who have always felt driven to achieve and win, no matter what... Which, if that aspect had been more focused upon, might have made for a much more interesting episode.

Troi: If this were the only TNG episode you were to tune into, you could be forgiven for assuming that Counsellor Troi was the highest-ranking person on the ship. She decides that since Jono actually responded to Picard's authority, that Picard should therefore take the boy under his wing. Picard doesn't want to do it, but Troi insists. And when a ship's counsellor insists that the ship's captain do something... Well, sure enough, we cut straight to Picard following Troi's orders.

Dr. Crusher: In full earnestness this week. She decides - on the basis of very little actual evidence - that Jono has been abused, and spends the rest of the episode referring to Jono as an abused child and to Endar as an abuser.


THOUGHTS

After three very good to excellent episodes, I suppose it was time for Season Four to have a weak episode. In Suddenly Human, it gets one.

Suddenly Human was the first Star Trek offering of Jeri Taylor, who went on to be one of Voyager's showrunners. A lot of Voyager's flaws are in evidence. The episode presumes to be character-centric but, except for Picard, none of the characters have any depth. The two speaking guest characters, Jono and Capt. Endar, feel more like stock "types" than real people, while Troi and Dr. Crusher are at their most earnest and, therefore, their most irritating.  The storytelling is simplistic, with Picard making a choice at the end that should have significant consequences - but, of course, never will. 

The script introduces the complication that Jono was not adopted, but taken - kidnapped, by any legal definition of the term - and then completely glosses over it!  If a man kidnaps an infant and raises him as his own, then it doesn't matter if he's been the best father in the history of fatherhood; if caught, that man is going to jail for a very long time, period.

The Picard/Jono relationship could have overcome the episode's weaknesses, had it been written and acted in such a way as to bring real complexity to at least that aspect of the story. But while Patrick Stewart brings his "A" game, the script lets him down. Picard initially restates his Encounter at Farpoint proclamation about being uncomfortable around children, only to instantly assume a parental role with Jono - in literally the next scene, with no sign of emotional resistance on his part. A script that really made use of Picard's discomfort, so that he resists a relationship with Jono just as Jono resists his own human heritage, might have been worthwhile. Instead, Picard expostulates to Counsellor Troi, then immediately turns into Ward Cleaver.

Chad Allen's Jono only adds to the episode's problems. Allen never convinces as someone who has been raised to achieve within an alien culture. He alternates between wooden and sullen. Shallow characterization and self-conscious dialogue (Talarians are apparently above contractions) don't help.


THE PICARD SLEDGE-HAMMER

After Jono attacks him with a knife, Picard sees the light and proclaims - at length - the importance of listening to the child's opinion during a custody battle, before waxing eloquent about returning this "noble" young man to "the only home he's ever known." Personally, I think that he's finally had enough of this crap and just wants shot of the brat. Can't say as I blame him. I just wish he didn't have to make his speech as if he's issuing Indisputable Moral Rules from the mountaintop.


Overall Rating: 3/10



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