The Enterprise discover a legendary cloaked planet Aldea, whose people are in danger of extinction and want to trade scientific secrets for human children. When the crew refuse, they kidnap a group of children, including Wesley Crusher. Picard and the crew must find a way to convince the technologically superior Aldeans to give the children back.
Story by Hannah Louise Shearers. Directed by Kim Manners.
When the Bough Breaks is sort of middle-of-the-road first season Next Generation episode. It’s not terrible like The Naked Now, Lonely Among Us, or Too Short a Season. At the same time, it’s not brilliant, like…er, well, we’ll get back to you about that. But it’s all right, and at least watchable.
On the positive side, we get a picture of the scope of life on the Enterprise with families, schools, and so on. We also get a reasonable sense of Aldea’s society, at least compared to other episodes. Also, Picard’s “diplomacy approach,” in light of a heinous crime such as children being kidnapped, is given an in-story explanation. It’s also nice that Wesley’s central involvement is also justified from a story point of view, beyond just with something like, “He’s very smart.”
On the negative, well, Wesley is at the centre of a lot of the scenes of the story. This is problematic because Wesley is simply not a very compelling character. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth or nuance to his personality, and so our investment in his character is very limited.
Also, the Aldeans, whilst immensely powerful, are pretty dumb. They don’t notice Wesley’s surreptitious medical scans, they allow Wesley open access to their super computer and their city even though he openly declares his antagonistic intentions. They seem completely inept at dealing with the children’s strike, are happy to allow Picard unsupervised access to them, fail to guard their supercomputer, and, most annoying of all, have some wacky idea that by kidnapping about seven kids, they can create a whole new generation of people to populate their world.
There are some hints that the Aldeans are quite a disturbing people – their treatment of children as a commodity and Rashella’s obsession with little Alexandra, but little is made of that in the long run as Picard and the Federation way of life wins them over in the end. Radue seems to come around to their way of thinking extremely quickly, basically between scenes, in a way that isn’t very satisfying.
When the Bough Breaks highlights a fundamental problem with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even though the show is supposed to be about the human condition and limitless potential of humanity, none of the characters feel like real human beings. Everyone’s reaction to the children being kidnapped is extremely subdued – with the only purely emotional response from a parent being put down by another parent. The Enterprise crew are of course determined to right this wrong but their responses are all very measured and cerebral. Even the children themselves are amazingly well-adjusted to their circumstances, with nobody freaking out or throwing a fit about being taken away from their families. I suppose it’s all a result of the pseudo-enlightened 24th Century, but it makes the characters and situations feel very remote and difficult to relate to.
On the other hand, there is a cool image of Picard and Dr. Crusher standing close to the viewscreen talking to Radue, where you realize how large this viewscreen actually is. There also an extremely impressive visual at the end that shows the scope of the size of the technology that protects Aldea.
Shout Outs to the Past:
Though it may not be intentional and has no specific bearing on the story, the idea of a super-computer essentially ruling over a somewhat clueless society is an idea that’s played out in a bunch of Original Series episodes, such as The Apple and Return of the Archons. The difference here is that there isn’t any real focus on destroying the computer.
• Jerry Hardin, who plays Radue, also appears in the 5th Season cliff hanger Time’s Arrow as Samuel Clemens. He also played in “Deep Throat” on the X-Files.
• Brenda Strong, who plays Rashella, was a regular on Desperate Housewives.
• My wife pointed out while watching this episode that saying “where no one has gone before” doesn’t have the same ring as the original series tagline, “Where no man has gone before.” Also, she comments that it isn’t really true because everywhere they go, they run into lots of aliens and other beings. It’d be more accurate, she comments, to say something like, “…where everyone but man has gone before.”
• Troi comments that humans are unusually attached to their offspring! Now, she could just be being diplomatic in order to maintain relations with the Aldaens, but this is before the children are kidnapped, so this seems unlikely. It seems like in the Next Generation universe, being unwilling to treat your children like salable commodities is a bit of a “primitive human” trait!
• On the other hand, one of the more human and compelling exchanges in the episode:
Dr. Crusher: Our children are not for sale at any price.
Riker: We sympathize with your situation, but what you ask is not possible.
Radue: And that’s your final answer?
Riker: That’s my only answer
• It’s a cute moment when Radue tells Picard that he isn’t very good with children.
Dialogue High Point
Great line from Picard, about cutting through the enemy’s shields:
Things are only impossible until they’re not!