Worf attempts to help young Jeremy Aster when his mother Marla is killed on an away mission that he was commanding. Everyone is shocked, though, when his mother suddenly reappears, insisting on taking Jeremy down to an apparently deserted planet to live permanently. Marla Aster turns out to be a non-corporeal alien who is attempting to make up for the sadness caused by Jeremy’s mother’s death. She goes away when Picard, Troi, Worf, and Wesley are able to help Jeremy come to terms with what’s happened.
Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Winriche Kolbe.
As I began watching The Bonding, I was really confused. Somehow, I mis-remembered this as an episode in which an orphaned boy bonds with Data, even attempting to mimic certain qualities he has an android. But it’s actually Worf who makes the connection with the bereaved child, which works better and is more touching than whatever I was imagining. Is there another episode of Next Generation coming later that I’m thinking of? I guess I’ll find out eventually.
Anyway, this episode is notable in Next Generation history for two behind-the-scenes reasons. First, it’s the first episode of Star Trek ever written by Ron Moore, who went on to be one of the franchise’s most prolific writers and part of the production staff, and later was involved in the revival of Battlestar Galactica. Secondly, it’s the first episode under the lead-writership of Michael Piller, who was apparently more successful than the executives who preceded him at developing a cohesive writing team to work on the show. The Bonding is overall a strong episode, one of the best of the year so far and one that that bodes hopefully for the rest of the season.
The heart of the story is the crew reacting to the death of one of their own and grappling with the sad consequences that the tragedy has on the young son of the deceased. It’s the sort of situation that should really be inevitable given the premise of the show (ship on dangerous missions, crew with family on board), and so it’s nice to see it played out here. Picard and Troi are both well-played here, as those on the forefront dealing with the situation, and the episode wisely shows how the event resonates with both Worf and Wesley, given their backstories. Riker, Data, and Beverly are all given good moments to play as well.
Jeremy Aster is actually an interesting and sympathetic character who is well-performed by Gabriel Damon. The episode ends with the implication that he is going to be an ongoing presence in Worf’s life, but sadly he never appears again. It might have been nice to revisit the character and his relationship with Worf, but I guess that’s what all the spin-off Star Trek material is for. And it might have interfered a bit with the presence of Alexander later in the series, for better or for worse.
The episode isn’t perfect. The alien is a bit stupid, having no answers for Troi’s fairly obvious questions about whether it’s going to continue to provide illusions for Jeremy’s friends, job, wife, etc. for his entire life. And the psychology of everything in the climax is a bit pat. But overall, it’s a high quality episode with good direction, fine pacing, strong character work and compelling emotional core. And it also does a good job with both Wesley and Troi – and let’s face it, that’s quite the achievement
• Gabriel Damon, who plays Jeremy Aster, was the voice of Littlefoot in the original Land Before Time.
Shout Outs to the Past
• Riker and Data talk about the experience of losing Tasha Yar.
• That’s kind of a slow reaction on the part of Picard at the start. It takes Troi crying out about the danger and Worf asking for an emergency beam out, twice I think, before he responds.
• There’s a number of well directed scenes, visually. There is an interesting use of close ups as Riker and Data discuss Tasha Yar, and some unusual (for the series at the time) framing of the scene between Worf and Troi through some sort of lattice work.
• On the other hand, isn’t it a bit odd that it’s taken this long for Data to discover the difference between losing a friend and losing an acquaintance. He acts like this is the first person who has died since Tasha. What about all those crew members who died in Q Who? I can’t imagine you get to be Lt. Commander in Starfleet without having to go through some pretty tragic situations.
• Troi gives some good advice about Worf’s desire to get close to Jeremy: “He’s very angry too, but his anger is deep inside him. When he touches it it will strike out in many directions, including yours.”
• I think this is the first earth cat to appear in the series.
• That’s a good discussion between Picard and Troi regarding her role as the Ship’s counselor
• How old was Wesley when Jack Crusher died? He was younger than Jeremy, but he remembers it all very clearly.
• When “Lt. Aster” turns up in Jeremy’s quarters – surprising and creepy. Jeremy’s reaction to his “mother” turning up is very realistic. So is his reaction at being pulled away.
• Geordi wisely turns off all the transporters when things start going haywire.
• The special effect of the energy force flying around the ship is OK at best
Dialogue High Point
The best line comes from Worf struggling to deal with what has happened:
I cannot seek revenge against an enemy who has turned to dust centuries ago! Her death was senseless! The last victim of a forgotten war!