Star Trek: The Next Generation – Suddenly Human [4.4]

In rescuing a distressed Talarian ship, the Enterprise discover a young human amongst their crew.  This young man turns out to have been adopted as a toddler by the Talarian commander who oversaw the destruction of his home colony a generation earlier.  Picard attempts to bond with him as they make plans to return him to his remaining human relative, but the boy, Jono, resists.  Eventually, Picard decides he was wrong for attempting to take Jono away form the only family he has known, and allows him to return home.

Story by Ralph Phillips.  Teleplay by John Whelpley and Jeri Taylor . Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

Previous Episode: BrothersNext Episode: Remember Me

Suddenly Human continues the strong showing that the fourth season of Next Generation has made, at least up through the first forty minutes or so of the episode.  Then, sadly, at the very end, it falls apart, failing to bring any sort of effective resolution to the story.  This really is a disappointment, because up until then the episode is engagingly written and effectively performed by the two stars of the story, Patrick Stewart and guest actor Chad Allen.  The episode puts Picard and the crew into a truly challenging quandary that is both far-reaching and quite intimate, in the seemingly no-win situation of what is the right thing to do for this young man’s future.  Jono’s cultural alienation is well-played and genuine feeling, and Picard’s discomfort at having to become a surrogate father of sorts has the potential to be strong character development.

Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t do any service to any of this build-up.  It’s not that I flat-out disagree with Picard’s eventual decision, but it’s done in such an abrupt way that it seems to forget pretty much everything that had happened up until that point.  What about the Admiral on her way to see her suddenly resurrected grandson?  What about all the flashbacks and memories that Jono is suddenly having about the brutal death of his birth-mother, slain by the man who would become his adopted father?  What about all those new emotions and feelings that Jono is suddenly dealing with?  Is he just going to suppress them so he can be “strong” again?  Maybe Jono would still choose to go back to his Talarian family, but it’s poor storytelling to just drop these elements without in some way dealing with the implications of them.

A more effective ending would have had Jono decide to return to his father with a new sense of unease about what he’s discovered about his origins, but still recognizing that this is the man who brought him up with genuine love.  And at the same time that he intends to return to Talarian life, he begins to open up about taking some time to discover elements of his humanity, and perhaps meet his grandmother.  That would have been a far more satisfying emotional and narrative journey than to just have Picard simplistically decide that he was guilty of some sort of crime because he tried to return a prisoner of war to his family.

The episode also misses an obvious opportunity to build a connection between the young guest star and Worf, whose own story is very similar to Jono’s in many ways.  Perhaps Worf could have advised him of the benefits he has realized he has as a result of being embracing aspects of both his Klingon and his human heritage.  That could have benefited the story and both characters.  As it was, the focus on Picard’s discomfort with children, gives the character story a strong start, but in the end not as much comes of it as I’d have liked; although it does give Troi some good moments as she convinces Picard to take on the surrogate father role.

So this was an episode with lots of potential for real strength, but marred by an ending that was rushed and just a bit lazy.

Shout Out to the Past:
• There was some references to Talarians back in Heart of Glory, but I can’t really remember what it was!

Guest Cast:
• Sherman Howard (Captain Endar) had a couple of appearances in other series in the Star Trek franchise, and also played Lex Luthor for a year on Superboy.

• Chad Allen, who plays Jono, was a regular on Our House, My Two Dads, and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.  He was also Tommy Westphall on St. Elsewhere, the young austistic child who was revealed in the closing moments of the last episode to have imagined the entire series.

• Barbara Townsend, who plays Admiral Rossa, was Mildred Potter for a year on After MASH.

• Why were there no security guards present in the sickbay with all these Talarians on board?  Clearly they are potentially hostile.

• A contender for the best line of the episode:  “You’re probably not aware of this, but I’ve never been particularly comfortable around children.”

• The Talarian music sounds suspiciously like loud rock music.  Makes the whole stern father / rebellious teenager vibe a bit obvious.

• Talarians are not all that an interesting looking series.  I suppose to make it plausible, Jono could not have looked that different from the aliens.

• Goofy space squash!  I guess it was necessary to have the silly sound effects in order to trigger the flashbacks, which was actually a good idea.

• The ice cream is a strange blue color

• Jono attacks Picard – quite shocking.  But unfortunately, it leads us to that unsatisfying ending.

•  OK, I know Picard didn’t have any vital organs cut, and I know it’s the 24th century and Dr. Crusher is a miracle worker, but seriously, how can Picard be walking around at the end, heading onto the bridge and dealing with diplomatic crises, after such a serious injury?

• This is the first Star Trek writing credit for Jeri Taylor, who went on to co-create Voyager.

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This episode is all about Picard, but the events don’t really justify the presence of an “Admiral Picard” on board or anything, so Picard couldn’t have been removed without making some pretty serious changes.  That said, Picard’s discomfort with children didn’t really effect anything that happened in the main plot, so his role could have easily been transferred over to Riker.  You’d also have the opportunity for Jono to clash realistically with the new first officer, Commander Shelby.  Add some more involvement from Worf and you have a winner episode.

Dialogue High Point
Picard’s connecting with Jono has some good moments, or at least they seemed that way before the episode’s ending.  One of my favorite lines is this one?

It’s part of being human, Jono. But, as deeply as you can feel hurt, you can also feel joy.

Previous Episode: BrothersNext Episode: Remember Me

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