Star Trek: The Next Generation – New Ground [5.10]

Worf’s foster mother comes for a visit, bringing Worf’s son Alexander to stay.  Initially, Worf is reluctant to look after Alexander full time, and his concern only grows as he and Alexander clash, and he sees his son’s difficulties adjusting to life in general.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise participates in an experiment with a new form of propulsion that goes out of control and threatens a colony.  In the process of saving the colony, Worf must also race to save Alexander’s life.  After both are rescued, Worf offers to allow Alexander to live on board the Enterprise with him, which he accepts.

Teleplay by Grant Rosenberg.  Story by Sara Charno & Stuart Charno.  Directed by Robert Scheerer.

Previous Episode: A Matter of Time • Next Episode: Hero Worship

I have found that a lot of Next Generation episodes wind up being a bit disappointing after promising beginnings.  It’s no surprise, really, that many stories (Star Trek or otherwise) don’t live up to potential that they start out with.  New Ground is the rare example of a story which started off a bit tired and familiar, but still managed to be fun and engaging at the end.

Though it is indeed “New Ground” for the character, there is nothing particularly compelling about Worf’s early challenges with parenting.  Alexander misbehaves, Worf thinks that simple answers will be sufficient, Troi has sagely advice to offer, Worf refuses to listen to anyone, etc – it’s all the familiar beats.  Similarly, the science fiction plot talks about an interesting topic within the Star Trek mythology (the prospect of some other form of propulsion aside from warp drive), but ends up nowhere and takes an astoundingly standard and routine course getting there.

Still, Alexander, played effectively this time around by Brian Bonsall, ends up likeable and believable as Worf’s estranged son, in both his insecurity and his anger.  And the danger that he winds up in as the science plot reaches his climax, while predictable, is dramatically satisfying, and brings out a new side to Worf.  And I liked the way that the story included significant references to the deceased K’ehleyr – it felt like a fitting epitaph for a character who otherwise has been too easily forgotten.

Since the conclusion of the Klingon civil war storyline, the series has needed a new ongoing storyline for Worf – he’s a character who is just too good to be limited to “plot of the week”.  Making his next significant arc about reconnecting to his grumpy but cute son is not the obvious choice for dramatic success, but Michael Dorn and the episode’s direction pull it off.

Guest Cast:
• Brian Bonsall makes his first appearance of 7 as the preternaturally-aged Alexander.  He’s best known for playing the youngest child on the last few years of Family Ties, a role he apparently reprised some years later in an episode of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.  He also starred in Blank Check, which is one of the two movies to have a writing credit in it from the author of Save the Cat:  The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.

• Richard McGonagle (Dr. Ja’Dar) has had lots of rolls, particularly voice parts in many animated series.  This has included playing Abin Sur in Green Lantern:  First Flight and General Grievous in Clone Wars.  He was also the narrator in (500) Days of Summer.

Shout Out to the Past
• There are lots, with direct references to K’ehleyr and her death from Reunion, as well as reappearances by Alexander and Helena Rozhenko.

Setting Up the Future
• At the end of the story, Alexander remains on board the Enterprise and as part of Worf’s life, at least for six more episodes.

• Geordi mentions how what they are about to see would be as exciting as seeing Zefram Cochran activate the first warp drive – something he will get to do and even be part of years later in Star Trek:  First Contact.

• It’s almost embarrassing that Worf so doesn’t understand his responsibility as a parent.

• Having said that, Worf’s frustration with Alexander’s inability to explain his lie or his theft seems very real to me.

• Good to see Troi functioning well as a counselor.  However, although it makes dramatic sense that Troi moves to sit closer to Worf as she gets more serious in their counseling session, I don’t think it makes a tremendous amount of professional sense.

• After deciding on a course of action, Picard lays in a course for the wave.  But either option they were looking at involves needing to be near the wave, so why aren’t they already crusing on their way?

• The wave doesn’t look that big.  Are you sure they couldn’t have made their way around it?

• That puppet creature isn’t completely plausible.

Dialogue High Point
I didn’t have any real favorites, but I’d probably go with Worf’s line at the end.

Klingon schools are designed to be difficult. The physical and mental hardships faced by the students are meant to build character and strength. However, if you wish to face a greater challenge, you may stay here with me. It will not be easy, for either one of us, but perhaps we can face the challenge together.

Previous Episode: A Matter of Time • Next Episode: Hero Worship

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