Episode no. 118
Season 1
Entertainment rating: B-
Tergiversation meter: -1


WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS



FEATURING: Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton, with Jerry Hardin and Brenda Strong as the Aldean leaders, and child actors Phillip N. Waller as Harry Bernard, and Jessica and Vanessa Bova as Alexandra. DIRECTOR: Kim Manners. WRITER: Hannah Louise Shearer STARDATE: 41509.1. EARTHWEEK: 2-15-88

OVERALL RATING: B-. WRITING: C. ACTING: B. One of Wesley Crusher's few and far between tolerable episodes. DIRECTION: B+. Director Kim Manners has a gaggle of children to direct in this episode, many of them in important speaking roles--a director's nightmare. She succeeds in toning down Wesley, utlizing Jessica and Vanessa Bova's cuteness without going too far, and extracts credible performances from all the tykes.

THE SHOW: The teaser presents us with a boy named Harry, about 8 years old, running down a corridor of the Enterprise with his father in pursuit. Harry bumps into Commander Riker and apologizes. It seems that Harry is running away from his calculus class. His father grabs him and lectures him on the importance of calculus. Harry wants to become a sculptor--to hell with calculus. It seems that, in the 24th Century, they still have not solved the problem of shoving education down the throats of children. Why subject this reluctant scholar to a regimen of calculus? He'll only end up hating it.

What we have here is the "ambitious parent" syndrome of West Hollywood, not anything that could be considered idealistic or humanistic, four centuries hence. There is nothing quite like the ambitious West Hollywood parent, who lives in a facile, artificial and highly unstable cultural milieu of nouveax-rich movie producers, and longs to send his or her little self-image to Harvard or Princeton for an old-world education. The damage to the children, of having to live out their parents' ambitions, can be enormous. It's just one more example of Star Trek writers not being real science fiction writers--that is, writers who tend to think through problems such as this one. Instead, we get a Hollywood understanding of education--because that's all these overly-paid TV producers and writers know.

It is remarkable to have an 8 year studying calculus--but this item smacks of the Roddenberry "enfant savant" fixation, rather than of anything forward-thinking. The Aldeans and their notions of genius, upon which this episode is premised, also smack of elitism.

The legendary planet Aldea, said to contain an ancient, highly developed civilization whose citizens long ago solved the problems of poverty and strife, and thereafter have led lives of leisured devotion to the arts and sciences, suddenly uncloaks itself to the Enterprise, and beams two ambassadors onto the bridge with flowers and greetings--to the great surprise of the Enterprise crew. Aldea was thought to exist in legend only. The two ambassadors are pleasant enough. They invite an Away Team to visit their planet. Note their sensitivity to the bright lights on the Enterprise bridge, however. It seems a minor peculiarity of Aldeans, but gains in importance as the plot unfolds. In addition, Troi senses devious motives.

Riker, head of the Away Team, is presented with a bargain by the Aldeans. In return for access to the vast store of knowledge in the millenia-old Aldean computers, the Aldeans wish to purchase some of the children on the Enterprise. The children will not be harmed. They will be cared for, nurtured, educated, and doted over. The Aldeans have, for some mysterious reason, ceased to produce children--their race is dying out. Riker tells them to forget it. No deal.

Next, we find various children on the Enterprise suddenly disappearing--vanishing before our very eyes--from their classrooms, from their bedrooms, from the corridors of the ship. The Aldeans are selecting the best and the brightest, and beaming them down to Aldea. Each child is given to an Aldean parent or couple, based on the adults' life work and on the child's inherent gifts. They proceed to bring out the hidden genius in each child--one for music, one for sculpture (Harry), and so on, and, of course, one for technology (Wesley Crusher.) Some of the children are puzzled, or weepy--longing for home. Others seem to enjoy the change of regimen and attitude.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, the parents of the missing children are desperately applying to Captain Picard to DO SOMETHING, after negotiations have broken down. There seems no way to get the children back. Aldean technology, which can cloak a whole planet, is far superior to that of the Enterprise.

Wesley, who has been given access to the Aldean's ancient computer system, locates the other children, clandestinely contacts them, and organizes a hunger strike. This brings the Aldeans to their knees. They apply to the Enterprise for help. Their plan to re-populate their civilization is obviously going to fail, if the children starve themselves to death. The scenes in which platters of sumptious food are placed before the hungry children, and the children successfully resist temptation and close ranks, are worthy of any radical leftist handbook. This writer knows her Labor organizing history (if not educational theory).

As Picard and Crusher negotiate to get the children back, Data and Riker disable the Aldean computer. We then find out that none of the Aldeans knows how to maintain their ancient computer system, called the Custodian, fount of all their wealth, leisure and power. It is leaking radiation, which has sterilized the Aldeans (and caused them to be overly-sensitive to light, among other symptoms). Picard offers Federation assistance at correcting the problem.

At the conclusion, little Alexandra--charmingly portrayed by redheaded twins Jessica and Vanessa Bova--enters the bridge with Wesley, to thank Captain Picard for rescuing her. He--the child-hating recluse who doesn't allow children on the bridge--awkwardly kneels down to accept her hug. She plants a sticky pom-pom on his rear. He turns, revealing the pom-pom to the audience. The end.

Oddly, this sort of cutsiness, sentimentality, and exploitation of children, works out okay in this particular episode (although the trend will ultimately result in the repugnant use of a little girl for sentimental contrast in the dreadful, sadistic "Chain of Command," in Season 6). "When the Bough Breaks" will appeal to any child who has ever suffered momentary hatred of his or her parents, for whatever reasons, and wished to be whisked away to a better world. The episode panders a bit too much to problems of 20th Century parenting, and to elitist notions of education, and does nothing to propose any far-thinking ideas about child-rearing in the future. (The Aldean system of fostering genius is darkened, and, by implication, dismissed, due to its association with kidnapping.)

One is reminded of the coercive, manipulative environment of the Enterprise classroom, as later depicted in "Pen Pals." Harry was right in wishing to escape that regimented, oppressive, "we're all going to sing now" atmosphere. The capper, in the present episode, is that, Harry's father, when he gets Harry back, tells him he'll still have to take calculus--despite the Aldeans' discovery of Harry's impressive talent for sculpting. Poor Harry.

TERGIVERSATION METER READING: -1. For its inhumane treatment of Harry.

Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).


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