Since I haven’t gotten around to fixing the links on this new version of the blog yet, it’s kinda hard to go back and find where I left off with Star Trek: the Next Generation reviews. Somewhere about 6 episodes from the end of season 1 I’d say. I did actually watch to the end of the season, but then I needed a break – for, I guess, close to a year, it turns out. But recently I picked back up where I left off – at the start of season 2. I’ll have to address the missing season 1 eps later; what follows are my thoughts on season 2′s The Child.
Thumbs down, to be brief. This is one of the ones that I actually saw as it aired originally, having taken up full time Next Generation-watching with the start of the second season. I didn’t really like it then, and I don’t really like it now, but I strangely like it better now than I did then. I think it’s because in hindsight I know how much MORE tedious this show and – later – Deep Space Nine were on the verge of becoming. By comparison, it’s not so bad.
But it’s still bad. Basic plot: a mysterious ball of light comes on the Enterprise and knocks Troi up WITH ITSELF. (Awesome touch – when the ball of light first floats through the Enterprise we get a shot of two crewmen who see it flash by out of the corner of their eyes, both turn around at the same time looking at the same place, and then BOTH shrug it off. Are there no emergency protocols on this military vessel? Because if you BOTH thought you saw something, then you saw something!) Troi has a baby without any pain or complications which then grows rapidly. It turns out to be a curious alien. And, it causes radiation problems, and so being good of heart has the decency to cut its observations short to save the ship and keep the episode under 45min.
Those of you who also watch good science fiction will have noticed that this is a lamed-down version of Space: 1999‘s Alpha Child episode. And yes, I do openly accuse them of copying: The Child is a retreatment of a script originally intended for Star Trek: Phase II, which was to air in 1978. The Next Generation writing staff can’t be expected to be familiar with Space: 1999 episodes, but anyone on the staff of Star Trek: Phase II would have seen the entire series.
But as you might expect, where Space: 1999 does at least mildly interesting things with the premise, Star Trek mostly uses it as an excuse for sanctimonious political preaching.
Early on, there’s a scene in the briefing room where the command staff is deciding what to do about the fact that Troi is inexplicably pregnant, and developing much more rapidly than is natural. While a bunch of the men discuss what to do, Troi sits off by herself and hears the baby’s heart beating in her head. At some point she interrupts and puts everyone on notice (she actually says “know this!”) that she’s having the baby whether they like it or not. And Captain Picard quickly agrees that that settles the matter; end of meeting.
Um, no, sorry. I wholeheartedly support the implicit pro-choice message, but no. An officer serving in the military bearing a child that she clearly didn’t choose to have and which is unnatural, mysterious, and may well be a threat to ship’s safety simply does not get to make such choices on her own. At the very least, Picard should have ordered her confined to sick bay with a security detail posted. And I love how the idea that the foetus could be extracted and incubated artificially is never seriously entertained.
I get what they’re trying to do: they’re worried that their pro-choice message is too easily dismissed if they don’t affirm the miracle of childbirth, so Troi must feel a deep attachment to her child and want to carry it to term. This is tame and conventional and therefore uninteresting. Worse still is that everyone’s reactions are so absurdly inappropriate that we can’t help but notice the bullet they’re dodging. What, we’d like to know, would happen if Troi did decide to terminate the pregnancy, as seems the more obvious choice? What, we’d like to know, would happen if Picard wrestled with the idea of terminating the pregnancy – or at least trying to separate the foetus and incubate it artificially? It’s a thorny moral question, and it could’ve made for interesting programming. But they’re going with the safe choice instead, where Troi has a magically painless birth and the child grows up in short order with no complications.
That, by the way, is my second problem with this episode: the premise is illogical to start with. We have an alien who wants to learn about humanity and so feels it must go through the full human lifecycle to do it. Fine – but it then cheats it way out by making the pregnancy magical. It is completely painless, it lasts all of a couple of minutes, and Dr. Pulaski then informs us that there is no physical trace that Troi was ever pregnant. It’s every feminist’s wet dream: girls are special with none of the accompanying pain, childrearing involves dropping it off at daycare and feeding it supper, and none of it interferes in any way with your professional career. But more to the point here, being born in a painless birth that doesn’t leave any physical scars on your mother and then growing up to age 7-ish in the matter of a day is, to put it mildly, not representative of the Human Experience. So what the blink is the point?
Finally, this is all the same faux feminism that gets Joss Whedon in trouble. We absolutely respect the mother’s rights over her body, but we conveniently have her decide to carry the baby to term. Never mind that this is essentially rape – Troi doesn’t seem to feel violated in any way. Women are women because they have babies, and men need to get the hell out of the way. Having babies is a beautiful thing, and is always the right choice, even when the baby is a demon. This is certaily A popular version of feminism, but it’s a deeply conservative one. This episode explores neither gender, nor the nature of growth, nor the nature of life.
So on the whole, it’s a failure. That said, as an unabashed Space: 1999 (1st season) fan, I should go ahead and acknowledge that Alpha Child wasn’t one of that show’s finer moments. I think the basic problem is that while an alien changeling is pregnant (I’m deeply sorry) with thematic possibilities as a science fiction story, it’s decidedly not the sort of story that should be told in an hour. If you want to do it on TV, then one of the characters needs to get pregnant early on, and you spend the rest of the season with a B-plot about her dealing with the situation. And then only in the next season do you really deal with the reality of the child. This isn’t the kind of thing that can be treated in 45min., and CERTAINLY not the kind of thing that should be waved away with the infamous Star Trek reset button.
Overall Grade: C-