Season Three - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Bonding

Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Security Chief’s Log, Stardate 43198.7

This is Security Chief Worf. Today I was leading what should have been a routine survey mission of the Koinonians, a race believed to have waged war on itself to extinction. The tunnel we were surveying was scanned and deemed safe.

Marla Aster, Chief Archaeologist of the Enterprise was right behind me in the tunnel and was instantly killed by the blast from a bomb buried in the tunnel years before and undetected by our tricorders.

The safety of the Away Team was my responsibility. That someone died and others were injured means that there was some fault in the performance of our duties. I have gone over and over what we have done and thought about what could have been done differently.

A short while ago, I received a visit from Counselor Troi. This is the first time someone under my command has died. She advised me that I would be rushing things to try to talk to Marla’s young son Jeremy about the Klingon bonding ritual, R’uustai which would make us like brothers. He will probably have a great deal of anger at me, and for the time being I should just be there for him.

Against her better judgment, I visited Jeremy and brought up the subject of R’uustai. I am having a hard time relating to the boy’s grief since Klingons do not mourn the death of a body but celebrate the release of the spirit.

When I returned to speak to him again, I found a being with him who had taken on the appearance of his deceased mother. This being convinced him to return to the planet with it. Fortunately, I was able to remove Jeremy from the transporter pad before that could happen. Captain Picard and Counselor Troi were there as well to try to help Jeremy reconcile what has been going on with what has actually happened.

When they arrived back at Jeremy’s quarters, they found the alien back there and the room mysteriously transformed into the house Jeremy knew on Earth. Our Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge managed to disconnect the alien from it’s base on the planet for a short time, but it soon found a way around that and reappeared.

It turns out that the planet below was once inhabited by two distinctly different species; one of matter and one of energy. The matter beings are the ones who destroyed themselves while the energy beings still reside there. These energy beings have shouldered the guilt for Marla Aster’s death much the same way I have. They do not understand the concepts of grief, desiring only to try to fix it by creating a world where they believe Jeremy will be happy.

Wesley Crusher then entered the room to talk to Jeremy about the loss of his own father and the normal processes of anger and resentment it left behind. Jeremy then lashed out at me for being alive while his mother dies, as Counselor Troi had predicted.

Tonight, however, we will enter the holodeck and I will take Jeremy as a member of my family in the R’uustai. His grieving process has allowed him to reach this point and I feel it is the least I can do.

The Bonding is an episode primarily centered on the death of a crewmember. It’s not the first crewman the Enterprise has lost. In fact, at the end of the first season a regular crewmember was lost in Tasha Yar.

The main problem here is that we’ve never met or known Marla and Jeremy Aster before this episode, so we don’t really know who they are – or care. Their characters suffer in the same way the gratuitous “red shirt” of the week suffered in the original Star Trek series; they would die off but they are just a means of conveying the story; we don’t really feel any loss after they go.

Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) has a great line when he is talking with Data (Brent Spiner) about death. He states “If we felt each death the same way we felt one close to us maybe human history would be a lot different” in response to Data’s question of why everyone is asking “How well did you know her?”

And again, even here the problem is that the crew should have gone through this before on a much more deeper and personal level with Tasha Yar’s death. This should not be new ground for them; Data should have a bit more on the level of comprehension of human’s actions in the face of the death of someone they know.

Gabriel Damon who portrays Jeremy Aster could have emoted a bit more. I know he is supposed to be responding very stoically to his mother’s death, but even his railing at Worf (Michael Dorn) when he releases his anger seems half-hearted.

There are only two real bright spots during the episode. One is when Captain Picard and Counselor Troi (Patrick Stewart and Marina Sirtis) are in the turbolift on their way to tell Jeremy of his mother’s death and Picard talks about the perils of carrying families aboard starships. The other occurs when Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is brought in to talk to Jeremy and he opens up for the first time about his anger at Captain Picard when he brought home his father’s body.

Unfortunately, that also presents the other big problem with the episode. Wesley talks about how long it took him to get past those feelings of anger and resentment at Captain Picard. Here it is wrapped up in the short 45 minutes of airtime, rather than the years or months Wesley implies that it took.

This is far from the worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there are plenty more that are very much better, even on this same subject.

Note: This was a special review where we were challenged to “dress up” as anyone we want. If I could I’d be in outer space with the rest of the Enterprise crew, but especially with the Klingons! I love them the most!

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