Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Next Generation 2x1 "The Child"

rating: ***

Memory Alpha summary

via Star Trek; looks a lot like my nephew Julian, actually
After a sometimes abysmal first season, Next Generation was determined to switch things up.  The series became a wide success after the changes made for the third season, but the second season deserves far more credit than it usually gets for everything it did, and "The Child" introduces all of them.

Riker's beard, by the way, is by far the least significant one, even if it became a signature of the character.

Introduced, for instance, are Whoopi Goldberg's mysterious bartender Guinan and Diana Mulder's Dr. Pulaski.  Replacing Dr. Crusher for the duration of the season, Pulaski became known by the fans as "the female Bones," but she represented a new and more mature dynamic, something that to that point in the series Picard had failed to accomplish.  Of the two, Pulaski receives more attention, and right away starts in on one of her signatures, a contentious relationship with Data that led all the way to "The Measure of a Man," the episode that defined the nature of his android existence, something Pulaski routinely questioned.

With the departure of Dr. Crusher, her son Wesley took on new significance as well, making official his as-yet unofficial status as Starfleet prodigy-in-residence, dialing down the more annoying aspects of the character in favor of a more directed approach at what was to become his yearning path to adulthood.  In the absence of his mother, the whole ship adopts Wesley, and in turn he helps symbolize the turning of the crew into more of a family.

Speaking of which..."The Child" as a title refers to none of these aspects but rather an offspring Troi unexpectedly has, an accelerated pregnancy and life that was later echoed-of-a-sort in Deep Space Nine's "The Abandoned" and Enterprise's "Similitude" as well as, basically, the whole concept of the Ocampa (as in Kes) in Voyager.  The experience helps Troi and Riker revisit their relationship, gives Troi the most work she's had since "Skin of Evil" (actually the first time in the whole series where she's had a positive experience despite the obvious complications), and does some fancy footwork over an old franchise trope, so that you don't even have to care too much that the trope even exists in the episode (alien species wants to know what it's like to be human).

It's the rare episode that spends most of its time visiting with the characters and giving token nods to the more traditional storytelling style of Star Trek.  In a lot of ways, it presages how Deep Space Nine would eventually operate on a near-full time basis, sets up modern Star Trek as a whole, and helps begin the process of making Next Generation, you know, actually watchable.  I don't want to say it's a classic, but "The Child" is certainly a step in the right direction for the series, and in that sense its worth is immeasurable.

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Diana Mulder
Whoopi Goldberg
Colm Meaney

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