TNG: S1E17: “When The Bough Breaks”

In which a legend surfaces, Crusher insults all artists, and 20th century Earth sucks, apparently. 

"That's the biggest object I've ever had in my pants!"

“That’s the biggest object I’ve ever had in my pants!”

No leading log entry today. The Enterprise is just cruising along when a small child runs right into Riker on his way to the bridge. He’s running away from school, specifically calculus. He’s also eight. It’s intended to be a joke either about overbearing parents or accelerated emphasis on education, but call me crazy, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There are calc books written for six-year-olds, and not especially bright ones. Little Harry, however, does not like calculus or his teacher. On the bridge, Picard fills in Riker that they’e followed some faint readings to the Epsilon Minos system, which perks up Riker considerably due to the legend of Aldea, which is basically space-Atlantis. Aldea apparently cloaked itself, but Troi senses the population nearby. So, I guess the found a way to cloak their gravity, too, that the Enterprise couldn’t sense them that way? Riker’s grinning like an idiot, but it is impressive.

Given that they followed a sensor trail to a planet widely considered mythical, it seems pretty clear they were led there, but the purpose may be benign. The welcoming message is certainly friendly enough. Two representatives beam directly to the bridge, since they assure Picard that no other transporter can get through the shield. Troi claims that the Aldeans want something so precious they’re afraid to ask for it. Sinister.

Presented without comment.

Presented without comment.

A beam comes out of the viewscreen and scans everyone before settling on Wes. My question, as always when this visual is presented, is: what is emitting all that light, and why is it visible? From the angle as it swings around the bridge, it’s coming from near the viewscreen in a moderately focused beam – definitely not from the planet. Now would be the time to try firing your phaser, Yar, because the most likely source for that beam is a cloaked person in the room, given the parallax. Of course, that doesn’t explain how the same beam wanders around all decks and holds on all the children.

On the surface, with Riker, Troi, and Crusher, the Aldeans explain that they need the Federation’s help because they have no children – the youngest person on the planet is a twentysomething. They want to trade with the Federation – they want to take children and give technology. Troi is presumably only being diplomatic when she says that humans are ‘unusally attached’ to their offspring. Or maybe not. But this doesn’t seem to meet the approval of the Aldeans, who beam Riker back, kidnap all the interesting children aboard the ship, plus Wesley (ooh, sick burn) and start talking about what the Enterprise wants in return.

And thus begins a TNG child-centric episode. Oh good, this went so well with “And the Children Shall Lead.” Although we do get some information that Aldea is run by a computer. Back aboard the ship, another hostage crisis begins, with all the parents doing their best to be reasonable adults and predictably failing  because… well… their children have been kidnapped.

Aldean social structure is organized into Units, where people of similar talents or interests live together, like an enclave or collective. Apparently, the scanning beam has allowed them to assess the childrens potentials and talents – children are parceled off to artists and musicians, and Wesley is given the task of leader. Already, though, strife is developing on Aldea when the youngest Aldean refuses to give up the youngest human child. Also, how bad are the rest of the children who were left behind on the ship going to feel at the end of the episode, when the abductees tell the stories of their adventure. The implication will be that they were so much more special than the others. The crew discover some weak points in the shield and Picard explains that his main task will be to keep the Aldeans talking while the sciency people work on punching through.

"This is the main computer core that controls everything on this planet. I'm showing you this so that you'll know what not to attempt to sabotage or break when the time comes for your inevitable rebellion against your kidnappers."

“This is the main computer core that controls everything on this planet. I’m showing you this so that you’ll know what not to attempt to sabotage or break when the time comes for your inevitable rebellion against your kidnappers.”

The leader of the Aldeans shows Wesley the Custodian – the computer core, for reasons which defy rational thought. None of the Aldeans are psychologists anymore, it would seem, because Wes has given not the slightest indication that he’s resigned to the fate they have in store for him. I suppose that makes the situation sound a bit more dire for him than it really is. I mean, Beverly would be sad, but he’d grow up in space-Atlantis. In fact, the first thing they do is give him privileged user access. The Custodian was built by ‘the progenetors’ and automates their entire world. And Wes’ first questions are how it works and what its power source is.

Best line in the episode: “Our inability to have children is a genetic dysfunction.” I mean, it is a planet of artists and no skilled labor, so I guess advanced genetic science is not among their strong suits. They manage to sneak Wes the scanner of a medical tricorder and he surreptitiously takes some readings of an Aldean, before they beam  Picard and crusher back from the planet and catapult the ship three days away at maximum warp without damaging the ship in any way, and threaten to make the next pulse so far that they’d be jealous of Janeway’s commute.

On the planet, the musician gives a little girl an instrument that directly translates emotion into music, but all she can play is sad songs. Calculus Kid is learning to sculpt, and it turns out that his new dad doesn’t even know what Calculus is. Also, all the Aldeans are suffering from extreme radiation poisoning. He sculpts a dolphin, but when explaining what that is he gets homesick and sad. Also, the Aldeans don’t have fish anymore. Wesley organizes a hunger strike, while Beverly figures out the treatment for their radiation poisoning and Data figures out the timing on the shield.

I should start a counter for how many times the Big Speech involves derogatory references to 20th or 21st century Earth. In this instance it’s radiation and the depletion of the ozone layer. Literally, the cloak  and shield are eroding the ozone layer. But I’m not going to, because I’m already losing track of how many I have.

The one planetary reactor.

The one planetary reactor.

Because this is Star Trek, we end with the Enterprise recreating the Aldean ozone layer, Crusher treating them with space-kelation, the Aldeans having to re-learn science, and the little girl giving Picard a flower while everyone tries not to laugh because he has a stuffed tribble stuck to his back. Surely, this new partnership between the people of Aldea and the Federation will result in wondrous advances in reactor technology (for spaceships, so that there’s no ozone to destroy), shielding, and how to see through Romulan cloaking devices, right? Or we could never hear about it again. Any bets?



2 thoughts on “TNG: S1E17: “When The Bough Breaks”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S7E17: “Masks”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S5E05: “Disaster”

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