TNG: S3E05: “The Bonding”

In which someone dies, energy beings never understand, and Worf has a new brother.

We open with an away team somewhere. They’re assisting some archaeologists investigating the remains of a civilization destroyed by war, when Troi detects a problem exactly too late to save one of the team from death. The looked worried for a while, but only spoke up a half-second before the away team called in an emergency. She needs to be a lot better about raising the alarm when she’s uneasy.

The Klingon ritual for coping with the loss of an archaeologist. Probably.

The Klingon ritual for coping with the loss of an archaeologist. Probably.

The dead archaeologist is Lt. Aster. It appears that some explosive device hidden from their scans blew up right next to her, and the next nearest crew were three meters away, and now her son is an orphan whose closest relatives are on Earth, so Picard and Troi has the unenviable task of telling the kid his mom is dead. We get a cut to Wes hearing the news, whose father also died under Picard’s command. Everyone’s feeling fairly morbid. We didn’t see this kind of intensity when the ship lost 18 crew to the Borg, although I admit they were a bit busy at the time.

Picard halts the turbolist on the way to school to bemoan the existence of civilians aboard the Enterprise, and gets a quick pep talk from Troi before going to tell the kid. He seems to take it rather calmly, if with a depressing sort of fatalism. We get to see Picard actually being good at dealing with children, though.

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. Riker is drinking grapefruit juice and Data is trying to understand what grief actually means and the human rituals surrounding it. It’s implied the Lt. Aster and Riker bumped uglies once or twice in the conversation which outlines the human ‘blind spot’ of only feeling loss deeply when you’re familiar with someone.

Meanwhile, Geordi a finds our that the explosives have a subspace trigger somehow which renders them invisible to standard scans, and apparently there’s something fishy regarding the way they were set up. Meanwhile, Troi is counseling Worf in a room lined with milk crates. Worf’s mindset is that if he could at least seek revenge he might be able to come to terms with it, but as is his only method of coping is to offer a Klingon ritual to the boy Jeremy, on the basis that they’re both orphans. Troi, however, is worried about Worf showing too much affection too soon. I don’t think that’s a real problem – Klingon affection does not look the same as human affection. As much as children who grow up in Starfleet probably aren’t speciesist, instincts are a hard thing to change and he’s still primarily grown up around humans. So, the whole episode is about evolved future Noblebright ways of dealing with loss. Bluntly, this is not my area of interest.

The B plot advances when they find something interesting on the planet and Troi senses something from it, but is fairly vague since the entire crew is apparently in mourning over the death of Lt. Aster. It made me think of Dunbar’s Number and the Enterprise is small enough to fit into the category of Tribe. I do tend to wonder what this does to any relationships with people who aren’t on the ship. There’s probably contemporary research on crews of naval vessels and deployed infantry, but I don’t think the US has anything official like a ‘five-year-mission.’ Food for thought.

"Just because I'm twelve doesn't mean I believe in weird anomalous shenanigans. I live on the Enterprise!"

“Just because I’m twelve doesn’t mean I believe in weird anomalous shenanigans. I live on the Enterprise, I know what’s up.”

It looks like the anomaly on the surface is something designed to disrupt Matter/Antimatter containment, although in the next scene it seems that some weird thingy has created an illusion or hallucination of Lt. Aster in Jeremy’s quarters. Only Troi can sense it, except obviously for Jeremy, who is supicious as hell. I’m starting to like that kid. When you live on the Enterprise, sometimes it makes more sense to trust Picard over the evidence of your own eyes.

When Worf shows up and also sees Aster, this at least limits the number of things she could be, but those possibilities tend to be worse. She also wants to take him down to the planet. The mined planet. The mined, dead planet. When she’s stopped, she vanished and turns his quarters into their old house. Whatever is pretending to be Lt. Aster can create tangible illusions that are either true-to-life or true to Jeremy’s memories. This episode feels like a prequel to “Charlie X.” If Jeremy takes up Space Mom’s offer, he’ll be raised in isolation from other Federation culture. That said, he’s already sentient so he might not the that messed up if he ever decides to rejoin real society. This is a much more interesting take on that premise – there’s an actual ethical question here rather than just a ‘how do we deal with the problem’ story. Even though this is probably not even going to rank on my top fifty list, you can tell that the writers are done derping around.

The Asters apparently lived in the Saucer Separation mechanism.

The Asters apparently lived in the Saucer Separation mechanism.

She seems to be using the ship systems to create the illusions, and the engineering team is able to adjust the shields to shut her out. The crew isn’t offering happiness, or even relief from suffering, but they are offering reality. A proposal to which the planet vehemently objects. Friggin’ energy beings. Just because they live in a set of dimensions where thought, energy, and matter are all equivalent they think they can… uh… do whatever… they want.

Okay, well you know what I meant.

The energy wraith goes to find Jeremy, and Picard orders the transporters and corridors shut off. Here, we establish that there are now force fields in enough places to shut down specific corridors throughout the ship. Compare that to the TOS height of anti-intruder technology of being able to flood an entire deck with knockout gas. This is an incredibly useful feature, and given what we’ve seen of the shuttlebays, also allows a hull breach to not take out the entire deck’s pressurization. It’s incredible what 80 years will get you. In fact, there are force fields at both ends of a relatively short corridor, Extrapolating, those suckers have to be everywhere.

Picard finally makes it to meeting fake-Aster, and it appears that the energy beings that survived the ancient war don’t believe in allowing suffering any more, without understanding the psychology of humanity. This is another time where humanism trumps transhumanism in Star Trek, but at least Picard is able to give The Speech more eloquently than Kirk. Suffering is important because it’s part of being human, and living in a fiction would be a more pleasant method of death, but the death of utility nonetheless. They bring in Wes to give first-hand testimony of how much it sucks to have a parent die, to convince Jeremy to make the right choice.

The rest of the episode is sad flutes and Worf adopting Jeremy, complete with his own ceremonial sash. D’aww, I guess.



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