“Let’s just hope it doesn’t blow us to kingdom come while it’s figuring out how to blow us to kingdom come.”

“The Bonding” is a strange episode for me. It’s a difficult episode. It was, atypically, one of Ronald D. Moore’s first scripts for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I use the word, “atypically,” because this kind of story isn’t his usual fare. When I think of Moore’s work, I think of Klingons and the Dominion. We begin with a failed expedition on a pulverized planet that results in the accidental death of archaeologist Marla Aster (Susan Powell).

Because the episode begins with her death, we’re never privy to what she was and instead, interestingly, we’re treated to an alien facsimile. We’re used to seeing aggressive, violent aliens behaving irrationally (particularly in Star Trek lore and meant to represent humans before they evolved to this level of 24th century perfection), but it’s rare that we get a glimpse of benevolence and altruism.

The aliens in “The Bonding,” known as Koinonians, out of a sense of guilt, realize that Aster had a son named Jeremy (Gabriel Damon), who has now been left an orphan. They either construct or morph one of their own into a carbon copy of Marla so that “it” can care for him. It’s very sweet to think that there are those aliens out there in the galaxy that feel as we feel. Sometimes I feel those emotions are hard to come by on Earth, but it’s the transition that bothers me.

Jeremy is looking at old home movies and then suddenly this woman enters with the same kind of smile and warmth and joviality as was indicated in those movies. The creature emulates behaviors and really tries to sell this version of Jeremy’s mother, and because (according to Troi) he hasn’t had the proper time to grieve, he slips neatly into this new illusion, and the illusion, in turn, warms him like a soft blanket. I hate illusions, but I understand their power.

I didn’t want Marla to be warm and accommodating as a mother. What would these aliens know of human warmth? I wanted her to be a cold and pointless imitation that scared Jeremy, rather than provide him comfort. I wanted for the imitation to have to learn to be a mother, only for it to be taken away, and then Jeremy would understand true loss, but we only have 45 minutes to tell this story, and unfortunately a lot of it comes across as self-help and motivation, two popular concepts in the ’80s.

That’s why we have the ship’s counselor instead of, you know, friends dispensing wisdom and advice. Troi (Marina Sirtis) doesn’t always sound authentic since most of her dialogue (when she is actually permitted to do her job) comes off like words you’d find in a fortune cookie or in pop psychology books. Neither Troi nor Picard (Patrick Stewart) are much help to poor Jeremy. Only Worf seems to understand his loss, as his parents were also killed when he was a child.

Worf wants to bond with the boy, but his efforts are thwarted at first by Troi and later by the illusion of Jeremy’s mother. I began to understand (and even relate to) Worf in the third season. With all the drama with regard to his isolation from the rest of the crew, he is more real and authentic than any of the humans on the ship. It’s hard to act underneath all that latex and prosthetics but Michael Dorn manages to make it look easy. Young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) also joins in the fray, recalling for Jeremy in vivid detail the day Captain Picard came to see him and tell him that his father had died.

It just doesn’t work for me as an episode of Star Trek when everybody’s on the verge of hugging just before the end credits like Family Ties. It’s not an episode I can recommend for anyone who has never seen the show, like “The Inner Light” or “Darmok.” It does give Troi the opportunity to do something, even if it isn’t particularly helpful, but there is one thing I don’t understand. How is Troi able to tell that something is going to happen when the bomb goes off? If she can psychically read land mines, shouldn’t she be taken on every away mission?

“The Bonding” is a decent character piece, but it came out at a time when character pieces were not the show’s strong suit. The episode would’ve played better in later seasons. A number of scenes shot for this episode were cut, and most of them involved Troi and Worf. It’s possible the scenes were cut to make more room for Wesley’s subplot. That might’ve been a mistake considering we knew enough about Wesley’s plight (“You noticing all this plight?”) that we didn’t need it repeated again for this episode.

I know everyone experiences a loss, and that loss stays with you like a persistent bug that just won’t leave you alone. Sometimes it’s a bug in your brain, an aching feeling. You feel a chill. Too much is expected to happen, particularly to Jeremy, for the boy to even begin a journey to recovery. Even when Worf bonds with Jeremy, it feels like a very small band-aid for the boy’s grief. Damon is truly amazing, considering that he would go on to play a psychotic, gun-toting, drug-dealing teen in 1990’s Robocop 2.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: