Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Child   Rewatch 
July 3, 2020 7:29 AM - Season 2, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Change is coming too fast for Wesley Crusher's career, the unstable viruses in the Enterprise's cargo bay, and Troi's new family member. (CW: sci-fi sexual assault)

Memory Alpha doesn't mean to be indelicate, but:

• Due to the Writers Guild of America Strike in 1988, season 2 only contained 22 episodes, rather than the usual 26 episodes. The season premiere, "The Child", aired initially in late November 1988. The season began with Patrick Stewart hosting The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next which filled two hours left absent by the abridged season. The special was the first time that "The Cage", the first installment of Star Trek ever produced, was aired on television.

• This episode was actually a rewrite of an episode with the same title written for Star Trek: Phase II, a series that was scrapped in favor of producing Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the Phase II script by Jaron Summers and Jon Povill, Ilia (and later, the USS Enterprise) was "impregnated." This episode and "Devil's Due" were earmarked for possible recycling for TNG, in anticipation of what became a lengthy Screen Writers' Guild strike which delayed production on season two. In the original Phase II story, Ilia gave birth to a baby girl, Irska, who posed a similar threat to the Enterprise by having a weakening effect on the ship's hull. The Enterprise soon encountered an alien cylinder that endangered the ship and crew by creating problems that only the child, Irska, had the means to resolve. Maurice Hurley stated that his rewrites were based on the Phase II story rather than the original script, which he never read.

• According to director Rob Bowman, "The idea of carrying the bug on board in the containment grid came from the movie Sorcerer, which came from a French movie The Wages of Fear in which wet dynamite had to be taken across the jungle. That was our thread of jeopardy."

• This episode introduced the characters of Katherine Pulaski and Guinan. Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) asked Gene Roddenberry (through her friend LeVar Burton) to create a recurring role for her because she was a big fan of the show. Diana Muldaur (Pulaski) had previously appeared in two episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series ("Return to Tomorrow" and "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"), playing two different characters who also held the title of "Doctor." Muldaur said in an interview that she had moved into the high desert Sierra Nevada with her husband in 1988 when she got a call to work on TNG and couldn't resist. Despite being a series regular for the second season of TNG, Muldaur declined to appear in the series' opening credit sequence, and instead received billing and a "special appearance" credit for each episode in which she appeared.

• Director Rob Bowman explained, "As far as my involvement, I think that being the first episode of the second season, my thrust was to make sure we gave the audience something that would justify their wait over the summer for the first episode. Simply put, it was just that. Here's our audience of loyal Trekkies [....] I said, 'We must give them a great first episode to welcome them back, instead of kind of resting on our laurels.' That was the agreement between Rick Berman and I, and we went a little bit extra on quite a bit."

• This is the first episode in which Riker wears a beard. He gained it after Jonathan Frakes returned for filming having grown it, intending to shave it off for the new season. During the hiatus, he appeared with Gene Roddenberry at a convention. Roddenberry asked the audience for their opinion of Frakes' beard. The resulting cheering convinced Roddenberry to ask him to keep it. Frakes recalled at a convention that Roddenberry said it had an appropriately "nautical" look. He eventually shaved it off ten years later, in Star Trek: Insurrection (although he regrew it by time Star Trek Nemesis came around).

Seymour Cassel (Hester Dealt) was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in the 1968 film Faces, directed by his friend John Cassavetes. In 1990, he had one of his more memorable roles as Sam Catchum in the film Dick Tracy. Among other work in his long career, he has appeared in four different Wes Anderson films. Cassel is responsible for giving his young friend, guitarist Saul Hudson, the nickname Slash, as Hudson would move a lot as a child; Cassel said Hudson would "slash addresses".

"With all your neural nets, algorithms, and heuristics, is there some combination that makes up a circuit for bruised feelings?"
- Pulaski, after Data corrects her after she mispronounced his name

"And who will tuck him in at night?"
"Come on, commander."
"I will accept that responsibility."
- William Riker and Wesley Crusher, with Worf chiming in

Poster's Log:
I've watched ahead a bit, and I'm perplexed at the extent to which the first few season 2 episodes seem to be going out of their way to make Pulaski unlikeable. I don't think it's just a case of me being offended on Data's behalf based on 30-plus years of familiarity with the character; I mean, just because we're still waiting on "Measure of a Man" doesn't mean that the audience wouldn't yet have developed affection for Data. I do remember Pulaski getting moments of more positive character development later in the season (and maybe more overall character development in this shorter season than Dr. Crusher got last season!), but her stuff with Data is just… Perhaps what felt merely curmudgeonly in the 1980s now feels downright hateful.

The authors of The Fifty-Year Mission put it well: "The actress and character quickly earned her fair share of disdain from fans who rejected the acerbic doctor who would continually admonish and torture the innocent android Data in much the way McCoy belittled Spock in the old show. But while Spock could easily defend himself [...] Data was like a child being abused by his foster parents."

Weirdly, this one has an A-, B-, and C-story—Ian, the plasma virus whatever, and Wesley mulling over his future, respectively—and even more weirdly, the C-story is the one I was most invested in. It's probably because Goldberg is always so compelling as Guinan, but I also want to acknowledge some added nuance I detected in Wheaton's performance here. Sirtis does quite well with this material too, but…well, for one thing, I think I'm just sick of that type of story, or even this specific iteration thereof. (TV Tropes notes that the well-known acronym SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome) doesn't actually apply here, as this is a case of Plot-Relevant Age-Up; end pedantic side-note.)

But more than that, this is of course yet another example of nonconsensual sexuality-related stuff being done to a woman on Star Trek. I'm not sure, for instance, why the energy being needed to crawl up under her sheet in the skeeviest possible manner available to an energy being. You will notice that they went out of their way to be detailed in that scene, right down to dragging something around under the sheet. (I did like how directly the observation lounge scene handled the abortion question.) I suppose this one is additionally tainted a bit more now by my metaknowledge that Roddenberry originated the story concept. Maybe after "The Child," watch the Black Mirror "Callister" episode (FF previously) as a palate cleanser.

And in that spirit, here's what TNG director Les Landau had to say in Fifty-Year Mission about Whoopi Goldberg joining the cast: "She will not settle for second best, she is a perfectionist. There were times when I have seen what to my eye works and she has come up and whispered in my ear, let me just try something different, and invariably she is right."

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Also in this week's familiar faces, Miss Gladstone of the lovingly-lingered-upon Puppy Lab scene was played by Dawn Arnemann, who's been in a ton of stuff. She was George's girlfriend with the IQ test on Seinfeld, and I am annoyed that I had to look that up.

The other relevant TV Trope for this one is "growing the beard," which is the opposite of "jumping the shark."

"Greatest Generation" episode link. Apparently, those two guys are acquainted with this episode's director!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With you on just about everything here. One thing about the exceeding skeeviness of the A plot was that it closely mirrors one of the absolutely worst plot lines ever in the Avengers comic. [CW: rape, otherwise-admired characters being awful, although they eventually get their comeuppance.] Since this ep is a reworked Phase II idea, and therefore dates back to sometime in the mid-seventies, it's not as if it was taken from the Avengers plot, and probably not vice versa, which suggests the disturbing possibility that this was considered to be a good idea for a story twice. (It also explains why most of Carol Danvers' comic backstory was jettisoned for the Captain Marvel movie, thankfully.) S2 is not getting off to a good start WRT its lone continuing female main character from S1.

Also agreed on Pulaski, which is a damn shame as Diana Muldaur is a fine actress, and had two previous great turns on TOS, in "Return to Tomorrow" and "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" I haven't seen the former in a while, but I did watch the latter episode recently, and it was quite good (albeit kind of ableist with its treatment of blindness), with Muldaur playing a character who wasn't without her faults, to put it mildly, but still sympathetic. Not so much here. I'm three episodes into S2 and I'm already tired of Pulaski; guess that means that 22 episodes isn't... [puts on anti-Medusan visor] ...too short a season. YEAAAAAAAAAHHHHH

Well, at least we got Guinan. My memory of her appearances on this show was that she was never not a treat to see.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:13 AM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Whoopi Goldberg had been nominated for The Color Purple already, but would win her Oscar for Ghost in 1990.

So she won her Academy Award while she was on the show!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:55 AM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Point: Star Trek: The Next Generation gets better once Riker grows a beard.
Counterpoint: That episode is The Child.

After being so self-congratulatory about how progressive they were last episode, both the show and the characters treat Troi pretty poorly here. And of course she can't exactly just go to the counselor to get someone on her side. Maybe she could talk to Guinan, if they had ever met before today.

The B plot was not Chekhov's gun so much as the guys in Wayne's World 2 who had to make sure there were always plenty of watermelons and chickens stacked while their buddies walked back and forth with a plate glass window.

I never really gave it much thought watching back in the 90s, so it wasn't until rewatching this episode that I realized how odd it was that Wesley stayed on the Enterprise when Beverley left. Though he's a shoo-in to get accepted to Starfleet Academy on the next round, so this situation will only be a few months, assuming of course there aren't any convoluted situations that prevent him from attending for years.

They have at this point given up on the idea of squeezing Worf and Geordie into Chekov/Sulu roles, moving them away from junior officers who serve at conn and also for some reason get asked to join away teams and take part in senior officer conferences all the time into being department heads with more logical reasons to be involved in stories. On the production side, Worf gets a new forehead which looks better and applies quicker, and a new sash that actually looks good with a TNG uniform, instead of the TOS-era prop he used in Season 1. They haven't given up entirely on milking TOS, though, with the new doctor (played by a TOS actor) who has an irrational disdain for the highly logical bridge officer and also avoids the transporter in favor of shuttlecraft whenever possible.

Of course, I love Devil's Due about as much as I disdain this one, so I guess Phase II is a land of contrasts.
posted by ckape at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

A gross episode which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the also gross Avengers #200, which somehow manages to be worse.

Cards of the episode:
The cards of the episode for this week don't touch on the story at all.

The Premiere set has a lot of signs of being hastily put together and a lot of cards such as the shuttles were effectively binder fodder. As written, these were simply worse than other ships one could play. Many cards in subsequent years were essentially hotfixes. In the first expansion set we got Engage Shuttle Operations, which let you load up your bigger ships with shuttles, effectively extending how far you could fly and also allowing you to protect your shuttles by landing.

Pulaski's card also comes from here. The flavorful restriction on beaming severely inhibited her usefulness, as a card she's unfortunately kind of a footnote.
posted by StarkRoads at 2:00 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

it wasn't until rewatching this episode that I realized how odd it was that Wesley stayed on the Enterprise when Beverley left.

I dunno, the Traveler did call him the Mozart of warp propulsion or something. What better place for him to ascend to his destiny than the high-tech flagship? Especially since I'd guess that the Utopia Planitia Theoretical Propulsion Institute* doesn't hand out field commissions as freely as Starfleet apparently does.
(* = I just invented that, AFAIK; not a real thing)

Of course, I love Devil's Due about as much as I disdain this one, so I guess Phase II is a land of contrasts.

Devil's Due is GREAT, and (for now anyway) I'm going to assume that it got so heavily revised that its core concept ("mischievous alien impersonates Satan") is the only lingering Phase II residue.

Pulaski's card also comes from here. The flavorful restriction on beaming severely inhibited her usefulness, as a card she's unfortunately kind of a footnote.

Well, appropriately, though; as a character in the franchise, she's a footnote. Moreso than the only other one-season main-cast name I can think of, Ezri, because at least Ezri was still pretty much the same character.

guess that means that 22 episodes isn't... [puts on anti-Medusan visor] ...too short a season. YEAAAAAAAAAHHHHH

>X[ You can shove that joke right…um…up your long ladder?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:27 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

So I really like Pulaski as a sort of flawed female protagonist (in middle-age no less!) that is just never seen on TV except occasionally now-a-days. Someone like her in another show would either have the edges filed off- be much younger and coded as "bitchy", or be a straight up villain. She has her ups and downs in this season for sure, but a lot of that is the bad writing which is the plague of early TNG for just about everyone- but maybe because she's not young, she doesn't fall trap to the "potted plant" syndrome that all the other female characters have fallen to so far. I do agree that the "sparing with Spock" style antagonism towards Data DOES NOT SCAN the way McCoy's did with Spock- but to be fair, in retrospect a lot of McCoy's shit smells racist too. In the upcoming REAL RACIST DOOZY of an episode- "up the long ladder" There is a charming interaction with Pulaski and Worf that was where I saw her potential. I wish she could have been a recurring guest star in later seasons, maybe having a good medical spar with Crusher or something.
Guinin of course is just the best forever amen. (They better not be bluffing about her being in Picard season 2 or I will RIOT)
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 4:37 PM on July 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I just could never warm to Pulaski, and tend to treat S2 as a speed bump due to the character’s presence. TNG just isn’t really TNG without Beverly Crusher.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:48 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't think this episode is "gross" unless the concept of a kind of immaculate conception is de facto gross. The being chooses a young woman of fertile age, with whom he can communicate telepathically – which is what you'd expect if an intelligent disembodied being of pure energy chose to manifest as a human being (cv Jesus, bodhisattvas and other superior beings in traditional stories).

The understated part of the plot is all in Sirtis's acting. She accepts what happens and she's open to what's going to happen. I thought it interesting they went so far as to have Worf suggest the pregnancy should be terminated, but that Troi is definite that she's going to have the baby.

And now... I liked Pulaski. I liked how she got the upper hand on the captain from the start by going to Ten Forward first, then asking him to sit down and listen. Later she accepts that there has to be security in sickbay but tells them to keep out of the way. There's always an edge to Pulaski but she's not unkind.
posted by zadcat at 6:09 PM on July 3, 2020

Theological nitpick: that's not what the Immaculate Conception was. (It's a common misconception, even among Christians.) In terms of the virgin birth of Jesus and Mary's consent for same, the gospels differ, but at least in Luke, Gabriel announces it to her (this is the first part of the Hail Mary prayer), and Mary indicates her consent.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:20 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, I was mistaken. I meant virgin birth really, which is a trope in a lot of myths in one format or another.

(The Immaculate Conception isn't even about Jesus's birth, but about Mary's. They didn't come up with this idea till the mid 19th century, when the pope decided that Jesus had to have been born to someone with no original sin.)
posted by zadcat at 9:29 PM on July 3, 2020

The 24th century is a land of contrasts. Everyone is pretty chill about the fast growing intelligent alien child who is his own father but Data’s personhood is continually questioned.

Speaking Dr Pulaski, she gave Troi two full examinations and then they went to 10 forward? “Wow Deanna, this is fucked up. Don’t know about you, but I could use a drink.”
posted by rodlymight at 9:29 PM on July 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

"Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? That's like dropsy or the ague. Synthehol makes it aaaaaaallll better."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 PM on July 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't think this episode is "gross" unless the concept of a kind of immaculate conception is de facto gross. The being chooses a young woman of fertile age, with whom he can communicate telepathically – which is what you'd expect if an intelligent disembodied being of pure energy chose to manifest as a human being

Troi is shown to accept what has happened to her rather than having consented to it. There's an episode coming up which is even worse about consent, but that doesn't excuse the three male writers of this episode. As has been previously noted in the rewatch discussion on "Skin of Evil" here, the treatment of the women who worked on these episodes was not always so great, which gives us more reason to consider how the characters are depicted.

Alien entities on Star Trek manifest as humans in all kinds of ways, there's no special reason why the invocation of any random mythic cliche prohibits us from thinking critically about them. A lot of Star Trek stories actively encourage us to do so - "Return of the Archons", "The Apple", "Devil's Due", and "Justice", to name but a few.

With all that said: I also kinda like Pulaski. I get why people don't like seeing her acting prejudiced toward Data but it at least seems like a realistic character choice, an older character who has difficulty accepting change? We also learn something about Data from the way he responds to microaggression: matter of factly asserting and demonstrating his personhood.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:00 PM on July 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

Just came in here to say Homo neanderthalensis and I chatted about Pulaski a couple of months ago (I started the rewatch with everyone else but got binge-y and now I'm in season 5), and I've really come around to their way of thinking on the character, as above.

Also, Season 2 of TNG is when Trek starts feeling like Trek for a lot of people. Call it the Riker's beard effect if you want, but I think it's the Guinan effect.
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:59 AM on July 8, 2020

Guinan headware watch: Gray teardrop
posted by Kyol at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Adapt ...   |  Movie: Hamilton... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments