Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Bonding   Rewatch 
October 2, 2020 6:37 AM - Season 3, Episode 5 - Subscribe

When an away team casualty seems to return from Redshirt Purgatory, the Enterprise crew must counsel her formerly-orphaned, tormented young son.

Memory Alpha is here to care for you. Why do you resist?:

• This episode introduced Ronald D. Moore to the Star Trek writing fold, something he would be part of for ten years across three incarnations of Trek. Moore recalled, "I had been in LA for about three years, and I was doing an odd series of jobs – I was a messenger, I was an animal hospital receptionist… I did all kinds of things. Then I started dating this girl, and she had a connection to Star Trek: The Next Generation because she had helped work on the pilot, and she knew that I was a big fan of the original series. I had, like, books and posters and stuff in my apartment – I was a big fan of the old show. Next Gen was in its second season at that point, and she said, "You know, I could get you a tour of the sets." And I thought, "Oh, my god! I'd love to see the sets! It would be amazing!" It took, like, four weeks to set it up, and in the interim I just sorta decided to take a shot, and I sat down and wrote an episode. And I brought it with me. The guy who was giving the set tour, I conned him into reading it, and he turned out to be one of Gene Roddenberry's assistants. He really liked it, and he gave it to my first agent. She submitted it through the front door to the show, and it went into the slush pile. And it sat in the slush pile for about seven months. When the third season began, a new executive producer came on board – Michael Piller – and he went through the slush pile, and found it and bought it and produced it, and asked me to do a second one."

• The script went through a substantial rewrite by Melinda Snodgrass and Piller, and was according to Moore, "greatly improved in the process". He noted, "'The Bonding' was completely out of my hands after I sold the script."

• Moore attended one day of shooting of the episode, where he met Patrick Stewart for the first time. Moore recalled, "He was very gracious and friendly when he learned that I had written the episode and then asked me if I was writing another. I had just gotten the assignment for 'Defector' and so I briefly told him the idea. He nodded his head, seemed intrigued, then said, 'Just remember one thing… the Captain doesn't do enough screwing or shooting in this series.' And then he turned and walked away. Now, THAT is the Captain of the Enterprise, if you ask me."

• Director Kolbe also remembers, "Vulnerability in Worf is an interesting concept, because the guy seems so invulnerable. To let him open up a little bit gives me a dichotomy I like. It's an intriguing concept visually and also as far as Worf is concerned. I have fond memories of that show."

• While Jeremy Aster's story starts and ends with this episode, other sources show that Jeremy's relationship with Worf remained strong after his return to Earth: he seeks, and receives, romantic advice from Worf in DC Comics' "The Lesson", joins the House of Martok in Genesis Force, and has become close with Sergey and Helena Rozhenko, visiting them quite often, in Diplomatic Implausibility.

"Jeremy, on the starship Enterprise, no one is alone."
- Picard, to Jeremy Aster

"We feel a loss more intensely when it's a friend."
"But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?"
"Maybe they should, Data. Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, Human history would be a lot less bloody."
- Riker and Data

Poster's Log:
Anybody else headcanoning the aliens here as maybe being the inventors of Generations' Nexus?

To my own surprise, this one kind of got to me a little bit on rewatch; I don't have kids, I don't have any personal experiences similar to Jeremy's, and he wasn't a stellar child actor (though not too bad for the era). So I'm gonna blame it on that Retroactive Worf Fondness that has already come up a couple of times. Well, that and the fact that Year of Shit 2020 has got me thinking about death and loss a lot lately, in which I'm sure I'm not alone. The above Picard line to Jeremy seemed corny at the time, but not so much now; the late 1980s might as well have been five hundred years ago, culturally-speaking.

Speaking of Worf fondness, it's probably reading too much into things to mention this minor spoiler right now, but: Worf and Troi become a thing at the end of this series. It seems to have been short-lived, not only because of Worf's transfer post-Generations to Deep Space 9, but also because IIRC there's no hint of them still seeing each other in Generations; nevertheless, if it has a starting point, this might be it. (Unlike Chakotay and Seven, the Worf-Troi late-series relationship does have some basis.)

I misremembered this as the episode where Wesley watches a holographic message recorded by his dad; it seemed like an apt moment. That episode is actually season 4 episode 2, "Family."

Speaking of misremembering, this is one of a handful of TNGs with a youngster guest actor going through parental trauma who latches onto a regular-cast senior officer. The others that you may have mixed this one up with are "Hero Worship" (the Data one), "Suddenly Human" (the Picard one with the Talarians), and "New Ground" if you wanna count Alexander (and why not).

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Fashion It So" for this episode because the Aster house had some badass prog-thrash-metal album-cover-style art on its wall.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As it happens, I do have personal experiences similar to Jeremy's; my parents died in an accident when I was seven, and I had the dream, several times, where my parents came back and it was my life as an orphan that was the bad dream.* So, this episode had deep resonance for me, and I'll refer back to my comment on "Heart of Glory" as to why Worf was the perfect crew member to be the focus of this episode: it's not just that he was orphaned himself, and found meaning and purpose in a somewhat overidealizing of Klingon culture, but that he also feels survivor guilt doubled over, not just because he was leading the expedition that led to Marla Aster's death, but that she left behind a son, just as he was left behind. Wesley also gets some good bits here, that extend his characterization beyond "genius kid saves starship" and "SF teen has SF teen problems, i.e. My Girlfriend Is a Shapeshifter". And I even feel for the energy-Koinonians, since they function in effect as ghosts for the corporeal (and now extinct) Koinonians. There's a movie titled Truly, Madly, Deeply that's possibly my favorite Alan Rickman role--yes, even more than Galaxy Quest--in which he plays a ghost that comes back in corporeal form that at first fulfills that wish of his surviving lover but eventually functions to help her face her grief and move on, and I think that ultimately "Marla" does the same.

I'd also like to mention something that we were talking about last ep, about Roddenberry's insistence that humanity had transcended its fear of death. I'd like to post an excerpt from Michael Piller's book Fade In, which was mostly about writing Star Trek: Insurrection but also talked about Roddenberry's Box:
My first time in Roddenberry’s Box was during the very first episode I worked on as head writer. We were already in production of season three, four shows were finished, twenty-two still to do. There were no scripts and no stories to shoot the following week. Desperate, I bought a spec script that had been sent in from an amateur writer named Ron Moore who was about to enlist in the U.S. Navy. It was a rough teleplay called “The Bonding” and would require a lot of reworking but I liked the idea. A female Starfleet officer is killed in an accident and her child, overcome with grief, bonds with a holographic recreation of his mother rather than accept her death.

I sent a short description of the story to Rick and Gene. Minutes later, I was called to an urgent meeting in Gene’s office. “This doesn’t work” he said. “In the Twenty-Fourth Century, no one grieves. Death is accepted as part of life.”

As I shared the dilemma with the other staff writers, they took a bit of pleasure from my loss of virginity, all of them having already been badly bruised by rejections from Gene. Roddenberry was adamant that Twenty-Fourth Century man would evolve past the petty emotional turmoil that gets in the way of our happiness today. Well, as any writer will tell you, ‘emotional turmoil’, petty and otherwise, is at the core of any good drama. It creates conflict between characters. But Gene didn’t want conflict between our characters. “All the problems of mankind have been solved,” he said. “Earth is a paradise.”

Now, go write drama.

His demands seemed impossible at first glance. Even self-destructive.
And yet, I couldn’t escape one huge reality. Star Trek worked. Or it had for thirty years. Gene must be doing something right.

I accepted it as a challenge. Okay, I told the writers, I’m here to execute Roddenberry’s vision of the future, not mine. Let’s stop fighting what we can’t change. These are his rules. How do we do this story without breaking those rules?

A day later, I asked for another meeting with Gene and Rick. And here’s how I re-pitched the story:

“When the boy’s mother dies, he doesn’t grieve. He acts like he’s been taught to act -- to accept death as a part of life. He buries whatever pain he may be feeling under this Twenty-Fourth Century layer of advanced civilization. The alien race responsible for the accidental death of his mother tries to correct their error by providing a replacement version of her. The boy wants to believe his mother isn’t dead, but our Captain knows she isn’t real and must convince the boy to reject the illusion. In order to do so, the boy must cut through everything he’s been taught about death and get to his true emotions. He must learn to grieve.”

The new approach respected Roddenberry’s rules and by doing so, became a more complex story. He gave his blessing. And I began to learn how Roddenberry’s Box forced us as writers to come up with new and interesting ways to tell stories instead of falling back into easier, familiar devices.
Personally, I don't know if it's so much "forc[ing] writers to come up with new and interesting ways to tell stories" as it is "rephrasing the same idea in a way that overcomes the boss' biases and weird conceptions of human nature." Whatever was in Roddenberry that was driving him to insist on humanity's eventual "perfection" and discarding of a lot of the things that inform the present human condition, it seems to have almost killed the show, until Piller figured out how to bypass it.

*Another dream that I had repeatedly as a child--because of the highly dysfunctional family that I was placed with after my parents' death--was that the Enterprise would come and take me away from my bad situation. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized that, in the ways that mattered, it did.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:06 AM on October 2, 2020 [22 favorites]

I watched TNG with my father when it first aired, and this one didn't resonate with me at the time. I grew up thinking the farfetched aspects of the show were FTL travel and transporter beams.

As an adult, especially since 2016, I have grappled with how "Star Trek" prepared me for a society that never existed, one in which coworkers honor and respect each other; in which civil rights are defended; in which gender is not a barrier for acceptance and success.

As a child, Star Trek wasn't entirely fiction, and the richness of that fantasy bleeds into my more critical adult consciousness when I rewatch. It's comforting, but it also delivers a sense of profound loss when I encounter episodes like this.

Am I mourning my illusions about where we were headed as a society? Am I mourning the child I can no longer be? Am I tracing the edges of my fear that the love that I think I have may be as fictional as the bridge crew?

My name is Jeremy, too. So when Captain Picard takes the child's hand and says "Jeremy, no one is alone on the Enterprise," I break down and cry. Every damn time.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2020 [12 favorites]

Card of the episode from the Star Trek CCG: Premiere('94):Full Planet Scan.

Highly useful utility card from Premiere, with an overly wordy nerf card printed years later, you know the drill. As one might guess from the text of FPS, dilemma and artifact cards are 'seeded' under the missions at the beginning of the game in First Edition, and are encountered in a 'last in first out' order. A peek at these cards could be a huge adventage in preparing a crew to solve a mission. The seed phase meant the game had a pretty elaborate setup, with each player taking turns laying out missions, outposts, etc for later use. There was some definite strategy in the seed order, my favorite of which was sluffing cards under a mission so I could easily retrieve Orbs of the Prophets.

Second Edition did away with this mechanic almost entirely: you'd still take turns laying out missions, but Dilemmas were encountered in a mission attempt based on the opponent drawing a number equal to the number of personnel attempting, and then selecting a number of them with cost equal to that same number (upper left corner here). It's a much more refined game.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:08 PM on October 2, 2020

This was an episode I didn't look forward to watching again, remembering it as pretty cringey from before. And I did find myself rolling my eyes at Picard saying "On the Enterprise, no one is ever alone" again and some of the Afterschool Special dialog makes me curl into a ball. It's terribly stagey. But damn if they didn't get me at the end with Worf talking about being a family, and then doing the ceremony with the kid. When I saw this before, it was long before my mom, twin sister, and dad had died, leaving me alone with no other family, and I was surprised at how much of a gut-punch it is seeing Worf let go of that rigorous and proscribed set of behaviors and beliefs, how tender he is with the kid. I'm not crying, you're crying.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 8:37 PM on October 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

Ok, so we have a planet devoid of life, except for these energy aliens, who create illusory environments and people (well, one) to keep this one survivor company… sounds familiar, but this is not The Royale, gentleman. Might have been if Picard and the gang had been less persuasive, though.

Feels a bit like old Trek, I mean this is The Cage proposition, right? But where old Trek gave us the disposable redshirt cliche, here we have a whole episode about the loss of one crewmember. Dorn and Wheaton both doing great work here.
posted by rodlymight at 8:50 PM on October 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

You all have made great points so far about Jeremy and Roddenbery and getting around Gene's weird ideas.

I just want to touch on Data.

He goes to talk to Riker in Ten Forward and asks about why people keep asking each other how well they knew Lt. Aster or how well Wes knows Jeremy. "Does the question of familiarity have some bearing on death?"

"Do you remember how we all felt when Tasha died?"

Data replies that he doesn't feel the same way for Aster as he did Tasha, though he can't say why precisely.

Riker chalks it up to human nature and adds, "We feel a loss more intensely when it's a friend."

"Hmm. But should not feelings run just as deep regardless of who has died?"

Riker replies that maybe they should, human history would be a lot less bloody.

This just comes off all wrong to me. I can't believe Data is that clueless. In "The Measure of a Man" he said Tasha was special to him so he can obviously differentiate between types of relationships. We know other crewpersons have been lost before this episode. I wish they would have explored some other reason for why people ask each other if they knew the deceased because that is an interesting question without dumbing down Data.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:13 PM on October 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

This episode had close to zero effect on me when I was younger, but it's kinda nightmare fuel now that I have kids who are approaching Jeremy's age.

The episode had a weird Outer Limits kind of vibe: creepy force tries to seduce with easy answers, protagonist must resist by embracing the harder path.

This bit about Ronald Moore meeting Patrick Stewart for the first time is good enough reason to read all the recaps ever: [Stewart] nodded his head, seemed intrigued, then said, 'Just remember one thing… the Captain doesn't do enough screwing or shooting in this series.'
posted by skewed at 7:44 PM on October 5, 2020

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