Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Family"

***

Air date: 10/1/1990
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In the aftermath of the Borg incident, the Enterprise is docked for repairs in orbit around Earth, and members of the crew have the rare opportunity to deal with family matters. "Family" is unique in that it might be the only episode of TNG that is 100 percent character driven. This is an episode that has no plot whatsoever, and that's a rare and gutsy choice by the writing staff. A show like this would've been unheard of on the original series, but by TNG season four, a show like "Family" proves that Trek can be about characters as much as it can be about stories.

All that said, this is one of those episodes that I respect more for what it tries to be rather than for what it actually does. There are nice threads weaving throughout "Family," but that's the operative word: Nice. Not powerful or gripping or original or groundbreaking. Merely nice. Many fans rank this among TNG's finest hours. I cannot. It's a nice hour, but not a standout one.

Picard returns to the small French village where he grew up, where long-ago tensions with his older brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp) resume. The tension for years has been left to simmer on the back burner; Picard has not even met his sister-in-law (Samantha Eggar) or his nephew Rene (David Tristan Birkin). Robert is at first cold and standoffish, and later voices his displeasure over his long-held perception of Jean-Luc's arrogance. Meanwhile, Picard is offered a job on Earth, and even seriously considers taking it. The Borg incident has left him shaken, and he begins to take stock of his life as a starship captain, and the personal sacrifices it has imposed upon him.

Percolating tensions eventually boil over with a fight in the family vineyard where Picard and his brother come to blows before collapsing into laughter while covered in mud — which unfortunately is a hoary old sibling-brawl cliche. Picard's subsequent confession about his feelings of helplessness in being assimilated by the Borg is the episode's psychological highlight — but in the end this torment seems too simplistically depicted and the full weight of the matter is lost.

There are other palatable but lightweight threads here, including Crusher giving Wesley a long-ago recording of his father (Doug Wert) before he died, which again visits the subject of personal/family loss in the military. Also, Worf's adoptive parents — Sergey and Helena Rozhenko (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) — come aboard the ship, revealing the cultural/emotional divide that has always existed between our resident Klingon and his adoptive parents. I found amusement in Sergey's enthusiasm for a tour of a real starship: "I have all the schematics at home," he brags. Even within Trek itself there are Trek nerds.

Previous episode: The Best of Both Worlds, Part II
Next episode: Brothers

Season Index

20 comments on this review

TH - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 4:46pm (USA Central)
Great to see new TNG reviews; as with everyone else, I have some comments:

Family: One thing I would like to note that I was almost sure you would have mentioned is the lost art of closure. Half of the fleet has just been destroyed, Picard has just been pulled from the brink of being turned into a cyborg, and the ship has been heavily damaged; If this were Voyager, the next episode would have been a comedy. I'm surprised you didn't mention how TNG not only mentions this major life-altering episode in Family, but actually spends a whole episode dealing with the consequences (the ship is in spacedock being repaired for the entire episode - can't imagine seeing that these days on a Trek series). In addition, Best of Both Worlds didn't just end with Family, but actually was brought up over and over again. Good continuity.

Brothers: The best praise I can give for Spiner's performance is that I never new until I read it that Soong was played by Spiner (granted, I was less than ten years old when the episode first aired, but I still don't look at Soong and see Spiner when I watch this episode).

The Loss: One point to add to this: Troi has commonly said she is "unable" to read certain people, such as Ferengi... does that freak her out as much as not being able to read humans in this episode? And I'm ignoring the non-continuity of Farpoint and early episode where she could turn her senses off.

Clues: In, let's say, 99% of cases, you must remember that these aliens come across all-organic crews. The crew is knocked asleep, way up a day later and assume they are in a wormhole. They presumably have no experience in what to do when they are actually discovered. They were PLANNING to kill them all, but Picard convinced them to just wipe the memories. Frankly, I think that for a race that went instantly to "let's kill them all", they agreed far too easily to this plan not only once, but a second time after it had already failed.

Devil's Due: I think it should be noted that this episode, and The Child, were Trek Phase II scrips that were reworked into TNG; The Child because of the '88 writers strike... This episode for reasons that are beyond me (though I'm guessing they must have had one). That said, Pretend this was a TNG episode with Kirk and crew, and I think you'll see that this episode fits perfectly into the TOS style. It's a testament to the evolution in story of TNG over TOS. I still think it's a bit better than you rated it though. It's lightweight, but that's not always bad. It's no "The Game", but if Reunion and Suddenly Human get higher ratings than this one? I dunno about that.
LMG - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
Long-time lurker, and I thought I'd post here since it's "new" (although somewhat off-topic). I'm experiencing DS9 for the first time and am really enjoying your recaps/analysis.

I'm one of those who would put "Family" in my top 10, but otherwise I usually agree with your takes. Lots of good stuff on this site.

I've seen you mention "Homicide: Life on the Streets" on occassion - any chance you'd ever recap my favorite show of all time? JK
dan - Fri, Feb 6, 2009 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
I really liked the episode family and the mud fight scene better than jammer did. I rate it 4 stars!
dan - Tue, May 3, 2011 - 9:41am (USA Central)
Family is one of all time favorite episodes..the scene in the mud with his brother always puts a lump in my throat when I see it.
christoff - Thu, Mar 15, 2012 - 10:24pm (USA Central)
I love this episode. Subconsciously Picard knew that the only person who could give him exactly what he needed was his brother. His brother knew the same thing. Thats what this episode was about..family! You see throughout the episode Robert calculcating, figuring out just what is bugging his brother..testing him with various insults.
Then the fight occurs, and we see him broken. Robert pushes him to breaking point, gets him to push down his barriers, and when its over says, "you needed that".

The stuff with Wesley should not have happened, or been dealt with at another point, it was pointless and added nothing, I'll concede that Worfs parents were necessary, they were based around a previous plot piece and it was something light to contrast the Picard plot.

This is definitely a top TNG episode, it deserves 4 stars, its very well acted..and gives insight to two main characters..its so well written that I cried a little at the end..
Tornado - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 1:16pm (USA Central)
"Not powerful or gripping or original or groundbreaking..."

The first two are subjective evaluations (and I would argue this episode is both)... but the last two... boy... looking at the Trek canon up to this point, "Family" is quite original and groundbreaking. No episode before this showed such direct follow-up and consequence to the immediately prior two episodes. And no episode before this focused so much on characters versus plot. In many ways, this episode sowed seeds that in time would alter the franchise--particularly giving rise to the great show that was DS9.

In other words--knocking this show for not being "original or groundbreaking" seems to me like knocking Yesterday's Enterprise for being so much like other (later) time travel episodes.
Vylora - Sun, Sep 16, 2012 - 3:16am (USA Central)
The scene near the end with Wesley watching the holo-recording of his father was sweet. Then I imagined a giant holo-fist coming out of nowhere and Wesley flying across the room on impact. Funny shit right there.

Otherwise very good episode but not great. 3 stars sound right - maybe high end of 3.
xaaos - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 4:22pm (USA Central)
Is this the only TNG episode with no Data's appearance?
Patrick - Sun, Feb 10, 2013 - 10:45am (USA Central)
What do you mean there's no plot here in "Family"?

Picard has a choice to make: whether to stay on Earth or take up the offer in some hope of escaping his pain from the Borg experience, or return to the Enterprise despite it all. He decides to return to the Enterprise.

Worf's parents are trying to mulling over to reach out to their son who's in pain. In the end, they decide to.

Those are both *plots*. Not earth-shattering, but plots nonetheless.

I also agree with Tornado. "Family" and TNG season 4 in general is where the groundwork for Deep Space Nine truly begins.

Episodes like "The Measure of a Man" and "Family" are what elevated Star Trek: The Next Generation from being a simple SF action/adventure show.

(NOTE: Season 2's "The Icarus Factor" is constantly ignored as the first true non-SF/non-jeoprady character piece of TNG. It's usually overlooked, because it's really not that good and "Family" beats the pants off it.)
Corey - Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - 11:57am (USA Central)
What's interesting is when I first say this as a teen-ager, this did very little for me, quite frankly I wanted to see some ship battles or something...at the time, would have rated it 1/4 stars. However, with more life experience, specifically a father of a son and daughter and having loved one die (mother), this episode resonates much more with me now than then. I would rate it 3 stars now.
William B - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
I agree that ending the episode with a Jean-Luc-Robert fight in the mud is a cliche, and I can definitely see knocking the episode down because of it. However, the thing about cliches is that they usually became cliches because they work -- they have real dramatic impact, and if they are done *right* they still have that same dramatic power and truth. "The Icarus Factor" goes to the same well with Riker and his father, but it feels mostly false and hollow. What works with the Picard siblings fighting is that, more than anything else, this is about Jean-Luc recognizing and mourning a particular thing that he's lost, which is: control. The fight with Robert, in which Jean-Luc loses control and then is humiliated in the mud (and gets to humiliate his brother), is a way for him to normalize and make okay the fact that he, who has built his life from the ground up about being the best he can possibly be, is human and fallible. And that is part of the paradox of his experience with the Borg. The reason they were able to remove his humanity is THAT he was human and so "weak" and "imperfect" and unable to resist (not that any human could reasonably be expected to resist) -- and so the only way for Picard to gain some measure of self-acceptance again is to find a way to recognize that his shame and humiliation by the Borg when they removed his humanity are proof of his essential humanity. On some level he knew that Robert would give him that, because Robert is the one person in his life who saw his (Jean-Luc's) striving toward perfection as arrogance. There is something so awful about Robert here -- when he suggests that Picard could really have used the Borg humiliating him, my mouth may have dropped -- but ultimately his goading Jean-Luc into the mud is a way to reconnect Jean-Luc to their shared fallible humanity, and let him know (when they both are covered in mud) that Picard is not alone in that.

What's really interesting about Robert in this context is how anti-technology he is. Jean-Luc defends technology fairly half-heartedly here, but we can imagine him defending it with much greater force in the past. Robert respects tradition, and the tradition is almost anti-technological, unchanging, as far from transhumanism as he can get. This is what Jean-Luc reaches for after he's been made one with the Borg, which are the most nightmarish version within the TV series of transhumanism*, of what technology and progress and "the future" might be: improvement and collectivism to the point where individual values and histories are eradicated. Picard has impulses to both the future and the past -- his love of archaeology and literature and history is a real reaching for the past -- but the side of him which looks to the future is part of what has just been shattered badly by the Borg, who are the scariest, worst version of the possibility of Better Living Through Technology he can imagine. In the end, Picard doesn't want to give up life on the Enterprise, which represents (still) the future, and the hope that technology and the possibility of change and growth can make life better, because the fact that the Borg exist as the most frightening of cautionary tales for these doesn't render the impulse itself wrong. In seeing Rene's enthusiasm about starships he can recapture some of what inspired him to go out to the stars in the first place, untainted by the experiences out there. Picard's change is internal: on some level Picard *knows* with a greater certainty how fallible he is and how important it is for that fallibility to be a part of his conception of humanity, both for himself and to protect against being like the Borg, and while the change doesn't manifest obviously I do think there's a change here.

Picard has been "compromised" before BOBW. He was, um, the energy cloud in "Lonely Among Us," but really it's hard to take that episode seriously. He saw an alternate version of himself in "Time Squared" who was a babbling lunatic who may have been responsible for the Enterprise's destruction, and he immediately hated him ("I see nothing in him that I recognize!" or something to that effect) and eventually destroyed that Picard in a way that exorcised his fears about being the man who destroyed the ship. In "Sarek," he totally lost emotional control after the mindmeld with Sarek and he held Sarek's emotions -- but that was something he *chose* to do for the greater good and still kept almost entirely private. Picard has always disliked weakness in himself -- he regards his artificial heart in "Samaritan Snare" with some shame, though he eventually loosens up when he starts talking about the Nausicaan incident at length with Wesley; it seems that not wanting to let sentimentality control him is part of the reason he left Janice later-to-be-Manheim; he hates children because they make him look like an ass. I think that BOBW is the first time in the series in which Picard fully comes down to Earth, and I think that it's a major change in the series for the better. Picard is the series' primary representation of the Enlightened 24th Century Human that we should strive for, and what these episodes -- BOBW and Family -- indicate is a way to show that that man is still a person and that that is okay.

The Worf plotline works well in parallel to this -- Worf wants to hide his shame from his family, and he believes he needs to insulate them from his dishonour. His annoyance that his family hangs off him and is proud of him is I think partly because the mere *fact* that they are proud of him when they "should" reject him for his dishonour proves that they don't understand the Klingon way. More than that, Worf, more than even Picard, values his control, because it is very hard for him to keep a lid on his feelings (c.f., for example, "The Emissary" and the ice man discussions there) which, being a Klingon, are intense. His family catering to him runs the opposite of how we saw Klingons behave in "A Matter of Honour" -- Klag has no idea how to talk to his dishonoured father, for example -- and embarrasses him further and makes him feel weak and un-Klingon. But he recognizes value in their love and really does, in spite of himself, like the life that they have given him and that they represent. If Worf really wanted to be a Klingon before anything else, he could have attempted to rejoin the Klingon Empire when he came of age rather than entering Starfleet (though that possibility is cut off from him now, since the discommendation); he values being Klingon, but there is something in the human/Federation/starfleet values that he connects to even more fundamentally. His concept of honour might be Klingon, but his concept of familial love -- not just for his parents, but for the Enterprise too -- is more Federation. Their love for him gives him a bit more ability to accept himself.

The Wesley story is the slightest of the three and is mostly just a single scene, though it's also nice to hear a little about Beverly and Jack's relationship and how he proposed marriage early on. Wesley, like Picard, is reconnecting in some way with his dead father -- Picard does so through Robert, who we are told again and again is much like their father was, and Wesley does so through the holo-image. Maybe because Picard had his father to rebel against as a kid, Picard chose Starfleet in a way that goes against his father's wishes, whereas Wesley, in the absence of his father, chose to follow in his footsteps as best he could. (Jack mentions that Wesley would probably become a doctor like his mother, and it's a bit of a shame that it's only in passing that the possibility that a person will be inspired by their mother's career -- either to follow in or to rebel against -- is raised.) While "Journey's End" isn't really very good an episode, it does make some sense that Wesley's real career choice in the end isn't Starfleet, because some of his idolization of Starfleet is a way for him to feel connected to his father (and to Picard, who is a representative of his father), and at some point he needs to grow out of following in a dead man's footsteps and be his own person.

So, I think I'd go with 4 stars.
Mark - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 4:30am (USA Central)
I am rewatching this series on blu-ray and I realise how great this series was and still is.
The scene in which Picard and his brother say goodbye and hugging each other is very touching and well acted.
I felt it unneccesary that Picard lost his brother and nephew in 'Generations'. It was only used for drama and the main theme of the movie. I really felt for him (I've lost my younger sister 13 years ago). Picard was a man who has been through a lot and having a close family (yet no wife and children) of his own would have been nice.
E - Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - 12:21pm (USA Central)
My biggest problem with this episode is, and always has been Robert's advice to Jean-Luc, which was tantamount to just deal with it. We wouldnt tell a returning soldier suffering PTSD to just "deal with it" (although, I suppose on some level we do). Picard was a prisoner of war, the was physically and psychologically tortured, and he carries the weight of the deaths of thousands on his shoulders. His brother's message to him to deal with it was epic in the scope of its minimizing the horror of Jean-Luc's guilt over the atrocities he was forced to commit. As courageous as TNG can be sometimes, this was a missed opportunity to make a real comment on grief.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 5:33am (USA Central)
The interactions between Worf and his parents are worth 4 stars alone.
Considering his initial displeasure at them visiting he always has a little smile when in their company and in the end did everything he could to make them enjoy their stay.
The Picard stuff was handled well and the scene with Crusher and his Dad was good as well. The moment at the end when he goes to touch the fading image is a throat lumper.
Easy 4 star episode this.
PeteTongLaw - Sun, Oct 20, 2013 - 9:41pm (USA Central)
I'm curious how it was decided that everyone in France would have British accents.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - 10:34am (USA Central)
@PeteTongLaw -
Great Britain conquered France, once and for all, during World War 3.

Probably.
Moonie - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 12:07pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode though I'm not sure it's a three star.

Just one thing. Sometimes it's a little disappointing to see how little fantasy TNG (and TOS) writers had when it came to describing the future when they were NOT dealing with star ships and aliens and conflict in space. Here was a chance to show us what Earth is like in the 24th century, and what do we get? Earth in the 20th century. I am always surprised by the lack of imagination in those kind of episodes. I can sort of understand why womens' roles were still mostly traditional in TOS, but TNG season 4 was made in the 90s... yet here we still have an episode where wives are homemakers. I just can't get over how old-fashioned the whole setting was. Back to space, please.
Exponent - Tue, Nov 5, 2013 - 10:43pm (USA Central)
This was a great episode, four stars from me. It has always been said that "Star Wars is fake, Star Trek is real." Well, the characters - Picard, Worf, and Wesley all - went through what would be very real trauma. In the real world, grief, coping and closure is very important. Bravo to the writers and producers for recognizing that. To use a goofy sci-fi term, this episode ret-cons even more reality back to instigating "Sins of the Father" and "BOBW" episodes.

To Moonie- what a wonderful thing it is to make a home, make beautiful meals, and overall to be able to dedicate one's life to family! Solid people usually come from the love and sacrifice built in solid families. And what could be more important in influencing the future than building the very life, character and morals of what is LITERALLY "The Next Generation"! We think with our arrogance that a "career" is so critical, when in reality the sum of years of work turns out to be quite trivial and to someone else's benefit, while we outsource the _truly_ critical work of raising children to someone else, or no one at all.

I hope and pray that any future wife of mine not only has the smarts, drive and initiative to do anything she wants in the world, but also that she's wise enough to be willing to sacrifice work-oriented "glories" for the beyond critical task of raising our children. (As should I, as well.)

Never give the raising of children short shrift!
Pollyanna - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
Four stars from me. BOBW was extremely well done and deserves its four stars because everything, character, plot, fx, and acting was first rate...including music. Family goes from that horrific set of events and deals with the aftermath and consequences of life in service to society. It tells the little stories of real people dealing with loss, choice, and change. I found much of ENT third season hard to watch but I applauded the times that they continued moving forward despite loss, fatigue, injury, and doubt. That same strength is seen here. We often just move on without the pause for reflection; that choice harms us and diminishes growth. There should be room for quiet excellence to receive equal credit.
Tom - Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - 7:39pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer's review. This was a nice, but flawed episode.

I found it strange that Picard would confide in his brother who he has not seen in years. Picard's brother is extremely unsympathetic. He bullies Picard heavily. He's rude and bigoted. I don't buy Picard's sudden breaking down into tears after a mud fight. He should still have been angry after what his brother had said to him. You don't just forget those things after a little fight. I agree with William that it did bring Picard down to Earth, which is a good thing, but I don't like how it was done.

It's also strange that the 24th century French have gone back to living like in the 20th century, except that they have forgotten how to speak French.

Wesley's father's speech was pretty horrible. "You're only a baby, but you'll probably be a doctor." This could have been a very moving scene. Wesley's "goodbye dad" was a lot more moving than his father's speech.

It was nice to see Worf's parents. They reminded me of Bashir's parents. Except they had better luck than the latter when visiting their son.

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