Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Suddenly Human"

**

Air date: 10/15/1990
Teleplay by John Whelpley & Jeri Taylor
Story by Ralph Phillips
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

An Enterprise rescue team beams aboard a damaged Talarian ship piloted by teenage crew members who have been injured in an accident. One of the boys, Jono (Chad Allen) turns out to be human, and a medical examination shows evidence of previous injuries that indicate possible long-term abuse. How did this human boy end up with the Talarians?

It turns out Jono is actually Jerimiah Rossa, a boy whose parents were killed at the hands of the Talarians in an attack a decade earlier. A Talarian captain named Endar (Sherman Howard) has raised the boy as his son ever since. Uh-oh — here comes a 24th-century custody dispute. Should the boy remain with the father that raised him or be returned to his human grandmother?

"Suddenly Human" is the third family-themed story in a row, but by far the least effective. The story takes way too long to get moving, spending time on annoying "culture shock" scenes like where Jono refuses to talk and instead makes a high-pitched squeal of defiance. I say a vow of silence would've been preferable. I also find it a little off-putting that Crusher's evidence of broken bones would automatically be assumed (wrongly) to have been possible past abuse, even torture, at the hands of his father. She should work for DCFS.

Picard takes Jono under his wing and tries reconnecting the boy to his long-forgotten human past. Meanwhile, Endar sits and waits for a verdict on whether his son will be returned to him, and seems ready to go to war if he doesn't get the right answer. All of which plays as flat and obvious (not that I didn't understand Endar's feelings). The episode culminates with a torn Jono, in a moment of desperation, stabbing Picard in the chest as he sleeps. This prompts Picard to realize Jono should be reunited with the Talarian father who raised him. Fine, except Picard's unilateral decision seems hugely simplistic and hurriedly arrived at. What about the grandmother's custody rights? Does she have any? Considering she's a Starfleet admiral, don't you think she might have a few choice words for Picard?

Previous episode: Brothers
Next episode: Remember Me

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8 comments on this review

stviateur - Wed, Jun 29, 2011 - 1:42pm (USA Central)
What struck me about Suddenly Human was its naked political correctness. Because Talarian society reflects more America of the 1950s than the PC 2000s it is to be disdained? My prediction: the Federation like the US today, is on its way to societal senescence while the Talarians are on the way up. In a 100 years, the Talarians will be the ascendent culture and the Federation falling rapidly into decadence.
Nathan Gibson - Sun, Jan 20, 2013 - 10:04pm (USA Central)
Just an awful episode. Awful.
Adam T - Tue, Jun 4, 2013 - 9:06am (USA Central)
I hope stviateur is trolling. The only way Talarian society resembles America in the 50s is that it's patriarchal.
William B - Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - 11:34am (USA Central)
I was actually stunned by how terrible this episode is. My girlfriend and I laughed the whole way through. A few of my "favourite" moments:

1. When Jono unironically asks how Worf can possibly hang out with humans all the time when he's not human, just like he himself is not human! The boy's not too bright, is he? (Yes, this might be the point, but the writing is not nuanced enough to be credible.)

2. When Troi convinces Picard that he has to take over a parental role for Jono because he is male, as if he is the only male on the ship. Yes, there is the matter that Jono has "only responded to" Picard, but there was a point of making everyone else who had interacted with Jono up to that point female, except Worf, whom Jono did seem interested in talking to. And yes, Jono does respond to captains -- but jeez, there ARE other men on the ship, and the episode has to do more work to establish that he really won't listen to someone else. One of the central premises of the episode -- that Picard suddenly starts becoming a foster parent, effectively -- is shockingly undermotivated.

3. When Troi answers Picard's statement that he clearly is unqualified to be a parental figure to a traumatized teenage boy from a culture Picard knows nothing about and who dislikes his human heritage, and to convince the boy to turn all-human, with "did you ever have friends as a child?" And then her speech about how most people don't know how to be a parent right away, but they get good at it, and Picard will be surprised how good he is, as if Picard's task with Jono is basically equivalent to starting to raise a newborn and Picard will get really good at it any minute. These may be the worst Troi scenes of the series (and while I like Troi a lot more than most, that is still saying something).

4. How Jono just says "Yeah, I used to live in the captain's quarters!" and so Picard brings him to live with him immediately, because, well! Obviously if Jono used to live in the captain's quarters, he has to now. I like too that it's still a shock later on when Endar claims to be Jono's father -- it's kind of a shame that the episode didn't follow the implications of that statement, which is that he would likely be either the captain's foster child or lover.

5. Picard coming in and seeing Jono listening to Talarian Space Heavy Metal. Shut that noise off, whippersnapper! And don't you dare listen to that noise on my ship! There is something breathakingly funny about the creative bankruptcy of watching them try to find stories to tell about Picard as reluctant foster parent, and they settle on "teenager listens to annoying music."

6. Picard's response to Jono telling him "I am going insane because I'm not allowed to cry (grieving sound) or listen to my heavy metal!" is not to say, "Well, you can do those things while I'm out but please, it annoys me when I'm here" but "maybe instead I'll show you SPACE RACQUETBALL!"

7. Space racquetball looks incredibly stupid, though maybe not as stupid as space-something-jitsu from "The Icarus Factor."

8. Jono having an emotional breakdown while playing space racquetball because the sounds are kind of like the sounds of weapons discharging (?) is particularly laughable given that this is a guy who has seen and been in combat for basically his entire life, and racquetball is a lot less like combat than actual combat. Of course, the reason his memories are triggered at this time is because he has so very recently been shown pictures of his family. But it still doesn't make the rather extreme stretch between racquetball and PTSD from when he was a young child any less ridiculous and funny.

9. What even is that banana split scene? Do any banana splits in the real world look that particular colour of white? When Data said that he does not understand why this is funny, I was right there with him.

10. Generally speaking, the episode just pushes too extreme to create conflict. Jono's foster father is not just demanding that Jono be returned to him, he is READY TO GO TO WAR. Jono feels so much shame that he wants to die, so he STABS PICARD HOPING TO KILL HIM. And so on.

11. The creative bankruptcy of the episode becomes really clear at the end, when Jono is trying to explain what he was missing about his life, and says that he misses...running along the river, listening to his space heavy metal...victory with his brothers. On the one hand, I get that it's good to have Jono miss things that have already been clearly indicated. On the other, Jono even seems to be struggling to come up with a list of even three things he misses about his old life, and one of them is "running along the river," which for some reason cracks me up every time I think of it. (No, I don't think it would actually be wrong for someone in real life to miss "running along the river" if that was their...hobby in life. But it sounds so unconvincing as the central thing about his life that he can't live without. Dude, Earth has many rivers!)

12. Anyway, I don't really know how I feel, "objectively," about Picard's last-minute decision to send Jono back with his foster father. I also think that in reality Endar is not abusive, as discussed. And yet, the idea that convinces Picard that Jono really should go back to his better life with Endar is that Jono feels so guilty that for a couple minutes he was not miserable missing Endar. I'd say that if someone is willing to commit murder-suicide because of guilt over laughing over a banana split when you should be sitting around being sad missing their father every second, this is not actually a sign that they are all that healthy and it certainly is not what I would call proof that his father is NOT abusive, since making someone feel intense, suicidal guilt if they ever consider living with someone else is how a lot abuse works.

13. Similarly, Picard's final speech is really hard to take. There was a crime committed on the Enterprise, but it was not the crime of someone stabbing me in my sleep! It was the crime of GOOD INTENTIONS. You know, to be honest, I think stabbing someone in their sleep is still a crime even if there were criminally good intentions going on elsewhere.

Fortunately, the episode offered some great opportunities for MST3K-style mockery. One line I'm proud of. Right after Picard and Riker walk away from Jono and Wesley in Ten-Forward:

PICARD: Look at him. He's a different person.
RIKER: Who would have thought we'd see him laugh out loud like that?
PICARD: Just half an hour ago he was crying like a baby.
ME AS RIKER: Yep, Wesley has come a long way.

Anyway, for the record, again, I don't know whether I'd describe Picard's decision as right or wrong -- this episode really is too silly for me to take it quite seriously. I do appreciate that the episode tried not to make anyone the bad guy, though the end result is largely that everyone looks equally silly. Even so, something in the episode must have worked, because I did find Jono's final moment with Picard on the transporter pad -- where he removes his gloves -- rather touching. I suppose this says that the episode did enough right to maybe warrant 1.5 stars rather than 1.
Moonie - Sun, Oct 27, 2013 - 9:15am (USA Central)
Hmmmm I disagree completely with all of you. I really liked this episode and it touched me deeply.

Sure, some of the dialogue/script was clumsy and there is the usual "subtle as a sledgehammer" - delivery which is, I think, mostly due to the one-hour format of the show but there are few episodes of TNG that *don*t* have that, so maybe I just got used to it by now. I overlook it like I overlook the 60s special effects in TOS.

I liked this episode MUCH more than "Family" (large parts of which I just LOATHED. Basically everything that was set in the French village).

I wish there would have been a hint at the end that Jono would seek contact with his grandmother the Admiral and maybe him introducing some of his humanity into his life with the Talarians.
Nissa - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 11:50pm (USA Central)
While the episode is quite dull and hyper-inflated with fluff, I agree with the conclusion and don't understand why they didn't reach it sooner. There's a DS9 episode that handles the same concept much better, showing that this is a more complex situation than presented in TNG.

However, it is a good idea to consider that a foster father does have rights over the boy. He's used to the alien culture. Though the dad should definitely let the dumb kid visit his Earth family, assuming the little brat can get over his habit of stabbing people.
K'Elvis - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 12:50pm (USA Central)
@Moonie That's one of the problems I have with this episode. It's not unreasonable that he might have gone back with his adoptive family, but the episode is pretty clear that the door is closed on his humanity. It appears there will be no visits from his human relatives. Star Trek does this so often, when a character straddles two worlds, they are forced to choose one and abandon the other - usually abandoning the human part. A hint that his adoptive parents will respect his humanity, and allow visits, would have improved the episode. He might have made a good ambassador to the Federation when he grew up.
SkepticalMI - Wed, Mar 5, 2014 - 7:06pm (USA Central)
This sadly reminds me of a Season 1 episode. There's an interesting concept here, one that deals in a difficult moral issue. How do you deal with an adoptive child when both parties have significant claim to the child? How important is it to accept one's native culture vs one's adaptive culture? How do you insure that the child in question can make an adequate choice? All of these are potentially interesting questions to ask, and can make the episode interesting. Unfortunately, the episode made a mess of things, lurching around the main problem with heavy-handed commentary and a boring weak plot. Consider Justice as a comparable episode, which is hardly a compliment.

Another comparison is the bizarre smugness that occasionally rears its ugly head in Trek that was all too common in Season 1. Stabbing a captain isn't the crime, the crime is telling a boy about his heritage? Yeah, I get what they were saying, but that was very heavy-handed. As much as I love the wonderful Picard speeches, this one was bad.

Part of the problem is the silly side plot of having Picard as a father. The logic that it had to be Picard as the surrogate father was not well thought out, and seeing Picard try to deal with the kid was not amusing or useful to the plot. It just wasted time.

Also, Jono stabbing Picard came out of nowhere. I realized they tried to explain it via Jono's strange attempt to commit suicide, but that didn't make sense either. His dad was in orbit, and the negotiations hadn't finished yet. Oh, but he laughed a bit. So what? Are the Talarians really that xenophobic and rigid? It's possible, I guess, but it doesn't really move the plot along. He stabs Picard, people complain, then Picard decides to let him go back. The end.

Meanwhile, all of these extraneous actions prevented what should have been an interesting parallel, one that they even brought up and then promptly ignored. Worf should have been a focus, given that he was orphaned due to a war and adopted and brought to a different planet by another species. He should have been the natural surrogate for Jono, not Picard. Of course, when offered the choice between human culture and Klingon one, he choice Klingon. And Jono also choice the warrior culture. Clearly, the episode is telling us that enlightened human culture is lame and warrior cultures rock...

Despite my complaints, this isn't exactly a bad episode. Just not a very good one. So at least it's slightly better than season 1 in execution, but still well below the typical quality of late.

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