During a routine archeological mission commanded by Worf, Lt. Aster (Susan Powell) is killed by a land mine from a long-forgotten war. She leaves behind a 12-year-old son on the Enterprise, Jeremy (Gabriel Damon), whose father is also dead. The command staff must break the news to Jeremy and deal with the aftermath.
"The Bonding" is the episode that Ronald D. Moore famously sold as a spec script, which ultimately led to him being hired as a writer on TNG. It's got some of the hallmarks of Moore in it (real-world military issues, Klingon customs), but it's also got a number of Trek clichés (fantasy versus reality, aliens with remarkable powers). As these things go, the episode is on the upper end of mediocrity.
The show is best when it confronts head-on the fact that a starship can be a dangerous place where people die. It also confronts the issue of children being on board the ship. At one point, Picard says flat-out that he has always had his doubts about it. The best scenes involve Worf, who must deal with the fact that someone has died under his command. His scene at the end with Jeremy, where they undergo the Klingon bonding ritual, has a mildly intriguing resonance. Other reasonable scenes feature the inclusion of Wesley in Jeremy's grieving process; Wesley approaches the situation from personal experience.
But the show is worst when it's (too frequently) documenting the mysterious alien presence, which appears to Jeremy as his mother and supplies him with a fantasy that re-creates a pleasant memory. You can feel the air going out of the story when Jeremy's dead mother suddenly returns, as if she were a ghost. (Aliens as dead people = silly and boring. Susan Powell's performance = wooden and ineffective.) Fortunately, this premise is somewhat redeemed by its dialog. When it comes to exploring the human condition via long-winded philosophy, no one does it better than Picard, who has a decent speech about facing the realities that life deals us. But it's not enough to elevate a frequently lackluster hour.
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