Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Suddenly Human"

2 stars

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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130 comments on this post

Wed, Jun 29, 2011, 1:42pm (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
Just an awful episode. Awful.
Adam T
Tue, Jun 4, 2013, 9:06am (UTC -6)
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 (UTC -6)
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.
Sun, Oct 27, 2013, 9:15am (UTC -6)
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.
Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 11:50pm (UTC -6)
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.
Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 12:50pm (UTC -6)
@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.
Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 7:06pm (UTC -6)
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.
Dave in NC
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 3:18pm (UTC -6)
Overall, I didn't like this episode.

I'm particularly angered by the scene in Picard's ready room with his captor "father". His explanation of his son's injuries is the equivalent of "My wife is clumsy. She walked into the door."

The scene with Jeremiah (not Jono) and Endar first meeting on the Enterprise also had the uncomfortable vibe of an abusive parent attempting to keep his child from saying something incriminating about them.

Couldn't anyone see how quickly Endar gets enraged when Riker hails him?! He goes from zero to pissed in two seconds.

Jeremiah was not given a chance to integrate his repressed memories or really explore his human heritage. Playing raquetball, eating a sundae and goofing with Wesley in 10 Forward doesn't cut it. And despite what his captors say, he's only sixteen. He doesn't know enough to know what's best what's best for him.

This episode does have it's interesting aspects. The whole father/son relationship seemed to have a homoerotic subtext, especially with Jeremiah's penetrating his symbolic father (Picard) with a knife. Jeremiah's line to Picard "As I grow closer and closer to you . . ." had a distinct double entendre, as did their transporter room Eskimo kiss.

Also, a nice understated score to the episode. It really held back until the final scene, where it helped give a little emotional lift to what was otherwise really a terrible ending.

This show had no moral legs to stand on.

Summary: They never should have sent Jeremiah back. He was kidnapped and brainwashed and abused.
End of story.
Dave in NC
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 11:02pm (UTC -6)
I forgot to mention this in my review earlier, but this was another episode where Troi asks inappropriate questions which seem designed to pull off mental scabs.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that Troi gets off on making others feel pain. It's never seems to be enough for her just to make a point with a logical defense, she really seems to go for the jugular an awful lot.

As we saw with Suder on Voyager, it's definitely possible Betazoids can get addicted to the strong emotions of others. Naybe that's why she freaked out when she lost her powers in "the Loss": she simply couldn't get her fix.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 10:44am (UTC -6)
I liked this episode, especially the racquetball and banana split scenes, although I would have also liked more use of Worf and suggestion of more contact with humans. I liked that Endar felt alien and antagonistic to make the ending surprising but not wrong.
Picard and others in Starfleet coming to regret interfering on the basis of good intentions feels in-character although there could have been better development-that the crew was really trying to push Jono rather than just give him a choice and that he was more (but more gradually) traumatized by the inner conflict.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:17am (UTC -6)
@ Andrew

I disagree wholeheatedly!!!

Endar was antagonistic because he was from a warlike race that kills parents in front of their children and then abducts these children back to their world, where entire personalities and heritages are systematically replaced by the violent primitive thinking of an alien culture.

And what of Jeremiah's numerous significant injuries which so alarmed Dr. Crusher? The explanation offered in the episode was laughable.

Jeremiah should NEVER have been sent back because HE DIDN'T BELONG WITH THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. He was kidnapped and mentally and physically abused.

The more I think about it, the more I really hate this episode. It's basically a apologist argument for abusive upbringings in "foreign places." I hate the message it sends, and I hate the way it puts a great character like Picard in a bad light.

A personal note: I was adopted and raised by someone originally from another country. I was abused a lot as a child, and I still remember watching this for the first time at age 12. I totally understood Jeremiah's internal conflict, feeling love for people that can't or won't express it to you, people that you don't really have a connection with, despite all your best efforts.

I still remember despairing when Picard bought Endar's lies about the abuse, and I can also recall being really upset when Jeremiah was sent back. This episode actually contributed to my staying silent, and that is something that I guess still gets to me a little. Sometimes the moral IS important.

How anyone can like this episode is beyond me. Truly a ZERO STAR episode.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 9:24am (UTC -6)
@Dave - I don't like this episode but I think "It's basically a apologist argument for abusive upbringings in "foreign places." is a bizarrely off base argument.

There is a difference between coming from a culture where it's acceptable to beat your kid and coming from a culture where it's acceptable to let your kids do things American parents would find dangerous. Before helicopter parenting kids jumped their bikes over ditches without helmets on, climbed trees/buildings, ran across roofs, played outdoors, used jungle gyms (those are basically not even allowed anymore) and you know what? They broke arms and stuff.

I am not defending this episode but the writers intended it to be canonical that Endar was NOT abusing Jeremiah. Fractured ribs? A broken arm? A concussion? Back in the day you could get such from climbing a tree, playing on a jungle gym and some football on the pavement in a parking lot.

"Have you ever had a son desperately try to win your approval, your respect? Jono broke his ribs riding on a t'stayan. Six hooves. A very powerful beast. The arm, in a contest with other youths. He endured the pain and won the competition. One day, he will be a great warrior."

If you think that line is BS you're reading something into the episode that is not there. Given your upbringing (which I am sorry for) it does not surprise me that you read them as lies. But the episode was not written to have them be lies, the actor did not deliver them as lies and Picard (who is our hero and we're supposed to trust his judgement) states his complete belief in these lines.

My cousin got a serious concussion falling off a horse and that's not a really powerful 6 hooved beast. Children's games in warrior cultures would be rougher than here, but even human cultures are not immune. Heck, even humans in the 24th century play dangerous games. Parrises squares killed the Doctor's daughter!

I'm not telling you to like this episode, to agree with Picard or to agree with the decision. I personally sided with Sisko in Cardassians, so I'd technically side against Picard here. But those lines are not lies and if you read them as such it's entirely a product of how your life colored this episode for you.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 11:26am (UTC -6)
@ Robert

After viewing how warlike Endar's race is (and how prone to violence Endar himself is) I find it very doubtful that a human boy forced to become an alien (in that kind of culture) wasn't physically abused.

If you DO buy that Jeremiah did it all to himself, why didn't Dr. Crusher see those as injuries relating to a fall? She seemed quite convinced there was more there, and Jeremiah's behavior reinforced her suspicions. I think I'd trust Dr. Crusher's 24th Century forensic evidence before I trusted some enraged kidnapper's excuses.


No matter which way you slice it, Jeremiah was stolen from his parents (who were murdered in front of him) and forced to become the very thing he should despise.

In my opinion the murder of one's parents, kidnapping, the breaking of one's will, and the repression of his kinder past DEFINITELY QUALIFIES as abuse. And that is IF YOU SET THE QUESTION OF PHYSICAL ABUSE ASIDE.

Maybe that's because people don't view mental abuse in the same way they view physical abuse? I don't know. It all comes down to whether you think Jeremiah was abused. I think it's pretty obvious he was, no matter WHAT kind of childhood I may have had.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 11:38am (UTC -6)
I'm afraid I agree with Robert, here. Qualifying something as abuse requires cultural context. After all, indoctrinating children with a religious belief that condones suicide bombing or wife-beating is, in my view a kind of child-abuse, but cultural relativism demands that such behaviour be viewed, in context, as simply the continuation of social traditions.

It seems clear that Jono was not singled out for treatment by the Talarians, but was treated as any Talarian boy would have been. Now, we may not approve of their culture, but it isn't fair to single out his treatment as abuse when his behaviour suggests he's not atypical for a Talarian.

To echo what Robert said, this isn't a great boy-raised-by-wolves story, but I don't find it offensive, nor do I believe for a moment the episode is condoning child-abuse.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 11:56am (UTC -6)
@ Robert

For the record, I do appreciate your sympathy. (Star Trek fans really are nice people for the most part).

I just feel that my interpretation of this episode is not dependent on having an abusive childhood, and my gut reaction was that you were dismissing my points because of my history with this episode.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:01pm (UTC -6)
@ Elliot

I think you are splitting hairs.

"After all, indoctrinating children with a religious belief that condones suicide bombing or wife-beating is, in my view a kind of child-abuse, but cultural relativism demands that such behaviour be viewed, in context, as simply the continuation of social traditions."

Slavery was a social tradition. So was child labor. And racism., And homophobia. And religious oppression.

Either something is wrong or it isn't, and all the cultural relativism in the world isn't going to make those bruises vanish or make someone un-raped. Just because something is "cultural" doesn't mean it is worth preserving or defending.

"To echo what Robert said, this isn't a great boy-raised-by-wolves story, but I don't find it offensive, nor do I believe for a moment the episode is condoning child-abuse."

So it's not abusive to murder a kid's parents, kidnap him, and destroy his personality and heritage to the extent he is willing to murder someone before the age of 16?! That's the DEFINITION OF ABUSE, and if you think Picard made the right choice in rewarding the kidnapper, I think you are beyond wrong.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:02pm (UTC -6)
I accidentally posted as Robert at 11:56 AM (sorry, I was getting passionate and wasn't paying attention to where I was typing).
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:06pm (UTC -6)
@Dave :

"Just because something is 'cultural' doesn't mean it is worth preserving or defending."

I totally agree with this! But, what needs to change is the cultural practice, right?

We wouldn't accuse a devoutly religious man telling his daughter that she ought to submit to her husband of abusing his daughter, but we still would want to change this cultural practice. Likewise, I don't think Endar was abusing Jono, but, should the Tamarians ever join the Federation, their cultural practices would have to change.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:12pm (UTC -6)
Even calling him Jono is abuse.

How do you think it felt to be a small child and be told your name is not your name anymore, your parents are not your parents and never were, and everything you were taught about respect and tolerance was wrong?!

That's ABUSE.

"Cultural practices" is a red herring argument.

This should have been treated as a criminal case, and Picard should have told Endar to shove his violent threats up his ass. (I highly doubt his species would have gone to war over a kidnapee, especially since the Federation could crush them).
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:23pm (UTC -6)
I am sorry, but it isn't cut and dry for me.

Abuse is defined as "the improper use of something; misuse; misapplication."

Improper is defined as "not in accordance with accepted rules or standards, especially of morality or honesty."

Thus in order to call something abuse, the standards by which something can be called improper have to be agreed upon. Clearly between these two cultures, human and Talarian, they do not agree. If a human did these things, it *would* be abuse.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:37pm (UTC -6)
@ Elliot

Abuse is an umbrella term . . . but dictionary definitions aside, in it's colloquial usage you know exactly what I am referring to.

Let's get our heads out of the dictionary and back into the real world. Don't like the word "abuse"?

How about Jeremiah was "violated"? Jeremiah was "traumatized"? Or maybe just, "What happened to Jeremiah was WRONG." In the end, they are all just adjectives.

My gut tells me returning a teenage kidnapee to their abductor is wrong. Doubly so when you consider that A) the abductor killed the kid's parents and B) the kid is comfortable with murdering a veritable stranger.

Child abuse and kidnapping are the last things anyone should be attempting to rationalize, in my opinion.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:41pm (UTC -6)
And I must say, this whole line of thinking "it's just their way of doing things" is kind of a cop out.

Think about it: it's very convenient when one can say "tsk, tsk" but not actually have to take a stand against something that is wrong. That's not the kind of lesson Star Trek should be sending, but apparently, that's the one that's being received.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:56pm (UTC -6)
Your gut, nor mine nor Picard's is not the measuring stick by which we should be judging the morality of other cultures. You have decided that Jono's treatment was wrong, and made clear what your position would be in this situation. The episode even has a character for you, Beverly (as an aside, this is exactly what I prefer in TNG over DS9, there's usually someone in the debate to voice counterarguments). That does not end the debate. You see it as wrong, and you made your case, I am saying that it is more complicated than that. "Wrong" is not an absolute, it is a cultural consensus.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:10pm (UTC -6)
"I just feel that my interpretation of this episode is not dependent on having an abusive childhood, and my gut reaction was that you were dismissing my points because of my history with this episode. "

I think you viewed Endar as LYING because of your past, where the episode paints his words as the truth. I'm not saying that he wasn't abused at all, especially from a human perspective. I just think that Endar truly does love him and from a certain mindset being forced to care for children that you caused to be orphaned might even be an enlightened philosophy.

"ENDAR: I lost my son at the hands of humans during the conflict over Castal One. Talarian custom allows me to claim the son of a slain enemy."

From my HUMAN perspective, if my wife and I were killed I'd want my child to go to whomever it specified in my will and certainly not my killers, have their name/identity removed, etc.

But to me, the fact that Endar loves Jeremiah the same as he would a Talarian son seems evident by the episode and is not really up for interpretation. He had a rough and tumble childhood, likely doing things that the physically tougher Talarians would get hurt doing (all ST aliens seem stronger than us physically) and Endar is not physically abusing him.

I think Endar is a loving parent and is not abusing Jeremiah. But Jeremiah is human and from a human perspective everything that has happened to this boy is wrong. If I were Picard I would have made the opposite choice.

I was mostly taking issue with your repeated comments that Endar is lying, which the episode does not support, not necessarily your conjecture that returning him to the people who killed his parents and took him away from his life was a good idea.

"I still remember despairing when Picard bought Endar's lies about the abuse"

"The scene with Jeremiah (not Jono) and Endar first meeting on the Enterprise also had the uncomfortable vibe of an abusive parent attempting to keep his child from saying something incriminating about them."

"It's basically a apologist argument for abusive upbringings in "foreign places.""

"I totally understood Jeremiah's internal conflict, feeling love for people that can't or won't express it to you, people that you don't really have a connection with, despite all your best efforts."

These are the lines I took issue with that I feel may be colored by your life. I don't think Endar is lying, I DO think he loves Jeremiah and gives him love, I don't think the episode supported their reunion as uncomfortable, and I don't buy Picard as gullible or "buying" anything false. I actually think the whole episode is really, really interesting up until the part in which Picard sends him back, and then it slams into a brick wall.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:14pm (UTC -6)
Also, if I were the admiral and it was my grandchild Picard would spend the rest of his career as an Ensign scrubbing plasma conduits, assuming he didn't spend the rest of his life on a penal colony somewhere for deciding that without any power to do so.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:15pm (UTC -6)
Elliot said "Your gut, nor mine nor Picard's is not the measuring stick by which we should be judging the morality of other cultures."

reply: Actually, it is. This is a show that regularly asks the viewers to make moral choices and to question their own decision-making processes. We, as viewers, were very much being asked to pick a side by the time the credits rolled.

How does any rational human decide that kidnapping and child abuse is something that could be "right"? How could anyone think that is something we shouldn't judge harshly? How could anyone think that is something not worth taking a stand against?

Let's be real. If your neighbors were immigrants and they were abusing their children, would you say "well, it's just their way"? I'd hope the answer is no, but I'm starting to wonder.

Elliot said "The episode even has a character for you, Beverly (as an aside, this is exactly what I prefer in TNG over DS9, there's usually someone in the debate to voice counterarguments)."

reply: Beverly wasn't expressing a counterargument, she was EXPRESSING HER MEDICAL OPINION. I found Picard's dismissal of her 24th Century forensic evidence (after the father says one sentence about it) to be out of character for Picard. It's even sadder that the viewers don't seem to care about him casually brushing aside her concerns.

By the way, I'm not sure what you mean by "a character for you", but somehow that doesn't seem like a compliment.

Elliot said "You see it as wrong, and you made your case, I am saying that it is more complicated than that. "Wrong" is not an absolute, it is a cultural consensus."

reply: Remember when I said this episode is an "apologist argument for abusive upbringings in foreign places"? Thanks for proving my point.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:17pm (UTC -6)
One last comment. What I think is interesting about these pair of episodes ("Cardassians"/"Suddenly Human") is that when I was young I wanted to keep Jeremiah AND Rugal. I wanted to keep Rugal because of my feelings towards the Cardassians. As I'm older and have children I think Sisko is right and Picard was wrong.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:19pm (UTC -6)
"By the way, I'm not sure what you mean by "a character for you", but somehow that doesn't seem like a compliment"

I don't think Elliott meant anything by that, only that... in TNG a few characters always seemed to disagree with the final verdict, which was nice because there was always someone for the viewer to identify with, even if they disagreed with the episode.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:32pm (UTC -6)
@ Robert

Thanks for being understanding.

I admit that personal experiences can color perception, so yes, in that sense, I may have sided with Dr. Crusher right from the start, but still . . .

She had a LOT of evidence and was VERY certain how one would get those injuries. Picard's explorations of her concerns were beyond pathetic. And why weren't Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher involved in talking to the kidnapping parent? They're the medical experts.

If the episode hadn't made Dr. Crusher's protests such a big deal, I wouldn't have either.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:33pm (UTC -6)
"How does any rational human decide that kidnapping and child abuse is something that could be "right"?"

Rationality allows a human to understand (not decide) that with cultural practices there is not "right" or "wrong", just different. "Right" depends upon a set of circumstances, a context which allows us to judge actions against a social contract. Your knee-jerk reaction to this situation is a testament to the episode's emotional relevance to you, but not evidence of a "correct" answer.

For the record, I am not condoning Picard's actions in the end--I actually need to rewatch the episode before I make my final call. But his approach the situation is laudable: collecting evidence and weighing the pros and cons rationally.

Beverly's analysis of Jono's injuries reflects the way 24th century humans raise their young (apparently), but takes no accounting of Talarian culture. Picard, the archæologist, takes an unbiased view.

Robert is correct, that I only meant that Beverly's position is the most similar to your own.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:38pm (UTC -6)
@ Elliot

I'm kind of bummed you'd assume my reaction is a "knee-jerk" one, and thus, dismiss my points as ones based on illogic and emotion.

I will agree with you on one point. The fact that you are still calling him Jono tells me you REALLY need to rewatch this episode.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:40pm (UTC -6)
"She had a LOT of evidence and was VERY certain how one would get those injuries. Picard's explorations of her concerns were beyond pathetic. And why weren't Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher involved in talking to the kidnapping parent? They're the medical experts."

It was bait and switch. The intent of the writers was to put it in your head that they were abusing this boy (possibly even BECAUSE he was human) and then bring Endar in and spin it 180. I'm SURE a lot of important details get glossed over/hashed out off screen in other episodes and this one probably bothers you more for personal reasons. I mean, I just assumed Picard gave Deanna a look off screen and she nodded ("I sense no deception from him") and that she sensed no fear when Endar was brought near the boy.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:41pm (UTC -6)
And actually

"CRUSHER: Two previously fractured ribs, a broken arm, and a low grade concussion. There might be neurological impairment. I'd like to examine him further. Jean-Luc, the Talarians have been known to be ruthless to their enemies. I think there's a real possibility they may have brutalised the child.
PICARD: Isn't it possible the injuries were caused prior to his captivity?
CRUSHER: Not likely. He's been with them a long time. Long enough to assimilate their cultural traits, and calcium trace patterns indicate the injuries took place during the past seven years.
PICARD: But if they have abused the boy, why would he so devoutly wish to return to them?
CRUSHER: It's not uncommon. It was identified centuries ago as the Stockholm syndrome. "

She's not even sure. A lot of her conjecture of abuse is based on prejudice against a former enemy. For what it's worth I really don't think you're wrong about the episode's moral being wrong or Picard screwing up. I just think your view of Endar is wrong. I don't see him as the villain of the piece.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:42pm (UTC -6)
@Dave :

Forgive me if that came across as condescending. It was not meant to be. I found your reaction to be knee-jerk because you seem unwilling to confront the episode's moral dilemma on its own terms. You have brought your own preconceptions with you and refused to set them aside to consider the arguments in the show, it seems. I call him "Jono" because that is who he believes himself to be. Whether or not he "should" have been raised to be Jono is moot--it has been done, and that is who he is.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:44pm (UTC -6)
@ Robert They returned the boy after ONLY SEVEN YEARS OF CAPTIVITY?

I'm even less inclined to think those injuries were all from rough-and-tumble play. He repressed HIS ENTIRE HUMAN CHILDHOOD in 2500 days?! THIS IS AN OBVIOUS SIGN OF ABUSE.

I hate Picard's decision even more now.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:48pm (UTC -6)
@ Elliot

Thanks for saying that.

I just detest this episode because of the conclusions it makes the viewer draw. It was one of the only times Star Trek ever tackled child abuse as a serious topic and it's a crying shame this is what resulted.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 1:58pm (UTC -6)
@Dave :

Check out "Child's Play" and "And the Children Shall Lead" for other examples of Trek tackling the subject. This isn't the last word on the matter.

For the record, Piller is quoted saying "We got some pretty angry letters on that show. They said, 'How can you let an abused child go back to the people who are abusing him?' We really brought the child abuse issue up because it was the right and natural thing to bring up in the context in the story. There are real parallels to stories that go on in today's world about parents who fight over custody and one says there's been abuse. Who do you believe? But mostly, it was a cultural clash story. It was a story of someone who was human who had been raised in a totally alien environment. Is he human any longer? That's really what that story was about."
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 2:15pm (UTC -6)
@ Elliot

I'll watch Child's Play in the next few days and I'll let you know what I think. hopefully I'll have a more positive opinion. (I haven't seen that one since the late 90's, maybe earlier).

As far as Michael Piller's comments go, the fact that he mentioned all the angry letters and felt it necessary to explain what the episode was supposed to be about (that long after it aired) tells me that this episode really did mix its messages.
Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 9:42pm (UTC -6)
Coming back late but I don't think the episode requires the viewer to accept the Talarians' initial violence and kidnapping as justified or even acceptable to accept the conclusion that it would also be wrong to force Jono to change or put him under traumatic pressure (although again I think it could have been better developed that the crew was doing so).
Mon, Feb 23, 2015, 3:47pm (UTC -6)
I agree with Jammer's 2-star rating on this episode, which was one of the weaker ones in this season.

On the child abuse issue, I'm inclined to go with what seems to have been the writer's intention: that Jeremiah/Jono was not in fact physically abused by his adoptive father. This is a fictional story, after all, so there is no larger truth to uncover beyond the one the writers put in the script.

That said, the episode does raise an interesting question of how to judge an alien cultural practice (a military officer's kidnapping of an enemy's orphaned son to replace his own dead child) but then seems to fumble the handling of this complex subject with a very pat and arbitrary answer.

Even to our relatively "unenlightened" 21st-century sensibilities, spiriting away an orphan child whose civilian parents one has just killed in war is only compounding the wrong that was committed - regardless of whether or not a nurturing environment was subsequently provided for the kid. That said, forcibly returning said kid to his original culture after 12+ years of acclimation would also not have been a solution without any downside.

It seems to me that Picard was caught between a rock and hard place here, and his seemingly arbitrary and single-handed decision to send the kid back is not characteristic of his usual careful deliberations.

That said, my biggest complaints with this episode were that: 1) Troi more or less forces Picard to take the boy under his wing when the obvious choice would be Worf; 2) no mention is made of any communication between Picard and the admiral/grandparent before the final decision (which makes me wonder that Picard didn't end up taking the Earth job from "Family" subsequent to his being drummed out of Starfleet!); and 3) there is no reference to the boy's ability to continue rediscovering his human roots and potentially growing up to become some kind of cross-cultural ambassador.
Sun, Jun 14, 2015, 11:30am (UTC -6)
I agree with Jammer. The decision regarding Jono's permanent custody was not Picard's to make. Picard had temporary custody of Jono and could have allowed the Federation's courts to sort it out. It didn't even seem like the child's biological grandmother was consulted, and if anyone had priority in this matter, it would have been her, not just because of biology but also because she was a Star Fleet Admiral. Who is Picard to award custody of a stolen child to his kidnappers? The only thing that could have made this situation worse was if Jono had been a girl and Picard sent her back to live with the Talarians, knowing how sexist and patriarchal they were, but then again, if Jono had been female, she most likely wouldn't have been allowed to travel in space, and Endar would have let her die as a baby, or better yet, shot her on site. Better to let Jono go back to a culture that oppresses women so he can continue feeling threatened by the idea of his own grandmother outranking a man. Good Job, Picard!
Tue, Jun 16, 2015, 11:54am (UTC -6)
I turned this one off. I didn't want to but the boy was making that noise, and Patrick Stewart was telling me not to watch with his eyes.
Sun, Jun 21, 2015, 2:24pm (UTC -6)
So, "Suddenly Human" .... .... .... .... It's got two good aspects, but I'll get to those later. First, let me just ask a few questions.

1.) How is it that everyone knows that Talarian society is rigidly patriarchal and yet they all act genuinely surprised that Jono doesn't respond at all well to any kind of female authority figure? Seriously folks, this isn't rocket science. He comes from a patriarchy. You know he comes from a patriarchy. And yet you're surprised that he doesn't respond well to women, especially women in authority? At one point, in Sickbay, they have Crusher, Troi and a nameless female nurse trying to restrain and calm him. People, this isn't going to work! Congrats, writers. You just managed to make both female main characters (as well as the male ones by extension) look like complete morons!

2.) Why is everyone so concerned about Endar possibly starting a war over this? At one point, it's explicitly stated that Talarian warships pose absolutely no threat to the Enterprise. Even with three on one odds, the Enterprise is easily in the superior position. And doesn't that mean that Starfleet, in general, has nothing to fear from the Talarians? Yet, after opening stating that they pose no threat, we're expected to take them as serious adversaries to the Enterprise at the end of the episode. I say let Endar shoot all his missiles and then you can all sit around and have a good laugh at him.

3.) Why is evidence of broken bones and a past concussion immediately assumed to evidence of abuse? That is just absurd and apparently only there to help move an already weak story along. It does a poor job of it because, again, it makes our heroes look stupid.

4.) Why does Picard just jump to the decision to return Jono to Endar. I admit that it was most likely the correct action to take, but, wow, does it feel rushed. Doesn't Admiral Grandma get a say in this? Doesn't she even merit a notification? How does Jono feel about his human heritage? Is he going to incorporate it into his life or is he going to completely ignore it. The episode spends a great deal of time expecting us to emotionally invest in this decision and yet gives us none of the weight/baggage we need to do that investing. Returning Jono to the only family he's basically ever known is, again, probably the right decision. You can't just rip him away from that. But, you also can't expect us to completely ignore the other side. We really needed a better explanation for Picard's decision instead of "well, he stabbed me in my sleep so he should go back with you now."

But, there are some good things. First, I'm glad the-powers-that-be took the time to further humanize Picard. I really criticized "Captain's Holiday" for trying that, but these past few episodes have been doing a much better job. The scene where he takes Jono in his arms and comforts him on the racquetball court nicely shows Picard's softer side. Still, even with this endorsement, I think "Suddenly Human" would have been better with the genders reversed and the story about a teenaged girl from a matriarchy having to come to terms with her human ancestry with Troi or Crusher as the "foster parent." That, at least, would have offered a fresh twist on a rather flat story idea. Second, the final scene with Jono and Picard in the transporter room; it's genuinely touching. It works because it's kind of subtle. Usually, when Trek wants to teach the viewers about tolerance and accepting others for who they are, they get out their trusty 2-by-4 and proceed to smash us across the face repeatedly with it. Here, they actually trust to the viewers' intelligence to read somewhat between the lines. Nicely done.

Overall, it's a pretty poorly conceived episode with a few scenes that slightly elevate it.

Diamond Dave
Thu, Sep 10, 2015, 1:45pm (UTC -6)
This does indeed feel like a Season 1 episode. There is a really good idea at the core here, in looking at the concept of cultural assimilation. We already have an example of that in Worf, which they blow past with nary a mention.

The rest is heavy handed and leaden. Picard and Jono must learn to find common ground, in and learning about each other, must learn something of themselves (as the old film trailers might have it). But given that the conclusion is Jono stabbing Picard through the chest, leading to a revelation that (basically) the Talarians love their kids too and home is a relative not absolute concept.

This all seemed a little morally ambiguous to me, and while there were some good scenes (including the banana split scene), 2 stars it is.
Wed, Oct 7, 2015, 1:50am (UTC -6)
Troi's counseling only worked when the scripted called for it. I say that because it didn't work in this episode at all, again, she's useless. Why didn't Troi say anything about how it would be wrong and damaging to removing a teenager from what he has know as home so quickly??? Doesn't Starfleet have to respect other culture's views and beliefs that's different from there own???? Or does this only apply when the script calls for it as well????? One thing's for sure, the fans haven't learned from that...

It's only Jono and Picard at the end that come to that conclusion, everyone else, like "counselor" Troi, are clueless to this... and besides, it's not up to Picard or Admiral Grandma to make that choice, it's Jono's choice, he's at that age to make it for himself.

And about the so-called abuse... half of you people are just making shit up, coming up with your own conclusions, your own head-canon, the episode was not written to for people to come up with there own biased answers... get your heads out of your asses!
Fri, Aug 19, 2016, 7:34pm (UTC -6)
I have to say I certainly would've given this episode an extra star (although I'm not exactly pushing the boat out). I found the treatment of Jono by the childless Picard to be rather revealing. Up until the last moments, he is essentially an object to be fought over and whose own thoughts and desires are dismissed as misguided.

Interestingly, the same could be said for a lot of the comments here, which I would call a success for the writers. We agonise over in-universe minutiae to justify Picard, or Endar, or the nature of the Tellarian civilisation as violently abusive. To me, Jono is a teenage boy who is eager to please his father. He's obviously competitive and likes to play rough - surely it's not that difficult to believe a sporty teenage boy might suffer some broken bones?

One final thought: Endar lost his child at the hands of humans. He later found an orphaned child of his enemy, who would've almost certainly died if left alone, and took him to be raised in love and brotherhood. I find that faintly noble.
Sat, Sep 3, 2016, 4:40pm (UTC -6)
Weak episode in my mind, personally preferred how Sisko handled the situation on DS9 in "Cardassians". The Talarian war threat should have been played up more with several more ships, maybe references of build up along he border, or a plotting villain wanting to use the custody issue as a "pretense" to take some Federation colony.

If you take the two episodes side by side, you can see two different versions of Starfleet being expoused, being both a nosy-neighbor with good intentions and bad PC, or a judge of people/cultures by relative issues behind deeper issues of political/historical issues.

Picard evolves to be a better "classically moral" captain than Sisko in the same moralistic way of Kirk, but Sisko is far more realistic and far less utopian in contrast, making Sisko a better wartime leader without moral restraint as later episodes of DS9 demonstrate.
Tue, Sep 13, 2016, 1:29am (UTC -6)
This was a terrible episode. I found this website searching for controversy surrounding this episode and found little other than user comments here.

There is no way that kid should have been given back.

Not sure how this played in whatever year it was originally released but after 3 seasons this is the first episode I really disliked.
Tue, Dec 13, 2016, 1:18pm (UTC -6)
Lot of obvious mistakes in logic as mentioned by so many others above.
but I mostly feel they did not expand on the REAL issue at hand : free will.

One element not going in deep here is "age of self-determination" and given how cultures and idea's (especially in america as opposed to us europeans) give significant important to age barriers.

age when it's legal to drive, here 18, some nations 16, 15, 14 other even 21 or 21.
age when your allowed to vote?
age when your allowed to have sex? here 16, other nations 12, usa 18...
age when your allowed to drink, used to be 16, now 18, other nations vary..
age when your allowed to refuse medical treatment or chooice to get treatment (and your parents cease to stop decieding for you) here 16, until that age treatment may be forced or denied upon you, again age differ per nation.

and than we add the cultural centuries, of era's past in the mix... we see that society always has struggled with this concept of when is a person allowed to deciede for him/herself.

And even if one is allowed to deciede, we had things like laws forbidding driving, drinking, drugs, or on the other hands laws that obligate you to follow education to a certain age, stay indoor after dark, etc..
-> again very different per culture..

finally personally, is a person allowed to waste his/her own lie? should a suicidal person given self-governance and allowed to, or should he be seen as mentally ill, and hence his right of self-determination nullified?
Should the same count for an addict? And for a homeless beggar? And for a person just bumming through life? And for a person who does not make chooices based on what he likes/wimps, not what would give the most certain route to succes?

you see it boils down to free will.
-is the boy ALLOWED to determine himself, sure in their culture he is, but is he in the federation culture, he is after all only 14 what IS age of concent for them?
-at what age is a citicen of the federation allowed to leave the federation and nullify that citycenship?

and what does one do if the law and character do not line up, does one follow the intention of the law or the letter?
(one can easely imagine how one 15yo can fully freely chooice for sex, with the 19yo he or she chooices, while some 20yo are still so immature, the relations they jump into are pure taking advantage)
Likewise one can see how somebody who just had his wife running away on him with the kids, should not be allowed to buy to much alcohol, or commit suicide, and should be denied self-determination in that regard but when a mortally ill 87yo person wants to die with some dignity

And thats where it boils down to IS this boy even capable of making this chooice.

Legally the case is clear, the boy was taken illigally, theis customs be damned he was a citycen of the federation and as such telarian law had no place when the "adoption" was done, the boy is simply a POW, and by law the federation is obligated to extract him, no matter how anyone feels.
And I don't think the federation allowed someone to give up membership or be self-governing as young as 14, though at least they should have mentioned that law. (If that age of concent was higher than 14yo, the case was by law closed)

and a very interesting conflict of the admiral shielding with the law, picard forced to uphold that law, and the boy clearly wanting to leave.. could have arised.

Law or personal chooice, what should take preference? could have been a very interesting chooice, especially if the prospect of war was about enforicing federation law and not so much protecting the boy.

Add to that in the mix the question if the boy even should be allowed to chooice freely even IF he was of age of concent by federation law.
Given how there are clear psychological signs that could be used to say he is not "capable" to make such a decision and as such a federation law would place him under custody of the law, by law making him a minor no matter his age, and not allowed to self-determine.
made more complex because he is clearly wise for his years and the arbitrairy age line drawn by law does not take this character difference into account..

That would add a very nice "what is a legal age of self determination" in the mix.
and "should a person have the right to ruin his/her own life, even if mentally unstable?" and "age of concent, should it be the letter or the spirit of the law?"

given how panicing usa people are about if somebody who is even a day to young, no matter how mature, does certain things, while having no problem letting people rot in the streets who clearly need psychological help, and the many difference in cultures watching trek, this could have been a very interesting episode.

alas.. the writers lacked the capability to mine this or the goldmine it could have been.
Sat, Dec 17, 2016, 11:25pm (UTC -6)
"but cultural relativism demands..."

lol. Bankrupt ideologies FTW!!!!
Thu, Jan 12, 2017, 4:29am (UTC -6)
Oh get over yourselves, he wasn't abused and it was quite clearly the writer's position that he wasn't abused. Did none of you break a few bones as a kid? I certainly did - mostly my own stupid fault :-)

Meh episode tho, may go a little higher than Jammer tho - 2.5 stars.
Princess Cthulu
Sat, Jan 14, 2017, 8:40pm (UTC -6)
Dumb episode, but the argument in the comments is even dumber.
Wed, Feb 8, 2017, 8:34pm (UTC -6)
This marks the only episode to date where I intensely disagree with William B's chronically brilliant comments.

It wasn't great but it wasn't bad. It was worth 2 stars, even 2.5. Two, probably, because the ending was a mess.

But the best, most affecting part of it was Jono saying he missed running along the river.

William B! It is clear you've never loved a river. I have. I loved the best river in the world. I beat myself bloody on it for years and years. Froze my feet on its docks, knew triumph and heartbreak and drama on it, saw a thousand sunrises on it. Couldn't get enough of it. Ran along it whenever I could. Sometimes I see flash up on the screen in movies, and the sight still chokes me up after all these years.

Don't tell me, "Big deal, earth has other rivers." The only one I ever loved is the one I knew every bend of and could steer in the dark, the one I gave half my life to. Jono broke my damn heart with his "running along a river" line. I knew right then he belonged back on Talaria.

Quit laughing! This is so totally a thing!
Wed, Jun 21, 2017, 6:57pm (UTC -6)
Worf would have been a better to choice to watch over the kid than Picard.
Tue, Sep 12, 2017, 9:37pm (UTC -6)
The politics of the episode are horrible. It addresses a current debate around several genocidal processes, which actually happens only in the media, because international courts have already cleared it. International courts have established that raising kidnapped children as the children of the parents' murderers is in itself a crime that continues to be committed until the situation is over. The rights of the children to their identity should be respected. in this case, they are crushed, as this episode makes an argument for ignoring the rights of kidnapped children to have their identity returned to them. At the same level as the justification of racism, rape, or torture, this is one of the most unethical maneuvers in this kind of serial. sick to the bone.
Tue, Oct 24, 2017, 2:21am (UTC -6)
Good Lord, this argument.

The regulars around this site will pontificate over the prime directive forever but when an actually difficult decision comes up which requires choosing between respecting a culture or damning it by your own standards, an awful lot of you damn it with self-righteous impunity.

The boy wasn't abused. Whether the boy should even be considered human after most of his formative years were spent in another culture is highly questionable at best. And yet, ultimately, the reason the boy's genetic humanity is emphasized by any of you is because it is the one link the might justify taking him from what has clearly become his culture. If this were a Tellarian boy whom the Enterprise comes across by accident and discovers 'abuse', it would be a clear prime directive matter and they would not have the slightest prerogative to take the kid.

Elliot is right. What constitutes abuse and what doesn't is a consensus matter, a standard element of culture. Imagine a socialist arguing that, because this is a capitalist patriarchy which subjects its people to intense and possibly traumatic competition for their welfare, we should not be allowed to raise children in this country. By their view, and *by the views of some political radicals here*, they are right. Is it right for them to take your children?

Please. It was a bad episode because it was poorly produced and written, but it was not a bad episode because the message was immoral.
Derek D
Sun, Dec 10, 2017, 12:41am (UTC -6)
In his comments on June 26, 2013, William B. expressed many of my thoughts on this one. I too would have given it 1 star, but the ending embrace did touch me enough to give it 1 1/2 stars.
Wed, Jan 17, 2018, 4:32pm (UTC -6)
Forgive an old lawyer but actually Jean Luc -stabbing someone in the chest with a dagger constitutes a crime in my book while advocating for one party in a custody dispute is probably ,at its worst, unwise but not any sort of crime ( unless things have radically changed in a few centuries).

I think the problem with this episode is that they missed the story-it ought to have been another court room drama but then again no one would have been invested in the guest characters so it would have been a huge bore-wait a minute it was a huge pointless bore anyway.
Sun, Feb 4, 2018, 7:51am (UTC -6)
Surprised that the reaction to this one has been negative. Aside from the cheeseball acting of the guest stars, I thought this was an excellent episode.

It's basically the tale of a feudal, Japanese Samurai. When China invades his people's territories, he leads an attack and massacres them, with only a Chinese boy surviving. As per his customs, he takes this Chinese boy as his own and raises him to be a warrior samurai. The Chinese boy never experiences his culture and has only a vague memory of his parents. The Chinese boy becomes a samurai warrior and loves his family and his new (admittedly deeply feudalistic, patriarchal, exploitative) culture. He occasionally cuts himself with his kitana blade.

Peace relations form between China and Japan. A bald Chinese captain encounters the samurai boy and demands he be taken back to China. Realizes he is wrong, and that all culture - even love - constitutes a kind of indoctrination. Returns home to eat noodles.
Cody B
Tue, May 1, 2018, 12:05pm (UTC -6)
I thought this was a good episode until the end. Johno tried to murder Picard in a completely cold blooded and ruthless manner and everyone seems to just brush it off with the attitude of “oh that poor confused boy! It’s our fault for trying to help!”. There’s no way someone could stab a person in the chest with a dagger while they were sleeping and then no one seems to care. Just ridiculous
William B
Tue, May 1, 2018, 12:17pm (UTC -6)
Quick thought about the title (was just reminded because I saw the ep pop up on the comment feed): I like how it refers not just to Jono, but also to *Picard*, who suddenly has to behave in a human (i.e. fallible, personal) role as temporary foster parent, rather than in his more traditional Renaissance Man, and also identifies his actions as wrongheaded (again, fallible) at the end.

In retrospect, it might have been cool if the reason he had survived Jono's attack is because Jono stabbed him in the heart, and his artificial heart could withstand it -- it might connect the story to Picard's youth and also his emotional disconnection (his iron heart is maybe a metaphor for Picard's desire to keep emotional distance from others).
Cody B
Thu, May 3, 2018, 3:58am (UTC -6)
William B: or even better if jono stabbed into his chest and his electrical work and starts being electrocuted. Then Picard jumps up, says “haha you little bastard! I never did like kids!” and then throws him out of the open cargo bay doors by the seat of the pants
Sarjenka's Little Brother
Sat, Jun 2, 2018, 8:30am (UTC -6)
I feel sorry for any episode that had to follow behind BOBW and Family.

Guest star Chad Allen is definitely a striking looking young man/boy.
Tue, Jun 5, 2018, 8:47pm (UTC -6)
Not a lot to like about this episode. It started with that annoying hum of defiance from Jono then Troi lecturing Picard on being a father figure and then just turning over the kid to the Talarians without getting any kind of closure from Admiral Granny. I did like the brief bit of introspection Picard did about his childhood -- how he was singularly focused on getting into Star Fleet and why he cringed at being a father figure.

This was a bizarre custody battle -- we get some idea of the culture clash between the Talarians and Federation where the aliens will go to war over 1 boy, although some pretty scary stuff happens in custody battles in our society too. But ultimately it's too simple -- Picard after getting stabbed and then realizing they could not convince Jono to remain with humans finally acknowledge what the boy wants. So this makes it seem like the Enterprise crew (mainly Picard, Troi) are pretty foolish. It was pretty clear Endar and Jono had a good relationship and there was no abuse.

I don't think the actor playing Jono gave a particularly convincing performance for when he was haunted by the human memories (collapsing playing racquetball. Picard did play the part of uncomfortable father figure well. And he did bounce back pretty quickly from a stab in the chest...

2 stars for "Suddenly Human" -- weak episode that could have been something out of Seasons 1 or 2. Could have been a stronger episode with a more convincing performance from Jono (reactions seemed somewhat arbitrary) or greater emphasis on what's right for the boy rather than what's right for the Federation. Interesting that this episode fleshes out the Talarian race, which I believe was first mentioned in "Heart of Glory". Wonder if we will hear more from them...
Sun, Jun 24, 2018, 5:33pm (UTC -6)
I thought this was very funny, and it increased my respect for Captain Picard. First Troi quizzes him, then she leaves him in the lurch so he can act as the boy’s substitute father: that was harsh. I don’t think a Starship captain should have to shoulder that kind of responsibility, when he has an entire crew to look after; especially when the crew is a thousand strong. Worf should have been been Jono’s substitute father, rather than Picard, as others have already said.

2.5 stars.
Tue, Jul 3, 2018, 1:03pm (UTC -6)
What is it with people thinking Jono is a boytoy for Endar to bang?

Now Jono and Wesley together, that would be epic twink porn.
Cody B
Fri, Aug 10, 2018, 12:22pm (UTC -6)

Only if it’s post expulsion (or was he only suspended? Can’t remember) from the academy Wesley.

Johno and Wesley, the bad boys of the universe star in:

Trek Twinks
In space no one can hear your hairless body scream
Ari Paul
Thu, Sep 6, 2018, 3:32am (UTC -6)
This whole episode feels like it's from the first season. Strange episode.

And couldn't they think of something else for the kid to do when upset other than that stupid "Banar" Good God was that annoying!
Thu, Sep 20, 2018, 2:20pm (UTC -6)
Here's a thought: if you send out distress calls and then rig your ships to self-destruct when aided , don't really expect anyone to come help you when you really need it.
Sun, Dec 16, 2018, 7:48am (UTC -6)
This episode was ridiculous. While it brought up an interesting moral dilemma with far-reaching real world implications, the ending was absurdly horrible.

A child prisoner of war illegally given up for adoption. He had unconfirmed signs of physical abuse but certain signs of psychological damage, from collapsing in emotional agony to a form of attempted suicide by police. This resulted from said kidnapping and an outright called by name Stockholm Syndrome. His 2500 day brainwashing is so extensive he has made almost no progress from his psychological damage and as a child still wants to stay with his kidnapper. So against the wishes of his legitimate defacto legal guardian grandmother who also outranks the captain, and without the recommendation of the medical personnel who should have clearly had the child under 24/7 observation, the victim is returned to the abuser who's laughably incapable military couldn't be a credible threat in war without fake SOS signals.

Picard should be in prison in life, dishonorably discharged, and used as a textbook bad example for all ethics classes to come.
Frank Earnest
Thu, Feb 7, 2019, 7:29pm (UTC -6)
I'm glad to see a healthy amount of criticism for this episode in the Star Trek community.

Late in the story, Jeremiah's trauma works its way to the surface, resulting in an emotional break and an attempted murder/suicide by cop (thanks, Derrick). And what's the solution? Bury it! Suppress it! Send him back and pretend this whole affair never happened! The hell with therapy, grief processing, and rehabilitation; it's too late for that to work with a teenager!

Screw Endar's claim to a ward; we can safely assume those Talarian jerks started the whole conflict and, therefore, Endar's son is just a loss he'll have to live with. Mess with the bull, get the horns.

Jeremiah is a POW who should've been returned per the treaty terms. This makes Endar a war criminal who should've been seized as soon as he was within Enterprise's grasp. A resultant war to either permanently reform or suppress this belligerent race would be well past due.
Sat, Apr 6, 2019, 8:48pm (UTC -6)
6/10 this is an after school special
Sun, Oct 6, 2019, 10:34pm (UTC -6)
I appreciate this episode because it walks the walk on cultural relativism. So often we hear that Starfleet is bound to respect the customs of others but we constantly see them try to change others, the episode where Riker corrupted the alien from a genderless society against it's culture or made a fuss about Worf wanting to die comes to mind, or when Spock tried to get a gang pf collaborators to turn Romulus into a democracy. Even if Endar was being abusive by western human standards, either by giving beatings or working him very hard, which I believe he was, that is an internal issue for their society, I am of the firm belief that there is no objective right or wrong, only rights and wrongs for oneself, one's culture and one's morals, if the Talarians or the Chinese for that matter want to eat their sons alive for back sassing them or something like that, it might seem crazy to me and wrong according to my culture but that's not my business and all that matters is that it's right to and for them
Tue, Oct 22, 2019, 3:16pm (UTC -6)
Cultural relativism stops when Human Rights are violated. Emphasis on humans.
Talarians are free to set their own abusive culture for their own children, but inflicting it to human stolen children? Nope.
Even if they believe its ok, even if the human children are taught to believe its ok, its not ok.
Suppose Jono was a female child, being used as a house slave, occasionally for sex, without any education and prospect.
Sat, Nov 16, 2019, 9:32pm (UTC -6)
Well, certainly continuing with our Family theme here, but - not great. Lots of silly, the most absurd thing being the way Jono's attempted murder of Captain Picard is just sorta brushed off. No biggie, kid's OK to return home!

Though it went in the opposite direction, Picard's quick decision about the boy's fate reminded me of Sisko sending the Cardassian boy, who had been raised by Bajorans, home to Cardassia. I realize now that I was wrong to ding Sisko for his hasty, unilateral decision-making - he was merely following established precedent.

Kinda dull. A few good moments.
Ari Paul
Mon, Nov 18, 2019, 11:53pm (UTC -6)
the kid is a terrible actor.
Top Hat
Tue, Nov 19, 2019, 6:42am (UTC -6)
He was later on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman and still late came out of the closet. Apparently was acting in Christian films at the time and got turfed for being gay. Sad story.
Tue, Dec 31, 2019, 12:55am (UTC -6)
This episode is very personal to me. I am Russian, my mother is Canadian born, it was very important to my mother that I went to Canada for university...I did and I hated it, the culture was so wrong to me, the values so out of line with my own, I found myself perpetually angry and disgusted. During my first holiday I returned home, my mother convinced me to return, that it was right for my future to have a degree from the University of Toronto. 10 days after my return to Canada I had to go to Church Street for something, I don’t remember what, but I saw two people doing something that would never be allowed where I come from, it was not the first time I saw it but this time it made me so angry that I returned to my residence immediately, packed my things and took a taxi to the airport, I left my Canadian papers in an ashtray. That was 5 years ago and it was the best choice that I ever made!

So I understand how Jono feels here, to live in a strong culture all of your life and then be stuck among a weird, effeminate and lost culture who do things wrong is excruciating, especially when they act as though you’re the one who isn’t right!
Tue, Dec 31, 2019, 8:27am (UTC -6)
@sergei, happy new year - never live in an effeminate and lost culture against your will. Get back home to mum. Haha!
Tue, Dec 31, 2019, 8:39pm (UTC -6)
Yeah if people think great country they think Russia.

Always nice to see when people snap in these comment sections.
Tue, Dec 31, 2019, 9:56pm (UTC -6)
@Booming, I mean, as a Canadian that knows Toronto is the most American part of Canada, I was going to initially leave a comment, but I decided I didn't need to enter into a patriotism measuring contest.


Aw crud. ;-P
Circus Man
Thu, Jan 2, 2020, 4:36pm (UTC -6)
It’s fascinating that an episode others have treated as a trans analogy (If not by design) here becomes something about that by you shouldn’t stay in a culture that’s insufficiently macho. Ink blot-like.
James G
Sun, Apr 5, 2020, 10:04am (UTC -6)
Odd episode, this one. Not that interesting. It works I guess as an allegory of those biological vs adoptive parent stories that sometime occur in real life, sometimes involving abducted or stolen children - there was one in the news a couple of years ago. But I didn't find it very interesting until there's a standoff between the Enterprise and the Talarians, at the end - and then only mildly so.

It's weird that the kid tries to murder Picard, but gets away with it completely. Even stranger that there's no hard feelings at all, and even a touching moment between Picard and his would-be murderer at the conclusion.
Matt B
Sun, Jul 19, 2020, 1:24pm (UTC -6)
This was a drag to get through. I think it's worse than most S1 and S2 episodes.

Just terrible.
Thu, Oct 15, 2020, 9:00pm (UTC -6)
This one belonged in the seventh season. Bleh.

The whole dilemma just seems so artificial. It is basically a family custody issue, but it’s not like the kid is four years old. Why does it have to be so binary? Would the adopted father really not want the kid to explore his human roots?

And this all plays out so simplistically, if I were Picard, as soon as Endar fired at the Enterprise, I would have ended any consideration of returning the kid to him. Of course, conveniently, the alien ship is powerful enough to rival the Enterprise, despite dozens of reasons that makes no sense.

The way Jono is written with the noble warrior adolescent thing is just annoying.
Gaius Maximus
Thu, Oct 15, 2020, 10:54pm (UTC -6)
I always find the message of the episode to be absolutely morally repellent. Apparently killing some people and abducting their child makes you the rightful parent of that child as long as you evade justice long enough to brainwash him into thinking he belongs with you. I wonder exactly how long you need to keep your abducted child away from his real family before you gain this moral right to him. I guess if you’re one of those people who cuts a baby out of its mother’s womb and runs off with it, you’re automatically the rightful parent and should get to keep it, because, hey, it’s never known any other parent, right? Just appalling and disgraceful.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 15, 2020, 11:46pm (UTC -6)
@ Gaius Maximum,

You're probably right so long as we see everyone involved as being metaphors for humans on planet Earth. But if we really take them as aliens, then it may be possible to see this as the law of a foreign power having to be respected even though we find it repugnant. In this case, claiming ownership of a child (for its own good) as a result of slaying his parents. There is something even vaguely Klingon about it, or maybe even Old Testamenty, in terms of the idea of having to take responsibility for the dependents of those you kill. But in modern terms, yeah, it's hard to swallow that the child could really be considered to be theirs.

This episode now starts to remind me a bit of DS9's "Cardassians", with the scenarios slightly inverted: here it's the child of nice people claimed by the aggressive people, whereas in Cardassians it's the child of a not-so-nice guy stolen and subsequently brought up by...welll, actually, some more not-so-nice people.
Bob (a different one)
Fri, Mar 12, 2021, 10:07am (UTC -6)
"Hey, you want to watch Suddenly Human?"

Me: /high-pitched squeal of defiance

Season 4 was, maybe, TNG at its very peak, but this story is extremely tired. It seesaws between stale and annoying for me. The "what to do with a white child raised by Indians" plot had been used by virtually every western series on television in the 1950s and 60s. And there were a LOT of westerns during that era. Scenes like the one where Picard walks in and hears the kids weird music had a very big Silent Generation vs Boomers vibe, too.


- I liked the aliens uniforms, minus their helmets.

- I liked the performance of the alien captain.

- I liked the scene where Picard admits to Troi that he isn't comfortable around children. "...really?"

- I also liked the final scene between Picard and the boy.
Thu, Mar 18, 2021, 12:53pm (UTC -6)
Although I can't disagree with the criticisms

This has a couple of perfectly classic scenes, Troi talking to Picard in his ready room showcases a rare chemistry, and gives Stewart some nice comic moments to play well.

2. Riker informing Endar the kid tried to murder Picard and now Riker's in charge, with the subsequent threat made by Endar exposing the subtle ways Riker responds to a threat vs. Picard, and Mr. Worf's apparent tamped-down zeal for Riker's more aggressive reaction. It's a wonderful character moment embedded within the 'chain-of-command' detailing, and set and photographed in a choice situation (emotionally-motivated threat).

While these dynamics are all nothing new, I had fun. Plus there is another ice cream scene in ten forward, though nowhere near as tantalizing as "The Game"'s.
Sat, Mar 27, 2021, 4:33pm (UTC -6)
I loved this episode - surprised to see how disliked it seems to be.

It was a rare solid performance by a child actor. Yeah it was trope-y but a lot of that was only in retrospect. I think people forget the times. Dances With Wolves was one of the first major motion pictures to cast the 'good guys' in a negative light. This is a different time - showing the Federation as the wrong place for this child ran contrary to a lot of the threads of pro-Imperialism/American exceptionalism that were still pretty current in our society at that time.

My main qualm with it sounds petty but it annoyed THE SHIT out of me.

Why, in the everloving fuck, would Worf OF ALL PEOPLE say that a child isn't worth a war. The Klingon notion of honor that we've seen to this point is that it's perfectly fine to shed any amount of blood because someone questioned your orders. But a child that, for all Worf knew, was kidnapped and tortured? Worf should have been dying to kick the shit out of the Telarians over this.
Fri, Aug 20, 2021, 2:08am (UTC -6)
Interesting moral dilemma: do you rehabilitate a wolf child (a very long hard journey) or do you return it to the wolves? That is the root myth of this story. However, the Talarians are not wolves, so the question might be: would you take a child born in America then reared in Italy so that he had become 100% Italian, back to the States to be “re-educated”? (I was thinking of the guy who just won the Olympic 100 metres). That’s not a good parallel either. There isn’t one, this being a sci-fi story.. however, the moral dilemma remains - do you look on the boy as human and ‘snatch’ him back, or do you return him to the aliens who raised him and who he regards as his natural home?

Though not a typical TNG story, it was quite well done in a rather slow-moving way. It was also good to see both Troi and Crusher making Picard uncomfortable with their irrefutable female logic, and by getting to the heart of the matter. Jean-Luc positively writhed when Deanna quizzed him about children and his own childhood! The ending was perhaps a little predictable, but it “seemed right “. The boy was given the choice in the matter which ultimately is how it should be, especially after Endar was shown to be a good parent and not an abuser.

Just one small point: why are there valuable Starfleet crew employed as waiters in 10-F? Surely, Wesley could have gone to the replicator and ordered his own banana splits??
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 1:25am (UTC -6)
I don't understand how anyone thought this was okay. Imagine someone had adopted a Korean boy and when he was 14 a random, large group of Korean travelers abducted him. Then they tried to convince him to renounce his American/British/Aussie/wherever-you-are-reading-this-from ways and act Korean as well as force him to deal with the abandonment via violent death of his birth parents before he was emotionally ready to. What the actual fuck? Plenty of people were adopting across ethnicities in 1990, what writer thought this was not only a sensible plot in 1990, but that it would still be a dilemma in the 24th century???
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 3:03am (UTC -6)
Elian Gonzalez is the real life story of this custody. Giving the boy back to his father is the only logical conclusion. Watching that carnival play out close up and personal, there was never a justification to keep Elian in the US. Regardless of the backstory, which are often lies and made up nonsense, unless there is a clear case of abuse, leaving children with those who raise them is the best cause until they are emancipated or of legal age.
C.T Phipps
Mon, Oct 18, 2021, 8:37pm (UTC -6)
I think 14 is old enough to say, "No, under no circumstances do I want to go with you to a country I don't remember because I was a baby." Kidnapping or not, he would also have been dead if not adopted because, well, baby.
Tue, Mar 15, 2022, 7:15pm (UTC -6)
Lol I actively hate this episode. That high pitch wail is so LOUD and my goes on FOREVER. Then it stops and ur like ok finally....only for it to happen again and again. When the Ferengi scream their ultra high pitch alarm scream in episodes of DS9 it's funny and isn't at a relative volume or frequency that shreds my ears and brain. I watched this episode for the first time in years as part of my binge before it's removed from Netflix on April 1st and I really expect to never watch it again lol
Mon, Mar 28, 2022, 2:10pm (UTC -6)
As a retired family court judge, had I been hearing this custody case I would have wanted to know much more about what this adolescent wanted and why. The older a child gets, the more their opinion counts, but that is not the only factor. The attempted murder of Picard was NOT determinative of the child’s wants or needs. It was a huge red flag that needed much more analysis. Picard just unilaterally deciding this complex case, without any input from Star Fleet or the Admiral, was ridiculous. Even given the 50 minute episode time limit.
Mon, Apr 25, 2022, 11:42am (UTC -6)
The kids start howling... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I'm out.

Wed, Jul 13, 2022, 6:21pm (UTC -6)
This episode was another example of my issues with TNG federation. Constantly backing down and bending over to inferior and hostile alien races that capture, kidnap, and/or brutalize Federation citizens and the crew is worried about offending said race, even when their ships are no match at all for the Enterprise.
Tue, Nov 15, 2022, 9:02am (UTC -6)
I was going to write a word or two about the lukewarm reaction from the Federation but Rob in his previous comment hit the nail on the head.

The whole concept revolves around Tamarian 'tradition' where Endar claimed a child of his enemy which is, by Federation standards, inadmissible and the discussion and repercussions should've gone much further than Picard's little speck on the wrist about how Federation authorities should've been notified.

The surfacing flashbacks experienced by Jeremiah really point to a deep-seated trauma suffered by the boy and there is no way it only started manifesting itself when he came aboard the Enterprise. Maybe he wasn't fully conscious of the fact when he was growing up, but on some level he was certainly aware that he was raised in a society with values completely opposite to that of his own people, by people who murdered his parents right in front of him.

The episode unfortunately doesn't really explore it in great detail nor does it give its audience a satisfying conclusion to its drama, which unfortunately brings me to my final point here - rewatching TNG in 2022, I realize that a lot of the issues the series as a whole tackles are simply impossible to set up, execute and bring to a satisfying ending in a very limited time slot attributed to each episode, and it is in that stubbornly episodic format where TNG shows its age the most. DS9 did it so much better - it didn't insist on season long arcs but it certainly didn't shy away from having multiple episodes in a row deal with a specific theme, nor did it shy away from revisiting old ideas and plot threads. In TNG, for the most part, guest stars, aliens or ideas of the week are gone forever as soon as the final credits roll at the end (with a few notable exceptions, of course, which coincidentally make up for some of the best TNG had to offer).
Wed, Nov 16, 2022, 9:45am (UTC -6)
Filip, I understand where you're coming from. However, I have opposite take. The episodic nature of TNG is, to me, one of its strongest aspects. It forces a level of narrative discipline and efficiency that shows today often lack. To be able to tell Inner Light in 45 minutes is astonishing. On a side note - it's worth watching this and other great TNG episodes with commercials (or at least 5 min breaks) as we did back in the day. It actually impacts the viewing experience.
Thu, Dec 22, 2022, 1:20pm (UTC -6)
Okay, I've held off for years before saying this, but from the time I first saw this episode in its first run, I have been frustrated by it as another example of Trek's repeated casual acceptance of misogyny as just another culturally relative attribute not to be interfered with or even disapproved of in an alien society.

Oddly enough, on my most recent viewing just now, the Pluto stream had a glitch, so I don't know for sure if they edited out the line after Jono learns that his birth grandmother is a Starfleet admiral when he says something like, "Among my people, no woman can have authority over a man." But that line will not leave my memory. Instead of showing the boy feeling a swell of pride that his ancestress holds such an important and respected position, it is merely another reason to reject his own humanity, because in his adoptive culture, his maleness gives him automatically elevated importance, which he (not surprisingly) does not want to give up.

Picard is uncomfortable about this reaction, but not enough to end up saying, "Hey, maybe this alien culture is too sick to leave a human boy within, even if he has been brainwashed to love it. Maybe he's not ENTITLED to keep loving an excuse to look down on his grandmother. He's not too young to know better, or too old to learn better."

But if the deal was going to be that Federation ethics required Jono, never again to be Jeremiah, to be returned to "the only father he'd ever (well, recently) known," then I'd have liked this ethic at least to be consistent. The DS9 episode "Cardassians" irritated me, too, when Sisko decided to rip a boy from his Bajoran adoptive parents. When I look at the two episodes back to back, its hard to escape the sense that in Trek, "all men outrank all women" is an adopted attitude not worth getting upset about while "Cardassia has done some things it should be ashamed of, like enslavement and near-genocide (when Cardassia has in fact done those things)" is a terrible thing to let a child grow up believing.

I take the contrast personally.
Peter G.
Thu, Dec 22, 2022, 1:36pm (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

I think there are some differences between the two episodes worth mentioning. In Cardassians the two most important issues IMO are that Rugel has been brought up to hate himself, and that he was intentionally lost, i.e. kidnapped, from his rightful parents. I think that makes it different enough that the cultural statements the episodes may or may not be making sort of have to take a back seat. Things in this episode are different enough from that so as to make the comparison difficult.

I, too, wonder whether Netflix for instance makes cuts that I'm not noticing, as I tend to watch TNG on Netflix rather than going to my Blu-ray version. If I was following along with the transcript maybe I would discover some strange things. I don't know why streaming services would make cuts to online content since they're not need for ad space or to fit into a time slot, and it's not like Netflix owns the rights, enabling them to sell of viewing rights to a TV network and thus making it convenient to have a ready-to-go cut version.

As to whether Jono should be allowed to remain with an alien culture that is antithetical to human values, I think Picard of all people would demand that the culture be respected even if he disagrees vehemently with it. I think in circumstances like this one must unfortunately take a cultural relativist position, because otherwise you would end up in the untenable role of arbitrating over which cultures are "too sick" based on your own standard. Certainly that kind of judgement would be frowned on in the Federation. For instance let's say a human child was brought up on Kronos: no doubt a pacifist would insist that being trained from a young age as a warrior is "sick" and the child should be taken away. I'm not sure how you avoid that kind of scenario unless you prevent yourself making that kind of judgement in the first place. Just imagine what would happen today if, publicly and officially, a legal official designated a foreign culture to be "too sick" to allow a child to be brought up there. Even though some people may in fact feel that way privately.
Fri, Dec 23, 2022, 12:22am (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

Ir probably will not surprise you to hear that I look at the matter differently. Although I think it is important for people from different cultures to listen to each other and have respect for one another's autonomy, a stance of imperative cultural relativism cannot help but devolve into an oxymoron, because that attitude itself is culturally determined, and it can offer you no guidance when you encounter a culture that does not accept it.

I firmly believe there are times when it's appropriate to disapprove of another culture's position on something. It takes a very high bar to go beyond disapproval to a right and/or obligation to try to persuade them to change it, and higher still to take direct action, but sometimes those bars can be met. Most people would probably agree that genocide is such a case, but anything less than that requires a lot more discernment and is open to a lot more debate.

I think both of these episodes are intended to explore the issue of the limits of cultural relativism, and that can be a very interesting theme. However, using intercultural adoption as a vehicle for constructing such an episode muddies the waters. In neither of these cases is the Federation in a position of even considering whether it should interfere in how another society chooses to raise its own children with its own cultural values. Instead, these are children born in one culture being raised in another without the consent or even knowledge of their birth family. I would argue that the bar is quite a bit lower on whether there is any right to "interfere", because someone has already interfered, and it's a question of whether that interference can be mitigated, or will simply be allowed to stand.

In other words, it's not as if the Federation is swooping onto the Klingon homeworld and forcing the schools to replace combat drills with craft projects for children who are, after all, Klingons. It's more like if they demanded that a school turn over a Vulcan child who had been kidnapped and sent there, even though the child by then was very good with a bat'leth and wanted to have surgery to make him look Klingon.

I do not see Rugel's and Jono's situations as so very different from each other. Both Rugel and Jono were kidnapped. One thing that is a bit different is that in Jono's case, the kidnapper held a culturally determined belief that he had a right to do so, but this was a "right" not agreed to by the culture from which the boy was taken. If Jono had been returned to his original family, he would have been taken away from the very person who had performed the kidnapping. It's hard to imagine a case in the real world in which we would ordinarily leave a child in the custody of their kidnapper just because the kidnapper thought they were doing the right thing, or because by the time the child was found the kidnapper had had enough time to brainwash the child. In Rugel's case, on the other hand, the person who performed the kidnapping knew full well what he was doing. However, the adoptive family had nothing to do with the cruel machinations that had resulted in the child being kept from his original family. They thought they were taking in an abandoned orphan.

Both boys were taught self-hatred, though I think not intentionally. It is incredibly obvious with Rugel, but he is not really so different from Jono. For both, it was a side effect of being taught to hold the attitudes of their adoptive culture, because in both cases, that included contempt (and in Rugel's case open hatred) of the people with whom they shared an irrevocable biological identity. Jono's horror at his high-ranking grandmother and his initial unwillingness to touch "anything alien" with an ungloved hand are as real of indications of self-loathing as Rugel's statements about Cardassian crimes. Jono's attack on Picard is very like Rugel's attack on Garak: a defensive gesture against the people from whom he came when one of them comes uncomfortably close to recognizing him as one of their own. Both are trapped in very messy situations not of their making which I would not want the responsibility of sorting out.

Regarding the cultural misogyny, however, it's not only in cases of adoption that it comes up. Many non-human cultures are portrayed as having some degree of subjugation based on gender. In Angel One, the matriarchal society is portrayed as being in a state of "evolution" toward a more egalitarian culture of which it's clear the Federation approves. However, it seems that the patriarchy found in more alien cultures is seen as something that, even if distasteful from a Federation perspective, is just the way things are, an integral part of the alien species' "alienness."

I'm glad that male Vulcans didn't continue to be portrayed as ordering brusquely, "My wife, attend," like Sarek in Journey to Babel, or as telling a bride like T'Pring in Amok Time that if she wants a divorce she must accept becoming the property of whichever man fought to the death for her (a requirement made all the more unsettling because it came from the lips of the seemingly very powerful, perhaps matriarchal, T'Pau.) But even in the TNG period, it's perfectly obvious to Klingons that women don't belong on the Council. And then there's the Ferengi …

It just seems that patriarchy gets a more or less free pass if it's a tradition within a non-human society, while the one unambiguously matriarchal society needs to "evolve."

I'm not sure how to communicate how threatening that can feel to a female Trek fan. It sort of suggests that even in a mostly optimistic view of the future, no matter how many centuries go by, equality will never really be won.

It also suggests that in the here and now, or at least at the time such episodes were written, patriarchy as the virtual default value of societies made up of supposedly intelligent beings was a presumption acceptable to the writers or at least presumed by the writers to be acceptable to the target audience.

Either way, when it crops up, I find it a distraction from all the things I do enjoy about Trek.
Peter G.
Fri, Dec 23, 2022, 2:06am (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

I wasn't really describing the Federation's (according to me) cultural relativism as being my person position, but rather one that Picard would most likely adopt. And this isn't necessarily because he's the paragon of virtue and therefore this must be a virtue; but rather because what he stands for is Federation principles, and one of those happens to be making extreme compromises with cultures that have antithetical beliefs. One thing Journey to Babel (and to a small extent ENT S4) showed was that races that would have effectively been enemies have to not only attend councils together but actually have to inhabit a common body of law and culture. That just can't happen if one "true" morality is put forward as correct and the others erroneous. You would have to bow down to the idea that no one morality could be raised above the others *within that system*. That doesn't actually mean that there is no objective morality, but rather than the society of the Federation could not assert it a priori. And I think Picard would champion this compromise as a diplomat. To him, the correct morality would be one that enables co-existence. I think there is still room within that to believe in superior (or outright best) moral facts, and to hope that cooperating with others will allow them to realize those truths in time. That seems to be Trek's thesis, in any case.

Regarding Rugel and Jono, I agree there are some similarities. One thing that I think is really telling, though, is the nature of why each of them attacked someone. Rugel seems to have attacked Garak out of pure hatred of Cardassians (including himself). And I get the idea that Rugel's adoptive parents wouldn't want him returned to his biological father is because of their feelings toward Cardassians. But let's say Rugel had been a Vulcan child stranded during the occupation, and that child's parents found their way back to Bajor once Sisko was in charge, I find it hard to believe that they'd refuse to give him back in the same manner. The way the episode was written, it almost seemed like they were using him as a kind of personal revenge, taking their hatred out on him even while claiming to love him. But with Jono, he really did feel like be belonged to the Talarians, and based on his speech to Picard it seems to me he was trying to commit suicide by Captain in order to avoid betraying his father and his way of life. So that alone makes a huge difference, in terms of the relationship between the two sets of parents and children. Now I could see an ironic interpretation of the suicide as it actually being the only way he could make Picard his new 'father', by dying to him and thus confirming Picard as his true superior. So that perhaps complicates the matter somewhat. And maybe it matters as well that Jono's birth parents are dead, whereas Rugel's father is alive and apparently wants him back. I agree with you, though, that a kidnapper's personal beliefs wouldn't affect whether they get to keep a kidnapped child. But in this case as it's a spoils of war situation, I'm not sure how that would end up playing out in respecting Talarian law. That's probably getting too much into the weeds anyhow. My main point was that I think Picard's penchant for diplomacy makes for a rational case in this episode of respecting Jono's adopted values and those of the Talarians, whereas in DS9 Sisko seemed more prone to right wrongs in just but diplomatically messy ways. Angering the Bajorans by sending Rugel home was perhaps a price he was willing to pay to (a) stick it to Dukat, (b) undo a plot, and (c) prevent Rugel being subjected to any further humiliation on Bajor. It's also worth mentioning that the 'kidnapping' in Rugel's case was perpetrated by his father's own people, so the analogy would be if a human colonist had intentionally given Jono away to the Talarians to put one over on their neighbor.

Regarding patriarchy vs matriarchy, maybe it's just my bias as a man but I guess I never felt a pull one way or another in Trek. While TOS did have to deal with the restrictions by network execs. there seem to be some cases of strong women being shown. I just watched The Enterprise Incident the other day, which I've always held up as an excellent example of a non-sexualized female lead in an episode who exhibits command authority. And even though she's put in an evening dress I still never felt she was being sexualized, which is interesting. TNG made more overt moves to portray matriarchy, or at least women in important positions. Among the Romulans we have Sela, who although not 'in charge' is certainly a VIP, and the Betazoids seem to be matriarchal (although unfortunately this doesn't come off as terribly flattering, mostly due to how Lwaxana is written). But on DS9 the Bajorans may be the best example we have of a sort of matriarchal society (even though the Kai can be a man in theory). I suppose we could cite VOY as being matriarchal just by virtue of Janeway's position as lord of the ship. It does seem inescapable, though, that even if the writers intended no bias they did seem to mostly default to patriarchal alien races. I actually think Denise Crosby leaving TNG hurt the show's credibility as gender balanced since she was the only female officer not in a caregiving role, even putting aside the pure numbers balance. Kira on DS9 was a good reprieve from this particular situation.

And incidentally (and I think this has been proposed before), in Angel One it seems the reason the matriarchy there needs to evolve is because it's being used as an inverse look at patriarchy, showing us how we'd agree it needs to change if the mirror image was the case (i.e. modern Americans would agree with the feminist message if it was men subjugated to women). So the matriarchy needing to change is a way of saying that patriarchy needs to change. I don't think it's really saying anything about how an actual matriarchy would or wouldn't function.
Sat, Dec 24, 2022, 11:29am (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

Many of your points are well taken, regarding the pragmatic motivation of the relativism portrayed in the Trek universe. It's perhaps less a moral statement (even when it sounds like a moral pronouncement) than the simplest way of making things work so the stories can happen.

I do think, though, that there is a big difference between portraying a woman in a position of power and portraying a society as "matriarchal." The Federation as portrayed on Voyager does not become matriarchal just because the captain is female, and I would not say that the Federation is portrayed as patriarchal in other Trek series just because the captains are male. Certainly, Vulcan society isn't portrayed as matriarchal even though T'Pau is clearly a very powerful woman. A matriarchal society doesn't have husbands bossing their wives around as Sarek does (and human wives accepting it as "a better way than ours," as Amanda does), or have women like T'Pring become legal "property" of a man. (When Spock chooses to give up his claim to her, he doesn't say to her, "Go with Stonn, if that's what you want." He says to Stonn, "She is yours." Basically, all involved, including T'Pring, accept that she is Spock's to give away.)

A society in which, unlike Vulcan, no woman can outrank any man is clearly patriarchal; that's practically the definition of patriarchy. Interestingly, the writers have that one difference with the Federation be the fork in the road that ultimately leads Jono not to embrace his humanity. That is what makes him so upset he needs to "run by the river," so Picard takes him to the racketball court where his emotional breakthrough occurs.

The story being told needed there to be some fork in that road. I just wish patriarchy hadn't been the writers' choice of what the fork would be based on. There are so many other cultural values that could have been chosen, many of which might have made me more sympathetic to Jono's desire to remain Talarian than "I want to be more important than half the population." I know they want it to be something that rubs a bit against the Federation view of society, so in a sense my reaction is a sign that the writers succeeded. But for me, it rubs TOO much to do its job within the story. It draws me out of the story too much.

I freely admit that the fact that it's my half of the population Jono wants to automatically outrank that makes this plot point a lot more personal to me than I would expect it to be to a male viewer.
Sat, Dec 24, 2022, 12:56pm (UTC -6)
Trish, since Voyager is cut off from the rest of humanity, it could be argued that the Federation (as portrayed in that show) is matriarchal. Certainly, the majority of the strong characters on the ship are female. And Janeway makes a real point of mentoring Torres and Seven. Focusing her attention on their development. Only Paris is given any attention, and that's a mixed bag.
Peter G.
Sat, Dec 24, 2022, 3:43pm (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

I agree that it may be noteworthy that they chose the man/woman axis as a crisis point for Jono in this episode, where in theory they could have perhaps chosen another one. However, maybe not, for one reason: the story seems to me more about Jono needing a father figure than about which society is better or appeals to him more. He *needs* his adoptive father to be his father, because otherwise he has no one. One could argue that, hey, why wouldn't an adoptive mother be just as good, or an adoptive grandmother even? Isn't it sexist that it has to be a father? I happen to think that a child is not indifferent to the sex of his/her role model, and that it may in fact make a difference to a young boy whether he has a father or not. The story seems to be saying that Jono's connection to Captain Endar is so important that he won't even entertain the possibility of choosing any other way, which I think is why he hits a crisis point when he starts connecting with Picard: once he has a new option for a father he is automatically betraying Endar. If I'm right about that then it really had to be a man/woman issue since the issue of him specifically wanting a strong father figure is central to the plot. Rejecting a grandmother-figure isn't just an arbitrary sticking point (one that ruffled your feathers perhaps unintentionally) but in fact the core of the character story. The episode is saying to *to Jono* a mother figure would not work as well as a father figure, period end of story. That ends up being played out as a dispute between two cultures, but I think that aspect is really just an elaboration of the character's individual needs.
Sat, Dec 24, 2022, 11:01pm (UTC -6)
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!

@Peter G.

I agree that sometimes young people need role models of their own gender, and that this episode is telling a story about a boy torn between two potential father figures. However, I am not following why the fact that Jono's internal conflict is about his need for a specifically male role model means that he has to reject any women having any place of authority over his father figure. (That's how I interpret his "She outranks YOU?" line.) Surely he doesn't feel a need for his father to be of the absolute highest rank; I would think that Endar has superiors in the Talarian command structure. They just are not and, as the episode is written, cannot be women. Wouldn't it reinforce the idea that Jono's conflict is over two possible father figures if it were something truly about Picard himself, not something about the throwaway character of Jono's grandmother, that was something that the boy perceived as a bridge too far? For example perhaps it could have been the fact that Picard sees himself as more a diplomat and explorer than a warrior. Endar has trained Jono to be a soldier, as he himself is a soldier. To embrace Picard as a father figure could thus be seen as not just embracing humanity, but as directly rejecting Endar.


I'm afraid I'm not following you, either. There is only one captain of Voyager, and so that person is going to be either a man or a woman. I don't see how if the captain had been a man, that would mean that Voyager society had become patriarchal even if the culture from which it was involuntarily splintered off was not. The fact that the captain is a woman doesn't automatically mean it's a matriarchy. In-universe, it's not because of her gender that Janeway is the captain, any more than because she's a dog lover.

Is Chakotay not a strong character in your estimation? He outranks everyone on the ship except for Janeway, and he was himself a captain until his ship was lost. Tuvok is next in line, and he is also male. In a matriarchal society, surely two of the top three positions would not be held by men. You have to get all the way down to the chief engineer to be able to consider the command structure half and half. Even that 50/50 balance doesn't hold if you consider the Chief Medical Officer, the position held by Bones McCoy, part of the upper echelon. The Doctor's character is certainly a strong one within the ensemble. He is in a sense without gender because he's a hologram, but he is clearly portrayed as male, because he has been programmed based on a male human, his creator.

In fact, if you look at the entire cast of "regular," weekly characters, six of the nine at any one period are male, and only half as many female: Chakotay, Tuvok, the Doctor, Kim, Paris, Neelix, Janeway, Torres, and Kes/Seven (you can't count both Kes and Seven separately for this purpose, because at a production level, one was required to leave for the other to be added. Essentially, they occupy the same "female slot."). There's Seska at first, but she is soon reduced to semi-regular status and then disappears, and is not replaced. I would say that's not a sign of a matriarchy. Not necessarily a patriarchy, either, but certainly not a matriarchy.

I think when you expect a TV series, or for that matter life, to work as a patriarchy, seeing any women at all may look as if the women have completely taken over. But they haven't. They just do exist, too. Not even in as great of numbers, just enough to matter.
Peter G.
Sat, Dec 24, 2022, 11:50pm (UTC -6)
Merry Christmas to you too!

@ Trish,

"However, I am not following why the fact that Jono's internal conflict is about his need for a specifically male role model means that he has to reject any women having any place of authority over his father figure."

For this to make sense you really need to map the entire cultural dichotomy into a personal one about Jono's need for a father. The reason why a woman can't outrank a man in his mind (i.e. the Talarian mind) is simply because no woman can be his father, and the father is the end-all for him in terms of who he respects. And this doesn't require a gendered political reading to be understandable: so long as we restrict our level of analysis to the family rather than the society, it doesn't seem so strange that the father is of far more supreme importance than some obscure social figures who aren't actually present in the boy's life. And in fact we don't require a contrivance of analysis to think in these terms, as I suspect there are many real world examples - even in our own societies - that demonstrate how superior a family parent is to some hypothetical 'superior' person in the society. To a child or even young adolescent, it shouldn't be strange at all to assume that a parent is more of an authority figure in a young person's life than a senator or even the President. Those people may be famous, but they are not parents. And that's just the psychological perspective; I imagine there are also many societies historically where the parent is in fact the *ultimate* authority over the child, full stop, including senators and the President. If I'm guessing correctly, if you went back to the founding of the U.S., no one would claim the POTUS was "in charge" of the father of a family, or even had the remotest amount of authority over him. Now this is technically complicated by the fact that Endar is a "captain" and thus may fall within some hierarchical command structure. But as that aspect isn't ever explored we might just as easily assume that the Talarians are tribal and that a "captain" is the ultimate authority over his own clan or family group. So that aspect may be a wash if we wondered about the political side of it. But what I wanted to focus on was the family side of it, and from that perspective (still keeping in mind I'm assuming the premise that Jono needs, above all, a stronger father figure) there is no one in the universe who could outrank his father.

I will grant that this general argument addresses the major insinuations of the story and perhaps allows us to understand the "no one can outrank a man" argument as being a personal need for paternal authority rather than as some kind of statement of cultural importance. This becomes harder to accept at face value when he is even shocked that Worf takes orders from a female superior, since Worf isn't the captain. My best answer to this point is just that if we're seeing all of this from Jono's perspective then it might make sense to assume that, being still immature, he identifies maleness as being tied to his father, and the idea of men all outranking women as being tied to his father being the embodiment of authority. Sort of an illogical generalization on his part. Perhaps you might find this explanation satisfactory.

I don't really have any need to prove that the episode isn't really employing a patriarchal bias even subconsciously among the writing staff, but I guess I'm seeing that there are many built-in story elements that seem to make the paternal authority issue directly relevant to Jono as a character and even to his extreme need for men to always be seen as higher than women. Yes, it's painted as a generally held Talarian attribute, but going with my general thesis that races on Trek (especially TNG in particular) tend to be examples of human traits rather than attempts to portray anything actually alien, I think the Talarian "race" is maybe best seen as an example of the orphaned or tribal boy who absolutely requires a strong paternal figure to be the center of his world for purely personal reasons. We could perhaps imagine a story about such a person would involve all sorts of elements that could be construed as sexism or other isms if we generalized these elements into being about humanity in general. That's why I'm suggesting that maybe we should restrict our ideas about gendered authority in the episode to Jono alone (and to the archetype he speaks for) rather than to see it as a story about different social systems competing with each other. I see it more like asking what kind of ideas someone like Jono would have to conjure up to support his internal conception of his father as everything, and what sort of person might have he grown up to be had someone like Picard been his father. In momentarily seeing Picard as a father figure Jono became "suddenly Human", i.e. a different person with different conceptual needs, and this was incompatible with all of his previous understandings.

You know, the more I analyze these third-rate episodes the more I realize that TNG writing tended to have a lot of really good levels built into them, even when the teleplay is fairly lame. The quality of the meta-narrative writing was just so far superior back then to how TV is written now.

Sorry if that was a bit long-winded.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 5:53am (UTC -6)
Trish, Chakotay is a weak character that capitulates quickly to Janeway. Series long, Janeway faces down threats. Refuses to be intimidated. Chakotay often seeks to avoid conflict, even if it means the crew never makes it home. Neelix is a complete putz. Harry Kim is weak and subservient. His character growth is nominal. Tuvok is completely subservient to Janeway. While he periodically offers good counsel, he rarely pushes back. His character development is nominal as well. Paris is headstrong and often foolish. He has moments where he evinces strong leadership. But then he also has reckless and impetuous moments. He isn't exactly command material. The Doctor isn't human so it's difficult to view him like the rest of the crew. Though I will concede that he makes great strides during the show.

Seven and Torres are, next to Janeway, the most intelligent and strong-willed of the crew. Janeway takes a peculiarly strong interest in their development. Obviously their unusual backgrounds factor into this. But the fact remains they are dominant personalities that the men generally capitulate to.

The fact that 6 of the 9 main cast are men only reinforces my point. They have the majority yet the women clearly rule the ship. And thank God for that. Otherwise, Voyager never would have made it home.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 10:04am (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

I agree that the depth of the writing in Trek and in TNG in general has much more depth in addressing issues of the human condition than people sometimes give it credit for, and that it is by analyzing in these almost ridiculous levels of detail that the depth becomes most evident. Even when, as in this case, the writers are portraying something I am not enjoying and that is distracting me from just enjoying the narrative at a superficial level, it gives me real respect for their skill as storytellers. They have created characters that seem as complex as real people, living in a universe that likewise seem very real. Even though you and I do not agree on this specific issue, our discussion of it seems to be helping both of us appreciate how much is in there, even if we don't put the same weight on different parts of it.

To me, your theory (if I am understanding the theory correctly) that Jono is only saying that a woman cannot outrank a man is because he personally cannot have ANYONE outrank his father is not supported by the lines in the script, and it doesn't make sense to me that he would say what he says if it weren't a statement about Talarian society as a whole. It's the fact that so many alien societies in Trek are not just patriarchal but openly misogynistic (and that this is often treated by even the regular characters as a more or less neutral cultural factor) that I find so distracting. Trek does sometimes deal with issues at a societal level, so even though this particular episode is focusing on a very individual journey of identity (something else Trek does remarkably well), I believe the social issue is also truly there.

You and I may never come to see it the same way. That is part of the nature of art sometimes, that some of its meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 10:20am (UTC -6)

I think I see better now what you are talking about with Voyager, not necessarily that the society portrayed in Voyager is matriarchal in-universe, but that at the creative production level, there was a disproportionate focus on developing the female characters. In a sense, the studio became matriarchal for that series, which affected the product they created.

The reason I said above that "in-universe" Janeway's gender did not make her the captain was because I realize that at production level, her sex was absolutely the most important thing about the character, to be the first female captain as one of the main characters in a Trek series. The writers also seem to have made a deliberate effort to give the other female characters a lot more to do than deliver a mere catch line like Uhura's "Hailing frequencies open" or Troi's "He's definitely hiding something."

This was to "even out" an area where Trek, reflecting its times, had previously been lacking, and the farther we get out from it (and the more balanced our own real-world society becomes) the more dated and heavy-handed it starts to look. But I think it needs to be seen as a necessary "affirmative action" stage that helped people get used to both male and female characters having depth and importance, both in-universe and in the amount of creative attention they receive. Without that awkward stage, things tend not to get better.
Peter G.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 10:46am (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

"To me, your theory (if I am understanding the theory correctly) that Jono is only saying that a woman cannot outrank a man is because he personally cannot have ANYONE outrank his father is not supported by the lines in the script, and it doesn't make sense to me that he would say what he says if it weren't a statement about Talarian society as a whole."

I guess all I can say is that if the statement was coming from a well-adjusted individual (like a Klingon at the height of his powers) then we'd have to take it at face value that this is just the way their society is. But since Jono is very overtly shown to be immature, even childish (the keening seems to me almost infantile), that any statements about his culture need to sort of taken with the same grain of salt you'd take if you asked an 8 year old about how the world works. It's not that it isn't his viewpoint, but more than he isn't capable of giving a well-considered statement about reality, so what we're hearing is of low value as a cultural statement. I guess it could be the converse - that an immature society is going to yield people with poor quality social statements.

By the way I don't disagree with you that in general the bias will be anti-female rather than anti-make. And in fact I have a general theory about this: due to the fact that the feminine is the more important force in the world, the foremost type of corruption is going to be a corruption and trampling of the feminine. So it will not only be a writing bias that suggests the feminine is submerged out of sight, but may well be a subconsciously accurate description of really is the norm: that the masculine force overwhelms the feminine, alternatively trying to dominate it or distort it. So what you perceive to be a flaw in TNG writing may in some fashion be seen as a true representation of how things go unless very active steps are taken to give full glory to the feminine (as for example Marian Catholicism does).
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 11:57am (UTC -6)
"if you asked an 8 year old about how the world works. It's not that it isn't his viewpoint, but more than he isn't capable of giving a well-considered statement about reality, so what we're hearing is of low value as a cultural statement."
When it comes to gender and power dynamics related to that, children have a more or less complete understanding around the age of 5 and can express that.
Peter G.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 1:07pm (UTC -6)
I don't even think adults - or experts even - have a complete understanding of it. As if gender or power dynamics are a simple thing.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 1:46pm (UTC -6)
Complete understanding is probably confusing. What I meant is that children at that age can if asked point out gendered behaviors and societal norms. Jobs, color, toys, how to move, what to wear and so on.
"As if gender or power dynamics are a simple thing."
In quite a few areas they are, like who is in charge or who is expected to do what.
Peter G.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 1:51pm (UTC -6)
@ Booming,

"In quite a few areas they are, like who is in charge or who is expected to do what."

We are getting off-topic with this but I'll be super-brief: I think Western conceptions of power has grossly misunderstood what "in charge" means, and how power is exercised in real world situations. Being the one to say "you do this" doesn't actually mean that person has power. It's a very complicated subject, and I'd rather just leave it at that.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 2:26pm (UTC -6)
Ohhh that is so mean! Now my brain is going to circle that "Western conception" sentence until the end of time...
Peter G.
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 3:34pm (UTC -6)
It's ok, just have some more tequila :)
Sun, Dec 25, 2022, 3:38pm (UTC -6)
Ok... I guess the salt will come from my tears...
Mon, Dec 26, 2022, 9:18pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

I have to say, deciding that the character is unreliable seems like kind of a cop-out.

Are there unreliable characters? Of course. In a sense, all characters are unreliable, because their lines are conditioned by the background and personality the writer has given them.

But choosing not to trust a line the writer has put in a character's mouth has to be based on something in the script, not just on not wanting to engage with what it would mean if the character were telling the truth. The script gives us no particular reason to think that Jono is inaccurate on the specific issue of gender roles among his adopted people. If Jono were going to be inaccurate about something, why gender relations, instead of something else? To resort to that as a way of waving off the line's implications comes across as a way of just dodging my question.

The dodge doesn't actually work, anyway. Whether the belief that women cannot hold positions of authority is pervasive in Talarian society or is specific to Jono, my real question remains: Why do attitudes like this keep getting written, while the reactions written to it are often mild or nonexistent?

My original point wasn't about him, or about Talarian society, or anything in-universe. It was that at the creative level, patriarchy and even outright misogyny have been used as lazy shortcuts to portraying alien societies. If it had been done once or twice, it could have been just a dramatic device for the needs of a specific story. When it happens again and again, with almost all the alien cultures we get to know well enough to know whether it's patriarchal or not, it becomes normalized, as if this is just the way the universe works.

And that's pretty much what you're saying you think might be the case: That this is just the way the universe works, and it must simply be accepted.

I'm not okay with that. I'm not okay with it either in Trek or in my own church.

I realize it would be SO much easier for men if I and all other women were. But that much, I can say with confidence, is not how the universe works.

After all, just because there's gravity doesn't mean no one can stand up off the ground. Misogyny is common in the universe as we know it, but it doesn't have to stay that way.
Peter G.
Mon, Dec 26, 2022, 9:37pm (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

"I have to say, deciding that the character is unreliable seems like kind of a cop-out."

Well, yes, in a way. But I do think it matters whether a character is intentionally shown as being immature, versus being an educated and rational person, when making a pronouncement about values. Just as a random example, take Salia from S2's The Dauphin. She seems to express some sentiments nearer to the start of the episode which I think are intentionally meant to reflect a child-like attitude rather than a considered opinion. Her guardian is portrayed as "a meanie" (as my daughter would call it), but this too seems to be channeled through a child's lens. Now in that episode we see a transition of Salia's perspective since that story is about her becoming a ruler, but the example is meant to show that what we're told about what's right from her POV is governed by what we're supposed to understand about her bearing in life. All I was trying to suggest was that they went quite a bit out of their way to portray Jono as immature, which must influence how we take his statements. So yes, it's kind of a cop out, but one that has structural basis in the story.

"And that's pretty much what you're saying you think might be the case: That this is just the way the universe works, and it must simply be accepted.

I'm not okay with that. I'm not okay with it either in Trek or in my own church."

I wasn't so much theorizing about why it's ok, but rather just observing that it's no accident that bulldozing over the feminine is common (which btw I don't agree is automatically equivalent to misogyny). In other words, if the Trek universe portrays it as so, then perhaps we might see it as being an accurate portrayal of what an actual inhabited universe might look like, i.e. with many cultures around that do not properly give space for the feminine. It is possible to observe this in a value-neutral way: for example if I suggest that it is possibly quite difficult to make space for the feminine, then it might not come across as hateful for a species (or culture) to have failed to do so, but rather merely be a sign of its lack of sophistication. That's just a way of looking at it as a possible alternative to what you feel is behind it.

Another thing I've faced (and that I've led discussions on) in arts environments is what sorts of thing emerge from chiefly male writers versus female writers. It's possible for a male writer, like e.g. David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin, to have some great strengths and some natural weaknesses in their writing, and for these weaknesses to perhaps cluster to some degree around their gender. That most writers thus far have been men will no doubt have some effect, but again I'm hesitant to agree that a weakness in writing - for instance not being great at writing female characters, or even feminine worldviews - is equivalent to misogyny. Now what might legitimately called misogyny would be disallowing women *to be* writers, or to decline to hire them, and to the extent that this has been the case historically I would agree with you on those grounds.
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 5:22pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

I couldn't bring myself to come back to this one until now, over two months later.

It really sounds like you think that if a type of hatred or contempt is common enough, then it stops really being hatred or contempt, and becomes just kind of a lack refined etiquette. It probably doesn't surprise you to hear that I don't share that belief.

I think it's a lot easier to believe it if you yourself have never been, and cannot realistically imagine that you will ever be, on the receiving end. If you have or you can, it NEVER becomes just a "lack of sophistication." It's morally wrong.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 7:28pm (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

What I'm suggesting is that it doesn't require hatred or contempt for something to be anti-feminine (or anti-anything). Some people can make things hard for women out of contempt, but some may do it because it requires extraordinary effort to reverse that. Example: tech companies with a bro culture didn't initiate those cultures because they hate women. It's just a natural result of unsophisticated young men who end up wielding a lot of power in a newish industry. But for women to feel welcome and even safe there, the men would have to actually modify their work culture, and it might not even be clear to them how to do that. They weren't misogynists, so what's the problem? Solving that requires not only consideration, but also time, and of course the strong desire to include women. Now to be fair some bro culture places actually are misogynist, but plenty that aren't have the same culture problem. All I'm saying is things can be complicated. In Trek I guess I don't have a problem with a portrayal of a complicated imperfect universe. In fact most of the alien races (for better or worse) are portrayed as being flawed in some way, perhaps exemplifying an aspect of ourselves that requires work. I think this episode makes it clear enough that Jono is miserable in this culture no matter what he says, but Picard's dilemma is that "respect" for a culture involves having to accept that a 'bad' culture is still one that needs its own space. Not liking their culture can't be a reason for him to take Jono away, otherwise he'd basically always side against every other culture, which would be ruinous for the Federation.
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 9:38pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

My whole point in this matter, however, is that one specific way of being an "imperfect culture" keeps being portrayed in Trek again and again and AGAIN, sometimes with relatively little sign of acknowledging it as imperfect, just "alien."

It's not about whether Picard should have taken away from the Talarian culture. The Talarian culture doesn't really exist. Jono doesn't exist. Picard doesn't exist (gasp!). My issue isn't an in-universe thing. It's about the writers (including some female writers) who have found it so natural to keep building worlds with that one specific imperfection. There are so many possible social ills to choose from if the story requires an alien culture to have a glaring imperfection. That one just seems to be overrepresented in their alien world-building, so much so that it's hard to believe it's an accident. That repeated creative decision shows a problem in the real world you and I both have to live in, not just in fictional Talaria. And fictional Vulcan. And fictional Ferenginar. And fictional Kronos. And fictional Trabe (the Kazon homeworld). And fictional Neural ("A Private Little War"). And … well, at least as many alien worlds as not.

In all fairness, they do sometimes portray different glaring imperfections, such as the exploitation of manual laborers in "The Cloudminders." But oddly enough, when our intrepid heroes witness THAT imperfection, they plunge in and change things.

Those heroes, of course, like Talaria, don't exist. Only the writers who created them.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 9:59pm (UTC -6)
@ Trish,

That's very reasonable. But I wonder whether the repetition of the anti-feminine trope might not just be a lack of creativity, rather than the presence of prejudice. Then again I rather respect a lot of the TNG thematic writing. But maybe when finding social ills to represent they just went for low hanging fruit over and over. The TNG Romulans at least seem to be a departure from this, and DS9 perhaps does a better job of showing that Klingon women can be respected, even though the culture is hugely patriarchal. The Vulcan situation is a little weird, as some parts look regressive from our perspective and yet T'Pau is the highest-stationed Vulcan we see until ENT. I do think the Ferengi are a special exception as they are overtly meant to show weaknesses in America, specifically. Yankee traders, and all that. And in DS9 at any rate the portrayal of their sexism is so satiric that it's outright played as comedy, to say nothing that almost everyone present is embarassed by it. At least the Bajorans seem to have an egalitarian society.
Mon, Mar 6, 2023, 1:42am (UTC -6)
@Peter G.

Bajor is really a good example, I think, of what can be done if you depart from the very lowest-hanging fruit, AND if you take seriously that social ills are actually "ills" rather than "just the way things are" (which is the heart of my objection to the way-overused misogynistic themes).

Bajoran society seems to have had gender equality for as long as anyone there recalls, but they have not always been "egalitarian" in a full sense. They used to have a rigid caste system that was not just different roles to make society work, but a hierarchical ranking system by birth. They only gave it up in order to fight the Cardassians, and showed how readily they could slip back into it when the pseudo-Emissary from the past told them to.

Major Kira's arc in the series is an illustration of how the passionate hatred of Cardassians that got Bajor through the occupation was itself something that had to be grappled with and put into a bigger perspective. She even sort of adopts a Cardassian as a father figure. I think that allows her hatred of Dukat to be more clearly a response to Dukat's actions, rather than mere speciesism.
matthew h
Wed, May 17, 2023, 8:42am (UTC -6)
Others have said this but it seems that Worf was the likley candidate to guide Jono to transition. He is a war orphan who learned humanity by later adoption, liked to wail and listen to horrid alien music when stressed. HIs identified culture is patriarchal and honor-obsessed.
Jonas Mbele
Thu, Oct 26, 2023, 2:14pm (UTC -6)
Picard essentially returned a kidnapped child to the terrorists who murdered his family. It was wrong, period. Can you imagine a western military officer finding a child from some NATO country in the middle east, fully indoctrinated in ISIL philosophy but still young enough to be deconditioned and deciding, I'll just give him back to ISIL because well, he's a terrorist now. Its codswallop.

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