The Bonding ( ST:TNG Rewatch, Season Three Episode 5) — Character-driven analysis of grief

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break.

After a member of a landing party dies an accidental, senseless death, Picard must break the news to her young son. “Jeremy, on the starship Enterprise, no one is alone,” says Picard. “No one.”

Numerous times on my rewatch, I’ve wished episodes would devote less time to scanning and probing and navigating around the Sci-Fi Thing of the Week, and more time on how the characters interact. This episode hits the sweet spot.

Worf, feeling responsible because he led the away team, is eager to help the boy deal with his grief through a Klingon bonding ceremony, though Troi urges caution. Meanwhile, Wesley’s emotions about his own father’s death (on an away team led by Picard) start to resurface.

Some unusually complex camera blocking gives energy to an intimate scene with Worf and Troi. Wesley and Dr. Crusher discuss their shared grief. Riker is mostly stuck on the bridge, but gets to field some philosophical questions from Wesley and Data.

Picard stans for Troi in another effective scene: “I break the unpleasant news, and there my responsibility ends. You have to stay with them through the entire grieving process.” Reversing Tolstoy’s formula, Troi says, “It is in our joy that the uniqueness of each individual is revealed.” I loved that Stewart ended the convo by gently touching Sirtis.

A tear-jerking scene shows the orphaned Jeremy holding a large tablet, smiling at home movies. I had confused this episode with one about a different grieving boy who bonds with Data, so I was surprised and chilled by the Sci-Fi Thing that happens at the end of Act II.

Some gripes: the young actor was a bit stiff. In one symmetrically framed scene, he puts down a candle just a little too far to the left, which made me cringe. LaForge has little to do other than push buttons and give reports, but Troi and Wesley are used very well.

Instead of wrapping things up with a speech, Picard calls on Wesley and Worf to share their long-bottled-up feelings of grief, with Troi helpfully translating for the boy (and the audience). The clever meshing of the characters’ emotional journeys and the sci-fi plot makes me feel I’m finally watching the TNG I grew to love.