Retro Review: BloodlinesPosted by Michelle - 17/12/10 at 11:12 am
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season: 07 Episode: 22 (s07e22)
Original US airdate: 05/02/1994
Picard is shocked to discover that he may have a son and that an old enemy has targeted the young man for death.
Plot Summary: The Enterprise encounters a probe that beams a holographic message onto the ship from the Ferengi DaiMon Bok, whose son died in battle fighting the Stargazer under Picard’s command. Bok says that he has discovered the identity of Picard’s son, Jason Vigo, and plans to kill Vigo in retaliation. Though Picard has never heard of 23-year-old Vigo, he had a brief affair with the young man’s mother 24 years ago and tells Riker that under any circumstances they need to protect the man from Bok. Though Vigo is none too pleased to have a spelunking expedition interrupted by the arrival of the Enterprise, he agrees to genetic testing, which reveals that Picard is indeed Vigo’s father. Vigo is even more unhappy when Picard insists that he remain aboard the Enterprise for his own safety while the crew attempts to track Bok’s whereabouts. While Picard tries to get to know the young man, who has a criminal record and no firm future plans, Bok manages to appear aboard on several occasions, each time threatening to kill Vigo. Crusher advises Picard to be patient with the boy and get to know him better. Vigo begins to suffer from hand spasms and seizures, which Crusher eventually diagnoses as the result of a hereditary neurological condition that Picard does not carry. Data and LaForge discover that Bok has a subspace transporter, which he has been using to beam on and off the ship and which he probably intends to use to kidnap Vigo. Bok is successful, but Data is able to trace the transporter beam and Picard has himself beamed over to Bok’s ship, where he announces that he knows Vigo is not his son, since Crusher has discovered that Vigo’s neurological disorder was triggered by a faulty attempt to resequence Vigo’s genes to match Picard’s. Realizing that there will be no profitable ransom, the other Ferengi crewmembers mutiny against Bok, who is forced to relinquish both command and his captives. Picard and Vigo return to the Enterprise, where Crusher corrects Vigo’s genetic anomalies and Picard agrees that he’d like to maintain a relationship with Vigo even if they aren’t father and son.
Analysis: I suppose it’s nice that the Next Generation writers decided to wrap up the long loose end of DaiMon Bok’s hatred of Picard, which precedes the timeline of the series and was left dangling after the first season episode “The Battle,” but “Bloodlines” isn’t a particularly strong episode – in many ways it lacks courage, the most obvious being that it turns out Vigo isn’t really Picard’s son. This could have been a transformative moment in Picard’s life, after all the grief he gave Wesley Crusher for screwing up at the Academy and all the years of feeling awkward around children; if Picard discovered that he really did have a child, and that that child had grown up in a difficult environment and made some terrible choices, it would likely influence all his relationships, from a new point of commonality with Beverly Crusher to a new perspective on the struggles of young crewmembers. Instead, since it isn’t real, it gets dropped as soon as it begins; there’s a casual “let’s keep in touch” vibe at the episode’s close, but no sense that Picard is likely to think of Jason Vigo as family, to attempt to introduce him to relatives back home, even to try to love him unconditionally as he seemed willing to do when he thought there was a bond of blood. If Bok had discovered a real son, he might have given Picard a real sense of Bok’s own love for his lost child – a pain so profound that Bok has lost the core Ferengi value of profiteering in his quest for satisfaction – but Picard is able to dismiss Bok fairly calmly, neither furious at Bok’s threats against Vigo nor sympathetic to the depths of the Ferengi’s suffering. I can’t help but thinking that if the blood tie hadn’t been disproven, Picard would have made a stronger statement at the end – maybe something risky, maybe a lecture, or maybe a rare statement of needing connection – rather than a friendly yet superficial farewell.
And if the writers didn’t want to recreate the James T. Kirk-David Marcus dynamic too closely, they might have given Vigo a more complex history, including the demons that one expects in a young man who never knew his father and who lost his mother to a pack of thugs intent on stealing the food she was bringing to her own children. Vigo has always known his father was a Starfleet officer, yet so far as we can tell, he has neither interest in nor resentment toward Starfleet; did it occur to him that a medical database probably could have revealed his parentage if he was ever curious? Given how Vigo grew up, a few arrests for petty theft and disturbing the peace hardly seem worth mentioning, let alone carrying the shame that Vigo expresses to Picard. How much more interesting if he’d grown up fighting just to make ends meet like his mother did, if he was as angry as Ishara Yar without the same ambitions. How would Picard talk to a son who wasn’t merely aimless and a bit naughty around attractive women like Deanna Troi, but seriously troubled, embittered and lashing out? Fine, Vigo prefers spelunking to finding a job – that’s hardly rare among young people. I’d think that if Vigo was ashamed of anything, it would be that he hasn’t carried on the charitable work of his mother, not that he isn’t Starfleet material. Picard might have tried that approach to finding the source of Vigo’s troubles, but there’s not much depth in their conversations – even Picard prefers to keep it at the level of jokes about his hairline.
Ironically, the character for whom I feel the most in “Bloodlines” is Bok. He may be a crazed would-be-murderer, but his emotions seem more real and more deep than Picard’s or Vigo’s (or Crusher’s, for that matter; you’d think that her “be patient” advice could have been a bit more detailed, given how well she and Picard – and the audience – know Wesley). Lee Arenberg gives quite a good performance as Bok, which can’t have been easy given that he must segue from genuinely terrifying to a Ferengi joke in a matter of minutes. I like the subtlety of Patrick Stewart’s performance early on – the shock of learning that Picard has a son, the mild embarrassment having the crew learn his personal business, the dislike and fear of being manipulated by Bok, the conflicted feelings toward Miranda Vigo for not staying in touch and toward Jason for being who he is – but the ending is so understated, with Picard giving Vigo an artifact that Vigo said personally he’d have traded for expensive alcohol, that the subtlety starts to look like apathy instead. And in order for the audience to share the big reveal when Picard tells Bok that he knows Jason isn’t his son, we’re denied what should be Picard’s most emotional moment of the story, when Crusher first gives him the news. Is he relieved, disappointed, nostalgic, devastated, furious at having been tricked, frustrated that a young man’s health was sabotaged in an act of vengeance? We’ll never know; we see only the public Picard, talking to Bok and then to Vigo, giving little hint at whatever may lie beneath the confident surface. Really, without consequences involving the Ferengi, Picard’s friends on the Enterprise, or Jason Vigo, what’s the point of it all?
Tags: Retro Review