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The Trek Nation - Suddenly Human

Suddenly Human

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 14, 2008 - 9:28 PM GMT

See Also: 'Suddenly Human' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When the Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Talarian vessel, the away team discovers that one of the five teenagers on the training mission is human. Data learns that the boy, Jono, was born Jeremiah Rossa - the son of two Federation colonists killed in a Talarian attack. Crusher discovers that the boy has had broken ribs and tells Picard she suspects Jono was abused by the Talarians. But Jono considers himself Talarian and follows that planet's customs; he has no respect for female crewmembers, and he will only respond to direct orders from Picard because he holds the rank of captain. Jono demands to be turned over to Captain Endar, whom Picard learns is Jono's adoptive father as well as his commanding officer, but Picard is eager to bring Jeremiah home safely to his grandmother, a Starfleet admiral. Troi encourages Picard to help Jono explore his human background, yet warns that Jono is sure to resent the people keeping him from Endar - who dismisses Picard's insinuations of abuse by explaining that the injuries were part of Talarian youth training. When Picard refuses to release Jono, Endar summons Talarian warships and threatens to attack the Enterprise. Picard encourages Jono to remember his parents and enjoy human experiences like sports and ice cream. Jono seems to be coming to terms with being human, but then he stabs the captain in the chest, explaining that he hopes to be executed for this action so Picard cannot force him to choose between his Talarian family and his human heritage. Though Riker plans to hold the boy in custody, Picard pardons Jono and releases him to Endar, saying that the real crime would be depriving Jono of the only home he knows. Jono says farewell to Picard in Talarian custom.


Analysis: I haven't seen this episode since it first aired, so I'm not sure whether it's nostalgia or the fact that I've had children in the interim that made it better than I had remembered. Having ended the previous season with the dehumanizing Borg, the writers seem determined to focus The Next Generation's fourth season on what it means to be human - in particular, how family and cultural bonds shape identity - and how other species might be different yet still share some similarities too important to ignore. The Enterprise crew doesn't want to like the Talarians from the very beginning, suspecting that the distress call might be a scheme to lure the ship so that the Talarians can blow themselves up like suicide bombers; such things happened in the past, when the Talarians fought the Federation for territory, around the time when a Talarian attack killed every human in the colony where Jono lived with his parents. At least, that's what the Federation thought. Only now does Picard learn of the Talarian custom that allowed Captain Endar to take in an orphaned child born of his enemies, to raise in place of the son Endar himself had lost in the conflict.

Perhaps this background is why Dr. Crusher presumes that Jono has been beaten. Jono's training has apparently been far more physically intensive than Wesley's, but given what we know of Klingon and Vulcan rites of passage, it's hardly the worst humans have encountered. Because of her concern that the boy was abused by Endar, Crusher wants him treated as though he needs to be deprogrammed, though Troi warns all along that Jono's attachment to his Talarian family is very strong. Apparently Troi can "read" Talarians - she could sense that there was fading life on the ship putting out the distress call when Picard couldn't trust the sensors - yet she doesn't understand why they react so badly to female doctors until she learns the details of their rigidly patriarchal society. She is the first to back off from the suggestion that Jono was abused, and she keeps advising Picard to back off trying to remake Jono into a human boy, something he doesn't want to be. Though it's never explicitly stated, there's an implication that Picard feels pressured by the Starfleet admiral who is also Jono's grandmother to return home with the last of the Rossas as quickly as possible. I wonder whether he risked a court-martial in allowing Jono to make his own decision about where to live.

The one real disappointment with the script is how little use is made of Worf. The Talarians may respect masculine leaders, but they don't seem intimidated by macho strength like that of the Klingons. Jono asks Worf scornfully what he's doing serving among humans, and reacts with disbelief when Worf explains that he must take orders from women who are his superiors. "I am no more human than you are," Jono tells the Klingon. Sadly, this is the extent of their conversation, since Troi insists that Picard should become Jono's surrogate father figure and the attention shifts. Jono's story is very nearly Worf's in reverse, at least so far as Worf understands it now, before he learns all the facts of the Khitomer massacre; he was found, adopted and raised by humans after his parents' home and lives were destroyed. Would the Rozhenkos have turned Worf back over to the Klingons without a fight if a relative had come forward? More importantly, would the child Worf have wanted to go? Though Worf has been exploring his Klingon heritage as an adult, he grew up valuing human culture enough that he enrolled in the Earth-based Starfleet Academy. If he has any regrets about not being raised among people from the same biological species as himself, I would think he'd want to tell Jono. As difficult as dating might have been for Worf ("human females are too fragile"), it might not be much better for Jono, who may never be Talarian enough for his tradition-bound adoptive culture to gain approval as a mate.

Picard seems to believe that he's doing the proper liberal open-minded thing, insisting that Jono explore human culture, which he's sure Jono will come to see as superior. What human boy wouldn't want to live where he can play springball, eat banana splits, and giggle at slapstick? Yet Picard admits to Troi that he himself never cared for typical childhood pursuits; he was too driven, determined to reach the stars, and we already know that he left his family's rural home early in life to choose his own path. How would he have felt had his life path been diverted because someone insisted he explore his family heritage instead? Not enough of this is fully articulated in the episode, which focuses more on superficial differences that suggest even more commonalities between Talarians and Klingons (both make a lot of noise when they grieve, both listen to music that sounds like horrible noise to the uninitiated). But it's still an interesting look at a cross-cultural custody fight, in which Picard's failings as a surrogate father come not from an inability to relate to children, but from an unwillingness to acknowledge that this boy has the maturity to decide for himself who he is and where he belongs.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.