“Family” was really a turning point episode for Star Trek, one of the first times we got to see a character – Picard – dealing with the emotional aftermath from the previous episode, instead of everything being neatly tied away and forgotten. At the same time, it takes us out of the action (the ship’s not in danger, nor are the characters) and spends the time exploring not just Picard’s A-plot but also Worf and Wesley through their relationships to their families.
But before I talk about all the awesome, let me get the one really cringe-worthy moment out of the way.
Worf’s parents are coming to visit while the Enterprise is being repaired. Worf’s anxious about their visit. When he arrives to meet them in the transporter room, he complains to Chief O’Brien:
Worf: They still have not signalled?
O’Brien: No sir.
Worf: My mother is never on time. It is so human of her.
O’Brien (shrugs): Well, you know women.
Worf, I gotta tell you, my mom’s late for everything, just like yours. I’ve never supposed that fact was related to her gender (or the fact that she’s human). Otherwise, as a human woman myself, I wouldn’t care, because
I’d be late for everything!
Worf, take a hard look at the expression on O’Brien’s face. And instead of just grunting agreement, realize you are over three hundred years past the time when comments like, “Well, you know women” were socially acceptable. Don’t let this guy dishonour your mom and all the other women you know.
Anyhow, the writers obviously screwed up on that little exchange, but luckily Worf’s parents, the Rozhenkos, get there soon after, and they are adorable and loveable, even if they did go to the Pavel Chekov School of Over-the-Top Russian Accents.
Their exchanges with other crew members, like when they tell Geordi about Worf fighting kids at his elementary school, remind me of “Journey to Babel” when Amanda tells McCoy about Spock’s childhood.
(this screencap demands its own caption contest)
Of course the Rozhenkos are funny characters, but that doesn’t take away at all from their touching relationship with Worf. They’re there to support him after his discommendation but don’t know the right way to bring it up. Worf himself is wary, fearing that they can’t possibly understand.
Time for some Guinan ex Machina. She gets the Rozhenkos talking about how much they love Worf, reassures them that they raised a very special son, and helps them realize he needs their support more than he knows. So they do finally go have a heart-to-heart with him.
Worf: I must bear my dishonour alone.
Sergey: That is not true.
Helena: I’m sorry if this is too human of us but, whenever you are suffering, you must remember we are with you.
Sergey: And that we’re proud of you, and that we love you.
Helena: You’re our son.
Awwwwwww. I wonder if Cute Overload takes Star Trek scene submissions…
Well if the B-plot with Worf’s parents would fit on Cute Overload, the A-plot with Picard is more something for Awkward Family Photos.
It starts with Jean-Luc meeting his nephew, Rene. Like all good nerds he knows the way to a child’s heart is through obscure cultural references:
Picard: Oh, good lord, a highwayman.
Rene: A what?
Picard: A highwayman. It’s a robber who attacks travellers, but none have been reported in this vicinity for centuries.
Rene: But I’m not a robber.
Picard: I am much relieved, sir.
Next, we meet Jean-Luc’s sister-in-law, Marie, and his brother, Robert. It is comforting to know that Jean-Luc is not an anomaly; all his French relatives have British accents.
But Robert Picard is possibly the most curmudgeonly person in the Trek canon. If there were a Trek Curmudgeonliness Scale he would be at one end representing “Most Curmudgeonly,” on the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, Harry Kim. Actually heck, let’s just make a scale:
Robert Picard is the master of the stink-eye He’s cranky about Jean-Luc going into space, about his son aspiring to that future too, about abomination that is synthehol, and about technology in general,
“Life is already too convenient,” he says as his wife serves him and his family the dinner she cooked.
He has been working in the vineyards all day, so that’s a pretty fair division and labour between him and Marie if they’re both happy with it; it’s just also a very traditional one.
Marie is really the one keeping any ties going with Jean-Luc, and he thanks her for her correspondence: “It makes me feel like I’m part of the family.”
We never really get to see much of Robert not being cranky, which is okay because he’s there to challenge Jean-Luc, to break down his emotional barriers so he can finally really process what the Borg did to him and realize he does want to still be captain of the Enterprise. That happens through verbal abuse, followed by dramatic fraternal mud-wrestling, hugging and crying and finally making up over a big bottle of wine.
The only downside of Robert’s harshness is that it’s hard to see what Marie’s getting out of their relationship until a little bit at the very end when Robert relaxes and decides they can let Rene continue to stargaze: “Let him dream.”
One other thing I was watching for in this episode was the way Crusher and Troi were handled. When Jeri Taylor joined TNG as Supervising Producer, her big goal for Season 4 was to develop the characters of Troi and Crusher. While neither has much screen time in “Family”, what they do have is notable.
First, we actually get to see Counsellor Troi counselling!
At the beginning of the episode Picard is preparing to visit his family and Troi is in his quarters seeing him off. While this clearly isn’t an official appointment, it validates her role on the ship and builds up our appreciation for her by showing a bit of her sense of humour, as well as how valuable she is to Picard:
Picard: Your help has been invaluable during my recovery, but, look, I’m better. The injuries are healing.
Troi: Those you can see in the mirror.
Picard: The nightmares have ended. All I need now is a little time to myself.
Troi: I agree. In fact, I’m delighted you’re going. It’s just that the choice of where you’re going could stand some scrutiny.
Picard: If you wish to believe that my going home is a direct result of being held captive by the Borg, be my guest.
Troi: Is that what you believe?
Picard: I hate it when you do that.
Crusher and Troi also get a scene together that shows their strong friendship. They have tea together and talk about their shore leave. Troi says she and Riker are looking at going to Angel Falls in Venezuela, which adds to the evidence that they were having a “friends with benefits”-type relationship before they really got back together in the movies.
Crusher confides in Troi about the contents of a bag of things that belonged to her deceased husband, Jack. The bag includes a recorded message for Wesley that she is reluctant to give him. It also includes:
Troi (reading the title of a book): How to Advance Your Career through Marriage?
Crusher: It was a joke. Jack sent it to me while I was still in medical school. It was his way of proposing to me.
How…romantic? Good thing Beverly can take a joke, even a very un-funny one. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume they were talking about marriage and this wasn’t the first way Jack brought it up.
Crusher does give Wesley the recording. The scenes with her struggling with that decision, and the scene where Wesley finally “meets” his holographic father, are short but convey a lot, and that’s pretty cool.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. This one is close but just makes it. Crusher and Troi have a conversation that’s mostly about Jack and Wesley but they also address shore leave and how beautiful Venezuela is. Guinan also talks to Helena Rozhenko, but mostly about Worf and Sergey is also in the conversation.