It’s hard to think of much to say about “When the Bough Breaks”, because while the idea behind it is good (infertile alien species kidnaps Enterprise kids, can’t understand why humans get so upset), the execution is about as unsubtle as you can get. The result is an episode that’s at best just unbelievable, at worst totally boring.
So I’ll just pull out a few points.
1. The Ups and Downs of the Aldeans
I spent part of my childhood growing up on a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest. You know, the type of place where pretty much everyone knows everyone, smokes weed, wears batik, and knows how to gather medicinal plants? So right away I was inclined to like the Aldeans because when we meet them they look like they’re going to a hippie party. I didn’t feel like they looked exciting enough to be aliens who hadn’t been in contact with outsiders for millennia, but that’s life.
Unfortunately, they turn out to be remarkably obtuse and difficult to buy. They have some seemingly very advanced technology (they fling the Enterprise three days away from the planet with barely any effort) but never figured out their whole society is dying of chromosomal degradation? Or why? You’d think when they stopped being able to have children they could’ve put some thought into re-building their fallow scientific knowledge to figure out why that was? And how did they think seven kids would be enough to repopulate a planet?
2. Moms and Dads
We get a chance to see a lot of emotional moms this episode. The conference with the parents whose kids have been taken starts out with one mother, slightly hysterical.
Toya: What’s happened to Alexandra and the other children, Captain? How are you getting them back?
Crusher: Toya, sit down. Don’t give in to fear. Now, we all knew what the risks were when we signed on, and that’s the choice we made. Now, Captain Picard will do everything possible to bring our children back.
Crusher is also obviously upset and worried about Wesley, though she makes that clear while still going about her duties and helping the mission.
Rashella shows the most fierce attachment to her new “daughter”, Alexandra. Alexandra has been assigned to another couple but Rashella tells Radue, “No. They can’t have her. I will never let her go.”
On the planet, Radue never seems emotionally-invested in the wellbeing of the children, just in the continuation of their community. It’s Rashella’s maternal love for the children that convinces her to put their interest ahead of hers, sacrificing her future with Alexandra when she convinces Radue to let the kids go rather than them being affected by the same radiation.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with moms being maternal, and if your kid was kidnapped like this of course you’d be upset. I don’t see the episode as dissing motherhood or protective maternal emotions – after all, Rashella’s attachment and eventual sacrifice is depicted as positive and strong, albeit a bit stereotypical.
But I’d argue there’s still a subtle gender line that just goes to show it’s hard to think and write outside the box. The dads on the Enterprise are thinking more logically or at least aren’t exemplifying that fierce protectiveness we see from the moms. The one we get to see most of is Bernard, who at the beginning is scolding his son for not wanting to take calculus. His emotion later is regret at having that fight.
I feel like I should come up with a one-word term so I don’t have to re-state in nearly every episode for at least 3 seasons that poor Troi seems to not be doing much other than sensing shit and stating the obvious. Maybe:
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Crusher and Rashella talk about the infertility on the planet.