At the Brink

Sometimes You Can Go Home Again: “Family” Revisited

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.
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After the emotional ride of “Best of Both Worlds,” the second episode of season four takes a much quieter tone, if it is no less emotionally gripping. “Family” is perhaps the easiest episode to summarize. Worf’s parents visit him on the Enterpise; Picard returns home to his natal village for the first time in twenty years, and Wesley Crusher receives a message from his long-dead father. However, nothing about that summary does the episode justice. Recovery forms the thematic backdrop of the episode, from the discussion Picard has with Troi in his quarters as he packs his things to leave to Worf’s reticence to see his parents to Wesley’s unabashed need for his father’s approval. “Family” lacks any plot element familiar to the series; there is no threat to the ship or the planet. No crew-member’s life hangs on the outcome of the episode; it’s just a story about three people coping with trauma and how they fall back on family to help them do so.

We meet Worf’s human parents for the first time in this episode. Sergey Rozhenko, a former master chief, and his wife Helena, take the Enterprise by storm. Sergey insists that he has all the ship’s specs and diagrams at home, and make no mistake, he has studied them all to the point that he can navigate the ship in his sleep. Helena, more sensitive to Worf’s discomfiture than her husband, attempts to rein in her husband’s enthusiasm, but between the two of them, they’re something of a force of nature. Worf, ever the Most Klingon of all Klingons, squirms like a boy at university whose parents have come for Family Day, and at one point, he even grates out that he wishes his parents were more reserved. The episode seems to treat Worf’s parents and his discomfort with their presence as the episode’s comic relief. Worf’s constant scowl gets replaced with frustration, and he narrowly avoids telling LaForge to call him when LaForge tires of dealing with his father. Certainly, in light of the episode’s other two story lines, I don’t think I could fault the writers for settling for comic relief, but the episode neatly turns the trope of the bumbling parent on its head. Sergey and Helena are present on the ship because they’ve heard about Worf’s discommendation from the Klingon Empire (Third Season’s “Sins of the Father”), and as they explain, while they do not understand the entirety of Worf’s dishonor, they only know that their son is hurting and that as parents, they should be there to support their son in whatever form he needs, even if he cannot admit it. As Guinan observes, there are many parents who could learn a great deal from the Rozhenkos.

The Picard storyline is a bit darker. Early in the episode, we learn that he has not returned to his village in twenty years, and Troi, weirdly present in her CO’s quarters to watch him pack, questions his motives for returning now. Picard, of course, insists that he’s fine and progressing in his post-Assimilation recovery, but both Troi and the astute viewer know that Picard is clearly the farthest thing possible from fine.
The first images we have of the Picard estate reflect the vineyard’s timelessness and ultimately set up the overt conflict between Jean-Luc and his brother Robert. From Picard’s nephew, we learn that Robert does not quite hold his younger brother in the esteem with which we’ve come to expect Picard to be treated, so Picard’s reticence to hurry to his family’s estate makes a certain sense. Picard’s choice to walk to the home from the village speaks volumes, with Rene’s presence ensuring that we do not mistake Picard’s ramble for one of pleasant nostalgia. When he arrives, he meets Marie, his brother’s wife, in the flesh for the first time, and considering that Rene is no babe in swaddling clothes, there’s a certain awkwardness around the meeting that has little to do with the absolutely terrible costumes the poor actress is forced to wear. Picard’s reunion with his brother Robert is frosty at best; Robert barely looks at his brother and steadfastly stares at his ailing vine.

Supper later that evening is a similarly awkward affair with Robert serving as the champion of the old ways while Picard points out that the technology Robert so violently eschews simply makes life more convenient. While the show clearly wants us to believe that Robert is a curmudgeonly luddite, I am amused to hear some of the same arguments regarding how technology and society are leaving traditional mores and values behind coming from the mouth of a character written and filmed thirty years ago that I hear bandied about in popular discussion today. There’s something very affirming about realizing that the same issues have been playing around in the cultural zeitgeist forever.

The real crux of the Picard plot, of course, is whether Picard will return to the Enterprise. During Picard’s breakdown with his brother, he reveals just how damaged he was by the experience with the Borg, and what I love most about Robert is that he doesn’t offer his brother any platitudes because there are simply none to offer. Robert rightly concludes that Jean-Luc must cope with the events of the previous two episodes as best he can; there are no easy answers. However, now that he and Robert have resolved some old resentments with old-fashioned tussling, Jean-Luc must decide whether he wishes to remain on Earth or if he does belong on the Enterprise. He of course returns to Starfleet because the Jean-Luc of 1990 knows he must. I confess, I am interested to discover what drove the Picard of 2020 to ground himself in the rich soil of his family’s vineyard.

The last vignette of the story concerns Wesley Crusher and the message left by his father. We know that Wesley has felt Jack Crusher’s absence keenly throughout the series, so finally seeing Crusher is as much a gut punch for the viewers as it is for Wesley. Crusher’s message is the stuff all new parents experience—nervousness at the responsibility of raising a new person, fascination at seeing years of family distilled into an infant’s face, and the excitement of being a new parent, but taken in context, Jack’s message to his son becomes Wesley’s only window into his father. Wesley reaches out to touch Jack just as the recording stops, and we, too, suffer along with Wesley. For all the magic of the holodeck, Jack Crusher remains gone and the recording merely a ghost of what he was. I wish more had been made of this storyline, but it brings the episode to a bittersweet ending. Worf and Picard get to have their reconciliation moments with their living relations, but Wesley must content himself with a hologram’s approval. Still, I choose to believe that Wesley finds a measure of healing Jack’s message. He gets to experience Jack’s very real love, even if only by remove.

Rating: Four cups of Earl Grey Tea because it’s such a daring episode

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:

  1. Troi kissing her CO on the cheeks strikes me as strange. I’ve had more than a few bosses over the years, and I’ve never felt comfortable enough to give one a peck on the cheek, even when I lived in France and bisous were the norm.
  2. We don’t see Data at all in this episode, but the next episode, “Brothers,” more than makes up for the lack. I wonder if the script was written this way to give Spiner a bit of a break considering he plays three characters in the following episode.
  3. I wish we’d gotten more of Marie in the episode. I love the touch that she’s been the one to keep Jean-Luc apprised of the goings on with his family. I also rather sincerely hope she gets a replicator in the future. Her frustration with Robert’s refusal is palpable and demonstrates that Jean-Luc is not the only member of the Picard family to suffer from Robert’s staunch luddite beliefs.
  4. The young actor who plays Rene, David Birkin, will return to the show in the sixth season to play a younger version of Jean-Luc Picard in “Rascals,” so you’ll hear that voice again.
  5. Lastly, I sincerely do not understand the pronunciation of “Louis” in the episode has a hard “s” sound. If they’re all French, wouldn’t a more French pronunciation be more appropriate? I know that it’s never established in the episode that he’s French, but the non-canonical works have him raised in France…

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