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The Child

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 5, 2007 - 9:55 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Child' Episode Guide

Plot Summary While en route to pick up samples of a deadly plague to bring back to Starfleet for analysis, the Enterprise is approached and penetrated by a life force entity that resembles a glowing sphere of light. After brushing by several humans, the entity enters Deanna Troi's body, resulting in a pregnancy with no apparent father that reaches full term in less than two earth days. Picard and Worf are concerned about this apparent alien invasion, but they have bigger problems: one of the plague samples has begun to grow and threatens to breach its containment field. Data and Laforge try to come up with a solution to the medical threat along with new medical officer Katherine Pulaski; meanwhile, Wesley Crusher prepares to leave the ship to join his mother, and Troi watches her son grow from an infant to an eight-year-old child in the course of a day. When Pulaski and Data realize that a rare form of radiation is causing the plague strain to grow, the child, Ian, tells Troi that it's because of him, and he gives up his human life to save the crew. He communicates with Troi as a glowing sphere, telling her that he decided to learn more about humans by experiencing life as one of them. The medical crisis is averted and Wesley asks for permission to remain on the Enterprise, which Picard says he will allow so long as Beverly Crusher agrees.

Analysis: I had remembered liking this episode very much, and I did again upon rewatching it, although I won't try to argue that it's particularly excellent. Some things come off quite well: the pacing, for instance, with extremely well-integrated A and B plots in which the plague, a typical Trek device to get the Enterprise into a planetary crisis, is instead the device to bring Troi's unexpected motherhood to a conclusion. Wesley Crusher's decision to stay on the ship is almost an aside, yet he has two very nice scenes - with Guinan and with Picard - that establish him as mature and thoughtful enough to make his own decisions, plus he gets to contribute to an amusing tag where it looks for a moment as if Troi is being set up as his surrogate mother and Wesley as her surrogate son, a cliche if ever there was one, only to have Worf interject that he will tuck the boy into bed at night (not a merry man, indeed).

Troi's reaction to finding herself pregnant is quite remarkable, perhaps even more so than the pregnancy itself. She is for all intents and purposes raped - penetrated without her knowledge or consent - yet her agitated awakening conveys post-coital breathlessness, not violation. It's interesting that the first person in whom she confides is not her captain, her former lover or the ship's security officer but the new doctor whom she has likely never met before, since Pulaski hasn't even checked in with Picard when he finds her in Ten Forward with Troi. Whether this is because Pulaski is an avowed healer by profession or whether Troi simply wants to talk to another woman, the effect at least for me is to make Pulaski immediately trustworthy; if the empath seeks her out, her heart must be in the right place even if she seems insensitive to Data's potential as a sentient being.

In fact, let me pause as an aside to sing the praises of Katherine Pulaski, whose tenure on the Enterprise did not last long and is often lamented by Next Generation fans...particularly Beverly Crusher fans, and very particularly by Picard/Crusher fans. Personally, I found Pulaski's matter-of-fact manner something of a relief after a season of both Deanna and Beverly squealing about people's feelings, and I had been living in dread of Crusher saying, "Jean-Luc, I have something to tell you" every time another woman caught his eye (okay, that happened a lot even after she returned, and I'm glad we got a break). Pulaski isn't as warm as Crusher but she often seems more professional as a Starfleet officer. And it isn't as if nurturing women are being neglected on this show which not only has an official ship's counselor but unofficial therapist Guinan, the bartender, who makes her first appearance in this episode. In a genre that tends to be dominated by men, I love the diversity of women on this series not only in terms of their professions and interests but their ages and backgrounds. I find it immensely satisfying that Beverly Crusher and Tasha Yar were replaced not with stereotypical hot babes but with grown-up women whose characters mattered far more than their cleavage.

Which brings me back to Troi. She's obviously unsettled by this pregnancy; she obviously doesn't quite know how to tell her captain or her Imzadi, allowing Pulaski to draw Picard into the conversation and then letting the captain make the announcement in the briefing room. Everyone reacts fairly true to form: Data wants to know the scientific details of the child's genetics, Worf insists that the fetus must be prevented from coming to term, Riker wants to be sure that Deanna will be safe if the pregnancy is terminated. Meanwhile the empathic Troi can sense her unborn child's heartbeat. She never for a moment considers aborting the pregnancy...and the rest of the crew never mentions the possibility again. Her body, her choice. It's a lovely moment.

The birth is as well, despite its artificiality -- when I first saw this episode, I had never gone through it, and this time around I had a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. The plus side to Troi feeling no pain is that she doesn't object to being watched giving birth by Data, Riker, Worf and a security team! During the pregnancy, she announces that she feels wonderful despite the changes to her body...I would think that any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, even one with very little personal vanity about her appearance, would be a bit freaked out by a burgeoning belly, and Troi has only a few hours to get used to the idea. Silly and unreal, but Riker seems to find her no less beautiful when she's heavy with a baby about which he has ambivalent feelings on a whole host of levels. And Data finds everything about the birth to be wondrous, a theme that will recur when he creates his own child in "The Offspring." For all its phoniness, Troi's birth experience manages to be genuinely uplifting.

The instantly articulate child is a bit harder to love, mostly because Ian is written in almost unbearably cutesy situations - playing with puppies, explaining earnestly to Picard that he's not yet ready to explain why he was born. Arguably, this is because the scenes aren't really about Ian at all, but about Deanna's growth as a mother as she tries to come to terms with a child for whom she had little time to prepare and whose rapid growth gives her no time at all to enjoy the various phases of his development. (Scientifically the hardest thing to swallow about the episode is that Troi could have a parthenogenic birth without a father; the child is said to be half-Human, half-Betazoid like herself, which would imply that the entity created a body out of her DNA or one of her egg cells, but there are no humanoid Y chromosomes anywhere in her genetics, so by definition she should have had a girl.)

Fortunately, whenever the Mommy storyline threatens to become cloying, the action switches to the crisis with the plague samples being transported by a crotchety scientist. As soon as Pulaski announces that the samples would kill everyone on the ship within two hours if they got loose, we know they will indeed threaten to get loose, and it's a pretty good bet that Ian will have something to do with how, but the technobabble is effective in making the threat seem real. Sadly, the plague storyline takes away from Ian's Little Prince moments, but I like the fact that it's Troi rather than her child who is ultimately the focus of all the emotion. Given that Wesley supersedes his mother in terms of importance to the Enterprise in the same episode, Troi's centrality erodes the stereotype of the mother as vessel. The episode may be entitled "The Child" but it's about the woman who chooses to bear and rear him. Like I said, it's not one of the greats, but it makes me feel good about the start of The Next Generation's second season.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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