Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S03E05 – The Bonding

In the fifth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, Picard and Worf face an uncomfortable future when an away team member dies. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For death and grief

I thought this fell apart a bit at the end because it leaves Jeremy’s story so wide open, but up to that point… HOLY SHIT. This goes from being an incredibly sad rumination on grief to A GHOST STORY OR SOMETHING??? That transition from devastation to utter shock is so good, y’all, and it’s definitely why “The Bonding” was so entertaining.

I don’t think it’s the sole reason, of course. Right from the start, Deanna plays an important role in helping the crew adjust and sort through their feelings, and Ronald D. Moore (!!!!) invokes Wesley’s own history with this same issue. For a show so averse to serialization, there’s a lot within “The Bonding” that calls back to the previous episodes. From the Crushers losing a family member on a mission to Picard’s dislike of children to Riker referencing Tasha’s death, this episode is very liberal in borrowing from the past. Which is a good thing, mind you. I love that all these things are invoked because it gives the episode an emotional framework for everyone to operate under. These characters all understand the complexity and challenge of losing someone while doing their job. Hell, and in the case of Wesley, we’ve got someone who knows exactly how traumatizing it is to have a parent die on an away mission.

And then, before ten minutes is even up, we get a scene where Jeremy learns what happened to his mother, and he’s telling Picard that he’s completely alone now. JESUS, WHAT IS THIS EPISODE DOING ALREADY? This episode does not fuck around, since Jeremy’s scene is followed by three utterly brutal and depressing sequences that are all about death and loss. In fact, until the big twist halfway through “The Bonding,” I actually didn’t think there’d be any sort of conflict in this episode aside from the ongoing existential crisis that was unfolding. I thought that the show could have pulled that off, too! Having these characters speak openly about death and the Federation was compelling, in part because the cast is so talented and because Moore’s script is so smart.

At the same time, that’s why the sharp turn into NOPESVILLE is so goddamn effective. We’re pondering death, the meaning of life, the grief that poor Jeremy is going to feel over the next few years, and then WHAT THE FUCK WHY IS HIS MOTHER IN HIS ROOM 

Moore’s script commits to this. I love that about it. She is not just there, only appearing to him and making him seem delusional to the rest of the crew. She slides into the frame, envelopes her son in a hug, and then promptly scares the living daylights out of Worf. Whatever this creature or being is, it is able to control reality in convincing ways, at least as long as the strange energy beams from the planet below are not interrupted.

And it’s creepy. I can agree on that. But the eeriness of Marla’s appearance is less because of the impossibility of her and more due to her constant insistence that she take Jeremy down to live on the planet. WHY? WHAT HORRIBLE PLANS DID THIS BEING HAVE FOR JEREMY? I mean, it was clear from my reaction to this that I did not believe for a second that this version of Marla was really her. It was all too creepy for me to consider otherwise. The way Marla converted Jeremy’s room to look just like his back on Earth was way to manipulative to be something that Marla would have done in any situation ever. I didn’t even know Marla before this episode, and I knew that this felt wrong.

I feel like “The Bonding” has something in common with the end reveal of “The Survivors.” In both stories, the guilt that comes from inactivity and complicity fuels a powerful being to create an alternate reality. In this case, the energy side of Koinonians felt guilty for being partially responsible for Marla’s death, so they assumed that raising the child was the way to rectify that. From that, though, Moore is able to give these characters a very specific kind of catharsis. When Worf, Wesley, Picard, and Troi all convene with Jeremy to try and explain why he cannot be allowed down on the surface, Wesley doesn’t avoid telling the truth. He resented Picard for a while because Picard survived the journey that his own father did not.

And what happens once Wesley admits this? Jeremy is empowered to tell Worf the same thing, which allows him to realize that he’s been projecting his own rage and sadness on someone who had nothing to do with his mother’s death. There’s no easy solution to any of this here because that’s not how grief works. Still, the episode kind of just fizzles out at the end of it, though I liked seeing a bit of the Bonding ritual between Worf and Jeremy. I suspect, though, that we’ll never see Jeremy again, which makes that ritual feel tacked on the end of the episode.

Regardless, there was very little here to be critical about. I enjoyed this episode. And I shall be frightened by Marla standing out-of-focus behind a wall forever and ever. Jesus, that wasn’t okay.

The video for “The Bonding” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

Please help book/finalize the Mark Does Stuff European Tour!
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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