Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 16): When the Bough Breaks

Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.

For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.


The Enterprise is led to Aldea, a planet that has successfully cloaked itself from outsiders for thousands of years. Upon arrival, the people on the planet kidnap Wesley Crusher and five of the ship’s other talented children because the local people have become infertile.

The Aldeans want to provide adequate compensation. Picard uses these talks to buy time to learn how to beat the planet’s highly advanced defenses, eventually succeeding. After retrieving the children, Dr. Crusher shows the planet that their cloaking shield has led to radiation sickness for all its inhabitants. She treats them successfully but they can no longer hide from outsiders behind a shield.


[This episode does not begin with a Captain’s Log narration!]

Riker is walking through a hallway on the ship and Picard sends him a message through the ship’s intercom to report to the bridge. Harry, a young boy, runs into Riker as he walks and falls to the ground. Riker leans over and pulls him back to his feet and asks him what his hurry is. The boy apologizes and seems to know exactly who Riker is. The boy is the son of Dr. Bernard who approaches and also apologizes. As the boy and his father leave, he tells his dad that he hates that teacher and he hates calculus. His father tells him that everyone needs an understanding of basic calculus.

Riker limps onto the bridge and Troi notices. He tells her that he had a small run in with an aspiring sprinter. Riker asks Picard what is going on and Picard tells him about a curiosity. For the past few hours, he says, the ship has been tracking faint energy readings. They tracked those signals, like bread crumbs, to the ship’s current location when suddenly the signals stopped. Picard says he knows a mystery like this will be of interest to Riker.

Riker is interested because their location indicates that they are on the trail of the mythical planet Aldea. Riker describes it as being like the Atlantis of earth. He describes the planet as having a highly advanced culture, self-contained, peaceful, and with incredible technical sophistication.

Riker goes on and says that legends say Aldea was able to cloak their planet in darkness to protect it from marauders. Yar says that this is a wonderful fairy tale. Data chimes in that scanners still show nothing. Troi suddenly senses something very strong. She says she senses thousands of minds. When Picard asks her where she says the source is very close. Picard calls for a full stop and to hold the ship in position. Worf reports to the Captain that he is reporting a distortion in quadrant one. Picard calls for that quadrant to be put on screen. A planet comes into view.

Riker: It’s Aldea, Captain. It has to be.

Captain’s Log Stardate 41509.1

Either by chance or intent, the Enterprise has been led to the planet Aldea which appeared out of nowhere from behind a sophisticated shielding device. Data includes that the planet’s shields are electromagnetic with a complicated light refracting mechanism. Worf suddenly reports to Picard that the ship is being scanned. Picard issues a command to open hailing frequencies.

As soon as frequencies are open, Rashella from the planet Aldea appears on screen and welcomes them to the planet Aldea. Picard initially is too stunned to reply. However, he gathers himself and tells her that he is Captain Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise. He tells her that the Enterprise arrives in peace. She says that they know. Picard goes on to tell her that they have heard stories about Aldea but that he frankly did not believe they could be true. Rashella tells Picard that their shield has confused outsiders for millennia. Picard replies that this is a very long time to have such technology.

Picard: Why do you reveal yourselves to us now?
Rashella: We are eager to meet in person to discuss that and other subjects of mutual interest.
Picard: We are ready any time.

The frequency with the planet is closed and two people from Aldea beam aboard the ship directly onto the bridge. [The Aldean teleportation process is much faster than what we typically see on the show.] The two newcomers are Rashella and a man. The man announces that they mean no harm and Rashella says that their arrival seems to have startled the crew members of the bridge.

Picard recovers and says the arrival was just a little sudden. The Aldean man introduces himself as Radue, first appointee to Aldea. Dr. Crusher announces that the newcomers did not go through the decontamination procedure. Rashella replies that the Enterprise could not transport them and that the only way through the planet’s shields is their way. The Aldeans bring gifts and an invitation to the planet. Picard agrees and tells “Number One” to assemble the Away Team. Radue addresses Riker by name – without having heard it on the bridge – and tells him that they will prepare for his arrival. Radue tells Riker that their planet has been monitoring the ship’s communications and he says that their eyes are sensitive to the bright light aboard the ship necessitating that the return to the planet quickly. The two Aldeans beam away abruptly.

Picard is amazed by all that has transpired. Riker, though, says that they now know who placed the bread crumbs and states that the Enterprise is not at the planet by accident. Picard asks Troi if she senses something. She replies that they want something from the Enterprise and they want it so much that they are afraid Picard and his crew will refuse to part with it.

Just then, Radue sends a communication to the ship that they are ready to receive Commander Riker and two of his colleagues. Without warning, Riker, Troi, and Dr. Crusher are beamed to Aldea.

On the Enterprise, Wesley asks Data about how the planet’s cloaking shield works. Data tells him that in theory that planet bends light rays in a way that is similar to the Romulans’ cloaking device. Suddenly the shields aboard the ship become inoperable and probes from the planet scan all decks of the ship. We see these probes as a golden light on the bridge. The probe light focuses on Wesley for an extended period of time before the probing ends. Picard issues a command that Riker be informed of this on the planet. Since the probe visually focused on Wesley, Picard approaches him first and asks him if he is alright. Wesley tells him that it was scary at first but that he did not feel anything. Worf informs him that there are reports of similar incidents on all decks but only with the children.

Radue is discussing Aldea with the Enterprise Away Team. He tells them that the planet hs developed peace through a simple principle that when something is taken, something must be given. Radue admits though that few of his people overtly enjoy the peace that their code has provided. He tells them that the planet needs help from the Federation to rebuild their heritage.

Radue: We need a younger generation strong and healthy following in the Aldean traditions.
Riker: I don’t understand. How can the Federation help with your children following in your traditions.
Radue: Because we have no children Commander Riker.

He goes on to say that Rashelle was the last child born on the planet. Crusher asks about the planet’s medical community and Rashelle states that their own doctors have tried and failed to solve the planet’s problems. Dr. Crusher says that perhaps the Enterprise can help. Riker, now looking suspicious, asks why they were invited to the planet.

Radue proposes a trade – one that solves their problems and gives something back to the Federation in return.

Riker: What is the nature of this trade?
Radue: We need some of your children. In repayment we would give you information that would take you centuries to acquire.

Troi informs Radue that this might be acceptable to some other races but humans are unusually attached to their offspring. Dr. Crusher says that their children are not for sale at any price and Riker tells them that what they are asking is not possible.

Radue: That’s your final answer?
Riker: That’s my only answer.

Radue says he is sorry that they are so intransigent. The Enterprise bridge officers abruptly beam back aboard the ship. Just as abruptly we see Wesley and other children beam off the ship. Worf tells the bridge that the saucer section is reporting that six more children are gone. Riker informs Picard that the children are what the Aldeans want and that the children are what they now have.

Later, Picard asks for a status report. Yar tells him the Aldean shields are still up and that the planet is not responding to hailing frequencies. Picard tells her to continue trying. Picard tells Troi to gather the parents. She informs the Captain that they will want to speak with him as well.

Just then, Radue sends a communication through to the bridge. He tells Picard that no harm will ever come to them.

Picard: Harm has already come to them.
Radue: Captain, let us begin discussions regarding appropriate compensation.
Picard: Compensation? You have stolen our children away from their classrooms, away from their bedrooms, and you talk about compensation. You claim to be a civilized world and yet you have committed an act of utter barbarity!
Radue: Captain, we will continue these discussions when you have calmed down.

[So, uh, Picard is furious.]

On the planet, Wesley is now surrounded by six much smaller children. They are frightened but Ensign Crusher tells them that no harm will come to them. Radue and Rashelle enter the room. Radue says that The Custodian indicated that Wesley would be the leader. Wesley asks who the Custodian is and is told that it is not a person. Another woman – one we have not yet met – tells Wesley that they have been brought to Aldea as guests.

Radue tells Wesley that he and the other children were chosen because they are special. He tells them to ask for anything they want and they shall have it. A very small little girl approaches Radue and extends her hand to greet him.

On the ship, Picard is having a discussion with Troi, Dr. Crusher, and the parents of the other missing children. He lets them know that he will attempt to buy time to recover the children by participating in a negotiation to obtain compensation for their loss. He also lets them know that the Aldeans cannot have children of their own and that getting the children back will not be easy. Dr. Crusher reminds the room that they knew the potential risks involved when they agrees to live aboard the Enterprise. The father of Harry – the boy who ran into Riker at the start of the episode – asks if they can talk to their children and Picard tells them that he will do his best to arrange it. Harry’s father confesses that the last time he saw his son, he yelled at him.

On Aldea, a small girl is playing with Rashella. Radue arrives to tell the children that they have been assigned to their units. Radue explains that a unit is a small group of people with similar talents and interests.

Wesley: You mean like a family?
Radue: Yes, you could call it that.
Wesley: We already have families.

Harry is handed over to a couple of older people. They tell him that they are artists, as he is, and that they see in him the potential of what he can be. Harry tells them that he is not an artist. They reply that he will be… and a great one. Harry leaves with them. Next, Katie, a young girl, is handed over to Darien, the foremost musician on Aldea. She looks worried but is assured by Darien that she will get to see Wesley again soon.

Alone with Radue, Wesley asks why they do not get a say in this. Radue replies that sometimes a thing happens that you must just accept. Radue tells Wesley that it is his duty, as the leader of the other children, to make the transition to their new society as easy as possible. Radue tells Wesley that the Aldeans also have no choice in this matter.

Rashella and young Alexandra enter the room where Radue continues to talk to Wesley. Radue asks Rashella where she has been. Alexandra is slated to be handed over to Zena and Aranda. Rashella tells Ranue that the other two Aldeans cannot have the girl because she will not give her up.

On the ship, Picard enters the bridge and Data has found something that Riker says is interesting. Riker reports that the Aldean shields show evidence of random fluctuations indicating a weakening of the structure in isolated sections.

Picard: Are you saying that there are holes in their defense system?
Riker: In essence, yes.

Riker is surprised that the Aldeans are unaware of the weakness. Picard asks if it is possible to beam an Away Team through one of the holes. Picard wants to send an Away Team to the planet so that they can turn off the power source for the planet’s shield. Riker asks Picard if he is certain the Aldeans will negotiate. Picard says they will negotiate but that it is important the Aldeans not conclude that the negotiation is a farce. He does not want to be locked out of the planet with the children locked inside. Picard says that he must be successful in keeping the Aldeans talking for as long as possible.

Wesley is introduced by an Aldean woman named Duana to The Custodian – the computer that operates life on the planet. Wesley’s voice is entered into a database on the planet’s computer so that his voice can activate third level clearance. Wesley asks what third level clearance means and The Custodian tells him that it means he may ask any question he wishes.

Wesley: Duana, what does The Custodian do?
Duana: It frees us from all burdens, it takes care of all our needs, it regulates our lives.
Wesley: Who built it?
Duana: The Progenitures.
Wesley: When?
Duana: Oh. Hundreds of centuries ago.

Wesley asks what its power source is and she asks him what difference it makes. He says that if they do not know how it works, they cannot repair it. She asks why they would want to repair it and he points out that everything requires maintenance at some point. She says that Radue told her Wesley would ask questions she cannot answer so she advises him to ask The Custodian instead.

Instead of asking The Custodian about itself, Wesley asks it to show him the children taken from the ship. He checks in on two children before Duana stops him and says that he has other things to learn, too. Wesley looks to an adjacent room and asks Duana what is in there. He asks if the power source is in there. She replies that she does not know.

Picard provides a supplement log. He says therein that it is becoming evident that talk will not aid in the return of the ship’s children. He says that they must neutralize the Aldean shield and that until then they are helpless. Radue hails the ship and asks Picard if he is ready. Picard says that he and Dr. Crusher are ready. Radue asks Picard if he is ill and Picard replies that Crusher is a staff officer and that Starfleet regulations require that two staff officers attend for treaty negotiations.

Data: Captain, I am not aware of regulation 6.57.
Picard: No Data, neither am I.

Picard and Dr. Crusher beam down the the planet. Picard says that before they begin they want to see the children. Radue says no and that they are here to negotiate appropriate compensation not to pander to emotions. He then advises Picard and Crusher to sit – and they do. Radue asks why they want the children back so badly.

Radue: You can always have more.
Picard: You are trifling with the primal instincts of our species. I must warn you that human parents are quite willing to die for their children.
Radue: Returning the children is non-negotiable.

Rashella promises them that the children will be well cared for and that they will eventually become the fathers and mothers of a new breed born of an ancient culture. Dr. Crusher asks how they can be so certain that the children, if left on the planet, will be able to have children. Radue says that the issue is a genetic dysfunction and that it is not contagious. Radue again offers the Enterprise information about parts of the galaxy that as yet Starfleet is unaware of. Picard says that this is a significant beginning. He also again requests that Dr. Crusher be allowed to see her son. Radue laughs about how stubborn humans are but notes that stubbornness can be a positive trait.

Dr. Crusher sees and hugs Wesley.

Wesley: I knew Captain Picard would get us home!

She tells him not yet. She asks if they are okay and slips a small medical scanning device into his hand. He walks back over next to Duana and says that all the children have been assigned to their units, which are like families, and that the Aldeans are treating them like gods. She advises him not to let it go to his head. He walks back over to his mother and surreptitiously puts the scanner back into his mother’s hand having scanned Duana with it. He promises her that he won’t let it go to his head.

Dr. Crusher returns to the meeting with Picard, Radue, and Rashella. Radue tells Picard that he has their offer and that the offer is final. Picard and Crusher beam back aboard the Enterprise. Radue appears on the viewing screen and tells Picard that he wants him to understand the nature of their choice. He offers a small demonstration of the planet’s power to make the point.

Suddenly, the Enterprise begins moving on its own. As the ship’s alarms sound, it comes to a halt a few moments later. Picard asks for a status report and Geordi tells him that if they travel at warp nine, they are now three days from Aldea. Radue appears on the screen. He tells Picard that if they do not accept the terms of the agreement, the Enterprise will be pushed so far away that by the time they return the children will be grandparents.

On the planet, we see Darien, the Aldean musician, teaching Katie to play music. She plays by placing her hand on a piece of technology. It reads the music within her and plays it audibly. Darien says that the end goal of her teaching will be learning to structure the music within. The device plays music for her. Darien tells her that the music is beautiful and he instructs her to play something happier. She tells him that this is not how she feels and that she does not want to do this anymore.

Harry is using a technological tool to sculpt. His unit-parent tells him that he will be an artist. Harry seems not to believe that he is the one actually doing this. Harry asks if he will have to do calculus anymore and his unit father tells him that he will not have to do anything he does not want to do anymore. The unit father asks him what calculus is and Harry tells him it is nothing important.

After three days of travel at Warp 9, the Enterprise has returned to Aldea. Picard instructs Yar to open the hailing frequencies. Radue asks Picard what he has decided and Picard tells him they have decided that there is room for discussion. Radue says that they will bring him down when they are ready. When the call ends, Picard instructs Data to find a way to defeat the planet’s shield.

Data: That may be impossible, sir.
Picard: Things are only impossible until they are not.

Crusher walks onto the bridge and tells Picard that Duana is dying. She tells him that she has no reason to believe the other Aldeans are any healthier. She tells him the Aldeans are suffering from a kind of chromosomal damage that could either be genetic or environmental. Picard asks her if the condition of the people on the planet is reversible and she replies that she will not know until she discovers the cause. She also tells Picard that she knows time is running out.

Harry is with his unit. The mother has just taken medicine of some kind and is pleased that it worked. The father calls the mother over to see what Harry has sculpted. The boy tells both of them that it is a dolphin and then Harry is forced to explain what a dolphin is.

Mother: Ah, a fish! We used to have those in our ocean. I’ve never seen one of those before.

Harry begins to tell them about living near the ocean and that his father is an oceanographer. After hearing himself mention his father, Harry stops talking, and says that his story does not matter.

Rashella is cuddling with the small child Alexandra. The little girl tells her that she wants her mommy. Rashella tries to comfort her but she continues to insist that she wants her mother.

Wesley is dining with Duana and Radue. Duana notes that Wesley is not eating and she promises him that he will grow accustomed to their people and that eventually he will be happy. Wesley tells her that he and the other children were happy before arriving on Aldea. He tells Duana that he feels badly the Aldeans do not have children but that he and the other human children do not want to be on Aldea. He tells her and Radue that they will not cooperate.

Sometime later, Wesley gets out of bed and beams himself into The Custodian’s room. He asks the computer tell tell him where The Enterprise children are in relation to this room and the computer shows him. Wesley goes into Katie’s room and wakes her up. He tells her that he thinks that he knows a way to get them home but that he needs her help.

Dr. rusher narrates a medical officer’s log wherein she states that she believes that the illness afflicting the Aleans is related to something that afflicted earth in the twenty first century. She believes that Aldea’s ozone layer has been weakened.

On the planet, Wesley has gathered all the children. He is instructing them to neither talk nor eat. He explains that this is called passive resistance.

Wesley: If we don’t do what they want us to do then they won’t want us.

Harry tells Wesley that he kind of likes the people on Aldea and Wesley tells him that he does, too. He says though that he does not want to stay on the planet forever. He asks Harry if he wants to stay forever and Harry says no. Harry does say that he likes working with the wood. Wesley tells him that they all have to be in this together or it will not work. Harry reluctantly agrees. Rashella enters the room and asks why they are all in there together. None of The Enterprise children answer.

On the bridge, Dr. Crusher tells Picard that the Aldeans are suffering from a form of radiation poisoning. He asks if it is reversible and she tells him that it is with the proper treatment. Data and Riker approach Picard next. They tell him that fully defeating the shield will take weeks but they say that it may be possible to beam down to the planet through a fluctuation in the shield. Picard asks why they cannot beam the children out and Riker says the risk would be higher and the degree of difficulty will be higher. Picard tells Riker and Data to beam down and he tells them that he will keep the Aldeans distracted by talking to them.

On the planet, Wesley and the children are continuing their passive resistance. Alexandra – the smallest girl – wants to eat. Wesley tells her not to eat and when she asks why, he tells her that this is their way of telling the Aldeans that they want to go home. She says she understands.

Radue tells Picard that he can come down to continue discussions or his ship may leave. Meanwhile, Riker and Data are preparing to beam down. As Picard and Dr. Crusher are beamed onto the planet, Riker and Data are beamed down, too, via the ship. The beam down effort defeats the planet’s shields with Riker and Data arriving successfully. Data tells Rikers that the planet’s computer is programmed to accept only authorized voice command. He notes, though, that he can scramble the computer’s input so that nobody else can use it, either.

Picard is meeting with Radue at the same time. Radue tells Picard that he must speak with the children because they are on some kind of strike. He then confesses to Picard that he is not good with children. Picard says that he will see what he can do.

Picard enters alone into the room where the children are gathered. Wesley tells Picard that he believes he has learned how the computer on the planet works. Harry asks Picard to tell his father, on the ship, that he is sorry to have made him angry the last time they spoke. Harry also wants Picard to relay that he misses his father.

Picard: You will tell him that, Harry. And I will tell him how much I admire his son.

Alexandra approaches Picard and has him pick her up. Picard, who is famously uncomfortable with children, does. A moment later Picard and all the children beam into the room with Radue and Dr. Crusher.

Radue asks what this is and Picard tells him the children want to go home. Radue says no. Picard sends a comms message to Riker, in front of Radue, surprising him. Riker says he is awaiting orders. Dr. Crusher tells Radue that the radiation on Aldea has been building up for a long time. She tells him it is similar to a thinning of the ozone layer that occurred on earth in the twenty-first century.

Picard: It is thee radiation of your own sun that is destroying you.

Dr. Crusher pleads with Radue to listen to her. She warns him that sterility is just the latest symptom of their radiation poisoning. She cautions him that if the children remain they will be effected as well. Radue insists that this is impossible.

Radue: Our scientists would have known.
Dr. Crusher: How could they? Your scientists have forgotten how everything works.

Before Radue can send the adults back to the ship, Rashella speaks up and implores him to listen. Radue says the discussion is over and he attempts to sends the adults back to their ship. He is unable to do so. Picard confirms with Riker that they have disabled the shield. Radue hears that through Picard’s comms device. Picard communicates with the Enterprise to beam the children up but Harry asks Picard to wait. Picard calls for the Enterprise to hold. Harry approaches his unit father and thanks him. He tells him to keep the dolphin as he will make another after leaving. The children are then beamed up to the ship.

Radue: You have destroyed us.
Picard: We are not here to destroy you, Radue. We’re here to help you.

The Adleans and the bridge crew enter the room where the computer’s power source is located. Radue now admits that their civilization will have to learn all over again how their own computer works. He asks Picard to help them and the Captain agrees.

On the ship, Harry is speaking with his father. He tells his dad that he wants to be an artist and that he does not want to learn calculus. His father tells him that he can be anything he wants to be but he must first learn calculus. Harry agrees.

On the bridge, Data tells Picard that they have successfully reseeded the planet’s ozone layer. He says, though, that for the atmosphere to retain its integrity, they cannot use the shield or be cloaked. Dr. Crusher comes aboard the bridge and tells Picard that the Aldeans are responding very well to the treatment.

Picard: The legend will die. But the people will live.

Wesley and Alexandra, the smallest child who was taken, come aboard the bridge. Wesley tells Picard that she wants to thank him for bringing her home. She gives him a present and a hug. As his officers laugh, Picard instructs La Forge to take them out of orbit at Warp 5.

Roll credits.


This is an interesting philosophical episode. What happens to a society that is so powerful it does not have to work for anything? Well… the people of that society stop doing and learning the hard things that made the powerful in the first place. Eventually that becomes a problem. Having seen what befell Aldea, when they stopped learning how things work, we are supposed to take the side of Harry’s father with respect to Harry learning calculus.

To be honest, though, some of this made little sense to me. The Aldeans are so advanced that they can essentially throw the Enterprise incalculable distances in mere moments but they lost the ability to do comparatively low level science that the consistently inept Dr. Crusher does in days? Data can just turn off their computer from the surface of the planet with essentially no built in defenses? Aldea can spy on the Enterprise’s communications well enough to learn about the crew and its officers but they completely stop spying on the ship once it’s in their orbit? Picard and the gang were making plans in the relative open that the Aldeans should have been listening in on.

I am a little confused about the radiation problem on the planet, too. If it was caused by a failure in the planet’s shield to operate properly (something mentioned frequently throughout the episode) wouldn’t fixing the shield fix everything? The episode ends with the shield itself to blame. I think this could have used some more techno jibber jabber to explain what happened. I am also a bit confused regarding the shield. Were its vulnerabilities present for thousands of years? Or were those vulnerabilities a recent development? If they were present the entire time, surely the early era of Aldea would have noticed the issues and fixed them, right? I guess not.

My impression is that the writers wanted to portray the planet’s isolation as a bad thing in and of itself but did not quite clarify the *why* of that sufficiently.

The episode presented us with a major 1980s concern but set that concern on another world. The Ozone Layer scare was the climate change crisis of thirty-five years ago. I appreciated that it was brought into the episode without hitting us over the head with it. The more subtle approach avoided taking me out of the episode.

Probably my favorite part of this episode was its two primary guest stars. Radue was portrayed by Jerry Hardin. You might remember him as “Deep Throat” on The X-Files. Rashella was portrayed by Brenda Strong. Strong is known for playing Mary Alice Young (the show’s narrator) on Desperate Housewives. Rashella was a much more fun character to follow when you listened to her as the Desperate Housewives narrator.

For a Wesley-centric “save our children” episode, this one did not annoy me for a change. His character is used well here. Everyone on The Enterprise is surprisingly competent for a change.

The episode alluded to the Romulans again. Data refers to Aldea’s cloaking device as being similar to the one used by the Romulans. It seems a confrontation is coming. The writers have done a good job building up to that subtly.

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