The Enterprise is investigating a planet whose civilization killed itself off in a brutal war long ago. An away team led by Worf investigates some ruins, but the mission turns deadly when a hidden bomb goes off, wounding Worf and killing Lt. Marla Aster. Aster leaves behind a twelve-year-old son, Jeremy, whose father, another Starfleet officer, had also died in the line of duty some time ago.
Picard sends La Forge with another away team to the planet to investigate what happened. Worf offers to inform Jeremy of the loss, but Picard and Troi go instead. Jeremy reacts to the news with a bit of stoicism, reflecting that he's all alone now; Picard reminds him that on the Enterprise, no one is ever really alone.
Several of the crew have different reactions to Lt. Aster's death. Wesley can empathize with how Jeremy must be feeling due to the loss of his own father. Data, meanwhile, is confused by the crew's reaction to Marla's death and asks Riker for guidance. Worf, himself an orphan, expresses to Troi his desire to perform a Klingon bonding ritual with Jeremy. Troi is hesitant to approve of the idea, however, as she feels Jeremy still needs time to grieve.
Data reports an odd energy buildup from the planet, which reaches out and touches the ship, but appears to be harmless. As Jeremy sits alone in his quarters watching old videos of his family, he is surprised by the sudden appearance of his mother, apparently alive!
Marla tells Jeremy that the crew "made a mistake," and that she's alive and well, but now she wants to take Jeremy to the planet, where they will live in a house like they used to. At that moment, Worf shows up to check in on Jeremy, and he sounds the alert. When Picard intervenes and prevents them from beaming down, "Marla's" disappearance only serves to confuse Jeremy.
Troi attempts to comfort Jeremy, but "Marla" soon reappears, turning their quarters into a replica of the house they lived in on Earth. The entity posing as Marla doesn't understand why the crew resists letting Jeremy go to the planet, as all "she" wants to do is make him happy. Meanwhile, La Forge has reported that the remaining bombs were found having been uprooted and deactivated. When the crew come to realize they can't keep "Marla" off the ship for long, they shut down the transporters so that Jeremy can't be beamed down.
Picard confronts the entity, and "she" reveals that there were once two races of beings on the planet below: the physical beings wiped themselves out, and the energy beings left behind vowed never to let that conflict hurt another person. As a result, they feel responsible for Marla's death, having overlooked the bombs left behind, and they were responsible for deactivating the rest. To make up for Jeremy's loss, they want to take him down to the planet to raise him.
Picard, with the help of his crew, explain that humans must learn to deal with their loss in their own way, and that the aliens aren't equipped to provide Jeremy with a future, only his past. Wesley and Worf explain their own experiences with losing parents; Wesley reveals for the first time that he hated Picard for a long time after his father's death, but he no longer feels that way. Worf then formally offers to perform the bonding ritual with Jeremy. Finally realizing that Jeremy is in good hands, the entity returns to the planet.
Later, Worf and Jeremy complete the ceremony, uniting them as brothers.
Tropes in this episode include:
- An Aesop: Bottling up one's grief isn't a healthy way to face death. Neither is retreating into a fantasy where all is well. Accepting sadness is necessary to move past it.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Jeremy refers to his pet calico cat, Patches, as "him." Because the calico effect is caused by two mismatched fur color genes, and fur color for cats is carried on the X chromosome, calicos are Always Female... unless the cat in question has Klinefelter Syndrome (also known as XXY) or if they are a chimera (where 2 embryos merge in the womb). Whether or not this was intentional is debatable.
- And Then What?: When "Marla" says she plans to take Jeremy down to the planet and care for him, Troi questions her as to what kind of life she will be able to give him, as the only corporeal being on a dead planet, living in an illusionary fantasy world. Her argument goes a long way toward the entity's deciding not to do it.
- Continuity Nod:
- When Data asks if familiarity has bearing on death, Riker references the senior staff's mourning of Tasha.
- The same conversation also features a Shout-Out to a line from the TOS episode "The Immunity Syndrome", where Data asks why humans don't feel as strongly about the death of many vs. the death of one close to them, and Riker admitting that human history would probably be "a lot less bloody" if they did.
- Cooldown Hug: In his talk with Beverly, Wesley can't help but reminisce over the things he remembers about his late father, Jack Crusher. Beverly, struggling hard to not burst into tears, cuts him off with one of these.
- Death Notification: Picard shoulders the unpleasant duty of telling Jeremy that his mother is dead.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Lt. Aster is killed by a weapon left over from a forgotten war, a reference to the real-world issue of landmines that remain buried throughout developing countries and continue to claim lives.
- Harmful to Minors: The episode makes it clear why Picard doesn't like having children aboard.Picard: I've always believed that carrying children on a starship is a very questionable policy. Serving on a starship means accepting certain risks, certain dangers. Did Jeremy Aster make that choice?
Troi: Death and loss are an integral part of life everywhere. Leaving him on Earth would not have protected him.
Picard: No, but Earth isn't likely to be ordered to the Neutral Zone or to repel a Romulan attack.
- It Never Gets Any Easier: Delivering a Death Notification.Wesley: How do you get used to it? Telling them?
Riker: You hope you never do.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The alien taking Marla's form offers Jeremy a simulacrum of his life on Earth. It's noted how hard such a thing would be to resist.Riker: She offers him everything. All we offer is the cold reality of his mother's death.
Crusher: What would you choose? If somebody came along and offered to give you back your mother, father or husband, would any of us say no so easily?
- My Greatest Failure: Worf is very unforgiving with himself for what happened to Jeremy's mother, especially as there is no way he can avenge her death. The episode also recalls how Picard lost his best friend, Jack Crusher, on a mission.
- My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Deanna senses that something bad happened just before Worf calls for an emergency transport.
- Not So Different: Worf can relate to Jeremy because his parents were also killed when he was a child, and Wesley can empathize with Jeremy because he also lost a parent on a mission and blamed someone else for it.
- Patrick Stewart Speech:Picard: Do you honestly believe he would be happy in this total fiction which you wish to create? What reason would he have to live? What you're offering him is a memory, something to cherish, not to live in. It is part of our life cycle that we accept the death of those we love. Jeremy must come to terms with his grief. He must not cover it or hide away from it. You see, we are mortal. Our time in this universe is finite. That is one of the truths that all human must learn.
- Red Shirt: Deconstructed. The premise of the episode is essentially, "What if a Red Shirt died, and people actually cared?"
- Remember the New Guy?: A bit of a posthumous example, as Aster is treated as an established and vital officer on the ship, yet we've never seen hide nor hair of her beforehand.
- Send in the Search Team: The episode opens with Worf and a survey team already on the planet's surface, while Picard and the rest of the crew monitor their communications from orbit.
- The Stoic:
- Jeremy handles Marla's death like this - in fact, he has this look on his face before Picard even gives him the bad news, as if he knew exactly where this was going. As Troi points out to Picard, this isn't exactly the most healthy way to handle your mom dying. Jeremy becomes Not So Stoic toward the end, once he lets out his bottled-up feelings.
- Wesley reveals that as a child, he also bottled up his grief and anger after his father died because he thought he was expected not to be upset.
- Teleportation Rescue: Subverted. As soon as Picard hears the explosion over the comm and Worf's call for an emergency beam-out, he orders them transported directly to sickbay. But it's still not fast enough.Crusher: Away team is on board, Captain. [scans Lt. Aster's body, then checks for a pulse] One dead on arrival.
- Villainy-Free Villain: The entity is just trying to help Jeremy in the only way it can.
- What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: As Worf reminds us, part of Klingon culture is dying a glorious death (i.e. in battle). This is one reason he's so horrified at Marla Aster dying in such an arbitrary manner.Worf: I cannot seek revenge against an enemy who turned to dust centuries ago. HER DEATH WAS SENSELESS!!! THE LAST VICTIM OF A FORGOTTEN WAR!!!
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Even though the bonding ceremony makes Jeremy an adopted member of Worf's family, the kid is never seen or mentioned again after this episode. Presumably he went to Earth to live with his aunt and uncle, but we'll never know for sure. According to the commentary track included on the Blu-ray release, the idea of bringing the character was discussed from time-to-time. However, it just wasn't in the show's nature to follow up stuff like that at that point in its run, and by the time it reached that point, Worf's storyline had moved on.
- Wham Shot: Pictured at the top of the page. Jeremy watching videos of his recently deceased mother, and then turning to the doorway to see his mother, somehow alive and well. This quickly changes the whole tone of the episode.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- When Jeremy expresses his anger at Worf.Jeremy: Why? Why weren't you the one that died? What did it have to be her?
- Wesley also tells Picard that he was angry for a very long time that Picard lived and his father died, though he forgave Picard once he was older and more understanding.
- When Jeremy expresses his anger at Worf.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Jeremy believes the crew did "make a mistake" and that his mother is alive and well. He's forced to realize that wasn't the case.
- You Are Not Alone:
- After it's stated that Jeremy's father is also dead.Jeremy: I'm all alone now, sir.
Picard: Jeremy, on the starship Enterprise, no one is alone. [takes his hand] No one.
- Worf also does this with Jeremy during the end, making him part of his family.Worf: When I was alone, humans helped me. Let me help you.
- After it's stated that Jeremy's father is also dead.