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Two of the leaders of the Aldeans make contact with the Enterprise for the purpose of trade. However, they want a few Enterprise children to help replenish their infertile population. Picard, of course, refuses, so the Aldeans use their superior technology to steal a few specially selected children.
So "When the Bough Breaks" (Episode 16, Season 1, Air Date 02/15/88, Star-date 41509.1) introduces the Utopian world of Aldea and its many advancements, and it has the Enterprise crew try to rescue their stolen children back from the Aldeans.
Riker describes the vision of Aldea as a highly technologically advanced world in which people are free to pursue a life of art and culture and peace. His picture of the Aldeans is basically true of the world in some ways, but the Aldeans have also lapsed in their knowledge of science and medicine.
We have to watch much silly sensationalism in the process (as Spock would call it!). Yes, humans are attached to their kids and we are willing to die for them. So we ignore the potential for trading our children to leap years ahead in science (the Aldeans promise to exchange some of their scientific knowledge for some of our children). But, it seems, the information the Aldeans offer to us probably isn't as valuable as they suggest since (as we later find out) they don't even know how it works anymore!
Wesley also learns the Aldeans have lost their knowledge of the way their technology works. This leads the Aldeans to fail to discover a radiation leak or radiation side effect coming from their power source. It causes them to become infertile, become sensitive to light, and lose their appetite.
Some Aldean power is well intact, however. Radue, a leader of the Aldeans, uses a repulsor beam to blast the Enterprise far away (three days at warp 9) as a demonstration of his power.
But Wesley leads the children in nonviolent and peaceful resistance, having the other children refuse to eat, while Picard makes his way back to Aldea.
Some minor plot points include:
(1) Aldea uses technology to bend light around its planet and make itself invisible to outsiders.
(2) The Aldeans use a Custodian central computer and power system to take care of all their physical and technological concerns.
(3) The Aldeans can scan for hidden abilities and potential within the children they steal. Apparently they have scanning technology that discloses inner skills for music (Alexandra), sculpting (Harry), or science and technology (as in the case of Wesley).
(4) The Aldeans have cameras all through their civilization, so Wesley can ask the Custodian to show him a few of the other children. Does this make anyone there worry about privacy?
(5) One of the little girls (Alexandria) learns to use a musical device that senses her music-thoughts-or-feelings. Harry learns to sculpt with a tool that draws out his inner image of a dolphin sculpture. These seem like magical tools to me, but perhaps it's a case of tools being so advanced they seem like magic to us (or to any lesser technologically advanced civilization).
But my favorite part of the episode emphasizes the importance of science and math to our culture. The Aldeans concentrate on culture and the arts to the detriment of science, and this shows that Riker's vision of Aldea is too narrow (and must include tough subjects like calculus).
My favorite part of the episode has the dying Aldeans, and Enterprise and its crew, teach us the importance of science.
For example, one of the opening scenes of the episode has a little boy, Harry, run away from his calculus teacher, bump into Riker, and get sent back to class by his father. But later Harry gets selected by the Aldeans for his hidden sculpting ability.
After the crew of Enterprise use their knowledge of science and technology to outsmart the Aldeans and get their kids back, Harry tells his father he wants to quit calculus and become a sculptor. His father says Harry can do anything he wants, but he must continue to study calculus.
Yes! Calculus and science are important for this very reason. If our culture allowed our citizens to quit tough subjects, we would no doubt become as superficial and as purely artsy and lazy as the Aldeans. (For all the teachers out there, the next time a student whines about the meaninglessness of your subject, especially science and math, just tell them about the miserable Aldeans and our own dark ages.)
The episode works for me since I loved its pro-science message, and it also has a well thought out vision of a misguided, mere artsy driven civilization.
Planet Aldea is a mythical planet---one that supposedly is a paradise and is cloaked! Imagine the excitement when the Enterprise discovers that the planet is real and they want to establish contact with them!! However, soon the real reason for the Aldeans contacting the Enterprise is obvious--they want the children because the Aldeans are sterile and their race is dying.
This brings me to an answer so obvious that any 4 year-old could figure it out for themselves. WHY NOT LET THESE DESPERATE PEOPLE ADOPT ORPHANS?!?!?! Or, why not let the children and their families come to live on the planet? After all, the population is very, very low and any influx of people would be a plus. Yet, through the entire show NO ONE THINKS OF EITHER OF THESE ALTERNATIVES!!! Talk about lousy writing. Didn't anyone involved in making the show THINK about these options--especially since the Aldeans are supposed to be a very advanced race?! Additionally, late in the show Dr. Crusher figures out WHY the Aldeans are sterile---so why didn't the super-smart Aldeans figure this out for themselves?!
While the episode is interesting, it's amazingly simplistic and stupid. Not annoyingly stupid--just stupid! And, I am amazed that other reviewers haven't addressed this.
1. I am sure there are numerous families that would love to immigrate to this paradise.
2. There must be plenty of orphans for the existing families. Why must superior species always be unethical? (and speak perfect English and be bi-pedal humanoids living in suburban splendor).
The other frustrating thing, after 100s of contacts with these superior species both in TOS and TNG, why doesn't the Federation have any of these vastly superior technology that can push a starship 3 days away from a planet at warp 9, instantaneously?
Spoiler alert - Starfleet frees the children and, in a sympathetic twist, helps the kidnappers. Thumbs up on this timely episode, which was reviewed on March 7, 2017.