Oct. 20, 2020

012: TNG: Family

Mental Health is part of your Total Health

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Family. He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Commander Riker.

Mental health, especially the mental health of men, is something we need to take more seriously. That's exactly what Captain Picard ends up doing here.

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 Welcome, everyone! Thank you for joining us. On this episode, we dive into the 2nd episode of the 4th season of the next generation, Family.


This was the follow up episode to what is arguably one of the biggest season ending/staring cliffhangers in television history. In the Best of Both Worlds, parts 1 and 2, Picard is - oh, spoiler alert - assimilated by the Borg and, quite possibly, responsible for the destruction of 39 starships and the death of over 11,000 people. He is understandably traumatized by the experience - yes, he was de-Borged at the end of the 2-parter - and this episode sets out to see how he address that. In a very real way, this is the 3rd part to the Best of Both Worlds.

This is important context as the episode starts. 

The Enterprise is docked for overhaul and refit. The crew are taking some needed R&R after the horrifying events of the Battle of Wolf 359. Riker tells Worf he’s looking forward to meeting his parents. Worf is shocked that his parents are coming on board, but Riker encourages him to take some more off-duty time and spend it with them. They reference the events of Sins of the Father from later in the 3rd season. This is the first of a handful of references to past episodes; not a thing Trek was known for doing around the time this episode aired. 

Picard is packing to go to Labarre France, where he grew up. It’s been 20 years since he’d been back there. Troi is with him, providing good counseling. She’s asking questions, challenging some of his assumptions, and helping him stay on a path to improving mental health. He references the nightmares he’s been having and is confident he only needs some alone time to recover. In the scope of the next generation, this is one of the first times we see Troi actively in her role as counselor; and she’s very much a help to Picard.

As the opening credits start, I’m already seeing what will be a theme in this episode; the importance of mental health. Now, I want to give a disclaimer; I am not a mental health professional. Not at all. I am going to share my thoughts and opinions on what I see in this episode, but I want to acknowledge my ignorance here. If I am wrong, I apologize. I also ask that if I am wrong about something, please let me know; educate me! I’ll give away part of the ending right away - mental health is important. I believe it is, in today’s world, stigmatized, often mocked and more often misunderstood. But, I look forward to a time where we, as a society, embrace mental health and well-being as part of our total health. You cannot achieve wellness without a healthy mind, body and spirit - whatever it is that “spirit” means for you.

Ok, credits have rolled and we’re meeting Worf and O’Brien in the transporter room. Worf is anxious, he just wants this to be over. Worf and O’Brien show some camaraderie here that we’ll see in future episodes and in to Deep Space 9. Finally, his parents arrive. We learn that Miles Edward O’Brien is a Chief Petty Officer and that Worf’s Dad was also a Chief on the USS Intrepid. They get in some of the enlisted guy cliches here as Worf takes his parents out to see the ship.

Picard arrives in 24th century France wearing 16th century clothes. He meets his nephew, Rene on his way to the family vineyard. We learn that there’s some friction between Picard and his brother, Robert <<what does arrogant son of a….>> We meet his sister-in-law, Marie. Actually,  Picard is just now meeting her too. He has been away for almost all of his brother’s adult life. She asks how he is, and Picard minimizes what has happened to him <<oh, I’m fine>>. And he heads out to the vineyard to find his brother.

Cold welcome from Robert. Apparently 16th century clothing is the style out here! He sends Picard on his way and says he’ll see him around 8 for dinner. 

Troi and Dr Crusher are talking about their shore leave plans. Crusher receives a package from storage with her husband, Jack’s, belongings. She reminisces over a few items but finds a holo program that Jack records for Wesley right after he was born. She’s hesitant to share it with Wesley, but, once again, Troi steps in with great guidance - lots of questions about his father - and Crusher agrees to share it with him.

In this example, we’re talking about the death of a parent, and, specifically, a death the child doesn’t remember they were so young. But loss is an experience we all have. And it is never easy. Beverly is worried about her son and wants what she thinks is best for him. Fortunately, she’s best friends with a mental health professional who is right there, ready to be a guiding voice for her. She encourages Beverly to let Wesley address his loss in his way. This is such a good example of the importance of seeking mental health guidance from a professional. I would never try to diagnose or treat a serious, physical illness or injury, so why do we insist on doing so for mental or emotional distress? I find that fascinating. 

In terms of this podcast, though, looking at it through the lens of leadership development, the lesson here is to know when to rely on or consult with someone else. There’s a great quote, I believe it’s attributed to Anonymous…they have a lot of great quotes attributed to them…that goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” You should always be seeking to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. This scene shows the benefit of that. Had Beverley not developed a circle of colleagues that were brilliant, she would likely have missed out on this invaluable advice from Troi. What advice are you missing out on? Check your room - your team - and be sure you are not the smartest, or should I say, sMarTesT one there.

Worf is in Engineering, along with Geordi, with his parents. Your normal ‘90s uncomfortable parents stuff in here. Geordi is loving it, though. He’s enjoying his parents while Worf’s Mom keeps them on schedule. They separate as Worf takes his Mom to the arboretum. His Dad asks to speak with Geordi, in confidence, about Worf. 

Back on Earth, we get more of the friction between Picard and his brother. There’s a lot of old world vs new world here. Robert believes modern conveniences compromise traditional values while Picard believes the two are separate things; you can have conveniences and strong values. Rene talks about school and shares that he wants to go into space one day, like his uncle Picard. Much to the chagrin of Robert.

The next morning, Picard is in the vineyard with an old friend, Louis. Louis is working on the Atlantis Project, which Picard is very interested in. He even shares a trick they used back in a 2nd season episode, Pen Pals. Louis shares that the Project is looking for a new Director and that Picard should look into it. <<No, I’d never leave Starfleet>> At least not until Starfleet leaves you, but that’s way in the future. 

On 10-Forward, Worf’s parents meet Guinan. She shares some great stories and insights about Worf. They talk about their parenting style with him, allowing him to find his own path. <<He looks at Earth>> 

Picard is visiting with Marie; he’s thinking about the Atlantis Project - he’s considering it! Louis drops by and says he’s set up a discussion with the Project leadership, and Picard is not happy about it. He begrudgingly accepts, though. He’s very wooden through this; visibly uncomfortable. It doesn’t take an expert to look at him and know that he’s holding a volcano at bay inside of himself. 

On the Enterprise, Beverly is giving the holo message to Wesley. He has questions, but they are both eager for him to watch it. 

Worf’s parents drop into his quarters. A rare Star Trek moment where we see Worf without his sash! But they explain they read his letter about his discommendation and that they want to be there for him; they want him to know they’re proud of him. It’s a warm moment when we get to see some of Worf’s heart.

Things start heating up in Labarre. Robert is giving Picard a hard time about synthehol and the fact it doesn’t get you drunk. He does this as he pours more wine into Picard’s glass. And then Robert goes for it - what happened to you up there? What did they do to you? Picard doesn’t want to talk about it. But he keeps pushing - you always needed some humiliation. Picard storms off and Robert is hot on his heels. <<Tired? Of Starfleet too?>> He is just pushing every button he can! <<I’m not a hero>>. Picard is getting more and more angry, defensive and Robert just keeps twisting and pushing at him! Before you know it, Picard throws a punch and they’re rolling in the mud, going at it!! It finally ends with them both laughing, and throwing mud at each other. But then Picard loses it. He starts crying and lets it all spill out <<they took everything I was and used me to kill. I should have been able to stop>>. <<This is going to be with you a long time>>. 

This. This is what the entire episode is about. The family stuff has been fun and interesting, but this breakthrough is everything. I said it earlier, but Picard, as Locutus, was basically responsible for the deaths of over 11,000 people. Could you imagine?? That doesn’t happen without leaving its mark on you. A deep mark. A lot of deep marks! At the beginning of the episode he talked about having nightmares; I can’t even imagine imagining those nightmares. Despite trying to hold it in, trying to pretend everything was ok, the emotions came pouring out. Is he good now? Is he, quote unquote cured now? No, not even almost. But the healing can start. And that’s one of the most important steps. 

After the fight, Picard and Robert and sharing a laugh in the living room. Picard tells Marie, who is very unhappy with the mess they’ve made, that he’s canceled the appointment with the Atlantis Project and his headed back to the Enterprise. The three of them have a strong, bonding moment as we head back to the ship.

Wesley heads into the holodeck; he’s going to hear from his Dad. This is a great scene - as a father, I can imagine making a video just like this for my child! Wesley is deeply moved. 

But, what’s the deal with the uniform??? Let’s take the greatest Star Trek uniform of all time, from the Original Series movies, and rip it apart. No belt, no turtleneck, the newer combadge…looks terrible. I wish I knew why they decided to drop the turtlenecks. Oh well, I suppose life still needs its mysteries. 

Picard says farewell to his family. His nephew, Rene, says he’ll be leaving for his own starship some day - which is kind of prophetic as the actor that plays him WILL be on the Enterprise in the season 6’s Rascals where he plays a young Picard. Pretty cool throwback that we have yet to experience. Picard heads off with a bottle of the ’47. 

He beams up and runs into Worf and his parents! Picard is cordial and helps embarrass Worf maybe just a little. He looks up and down the corridor, smiles to himself, and heads to his quarters. 

<<Red Alert>>

Good stuff here! Really good stuff! A total departure from a traditional Star Trek episode, In fact, it’s said that Gene Roddenberry hated the early drafts of the script and was never fond of the idea. “Where’s the action?” He said. Well, this episode wasn’t about action, and it was still really good.

We saw more out of Troi and Crusher than we did through most of the first 3 seasons. I liked seeing Troi actually functioning as a counselor and a therapist. With what Picard had been through, I’m glad they included her inactions with him in this. Proves a valuable point - it doesn’t matter what you’re title is or how high up the chain of command you are, we’re all human (well, at least most everyone listening to this podcast; for now) and we all need help. 

The Worf stuff was fun but it was also a good look and deeper dive into Worf as a character. Some of the stories his parents shared really made him more real. There are some real lessons and takeaways from their interactions in regards to multi-cultural families and how they integrate, honor and celebrate the differing cultures in the household. Worf’s mom learning how to make Rokeg blood pie, for example, is not too dissimilar to me learning how to make mo hge yay. (Which, like Worf’s Dad, I have still not learned to eat.) 

But the Picard story - so good!! If you remember back to the 2nd episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Picard was, well, he was very much about maintaining his appearance and was clearly someone that identified himself with his job and title. In this episode, all of that is out the window. We see a version of him that we can all relate to. A guy, trying to keep it together when his world has fallen apart. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, congratulations, but also, you probably know someone that has done exactly this - well, minus the massive death and destruction. 

We got to see him, ultimately, be vulnerable. We saw him begin to come to terms with unthinkable trauma. Yeah, this was some good stuff.

I’ve said it, maybe too many times now, but this episode is best viewed as part 3 of a trilogy, maybe even part 3 of a quadrilogy - is that a word? Best of Both Worlds parts 1 and 2, Family and the film, First Contact. They really do tell a cohesive and interesting story.

<<Command Codes>>

So, this can either be the shortest episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy ever, or we acknowledge the truly powerful lessons here. The lessons of mental health, self care, and relationships. 

These themes start right away. Riker is handling the operations of taking care of the ship and ensuring people are rotating through their shore leave opportunities. When Worf has some apprehension around his parents visit, Riker offers him more time. There are over a thousand people on Enterprise and he knows that allowing the crew the time they need to take care of themselves and the people around them is critical. I love that he doesn’t skip a beat here; he just offers him the time off.

The lessons in this episode, though, really come through in Picard’s story. He has just been through a horrifyingly traumatic event. Doctor Aphrodite Matsakis in says, “Some of the experiences endured by human beings on this earth are virtually unbelievable.” In this case, we can say within 8 light years of Earth. 

We see evidence that Picard has sought treatment for this trauma; his interactions with Troi at the beginning of the episode show they’ve been working for some time together on his recovery. This is great, and should speak a powerful truth to all of us. Regardless of your position or status, our minds and our emotions require care, and medical professional help. If nothing else, I hope the episode Family and this episode of the podcast help move us a little bit closer to normalizing regular mental and emotional care! “Sucking it up” and dealing with it does not make you stronger! It makes you unhealthy! If you broke your leg, or found a tumor, would you just “suck it up?” I don’t imagine so. Point here being that Picard, one of the epitomes of leadership, doesn’t “suck it up” after his trauma, he seeks help. 

We have all experienced trauma in our lives, hopefully not to the level Picard has, but that doesn’t lessen its impact on us. Our trauma is experienced, in a real way, uniquely. And it needs attention. Just like Picard, we must address our trauma.

You know what, this really is so similar to what we talked about when we looked at DS9’s Emissary! Sisko went years without addressing his trauma. It took the intervention of The Prophets, or wormhole aliens, how him to see it! We don’t need aliens to see our trauma! Thankfully we have access, or at least most of us have access, to quality health care! But let’s look at the similarities between Sisko’s experience and Picard’s experience.

First, again, I am not a mental health professional. This is just me, looking at what happened in a TV show. 

They were both confronted by someone outside of themselves. Sisko with the Prophets and Picard with Troi and his brother, Robert. They were both placed into situations where their guard was pointed in another direction; Sisko was confused and trying to make sense of non-linear communication, Picard was faced with a trauma many of us can relate with; the trauma of childhood. In both cases, they weren’t thinking about the source of their trauma. 

This next one, to me, at least, seems significant. When their guard around the trauma was down and it came out in front of them, they cried. They shed real, powerful tears. They had an uncontrollable outpouring of emotion and they let it happen; THEY LET IT HAPPEN. They experienced their extreme emotions. 

What we don’t see, unfortunately, after this, is the ongoing care they receive. But we can make assumptions they do receive it.  

Bottom line here is that it is important to take care of yourself. We’re leaders and we must also lead ourselves. 

So if we do this for ourselves, what do we do for our teams? How do we support their mental and health and overall wellbeing? It is my experience that when people are and feel supported and cared for, they work harder; their productivity and quality of their work goes up. Actively investing in the people on your teams does result in a net gain; in fact, I would say it is the most sound investment you can make. 

There are a lot of ways you can support your teams. Depending on where you live and work, some of that may be provided or mandated by the government. Either way, offering things like paid time off, for any reason, flexible schedules to allow for life, safe and quiet spaces for people to take a moment and breathe all can make dramatic differences for people. I have a colleague that works for a huge, global company. In their division they have “no meeting Wednesdays” to give everyone a day of relief! Their leadership do quarterly reviews of their accrued paid time off to be sure people are taking time off - and REAL time off. Not the PTO where you still respond to Teams messages and check in on your emails. 

What we know is that healthy people perform better. Our role as leaders is to improve the performance of our teams. So, a focus on total health is the only logical choice. And it is critical to acknowledge that mental health is a key part of our total health. 

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

What did you think of this episode? Do you actively work to promote well being and mental health with your teams? Let me know! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in tears, a k i n. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please share it with a friend or someone you think could benefit from it.

What are we going to watch next time…. 

Season 7, episode 23 of Voyager, Homestead! For some, an emotional episode. One that brings us to almost the finale of Voyager where we say goodbye to a long time crew member. 

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!