And while TNG didn’t have a “arc” per se along the lines of other shows like Battlestar Galactica, one thing it did well was build interesting character arcs.
And that’s where “Family” comes in.
“Family” was the first episode to air after “Best of Both Worlds, Part 2” to start the fourth season. And where I’d argue TNG dropped the ball by not having a lot of follow-up on the fact that most of Starfleet was wiped out by the Borg and what that might mean to the Romulans or other enemies taking advantage of that military opportunity, the show did take a chance to slow down and examine the effects of what happened on the characters.
Specifically what the kidnap and transformation into Locutus of Borg did to Picard. The horror of what happened wasn’t something that could easily be glossed over and the next week have Picard out there exploring the universe as if nothing had happened. And that’s the strength of this episode–it allows us to see the captain as fallible and human. Picard tries to put on a brave front to the crew, but we can tell what’s happened has scarred him on a psychological level. While the Enterprise is being repaired, Picard heads home to France to spend time with his family, including his estranged brother (one major theme of TNG is how most families don’t really seem to get along all that well.) The battle of wills between brothers culminates in a fight out in the fields of grapes, where Picard finally breaks down and weeps at what has happened to him.
This might not seem revolutionary, but in terms of the Trek universe it was a big moment. Yes, we’d seen that Picard had flaws up to this point, but to have the fearless captain of the Enterprise broken down and weeping as he’s covered in mud…kind of a watershed moment for the character and the show. And it’s interesting that Picard breaks down with his brother and not in front of the crew–an interesting element that harkens back all the way to TOS days when Spock warned Kirk that in order to maintain command, he (Kirk) cannot appear weak to the crew.
What you get is a story with no alien weirdness, no technobabble and very little, if any sci-fi elements. Beyond a fist-fight in the grape fields, there’s really no action to this one. But yet, it’s one of the best and most profoundly well done episodes of TNG in the canon. It was a necessary episode and one that the series would have felt incomplete without.
It’s interesting that watching the extras for season four, how Ron Moore talks about how he and the writing staff had to fight for this episode to get it on the air. It was a bold experiment and I’m glad they fought hard and that it’s part of the Trek canon.