Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
15 years after the show’s debut, it seems hard to believe that Star Trek: The Next Generation was ever viewed as anything other than a sure thing. After all, we’ve seen three additional Trek TV series since then, and the crew of TNG has gone on to star in three successful feature films, with one more due later this year.
But TNG definitely was a gamble, as no one knew if audiences would accept folks aboard the Enterprise who weren’t named Kirk, Spock, etc. However, fans quickly embraced the series, and it remained on the air for seven years; that’s four more than the original show!
Season One of the program established the various characters and situations well, so Season Two was able to take off without much exposition needed. This didn’t mean that no changes occurred. Temporarily gone was ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) took her place. In addition, the Enterprise gained a new lounge called Ten Forward, and with it came a bartender named Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).
Otherwise, cast and situations largely remained the same, though we saw fewer adventures in Season Two than we had during Season One. In the summer of 1988, the Writers Guild went on strike, and that held up the production of TV series. This meant that the second season of TNG wouldn’t debut until November 1988, and the powers that be truncated the normal run to cover only 22 episodes instead of the standard 24-26.
A little less TNG is better than no TNG at all, of course, and the series didn’t seem terribly damaged by the delay. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at all 22 Season Two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they show up on the DVDs.
In an interesting choice, The Child launches Season Two with a low-key program. While on a mission, a strange glowing light zips inside the Enterprise and seeks out ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). It impregnates her and runs the course of development in ridiculously short order. Troi soon has a son, but he causes some inadvertent problems due to his presence, and tough choices need to be made.
”The Child” seems notable mainly for its many firsts. We get our initial encounters with new ship’s Doctor Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as well as lounge Ten Forward and bartender Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Cadet Wesley Crusher’s (Wil Wheaton) mom - Dr. Beverly Crusher - is no longer on board, and initially he plans to depart as well. However, he decides to stay with the crew to further his education. And Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) grows a beard!
Overall I found this to offer a fairly average episode. At times, the mystery involved seemed reasonably intriguing but the show became too melodramatic and sappy. It felt like an excuse to let Sirtis develop some emotional moments and it never really became anything special.
Where Silence Has Lease didn't seem particularly noteworthy either, but I thought it improved on the prior episode. Within the Morgana quadrant, the Enterprise discovers a strange void in space, one from which they can’t escape. Eventually they meet a being called Nagilum (Earl Boen) who holds them there so he can study their reactions.
Though little more than a twist on the old “omnipotent force who messes with the Enterprise” theme, “Lease” seems reasonably engaging. The show worked especially well while it remained a mystery. Once the source of the Enterprise's woes became apparent, the program lacked some of its strength. Nonetheless, overall I thought “Lease” seemed good.
Elementary, Dear Data takes us back into the ship's Holodeck. Data (Brent Spiner) and Geordi Laforge (LeVar Burton) like to engage in Sherlock Holmes adventures; Laforge plays Dr. Watson while Data behaves as Holmes. However, it becomes clear that Data succeeds at these because he’s memorized them. Dr. Pulaski thinks Data lacks the ability to actually deduce for himself because he’s so rote and mechanical. Geordi programs the Holodeck computer to come up with an original mystery in the Holmes style and tells it to make the challenge worthy of Data. Unfortunately, it does so too well, as it creates a computerized Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) who learns that he can slip outside of the Holodeck and control actions on the Enterprise.
Much of the time I don’t much care for the Holodeck adventures because they tend to be cutesy; Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) Dixon Hill crime mysteries fall into that category, and with Data as Holmes, the potential for cutesy tendencies seemed great. However, “Elementary” actually offered a surprisingly rich and enjoyable tale, mainly because of the depth garnered from the computerized Moriarty. The character came to life nicely and overall the show seemed taut and compelling. I still disliked the artificial animosity that Pulaski must feel toward Data, but this remained a very good program.
In The Outrageous Okona, we find a larger-than-life character somewhat reminiscent of The Original Series’ Harry Mudd. When some systems fail on his ship, Okona (William O. Campbell) comes aboard the Enterprise for repairs. There the dashing and self-confident hunk literally charms the pants off many of the female crewmembers, and he also tries to teach Data to loosen up to some degree. He emphasizes humor, which Data tries to learn via simulations in the Holodeck with a Comic (Joe Piscopo). In the meantime, the Enterprise runs into trouble when some past encounters return to haunt Okona; two different groups are out to get him due to his apparent indiscretions, and Captain Picard has to sort out the details.
This seemed to be an erratic episode. On one hand, Okona was a reasonably interesting character, and his escapades added some life to the often-stiff confines of the Enterprise. The manner in which his past came to the fore seemed interesting and intriguing.
However, many moments fell flat. We’re supposed to accept Joe Piscopo as one of the funniest men of all time? Ugh! Add to that the genuinely painful sight of Data trying to act like Jerry Lewis and I now know real agony. The show capped off with some schmaltz from Wesley as he told Okona of the value of home and hearth. Overall, “Okona” had some good bits, but the show remained mediocre due to these various issues.
Guest alert: though his star was then in free-fall, Piscopo offered a known name among the program’s temporary castmembers. However, two others would later go on to decent fame. William O. Campbell is the same Bill Campbell who starred in 1991’s The Rocketeer and is the same Billy Campbell who appeared throughout TV’s shadk. (What’s with all the name changes, Willie?) And keep an eye out for Teri Hatcher as a sexy Enterprise crewmember.
While not great, “Okona” looked brilliant compared to the next episode, Loud As a Whisper. The Enterprise escorts legendary mediator Riva (Howie Seago) to Solaris 5 where he needs to try to settle a centuries old dispute between two tribes. They quickly discover a surprise: Riva’s deaf, and he communicates telepathically with three members of his own “chorus”, and they then speak his words. Each one talks for a different part of his personality. Not surprisingly, the libido element chats up Troi a lot, as they experience a mutual attraction. Unfortunately, matters go awry as the peace conference starts; a renegade kills the chorus, which puts Riva through a crisis due to his inability to communicate.
Too much of “Whisper” felt like an Afterschool Special that taught us about deaf people. I often appreciate the social messages found in Trek as long as the show presents them in a subtle manner. However, that didn’t occur here. The program suffered from a slow pace, little to no tension or drama, and some of the weakest dialogue I’ve heard in a while. It’s a bad episode.
While not an excellent program, The Schizoid Man at least marked a significant improvement over “Whisper”. In this episode, the Enterprise travels to the home of a brilliant but ailing scientist named Graves (W. Morgan Sheppard). Apparently Graves taught Data’s creator, which makes him the android’s semi-grandfather. The two spend a lot of time together before Graves eventually kicks. After the crew returns to the ship with Graves’ sexy long-time companion Kareen (Barbara Alyn Woods), they start to notice odd changes in Data’s behavior as he acts more cantankerous and oppositional.
Though entertaining, “Schizoid” seemed like little more than another excuse to show Data as he behaves in an unusual manner. The folks at TNG just loved to depict the android in atypical ways, and we get lots of that here. Overall, this meant the program was fun to watch, but it felt a little too much like more of the same old thing.
Unnatural Selection gave some increased star-time for our new doctor. The Enterprise encounters a fellow ship on which all of the crew has died. They seem to have passed away due to old age, which leads the Enterprise to a research station recently visited by the other crew. There they find the scientists infected with the same rapid aging disease. Those folks work on genetic research and have created some superhuman kids totally immune to any disease. Dr. Pulaski wants to examine one of them, and though he suffers from no problems, he infects her with the disease. From there the crew needs to figure out how to cure the malady before Pulaski and the other scientists die.
“Selection” felt like a cautionary tale about the dangers of genetic over-specialization, and it actually worked pretty well. It didn’t beat us over the head with that message, though I thought Dr. Kingsley (Patricia Smith) - the lead scientist with whom Pulaski interacted - seemed awfully frivolous for someone in her position; she whined a lot and showed no understanding of the various dangers. Nonetheless, the show provided a good mystery that it explored nicely, and it helped expand the Pulaski character. She never became very likable, but at least they made the attempt.
Speaking of character expansion, Riker leaps to the fore for A Matter of Honor. Starfleet takes part in an officer exchange program that brings different cultures aboard the Enterprise. As part of this, Riker joins up with the Klingon ship the Pagh. There he finds his loyalty to both his new comrades and the Enterprise tested when a conflict arises between the two vessels.
Overall, this was a very solid episode. It created a problem in a reasonably natural manner, and it was great to get a better look at life on a Klingon ship. “Honor” definitely provided the best view of Klingon culture to date; never during The Original Series, the four movies made prior to this show, or the first season of TNG had we been quite so immersed in their environment. We also got a better feel for Riker as the program fleshed him out in a satisfying manner. “Honor” went down as one of Season Two’s better shows.
Another good episode followed with The Measure of a Man. Cybernetics expert Commander Maddox (Brian Brophy) wants to take Data off the ship and dismantle him for further study. It seems that no one knows how to make more like him, so Starfleet supports Maddox’ efforts to get to the bottom of the dilemma. However, no one on the Enterprise likes this idea, especially since there’s no guarantee Data will be put back together accurately. Data himself also doesn’t want to participate, and he actually resigns his commission when ordered to go. However, some claim he’s the possession of Starfleet, so lawyer Captain Louvois (Amanda McBroom) orders a mini-trial during which the matter will be settled.
Parts of “Measure” felt forced, especially due to Maddox’ excessively villainous ways; he insistently referred to Data as “it” and really seemed like an artificial heavy. However, the show offered a thoughtful and rich exploration of humanity and property and it helped flesh out a number of characters well. Most episodes that focus on Data tend to be gimmicky, so it was good to find one with a deeper, more philosophical basis.
After two straight very good programs, I suppose we inevitably needed to encounter a fall, and that’s exactly what happened with The Dauphin. The Enterprise needs to escort teenaged future leader Salia (Jaime Hubbard) to her world. She and Wesley immediately develop the hots for each other, but matters complicate when Salia’s chaperone Anya (Paddi Edwards) becomes excessively defensive. We soon find out that the surface appearance of the two may not represent reality.
Perhaps at some point during the run of TNG I’ll find a Wesley-based episode that works, but it didn’t happen here. Instead, we got a sappy program that focused on his puppy love and insecurity with the opposite sex. This seemed more like an episode of The Partridge Family than Trek, and it didn’t work.
Although computer viruses were pretty unfamiliar to most in 1988, Contagion examines their effects. Stuck in the Neutral Zone, the USS Yamato experiences serious system failures and eventually goes boom. The Enterprise tries to help but can’t, and they soon go through their own concerns. The crewmembers need to cure the infection while they also deal with a Romulan threat.
At its best, “Contagion” offered a reasonably engaging mystery, and at least it provided some decent action, a quantity often in short supply. However, the show fell short of excellence because it seemed somewhat drippy and sappy at times. Overall, it gave us slightly above average Trek, but it failed to become anything terribly memorable.
In The Royale, we found a program reminiscent of the times the original Enterprise time-traveled to the 20th century. However, we get a twist here. After the Enterprise encounters debris from a centuries-old NASA ship, an away party beams down to the planet surface. There they enter a 20th century hotel called the Royale, and they become trapped there. Much weirdness happens as the crewmembers need to figure out how to escape their peculiar prison.
At times “Royale” felt a little too much like a Holodeck adventure gone awry, but it managed to be more engaging than that due to the unusual restraints. The story took a number of interesting turns and led down some unexpected paths. The resolution also seemed clever, and this appeared to be a pretty good program, though it did move a little slowly.
More strangeness occurred during Time Squared. At the start of the program, the Enterprise picks up a shuttlecraft in which an unconscious Picard resides. The problem? The captain’s already on the bridge. It turns out the doppelganger comes from a few hours in the future, where that version of the Enterprise was - or will be - destroyed. The current crew needs to resolve the issue before their time is up - literally.
Double the Picard, double the pleasure! Trek usually explores these doubles in a goofy manner - such as during the Original Series’ “The Enemy Within” - but “Squared” looked at things in a more intriguing and serious manner. Overall, the show offered a very clever and cool little mystery that it investigated in a tight manner. “Squared” was one of the year’s better episodes.
TNG reverts to some of it more melodramatic tendencies with The Icarus Factor. Riker receives an offer to take the helm of the USS Aries, a small scientific vessel. To brief him on the assignment, Starfleet sends one Kyle Riker (Mitchell Ryan), who not so coincidentally happens to be his dad! To put it mildly, the two have some issues, and they attempt to work through these during the program. In addition, Worf (Michael Dorn) celebrates the anniversary of his ascension ceremony with a little help from his friends.
While I like to see some character development, unfortunately this often occurs in a sappy manner, and “Icarus” suffered from that. The interaction of the Riker men quickly took on soap opera tones, and that made it less effective as a whole. Worf’s parts were moderately interesting, but they didn’t do much to redeem this pretty weak episode.
Pen Pals didn’t rebound from that trend. Actually, it offered another fairly gooey little character episode. Data receives a faint signal from an alien who turns out to be a little girl named Sarjenka (Nikki Cox). Her planet’s about to go kablooey, but the Prime Directive states that she and Data shouldn’t even communicate, so it seems clear the Enterprise shouldn’t try to save the inhabitants. This provokes some serious discussion about the appropriate course of action. In the meantime, Wesley gets his first command experience as he leads a geological survey team and starts to realize some of the pitfalls that come with power.
In theory, I suppose an episode in which Data befriends a little alien girl could be worthwhile, but in reality, it seemed pretty lame. The discussion of the Prime Directive offered some good philosophical moments, but the rest of the program was fairly mushy and weak. It wasn’t especially interesting to watch Wesley’s teenage dilemmas either.
Note: yes, the Nikki Cox seen here is the same one who would develop into the TV sexpot sitcom actress. She’s virtually unrecognizable, however, both due to her young age and the heavy makeup she wore.
After two straight relatively bad episodes, matters improved significantly with Q Who? which offered arguably the best program in Season Two. Despite his prior agreement to stay off the Enterprise, Q (John DeLancie) returns. Apparently the other members of the Q Continuum booted him due to his indiscretions, so he wants to join the crew of the Enterprise since they’re so much fun. Q argues they need him to help deal with the challenges ahead. When Picard states that they can do fine on their own, Q gives them a view of what will come via an early encounter with the horrific Borg.
”Q Who?” would merit historical notation since it provides the show’s first reveal of the Borg, but it stands nicely on its own. During the first season, I worried that the show would rely too heavily on Q; he only popped up twice, but those programs occurred in fairly rapid succession. Q appeared just this once in Season Two, and that allowed his arrival to become more powerful.
The Borg also offered a terrific addition to the Trek universe. They provided some much-needed darkness to the series and would soon become among the program’s most memorable characters. Despite an anti-climactic ending, “Q Who?” provided a very solid episode.
Continue to Disc 5-6 and the technical ratings...