Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
With this newest package of Star Trek: The Next Generation DVDs, we pass the series’ midpoint. Wow - it feels like we just got the first season only a few months ago. Wait - we did just get the first season only a few months ago. While Paramount spread the release of Star Trek: The Original Series’ 79 episodes over a period of 28 months, they’re sending out all 176 shows of The Next Generation within a stunning nine month span.
Which means that I don’t have time for chitchat - if I tarry, the next package will arrive before I finish this one! Without any further ado, I’ll delve into all 26 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fourth season. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they show up on the DVDs.
Seasons Two and Three of Next Generation opened with some significant cast changes. This didn’t occur at the start of Season Four. In fact, it literally picked up where the prior year concluded, as it opened with The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, the conclusion to the series’ first-ever cliffhanger.
A discussion of the second show’s events would necessarily include spoilers for the first one, so I’ll just reiterate the synopsis I offered for that episode. The Enterprise receives a distress signal from one of the Federation’s most distant colonies. When they arrive, they find nothing where a town used to be. Suspicions immediately arise that the Borg caused this disappearance. To investigate this event, Admiral Hanson (George Murdock) and Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) come aboard the Enterprise. Shelby proves to be very ambitious, and she seeks the position it appears Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) may vacate for the captain’s chair elsewhere. This leads him to question his own decisions, as he doesn’t understand his reluctance to leave the Enterprise.
When eventually the Enterprise meets up with the Borg, they provide a peculiar demand: for Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Picard alone to leave the ship and come to their Cube. He refuses and battle ensues. Thanks to a tactic thought up by Shelby, they manage to break free of the Borg grasp long enough to escape, where they enter a dense nebula to evade them while they regroup. Eventually the Borg break through, abduct Picard, and set a course for Earth.
As I mentioned, any additional comments could ruin the fun for folks who haven’t seen the shows, so I’ll end my synopsis there. Suffice it to say that Best II concluded the tale in a very satisfying manner. Like many Trek programs, it placed the Enterprise in an apparently unwinnable situation against an apparently unbeatable foe, and it requires their collective ingenuity and bravery to save the day. Best II packs a nice combination of cleverness and action for a very satisfying start to Season Four.
A change of pace from the dramatic “Best”, Family examines the kin of both Picard and Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn). While the Enterprise goes through rehab after the Borg encounter, Worf’s Russian parents (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) come to visit him on the ship. In the meantime, Picard takes some R&R in France, where he goes to his hometown and reconnects with his brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp). He also spends time with nephew Rene (David Tristen Birkin) and Robert’s wife Marie (Samantha Eggar). Both Starfleet officers encounter friction with their relatives. Worf seems embarrassed by his doting parents, while Jean-Luc and Robert suffer from age-old interpersonal conflicts.
Following the dynamic action of the prior episodes, “Family” offers a somewhat self-conscious change of pace, but it provides some solid character exposition. Next Generation often delves into personalities, but usually only female crewmembers Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) receive attention in the family way; Troi’s mother pops up on the show occasionally, while the interaction of Crusher and her teen son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) filled many programs. “Family” seems a little sappy and forced at times, but I value opportunities to see the characters in different situations and circumstances. Despite some horrendous overacting from Georgia Brown as Worf’s adoptive mother, this show comes across as a reasonably useful episode.
Note that this program formally introduces Picard’s family. Though they don’t appear in the theatrical film Generations, they still play a significant role there.
The title of Brothers leads one to believe it may offer a program similar to “Family”. That’s true - in a weird way. During a an emergency trip toward a medical base, Commander Data (Brent Spiner) suddenly goes all freaky, and he reroutes the ship’s course against the wishes of Picard and the rest of the crew. What’s up with the usually stable and low-key android? Dr. Noonien Soong (Spiner) summoned him and evil “brother” Lore (Spiner again) to that location and forced Data to come without his knowledge; when he meets the doctor, he doesn’t know how he got there. While the crew tries to regain control of the Enterprise, Data gets to know his “father”, who indicates that he’s dying and also offers Data the chance to get an emotion chip. Not surprisingly, Lore has other plans.
The show’s title functions on another level as well. The Enterprise headed toward a medical base because a boy named Jake Potts (Cory Danziger) played a practical joke on his brother Willie (Adam Ryen); this backfired with nasty results, and Willie needs medical help or he’ll kick. As a subplot, we see their interactions and tensions. Frankly, those moments don’t go much of anywhere, as the program seems much more focused on Data’s actions.
Although “Brothers” includes more action than “Family”, it still feels a little too similar too soon. It also seems somewhat gimmicky. Both Lore and Soong disappeared long ago, allegedly for good, so to bring both back comes across as a moderately weak trick. Add to that Spiner’s triple acting feat, and the program just tries too hard. It offers some engaging moments but too much of it seems like a stunt, not a show.
During Suddenly Human, the Enterprise gets a distress signal from a Talarian craft. On board, they discover five young cadets; oddly, one of them named Jono (Chad Allen) appears human. He badly wants to go back to his commander, but Dr. Crusher displays some concerns over past injuries revealed by her scans; she fears that the Talarians harmed him. Jono actively avoids interpersonal contact with crewmembers, but he seems to respond to Picard. Troi convinces him to try to gain emotion access to the boy, so the captain - never very comfortable with most kids - reluctantly does this. The rest of the episode follows his attempts to get to the heart of Jono’s true self as well as his interactions with the Talarian crew.
If you read up a few paragraphs, you’ll note I indicated that I like to see some greater character depth and exposition. After a third straight show in that vein, I’m starting to get a little tired of the touchy-feely stuff. On its own, “Human” has its moments, but I could really use some Trek that doesn’t try to deal with the characters various emotions and pasts so heavily. The program offers some good moments, but it comes across as mediocre in general.
In Remember Me, we focus on Dr. Crusher, but happily, it gives us a respite from the character exposition of the prior shows and offers a nice little mystery. At the program’s start, Dr. Crusher welcomes her old mentor, Dr. Dalen Quaice (Bill Erwin), for a visit, but oddly, he soon disappears. No one on the Enterprise recalls his presence, and many other strange things start to occur. The ship’s crew roster mysteriously drops, and only Crusher understands the way things are supposed to be; everything else accepts the complement as it stands. The program explores the reality of the situation; we know that Crusher’s not nuts, but how will she return to her normal situation?
Usually when an episode concentrates on Dr. Crusher, it tends to be touchy-feely, and it also offers a heavy dollop of Wesley. The much-loathe ensign plays a strong role here, but Bev is the main character by far, and it’s good to see her take such an active role in the program. The episode sags toward the end, but overall, “Remember” provides a lively and compelling tale.
Trivia note: “Remember Me” marked the 79th episode of Next Generation. That equaled the total number of shows in all three years of the original series.
Legacy launches with some action, as the Enterprise rushes to rescue some Federation compatriots whose ship nears destruction. Before the Enterprise arrives, the two passengers take an escape pod and wind up on the surface of the planet Turkana IV. A society very antisocial toward Federation personnel, Picard and crew actually get some cooperation from one of two warring tribes; the other group has the escaped passengers and the members of the “Coalition” want to use this to their advantage. Matters become more interesting when Data and the others meet their guide: Ishara Yar (Beth Toussaint), sister of dead Enterprise crewmember Tasha.
Overall, “Legacy” offered a good though occasionally predictable episode. It provided some solid action and intrigue and generally seemed positive. The main negative came from Toussaint’s weak performance as Ishara. She seemed awfully wooden and forced and caused the show to suffer. Otherwise, “Legacy” was a very good program.
At the start of Reunion, the Enterprise re-encounters Worf’s old flame K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson). Last seen in Season Two’s “The Emissary”, K’Ehleyr returns because the future of the Klingon enterprise is in jeopardy. Someone slowly poisoned Klingon High Council Chancellor K’mpec (Charles Cooper). That commander chooses Picard to select his successor and also find out who killed him. In the meantime, K’Ehleyr drops a bombshell on Worf: the existence of his son Alexander (Jon Steuer).
I always liked Plakson’s take on K’Ehleyr; she added a nice spark to the standard Klingon female and provided a good counterpoint to Worf. The show kept the subplot related to Worf’s son from getting sappy, as it mainly focused on the investigation. Overall, “Reunion” offered a tight and lively piece of Trek.
Future Imperfect sends Riker, Worf and chief engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) on an away team mission to a planet subsurface. Some toxic gases overcome them, and when Riker awakens, he finds himself in a different future. Everyone’s 16 years older, and he’s a captain now. He remembers none of the prior 16 years, and Dr. Crusher explains that a virus he contracted during that past mission caused his memory loss. Riker then has to cope with the situation and his nagging suspicion that something isn’t quite right.
At the onset of “Imperfect”, it was guaranteed that the episode either was a dream fantasy or that it featured a deception of some sort; obviously what we saw wasn’t actually presented as “reality” within the Trek universe. I won’t give away the twist, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed “Imperfect”. It presented a perfect balance of intrigue, action, suspense, and warmth, and it stands as one of Season Four’s most entertaining episodes.
Final Mission brings a day greatly anticipated by many Trek fans: the departure of Wesley Crusher from the Enterprise. He finally gets accepted into Starfleet Academy, and the title refers to Wesley’s last exercise as a crewmember. Wesley accompanies Picard on a mission to mediate a dispute among a colony of miners. During the shuttle ride there, the ship goes kablooey; Picard, Wesley and shuttle captain Dirgo (Nick Tate) crash land on a nearby Class “M” planet with a desert climate. They have to combat the elements and stay alive until rescue comes.
In the meantime, the Enterprise heads off to deal with an SOS they intercepted. An abandoned garbage barge contains radiation that affects the planet it orbits, so they need to get rid of it. They soon learn that Picard and company never made their destination, but the Enterprise can’t launch a rescue effort until they complete this other task. Not surprisingly, some problems arise along the way.
I never felt the antipathy toward Wesley held by others, but I can’t say I was sad to see him go as a regular castmember. Granted, he barely did anything during Season Four’s eight prior episodes, so the loss wouldn’t seem too notable.
Given Wesley’s poor reputation, it seems appropriate that he left with a fairly weak episode. For one, the mission to dispose of the garbage scow felt like nothing more than a plot device; it existed to force the Enterprise away from the rescue. At least those moments seemed more interesting than the events on the desert planet, which came across as ordinary and bland. Stewart and Wheaton enjoyed absolutely no chemistry together, and that factor helped make “Mission” a dull affair. It tried to send Wheaton off with a bang but failed to achieve anything more than a boring whimper.
The Loss focuses on Troi. After a mysterious event causes minor medical maladies all around the ship, Deanna finds herself without her normal empathic powers; she no longer can detect the emotions of others. While she attempts to cope with this issue, the rest of the crew tries to find out more about an odd force that tugs them behind it.
Since they revolve around the counselor, Troi-based episodes tend to be pretty touchy-feely, and “Loss” definitely falls into that category. The threat posed by the foreign entity offers some compelling elements, but the Troi aspects get old after a while, mainly because she seems so whiny. Overall, “Loss” provides a pretty bland Trek escapade.
Data’s Day takes an unusual approach, as it follows an “average” day in the life of our favorite android. He deals with a troubled impending wedding mainly, which means he wants to learn how to dance. He asks Dr. Crusher to aid in that process. In addition, a Vulcan ambassador named T’Pel (Sierra Pecheur) comes on board to deal with a mission into the Neutral Zone, as the Romulans allegedly offer a peace initiative.
Essentially this episode acts as an excuse to further explore Data’s lack of emotional comprehension. In that manner, it provides a reasonably interesting exploration of that area, but it lacks enough focus to be a firm success. In addition, the Romulan escapade seemed interesting but it didn’t receive enough coverage. The episode might have worked better if more fully concentrated on one plot or the other. With its bifurcated plot, “Day” provided a generally entertaining but fairly average program.
The Wounded finds the Enterprise on a mission to sustain the peace between the Federation and the Cardassians. When the ship arrives, the encounter hostility from the Cardassians; their captain tells Picard that his side started it when the starship Phoenix destroys a Cardassian station for no apparent reason. Three Cardassians come aboard the Enterprise as observers while Picard and company attempt to discover what happened. Since the newly married Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) previously served with Phoenix Captain Maxwell (Bob Gunton), he becomes a key component, and his own issues enter the equation.
I liked “Wounded” for a number of reasons. For one, it portrayed the Cardassians as fairly three-dimensional; given the rather thin depiction of most Federation foes, it seemed interesting to witness something more layered. In addition, I enjoyed the exploration of O’Brien’s past and character. He’d been a peripheral character for quite some time, so I thought the show gave us a nice examination of this personality. The Maxwell elements were fairly predictable, unfortunately, but overall, “Wounded” featured intrigue and depth.
Historical footnote: “Wounded” provided our first encounter with the Cardassians.
Devil’s Due finds chaos on the planet Ventax II, a previously idyllic agrarian society. The Enterprise intercepts an SOS from Dr. Clark (Paul Lambert), who states that a religious zealot named Acost Jared (Marcello Tubert) has attacked his group and taken his colleagues hostage. Jared’s crew claims that their Ventaxian forebears inked a deal with a god named Ardra to experience a millennium of peace, and their time nears its expiration; they’ll then become enslaved by Ardra. Of course, Picard thinks all of this seems absurd, but matters complicate when Ardra herself (Marta DuBois) arrives on the scene. From there, Picard needs to sort through the evidence and discover the truth of the matter: is Ardra really the devil?
“Due” provides a nicely intriguing story. One shares Picard’s skepticism as to Ardra’s claims, but the show doesn’t telegraph its points. The program maintains a delicious air of tension, especially as the plot thickens and Ardra develops the hots for Picard. Actually, “Due” feels like a blast of classic Trek; with its romantic subplot and theological implications, I could easily see this as an episode of the original series. DuBois seems a little heavy-handed as Ardra, but I still think “Due” takes a story that could seem forced and makes it quite entertaining.
During a routine survey mission in Clues, the Enterprise encounters an “M”-class planet where they didn’t expect one. As they approach it, they hit a small wormhole; it knocks them unconscious for a brief period and they end up far away from where they started. When the crew sends out a probe, they no longer find the planet, and other oddities occur, such as evidence that the crew went unconscious for a day, not the 30 seconds they believe. Suspicions arise that Data may have been affected as well, and he may not offer the usual reliable information, and many other strange occurrences create a lengthy mystery.
“Clues” offers a pretty good program. Some parts of it seem fairly predictable, but the focus remains on the plot and it moves at a good pace. Enough of the show presents clever and intriguing material to make “Clues” above average as a whole.
First Contact has a little to do with the 1996 movie of the same name, but not much. The crew of the Entreprise go to Malcor III, a planet on the verge of warp travel capabilities. They launch “first contact” with societies at this point, but complications emerge. Riker pretends to be an inhabitant as part of a surveillance mission, but he gets injured and captured when the Malcorians realize he’s not one of them. That causes Picard to accelerate the process, which jeopardizes matters since the suspicious and paranoid Malcorians may not be ready for the implications of this contact.
While “Contact” doesn’t offer a great episode of Trek, I like the show’s unusual emphasis. We’ve seen the crew of the Enterprise meet scads of new civilizations, but we’ve rarely observed this action from the viewpoint of the other side. The program presents a fairly balanced look at this matter and seems like a reasonably compelling episode.
Through the first 15 episodes of Season Four, every main crewmember got a spotlight show. Heck, even tangential character O’Brien received a lot of play. However, poor LaForge was left by the wayside - until now, at least. In Galaxy’s Child, Geordi comes face to face with a semi-acquaintance from his past. During Season Three, he dealt with a holographic recreation of Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), and the pair hit if off well. During “Child”, Geordi meets the real thing, and this experience doesn’t quite live up to his expectations.
In the meantime, the Enterprise encounters a large lifeform that travels through space without need of a ship. During these tentative explorations, Picard uses very light phaser power to ward off a light attack from the critter. Shockingly, this kills it, but its offspring survives. After the Enterprise helps along the birth process, they discover that the space baby believes the ship to be its mother; it follows the craft, latches onto it, and starts to feed from its energy supply. They need to figure out how to send it on its merry way and prosper in life.
Since Geordi has always been one of my least favorite Next Generation characters, you might assume that I didn’t much care for this episode. You might assume correctly. The baby plot seemed somewhat limp and tepid and didn’t go much of anywhere, while Geordi’s disappointing interaction with Dr. Brahms suffered from the same flaws as all LaForge based programs: he came across as whiny and annoying. “Child” wasn’t a bad LaForge episode, but it didn’t stand out as a very good piece of Trek.
Continue to Disc 5-7 and the technical ratings...