Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
After a more leisurely release pace of one boxed set every couple of months, the folks at Paramount turn up the heat with the final three seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. From November 5 2002 through December 31 2002, we’ll get seasons five through seven. Some reviewers just sample a few episodes and generate their articles from those programs, but I refuse to write up something I’ve not fully examined. That means I’ll log a lot of Trek time over the next two months.
That also means I don’t have time for pleasantries, so let’s get right to the programs. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they show up on the DVDs.
A cliffhanger spanned the time between seasons three and four. That split episode proved popular, so the show’s producers did the same for seasons four/five. “Redemption, Part I” started the link between these two years, and Redemption, Part II finished it.
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. All through this year, we constantly got reminders of the dishonor Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) experienced in Season Three’s “Sins of the Father”. “Redemption” brings that matter to a head. Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) nears the ceremony to make him the leader of the Klingon High Council, but problems related to his deceased competitor Duras remain. That dude’s sisters B’Etor (Gwynyth Walsh) and Lursa (Barbara March) may enact some dastardly doings to prevent his ascension. Worf tries to reverse his dishonor and he connects with brother Kurn (Tony Todd), who apparently espouses civil war to recompose the corrupt High Council. Worf opposes this, but he thinks up a method to keep Gowron in power and also clear the family name. In the meantime, backed by an alliance with the Romulans, Duras’ sisters push the appointment of his son Toral (J.D. Cullum). This eventually leads to battles related to the Klingon civil war. All of this comes to a head when Worf must choose between his role as a Starfleet officer and his obligations as a Klingon.
As I mentioned, many additional comments could ruin the fun for folks who haven’t seen the shows. “Part II” follows the civil war begun in the first program, and it also offers some character focus. We watch as Worf tries to come to terms with his Klingon heritage, even though that often puts him at odds with his standard mode of operation. In addition, when Enterprise officers temporarily take the helms of various Starfleet vessels, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) gets one of these assignments. As an android, he encounters opposition from his second in command Lt. Commander Hobson (Timothy Carhart).
While not the slam-bang production that “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” offered, the conclusion of “Redemption” seems generally satisfying, though some of the subplots falter. The moments between Data and Hobson appear heavy-handed, and it makes no sense that Data clearly gets angry with his first officer; I thought Data possessed no capacity to get emotional, but he clearly becomes miffed with Hobson’s insubordinate attitude. The moments between Worf and his Klingon brethren appear intriguing though not as well fleshed-out as I’d like. In addition, a new character provides a very convoluted and nonsensical backstory that doesn’t receive adequate coverage here; hopefully the series will explore that topic further in the future.
While the subplots sputtered a little, the rest of “Redemption” seems compelling. Mostly it’s a cat and mouse battle scenario, and it provides a taut and intelligent exploration of those moments. Ultimately, “Redemption” seems like a nice conclusion to the cliffhanger.
In Darmok, the Federation receives a signal from the planet El-Adrel IV, home of the “Children of Tama”. When Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) extends an olive branch, Tamarian leader Dathon (Paul Winfield) has both of them beamed to the planet surface. Dathon speaks in nonsense phrases of partial English as he appears to challenge Picard to a fight. Our captain refuses, and Dathon walks away as he mutters more gibberish. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the crew of the Enterprise try to rescue Picard as the captain attempts to get by on the planet.
Though a little sappy at times, “Darmok” seems generally intriguing and enjoyable. The Tamarians provide a genuinely unusual species due to their language, and these moments appear clever and interesting. In addition, we see some nice bonding moments between Picard and Dathon. Overall, “Darmok” offers an above-average episode of Trek.
Early glimpse of a star alert! Watch closely and you’ll see a young Ashley Judd as an Enterprise crewmember.
We meet some space terrorists in Ensign Ro. The Bajorans reside on the Cardassian border and they’ve been mishandled over the years; the Cardassians abused the Bajorans, who feel bitter that the Federation didn’t intervene. When a splinter group raids a Federation outpost, the Enterprise needs to try to reconcile issues. This creates further problems when Starfleet assigns renegade imprisoned Bajoran officer Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) to assist, a decision unpopular with most crewmembers. The episode follows the prickly ensign and the quest to resolve matters.
Although Ro offers a moderately interesting character, this episode seems pretty lackluster. I like the fact that Ro is an unusual Starfleet personality, as she appears less bland than most. However, it quickly becomes obvious that we’ll find more to her than meets the eye, and Ro starts to lose her unique qualities. This show gives us a moderately intriguing scenario, but it doesn’t pay off as well as I’d like.
Data figures prominently in Silicon Avatar. Riker, Data and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) assist the colony on Melona IV. However, a bizarre form causes destruction and totally obliterates it. The Enterprise gang escapes death, and when they return to the ship, the entire group goes on a mission to deal with this problem, one that occurred previously; the Crystalline Entity ravaged other worlds, but this instance boasts the only survivors.
Expert Dr. Kila Marr (Ellen Geer) comes on board to help, but she has her own agenda. Her son was killed during an Entity attack, and Data’s brother Lore assisted it there, so she feels Data may be culpable now. However, he proves himself to her and she warms up to him when she discovers he contains files for all the inhabitants of the planet on which her son lived.
”Entity” examines the odd relationship between Marr and Data, which gives the program both its strengths and its weaknesses. The episode nicely highlights the right to life for non-human organisms, as Picard resists a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach favored by the vengeful Dr. Marr. However, Geer offers a weak performance that makes the character and the show less effective. Ultimately, “Entity” remains intriguing but only moderately satisfying.
During some casual time following a mission, Disaster strikes the Enterprise. Some force hits the ship and knocks out virtually all of its systems. This traps different crewmembers in various places and prevents much contact. With only a tiny complement on the bridge, this leaves Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) as the ranking officer, but she clearly feels uncomfortable with the reins of command. Split up in different areas of the ship, the other crewmembers do their best to carry out their duties.
That aspect of “Disaster” makes the program good. For one, it doesn’t favor any of the different characters. Almost all Trek episodes highlight one or a few of the cast, but that doesn’t happen here, as all of our gang get fairly equal play. I suppose Troi stands out the most since she ends up in foreign territory, but her onscreen time doesn’t dominate.
I also like the fact that the different groups need to act in isolation. They can’t come up with one big plan to solve the problem, and they don’t know what’s happening with the others. That lack of connection helps make “Disaster” a reasonably entertaining and intriguing show.
No, The Game has nothing to do with David Fincher or Michael Douglas. During shore leave on the pleasure planet Risa, Riker gets introduced to a virtual reality game. While they head off on a rushed scientific mission, Riker brings this back to the ship and introduces it to various crewmembers. This corrupts them and causes them to behave erratically. In the meantime, Cadet Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) returns to the ship on vacation, where he meets and falls for Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd). The pair notice the game’s addictive properties and need to cure the ship of its influence.
I guess telegraphs still exist in the 24th century, as the message of “The Game” got telegraphed to us within its first five minutes. The game in question acts as a very obvious drug metaphor, which makes this program pretty heavy-handed. It also feels like Lefler pops up here just to give Wesley a new girl. While I never loathed Wesley, I could live without him, and this return visit doesn’t make him any more endearing. Count “The Game” as a moderate dud.
Usually Trek saves its two-part episodes for season-spanning cliffhangers, but this time we find one mid-season. Unification, Parts I and II finds a startling potential defector to the Romulans: Spock (Leonard Nimoy)! The crew of the Enterprise needs to investigate this shocking turn of events. Picard visits Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) to gain information, but with the ambassador in the advanced stages of dementia, he only gets scraps of material. The Enterprise heads toward Romulus, but they need a cloaked ship to get through the Neutral Zone. They entreat the help of Klingon leader Gowron since they assisted him in the recent civil war, but his Klingon pride causes him to try to deny the Federation boost. Picard shrewdly manipulates him, and soon he and Data hop on board a Klingon craft to go toward Romulus, where they’ll pretend to be Romulans and infiltrate the joint.
While Data and Picard try to cope with Klingon “hospitality” and their side of the mission, Riker takes the Enterprise crew to pursue some mysterious Vulcan material. This leads them to a galactic junkyard, where they find further intrigue. The Enterprise follows the path of some stolen equipment while Picard and Data meet with Spock on Romulus and find further issues there. It turns out the Spock acts toward the goal of reunification of the Vulcans and Romulans, but some forces have other ideas.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that Spock showed up during an episode of The Next Generation, but I’d essentially forgotten this. As such, his presence in “Unification” surprised me pleasantly. This marks only the second appearance of a main member of the original series; DeForest Kelley did a brief cameo in the series’ debut episode. “Unification” offers another connection to the old Enterprise crew as it occasionally refers to events seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
I’m not quite sure “Unification” lives up to the expectations created by Spock’s presence, but it has its moments and seems satisfying as a whole. The Next Generation wisely avoided too many guest shots, and that makes appearances like Spock’s here more effective. How can one not enjoy watching Spock interact with Picard and Data? The latter moments are especially fun since Data always felt like the Next Generation cousin of Spock. “Unification” tosses out some predictable twists and turns at times, but it still manages to provide a good program.
An asteroid hits the planet Penthara IV, and this creates a nuclear winter effect that the crew of the Enterprise needs to counteract. While they work on this concern in A Matter of Time, an irrepressible historian from the future named Professor Rasmussen (Matt Frewer) pays them a visit. He maintains a mysterious demeanor that makes much of the crew suspicious, and the show views our evolving knowledge of his real mission as well as the concerns on Penthara IV.
Though Frewer overacts, he does so in a charming and lively manner that brings life to the sometimes bland world of Trek. As such, he adds spark to the show. Much of the story occurs predictably, and the crew of the Enterprise seem naïve in the way they go along with Rasmussen, but “Time” still offers an above-average episode.
Worf’s mother (Georgia Brown) comes to visit in New Ground, and she brings his son Alexander (Brian Bonsall) to stay on the Enterprise. Worf finds it difficult to deal with his son, who lies and behaves defiantly. In the meantime, the Enterprise cooperates with an experiment to generate warp drive without the usual machinery.
Episodes that focus on the personal lives of crewmembers tend to be hit or miss, and that seems true for “New Ground”. Dorn nicely communicates the conflicts felt by Worf, but the show occasionally devolves into something a little too sappy for my liking. Nonetheless, it’s good to see a program with this one’s intimate emphasis. Season Four featured a lot of those themes, but so far Season Five lacks the same content. “New Ground” offers a reasonably compelling drama.
The ship Vico goes missing in Hero Worship and the Enterprise go to locate it. When discovered, they see it suffered massive damage from an attack. Scans demonstrate some signs of life, and a complement of Riker, Data and Lt. Commander La Forge (LeVar Burton) head over to examine the vessel. They find young Timothy (Joshua Harris), the only survivor. When Data rescues him, Timothy becomes attached to his personal savior. While Data and Troi try to help the boy, the crew attempts to find out what forces attacked the Vico.
Another episode with a maladjusted boy confronted with an ill-equipped father figure? The similarities between “Hero Worship” and “New Ground” make the former feel a little redundant, and it loses effectiveness due to its proximity with the former. At least “Ground” deals with true parental issues and features ramifications for the future, whereas Timothy’s obsession with Data comes across more like a gimmick. The show has some entertaining moments, but it doesn’t do much for me as a whole.
We meet a new race called the Ullians in Violations. These “telepathic historians” possess the ability to probe obscured memories in people. Jev (Ben Lemon) takes a liking to Troi, and he uses his powers to invade her mind. This leaves Troi in a deep coma, and the crew tries to find out what happened to her. That becomes more problematic as the mental invasions continue and leave a larger trail of casualties in their wake.
The biggest problem with “Violations” stems from the fact that we’re constantly so far ahead of the characters. We clearly know that Jev causes the maladies, so the episode lacks suspense. It simply becomes a matter of time as we watch Picard and company piece out the mystery. It attempts to toss out some curveballs, but these go wide and miss the strike zone, so the show remains obvious. The Ullians seem interesting but the program lacks depth or real drama.
For The Masterpiece Society, the Enterprise tracks a star fragment that passes through the Moab sector. All the planets should be uninhabited, but they discover a small colony on Moab IV. This planet houses a small society that long ago attempted to achieve perfection through genetic engineering. Despite their misgivings, the residents allow a small team to beam down to the surface. Leader Aaron Conor (John Snyder) flirts with Troi while La Forge works with scientist Hannah Bates (Dey Young) to solve the life-threatening problems caused by the star fragment. This leads to societal upheaval as the purposefully isolated society starts to grow interested in life outside their bubble.
”Society” offers more of a civics lesson than a TV show. Actually, it provides a thoughtful discussion of some issues, but it feels a little pedantic at times. “Society” suffers from some predictable elements and fails to really go much of anywhere. It comes across as moderately intriguing but not anything special.
In Conundrum, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious vessel that sweeps the ship with a beam. This totally erases the crew’s memories of their identities and jobs, though they still recall how to run the Enterprise. The show examines their attempts to retrieve their memories and get back on task, which leads to some alterations in the crew’s places. Worf insists he’s the commander, while Data believe he’s simply a bartender. Once they discover their true assignments, they set about their alleged mission to attack a particular civilization.
And that’s where “Conundrum” turns predictable. We know something’s wrong when someone called Commander MacDuff (Erich Anderson) gets identified as Picard’s right-hand man, and when we learn of this violent task, the meat of the plot becomes extremely evident. “Conundrum” has its moments due to the memory loss elements, but the obvious qualities of the show’s second half render it less exciting than it could have been.
In Power Play, the Enterprise locates an ancient beacon from a long-lost Federation vessel. Troi detects signs of life on the planet, but since severe atmospheric conditions don’t allow them to beam down, she, Riker and Data take a shuttlecraft to the surface. However, they crash due to the nasty weather, so Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) takes a chance to rescue them. This works, and once back aboard the Enterprise, all those who visited the surface except Riker start to act subversively, and it quickly becomes apparent that some entity possesses them. They hole up in Ten-Forward and try to take control of the ship while Picard and the rest work from the bridge to stop them.
This unusual standoff lends “Power Play” an intriguing flavor that makes it reasonably successful. It’s fun to see surly versions of normally placid Data and Troi, and the show manages to feature a good deal of tension and intelligent examination of the options. Overall, “Power Play” provides a strong episode.
Worf becomes injured at the start of Ethics. A barrel lands on him and smashes his spine, which leaves him paralyzed. This brings Dr. Toby Russell (Caroline Kava) on board to help, and she espouses a risky experimental approach. This puts her at odds with Dr. Crusher, who thinks that Russell wants to take too many chances. Due to his Klingon standards, Worf now wants to end his life rather than be a burden to others, and he attempts to enlist Riker in this effort.
“Ethics” examines some interesting cultural issues when we hear discussions whether they should impose human standards on a Klingon. However, the rest of the show feels a little like a TV movie, especially when Crusher and Russell argue with each other over their methods. It offers some interesting information about Klingon anatomy, but otherwise it seems a little heavy-handed.
The Outcast introduces an androgynous race called the J’naii. They lose a shuttlecraft, and an Enterprise probe sent to find it also disappears into something called null space. This absorbs energy and essentially holds crafts inside it prisoner. The crew try to find a way to modify a shuttle to go inside null space and chart the territory, which will then allow a rescue mission. This endeavor pairs Riker with J’naii co-pilot Soren (Melinda Culea). The two get to know each other and develop a close relationship.
Which is where “The Outcast” becomes predictable. It takes about two minutes of interaction between Riker and Soren to figure out that they’ll become more than friends. The show takes a simplistic approach to its investigation of gender roles and feels forced and easy much of the time. It provides an obvious analogy with the societal problems of homosexuals and comes across as ham-fisted.
By the way, “Ethics” left Worf struggling to recuperate after his spinal injury. He doesn’t seem any worse for wear here! That seems slipshod to me; the show should demonstrate some continuity and at least make Worf damaged for a few episodes. And where’d Geordi’s beard come from? He sure grew that sucker quickly.
Cause and Effect launches with a bang, as we see a crisis on the Enterprise that destroys the ship. However, after the opening credits, we watch business as usual while the Enterprise enters the Typhon Expanse, a previously unexplored domain that they need to chart. While there, some weird events occur, and Dr. Crusher notices most of them. She experiences a feeling of déjà vu when she examines La Forge, and she also hears voices in her bedroom. Before long, another Federation ship appears out of nowhere and impacts the Enterprise. This blows it up again, but once we return from the commercial break, we go back to the poker game that appeared after the credit sequence.
Buh? All of the crew start to experience more feelings of déjà vu, but Crusher takes the lead in the investigation. Really, “Cause and Effect” reminds me a lot of Season Four’s “Remember Me”, another mystery in which Beverly played the most significant role. Despite those similarities, “Effect” offers a taut and intriguing program that maintains a nice air of suspense that makes it a good episode.
Note that “Effect” includes a fun cameo at the end. However, the opening credits ruin the surprise, so skip them if you want to maintain the mystery. Speaking of mysteries, what happened to Geordi’s beard?
Everyone’s favorite Starfleet Academy cadet Wesley Crusher reappears in The First Duty. On a training mission, his crew suffers from an accident that injures Wesley and kills a classmate. An inquiry follows, one in which Wesley’s friends look like they might attempt to cover up the facts. In the meantime, Picard takes the opportunity to reacquaint himself with old friends at the Academy, which allows us to finally meet groundskeeper Boothby (Ray Walston).
Wesley-based episodes usually don’t offer much of interest, and that goes for “Duty”. The program follows a relentlessly predictable path that winds nowhere unexpected or intriguing. With seven shows left to go, I can’t say this for certain, but “Duty” stands a chance that it’ll go down as the worst of Season Five.
Or maybe not, as some competition arises during the subsequent show. We get our annual visit from Troi’s mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) in Cost of Living. She arrives on the Enterprise and announces her upcoming nuptials. We also see the problematic relationship between Worf and his son Alexander, as the boy often refuses to follow his father’s rules. Troi tries to help stabilize matters, but Lwaxana provides the standard monkey wrench. In addition, some dust from an exploded asteroid gets inside the Enterprise, and it starts to muck with the ship’s systems.
Lwaxana usually provides a reasonably entertaining presence, but she wears on me here. Much of the problem emerges when she takes Alexander into a whimsical pleasure planet recreated on the holodeck. That place resembles Cirque du Soleil come to life, and its quirky elements lack charm and seem excessively cutesy. Still, that segment offers a sexy dancer garbed in little more than body paint; that factor alone keeps “Living” from becoming Season Five’s worst. Nonetheless, the show appears thin and forced. The familial elements fail to deliver their usual punch, and the mystery about the ship’s problems doesn’t go much of anywhere.
Continue to Disc 6-7 and the technical ratings...