Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2002)
And the Star Trek: The Next Generation death march continues! Since Paramount will release two full seasons of the show in one four-week span, I don’t want to waste time with my usual inane ramblings, so I’ll head straight to the episodes themselves. These shows will be discussed in the order broadcast, which is also the way in which they show up on the DVDs.
For the third straight year, Season Five ended with a cliffhanger. “Time’s Arrow, Part I” started the link between these two years, and Time’s Arrow, 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. Starfleet recalls the Enterprise to Earth because they discovered 500-year-old evidence of alien visitation there. The presence of the Enterprise becomes necessary due to one of the artifacts they discover: Data’s head! While the crew tries to deal with their knowledge of Data’s ultimate demise, they head toward an alien planet that may relate to the activities. There they find a species in a different temporal space, and Data is the only one who can adjust to enter their place. When he does this, he briefly observes them before something causes him to head back to 19th century San Francisco, the same location and time where his noggin landed. There Data attempts to find the aliens he followed back from the future, while the Enterprise tries to figure out what happened and what they can do about it.
As I mentioned, I can’t go into the events of “Part II” since that would divulge too much about “Part I”. I liked the first segment of this show, but I thought “Part II” offered a lackluster conclusion. Actually, that’s not totally true, as the second half of “Part II” provided a fairly engaging and creative solution, but the first part of the program seemed silly and obnoxious at times, mostly due to the hammy performance from a guest actor. Of the three Next Generationtwo-part cliffhangers to date, “Time’s Arrow” come across as the weakest.
Wimpy Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) returns in Realm of Fear. When the Enterprise needs to investigate the cause of a ghostly Starfleet ship, Barclay refuses to use the transporter beam. This reveals his deep fear of the technique, which Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) helps allay with a Betazoid technique called “plexing”. He remains somewhat upset, but he goes ahead with the transport anyway. However, matters go awry during the return trip, when Barclay thinks he sees some wormlike entity try to chomp his arm. Through the rest of the episode, Barclay tries to figure out what happened, while the crew of the Enterprise attempts to discern what happened to their counterparts.
”Fear” focuses on an interesting subject, and it provides apparently the only camera shot ever shown from the point of view enjoyed by a transport subject. It suffers from the emphasis on Barclay, though. A moderately interesting recurring character, I suppose this story needed to concentrate on someone who appears infrequently; after all, it’ll look weird if a regular all of a sudden developed an aversion to transporting.
However, it seems weird to base an early season episode on such a tangential personality. Normally, I’d expect to see this kind of program once the year’s tone had been set, but here we prominently feature a periodic personality in the season’s second episode. The show itself seems reasonably intriguing, but it doesn’t launch the season particularly well.
Troi played a fairly significant role in the last episode, and she further comes to the fore in Man of the People. A transport ship comes under attack, so the Enterprise takes on two prime passengers: Ambassador Alkar (Chip Lucia) and his elderly mother (Susan French). Headed to a peace negotiation on Rekag-Seronia, the old lady takes a nasty dislike to Troi, but mom soon kicks. When this occurs, Alkar asks Troi to participate in a funeral meditation. After this, Troi starts to act very differently and eventually ages rapidly.
”People” enjoys some interesting moments, mainly due to Troi’s out of character behavior. She acts like a slut with the guys and adopts full Dr. Laura mode when she counsels clients. However, “People” loses points due to too many obvious elements. It becomes clear too quickly that something funky will happen with Troi and who caused it. The reason for the actions adds some spice, but “People” comes across as a little too predictable for my liking, and its ending borders on melodrama.
Trivia note: “Man of the People” features a counseling patient of Troi’s named Ensign Janeway (Lucy Boryer). As far as I can tell, this name maintains no connection to Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway; my copy of The Star Trek Encyclopedia lists no appearances by her outside of this episode.
For the third-ever guest appearance by a member of the original Enterprise, we visit Relics. The Enterprise intercepts a distress signal from something called a Dyson’s Sphere. That’s a hollow orb constructed around a star that allows the inhabitants to harness a basically inexhaustible source of power. The crew discovers a wrecked vessel with someone stuck in a transporter loop. This turns out to be none other than Captain Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan). He got stuck there 75 years earlier, and now finds himself a man out of time. Scotty feels useless aboard an Enterprise he doesn’t understand, and his attempts to help get on the nerves of Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton). However, Scotty’s expertise comes in handy when the pair encounter a crisis.
Yeah, I know that the plotline of “Relics” follows a genuinely predictable and inevitable path. Yeah, I know I just griped two episodes ago when an episode focused on a non-core character. But this isn’t some anonymous schmoe like Barclay – it’s Scotty, for God’s sake! Despite the threadbare story, “Relics” works due to the sheer joy that comes from his presence. Actually, the episode provides some genuine poignancy when Scotty starts to feel out of place; the shots aboard a holodeck recreation of the original Enterprise pack a decent emotional punch. Objectively, “Relics” seems like a mediocre shot, but subjectively, I think it works very well.
Massive inconsistency alert: when he emerges from his 75-year transporter experience, Scotty – unaware of how long he spent in there – declares that he figures Captain Kirk was part of the rescue. However, in the feature film Generations, Scotty clearly witnessed events that made this impossible. According to The Star Trek Encyclopedia, the writers of Generations knew full well that they’d violate the information set up in “Relics” but that they brought back Doohan simply because they wanted to see Scotty in action one last time. Who can blame them?
Funky things start to happen in Schisms. The Enterprise goes to chart a vast unexplored region, and to speed up the process, La Forge re-routs power from the warp engine. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) becomes sleepy and grouchy, and other crewmembers start to show similar issues. Quickly they figure out that some sort of tampering is occurring, so the crew needs to figure out what’s behind it and how they can stop it.
“Schisms” covers the sort of territory explored many times in the various incarnations of Trek, as we often saw interference from mysterious beings, but it works reasonably well within those parameters. Actually, it comes across more like an episode of The X-Files at times, as it deals with alien abductions and experiments. The show peters out a bit toward the end, but overall, “Schisms” provides a generally intriguing episode.
For the first time since Season Four, that nutty omnipotent being Q (John de Lancie) returns in True-Q. The Enterprise takes on honors student Amanda Rogers (Olivia d’Abo) as an intern. We quickly see that she possesses amazing powers, and Q soon arrives to establish that she’s one of his kind. He comes to test her abilities to discern her skills and get her to come back to the Continuum. However, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) suspects that Q has an ulterior motive, so the show explores his real agenda as the pair battle over the girl’s future. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) takes the girl under her wing, and Picard also tries to figure out how her parents died, since it seems unusual for members of the Continuum to kick.
To the series’ credit, The Next Generation showed great restraint when it came to Q. One of its best recurring characters, they never overused him, which made those rare appearances all the more useful. “True-Q” explores the character nicely, especially as it reveals a little more of his dark side. Prior programs mostly presented him as a clown to some degree, so it seems intriguing to view his harsher propensities, and it’s also interesting to check out another being of his kind. “True-Q” offers a solid episode.
Supporting character alert! Rascals focuses on a bunch of them. Captain Picard visits the planet Marlonia with Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). However, as they return in a shuttlecraft, the Enterprise intercepts a distress call to which they must immediately respond. The shuttle gets stuck in an energy field that threatens to destroy it, so Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) needs to use the transporter to retrieve them. Something funky happens, though, and all four arrive on the ship as adolescent versions of themselves, though they maintain their adult memories and attitudes; only their bodies changed. While Crusher tries to find the cause and cure, matters go downhill when the Enterprise approaches the planet under distress, and eventually it’ll become crucial for the young ‘uns to take charge.
Though “Rascals” feels gimmicky at times, it offers a clever and compelling program. It provides something genuinely unusual and even kicks in some good action, an element sorely lacking on most episodes of Next Generation. It’s also very amusing to watch Picard have to pretend to be a kid emotionally as well as physically; the young actors pull off their roles quite well. Overall, “Rascals” seems like a fun and exciting show that offers one of the season’s best.
For perhaps the first time in the history of the various series, a Trek offspring directed an episode. Leonard’s son Adam Nimoy helmed “Rascals”.
At the start of A Fistful of Datas, a delay in a rendezvous allows the crew to enter some leisure indulgences. Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) gets pestered by his son Alexander (Brian Bonsall) to head to the holodeck and play Old West crimefighters. In the meantime, La Forge works on a method that will allow Commander Data (Brent Spiner) to act as a system backup for the Enterprise. However, things start to go awry at one point, as Data becomes influenced by the holodeck adventure and his material infects the system, which leads to weird – and dangerous - anomalies.
”Fistful” combines two of my least favorite Next Generation elements: holodeck fantasies and Worf’s son. Still, “Fistful” becomes somewhat entertaining due to the strange interference that occurs, and it includes some amusing moments, such as the funny callback to Data’s lame poetry from “Schisms”. “Fistful” comes across as a little cutesy at times, but it creates an intriguing problem and offers a better than average episode for its style.
The Enterprise voyages to Tyrus VII in The Quality of Life. Dr. Farallon (Ellen Bry) works on an experimental mining device called a particle fountain. Starfleet displays an interest in this technique, though it displays some faults. Dr. Farollon demonstrates a little robotic critter called an exocomp, a machine that does some technical grunt work. One of them apparently intentionally deactivates itself to avoid a hazardous situation, and it later repairs itself. This leads Data to hypothesize that the exocomps actually qualify as living beings, and the remainder of the episode examines the philosophical ramifications of this possibility.
We’ve seen episodes with themes like this in the past, but “Life” seems interesting nonetheless. The program creates an intriguing hypothesis and explores it in a worthwhile manner. Not much about “Life” stands out from the crowd, but it offers a fairly solid piece.
Next we get the first of Season Six's two self-contained two-part episodes,
Chain of Command. (The year also begins and ends with the customary
season-spanning cliffhangers.) At the very start, Vice-Admiral Nechayev
(Natalia Nogulich) abruptly relieves Picard of his command of the
Enterprise. It looks like the Cardassians may make an incursion into
Starfleet territory, and the Vice-Admiral wants someone with more Cardassian
experience at the helm of the flagship as they enter negotiations. She
replaces Picard with Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox), a brusque and
hard-driving leader who actively irritates much of the ship's crew. In the
meantime, Picard, Crusher and Worf all go on a dangerous espionage mission
to obtain more information about the potential development of metagenic
weapons by the Cardassians.
”Chain” follows the developments that surround these events. Along the way, the program takes a few unexpected turns, mainly in the way it treats some of the characters. However, “Chain” suffers from a moderate sense of déjà vu, especially in the manner it reminds me of “The Best of Both Worlds”. “Chain” provides a stimulating episode for the most part, and it definitely feels interesting to see someone else in the captain’s chair, but it falls short of becoming exceptional.
Trivia note: David Warner remains one of a small number of actors to play multiple roles – and species – in the Trek universe. He portrayed a human in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, a Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and a Cardassian here. This ties him with Mark Lenard for second place on the list. (Best known as Spock’s father Sarek, Lenard also acted as a Romulan commander in an episode of the original series as well as a Klingon in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) When we get to this year’s “Birthright”, we’ll meet the king of the multiple role Trek actors.
We call back to Season Two’s “Elementary, Dear Data” with Ship in a Bottle. Back in that episode, a holodeck representation of a Sherlock Holmes mystery brought Professor Moriarty to life, and he actually became self-aware and learned of life outside the computer. The Professor (Daniel Davis) doesn’t feel too happy that he’s been stuck in limbo for four years, and he proves Picard and the experts wrong when he leaves the holodeck and continues to exist. Matters complicate further when Moriarty manages to take control of the ship, and the situation becomes dangerous when the Enterprise remains close to two planets that will soon collide and take the crew with them if they don’t move.
As I noted earlier, I never much cared for holodeck-based episodes, but “Elementary” was one of the richer entries in that genre. “Bottle” isn’t quite up to that level, but it still offers an entertaining and lively exploration of the subject. It includes some nice twists and turns and gives us an above-average program.
An apparent Klingon threat arises in Aquiel. The Enterprise delivers supplies to a communication outpost near the Klingon border. When they receive no response to their hails, they board the station and find no inhabitants other than a dog. Dr. Crusher discovers what seem to be the cellular remains of Lt. Aquiel Uhnari, one of two staffers. La Forge studies her journals to get more information, but these efforts become somewhat moot when the Klingons reveal the Uhnari (Renee Jones) is alive and mostly well with them. She doesn’t remember much of what happened, so the crew tries to get to the bottom of the subject while an obviously smitten Geordi cozies up to Aquiel.
During earlier seasons, Geordi-focused episodes used to be some of the weakest offered by Next Generation. Although “Aquiel” seems somewhat predictable, it nonetheless demonstrates the series’ growth since that time. For once, La Forge falls in love and doesn’t seem like an idiot. Unfortunately, some very obvious elements undercut the show, but it remains fairly interesting nonetheless.
Troi receives a shock at the start of Face of the Enemy when she awakes and finds out she now looks like a Romulan. On board one of their ships, Subcommander N’Vek (Scott MacDonald) soon enters and tells her that she needs to pretend to be Major Rakal of the Tal Shiar, and she can then boss around Commander Toreth (Carolyn Seymour). In the meantime, the Enterprise takes on a traitor to Starfleet, Ensign DeSeve (Barry Lynch), who had defected to the Romulans decades earlier. He comes with a message from Ambassador Spock that relates to Troi’s mission. All of this connects to the links between the Romulans and Vulcans seen in Season Five’s “Unification”.
The concept of an officer disguised as a different species doesn’t provide anything new; in fact, Picard and Data played Romulan back in “Unification”. Given the past underutilization of Troi, however, it seems intriguing to see her in such a major and unusual role. “Face” expands the theme started in “Unification” nicely and offers some good action and tension.
A few episodes back, I commented on how Next Generation never overused Q. I may need to retract that statement due to Tapestry. Some crewmembers come under attack during a conference, and Picard apparently gets killed due to an energy surge in his artificial heart. As he goes into the light, he meets none other than Q as his guide to the afterworld. Q gives him a chance to rewrite wrongs he made as a 21-year-old, impetuous errors that led to the acquisition of the aforementioned fake ticker, and this sends Picard back into his personal past to alter his fate.
Although I worried that a second Q program in the same season might turn into overkill, “Tapestry” changed my mind. The show doesn’t really focus on that character, and it helps expand our understanding of Picard in a vivid manner. The episode also features an insightful philosophical bent that makes us all wonder how our lives would differ if we changed our past behavior. “Tapestry” seems like a rich and involving piece of Trek.
For Season Six's second self-contained two-part episode, we find
Birthright. This program introduces Deep Space 9 to the Next
Generation universe, as the Enterprise visits that station to help
repair some Bajoran aquaducts. (Star Trek: Deep Space 9 debuted
about seven weeks prior to the 2/22/93 airdate of "Birthright, Part I".)
The show focuses on Data and Worf. The former meets Dr. Julian Bashir
(Siddig El Fadil), the staff physician on DS9. He seems curious about Data'
s more ordinary bodily functions, and we learn more about his "humanity"
when Data gets zapped during an experiment. He experiences a vision of his
creator, Dr. Soong. Data tries to explore its meaning and eventually learns
that his maker enabled him with the ability to dream when he reached a
certain level of cognitive advancement. From there, Data further examines
this additional link to human culture.
In the meantime, Worf encounters a Yridian information dealer named Jaglom Shrek (James Cromwell) who claims to know that Worf’s father Mogh is still alive and in a Romulan prison camp. This disturbs Worf, as Klingons normally choose death over capture, but after some soul-searching, he realizes that he needs to find out what happened. Along with Shrek as his guide, Worf travels to this world to discover the truth, and he encounters a surprising situation.
Continue to Disc 5-7 and the technical ratings...