Thursday, July 14, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five

You know the drill here.

1. Redemption II (my rating: 3 out of 5)
Bit of a letdown after the impressive buildup of the first part. I think the episode tries to do too much. It's like the producers said that they needed to make sure there was an Enterprise crew storyline, so they threw in all of that stuff about Data encountering prejudice on the Sutherland, which is really an episode in itself and doesn't fit in here. I wish it had been saved for a separate episode, as it really distracts from Worf's story, which is a real kick, and the Romulan intrigue. The ending, with Worf finally striking the balance between his two halves, is electric. It is nice, though, to complain about an episode of a TV show being too full, rather than too empty.

2. Darmok (4/5)
A very action-oriented exploration of the language barrier, with both races speaking the same language, but in a different manner. Thoughtful, and I always like Paul Winfield. I dig Picard's new jacket. It's snazzy.

3. Ensign Ro (3/5)
I like Ro Laren as a character; enough to be disappointed that she didn't wind up on DS9 (which apparently, was the original idea). An angry episode, and one where Picard sort of bends the Prime Directive to serve his own purposes, but in a very believable way. I continue to like the Cardassians as villains; and hang all of Rick Berman's talk of leaving the allegory open, it's very clearly the Israelis (Cardassians) and the Palestinians (Bajorans), it would just be too controversial to say so.

4. Silicon Avatar (4/5)
Another episode I didn't expect to like but was pleasantly surprised by. I think it balances the story of a woman's quest for revenge with her amount of grief and how much that could really be placated by Data (in fact, I think Data ends up accidentally fueling her thirst for vengeance). I love the conversation where Dr. Marr tells Data that since her son's memories live in him, her son will live on as long as he does.

5. Disaster (5/5)
Several disaster movie cliches happen on the Enterprise at once. But cliches be damned, this is a fun, character-driven episode. The only thing it gets wrong, for me, is that Ro gives in to Troi's point-of-view at the end instead of making the very valid point that everything still could have easily gone wrong. O'Brien and Ro are especially good on this episode (I'd like more of them--and Barclay--and less Deanna, to be honest), I love Jean-Luc and the children (even the sitcommy finale), and the Worf and Keiko scenes are about as funny as this show gets. Riker's "You want me to take off your head?" to Data is brilliantly delivered.

6. The Game (5/5)
Another episode that's heavy on cliches, but good enough to make me not care. It's basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Wesley's flight from Riker and Worf is genuinely suspenseful, and when Data comes through that door I actually cheered a bit. An episode that gets me that involved can be forgiven some cliches. This is another episode that makes me wish they had just brought the older, more mature, less irritating Wesley Crusher back. I loved Ashley Judd as Ensign Lefler, and I found myself genuinely enjoying their flirtation.

7. Unification I (4/5)
Because this is a two-parter, the production team takes their time in the build-up. Maybe too much, if I'm being honest. I love all the stuff with Sarek--genuine sadness at his passing--and some of the back-and-forth on the Klingon ship is compelling, but there was an impatient part of me that was like Milhouse watching Itchy & Scratchy: "When do they get to the fireworks factory?" I admit to total impatience for Spock, my favorite Trek character.

8. Unification II (4/5)
After all of that build-up, this turns into something of a routine spy-game episode that is elevated by Leonard Nimoy. I love seeing him and Data together, and Picard is great as always. My favorite original series character and my favorite Next Gen character, and the lovely ending. Sorry we're never going to see Sela again, though. I don't think the Romulans were ever handled quite as interestingly as they might have been. Not sure why. But I love the ending, because I think if the original series really is a Western power fantasy of interference without responsibility or consequences, here we see a Spock who is older, wiser, and ready to devote himself to quite the opposite in the name of peace.

9. A Matter of Time (3/5)
Matt Frewer is so much fun on this episode you just kind of want him to get away with his scam. Picard trapping him in the future is oddly fascistic.

10. New Ground (3/5)
I actually do like Alexander. I think it's interesting for the stolid Worf to have to deal with a new challenge like this.

11. Hero Worship (3/5)
That's two episodes in a row now where we've experienced how children experience the Enterprise (plus "Disasters" earlier this season). I find it very interesting, since the big deal here is that it's a ship full of families (which I think sometimes the writers either don't remember or don't care about).

12. Violations (3/5)
Some good mystery stuff, but I'm starting to get sick of seeing Troi mind-raped or controlled or the crew lose their memories or whatever. This is becoming the most tiresome of Next Gen's cliches.

13. The Masterpiece Society (1/5)
Smug, dull, and about as compelling as watching the rust process.

14. Conundrum (5/5)
Well, here we are with the crew losing their memory again. This one has a lot of fun playing with it, though (go Riker!), and about the only misstep is one detail at the end: Picard's apology doesn't really wash, since he doesn't just openly admit to destroying a ship... Still, good character stuff in here.

15. Power Play (1/5)
I've lost count of the number of times we've seen Data have to be another character, but I know I'm getting tired of that one. And there's Troi, being controlled by another consciousness. Silly attempt at a hostage episode, loaded with dull cliches, especially the stuff with Keiko and Miles (or the alien inside Miles or whatever). This feels like something the original series did, anyway.

16. Ethics (3/5)
The character stuff just makes up for a little too much preachiness about medical ethics. I was more interested in the ethics of Worf's right to die, especially his conversation with Riker about it. I think the episode wants to eat its cake and have it, too, by basically having Worf die and then not really die.

17. The Outcast (1/5)
Homo Panic, Trek-style. This episode insulted my intelligence so much that my brain actually hurts from watching it. If there's one thing this group of Trek producers should never have tried to tackle, it's gender identity and sexuality, since they obviously know nothing about either. Taking a race of asexual gender-neutral people (all played by women) and making a stand that one should be allowed to live as a female is not a reverse science fiction allegory, it's just a wrongheaded notion and it's incredibly awkward, since it so obviously can be read as taking the stance that gender-based stereotypes are preferable to alternative forms of sexuality. Soren can't even feel love until she begins to conform to Riker's ideas of what a woman is supposed to be, as if the episode is really trying to sell the idea love is only possible where gender roles and sexuality are clearly, homogeneously defined. To Frakes' credit, he did push for a man to play the role of Soren, which would've at least made a more progressive point, but one wonders why the producers and writers felt they needed to tackle homosexuality as an issue at all. Just a terrible, offensive, trite, patronizing, hollow episode.

18. Cause and Effect (5/5)
An amazing teaser, and one the episode not only lives up to, but surpasses. Proof that this show's constant themes of memory, the nature of reality, and the fluidity of time can work with an excellent script. Very well-directed, too.

19. The First Duty (5/5)
Finally, our first glimpse of Starfleet Academy, and it's a welcome one (I still want to see a series about this place). This is another great step in the maturation of Wesley Crusher--an episode that really humanizes him, shows us how much he can screw up, how far he's come from the boy genius into a human being. It balances Wesley's struggle with the truth by showing us that Picard made mistakes as a young man, too, and still grew up to be Captain Picard. The scene where Picard reprimands Wesley is amazing. Always nice to see Ed Lauter, and I adore Ray Walston.

20. Cost of Living (3/5)
Like most Lwaxana Troi stories, inconsequential but fun. Another actor I like: the late Tony Jay.

21. The Perfect Mate (2/5)
Famke Janssen is very good as what is basically a retread of Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (pre-V'ger). The whole episode itself is particularly ridiculous and dull, though.

22. Imaginary Friend (2/5)
Kind of a meh episode, but again, seeing the Enterprise through the eyes of children is interesting. Worf seems scary as hell to a child. This feels derivative of both the original series and a dozen other science fiction series.

23. I, Borg (5/5)
Excellent science fiction that humanizes the ultimate inhuman. I don't think it weakens the Borg at all to see one of them given some kind of understanding; especially powerful is that both Guinan and Picard are forced to confront their own prejudices. One of my favorite episodes this season.

24. The Next Phase (4/5)
Interesting idea, carried off well with Ensign Ro and Geordi. I like the action sequences (damn, Geordi kicks a Romulan right out into space!), even if this episode never completely catches fire for me.

25. The Inner Light (2/5)
If there's one thing I know from old age makeup: everyone's neck will one day look like a vagina. This episode has some lovely moments, and Patrick Stewart's performance is undoubtedly one of his best... but I just didn't love this episode as much as everyone else seems to (including the committee who gave this episode a Hugo Award). I just couldn't get past what a terrible violation of Picard's mind and soul this was (and there again, the writers go to mind rape), and I feel like I've seen other shows do this better (such as Farscape).

26. Time's Arrow (4/5)
A fantastic set-up for a time travel saga, and Brent Spiner is very enjoyable in this episode. I love getting to see Guinan in younger days, apparently just traveling around the galaxy, and including Samuel Clemens in on the action is a nice touch. Whoopi Goldberg really is wonderful on this show. And as usual for the TNG season-ending cliffhangers, the scope is nicely cinematic. On to the second part!

If I have a problem with this season (and what I've seen so far of the next), it's this homogeneous quality, as though the staff has been at it too long and has a problem coming up with interesting ideas. I don't think they're bored of the characters, exactly, but you kind of know going in now how every character is going to react to everything that happens. There aren't as many surprises anymore, and the show seems to have settled into a routine. I'll see if things pick up in season six. I still like the characters, so I'm not in the mood to quit or anything.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Some favorites here, too. Love Disaster, love Cause and Effect. Just some great things. And good memories of watching this, way back when.

Kal said...

I am enjoying this whole series of posts very much. When you give a little bit of information about the episode (so I can put a name to my memory of an episode) it makes things easier for me to relate. On a few occassions there I didn't know what episode you were talking about because I don't know the titles very well. These seasons have been coming at a very fast clip. You must be watching nothing but STTNG.

The Frog Queen said...

I really enjoy this series of posts. I have been going back and forth on whether to buy the series on DVD - I think you have my finally convinced :)



Koeniou said...

Are you guys going to watch the movies as well?

Jaquandor said...

On "The Outcast": I found that episode so ponderously boring in its preaching that I lost interest in 'the message'. Another problem was the apparent notion on TNG that the crew had to pretty much be the same at the end of each episode, so important loves had to be lost by the time the credits rolled in one hour. TNG would have benefited from a greater use of arcs, which DS9 would later utilize to great effect.

SamuraiFrog said...

Caffeinated Joe: I thought I had seen more of these than I had. It's nice seeing some of these for the first time with Becca, who grew up on this show.

Kal: I keep using the episode list on Wikipedia to keep the order straight. And yeah, it's pretty much all we're watching right now. Not much on in the summer, so we're just plowing right through.

Frog Queen: If I could afford it right now, I'd definitely just buy it.

Koeniou: Well, we have every Trek movie on DVD. I've been thinking about whether or not I'm just going to go ahead and watch the TNG movies again and do a post or three posts or something. I did an 80s Revisited post on the first six movies somewhere back there.

Jaquandor: Agreed. Apparently there was a real resistance to continuing story arcs from the top level down. I remember seeing a panel at a convention in 1996 where J. Michael Straczynski, then riding high with Babylon 5, described Star Trek as A to B to A writing--that nearly every change had to be undone by the end of the episode in order to return to the status quo. It's not true in every instance, but it is pretty accurate.

I'm surprised how excited I am for DS9.

Semaj said...

Darmok: Interestingly enough, The jacket Picard wears in this episode is slightly different than the one he wears later.

Ensign Ro: Great episode. And the backbone for DS9.

Silicon Avatar: I like the episode, but hate the speech from Picard comparing life to fish. It doesn't matter, intelligent life is being wiped out by this thing. That speech seems to be leftover from GR's days.

Disaster: I hated the kids, but liked the Worf stuff. O'Brien jokes about this episode during one DS9 episode with Worf.

The Game: Ashley Judd is so cute. I like that they had her show up on "Darmok" first and gave her a bigger part in this one.

Unification: I love this episode and all the TNG political stuff. It was neat seeing the crew deal with weapon's dealers and other people during the episodes. I also like the Data/Picard bits on the Klingon ship.

Cause and Effect: Probably one of the 5th season's best. I like the touch of the wine glass that always breaks. In the first poker scene you can see Crusher remembering it from before.

Jaquandor said...

On "Unification": maybe they've fixed it digitally, but as originally shot, it contained one of my favorite screw-ups ever. At the end of the scene in...ummm...Denise Crosby's Romulan office, as Picard, Data and Spock are exiting, the camera pans to follow them, moving past a shiny decorative thingy on the desk. IN the thingy, big as life, you can see a reflection of a cameraman or director or some guy on the set. Here's a picture. This cracks me up!

Oh, and put me in the "I love 'The Inner Light'" camp. Sorry!

SamuraiFrog said...

Semaj: I agree with you about Picard's speech in "Silicon Avatar." It seemed... generous. And yes, very Roddenberry.

I wouldn't have minded seeing more Ensign Lefler, but I wouldn't have minded seeing more Wesley at this point, either.

I think Picard trying to sleep on the Klingon ship while Data just stands and stares at him is hilarious. "What are you doing?"

Jaquandor: Oh, that's amazing! I have to check that again and take a look at it.

Yeah, I don't know why "The Inner Light" just didn't have much of an effect on me. I loved the music, I loved Patrick Stewart's performance... I don't know. In season six I thought "Lessons" gave "The Inner Light" even more depth. I was glad to see that the experience still deeply affected Picard. Picard is easily my favorite character on TNG.