Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four

Overall, the show's still going strong. I think there's a sort of... Europeanism that's taking hold of the show here, and I really like it. I've heard the criticism where the original series is, in its way, a Western power fantasy of being able to interfere and then running off to the next adventure before interference leads to responsibility. What I find interesting at this point in Next Generation is that the show is willing to admit that, sometimes, the answers aren't easy. That some things are beyond the power of Starfleet to control or fix. I think it's a balance the writers have a hard time with, to be honest, but it's interesting that they're even trying to find it. We're seeing flaws in Gene Roddenberry's perfect future, and it's very human. I think it's because of Patrick Stewart, honestly. His style as an actor is very thoughtful; he was given some lines in the first two seasons that were meant to be more bullish, more direct, but instead pondered with them, reflected with them. I think he changed the tone of Star Trek, and writers began writing for his more interrogative style. It seems like now the show is willing to explore the idea that the Federation can and does fail to address things. It's very interesting, and very human.

1. The Best of Both Worlds, Part II (my rating: 5 out of 5)
An exciting and personal climax to last season's tremendous cliffhanger. It's a continuation of the same cinematic scope as its predecessor, but I think the final scene is what really changes Star Trek forever. It's that moment when Jean-Luc Picard, after essentially being raped and traumatized by the Borg, stares out the window of his ready room into space... and he's nervous. He remembers. This isn't simply defeating the Borg and everything's back to status quo and off to the next adventure. This is an acknowledgement of the dangers inherent in exploration, and an admission that what happened to Picard is not something that can be shrugged off. He's changed. The show has changed. Impressive.

2. Family (5/5)
This is my absolute favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To slow down and show Picard's need to reconnect with his humanity, just how deeply he's been traumatized by his assimilation by the Borg, is astounding. Not every science fiction series would attempt this. Honestly, even this show might not have attempted it a year earlier. And balancing it out with the humor of a visit from Worf's foster parents keeps the episode from being too soapy, too indulgent. And that magical coda... "Let him dream."

3. Brothers (5/5)
More family themes, this time with Data and a returned Lore confronting their creator/father, Dr. Soong. Brent Spiner is excellent in all three roles, and even if his Soong makeup isn't a triumph, at least it's better than that horror show Admiral Jameson back in the first season. I love the suspense of Data taking over the Enterprise and diverting its course. It's so engrossing that even the hoary device of putting kids in danger to ramp up the suspense doesn't feel so cheap.

4. Suddenly Human (3/5)
So, why has no one ever called this episode out for ripping off Stranger in a Strange Land? Seems a bit obvious to me. I think Picard and crew are a bit imperious here in their assumptions of child abuse, but I'm willing to concede that may be the point.

5. Remember Me (4/5)
Finally, a truly enjoyable Beverly Crusher episode. Great performance from Gates McFadden in this one, and I like how the episode balances the drama with the science fiction premise (Wesley with another experiment gone wrong, this time only imperiling his mother instead of the entire ship). I like how the episode plays with the premise, too, not telling you until halfway through or more that Beverly is in a pocket universe and not simply losing her mind. Also, it's nice to see the Traveler back.

6. Legacy (2/5)
Surprisingly misogynistic attempt to tell a story about gang violence (or something). Feels more like filler. The actress playing Ishara Yar is okay.

7. Reunion (5/5)
How is Suzie Plakson even sexier on this episode than she was in "The Emissary"? Man... Fantastic episode, bringing into play Worf's feelings for K'Ehleyr (and the son they now have together, Alexander), as well as continuing the story of his discommendation from the Klingon Empire and his feud with Duras. And so, so satisfying when Worf finally has his revenge. This episode also introduces Gowron, who I think is just awesome.

8. Future Imperfect (5/5)
This episode is brilliant, with a great performance from Frakes. Another episode that plays with the twists and turns in a way that never feels cheap, but is genuinely suspenseful. And the ending is touching.

9. Final Mission (4/5)
A little indulgent, but I'll let that go because by this point I like when they touch on the dynamic between Wesley and Picard. Maybe it was right to let the father-son thing go nowhere and instead reconstitute them as mentor and pupil. A nice sequel to the good part of "Samaritan Snare," and a nice send-off for Wesley who, honestly, I think I'm going to miss. Never would've thought so in the first season.

10. The Loss (2/5)
Wow, when Deanna loses her empathic powers, she turns into a real prick, doesn't she? Very unlikable.

11. Data's Day (5/5)
What could've been simply a charming "day in the life" episode--and it does have a lot of charm--raises the stakes with Romulan intrigue. It almost feels for me like this is the first time the entire Romulan threat is elevated into something interesting. (No, the second, because "The Defector" is wonderful.) And, of course, the wedding stuff is very cute. I love seeing more of O'Brien. Also, now I wonder who was in charge of the bridge when Captain Kirk was asleep? Never thought about that before.

12. The Wounded (5/5)
And now we're introduced to the Cardassians, who are very interesting villains indeed. It's an interesting episode; we see how tentative peace accords can be, especially with someone you are trained to see as only an enemy. Colm Meany is really fantastic in this episode. The scene with him and his old captain singing is touching, and the scene where he tells a Cardassian about the first time he had to kill in a war with the Cardassians is chilling. "I don't hate you, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you." Astounding.

13. Devil's Due (1/5)
Marta DuBois is kind of fun as a woman claiming to be the devil, but she's on the wrong show. This is silly as hell, and very stupid, displaying all the worst excesses of the original series. It's no surprise to discover that this script was basically in Gene Roddenberry's slush pile since the mid-sixties, because it plays like a particularly smarmy Kirk episode. Picard is totally out of character here. Not good at all.

14. Clues (2/5)
An interesting premise that doesn't get handled well and isn't really pulled off in the end. Picard's solution is genuinely stupid; how are they going to "get it right" the second time when the last scene is of Picard ordering the Enterprise to a starbase? They're just going to discover that the ship has now lost 48 hours instead of 24! Ridiculous. Also, Picard essentially threatening to disassemble Data on suspicion that Data is lying is disheartening; c'mon, Jean-Luc, you're supposed to be the one who champions android's rights.

15. First Contact (2/5)
A great premise that doesn't come off. It feels like a real missed opportunity. Great teaser, though, despite being something of a Twilight Zone rip-off.

16. Galaxy's Child (3/5)
Two halves that never quite reach a whole. And Geordi's attempt to romance the real Leah Brahms is uncomfortable. This guy is the strikeout king when it comes to women.

17. Night Terrors (2/5)
Some decent stuff, but for the most part it's highly ridiculous, especially Troi floating in bad dream sequences. What the hell am I watching here?

18. Identity Crisis (2/5)
Interesting idea, but again, it just doesn't come off for me.

19. The Nth Degree (4/5)
I love Barclay, and I love the idea of confident, superintelligent Barclay. Picard actually kind of disappoints me in this episode; it's like he almost immediately fears Barclay because Barclay's smarter than usual. Wait, now people are afraid of intelligence in the 24th century? You know, still? Geordi seems immediately jealous, too, which isn't a surprise, as he can be something of a smug prick at times. This episode saves itself from being typical science-scare stuff, though, by remembering to make it about Barclay and not just the situation. I need more Barclay and more O'Brien, please.

20. Qpid (3/5)
Is that Qpid as in Cupid or Qpid as in Stupid? Both apply here, I think. It's a cute episode, sure, and there are some funny moments in Sherwood Forest, but it's not a great Q outing by any means. Half of the impetus for this episode seems to be that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was about to come out. Also, the return of the dreaded Vash, who I find very irritating.

21. The Drumhead (5/5)
A very compelling episode, indeed. This episode--a near-witch hunt for Romulan spies which even finds Picard among the accused--is much more interesting to me than the first season "Conspiracy" of aliens invading the Federation. This is so much more real, and shows what to me are realistic cracks in an organization where peace is tentative (with the Cardassians definitely, and to a large extent with the Klingons) and where the threat of Romulan or Borg invasion must be dealt with daily. The stress is tremendous. Jean Simmons is excellent as Admiral Satie.

22. Half a Life (4/5)
TNG tackles the question of the right to die, with the always-good David Ogden Stiers. Interesting to see Lwaxana Troi so toned down, but it's done in a few stages so that it feels organic and not gimmicky. It ends on a mature viewpoint, too, I think.

23. The Host (2/5)
Frakes and Gates McFadden are both very good on this episode, but I can't get over the disappointing ending. What happened to that 24th century enlightenment Gene Roddenberry was always on about? Apparently homosexuals need not apply. It plays like an outright rejection of the possibility of gay relationships in the Federation. It's a disservice on a show that is basically a metaphor for an idealized cooperative (Western) vision. When Beverly says humans aren't ready for bisexual relationships, she means American TV in 1991. Lame.

24. The Mind's Eye (5/5)
It's The Manchurian Candidate, but it's very well done, and manages to make Geordi a very sympathetic character (for a change--I really haven't liked him a ton since the first season, when he was more relaxed). Also a great Worf episode, seeing how the Klingons relate to him now with a civil war looming. The end, with the Klingons taking away their traitorous ambassador, is very satisfying.

25. In Theory (2/5)
Bizarre. Cute in places, but it doesn't quite work, although the whole "You aren't my mother scene" is absolutely hysterical (intentionally or otherwise). And Data, really? Going to Geordi for advice on women? That's as bad an idea as going to Joe Piscopo to learn comedy was.

26. Redemption (5/5)
Fantastic. We have the Klingon Civil War in full swing, with Worf actually leaving the Enterprise to fight for Gowron and reclaim his honor. Very tense, even Shakespearean, with the cliffhanger ending leaving lots of room to develop both the situation and the characters. Picard is excellent here, too, acting as arbiter for the Klingon succession. It's also nice to see Picard following policy and staying out of the war instead of just doing whatever the hell he wanted. Very reasoned.

Well, this season did get somewhat muddled for me in the middle, but overall I still enjoyed it very much. And even when I don't love the episodes, I tend to love the characters (especially Picard, my obvious favorite). On to season five.


Jaquandor said...

I may be misremembering the episode, but I didn't interpret Crusher's words at the end of "The Host" as applying to all humans about bisexual relationships, but about her. "It's a human limitation", or whatever the line is, seems to me to suggest that what she's saying is that humans can't change their preferences as readily as the Trill can (and must, given their nature as a species). I do find that episode's ending disappointing, but not entirely a statement on TNG's view of human relationships.

Caffeinated Joe said...

"Remember Me" is one of my favorite Next Gen episodes. Just love it. And that may have to do with Beverly, but I don't care. Also love "Clues", flawed end and all. One of my favorite seasons.

Kal said...

'Family' is my favorite episode two. Picard's brother is a great character and totally gives you inside into Picard's childhood.

"...you have sided against us in battle. This we do not forgive...or FORGET!

And don't get me started on Gowron who is one of my top three favorite characters in the Star Trek Universe. He is a murderous psychopath but the perfect rular for the Klingons.

Jaquandor said...

Ahhhh, "Family"...the show that gives us these wonderful other Picards, allowing the fucking Generations movie to kill them in a house fire so that Picard can have a mid-life crisis. Ugh!

SamuraiFrog said...

Jaquandor: When you read some of the stuff about David Livingston trying to keep the show from having something as innocuous as two male crewmen holding hands in Ten-Forward, it's hard not to read this show as unconscionably queasy about homosexual relationships. There's no mention of it ever, and David Gerrold's "Blood and Fire" was never made simply because of a scene where Riker asks one crewman about another man "How long have you been together?" In one episode, Whoopi Goldberg had to fight to be able to tell Data that love is a bond between two people and not a bond between a man and a woman. For a show that often prides itself on being the great American metaphor, it can't make those kinds of mistakes.

Reacting to the idea that the end of "The Host" is homophobic, the director spat out some incredible BS about "Imagine the person you loved was suddenly a cockroach," which is even MORE offensive.

I reject that scene in Generations. I was so offended by Picard's family dying off-camera that my mind still can't accept it.

Caffeinated Joe: I liked parts of "Clues," but the ending just makes no sense.

Kal: Gowron is a fantastic Klingon.

Jaquandor said...

See, I knew none of that...I paid very little attention to any "behind the scenes" stuff about TNG, just to the episodes themselves, so I knew none of that. Maybe I instinctively leaned toward the most charitable interpretation possible of Crusher's line at the end of that episode, but I do think you're partly right. If my interpretation was the correct one, they could have made the point by having the Trill put into another man. The 'cockroach' rejoinder is pretty tone-deaf, but it sounds like he was trying to argue for the same interpretation I make. A better thing for Crusher to say would have been along the lines of "I can't give myself to someone who will look completely different than the person I already knew, and I can't give myself to someone who could go on for centuries after I'm dead."

And I'm really stretching my memory here, but if I recall, the concept of the Trill was revised a bit by the time they had one on DS9, in that the symbiont's personality isn't as totally dominant in DS9's Trills as originally in "The Host". But I could be very wrong here.

SamuraiFrog said...

That I can't really speak to, because I've seen comparatively little of DS9. There I have to wait until October when Netflix has it up for streaming.

That would've been something better for Dr. Crusher to say. I just think it's such a jarring moment when, after she's been okay with the Trill being inside of sexy Will Riker, she then rejects it when it's inside of a woman. I think putting him inside of a man--and a good-looking one--would've made the point much more forcefully without then feeling like it was a rejection of a specific lifestyle.

I've just finished season 5 and frankly the episode "The Outcast" makes "The Host" look progressive when it comes to gender.