Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Two

Although hampered by the WGA strike in 1988, the second season does a much better job of finding the characters and dynamics than the first season. It especially takes Worf and Troi and makes them much more interesting; Troi still doesn't do much for me as a character, but she no longer feels boring and extraneous. Also, good job on toning Wesley Crusher way the hell down. I didn't find him nearly as smug or insufferable this time around. He's much less Gene Roddenberry's Mary Sue this season...

1. The Child (my rating: 2 out of 5)
Interesting premise, but what the hell was that all about? This is based on the one script I've read from the Star Trek: Phase II concept, but it seems... dumber here. Also, I don't care for Dr. Pulaski at all (her racist attitude towards Data seems like her only initial defining trait), and once he's chief engineer, Geordi La Forge begins his slide from interesting character to pompous ass. I like the scenes between Wesley and Guinan, though. Guinan is the character that redeems Whoopi Goldberg. Frakes is good in this episode, too--and the beard gives him more substance, too.

2. Where Silence Has Lease (3/5)
The "hole in space" episode that every science fiction show does, but here it's done in a nice, compelling way that doesn't feel cliche to me. I like the conversation between Picard and Data about death and the afterlife. So Picard's an agnostic, then. I like that; it shows curiosity without unquestioning faith.

3. Elementary, Dear Data (5/5)
The first time this show has really, truly knocked it out of the park. I enjoyed the characters and the situation in this episode so much that I didn't even question just how the holodeck is supposed to have created true sapience. And I didn't hate the holodeck, even though I usually do. I love Brent Spiner in this episode, and Daniel Davis as Moriarty is fantastic; he's a villain, but a very thoughtful one, and I love that the crisis ends not with trickery or action, but with understanding and reason and people acting intelligently and making rational arguments. It's the first episode, I think, that makes the holodeck less of a gimmick and an actual engine for a science fiction story about the nature of reality, and whether or not intelligence constitutes life. This is what Star Trek is when it's at its best.

4. The Outrageous Okona (1/5)
And after TNG's best episode so far comes an absolute train wreck of an episode. Billy Campbell has the potential to be interesting as the title character, but we're constantly being told what a rogue he is, what a charming cad, that you just have to laugh at it. Show, don't tell, especially when telling sounds like you're reading straight out of the character description of some awful fan fiction story. Ooh, so flamboyant. And Data--learning comedy from Joe Piscopo? No wonder you don't understand humor. Teri Hatcher has a small role, just to round out the awfulness of the guest stars. This is the pits.

5. Loud as a Whisper (4/5)
I love Howie Seago's performance as Riva, a deaf telepath trying to mediate peace negotiations. It's a very interesting, sensitive episode about deafness, unaccompanied by the usual preachiness that mars a lot of first season episodes. The scene where Picard tries to impress on Riva "You are not alone! We are in this together now!" is powerful.

6. The Schizoid Man (2/5)
Some good stuff in here, though I'm already getting tired of having Data turn into other people. For some reason, I always love seeing W. Morgan Sheppard in science fiction. Suzie Plakson as the Vulcan officer Selar is fantastic; she does an excellent job as an actual Vulcan (something a number of actors seem to struggle with). I'd have loved to see her on more episodes, but I guess we wouldn't have had her as K'Ehleyr if we had.

7. Unnatural Selection (1/5)
A riff on the original series episode "The Deadly Years," which was itself a boring, silly episode. It's like they're trying to introduce Dr. Pulaski all over again. Frankly, it still isn't taking. Also, as I said in the previous season, I hate watching actors in that ridiculous old-age makeup, trying to lower their voices and pretend they're old. It's an indignity to the audience. Also, they're trying too hard to turn Dr. Pulaski into Dr. McCoy.

8. A Matter of Honor (4/5)
Great premise, and a great episode for Jonathan Frakes. Watching Riker among the Klingons is fantastic, and Brian Thompson (I always like him) is really good as Klag. I like the Klingons and I like seeing their culture and service style explored. Also, I dig the Benzites. Do we ever see more of them? I just think they're neat.

9. The Measure of a Man (5/5)
Data is once again the vessel through which TNG meditates on the nature of life, intelligence, and sentience. And here they do it in a very dramatic way, with a hearing to determine whether Data is a legal citizen or Starfleet property. The earlier scenes, with Dr. Maddox declaring Data will be dismantled for research purposes, are tense and horrifying (as they should be). It's as if Data has no rights, and Dr. Maddox doesn't expect that he should. There's also something being said in this episode about slavery in a conversation between Guinan and Picard that brings the whole idea home. They pull this one off marvelously.

10. The Dauphin (3/5)
Wesley was bound to fall in love with a girl one day. Actually, it seems late for him, but whatever. It's a fairly inconsequential episode, but it's a sweet one. The scene in Ten Forward with Riker and Guinan teaching Wesley how to talk to women makes the whole episode.

11. Contagion (1/5)
Meh. Nice to see the Romulans do something interesting, but this one left me cold. Which is disappointing, since Steve Gerber was one of the writers. Derivative of the far better "The City on the Edge of Forever."

12. The Royale (2/5)
Some of the character interplay is fun--Data gets a chance to really go here--but it was just so dull. Maybe it's just not surreal enough. And how many times is TNG going to borrow from "A Piece of the Action"? And who were the aliens who created the place?

13. Time Squared (4/5)
This episode makes a very interesting and tense use of time travel as a concept, with a future Picard coming back only six hours in time as the Enterprise heads towards a possibly fatal encounter. By putting a clock on the whole thing, it raises the tension, and Patrick Stewart really outdoes himself here.

14. The Icarus Factor (1/5)
This episode really suffers from Gene Roddenberry's unwavering belief that the people in his imagined future are just this side of perfect. Riker runs into his estranged father and... no drama. Apparently people in the future can be touchy about the past, but don't actually harbor resentments, or something. Boring as hell. The only thing I liked was the subplot about Worf's Ascension anniversary and what his friends do for him.

15. Pen Pals (1/5)
Starts off interesting, becomes treacle. Prime Directive, blah blah blah. Colm Meany has a wonderful scene in the transporter room, though. He's one of the main reasons I'm looking forward to DS9.

16. Q Who (5/5)
I think this is the first time they get Q really, spectacularly right. And the introduction of the Borg is appropriately scary, dangerous, and alien. (And I still say representational of American fears of superior Japanese technology--they fly around the universe in giant microchips, for chrissakes.) A fantastic episode all around.

17. Samaritan Snare (2/5)
I like everything in this episode with Picard and Wesley, especially Picard telling him about the time he was stabbed after picking a fight as a young man. They've finally dropped the obvious thread where Wesley feels like Picard's real son, but it is nice to see the relationship between the two deepen in an organic way. And Wesley's not irritating here, either. They've fixed him. The Pakled stuff, though, is horrible, and an unsubtle dig at the impatience of Trek fans.

18. Up the Long Ladder (1/5)
I'm not even Irish and I'm insulted by this twee idiocy. So the Irish haven't advanced since 1788 then? Even in space? And Riker and Brenna have the unsexiest sexy banter, even for Star Trek. Yeah, baby, I'll help you wash your feet, alright. Gettin' hot, yet? There is some potentially interesting stuff in here about the rights one has over their own body and the ethics of cloning (and immigration) that doesn't come off. A shame, coming from the writer of the excellent "The Measure of a Man" episode.

19. Manhunt (4/5)
Slight, but a lot of fun. I just love Lwaxana Troi, and watching her go after Picard romantically is delightfully hilarious. His idea of inserting Data into their romantic dinner is a hysterical play on the running gag of Data talking too much. I don't know if it was on purpose, but the way the subplot with the Antedeans is dismissed in seconds by Lwaxana at the end reads as a funny commentary on one of the unfortunate tropes of this show, with plots being magically resolved by technobabble in the last few seconds.

20. The Emissary (4/5)
Suzie Plakson is marvelous as Worf's former lover K'Ehleyr; a nice subversion of the our expectations of a Klingon character. Their story feels organic and natural, not necessitated by a need for cheap drama. I also like the Klingon sleeper ship and how the crew is ultimately able to deal with it without killing them. Congratulations on really turning Worf into an interesting character. (How I wish Tasha Yar were still on this show, though, because in the first season I really expected them to get together.)

21. Peak Performance (3/5)
I enjoyed it intermittently. I liked the idea of Riker, Worf, Geordi and Wesley trying to put together the Hathaway in order to participate in a war games exercise. Even the stuff with the Ferengi works, though it fails to raise them above the status of mild irritant; I like how Picard and Riker manage to outsmart them. Data's crisis of confidence, though, is mannered and uninteresting. Also, I always like Roy Brocksmith.

22. Shades of Gray (1/5)
The series low point, as a clip show can only be. Clip shows are lazy. But, to the credit of the producers, no one has ever claimed this was anything more than a cost-cutting exercise that they pretty much had to make to get extra money for "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Q Who," which are very high quality episodes. It's also easy to overlook, which is nice. It's how the industry works, but that doesn't make it any more of an entertaining episode. At least it does no real damage to the show.

On to season 3 today, then. I've already seen about half the episodes here, and I like a lot of them, so I'm very excited. Season 2 really built on the first one and deepened the characters and set the dynamic, so I hope the build continues into some great storytelling. Well, I already know it does in a number of places, but still, I'm excited to see it all at once.


Semaj said...

Elementary, Dear Data: Not bad, it brings up the notion of Holo-programs having real thought and truly being alive. It was something that hinted at in the first season.

The Outrageous Okona: Yeah, not a great episode. Jerry Lewis was supposed to play the comic. I have to wonder how many space-STDs Okona has?

Loud as a Whisper: The only thing I liked about this episode was a laser beam that turned people into skeletons.

A Matter of Honor: Great episode, but why was the Klingon Captain so hell-bent on attacking the Enterprise? I love the dinner room scene with the “one or both?”

Contagion: This one gets a sequel too later on in DS9. I liked this one. Especially the parting remark from Picard to the Romulan captain. “Not I think today.”

The Emissary: Part of the reason I think Worf is a better character is because GR wasn’t exactly involved as much.

Time Squared: This is a great episode with a somber ending with Picard standing alone in the conference room. Loved it. Did you notice the slightly different voice for the second Picard? It was a nice touch. The vortex was supposed to show up on Q-Who, thus explaining that this episode was all one of Q’s tricks. GR pulled his weight and dropped the idea.

The third season is good too.

Kal said...

Matter of Honor

I also love the conversation Riker has with the Klingons at the dinner table - especially when the Klingon next to him says, "I have a mother, you have a mother." Using the most basic comparison to make a huge point. That was the moment for me when I saw in the Klingons what the Klingons saw in us Humans. We may disagree on a lot of things but we have the same ideas about honor and loyalty that Klingons do. It's were we have common ground with them and it's our way into their culture and society. They were so much trouble as enemies that it makes sense to have them on our side as friends.

I can't wait until you get to DS9 (my personal favorite character on that show - Garek as played by Andrew Robinson. He was a great psycho in 'Dirty Harry' and Garek is his best character ever). But that is a discussion for another day. Great stuff.

Bob said...

"Also, I don't care for Dr. Pulaski at all."

There it is. The Dr. Pulaski character, for the reasons you mention, is what makes the second season the series low point (even though there are some really good episodes in there).

SamuraiFrog said...

Semaj: It always seems like Roddenberry just wasn't that interested in the Klingons in general, and it was other writers who got really interested in what Klingon culture and history must be like. I know Worf wasn't added to the main cast until pretty much the last minute before the pilot was ready to shoot.

Kal: That dinner scene is fantastic. Great social science fiction.

I dig Andy Robinson. I wish DS9 were streaming now so I could start it right after TNG is finished, but it doesn't start until October. I'm definitely watching it, though. I've seen very little of it.

Bob: She's just pointless. I'm glad she's gone and not coming back.

GarrettCRW said...

Steve Gerber wasn't exactly a fan of his episode of TNG (and not a shocker, since the show was actually quite troubled behind the scenes in the first two seasons), though Beth Woods was the primary engine behind the episode (Gerber lent his assistance in getting the episode written).

Gates McFadden was not on the show in the second season because she had quit, due to Maurice Hurley (who was sexually harassing her). When Hurley left, she was invited back.

The blame for TNG's problems in the first two seasons can (and has) been put on Hurley, who chased away Sliders creator Tracy Tormé, among others.

SamuraiFrog said...

I've heard a bit about Maurice Hurley over the years (like his clashes with Tracy Torme), but I was unaware of his history with Gates McFadden. Wow. I'm glad she came back instead of him.