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281[TNG] Jammer's Review: The Complete First Season

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Mar 7, 2006
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      Star Trek: The Next Generation
      Jammer's Reviews of the Complete First Season

      For episodes airing from 9/28/1987 to 5/16/1988
      Series created by Gene Roddenberry
      Executive producer: Gene Roddenberry

      Reviews by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      "Encounter at Farpoint" -- Air date: 9/28/1987. Written by D.C. Fontana and
      Gene Roddenberry. Directed by Corey Allen.

      As the new Galaxy-class Enterprise heads out on its first mission to
      Farpoint Station, the crew encounters a powerful being known as Q (John de
      Lancie), who blocks and then pursues the ship, before kidnapping four of the
      crew and putting humanity on trial. Captain Picard finds himself answering
      Q's charge that humanity is a "savage race."

      "Star Trek: The Next Generation" launches with an uneven maiden voyage,
      which admittedly shows its age when compared to today's higher-tech and
      faster-paced world of drama. Slow and talky (which is not necessarily a
      demerit), "Encounter at Farpoint" suffers in part because it doesn't find
      the right balance between the supposed urgency of Q's ominous warnings and
      all the character threads that are in play as the new crew is assembled. The
      shifts in momentum between plot and character are at times distracting.
      Meanwhile, there are two overly self-impressed set-pieces involving the
      separation and reintegration of the Enterprise's saucer section -- an action
      gimmick that's frankly much ado about nothing. Sure, the visual effects are
      impressive for 1987 television, but there's not much substance to the idea
      here beyond, "Look, honey! The ship can split in two!"

      As a pilot and as Trek, this is adequate and absolutely no more; it
      establishes all the regular characters while supplying a reasonable (but
      ultimately disappointing) sci-fi scenario. The unconvincing planet sets and
      the dramatic music score give the production a definite feel of old-school
      TOS Trek. On the other hand, making the ship more of a luxury liner than a
      military vessel is a definite departure from TOS, as is the character of
      Picard, who is a mannered intellectual and debater. I suppose it takes a
      certain level of guts to make Picard the ultimate anti-Kirk, who announces
      an unconditional surrender in the first half-hour of the story and
      frequently showcases a cerebral style. And Picard's debates with Q are the
      first in what would eventually become one of the series' great running
      dialogs.

      The notion of asking questions before resorting to violence is in tune with
      Trek's humanistic message, but the plot's solution is far too transparent
      and unchallenging to live up to Q's portents of earth-shaking significance.
      "I see now it was too simple a puzzle," Q notes at the end. Funny -- that's
      exactly what I was thinking.

      The episode has one of my favorite goofy laugh moments: Q invades the bridge
      and then puts a deep freeze on a threatening lieutenant with a phaser. "He's
      frozen!" exclaims Troi. Wow, thanks!

      Rating: **


      "The Naked Now" -- Air date: 10/5/1987. Teleplay by J. Michael Bingham.
      Story by John D.F. Black and J. Michael Bingham. Directed by Paul Lynch.

      A deadly incident on a research vessel prompts the Enterprise to investigate
      why the crew went crazy and ended up accidentally killing themselves. The
      away team brings back a virus from the research ship which has the effect of
      severe alcoholic intoxication. Dr. Crusher must race to find a cure before
      the Enterprise becomes a victim of a similar disastrous event caused by
      drunken behavior.

      The plot, let's face it, is a transparent excuse for the crew to act weird
      and play out the series' various would-be sexual-tension entanglements in
      comic form. Why doesn't Beverly detect the disease and quarantine Geordi
      from the outset? Because "our instruments don't show it!" that's why. How
      conveeeeenient.

      It's probably a bad sign when you're cribbing from original series
      storylines by Episode 2 (see TOS's "The Naked Time"). Also probably a bad
      sign that you're playing the sexual tension games so early, before we've had
      time to learn who these characters are. Picard/Crusher, Riker/Troi, Data/Yar
      -- that's two-thirds of the regular cast tied up in these games already, in
      Episode 2. The Data/Yar coupling I suppose is interesting, solely for the
      informative value: Data can get drunk and have sex.

      And yet, there's a certain memorable quality to this episode, despite its
      campy, overplayed comedy. A fragment of a collapsed star is careening toward
      the ship, which can't move because some fool has pulled out all of the
      control chips from a console. Data must race to put them back in. Wesley,
      the boy wonder, has the dubious distinction of taking control of the ship
      and putting it in danger before then saving it, while everyone else looks on
      helplessly. No wonder the character is so loathed. Ron Jones scores the show
      as if it were an episode of TOS.

      Ultimately, the show is too goofy for its own good, but it's at least not
      boring.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Code of Honor" -- Air date: 10/12/1987. Written by Katharyn Powers &
      Michael Baron. Directed by Russ Mayberry.

      Absolutely terrible. "Code of Honor" represents a period when bad TNG wasn't
      bad TNG, but instead bad TOS. In an attempt to negotiate the acquisition of
      a much-needed vaccine to cure a deadly plague, the Enterprise crew has
      dealings with the Ligonians, who value customs of ritualistic honor above
      all else. Play ball and respect their customs, or no vaccine. Now there's an
      evolved sensibility. And a premise that leads to an idiotic plot.

      One of the rituals involves the kidnapping of Lt. Yar by Lutan (Jessie
      Lawrence Ferguson), who is quite taken by Yar's presence as a Strong Woman
      (or some such). Picard must subsequently figure out how to get Yar back
      without offending the Ligonians and losing the vaccine. It's about here
      where Lutan's wife demands Yar participate in a fight to the death.

      The story requires unwavering endurance to sit through, moving at glacial
      pace and inviting ridicule at nearly every scene. It employs every cliche in
      the TOS rulebook, including Goofy Alien Customs, a Hand-to-Hand Fight to the
      Death, Clever Captain Trickery, and Silly Gender Roles Played Stupidly. The
      fight to the death is particularly inept; stunt sequences have rarely looked
      so cheesy. One of Trek's worst episodes.

      Rating: 1/2*


      "The Last Outpost" -- Air date: 10/19/1987. Teleplay by Herbert Wright.
      Story by Richard Krzemien. Directed by Richard Colla.

      The Enterprise attempts to make contact with the mysterious Ferengi, a race
      known for their deceitful brand of capitalism and known to have
      technological ability comparable to the Federation. While orbiting a planet
      that was once part of a long-extinct, massive interstellar empire, the
      encounter with the Ferengi takes a turn for the worse as the Enterprise
      becomes ensnared in a powerful forcefield.

      For the second time since the premiere, Picard offers an unconditional
      surrender within the first 20 minutes. (Is this some sort of TNG season one
      theme?) The Ferengi, meanwhile, believe they are the captives, not the
      captors, eventually leading both ships to the conclusion that they are being
      held by a force from the planet. Both send landing parties.

      On the planet, Riker's merit is tested by a powerful ancient gatekeeper
      (Darryl Henriques) who believes his extinct society still exists. It's a
      familiar theme again borrowed from the original series: that of a powerful
      superbeing challenging humanity. Fine and good, and there seems to be some
      substance here. Unfortunately, the dialog between Riker and the gatekeeper
      is far too obtuse to be useful as philosophical discussion. (Conclusion:
      "Fear is the only enemy." Huh?) Meanwhile, the Ferengi manage to sabotage
      any hope of the ending working with their hopelessly hokey and distracting
      gyrating antics in front of the camera. It just plain looks stupid.

      Armin Shimerman plays one of the Ferengi. Fortunately by the time he would
      play another one (Quark on DS9), his character would at least have depth,
      even if most of Ferengi society was still a capitalist caricature.

      Rating: **


      "Where No One Has Gone Before" -- Air date: 10/26/1987. Written by Diane
      Duane & Michael Reaves. Directed by Robert Bowman.

      An experimental new test on the Enterprise's engines -- courtesy of
      Starfleet engineer Kosinski (Stanley Kamel) and his mysterious alien
      assistant (Eric Menyuk) -- sends the Enterprise careening beyond warp 10 and
      on an unintended (and quite impossible) journey millions of light years
      beyond the reaches of the Milky Way galaxy.

      For the first time on "Star Trek: TNG," we have a genuine sense of awe and
      wonder, where space no longer resembles a black star field but instead a
      colorful visage of the strange and unknown. The acceleration of the
      Enterprise beyond what was dreamed possible turns out to be the basis for a
      pretty good premise centering on the mystery of the assistant -- known only
      as the Traveler -- whose alien gifts have allowed the crew of the Enterprise
      to travel where quite literally no one has gone before. The question now is
      whether they can get back, especially with the Traveler having been weakened
      in getting here.

      The episode is notable for at first seeming fresh and intriguing, but this
      feeling fades once it becomes clear that this place, wherever it is, has the
      ability to turn thoughts into reality. The episode has too many
      hallucination gags that become real threats, and all of it is based on pure
      fantasy rather than sci-fi. When anything can happen, and the best the
      writers can come up with are dead parents, Klingon pets, and flames blocking
      the corridor, it's kind of a fantasy-manufactured letdown. The Traveler has
      an intriguing dialog with Picard about the nature of exploration, but it
      goes on so long as to eventually become impenetrable.

      The episode also provides a turning point for Wesley Crusher, whom the
      Traveler identifies as a science prodigy. Picard encourages this belief by
      making Wesley an acting ensign, but the problem with the character remains
      that he's too much of a cloying geek and you just want to strangle him.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Lonely Among Us" -- Air date: 11/2/1987. Teleplay by D.C. Fontana. Story by
      Michael Halperin. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      The Enterprise is assigned to take two enemy species, the Anticans and
      Selayans, to the negotiation table in the hopes that they can join the
      Federation. If the Bajorans couldn't, then these guys shouldn't. They should
      be called the Toolboxians and the Lamerons. Someone should lock the doors on
      their quarters so they can't get out and commit serious crimes like
      murdering each other and (more importantly) annoying members of the
      audience.

      Really, what do the two alien races have to do with anything here, except as
      a needless backdrop to frame a story that has nothing to do with them? The
      real story is about a mysterious energy pattern that starts by zapping Worf
      before transferring to Crusher and then the Enterprise's computer system.
      Eventually it kills an engineer named Singh, who would be a red-shirt if not
      for the fact his uniform is technically gold. Finally, it ends up in the
      captain, taking control of his mind and body.

      The episode, exceptionally nondescript, is a strong argument for making
      quick analyses of potential threats. To be fair, though, I sort of liked the
      notion of an investigation that is not pumped up into an overblown drama,
      and instead shows the workings of a starship and its officers, tackling the
      subject of what the officers might plan as a contingency if the captain is
      acting under an alien influence. What's hard to swallow, though, is that the
      captain could exist as pure energy and survive apart from his body in an
      energy cloud -- but, hey, it's "Star Trek." One of the episode's somewhat
      amusing conceits is Data reading up on Sherlock Holmes and adopting the
      persona (complete with pipe) in his effort to solve the case. But this case
      has no legs.

      Rating: **


      "Justice" -- Air date: 11/9/1987. Teleplay by Worley Thorne. Story by Ralph
      Wills and Worley Thorne. Directed by James L. Conway.

      Here's a bad episode that plays like a severe case of whiplash. What begins
      as one of the most hilariously unintentional self-parodies in all of Trek
      (this side of "Spock's Brain") becomes, by the end, a talky and serious
      affair about the Prime Directive. That shift is not in its favor.

      The Enterprise away team beams down to a paradise-like planet inhabited by
      the Edo, a peaceful bunch known to "make love at the drop of a hat." Their
      outfits, customs, and manner of speech are so hopelessly corny that it takes
      sheer endurance not to giggle through all the silliness of the first half of
      the show. (I encourage you just to laugh out loud; it's much more fun that
      way.) Does anyone on this planet have a job or a reason for living, or do
      they just frolic and gambol and laugh all day?

      Wesley, aka "The Boy," frolics with some other teenagers and ends up falling
      into a Forbidden Flower Bed (FFB), the penalty for which is death -- because
      the penalty for all crimes on this world, no matter how trivial, is death
      ... which, let's face it, is just plain stupid. Watching this unfold, you'd
      think you were watching a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movie about space
      adventures, but no, this story actually plays itself basically straight.

      Back aboard the Enterprise, we have yet another Trek-cliched Infinitely
      Superior Life Form (best Picard line: "Why has everything become a
      'something' or a 'whatever'?") that the Edo regard as God. Picard's dilemma
      is how to rescue Wesley from his death sentence without violating the Prime
      Directive and without offending the Edo's god. This leads to some seriously
      talky debate, and a conclusion that's more obtuse than enlightening. By this
      point I could regard the story with a straight face, but the opening
      silliness was frankly more fun to snicker at.

      Rating: *


      "The Battle" -- Air date: 11/16/1987. Teleplay by Herbert Wright. Story by
      Larry Forrester. Directed by Robert Bowman.

      The Ferengi return in an episode where they're much more tolerable than in
      their completely over-the-top, caricatured debut in "The Last Outpost."
      (Though I should add, "tolerable" is a far cry from "good.") Here, DaiMon
      Bok (Frank Corsentino) offers as a gift to Picard the USS Stargazer -- his
      old ship from his previous command, abandoned and believed destroyed nine
      years earlier in a battle with an unknown vessel that attacked the Stargazer
      without provocation or identification.

      "The Battle" is perfectly acceptable TNG fare but without being compelling.
      The episode is actually an elaborate revenge scenario where Bok is using the
      pretext of this well-intended gift as a way to torment Picard with a
      mind-control device hidden on the Stargazer. The device is programmed to
      make Picard vividly relive his memories of the battle with the unidentified
      vessel. (The unidentified vessel was actually of Ferengi origin, commanded
      by Bok's only son, hence the vengeance motive.)

      The story of the Stargazer proves to be the most interesting aspect of the
      show, with a psychological component that's sometimes effective. There's a
      respectable symmetry to the idea of Picard being set up to relive this
      battle by attacking the Enterprise with the Stargazer, inevitably resulting
      in his own death at their hands.

      Unfortunately, the plot is like a meditation on slow-study characters;
      Crusher can't explain Picard's headaches, and it takes too long for the crew
      to connect the dots between Picard's mental anguish and Bok's plan. The
      characters practically stumble over the silver, glowing mind-control sphere
      and yet don't find it. Ultimately, it takes Wesley, Boy Genius, to detect
      the signal and alert the adults to his discovery, which breaks the logjam.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Hide and Q" -- Air date: 11/23/1987. Teleplay By C.J. Holland and Gene
      Roddenberry. Story by C.J. Holland. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      In the first episode of TNG I can finally actually endorse, Q returns while
      the Enterprise is on a mission of mercy to rescue the survivors of an
      explosion on a Federation colony. Q interrupts with a new series of games,
      and snatches most of the bridge crew (less Picard) from the ship and puts
      them on the surface of a planet where an approaching platoon of deadly
      nonhuman soldiers close in on their position. Q offers Riker the power of
      the Q in the hopes that Riker will join the Q Continuum. Riker at first
      refuses but then uses his new power in a moment of desperation to save his
      shipmates.

      The show's early dialog is lively, thanks to Q's nonstop condescension and
      his amusing verbal barbs. "Hide and Q" benefits from being a follow-up to
      "Encounter at Farpoint" because this time Q is a recognizable nemesis who
      immediately comes across as an intellectual opponent rather than a physical
      threat. There's a method to his madness, as evidenced in the scene where he
      confesses to Riker that the reason the Q want Riker to join them is so they
      can learn about humanity's rare hunger to learn and grow.

      The story's second half centers on Riker's new powers and his promise to
      Picard not to use them (not even to save a young girl who dies in the
      explosion). Interesting how Riker's new gifts, despite his every effort to
      remain a humble human, insidiously turn him toward an arrogance he doesn't
      even recognize. ("Have you noticed how you and I are on a first-name basis?"
      Picard asks him.) Riker attempts to give all his friends miracle gifts --
      granting them a literally magical wish -- and I liked the way this
      backfired; apparently humanity has advanced far enough to recognize rewards
      do not come without an ethical cost.

      Yes, the story reduces omnipotence to an almost absurd simplicity (would
      anyone *really* give up such a gift?). But what works here is the story's
      trust in its extended (and effective) dialog scenes that debate and wrestle
      with the matter at hand -- scenes that would be practically unheard of on
      television today because no one would have the patience for them.

      Rating: ***


      "Haven" -- Air date: 11/30/1987. Teleplay by Tracy Torme. Story by Tracy
      Torme and Lan O'Kun. Directed by Richard Compton.

      In the series' first romantic comedy of sorts, Troi is scheduled to meet for
      the first time her husband-to-be, Wyatt Miller (Robert Knepper), as
      suggested by a traditional Betazoid arranged marriage. This allows viewers
      (not to mention Picard) to meet for the first time Deanna's piece-of-work
      mother, Lwaxana (Majel Barrett), who quite simply never stops talking. It
      also forces Riker to confront his feelings for Troi, which he buried in
      order to focus on his career (a backstory point that could by no means be an
      ancient cliche, right?).

      "Haven" plays more like an episode from a later TNG season, with more focus
      on character and less on TNG-season-one cliches like superbeings. That's a
      good thing. What's not a good thing is the purely forgettable nature of the
      story. Who honestly believes, for one second, that Troi is going to marry
      Wyatt and leave the Enterprise? They're cordial to each other and both think
      the other is a nice person, but they have nothing in common. Oh, and Wyatt
      has had dreams since childhood of another woman. (Yeah, this is going to
      last.)

      On a collision course with this storyline is a Tarellian vessel -- a
      surprise to the Enterprise crew since all the Tarellians were thought to
      have died in a war years ago. Destiny is fulfilled when Wyatt realizes his
      dream woman is actually aboard the Tarellian ship, which is a very tidy
      piece of plotting business.

      What keeps the episode pleasant is the amusing banter that revolves around
      Lwaxana. Lwaxana can certainly be an annoying-as-hell character, as
      evidenced in later episodes in the series, but in "Haven" there's just
      enough of her -- without going too far -- to convey the point of this overly
      verbal woman who insists upon being an in-your-face presence and somehow
      still remains essentially likable.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Big Goodbye" -- Air date: 1/11/1988. Written by Tracy Torme. Directed
      by Joseph L. Scanlan.

      Picard takes to the holodeck for a little R&R, playing the role of Dixon
      Hill, a 1940s private detective that would be at home in a film noir, if
      only this episode had the gumption to actually do noir as a style rather
      than simply a generic concept. If the point of this episode is merely to do
      a period piece with 1940s costumes and sets, it's a success. If the point is
      to tell a compelling story, it's a failure.

      The funny thing about TNG season one is its pace; at times it's almost
      startlingly slow, with simple, straightforward plots. "The Big Goodbye" is
      an example of not just slow, but also uneventful -- far too much so for its
      own good. There simply isn't an hour's worth of material here, and the
      payoff is too lacking in juice and irony to be worth the wait.

      It's the first Holodeck Run Awry episode -- a TNG concept that would go on
      to become a tradition and ultimately a cliche. I should probably note,
      however, that "awry" is far too extreme a word for this exceptionally
      restrained episode. Even tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney, as big gangster
      Cyrus Redblock, seems hobbled by the episode's restraint. His right-hand man
      Felix (Harvey Jason) is more colorful, but also far more annoying, and way
      too stupid to be plausible.

      There is one interesting question that the episode poses: Picard exits the
      holodeck and leaves Hill's cop friend pondering whether his life is simply
      an illusion -- which, of course, it is. It's a question that would surface
      many more times in Trek after this story.

      Rating: **


      "Datalore" -- Air date: 1/18/1988. Teleplay by Robert Lewin and Gene
      Roddenberry. Story by Robert Lewin & Maurice Hurley. Directed by Robert
      Bowman.

      The Enterprise visits Omicron Theta, the colony where Data was found 26
      years earlier, and investigates the mystery surrounding the colony's
      disappearance. They find the world to be drained of all life forms. They
      also find the living quarters and laboratories of the colony's residents,
      now all empty -- as well as a disassembled android virtually identical to
      Data, and proof that famed scientist Dr. Noonien Soong was among the
      colonists and constructed these androids while living there.

      "Datalore" is particularly worthwhile for the valuable and definitive
      backstory it offers regarding Data's origins. The story even cites Isaac
      Asimov in its dialog explaining Soong's dream to realize the "positronic
      brain." When the crew decides to assemble and activate the other android,
      they discover he is actually Data's "brother," Lore. He's an intriguing
      individual -- similar to Data but different in many key ways -- and the
      plot's progress gradually reveals Lore's penchant for villainy and his
      relationship with the crystalline entity, which feeds purely on life. Lore
      helped "feed" it the Federation colony all those years ago. Brent Spiner
      memorably creates two distinct individuals within the confines of similar
      android templates. Lore's villainy is intriguing right alongside Data's
      equally intriguing loyalty to Picard and Starfleet.

      What hurts the episode, however, is that no one is smart enough to realize
      the obvious. None of the crew except Boy Wesley realizes that Lore is
      impersonating Data -- and when Wesley (who is always somehow more observant
      than the silly adults) brings this to their attention, we get helpful lines
      like, "Shut up, Wesley," which lead to even more helpful lines of would-be
      teenage rebellion when Wesley complains about the officers not listening to
      him. Quite simply, this is annoying material, continuing in season one's
      trend of Wesley's child status as a plot device. Meanwhile, all the adults
      look terminally clueless.

      Still, the episode shows more promise (and is more memorable) than many
      season one tales, with a battle of dialog and wits between Data and Lore,
      which culminates in a physical fight and Lore being beamed into space.

      Rating: ***


      "Angel One" -- Air date: 1/25/1988. Written by Patrick Barry. Directed by
      Michael Rhodes.

      "Angel One" is tripe, with endless season one cliches, whose plot lines are
      assembled into a massive incoherent mess where you end up caring about none
      of it. Strange society that looks completely human but is completely
      backward? Check. "Weighty" Prime Directive issues? Check. Highly contagious
      virus that virtually shuts down the ship and threatens to kill everyone?
      Check. Race to solve a problem while we have a ticking clock (in this case,
      scheduled executions)? Check. Second ticking clock involving the Enterprise
      in orbit (in this case, the need to deploy to the Neutral Zone ASAP)? Check.

      Not one damn bit of sense or compelling drama regarding it all? Check.

      Much like "Justice," the episode begins with a ludicrous premise that's
      impossible to take seriously (as presented) before then trying to get all
      serious on us with a Trekkian message about growth and tolerance. Angel One
      is run solely by women. The men are oppressed and essentially told to keep
      their place. This is shown in the silliest of ways, and we snicker when one
      of these annoying men interrupts Riker and government head Beata (Karen
      Montgomery) while they're about to seal the deal. (Should Riker be sleeping
      with the heads of states on such missions? Might not violate the PD, but it
      seems awfully inappropriate.)

      The plot ostensibly is about the status of some Federation survivors who
      crashed on Angel One and brought with them the idea of men as equals
      (gasp!), thereby poisoning this society's status quo. Riker can't interfere
      in their forthcoming executions because of the Prime Directive, which leads
      to some of the most interminable, ponderous "substantive" dialog in TNG's
      run. The lesson here is as muddled as the plot ... and it's sanctimonious in
      TNG's worst way, until we're waiting for the soapbox to collapse, or, better
      yet, explode.

      Rating: *


      "11001001" -- Air date: 2/1/1988. Written by Maurice Hurley & Robert Lewin.
      Directed by Paul Lynch.

      In easily season one's best and most memorable episode, the Enterprise docks
      at Starbase 74, where they have a number of computer-system problems
      corrected while most of the crew goes on shore leave. Helping make the
      repairs are four Bynars, of a peculiar race so interconnected with their
      computer technology that they talk directly among each other in high-speed
      digital code. The Bynars represent the series' first truly intriguing,
      well-conceived, original alien species.

      With "11001001," we finally see the series firing on all cylinders, with
      everything coming together, from plot to character, to sensible use of
      technology and action. We feel like these are real people in a real
      universe. The universe may be fictional, stylized, and fantastical, but the
      story believes in itself and the characters seem real. The Bynars, who have
      a hidden agenda, distract Riker with a mid-20th-century New Orleans jazz
      lounge holodeck simulation that features an audience of one -- the beautiful
      and charismatic Minuet (Carolyn McCormick). The scenes in the jazz club all
      by themselves create such a convincing, atmospheric little universe that
      they draw us completely into the story's emotional arc -- the question of
      whether a holodeck character can be so real that Riker can fall in love with
      her. Picard also visits this holodeck simulation, and for perhaps the first
      time on the series we see both him and Riker as three-dimensional people
      rather than simply "the captain" and "the first officer." Ironically, this
      3D breakthrough is played against a holodeck character.

      Meanwhile, the Bynars steal the Enterprise by staging an imminent
      engineering disaster that requires the immediate evacuation of the ship. It
      makes for a jeopardy set-piece that's somehow riveting because of its
      convincing operational detail -- not to mention that it's fully integrated
      into the plot (in stark contrast to, say, the pointlessly drawn-out saucer
      separation in "Encounter at Farpoint").

      In the end, the Bynars' dilemma -- at the mercy of a central computer
      shutdown on their homeworld and needing the Enterprise's computer to
      preserve their data -- becomes the season's most solid sci-fi concept, with
      the right balance of tech and simplicity. And the character of Minuet -- a
      flawless creation of the Bynars' expert technological grasp -- plays a
      central role in the plot right alongside the questions the character
      inspires about fantasy and reality. I'm calling it the first great episode
      of TNG.

      Rating: ****


      "Too Short a Season" -- Air date: 2/8/1988. Teleplay by Michael Michaelian
      and D.C. Fontana. Story by Michael Michaelian. Directed by Robert Bowman.

      Two hoary cliches -- the Hostage Crisis and the Fountain of Youth --
      converge/collide to create one of the more forgettable and emotionally
      impenetrable episodes in TNG's run. This is hardly the worst of TNG, but I'd
      be lying if I said I could turn my empathy over to anybody in this story's
      scenario. One of the odd aspects of the show is that it makes the guest
      character the central character without giving us any notable reason to care
      about him.

      The hostage standoff has to do with a vendetta that dates back 45 years.
      Karnas (Michael Pataki) has taken hostages and is promising to execute them
      unless an ancient Starfleet admiral, Mark Jameson (Clayton Rohner), turns
      himself over to answer for his crime: arming both sides of a conflict
      (rather than just Karnas' side), which led to four decades of civil war. Who
      are these hostages, who are the hostage-takers, and who exactly is Jameson?
      Most of all, what does any of this have to do with Jameson's sick need to
      answer this hostage negotiation in the middle of a risky drug regimen
      intended to reverse his aging? Better question: Who cares?

      Clayton Rohner is not convincing as an old man -- not in the makeup and
      certainly not in the performance, which seems to equate old age with a (very
      fake) gruff voice. By the time we get to the revelation that Jameson armed
      both sides of the conflict, the ship containing our interest has long since
      sailed. The final act falls victim to its boundless overacting, with Karnas
      shouting and refusing to believe the young Jameson is who he says he is,
      despite the lack of any reasonable motive for such a convoluted deception.
      The story makes too much of proving to Karnas that Jameson is actually
      himself. Meanwhile, the audience is sitting on the sidelines with blank
      stares.

      Rating: *1/2


      "When the Bough Breaks" -- Air date: 2/15/1988. Written by Hannah Louise
      Shearer. Directed by Kim Manners.

      Few episodes defy logic and common sense as egregiously and obviously as the
      awful "When the Bough Breaks." I must say, I feel like a real bastard
      reviewing season one of TNG (even knowing full well that the show will later
      get much better), where the episodes -- sometimes barely watchable -- are
      getting some of the lowest ratings in all my years of reviewing.

      The mythical world of Aldea, hidden for centuries behind a cloaking shield,
      appears before the Enterprise, and its inhabitants invite the crew down in
      an attempt to negotiate a trade for some of the Enterprise's children. The
      Aldeans are desperate because they're infertile and want to preserve their
      species. When the Enterprise crew refuses, the Aldeans take the children
      with their superior-tech transporter, saying they have no choice, and
      subsequently force Picard into negotiations which, if you think about from
      the Aldeans' point of view, are pointless and moot.

      The episode becomes an unworkable "parable" of the most tiresome sort. I've
      always hated it when an entire planet/society is reduced to five boring
      people and three boring sets. Here's a storyline so full of holes that we
      find ourselves asking question after question. Like, gee, do the Aldeans
      realistically expect to repopulate their world with only six kidnapped
      children? And, gee, are the Aldeans such slaves to their own laziness (and
      their magical "Custodian" provider) that their scientists, even with their
      superior technology, can't figure out in three decades what Dr. Crusher can
      figure out in three days? And, gee, the Aldeans aren't even curious enough
      to look behind the mysterious door to see what powers the "Custodian"? And,
      gee, don't you think the children, separated from their parents, would be a
      little more upset and a little less resigned? And, gee, wouldn't that kid
      Harry be harder to bribe than with the concept of wood sculpting, even if
      his real dad makes him take calculus? And, gee, isn't this a really lame
      episode, with simplistic answers the Aldeans are hopeless dolts not to
      figure out, meaning it's all that much more tedious for us to watch them
      learn?

      Rating: *


      "Home Soil" -- Air date: 2/22/1988. Teleplay by Robert Sabaroff. Story by
      Karl Guers & Ralph Sanchez and Robert Sabaroff. Directed by Corey Allen.

      The Enterprise checks in on a small group of scientists in charge of a
      terraforming project on a lifeless planet. An away team beams down, much to
      the ire of project head Kurt Mandi (Walter Cotell), who doesn't particularly
      want to be disturbed. The terraforming project is explained in a fair amount
      of detail by Louisa Kim (Elizabeth Lindsey, whose performance is so false in
      the science-expository scenes that it's frankly painful to watch). While on
      the planet, one of the scientists is killed by a laser drill gone awry.
      Picard opens an investigation to figure out which of the other scientists
      programmed the computerized drill to commit murder.

      "Home Soil" begins as a homicide investigation before gradually becoming a
      solid TNG example of hard science-fiction -- a story made from equal parts
      "sci" and "fi" (which is more "sci" than most). Discovered on the planet is
      a mysterious, glowing, crystal-like substance. The crew brings it back to
      the lab for study, at which point the story's priorities change.

      What makes this episode work is its dutiful attention to the scientific
      process and a realistic (and often intriguing) portrayal of study and
      observation. The Enterprise crew members are interested in what lies in
      front of them and use analysis to find the answers. What they discover is an
      *inorganic* intelligent life form -- previously considered impossible --
      which they dub a "microbrain." The microbrain subsequently taps into the
      computer and threatens the ship.

      Okay, so it's not a great episode. The jeopardy premise is routine. The
      crew's peaceful negotiations are Trekkian-humanistic almost to an overstated
      fault. The microbrain's personality strikes me as far more arrogant than the
      humans it's accusing of just that sin (ignorance and arrogance aren't the
      same thing). But this is an episode that's actual science-fiction as opposed
      to the phony kind.

      Rating: ***


      "Coming of Age" -- Air date: 3/14/1988. Written by Sandy Fries. Directed by
      Michael Vejar.

      Wesley Crusher takes the Starfleet entrance exam, pitted against three other
      young candidates who are as brilliant as he is. Only the highest of the four
      scores will go to Starfleet Academy. This is the sort of story that, at age
      12, made me fear for my future of entering high school and college. Consider
      -- here were four fictional characters who were far more brilliant than I
      was, and three of them would be going home as *failures*, despite their
      brilliance. Now *there's* a frightening message about competition for a
      12-year-old. Guess you'd better study harder, kids.

      Finally, this is a Wesley-oriented storyline I can tolerate. The reason it
      works is because it treats Wesley as a teenager instead of the crazy kid who
      saves the ship with his implausible genius. It treats him as a young person
      who has a lot to learn about life. Yes, he may be a hopeless geek (and still
      annoying), but at least the story recognizes him for his human qualities
      rather than his techo-plot ones (the "stress test" at the end deals with his
      own personal issues rather than his warp theories).

      Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Picard's old friend Admiral Quinn (Ward
      Costello) sends in his investigative pit bull, Lt. Cmdr. Remmick (Robert
      Schenkkan), to look for problems in Picard's command. Remmick interrogates
      the entire bridge crew, pissing off everybody in the process. This leads to
      some pretty good scenes of conflict on a show sometimes notorious for its
      lack of interpersonal conflict. The investigation is dramatically on shaky
      ground because the episode never says what Quinn and Remmick are looking for
      (except "problems"). In the end, Quinn levels with Picard about a possible
      conspiracy within Starfleet, and offers him a promotion. It's a strange,
      albeit watchable, series of notions, interviews, questions, and conclusions.

      Although it doesn't have a strong driving focus, "Coming of Age" is about
      the personnel workings of the Enterprise crew more than it's about a generic
      plot, which is in its favor.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Heart of Glory" -- Air date: 3/21/1988. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley. Story
      by Maurice Hurley and Herbert Wright & D.C. Fontana. Directed by Robert
      Bowman.

      A long last, it's the Worf episode we've all been waiting for, giving this
      guy his first real spotlight in a season where we had no idea who the hell
      he was (aside from "that Klingon guy").

      The Enterprise crew rescues three Klingon survivors from a Talarian vessel
      just before it explodes (the episode benefits from some convincing and
      gritty production design on board the wrecked Talarian ship). One of the
      Klingons dies on the operating table; the other two offer up a
      less-than-convincing story about how they came to be on the Talarian ship.
      In reality, they are fugitives from the Klingon Empire who destroyed a
      Klingon ship sent to bring them in. While on board the Enterprise, the two
      Klingons, Korris (Vaughn Armstrong) and Konmel (Charles H. Hyman), attempt
      to convince Worf to join them out of a sense of shared Klingon warrior
      brotherhood.

      The episode has a few problems, mostly involving the story's confused
      attempts to create drama from the question of whether Worf will actually
      join these two fugitives. I'll concede that Worf feels the warrior's call
      and has some sympathy for these two Klingons' state of mind, but he also
      clearly ignores the fact that these are dangerous men, and after they
      confess to him that they destroyed the Klingon ship, Worf takes them on a
      tour of sensitive areas of the ship, which I find doubtful. Then there's the
      standoff between the Klingons and Yar's security team, which makes much out
      of the question of Worf's loyalty before becoming a nonstarter. The
      Enterprise crew seems as mystified about Worf as the writers, which strikes
      me as a little tough to swallow.

      But the show has a lot of good elements that become launchpads for future
      Worf- and Klingon-themed shows. The warrior code, the death rituals, Worf's
      intriguing backstory, the notions of honor and brotherhood -- all
      interesting stuff. The final showdown in engineering between Worf and Korris
      makes for some good dramatic fireworks (with Armstrong in full
      teeth-gnashing-madness mode) and ends with the first of many choices Worf
      makes that puts him uncomfortably in between his Klingon and Federation
      identities.

      Rating: ***


      "The Arsenal of Freedom" -- Air date: 4/11/1988. Teleplay by Richard Manning
      & Hans Beimler. Story by Maurice Hurley & Robert Lewin. Directed by Les
      Landau.

      Investigating the disappearance of the USS Drake, the Enterprise away team
      beams down to the remains of a destroyed civilization on the planet Minos to
      search for answers. Instead, they come under attack by an advanced weapons
      system that first employs deceptive intelligence-gathering tactics before
      turning to simple but unremitting brute force. When Riker is incapacitated
      by an energy field, Picard beams down, leaving Geordi in command of the
      Enterprise.

      Here's an episode of TNG that drops all pretense of significance and simply
      exists as action and watching the characters work the crises. The results
      are pretty good; it's one of the season's better outings, and certainly one
      of the best-paced. The weapons that attack the away team are like levels in
      a video game, where after you destroy one, another comes 12 minutes later,
      except this time stronger and smarter. The episode benefits from its
      three-pronged plot approach. Riker, Data, and Yar must play infantry in
      fending off the weapons on the surface; Picard and Crusher fall into a deep
      hole and the captain must treat the injured doctor as a patient; and La
      Forge gets his first big test in command when the Enterprise is attacked by
      an invisible weapon orbiting the planet.

      All the plot threads work, but the most interesting is Geordi's on board the
      Enterprise. He must assume big responsibilities and make tough calls in a
      dangerous situation. All the while he must put up with Lt. Logan (Vyto
      Rugins), the Enterprise's chief engineer (or should I say this week's chief
      engineer, since there's a different one nearly every week on season one),
      who outranks Geordi and tries to bully him into ceding command to him. If
      the episode has an evident flaw, it's that Logan is too much of an obvious
      progress impediment in needlessly challenging Geordi. Someone needs to tell
      him that instead of repeatedly coming to the bridge he needs to be doing his
      damn job. And I tend to grow impatient with any scene where Troi counsels
      the commanding officer with compliments and suggestions, coming off like a
      kindergarten teacher. Just imagine that in the current-day military.

      The episode has some nifty set-pieces, including a prudent saucer separation
      and the ensuing tactical action. The solution to the problems on the surface
      are handily wrapped up with what on TOS would be Kirk Outsmarts the Computer
      [TM] -- except in this case it's Picard and the computer is designed to be
      outsmarted in this way.

      Rating: ***


      "Symbiosis" -- Air date: 4/18/1988. Teleplay by Robert Lewin and Richard
      Manning & Hans Beimler. Story by Robert Lewin. Directed by Win Phelps.

      The Enterprise crew rescues the occupants of a disabled ship in a decaying
      orbit and Picard subsequently finds himself in the middle of a dispute
      between the representatives from two societies -- the Brekka and the Ornara
      -- who are involved in a business transaction regarding some valuable cargo.
      The Brekka's payment for the cargo went down with the ship, so the Ornara
      refuse delivery, and we have a problem.

      The problem becomes a moral quagmire when the cargo is revealed to be
      medicine desperately needed by the Brekka, and the situation is further
      compounded when Crusher determines the medicine is actually an addictive
      narcotic the Brekka don't actually need in order to survive. The Ornara
      benefit greatly from the Brekka's dependency on the drug, which has
      permitted the Ornarans to advance their society while the Brekka have been
      treading water for the past 200 years. Crusher desperately wants to free the
      Brekka of their drug addiction, but Picard notes that this would be a
      blatant violation of the Prime Directive.

      The Prime Directive can make for an interesting debate, and it's nice to see
      Crusher's distaste over the situation even as Picard defends it as a
      necessary tenet. But again, a key problem with "Symbiosis" is that it
      oversimplifies the story to a point that we're forced to wonder how, after
      200 years, an entire society can *uniformly* be addicted to a drug with *no
      knowledge* that they're being exploited by their "symbiotic" partners in
      drug-dealing/addiction. They're hopelessly incompetent ship-runners, which
      makes you wonder how they even survive.

      Simply put, "Symbiosis" -- even though it tries to be about something real
      -- is ultimately too heavy-handed and simplistic to work. There's a point in
      the story where one Ornaran actually makes an evil grin when Picard
      confronts her with the fact that he's on to their exploitative behavior.
      This betrays the story as unintended parody more than parable.

      Rating: **


      "Skin of Evil" -- Air date: 4/25/1988. Teleplay by Joseph Stefano and Hannah
      Louise Shearer. Story by Joseph Stefano. Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.

      A shuttle carrying Counselor Troi (and some poor guy named Ben that the
      episode doesn't care about because he doesn't also have awesome boobs)
      crashes on a planet. The away team beams down to rescue the survivors but
      encounters Armus (Mart McChesney), who initially resembles a miniature tar
      pit. He turns out to be an intelligent, albeit hopelessly embittered, being
      who can rise up and take humanoid form, and who has a voice that sounds like
      Megatron, only deeper and meaner. Maybe he's Unicron.

      He also has the power to do ... well, whatever the plot requires him to do,
      including killing people at will and creating forcefields that prevent the
      beam-up of the shuttle survivors. Armus' biggest claim to fame is that he
      kills Tasha Yar, who dies a rather ignominious death, which is ignominious
      in no small part because of that goofy splotch on her cheek during the "ER"
      sequence -- one of few TNG season-one moments to actually use hand-held
      cameras. (Things must really be bad when the hand-held cameras come out.)

      You know, there really should be a "Skin of Evil" drinking game where you
      drink every time Armus rises up into humanoid form from his tar pit or
      descends back down, or every time he covers or uncovers the crashed
      shuttlecraft. Because it's a lot. If anyone sells that game, I expect
      royalties. Armus is occasionally amusing, simply because he's such an
      incredible bastard that you almost have to like him -- or else hate Troi for
      trying to disarm him with her psychobabble. Come to think of it, maybe I'd
      just rather hate Troi in this episode.

      The battle of wills (wits?) with Armus goes on for too long and gets too
      repetitive. (Did I mention that the scenes of Troi trying to counsel Armus
      really tried my patience?) The episode, at the very least, does not try to
      redeem Armus, and leaves him stranded and as unhappy as ever. Yar gets a
      holodeck funeral, which is well-intended, yes, but way too cloying and
      pushy. But what else would you expect from TNG?

      Rating: *1/2


      "We'll Always Have Paris" -- Air date: 5/2/1988. Written by Deborah Dean
      Davis and Hannah Louise Shearer. Directed by Robert Becker.

      A catastrophe at a science research facility opens a crack "to another
      dimension" and unleashes strange effects on space and time. The effects are
      felt more than a light year away on the Enterprise, causing brief moments of
      time to repeat themselves. The Enterprise investigates and finds that the
      experiments of brilliant (and single-track-minded) Professor Manheim (Rod
      Loomis) have gone terribly awry. Only he and his wife Jenice (Michelle
      Phillips) have survived the disaster. Character twist: Jenice was a former
      flame of Picard's, whom he stood up on their last date in Paris before he
      shipped out with Starfleet more than 20 years ago.

      This is TNG's first time-manipulation episode (and most definitely not its
      last), and as Trek time episodes go, it's too simple, straightforward, and
      arbitrary to really grab our fascination. There are a couple of fun
      time-related gags, such as when Data, Riker, and Picard wait for a
      turbolift, only to find themselves waiting for it again, while at the same
      time on it. But the crisis' solution is too simplistic, with no intriguing
      puzzles for the characters or audience to work through. Basically, they give
      Data a canister, which he sticks into a hall of mirrors; problem solved.
      Talk about your tidily boring solutions for dealing with a "doorway to
      another dimension."

      The character storyline is just a tad more interesting, trying to explore a
      little bit of Picard's youth. Here was a young man afraid of being tied down
      by a woman and thus sentenced to a life of ordinariness; I suppose some
      stories are timeless. But I've had it with Troi's annoying counseling
      sessions. First she confronts Picard on the bridge about the personal
      feelings she's sensing from him. Later she asks Crusher (not in so many
      words) how she's handling her jealousy of Jenice. It's time someone told
      this intrusive Betazoid to keep out of personal matters that don't affect
      the operation of the crew.

      Rating: **


      "Conspiracy" -- Air date: 5/9/1988. Teleplay by Tracy Torme. Story by Robert
      Sabaroff. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      Under Starfleet transmission code 47 -- the utmost secrecy and urgency --
      Picard is called to the surface of a desolate, abandoned mining planet by
      his good friend, Captain Walker Keel (Jonathan Farwell) of the USS Horatio.
      Keel warns Picard of a conspiracy growing within Starfleet Command, and
      ominously tells him to trust no one. The Horatio is shortly afterward
      destroyed in a disastrous implosion. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

      "Conspiracy" is the tensest and most unpredictable of TNG's first season,
      starting with Keel's wide-eyed "No!" when Picard asks if their meeting can
      be done with less cloak-and-dagger sneakiness, and proceeding through the
      slowly building realization that an alien threat has come from beyond and is
      now attacking by manipulating from within. Ironic that one of the most
      involving of TNG's first season is also essentially an anti-Trek storyline,
      in which a malevolent alien threat must be exposed and destroyed with brute
      force (not to mention visceral reactions of unmasked disgust, particularly
      from Picard), and an ominous ending that is not at all reassuring.

      Admiral Quinn, who alluded to the conspiracy in "Coming of Age," turns out
      to be under the alien influence here, and throws around like rag dolls (in
      the following order) Riker, Geordi, and Worf, before being put down by a
      phaser blast from Dr. Crusher, who subsequently discovers the parasitic
      being attached to Quinn's upper spine. Meanwhile, Picard's meeting with the
      admirals at Starfleet Headquarters on Earth is a nicely played escalation of
      subdued horror -- with idle conversation that then proceeds to a meal of
      live worms, and finally the revelation that Riker has been compromised -- or
      has he?

      The mother of all the aliens is hiding in Lt. Cmdr. Remmick (which is
      somehow amusingly appropriate), which makes for a rather creepy sequence:
      Somehow, when he says the aliens seek "peaceful coexistence" I'm less than
      convinced. Neither is Picard. "Conspiracy" is a brawny hour of
      "X-Files"-style Trek, and might be the only episode of Trek where a man's
      head so awesomely gets blowed up real good. The episode perfectly sets
      itself up for a sequel that, alas, would never come.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "The Neutral Zone" -- Air date: 5/16/1988. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley. Story
      by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Glee. Directed by James L. Conway.

      Here's an episode that plays like the writers took two story pitches and
      simply filmed them, without bothering to develop a script for either one
      that would fulfill the requirements for an actual episode of television. To
      call "The Neutral Zone" half-baked would be an understatement. It's
      quarter-baked.

      In story A, Data and Worf beam onto a drifting space relic and find three
      cryogenically frozen survivors from the 20th century. They bring them to the
      Enterprise and revive them. In story B, the recent mysterious devastation of
      Federation and Romulan outposts along the Neutral Zone prompt some new
      rumblings from the Romulan Empire. After a 50-year hiatus of having not come
      in contact with the Federation, indicators are that they might be returning
      as a possible cold-war threat. (Gee, what about the plot from "Angel One"
      where the Enterprise was supposed to rush off the Neutral Zone to ward off a
      Romulan attack?)

      Neither of these plots is worth our time (and the point of putting them in
      the same episode escapes me, because they're incompatible). The Romulan
      storyline exists to tell us -- and *only* tell us -- that the Romulans are
      back from obscurity and available for future episodes. Beyond that, there's
      very little insight or point to any of this, except for Troi's scouting
      report about the Romulan persona -- reported to be arrogant and more likely
      to test the enemy with mind games and vague threats before resorting to
      force. Unfortunately, this makes for a long setup to a non-payoff where the
      Romulans literally say, "We're back," and then turn around and leave.

      The storyline involving 20th-century Americans waking up in the 24th century
      is even more of a nonstarter. We're given three characters who wake up and
      scarcely react to the new world that surrounds them. When they do react,
      their reactions are bland and obvious. The writers apparently thought it
      would be cool to try to use these characters as entry points with which we
      could identify. No such luck, because these are three exceptionally
      uninteresting guest characters. Better luck next season.

      Rating: *1/2

      -----
      Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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