[TNG] Jammer's Review: The Complete Second Season
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
Jammer's Reviews of the Complete Second Season
For episodes airing from 11/21/1988 to 7/17/1989
Series created by Gene Roddenberry
Executive producer: Gene Roddenberry
Reviews by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"The Child" -- Air date: 11/21/1988. Written by Jaron Summers & Jon Povill
and Maurice Hurley. Directed by Robert Bowman.
As the Enterprise embarks on yet another humanitarian mission to stop yet
another deadly plague, a strange and unexpected thing happens in
mid-journey: Counselor Troi announces she's pregnant. "Who's the father?"
Riker asks accusingly. "There is none," Troi responds.
The height of this episode's wit comes with a funny-in-its-savageness remark
by Worf, whose utterly pragmatic Klingon-security-officer response to this
mysterious, alien-influenced immaculate conception is simply that it must be
terminated at once in order to wall off all possible risk. (Just think of
how this could've been the ultimate launching-off point for an
abortion-debate episode. Never mind.) The story's sci-fi gimmick is that the
pregnancy proceeds at a vastly accelerated rate, such that Troi is giving
birth to a son named Ian by the second act. The baby's accelerated growth
proceeds from there, and Ian is an eight-year-old boy within 24 hours.
The problem with this story is that it has far too little curiosity in Ian
or Troi (for most of the episode, their mother/son scenes meander with
precious little original insight or interest), and far too much curiosity in
the technobabble subplot, involving a deadly substance sealed in a container
for transport to another facility. Some mysterious radiation is causing the
seal to crack; if the substance gets out, everyone on the ship will die. The
tedious tech details of the radiation, the leak, and the resulting threat
drag on needlessly long, causing all interest to drain from the story.
And what about Ian? The story doesn't deal with him nearly enough, until the
closing scenes where we learn he's the source of the mysterious radiation,
and that he was born to Troi to learn about the human life cycle. Ian's
self-sacrifice (or a reversion to his true energy state, if that's the same
thing) makes for a good emotional scene that Marina Sirtis delivers on, but
the sci-fi themes are familiar.
The episode's serviceable supporting material surrounds Wesley's question of
whether to join his recently reassigned mother at Starfleet Medical, the
introduction of the abrasive new McCoy-wannabe Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana
Muldaur), and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) as the bartender of Ten-Forward, the
Enterprise's new (or at least previously unseen) refreshment lounge.
"Where Silence Has Lease" -- Air date: 11/28/1988. Written by Jack B.
Sowards. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
The Enterprise is swallowed into a mysterious void, and every likely means
of escape turns out to be a hopeless cause. It's surprisingly intriguing and
entertaining, much more so than I remembered. The early stages might best be
described as "sci-fi procedural," where the story elements are played for
their mystery value and overall atmosphere. The episode doesn't get overly
worked up about the strange things going on, but simply observes the
Enterprise crew as they try to solve the dilemma. This laid-back approach
(with danger implied rather than explicit) somehow makes the episode more
All the usual solutions fail: They deploy a beacon, travel away from it as
far as they can, only to arrive upon it again, as if they were running in
circles. When holes in the void appear and offer an escape, they then
suddenly seal at just the last moment, as if on purpose. When the
Enterprise's sister ship, the USS Yamato, appears, Riker and Worf beam over
to investigate, but find an empty vessel and a variety of funhouse tricks
and illusions. This leads to a humorous sequence where Worf gets fed up and
goes on a rampage: "This ship has one bridge! One bridge! One Commander
Riker! One bridge!" And Riker has had it too: "Let's put all this
*technology* to work and get the hell out of here!" It's fun to see the TNG
characters lose their cool.
Ultimately, the Enterprise crew realizes they're being toyed with ("Rats in
a maze," Pulaski observes) in an experiment by a superior intelligent being
that calls itself Nagilum (Earl Boen, obscured by visual effects). What
doesn't work, alas, is Nagilum himself; as alien designs go he's an exercise
in stunning hokiness. Furthermore, his revealed agenda -- to understand
human death by killing half the crew -- strikes me as manufactured for the
sake of jeopardy. If Nagilum is so smart, why does he need to kill half the
crew to understand death? Nagilum's first victim would've been Wesley -- if
not for the fact that Wesley is conveniently away from his post during
*only* the scene where someone needs to die. Standing in for him is a Black
Guy in a Thankless Role, whose sole purpose is to be killed. This red-shirt
death is so blatantly transparent that it possibly outdoes every red-shirt
death on the original series.
Not willing to be killed one by one, Picard and Riker arm the self-destruct
sequence. Awaiting The End, Picard has a fascinating speech on the
philosophies of death that's an example of Trekkian dialog at its finest.
It's enough to convince Nagilum to release the ship, which only fuels my
belief that his whole death experiment was a pointless enterprise.
"Elementary, Dear Data" -- Air date: 12/5/1988. Written by Brian Alan Lane.
Directed by Robert Bowman.
Dr. Pulaski, ever the Bones clone looking for a Bones/Spock dynamic,
challenges Data to an exercise in human improvisation: solve a Sherlock
Holmes-style mystery that was not covered in the original source material.
Is he capable of human insight beyond the Boolean logic of computer
hardware? Geordi instructs the holodeck computer to create an original
mystery with an adversary capable of defeating Data in a duel of wits.
Again we venture into the world of the period costume piece, a la first
season's "The Big Goodbye," and like that episode, this one takes its time
getting up to speed. I could've done with a little bit less of the Sherlock
Holmes material and more of the sci-fi stuff. I think the story also makes a
mountain of a molehill where Geordi's "slip of the tongue" is concerned.
(Who cares if he instructed the computer to create an adversary that could
"beat Data" as opposed to the fictional Holmes? The computer's sentient
capability is the issue, not whether misspeaking one word can, or even does,
Fortunately, the destination of "Elementary, Dear Data" is well worth the
wait, and builds on the one moment of inspiration that "The Big Goodbye" had
going for it: the idea that a computer program could become self-aware and
grow beyond what it was designed to do. In this case, the intellect of
Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) grows beyond the holodeck's parameters and
is able to witness and participate in events outside its programming. The
scene where he calls for the arch is an intriguing moment: We find ourselves
asking, what does this mean? When he eventually is able to tie into the
Enterprise's computer system and start shaking the ship, he gets Picard's
What I like about this episode is its TNG sensibility. I could see Star Trek
today using this as a gimmick solely for an action plot, but in 1988, the
story exhibits a genuine curiosity about who Moriarty is now that he knows
he's not part of the world he was created for. Picard and Moriarty have an
exchange of dialog that's also an exchange of *ideas*, and they reach a
peaceful resolution. It says a lot that Moriarty is willing to put his fate
entirely in the hands of someone who could simply order his destruction in
the interests of safety. But TNG was really about seeking out new forms of
life, and this story highlights the series practicing what it preaches.
"The Outrageous Okona" -- Air date: 12/12/1988. Teleplay by Burton Armus.
Story by Les Menchen & Lance Dickson and David Landsberg. Directed by Robert
I'll start with the good part, which earns the episode its points: The
B-story involving Data following Guinan's advice to learn humor and taking
lessons from a holographic stand-up comic (Joe Piscopo) ends up working
reasonably well. Joe Piscopo isn't funny in these scenes, but Data is by
definition an inspired straight man to a (would-be) comic persona. The scene
where he gives his performance to an audience that laughs no matter what he
does is both funny and sad; Data simply doesn't understand humor and maybe
As for the main story, it's one of the most hoary and forgettable things in
TNG's run. The Enterprise rescues Captain Okona (William O. Campbell;
where's Bruce Campbell when you need him?) from his disabled ship. Okona
spends his time aboard the Enterprise making high-spirited jokes, hitting on
women, and in general being the type of Personality that requires a capital
letter. (Wesley idolizes him ... which makes Wesley an even bigger nerd than
I thought.) I suppose nothing says "swashbuckling scoundrel" like a ponytail
and a three-day beard. One woman taken by Okona's charms is Teri Hatcher --
yes, Teri Hatcher -- whom Okona beds in record time.
The plot is a pedantic bore masquerading as light comedy. Okona is either in
the middle of or the cause of a dispute between two feuding families. Is he
the father of the pregnant girl whose father is really mad? Did he steal the
crown jewel from the other family? Or is there something else here going on
involving hopeless rehashed scraps of "Romeo and Juliet"? The episode makes
it impossible for us to care, particularly in the awful climactic scene
where all the parties are aboard the Enterprise and the air is finally
cleared -- in one of the worst-acted and worst-directed scenes I can
remember on this series.
"Loud as a Whisper" -- Air date: 1/9/1989. Written by Jacqueline Zambrano.
Directed by Larry Shaw.
The Enterprise is assigned to transport renowned mediator Riva (Howie Seago)
to a war-torn planet so he can broker a peace between two warring factions
trying to overcome 15 centuries of bitter conflict. Riva turns out to be
deaf, and he communicates through a "chorus" of three telepaths who speak
for him, each one representing a specific facet of his personality.
This is an episode that seems like it was sold on a promising concept that
ultimately no one could build enough of a story for. The early scenes set up
the story in what by now comes across as formula TNG: lots of exposition,
some of it interesting, some of it not, all of it taking up screen time in a
very slow-moving story. Then we get back to the Enterprise where we have to
sit through another round of introductions to the crew. Given that Riva is
so well-known, I don't understand why everyone is surprised to find out he's
deaf. (Maybe because if they already knew, the story would have no excuse
for its exposition.)
Riva is very confident in his abilities to broker a peace agreement. So
confident, indeed, that when a member of one faction tries to sabotage the
talks by killing Riva's chorus, Riva's confidence is shattered almost beyond
repair. We then get a series of scenes (too many, in my opinion) where the
Enterprise crew tries to coax Riva back to the peace process he's supposed
to be brokering. Only Counselor Troi is able to get through to him, in part
because of their previous romantic overtures.
I'm sorry, but the solution just doesn't work. Riva's argument is that
starting from zero and teaching sign language to both sides will become the
common ground that will allow the communication and negotiations to
flourish. Call me cynical, but I find it more likely that someone's going to
pull out a gun and shoot up the place out of sheer frustration during such
an arduous process. If these people have been fighting for *15 centuries*
(shouldn't they all be dead by now?), how is Riva and his simplistic
solution honestly going to make a dent? I'm all for TNG optimism, but this
is pushing it.
"The Schizoid Man" -- Air date: 1/23/1989. Teleplay by Tracy Torme. Story by
Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. Directed by Les Landau.
The Enterprise comes to the aid of terminally ill scientist Dr. Ira Graves
(W. Morgan Sheppard), in the hopes of documenting his as-yet-unrevealed
scientific discoveries before he dies. Graves, however, takes a very
specific interest in Data and spends his final hours with the android. Data
subsequently begins exhibiting strange behavior, the most amusing of which
is the delivery of a ridiculous and indulgent eulogy for the recently
departed Graves ("To know him was to love him, and to love him was to know
The plot is obvious to us, but not to the Enterprise crew: Graves, utilizing
his own scientific breakthrough of combining the human brain and computer
data storage, has transferred his consciousness and knowledge into Data and
is vying for total control of Data's mind. The crew slowly begins to realize
that Graves has somehow hijacked Data's personality. One major clue might be
Graves'/Data's verbally expressed jealousy concerning Graves' assistant
Kareen (Barbara Alyn Woods), and the ever-increasing size of Data's ego,
which, by definition, should be nonexistent. I was amused by much of the
Data/Picard interaction: Watching Data's sly insubordination and
condescension toward Picard is a source of much of the episode's fun.
The episode's Serious Human Theme is whether this man Graves can retain his
humanity now that he has superior android strength and mental abilities. And
can he plausibly love Kareen, whom he previously admired without revealing
his feelings on the account of their age difference? The other question is
about Data's rights as a person, which Graves has usurped by hijacking his
body. I like that the episode ends with a battle of reasoning between Graves
and Picard, and that Graves proves Picard's point and is smart enough to
fully realize that what he's doing won't work. But overall this is sort of
an obvious storyline, and one that doesn't exploit its themes for what
"Unnatural Selection" -- Air date: 1/30/1989. Written by John Mason & Mike
Gray. Directed by Paul Lynch.
In another episode of TNG to feature a deadly disease and the Enterprise
warping in to the rescue (a reliable Trek cliche not avoided in the first
two seasons of TNG, to be sure), Dr. Pulaski attempts to find a cure to a
disease that is causing rapid aging on a Federation space station that's
perhaps too ironically named Darwin Station. (The disease has already killed
the crew of an entire starship.)
In terms of character, I did appreciate the way the story establishes
Pulaski as a strong-willed personality willing to go to the mat for her
point of view and for her patients, even if she must risk herself. She
stands up to Picard and argues the merits, even if it means Picard doesn't
get to finish a sentence. Picard, always the final authority, but ever the
diplomat and patient listener, calls her on her penchant for interrupting
without making a big deal about it.
Pulaski's medical safeguards fail, and in attempting to find the cure in the
station's genetically engineered children, she ends up infected herself.
(The children are actually the cause of the disease because of their
genetically manipulated immune systems, which create the disease without
being susceptible to it.)
I find it very hard to be moved by an episode like "Unnatural Selection,"
mainly because the episode is too mired in procedure and arbitrary
pseudoscientific details rather than characters or plot. Also, diseases that
make people prematurely old are not very interesting. In terms of its sci-fi
procedural approach, I suppose it's worth noting that the episode makes
sense for most of the way and the pieces fit together to make a workable
puzzle -- that is, until the end, where the transporter is used to magically
restore Pulaski's DNA (and cure the rest of the station's residents). This
is a perfect example of the tech solving the plot arbitrarily rather than
any sort of legitimate dramatic payoff. But then that's often the problem
with tech medical shows like these.
"A Matter of Honor" -- Air date: 2/6/1989. Teleplay by Burton Armus. Story
by Wanda M. Haight & Gregory Amos and Burton Armus. Directed by Robert
Commander Riker is selected to participate in an officer exchange program
that allows him to be the first Starfleet officer to serve aboard a Klingon
vessel. Logically, you would think this would mean a Klingon officer would
serve aboard the Enterprise, but since we already have Worf I guess that
would be a redundancy. Instead, we get Ensign Mendon (John Putch), a Benzite
who is very anxious to please. Mendon's arrogant-seeming personality is
initially an annoyance before the story demonstrates that it truly
understands him and allows us to sympathize with his different way of
looking at things.
"A Matter of Honor" is TNG at its pro-diversity best. It's a perfect vehicle
for Riker, providing an opportunity for him to exhibit both cerebral and
testosterone-driven attributes. Consider the scene in Ten-Forward where he
samples what seems like the entire Klingon menu: Here's a guy with a strong
stomach *and* a completely genuine desire to learn about and immerse himself
in an alien culture. Riker does his homework.
The scenes aboard the Klingon ship give us the first of the series'
first-person perspectives into the workings and mindset of the TNG-era
Klingons (which is to say the Klingons as allies rather than enemies). The
story makes no mistake about the fact that the Klingons are a very different
culture with very different values, as in the scene where Riker and first
officer Klag (Brian Thompson) discuss Klag's father, whom Klag has
essentially disowned because the father was unable to die in battle during
his prime. The beauty of "A Matter of Honor" is its ability to find common
ground between these divergent characters through universal qualities like
food, humor, and self-integrity.
The plot throws a complication into this theme when the Klingon crew finds a
substance eating away at the ship's hull and believes the Enterprise is to
blame (for reasons that the plot is able to almost make plausible). The only
thing holding this episode back somewhat is the stubborn, unlikely obstinacy
of Captain Kargan (Christopher Collins), who seems way too determined to
attack the Enterprise in retaliation rather than waiting to examine all the
facts. But I enjoyed Riker's clever response to Kargan's unwillingness to
listen, and his ability to play by the Klingons' rules in staging his power
play. Riker's demand for Picard's surrender is classic.
"The Measure of a Man" -- Air date: 2/13/1989. Written by Melinda M.
Snodgrass. Directed by Robert Scheerer.
In TNG's first bona fide classic, the nature of Data's existence becomes a
fascinating philosophical debate and a basis for a crucial legal argument
and Federation precedent. Commander David Maddox (Brian Brophy), on behalf
of Starfleet, orders Data to be reassigned and dismantled for scientific
research in the hopes of finding a way to manufacture more androids with his
physical and mental abilities. When Data says he would rather resign from
Starfleet, Maddox insists that Data has no rights and takes it up with the
region's newly created JAG office, headed by Capain Philipa Louvois (Amanda
McBroom), who serves as judge. Picard takes on the role of Data's defender.
This episode plays like a rebuke to "The Schizoid Man," taking the themes
that were intriguing in that episode and expanding upon them to much better
effect. What rights does Data have under the law, and is that the same as
what's morally right to grant him as a sentient machine? Of course, one of
Maddox's arguments is that Data doesn't have sentience, but merely the
appearance of such. The episode cleverly pits Riker against Picard; because
the new JAG office has no staff yet, the role of prosecution is forced upon
the first officer. Riker finds himself arguing a case he doesn't even
believe in -- but nevertheless ends up arguing it very well, including with
a devastating theatrical courtroom maneuver where he turns Data off on the
Picard's rebuttal is classic TNG ideology as put in a courtroom setting. The
concept of manufacturing a race of artificial but sentient people has
disturbing possibilities -- "an entire generation of disposable people," as
Guinan puts it. Picard's demand of an answer from Maddox, "What is he?"
strips the situation down to its bare basics, and Picard answers Starfleet's
mantra of seeking out new life by suggesting Data as the perfect example:
"THERE IT SITS." Great stuff.
Still, what I perhaps love most about this episode is the way Data initially
reacts to being told he has no rights. He takes what would for any man be a
reason for outrage and instead approaches the situation purely with logic.
He has strong opinions on the matter, but he doesn't get upset, because
that's outside the scope of his ability to react. His reaction is based
solely on the logical argument for his self-protection and his uniqueness.
And at the end, after he has won, he holds no ill will toward Maddox.
Indeed, he can sort of see where Maddox is coming from.
Trivia footnote: This is also the first episode of TNG to feature the poker
"The Dauphin" -- Air date: 2/20/1989. Written by Scott Rubenstein & Leonard
Mlodinow. Directed by Robert Bowman.
In what might've been the most inevitable story concept in early TNG annals,
the overly naive Wesley Crusher falls in love with the lovely Salia (Jaime
Hubbard), a 16-year-old girl who has been raised from a very young age to
rule the planet where the Enterprise is now transporting her. Salia is
accompanied by her grandmotherly-like guardian Anya (Paddi Edwards), whose
insistence that Salia stay focused on her destined duty (rather than on
boys) plays like a mission of monomania.
I could take obvious potshots at the much-targeted Wesley Crusher for the
sake of cheap entertainment value, but the fact of the matter is that I need
to accord the character a certain level of fairness. So I'll start with the
(surprisingly tempered and fair) potshot and then move on to the positive:
Wesley is too obviously painted as a naïve boy, with that overly anxious Wil
Wheaton smile and wonderment. (Yes, Wesley is young; does it need to be
hammered over our heads with zero subtlety? I don't think it does.)
On the other hand, Wesley's naïvete does make for relevant story material
and a different point of view vis-à-vis the rest of the bridge crew. The
Wesley-falls-in-love story is handled with tact and innocence, which I will
note as being to the episode's credit even as I admit my own personal
impatience as a more cynical television viewer. I liked a scene where he
seeks Riker's and Guinan's help, and they end up in a role-playing game that
ultimately ignores Wesley's questions ("Shut up, kid").
What I really could've done without, however, is Anya's overprotectiveness,
which takes on a ludicrous zeal that borders on the laughable. When Anya
finds out a patient in sickbay has a disease that has an infinitesimal
chance to infect Salia (on the order of nearly zero percent), she orders
Pulaski to kill the patient and then turns into a bug-eyed monster that
looks like it crawled out of a 1950s serial. Way too goofy. And one wonders
why the Enterprise would even grant passage to such gross, arrogant
But there are some good character moments here, like Worf's grudging respect
for Anya as a warrior/opponent, and especially the plight of Salia herself,
who must forgo the pleasures of living her own life in favor of fulfilling
her destined responsibilities. (That Salia herself is a shapeshifter is
almost beside the point in terms of her character's arc.) Guinan's closing
dialog with Wesley about the mutable nature of love is also fairly
"Contagion" -- Air date: 3/20/1989. Written by Steve Gerber & Beth Woods.
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.
Opening with a great hook, "Contagion" has the Enterprise rendezvousing in
the Romulan Neutral Zone with its sister ship, the Yamato (established in
"Where Silence Has Lease"), only to have the Yamato suddenly explode,
killing everyone aboard. A Romulan Warbird subsequently, and ominously,
arrives on the scene.
What happened here? Were the Romulans responsible? And why was the Yamato in
the Neutral Zone? Yamato Captain Varley's (Thalmus Rasulala) mission was an
urgent archeological chase, looking for the homeworld of the legendary
Iconians, an advanced society that went extinct thousands of years ago after
being besieged by its many enemies. Varley ventured into the Neutral Zone to
find the Iconian world and their surviving technology, lest it fall into
Romulan hands. Widespread malfunctions aboard the Yamato, however, made the
ship virtually inoperable and, ultimately, doomed it to its destruction.
Varley said he suspected possible design flaws, which leads the Enterprise
on a hunt through its systems to find its own possible problem. The answer:
a computer virus infected the Yamato when it was scanned by an Iconian
probe. The Enterprise itself becomes infected when it downloads the Yamato
As TNG procedural tech stories go, "Contagion" is a fairly entertaining one,
with its blend of ancient archeological mysteries, ominous Romulan threats
(this marks their first real appearance since season one's finale), computer
tech talk, and sometimes-amusing system malfunctions (the Enterprise as well
as the Romulan ship become unmanageable messes). The notion of the Iconian
"gateway" technology is fascinating, even though I found myself wondering
how an Iconian automated launching bay manages to continue functioning (not
to mention being so dust-free for the away team) rather than falling into
ruin after all these centuries.
What doesn't hold up is the plot advancement surrounding the computer virus
and the Enterprise's solution, which is to essentially wipe the affected
hard drives and restore them from backup. In a word: Duh. Shouldn't that
have been the first course of action? And doesn't the Enterprise computer
have virus-protection software? I also find it doubtful that the Yamato crew
wouldn't be able to figure out what was going on when they had just as much
information as the Enterprise crew. But I quibble on a basically solid show.
"The Royale" -- Air date: 3/27/1989. Written by Keith Mills. Directed by
The most interesting aspect of "The Royale" is its math-history footnote
concerning Fermat's Last Theorem, still unproved in 1989 when the episode
was made, and still allegedly unproved in the 24th century. Who would've
guessed then that the theorem, after more than 350 years, would be proved in
I mention that footnote in an episode that otherwise exhibits almost no
interest or merit. After the Enterprise crew finds a piece of NASA space
debris from the mid-21st century and traces it to a nearby planet, Riker,
Data, and Worf beam down and enter a mysterious building. Inside they find
an alien representation of a 20th-century casino hotel as based on a
"second-rate novel" owned by the NASA astronaut that had survived, and used
as a template by aliens to build him an oasis in the middle of a barren,
unlivable environment. It makes for a classic TNG Pointless Period Piece.
The first sentence of the novel was, "It was a dark and stormy night," and
the episode makes much of the fact that the novel is a piece of trash with
shallow characters and endless cliches. I suppose this is to cover the fact
that "The Royale," as an episode of TNG, has shallow characters and endless
cliches. Seriously, it must've been a hell of a writers' meeting: "Let's do
an episode that's about bad cliches and lame dialog so we don't have to
write something that's actually good!" (Apparently, they figured that by
pointing out that the storyline is dreck, that somehow excuses it.) The away
team becomes trapped in the hotel and can't escape, for no reason except
that this is a "Twilight Zone"-style mystery that has arbitrary rules and no
I suppose I could excuse a fantasy show if it were entertaining, but not
this one. There's no mystery or wonder or suspense, but merely bad cliches,
pointless guest characters, aimless dialog, and a plodding premise that
never comes close to justifying its fantasy elements. (And, no, Data playing
craps isn't enough.)
"Time Squared" -- Air date: 4/3/1989. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley. Story by
Kurt Michael Bensmiller. Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.
If "The Measure of a Man" plays as a rebuke to "The Schizoid Man" in terms
of artificial-intelligence themes, then so "Time Squared" plays as a rebuke
to "The Royale" in terms of procedural sci-fi mysteries. The crew is stunned
when they discover a duplicate of an Enterprise shuttlecraft adrift in the
middle of empty space, and inside the shuttle is a duplicate of Captain
Strangely, one of the reasons "Time Squared" works so well is because it
comes fairly early in the series' run, at a point when the show hasn't been
time-traveled to death. Here's an episode of TNG that is *not* jaded by the
fact that a duplicate of Picard has crossed through time and brings with him
crucial information about the Enterprise's near future. The story depicts
the duplicate Picard as a harbinger; Picard himself is unsettled by the
sight of his twin lying in sickbay, to the point that early on he flat-out
refuses to accept that the doppelganger is in fact the same person. When the
crew discovers the duplicate Picard's shuttle log, they determine the
duplicate is from approximately six hours in the Enterprise's future;
there's a disturbing video recording that shows the Enterprise being
The episode is a triumph of mood and tone, in no small part because of
Dennis McCarthy's ominous musical score, but also because the crew reacts
with genuine awe and concern to this bizarre situation. The way the mystery
is slowly broken down allows us to become fully immersed in the story. The
notion that the duplicate Picard has an internal biological clock that is
knocked out of whack is intriguing, even if it is the only such example in
Trek time-travel annals. The closer to his time we get, the more normal he
becomes, and yet we always get the sense that he's trapped in an unalterable
loop where his actions have already been preordained.
Best of all, the episode is content to let a mystery be a mystery. The
vortex that traps the Enterprise (which resembles an inside-out tornado in
space) seems to be governed by some form of intelligence, but the story
never spells out exactly how or why. And unlike "The Royale," the episode is
able to make unanswered questions part of its appeal, rather than a
"The Icarus Factor" -- Air date: 4/24/1989. Teleplay by David Assael &
Robert L. McCullough. Story by David Assael. Directed by Robert Iscove.
When Starfleet offers Riker his own ship and command, they send his father,
Kyle Riker (Mitchell Ryan), to brief him on the new mission. The two haven't
spoken in 15 years, and Riker has little desire to start now. Meanwhile,
Worf's mood is noticeably brooding, even for him.
"The Icarus Factor" has a certain amount of guts because it doesn't have a
plot in the traditional sense and instead puts its trust solely in
characters getting the job done. It's not a great show, and hardly one of
the series' most memorable, but I think it's a good one. Kyle Riker is
portrayed here as a well-intended father who is being made to pay by his son
for his past mistakes as a parent. Wil Riker has a lot of pent-up anger over
his mother, who died when he was a young child. As these sorts of
family-turmoil stories go, this is a passable one that tries to see both
sides and doesn't make anyone a hero or a villain but simply addresses this
as a problem faced by both parties. Pulaski has her own insights, as she
once was involved with Riker's father. The episode is perhaps overly
optimistic in the way it depicts Riker's forgiveness so quickly at the end
(either that, or their problem should've been solved years ago with one
talk), but I suppose that's part of the TNG charm. Also worth mention are
the Riker/Picard discussions about what it means to command a starship, even
if it's not something as high-profile as the Enterprise.
More interesting is the Worf storyline, which gives still more insight into
his (sometimes-insane-seeming) Klingon warrior code, and how that code
exists in isolation on the Enterprise. Leave it to the Klingons to have
something called "pain sticks" as part of a ritual involving the Age of
Ascension (of which it's Worf's 10th anniversary). I also want to quickly
mention Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney), whose profile became steadily higher
throughout the second season, to the point that he exists here as a
supporting character right alongside Geordi, Pulaski, and Wesley.
"Pen Pals" -- Air date: 5/1/1989. Teleplay by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Story by
Hannah Louise Shearer. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
In what's another somewhat low-key but palatable episode, Data makes radio
contact with a young alien girl named Sarjenka (Nikki Cox) on a nearby
planet, and they become "pen pals" for eight weeks. Data then learns the
girl's planet is facing an ecological catastrophe that will destroy their
entire civilization, and now the senior staff must decide whether to break
(or at least bend) the Prime Directive to save them.
The subplot involves Wesley being put in charge of a mineral survey team.
Considering he isn't even commissioned by Starfleet, I can see his
trepidation about not being respected by those on his team. For that matter,
I wouldn't necessarily blame those skeptical of his abilities since he
hasn't had any training. But I suppose part of being brilliant means you
don't necessarily need all the certifications. Riker's advice to Wesley
about leadership and authority is surprisingly credible -- even useful --
despite the fact it sounds like the sort of advice dispensed at corporate
The central point of interest to me is the fact that it's Data -- the
emotionless android -- who makes the initial case for Sarjenka's people's
survival, and that he formulates his argument based on logic but also --
make no mistake -- based on his own personal feelings. The story paints an
intriguing paradox: Data might not have any explicit emotions, but he does
have a sense of compassion for Sarjenka. Just what does this paradox mean?
How much humanity does Data possess? (It would seem a great deal.)
In true TNG fashion, there's a scene where the senior staff debates the
Prime Directive, and this scene is played not as drama or high emotion, but
as reasoned, intellectual debate based on opinion. Picard ultimately decides
to save the society but erase Sarjenka's memories of Data -- a solution that
poses an interesting question (is it right to deny Sarjenka the knowledge of
the truth?), but at the same time feels like too neat (and tech-contrived) a
way out of the dilemma.
"Q Who" -- Air date: 5/8/1989. Written by Maurice Hurley. Directed by Robert
Ah, at last, here's the most absolutely necessary episode of TNG's second
season. Q forces Picard to hear his request to join the Enterprise crew as a
guide. In a wonderful dialog scene that gets to the heart of the human drive
for learning by personal experience, Picard refuses on the grounds that Q's
presence would defeat the purpose of exploration. (That, and no one likes Q
anyway.) To prove his point with a twist of the knife, Q hurls the
Enterprise into an unexplored part of the galaxy (two years away from the
nearest Federation outpost), bringing the Enterprise into contact with a
cybernetic alien species called the Borg. (The episode also implies that the
Borg were responsible for the destroyed colonies along the Romulan Neutral
The best aspect of "Q Who" is its ability to mix the intellectual with the
visceral. In other words, it's the best kind of TNG action show, and should
stand as a lesson to sci-fi shows that are action-oriented: Your action
works only if it grows from a point of emotion, in this case genuine
scariness. The Borg are scary precisely because they cannot be reasoned with
and because their technology is vastly superior to the Enterprise's -- and
those two avenues are the basis by which nearly all TNG stories are
typically solved. The Borg have often been described simply as "implacable,"
and I agree that that's the best adjective for them. They are an implacable
foe, and we learn that very quickly by their behavior in this episode.
The industrial-cube design of the Borg vessel is brilliant in its
simplicity: Here's a society that has no regard for style or aesthetics but
simply raw function. When they communicate, it's with terse directives; they
epitomize the laconic. The episode puts good use to Guinan by revealing that
not only has she had past dealings with Q, but that her people's world was
destroyed by the Borg, essentially turning them into nomads.
Because this is an episode of TNG, the crew is still genuinely curious about
the Borg, as are we. An away team beams over to the Borg ship and we get a
chance to see their hive-like society, with imaginative visuals and
production design. The "Borg nursery" is an intriguingly chilling detail.
Such ominous concepts are all the more interesting to ponder when
considering the presence of the young and naïve, evidenced here by the cute
and plucky Ensign Sonya Gomez (Lycia Naff), whose infectious drive to do her
part as a member of the Enterprise crew is met here only with danger. If the
show had truly wanted to punch us in the stomach with its dark ambitions, it
would've had Gomez die.
The episode plays by its rules. The Borg are a superior and implacable
enemy, period, and the only way out is through Q, to whom Picard makes an
urgent plea for help when there are no other options. Q sums it up nicely
when he says, "It's not safe out here." Indeed, and it's nice to be reminded
of that by an episode that is equally as visceral as it is curious, and all
but promises that the Borg will be coming for us. If ever an episode
deserved to be saved for a season finale in a season that didn't have an
adequate (or even tolerable) finale, it's this one.
"Samaritan Snare" -- Air date: 5/15/1989. Written by Robert L. McCullough.
Directed by Les Landau.
Wesley must complete his Starfleet Academy entrance exams and is booked by
shuttle to travel to a nearby starbase. Picard goes along with him when
Pulaski orders him to have heart surgery at the starbase's medical facility,
for reasons Picard would like to keep as quiet as possible. With Riker in
command, the Enterprise answers the distress call from a disabled ship of
Pakleds, a race of humanoids that might best be described as ... slow. Riker
agrees to send Geordi to repair their engines.
Our attention is flagged when Worf repeatedly urges caution in answering a
call from a race the Enterprise knows nothing about. The Pakleds seem
harmless, even stupid, but it might all be a ruse. Then again, maybe not.
The fact that they feel confident (as Troi intuits) and not helpless might
be beside the point when considering their intelligence. Riker finds himself
managing a potentially deadly standoff when the Pakleds take Geordi's phaser
and hold him hostage, demanding all of the data in the Enterprise's
Even though the episode is always watchable, the problem is that the Pakleds
should never have gotten the upper hand in the first place -- not based on
what we see of their intelligence. The standoff is created by the
Enterprise's own shortsightedness: For example, why would they send Geordi
over with a phaser just so it can be used against him? Besides, I find the
plausibility of the Pakleds dubious. They're either too smart or too dumb to
be behaving this way, and for a long time the episode doesn't know which.
How could they have stolen so many others' technology using similar ruses?
Somehow, I don't see the Klingons or Romulans caving in to a hostage
standoff, or even being Good Samaritans that could become the victim of such
a ruse in the first place. The Enterprise's solution to the problem is an
elaborate con that proves my point: If the Pakleds are dumb enough to be
taken in by such ham-handed trickery, they couldn't possibly be able to
travel through space in the first place.
The subplot involving Wesley and Picard is actually pretty good, mostly
because of the issue of Picard's image. He doesn't want to have surgery on
the Enterprise -- and, for that matter, his whole dilemma involving his
artificial heart is established with a wonderfully told piece of backstory
that brings a whole new dimension to his character.
"Up the Long Ladder" -- Air date: 5/22/1989. Written by Melinda M.
Snodgrass. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
"Sometimes you just have to bow to the absurd," says Picard. Not me. Not for
this episode. Here lies a colossal mess of a show, mixing serious (albeit
unrealized) science fiction with broad, less-than-funny comedy. The
Enterprise comes to the rescue of two long-lost Earth colonies from a single
ship that was launched in the early 22nd century. One colony lives on a
planet as anachronistic farmers with no technology; the other lives on
another planet completely reliant on technology, with cloning having
replaced sexual reproduction (which they now find "repugnant").
Let's start with the need to make the primitive colony into broad Irish
caricatures: What was the point? It's supposed to be funny, but it ends up
providing nothing but annoying stereotypes. The community leader, Danilo
O'Dell (Barrie Ingham), is purely a grotesquery of himself. His daughter,
Brenna (Rosalyn Landor), is immediately a target and conquest for Riker, for
reasons completely unknown to the plot and the characters. Why do they hook
up? Okay, it provides a reason for Brenna to start taking off her clothes
(which I suppose was fun for me at age 13 when this show originally aired),
but that's about it. Some of the Worf Ultimate Straight Man humor works to a
degree ("Then you would suffocate and die"), as well as his honor-bonding
with Pulaski near the beginning.
At about the midway point the episode pulls a 180 by following the serious
story of the modern colony and its cloning procedures. They need a new
infusion of DNA to survive and want the Enterprise crew members to
volunteer. This leads to some interesting ideas about the nature of
individuality amid cloning, and one particularly attention-getting scene
where Riker destroys two developing clones of himself and Pulaski that were
obtained illegally; in the right writer's hands, this could've been a
provocative rape-victim/abortion allegory. As it is, the whole storyline is
The solution proposed at the end is hammered together as an exercise in
convenient TNG ultra-simplicity. Because the hour is over, the problem must
be solved using the available variables at hand, with no parts left over.
"Manhunt" -- Air date: 6/19/1989. Written by Terry Devereaux. Directed by
Lwaxana Troi comes aboard the ship in the midst of a Betazoid phase that's
equivalent to a human woman's menopause, with the Betazoid side effect being
the quadrupling (or more) of her sex drive. Lwaxana begins romantically
pursuing Picard, which forces him to go into hiding in the holodeck novel
world of Dixon Hill in order to avoid her, while avoiding offending her.
"Manhunt" has got to be one of the most padded-out, pointless filler
episodes in the entire series' run (with the obvious exception of "Shades of
Gray," which we'll get to shortly). It wants to be a comedy with no hard
plot -- which is fine in concept -- but the comedy scenes aren't funny
enough and are padded to embarrassing length with meandering material that
simply goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.
It's starts out reasonably, with Lwaxana being her usual attention-starved
self -- and not even in an off-putting way; she's kind of a likable
motormouth. Picard becomes her unwitting one-on-one dinner guest in a
situation he didn't expect. His solution is to invite Data to fill the
awkward pauses. Not a bad comic concept. But the longer the episode goes on,
the more tiresome and pointless it grows, until by the end we're positively
baffled: What is the point of all this? The answer is: There isn't one. This
is an episode about behavior (I'm at a loss to qualify "behavior" with a
useful adjective) put to no purpose.
There are scenes in the holodeck that exist simply to fill time and
accomplish nothing the least bit important to anything. They aren't nearly
interesting or fun enough to distract from the fact they're pointless. This
whole episode is utterly inexplicable.
"The Emissary" -- Air date: 6/29/1989. Teleplay by Richard Manning & Hans
Beimler. Story by Thomas H. Calder. Directed by Cliff Bole.
Starfleet sends the Enterprise on an urgent mission to rendezvous with a
special emissary with crucial information, and it turns out the emissary is
the half-human, half-Klingon woman K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson, appropriately
tall and formidable, but also personable), who was involved in some
mysterious way with Worf six years earlier. Worf is not pleased to see her.
I gotta say: I *wanted* to like this episode -- with its Worf character
development, Klingon angst that turns to Klingon sex, and, of course, Suzie
Plakson -- but ultimately it just doesn't work. K'Ehleyr briefs the
Enterprise staff on the situation: A Klingon ship whose crew has been in
stasis for the past century (and thus still thinks the Klingons are at war
with the Federation) is about to awaken, and the Enterprise may be the only
ship close enough to stop them before they unleash a fury of terror on
nearby Federation colonies. I find this plot just a little bit ludicrous.
The Klingons of the old era are seen as not merely aggressive, but also
apparently as mindless drones -- and besides, where would the honor be in
destroying colonies with minimal defenses?
More interesting is the backstory that surrounds Worf and K'Ehleyr; they had
an unconsummated relationship six years ago, and they haven't spoken since
the relationship ended. This episode establishes Worf's attitude on
relationships, which is that they must be taken seriously -- as seriously
as, say, a heart attack. K'Ehleyr, unlike Worf, has an outward sense of
humor, but pursuant to all Trekkian characters who are trapped between
cultures, she struggles with her Klingon temper. Unfortunately, the
Worf/K'Ehleyr bickering is not performed well enough to transcend cliche.
The high point of the episode comes when K'Ehleyr uses Worf's holodeck
exercise program and Worf joins her in a battle that turns to (apparent)
heated sex. I guess one of my problems with the episode is that the sex and
its aftereffects are kept so far off the screen that it's something of a
letdown. The episode tiptoes around the word "sex" so carefully that it
doesn't seem like the characters actually had it. Worf's attitudes on sex
are the same as everything else -- he takes it as a deadly serious
enterprise that must end in marriage (which K'Ehleyr doesn't want) and
doesn't seem to know what fun is. You've got to admire his personal code.
Worf also gets his "first command" in a scene of trickery that persuades the
Klingon ship to stand down. Unfortunately, like a lot of the episode, the
concept is better than the execution, which feels forced.
"Peak Performance" -- Air date: 7/10/1989. Written by David Kemper. Directed
by Robert Scheerer.
As a result of the Borg threat (a nice little nod to continuity, that),
Starfleet orders Picard and Riker to go head-to-head in a simulated battle
as part of a new program to develop tactical skills among Starfleet crews,
which Picard notes "is not a military organization." Along to observe is
brilliant war strategist Kolrami (Roy Brocksmith), from a race of strategy
masterminds that no one has dared challenge for centuries. In an observant
detail of one sizing up someone else, Worf says the lack of any direct
challenge essentially invalidates the reputation. (The theme of the show is
sizing up people and situations.) Riker takes command of the derelict USS
Hathaway to oversee a crew of 40, hand-picked from the Enterprise. He and
his crew must improvise a way to compete in a battle where they are
outmanned, outgunned, and, well, out-everythinged.
I enjoy stories about tactics and cunning, and this is a good one from TNG.
One tactic involves Wesley playing the innocence routine "to shut down a
science project" in order to steal some antimatter from the Enterprise.
Another involves Worf creating an illusion that looks like something real (a
Romulan Warbird) in an environment that's supposed to be all simulated.
There's also a subplot where Pulaski sets up a match of Strategema between
Data and the arrogant Kolrami (Pulaski hopes to deflate Kolrami's ego), and
Data ends up *losing*. This sends Data on an over-analytical search through
his systems to find the "problem." The scene where Picard sets him straight
is classic Picard -- thoughtful, firm, reassuring.
The show's plot twist is that a real Ferengi ship shows up in the middle of
the simulation and opens fire on the Enterprise, leading to a real test of
improvised tactics. Armin Shimerman makes another appearance here as yet
another Ferengi. (Another cameo I found amusing was by Glenn Morshower --
the always reliable Aaron Pierce on "24" -- as Ensign Burke.) Honestly, I
could've done without the Ferengi altogether. The episode cunningly
distracts us: By having the Ferengi interrupt the war games between Picard
and Riker, the story doesn't have to offer up a resolution in which one of
them actually wins. I for one am curious: Who would've won this battle
simulation, and what would that have meant?
Perhaps the only satisfactory outcome would've been a draw. The story saves
that for the Strategema rematch between Data and Kolrami. The payoff has
Data saying, "I busted him up," which goes down (or at least should) as a
classic Data line.
"Shades of Gray" -- Air date: 7/17/1989. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley and
Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. Story by Maurice Hurley. Directed by Robert
Worst. Finale. Ever. I might as well get it out of the way and call it the
most pointless episode of TNG ever made. Honestly, was this episode even
meant to be taken seriously, or were the creators as hopelessly desperate to
fill the hour as it looks? Part of me thinks it's unfair to even assign a
star rating to a clip show, but I'm going to do it anyway and assign it,
let's see, no stars. (I suppose every Trek series has to have one.)
Not only are the choices of clips mostly bad (not that they had much to
choose from at this point), the framing device is terrible: Riker is
infected with parasites on an away mission, and the only way to keep them
from destroying his brain are to combat them with endorphins by triggering
his memory. His memories, of course, are all clips from previous first- and
second-season episodes of the show. How convenient. Or, for us,
One nice aspect of this episode is that it took me about 25 minutes to watch
on DVD because of the fast-forward button and the fact that I've seen all
these other episodes in the last few months and don't feel obligated to
watch excerpts again. (I can't imagine watching this episode again *without*
a fast-forward button.) But, for the record, the clips are from the
following episodes, in this order: "The Last Outpost," "Encounter at
Farpoint," "The Dauphin," "The Icarus Factor," "Justice," "11001001," "Angel
One," "Up the Long Ladder," "Skin of Evil," "The Child," "A Matter of
Honor," "Conspiracy," "Symbiosis," "The Last Outpost" again, "Skin of Evil"
again, "11001001" again, and "Heart of Glory." And, of course, a montage
where lots of stuff blows up (including Remmick's head from "Conspiracy,"
which is almost worth a free half-star by itself, but I'll resist).
While there are clips from a few good shows, many of the clips are from some
of the series' worst episodes, and there's no reason to be repeating them.
The episode's "original material" depicts how happy memories strengthen the
parasites while painful ones ward them off. The scenes in sickbay with Troi
and Pulaski employ much unendurable medical babble that seems to be
repeating on an endless loop. I seem to remember there was a writers' strike
either before or during this season of TNG. Based on this episode, they
should've taken more time off.
Rating: zero stars
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com/
Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...