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[TNG] Jammer's Reviews: The Complete Third Season

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Star Trek: The Next Generation Jammer s Reviews of the Complete Third Season For episodes airing from 9/25/1989 to 6/18/1990 Series created by Gene Roddenberry
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2007
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      Star Trek: The Next Generation
      Jammer's Reviews of the Complete Third Season

      For episodes airing from 9/25/1989 to 6/18/1990
      Series created by Gene Roddenberry
      Executive producers: Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman

      Reviews by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "Evolution" -- Air date: 9/25/1989. Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by
      Michael Piller & Michael Wagner. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      An obsessed scientist on a deadline. A science project by Wesley Crusher run
      awry. The Enterprise computer on the fritz. An alien influence
      misunderstood. A crisis in which the Enterprise is potentially threatened.
      And a solution that embraces humanism and cooperation and never cynicism or
      brute aggression.

      Yes, all the pieces are here for a restrained season opener that utilizes
      every typical element that embodies the TNG story ethic. It's routine almost
      to a fault, but if you can't respect this episode for what it is, then you
      probably can't respect TNG for what it stands for.

      Wesley finds that his science project -- in which he combined two types of
      nanites (microscopic robots) to improve their functionality, resulting in an
      unintended AI evolution -- may be the cause of a series of computer
      malfunctions not unlike the ones seen in "Contagion." The malfunctions are
      threatening (in addition to the Enterprise, ultimately) the life work of Dr.
      Stubbs (Ken Jenkins), who is supposed to observe a stellar phenomenon that
      happens only once every two centuries.

      The story is reminiscent of first season's "Home Soil" in its interest in
      studying, documenting, and communicating with a new inorganic life form. The
      nanites are a neat idea, although I have a problem with the notion of such
      dangerous AI technology being so readily available to anyone, let alone a
      teenager. There's also the issue of how quickly and easily computer hardware
      here becomes a sentient civilization, and whether this story revelation
      represents a can of worms. (I'm reminded of the "mimetic symbiont" used to
      clone Trip in Enterprise's "Similitude.")

      The show also has time for some palatable character touches. Dr. Crusher has
      returned, and finds that she doesn't quite know who her son has become as a
      17-year-old. Also, Stubbs is depicted not simply as an obsessed scientist
      but a man whose life meaning is on the line. During his downtime, he plays
      entire baseball seasons in his head. He has a nice little speech about how
      the death of baseball came at the hands of a society that no longer had the
      patience for it. Given this episode and Sisko in DS9, you conclude that
      Michael Piller must've been a baseball fan.

      Rating: ***

      "The Ensigns of Command" -- Air date: 10/2/1989. Written by Melinda M.
      Snodgrass. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      The Sheliak, who consider humans to be beneath them, order the removal of a
      human colony from a planet that, in accordance with the Federation/Sheliak
      treaty, they own. The colony of 15,000 was unknown to the Federation, and is
      made up of the descendants of a Federation vessel that crashed there more
      than a century ago. The Sheliak intend to colonize the planet in four days;
      they will likely eradicate the population if the Enterprise does not remove

      One of the appeals of "Ensigns" is its two-tiered plot structure, in which
      both storylines document the problem-solving methods in an uphill climb to
      fix a mess of a situation before the ticking clock expires. Picard must
      figure out how to negotiate more time from the hopelessly obstinate Sheliak,
      while Data must figure out how to convince the prideful (and perhaps equally
      hopelessly obstinate) colonists to give up their homes and leave.

      The results are mixed. This is a competent TNG story, but it has some
      evident problems in execution. Most notable is the depiction of the
      colonists in their extended dealings with Data. While Data's assignment
      gives him a new challenge (figuring out how to improvise while working a
      problem that requires extensive knowledge of human nature), a lot of these
      scenes simply don't work because of the belabored drama. The talky
      grandstanding of this kind of TNG effort requires actors that can rise to
      the challenge. Grainger Hines as Gosheven, the wrongheaded leader of the
      colony, is a wooden actor that sinks many of these scenes. In fact, a lot of
      the guest performances in these scenes are misfires. Data's interactions
      with Ard'rian (Eileen Seeley) are merely adequate.

      Faring slightly better are Picard's dealings with the extremely inflexible
      Sheliak (whose homeworld is appropriately dubbed "Sheliak Corporate"); they
      continuously hang up on Picard when he tries to talk to them. Picard's
      bureaucratic solution to the bureaucratic problem makes for a truly funny
      and satisfying payoff.

      Meanwhile, the scenes on the colony build to an effective demonstration of
      action by Data, but the ending only underlines (1) the obvious lack of
      communication up to that point and (2) the apparent stupidity of Gosheven
      and the colonists. Simply put, if the colonists know what a starship is (and
      they do), they should understand what kind of threat is looming without Data
      having to prove it.

      Rating: **1/2

      "The Survivors" -- Air date: 10/9/1989. Written by Michael Wagner. Directed
      by Les Landau.

      "The Survivors" is one of TNG's most unsung gems -- a slowly building sci-fi
      mystery that thinks big while all the time going to painstaking efforts to
      keep the drama small and intimate. It starts as the mystery of two people
      and slowly and implacably marches toward a revelation that's haunting and
      universe-shaking in its exceptionally quiet way.

      The Enterprise races to answer a distress call from the colony at Rana IV;
      when they arrive, they find the world has been completely destroyed by an
      unknown alien attack. There are no survivors ... except for Kevin and Rishon
      Uxbridge (John Anderson and Anne Haney), whose house and a few acres of land
      have survived the complete scorching of the rest of the planet's surface.
      Why has this elderly couple survived while the rest of the 11,000 colonists

      This story belongs to a subgenre that might best be called "Twilight Zone
      Trek." Strange things are afoot. The Uxbridges say they do not know why they
      were spared, but Kevin is obviously hiding something. He's adamant that
      Picard and the Federation simply leave them alone. An unknown, heavily
      armed, and mean-looking alien vessel appears and attacks the Enterprise. Its
      actions are erratic. Troi begins hearing a repeating song in her mind that
      gets louder and louder and will not go away. Her disturbed mental state
      starts off as a small, percolating problem, but like the rest of the
      episode, it slowly and steadily builds until her mental anguish pushes her
      to insanity.

      This story is pitch-perfect in tone. The behavior and method of the attacks
      from the alien vessel hint that its real goal is simply to coax the
      Enterprise away from Rana. The clues lead us to the inevitable truth that
      all of this has to do with Kevin and his pacifist stance when the aliens
      attacked the colony. Why didn't he fight when the rest of the colony was
      trying to defend itself? All the answers lie in a revelation that is truly
      one of TNG's more unsettling concepts: Kevin is actually a superbeing called
      a Douwd, capable of boundless power, but assuming human identity to live
      with his human wife Rishon. He put the music in Troi's head to keep her from
      learning the truth: Great power requires great restraint, which Kevin
      exercised until Rishon was killed in the attack, at which point he lashed
      out and killed the Husnock -- not just the attackers, but the entire race of
      50 billion. Kevin's confession is a stunning revelation of frightening
      power, profound individual guilt, and audacious sci-fi imagination. If you
      stop and think about a being with cosmic power like that, humanity seems but
      a speck of insignificance.

      For once, there's no humanistic preaching that Picard can possibly make.
      Concerning a being of such limitless power, Picard simply concludes, "We are
      not qualified to be your judge." The episode ends with one of Picard's most
      memorable voice-over logs: "We leave behind a being of extraordinary power
      and conscience. I'm not sure whether he should be praised or condemned --
      only that he should be left alone."

      Rating: ****

      "Who Watches the Watchers" -- Air date: 10/16/1989. Written by Richard
      Manning & Hans Beimler. Directed by Robert Wiemer.

      An anthropological research station overlooking a primitive society called
      the Mintakans suffers a catastrophic malfunction that allows the
      holographically shrouded station to become visible to its Mintakan subjects.
      A Mintakan named Liko (Ray Wise) witnesses the Enterprise's ensuing rescue
      mission and is critically injured in a fall. Rather than letting him die,
      Crusher beams him aboard, repairs his injuries, and erases his short-term
      memory. The memory wipe doesn't take, and Liko tells the story of what he
      witnessed aboard the Enterprise to his fellow Mintakans. He believes "the
      Picard" is a god who gave him back his life.

      As an episode that dramatizes the purpose of the Prime Directive and the
      dangers of cultural contamination, "Who Watches the Watchers" is perhaps
      definitive. The question of whether you can study something without running
      the risk of affecting the results is answered here by a series of accidents
      that ultimately suggests an entire religion could eventually be formed
      around "the Picard" as based on Liko's experience.

      But this episode is also definitive as an example of short-changing a
      concept by way of extreme microcosm. An entire planet's culture (and this
      has frequently been one of my complaints about Trek) is represented based
      solely on a dozen villagers who seem more like isolated nomads than part of
      a real, larger society. Meanwhile, characters in this story make sweeping
      assumptions that are almost absurd in their broadness. The idea that Liko's
      experience will "inevitably" lead to a religion worshipping Picard strikes
      me as an unlikely conclusion given what we know about the Mintakans. Surely
      there must be other societal factors in play in order for a religion to take
      hold and flourish. One man speaking secondhand nonsense cannot change the

      For that matter, this episode's take on religion seems awfully simplistic.
      While it would be against the Prime Directive to allow Picard to be seen as
      a god, Picard has a speech here that seems to be against religion at all.
      The Mintakans left behind their supernatural beliefs generations ago, and
      Picard sees that as an achievement from the "dark ages" which he does not
      intend to allow they return to. Of course, there's no mention of the status
      of human religion. (I suppose the 20th century was still the "dark ages"
      because of all the silly human religious beliefs that persisted?)

      In the latter acts, Picard tries to convince Nuria (Kathryn Leigh Scott)
      that he is not a god but simply part of a society that has more knowledge.
      This concept seems to arise from a what-if premise: What if you could show a
      person from 2,000 years ago what the world looks like today? The story does
      its best to create a sense of wonder in this, but never quite reaches
      takeoff velocity.

      Rating: **1/2

      "The Bonding" -- Air date: 10/23/1989. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed
      by Winrich Kolbe.

      During a routine archeological mission commanded by Worf, Lt. Aster (Susan
      Powell) is killed by a land mine from a long-forgotten war. She leaves
      behind a 12-year-old son on the Enterprise, Jeremy (Gabriel Damon), whose
      father is also dead. The command staff must break the news to Jeremy and
      deal with the aftermath.

      "The Bonding" is the episode that Ronald D. Moore famously sold as a spec
      script, which ultimately led to him being hired as a writer on TNG. It's got
      some of the hallmarks of Moore in it (real-world military issues, Klingon
      customs), but it's also got a number of Trek cliches (fantasy versus
      reality, aliens with remarkable powers). As these things go, the episode is
      on the upper end of mediocrity.

      The show is best when it confronts head-on the fact that a starship can be a
      dangerous place where people die. It also confronts the issue of children
      being on board the ship. At one point, Picard says flat-out that he has
      always had his doubts about it. The best scenes involve Worf, who must deal
      with the fact that someone has died under his command. His scene at the end
      with Jeremy, where they undergo the Klingon bonding ritual, has a mildly
      intriguing resonance. Other reasonable scenes feature the inclusion of
      Wesley in Jeremy's grieving process; Wesley approaches the situation from
      personal experience.

      But the show is worst when it's (too frequently) documenting the mysterious
      alien presence, which appears to Jeremy as his mother and supplies him with
      a fantasy that re-creates a pleasant memory. You can feel the air going out
      of the story when Jeremy's dead mother suddenly returns, as if she were a
      ghost. (Aliens as dead people = silly and boring. Susan Powell's performance
      = wooden and ineffective.) Fortunately, this premise is somewhat redeemed by
      its dialog. When it comes to exploring the human condition via long-winded
      philosophy, no one does it better than Picard, who has a decent speech about
      facing the realities that life deals us. But it's not enough to elevate a
      frequently lackluster hour.

      Rating: **

      "Booby Trap" -- Air date: 10/30/1989.Teleplay by Ron Roman and Michael
      Piller & Richard Danus. Story by Michael Wagner & Ron Roman. Directed by
      Gabrielle Beaumont.

      The Enterprise finds a 1,000-year-old relic adrift in an ancient debris
      field. Picard -- intrigued from a historical point of view -- eagerly leads
      an away team to tour the relic. He likens the ship to a ship in a bottle,
      which prompts an amusing dialog exchange. Picard: "Didn't anyone play with
      ships in bottles when they were boys?" Worf: "I did not play with toys."
      Data: "I was never a boy."

      Once inside the debris field, however, the Enterprise is ensnared in an
      ancient booby trap that sucks power from its victims' ships and then uses
      that same power against them in the form of lethal radiation. An away team
      discovers that the crew of the relic suffered exactly that fate. Geordi must
      now race against the clock to find a way to escape the debris field before
      the crew is exposed to lethal radiation. He does this in the holodeck with a
      computerized composite of one of the ship's key designers, Dr. Leah Brahms
      (Susan Gibney).

      "Booby Trap" is a good, geeky, technobabble episode. In classic TNG fashion,
      it is *about* working a problem and very little more. The technical jargon
      goes on and on; you sort of have to take it on faith that it has meaning.
      Actually, writing good technobabble takes a certain level of skill, because
      in between the meaningless terms a writer must insert a certain amount of
      tech that actually comes from the real world and is not arbitrary. The
      writers of this episode know that, because the technobabble manages to
      maintain a certain level of credibility.

      The episode is also about Geordi facing romantic difficulties. He has
      trouble relating to women and tries too hard to impress them. Yeah, sounds
      like a nerd problem. Still, I've always found something slightly pathetic
      about this story's subtle message that the perfect woman for Geordi might be
      a holodeck character. Or perhaps it's just saying that nerds should date
      other nerds in their field. Funny -- you'd think a place like the
      Enterprise's engineering deck would be teeming with them. In that case,
      maybe it's a workplace sexual harassment issue.

      Rating: ***

      "The Enemy" -- Air date: 11/6/1989.Written by David Kemper and Michael
      Piller. Directed by David Carson.

      An Enterprise away team investigates the crash of a Romulan vessel just
      inside Federation territory along the Neutral Zone. They discover an injured
      survivor (Steven Rankin) from the crash on the surface of the hellhole
      planet. A mishap causes Geordi to go missing on the mission, and the
      Enterprise is unable to locate him due to the violent electromagnetic
      storms. The heat is turned up under the entire situation when a Romulan
      Warbird commanded by Tomalak (Andreas Katsulas in what would become a
      semi-recurring role) ventures into the Neutral Zone and demands that Picard
      return the injured Romulan prisoner.

      "The Enemy" is a perfect combination of multiple plot lines that come
      together to form a single coherent story. There are three interesting
      threads, which give the ensemble plenty to do, and all of which forward the
      overall plot. On the planet surface we've got Geordi stranded in a survival
      situation, which forces him to be innovative; there's a refreshingly
      dialog-free scene where Geordi must escape a pit by cleverly creating
      climbing spikes out of metallic ore fragments. Later, when Geordi is taken
      prisoner by Bochra (John Snyder), another Romulan crash survivor, their
      conversations provide a window into the Romulan mind. Ultimately, they must
      work together to survive and escape the planet surface -- a TNG solution, to
      be sure. Their method of escape involves typical TNG tech made interesting
      by the uneasy symbiotic relationship that Geordi and Bochra find themselves

      Meanwhile, Riker gets refreshingly riled up over the mission going bad, and
      he doesn't want to take crap from the Romulans. Worf finds himself in a
      position where he is the only possible donor who can save the injured
      Romulan's life. The dilemma shows how bitter hatred can persist for
      generations, and I especially like how the story doesn't go all sentimental
      and give Worf a last-second change of heart. His refusal adds an interesting
      wrinkle to an already delicate situation. Picard stops short of ordering
      Worf to cooperate, which is an intriguing choice. Picard lets the cards fall
      where they may, and the Romulan dies.

      With the diplomatic situation quickly deteriorating (including some
      effective tough-talk by Picard), Tomalak enters Federation space. The
      showdown between Picard and Tomalak generates true suspense; "The Enemy"
      deals with the issue of cold-war-style brinkmanship better than any TNG
      story I can immediately recall. Picard's risky gesture of trust to defuse
      the situation is a memorable one. The final solution is perhaps a bit pat,
      but the story earns its peaceful payoff by bringing together all the plot
      threads with commendable precision.

      Rating: ***1/2

      "The Price" -- Air date: 11/13/1989. Written by Hannah Louise Shearer.
      Directed by Robert Scheerer.

      The Enterprise hosts the negotiations for acquiring the custody rights of
      the only stable wormhole known to exist (prior to the discovery of the
      Bajoran wormhole in DS9, of course), discovered by the Barzan, whose
      representative (Elizabeth Hoffman) wants to sell it to whomever offers them
      the best benefits. The Federation sends their negotiator (Castulo Guerra) to
      the table while Geordi and Data venture into the wormhole to run tests and
      confirm its value.

      Also at the negotiation table are the Ferengi (always annoying), and the
      Chrysalians, who are represented by Devinoni Ral (Matt McCoy), whose
      reputation as a brilliant negotiator precedes him. Ral and Troi fall in love
      at first sight, in swift romantic scenes that are earnest but less than
      believable (to say this relationship moves fast would be understatement of
      the year). Their connection might be explained by the fact that he is
      one-quarter Betazoid and has empathic abilities similar to hers, which might
      explain some of his success as a negotiator.

      "The Price" is a passable episode because it strikes a workable balance
      between the Ral/Troi romance and the negotiations, and even ties the two
      together thematically. There's a good dinner-table dialog scene where Troi
      calls Ral out for unethically hiding the fact that he's a Betazoid, and Ral
      counter-challenges by calling Troi's own conduct into question. Meanwhile,
      Riker finds himself pushed into the negotiations when the Federation's
      negotiator is poisoned; an ensuing scene between him and Ral discusses the
      matter of Troi and ends in a way that sheds light on the way both Riker and
      Ral think.

      Unfortunately, the presence of the Ferengi threaten to turn the whole thing
      into a farce. The Ferengi are too obnoxious to be entertaining, and too rude
      to be taken seriously as negotiators. That Picard allows them in the game at
      all is a testament to his acceptance of inappropriate behavior. When two of
      the Ferengi get stranded on the wrong side of the wormhole (which turns out
      *not* to be stable and thus, ironically, worthless), we're glad because that
      means there's two less Ferengi we have to see in the episode. Bringing such
      broad caricatures into an otherwise workable story is nothing short of

      Rating: **1/2

      "The Vengeance Factor" -- Air date: 11/20/1989. Written by Sam Rolfe.
      Directed by Timothy Bond.

      The Enterprise is pulled into mediating an agreement involving the
      Acamarians and their renegade subculture of "Gatherers" (a better word would
      be "pirates"), who broke off from mainstream Acamarian society a century ago
      and now live as criminal exiles. Acamarian leader Marouk (Nancy Parsons)
      reluctantly agrees to try to bring the Gatherers back into her society now
      that Acamarian life has given up its warlike ways.

      Picard attempts to get everyone to sit down together at the negotiation
      table, but it won't be easy. The Gatherers open fire at the first sight of
      anyone that comes near their camp. The leader of this particular clan of
      Gatherers is Brull (Joey Aresco), who agrees to the negotiations. But
      there's also a murderer going around killing very specific Gatherer
      individuals, taking revenge (we eventually learn) in a long-ago blood feud.
      The killer, unbeknownst to everyone but us, is Yuta (Lisa Wilcox), who is
      Marouk's personal servant and also a young woman that Riker attempts to

      "The Vengeance Factor" is a borderline incoherent mess, with a plot that --
      okay, it *does* hold together, but it's a really rough road to get there.
      There are too many characters and not enough investment in any of them.
      There is no clear line of drama, making it very difficult to become involved
      in the story. We get dull negotiation scenes, then lackluster romantic
      scenes, then halfhearted character scenes. The story initially makes much of
      Brull, an obnoxious vulgarian who is at first menacing and then kind of
      likable, and then he becomes irrelevant to the story and disappears. The
      "romantic" scenes between Riker and Yuta are awkward and ineffective. They
      serve only to set up the final act, in which Riker is tragically forced to
      kill Yuta to stop her from carrying out the story's titular vengeance
      factor. The story's message is acceptable. Its execution is not.

      Rating: **

      "The Defector" -- Air date: 1/1/1990. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed
      by Robert Scheerer.

      A Romulan scout ship, under attack from a pursuing Romulan Warbird, comes
      charging across the Neutral Zone. Its sole occupant, Setal (James Sloyan),
      desperately requests asylum, which the Enterprise grants. Setal claims that
      a secret Romulan base along the Neutral Zone is the site of a massive
      Romulan fleet poised for an invasion.

      Ron Moore's second TNG script is a marked improvement over his first.
      "Defector" documents -- with high stakes and no shortage of fascinating
      twists and turns -- a consistently interesting battle of wits between the
      Romulans and Federation. In its third season, TNG has turned the Romulan
      Empire into a worthy nemesis that is as sneaky and cunning as it is
      aggressive and threatening.

      The central question of this story is whether Setal is actually telling the
      truth, or if he is a Romulan spy trying to lure the Enterprise with false
      intelligence into illegally entering the Neutral Zone and starting a war.
      Setal is perfectly played by James Sloyan, who conveys the urgent sincerity
      of a man trying to prevent a war while at the same time playing a man who is
      still every bit Romulan at heart, from his love for his homeland to his
      hatred of the Klingons (he curses Worf in an early scene) to his acerbic,
      superior attitude. He's here because he wants to stop what he believes is a
      misguided offensive that will destroy his homeland, not because he wants to
      betray it. The plot thickens when Setal is revealed to actually be Admiral
      Jarok, a high-ranking official responsible for infamous attacks on the

      Picard's dilemma is that he has no evidence of a Romulan invasion plot other
      than Jarok's word. Indeed, evidence suggests that the Romulans' pursuit of
      Jarok might have been staged entirely for the Enterprise's benefit. In a
      startlingly terrific scene, Picard pointedly gives Jarok a wake-up call,
      telling him that he's already a traitor to his people, no matter how much he
      may think he's trying to be a patriot, and that he should follow through on
      his intentions and give the Enterprise the information they need to
      investigate the allegation properly.

      It all leads to a dangerous venture into the Neutral Zone, which leads to
      another interesting showdown with Tomalak. The Romulans' willingness to use
      Jarok as a patsy in this plan is diabolically devious -- one might say cruel
      -- and makes Jarok the tragic figure in a heartless chess game. Just when
      the Enterprise looks outmatched and outgunned, Picard has one last trick up
      his sleeve. The writers had cleverly sneaked in the crucial clue (about the
      cloaked Klingon escorts) just under the radar. This chess game ends in a
      stalemate that keeps war at bay.

      Rating: ****

      "The Hunted" -- Air date: 1/8/1990. Written by Robin Bernheim. Directed by
      Cliff Bole.

      The Angosians, applying for Federation membership, invite the Enterprise
      crew to their world. The visit is cut short, however, when a dangerous
      prisoner escapes a high-security prison and attempts to flee the planet.
      After much effort (the prisoner is innovative and unyielding) the Enterprise
      stops the man, named Danar (Jeff McCarthy), and holds him in the brig. Danar
      says the Angosian government engineered him (and all the prisoners) to be
      perfect soldiers. With wartime over, they were all deemed dangerous and cast
      into these prisons to safeguard the rest of the population.

      "The Hunted" has philosophical intentions. It asks questions like: Is it
      wrong to engineer people to be perfect killing machines to fight your wars,
      while hiding key facts from them? Is it wrong for the government to wash its
      hands of them after they are no longer needed to fight? Is imprisonment
      still imprisonment even if the facilities are comfortable? These are not
      particularly challenging questions, I'll grant. That's the problem; "The
      Hunted" is a little obvious.

      The rest of the time, there's routine action on a TNG budget. Danar runs
      around the Enterprise causing hand phasers to overload and eluding Worf's
      security teams. Maybe Danar's really smart and strong, or maybe Worf's
      security teams are less than competent. You decide. I also did not
      understand how Danar escaped a transporter beam by causing an explosion from
      within it (without killing himself).

      The episode ends with the typical TNG moralizing, where Picard gives a
      long-winded speech that is reasonable, yes, but talks down to the Angosians
      and, thus, us. The head of the government is played by James Cromwell as a
      bureaucrat who wants to close his eyes and pretend an obvious problem does
      not exist rather than trying to deal with it. There's a certain satisfaction
      in watching Picard wash his hands of a situation where the genie has been
      uncorked and now the Angosians must deal with the consequences. Frankly,
      they had it coming. But when you're reduced to laughing at a society for
      their wrongheaded mistakes, the story has become too simplistic.

      Rating: **1/2

      "The High Ground" -- Air date: 1/29/1990. Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass.
      Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

      While on a mission of mercy delivering medical supplies to a war-torn world,
      Crusher is taken hostage into underground tunnels by Finn (Richard Cox), the
      leader of a terrorist group that commits frequent violence against the
      planet's functioning government and its civilians. With the kidnapping, Finn
      hopes to get the attention of the Federation and shine a spotlight on his
      cause, which he feels has long been ignored. Finn's methods start with
      kidnapping Crusher, and then he raises the stakes with an attempt to destroy
      the Enterprise by using untraceable (and fatal to its users, when used
      repeatedly) transporter technology to get aboard the ship and plant a bomb.
      When that fails, Finn kidnaps Picard.

      "The High Ground" takes a surprisingly candid and surprisingly balanced look
      at the issue of terrorism from multiple points of view. Finn, while clearly
      taking violence to extremes that prove counter-productive even to his own
      cause, is not a cardboard madman. He wants his grievances heard; violence is
      merely his currency. At the same time, the episode does not condone or make
      excuses for his actions.

      The episode also takes a hard look at those who attempt to fight terrorism
      -- what they do and why. One key point of view is from the head of the
      counterterrorism force, Alexana Devos (Kerrie Keane), who has had to deal
      with Finn's daily violence for years. She's become a hardliner, and her
      stance is understandable; she's trying to minimize violence in a war zone
      where civilians have become routine terrorist targets. But, for that matter,
      the civilians have also become routine targets for arrest for being
      sympathetic to the separatists; one shot shows a 12-year-old kid being
      hauled away as a suspected terrorist. This is a police-state society.

      Caught in the middle is the Enterprise. Finn has an attention-getting speech
      about the Federation's willingness to supply the government with medical
      supplies while turning a blind eye to the separatists. Is he right? Not
      really, but it demonstrates how appearing to choose sides gets the
      Federation pulled into an otherwise obscure struggle that does not concern

      This is one of those rare episodes of TNG where, by the end, essentially
      nothing has been solved. Sure, Crusher and Picard have been rescued, but the
      cycle of violence will continue, and the episode doesn't pretend that the
      situation can be fixed simply because the Enterprise was here or Picard came
      in and made a pithy speech.

      Rating: ***

      "Dejà Q" -- Air date: 2/5/1990. Written by Richard Danus. Directed by Les

      As the Enterprise attempts to correct the decaying orbit of a moon before it
      crashes into the populated planet below, Q appears, having been stripped of
      all his powers by the Q Continuum and made into a mortal human being. Having
      the choice of where to be banished, Q picked the Enterprise because of "all
      the fun we had in the past." Q now finds himself among a crew that doesn't
      like him, experiencing the very non-omnipotent lifestyle of a normal,
      limited human.

      "Deja Q" is one of the rare attempts by TNG to do sustained comedy, and it
      might also be the most successful. Q as a fish out of water is a gimmick, to
      be sure, but it's a good one. John de Lancie has natural comic timing, and
      the story wisely pairs Q with Data for much of the show, which is an
      inspired choice. Not only is Data the perfect, endlessly patient straight
      man for Q's nonstop chatter, it allows the story to provide a running
      commentary on the human condition from the perspective of outsiders.

      A successful comedy must also have sharp, funny dialog, which "Deja Q" has.
      In addition to all of Q's ongoing struggles with human banalities like
      sleeping and eating ("I'll have 10 chocolate sundaes"), we have the running
      joke that this formerly omnipotent being still takes omnipotence for
      granted. (His solution to the decaying moon orbit: "Change the gravitational
      constant of the universe." And he isn't kidding; he means it.) Q proves to
      be an insufferable man. We have scene after scene of Q's arrogance, boredom,
      and sarcasm. The secret to this working is that because of the way de Lancie
      plays him, Q is likable despite being a constant pain in the ass. (Q on not
      being able to get along with others: "It's hard to work well in groups when
      you're omnipotent.")

      Even the peril -- and no TNG plot would be satisfied without peril -- is
      made amusing. (When Q is attacked by the Calamarain and Data saves him, Data
      lands on his side, like an object rather than a person, which is a likably
      goofy gag.) But what ultimately makes this episode work as well as it does
      is that it's actually about something -- Q and Data and their similar
      plights of trying to figure out what it means to be human while approaching
      that question from completely different points of view: Data as someone who
      wants to be human, and Q as someone who definitely does not.

      Rating: ***1/2

      "A Matter of Perspective" -- Air date: 2/12/1990. Written by Ed Zuckerman.
      Directed by Cliff Bole.

      "You're a dead man, Apgar! A dead man!" Ah, how I remember and cherish that
      line from when I first heard it 17 years ago. It sums up this episode
      perfectly, in which a comedy of errors (actually a tragedy, but it plays
      like a comedy, hence Data being an art critic for Picard's painting in the
      opening teaser) is remembered by those involved in the way they want to
      remember it. In what must've been a brilliant high-concept pitch by writer
      Ed Zuckerman, this episode is "'Rashomon' in the holodeck."

      As Riker beams back from a space station after discussing the progress of a
      new technology ("Krieger waves," not to be confused with "Kegel exercises")
      being developed by scientist Dr. Apgar (Mark Margolis), the station
      explodes, killing Apgar. Riker is accused of murder by the local authorities
      (Craig Richard Nelson), and the extradition hearing is held on the holodeck,
      where witness depositions and the facts of the case are viewed like scenes
      from a play. This is a clever twist on the courtroom show, and the holodeck
      is, I must admit, the perfect venue for dramatizing this kind of
      fact-finding mission. The facts mostly surround a perceived attraction
      between Riker and Apgar's wife Manua (Gina Hecht), which in varying versions
      of testimony has Riker flirting with Manua or vice versa.

      The "Rashomon" effect eventually plays like humor, where Apgar, in three
      different versions (1) takes a swing at Riker and misses and falls down, (2)
      receives two punches in the gut from a real bastard version of Riker, and
      (3) kicks Riker's ass (in the most unlikely of scenarios). This third
      version leads to the hilariously over-the-top "You're a dead man, Apgar!"
      line. Riker watches the simulation and buries his face in his hand.

      Who really killed Apgar, and why? That's answered in a final act that nearly
      drowns in its excess. A lengthy scene of exposition threatens to collapse
      under its own weight. The technical role of the Krieger wave converter (and
      its implausibly perfect replication in the holodeck, such that it *actually
      functions*) is ridiculous, and requires pages of explanation dialog. But the
      plot is exceptionally tidy, tying up all loose ends, assuming you buy into
      the technobabble. I don't, really -- but, dammit, I like this episode
      anyway. It follows the facts from beginning to end in the true, verbose
      spirit of TNG.

      Rating: ***

      "Yesterday's Enterprise" -- Air date: 2/19/1990. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr
      & Richard Manning & Hans Beimler & Ronald D. Moore. Story by Trent
      Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell. Directed by David Carson.

      There aren't many episodes that announce themselves as instant classics, but
      "Yesterday's Enterprise" was one of them. It was an instant classic when it
      aired, and in the years since it has become an enduring one. It's one of the
      franchise's very best time-travel stories. (Every Trek series has had at
      least one that vied for similar thematic territory, whether it was TOS's
      "City on the Edge of Forever," DS9's "Children of Time," Voyager's
      "Timeless," or Enterprise's "E2.")

      A rift in space and time allows the Enterprise's predecessor, the 1701-C
      under Captain Rachel Garrett (Tricia O'Neil), to emerge in an alternate
      version of the future and come face-to-face with the 1701-D. In this much
      different timeline, Starfleet has been at war with the Klingons for 20
      years. The Enterprise-C's passage through time allowed it to escape a deadly
      battle with the Romulans after the Enterprise-C had come to the aid of a
      besieged Klingon outpost.

      When the writers' were making their decisions in creating this story,
      perhaps the most crucial was their use of Guinan, who has a perception that
      transcends the timeline. She *knows*, with every fiber of her being, that
      the timeline is *not right* and that the Enterprise-C must go back, even if
      that means certain death for its crew at the hands of the Romulans. Because
      even their deaths could change history, as a gesture seen by the Klingons
      that could ultimately pave the way to peace rather than war.

      What this does for the story is turn it into a moral quagmire with massive
      implications, where the characters must make impossible decisions. What
      we're really talking about here is playing God. More than 40 billion people
      have died in the Klingon/Federation war, and returning the Enterprise-C's to
      the past could prevent all of it. Picard, as one man, holds the power to
      make the decision. In a compelling exchange, Picard flat-out asks Guinan
      who's to say whether one timeline is more "proper" than the other? Her
      reply: "I suppose I am." To frame this as a 20th-century question: What if
      you could go back in time and kill Hitler? History would be, in Picard's
      words, irrevocably changed, but that would also mean undoing everything else
      that has happened since. Who knows whether you're alive or dead in the other
      timeline, and what implications that has on everything else unrelated to the
      variables you intend to change? (Of course, dramatic license means that this
      alternate timeline parallels the real one more closely than it ever possibly
      could; I myself subscribe to the chaos-theory/butterfly-effect school of

      The question is of particular poignancy to Yar, who is alive in this version
      of the timeline and learns from Guinan that she died a meaningless death in
      the other one. This, along with her newfound camaraderie with Enterprise-C's
      Lt. Castillo (Christopher McDonald), prompts her to go back with the
      Enterprise-C and die a death that serves a purpose. It's impressive how much
      ground this episode seems to cover in a single hour. In addition to the
      moral and cosmic questions, it provides an interesting Trek history lesson
      that fills in gaps about one of the Enterprise's mysterious predecessors,
      and it manages to somewhat mitigate the effect of the ignominious death that
      befell Yar in the first season.

      As an exercise in tone, the episode is remarkable, featuring a stark
      contrast to the other timeline. The lighting, uniforms, and performances all
      indicate a darker military existence. Picard, in particular, is notably more
      grim and intense; Patrick Stewart conveys a different and powerful urgency
      but never goes overboard. The last act, in which the Enterprise-D must
      protect the Enterprise-C from Klingon attack as it returns through the rift,
      is one of TNG's most intense and memorable battle scenes. As the Enterprise
      takes a pounding, it becomes clear that they cannot survive. Only by
      sacrificing the Enterprise-D does the Enterprise-C have a chance to rewrite
      history. Picard's announcement to the crew says it all: "Let's make sure
      that history never forgets the name ... Enterprise."

      Rating: ****

      "The Offspring" -- Air date: 3/12/1990. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed
      by Jonathan Frakes.

      After undertaking a project of unusual secrecy, Data stuns the crew by
      revealing that he has created another android, Lal (Hallie Todd), which he
      introduces as his child. Lal is activated and interacts with Data and the
      crew in a series of lessons designed to aid in the development of her
      sentience, cognitive abilities, and social understanding. Picard is somewhat
      taken aback at the revelation of Data's child, having not been consulted
      about the creation of a new artificial life on board his ship. He's
      unsettled by what Starfleet might do when it finds out about Lal.

      Picard's fears turn out to be founded. Starfleet wants Lal sent to a
      starbase for further study, arguing that Data does not have the required
      expertise to ensure Lal's proper development. Picard argues back and forth
      with Starfleet, and refuses to separate Data from his daughter, until
      Starfleet sends out Admiral Haftel (Nicholas Coster) to make a determination
      of Lal's situation and whether her development would be best served
      remaining on the Enterprise.

      I've always found the much-adored "Offspring" to be a solid, intriguing, but
      somewhat overrated TNG episode. It isn't without its problems. For one, the
      whole notion of Lal choosing her species seems to me like an idea that is
      little ado about nothing. The scene where Lal narrows down her choices in
      the holodeck seems awkward and truncated, and it arises from a point I find
      confusing: If Data's mission has been to study and become more human, why
      would his daughter be anything else? It's not like Data has spent his life
      trying to understand the Klingon or Andorian condition. But that's a minor
      point. A more significant one is the fact that Starfleet's position
      regarding Lal's development (they intend to separate her from Data) feels
      like an excessively forced point of conflict. Haftel is written as far too
      arbitrarily obstinate. His stance against Picard acts as if "The Measure of
      a Man" never happened (events of which Picard explicitly mentions).

      Still, "The Offspring" has its heart in the right place and represents an
      interesting (albeit brief) journey. The fact that the story is about Data's
      rights and experiences as a parent at least centers everything on human
      issues rather than technological ones. And there's some fascination in
      watching Data and Lal grappling with basic human questions of learning and
      love (although I found some of these individual scenes to be a bit too
      "cute" at times). The building friction between Picard and Haftel is not
      resolved (which is ultimately a bit unsatisfying), but instead rendered moot
      when Lal begins experiencing unanticipated emotions, malfunctions, and
      ultimately death (described by Data as "total system failure"). Data's
      inability to feel emotion over the death of his daughter is simultaneously a
      blessing and a tragedy, and yet he was still able to derive an unparalleled
      enrichment to his life through Lal's existence.

      One thing is certain about season three: It saw TNG introduced to what would
      become much of the core staff of writer-producers on Trek for years to come:
      Michael Piller, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, and now Rene Echevarria.
      "The Offspring" is also Jonathan Frakes' directorial debut.

      Rating: ***

      "Sins of the Father" -- Air date: 3/19/1990. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore &
      W. Reed Moran. Story by Drew Deighan. Directed by Les Landau.

      One notably important aspect of TNG's third season was the way it expanded
      the canvas of the Trek mythos. TOS and the first two seasons of TNG felt
      more like a western in space (uncharted frontiers, etc.), but with this
      season, the Trek universe began reinventing itself as a place containing
      sprawling civilizations and a political landscape that was tangible in a way
      that we had not perceived before.

      "The Enemy" and "The Defector" demonstrated that via the Romulans, and now
      "Sins of the Father" demonstrates it by providing a look at Klingons not
      simply in isolated obscurity, but as a society with cultures and (corrupt)
      politics. Kurn (Tony Todd) boards the Enterprise in the exchange program as
      payback for Riker's visit to the Klingon ship in "A Matter of Honor." At
      first the episode looks like "A Matter of Honor" in reverse, but Kurn soon
      reveals that he is Worf's brother, separated from the family before their
      parents were killed by the Romulan attack on Khitomer over 20 years ago. The
      Klingon High Council is planning to scapegoat the Khitomer massacre on their
      father, Mogh, alleging he betrayed the Klingons by supplying the Romulans
      with intelligence. Only by standing before the council and proving his
      father innocent can Worf restore his family's honor (at risk of death to
      himself, if his father is deemed guilty).

      The episode does not play out predictably, which is one of its pleasures. It
      defies brief synopsis. Suffice it to say that through a series of twists,
      turns, attempted killings, and political cover-ups, Worf finds that he must
      accept discommendation for the crimes falsely pinned on his father. It's the
      only solution that will protect both him and his brother from execution
      while keeping the High Council from collapsing into a civil war over the
      uncovering of the true traitor -- the father of Duras (Patrick Massett),
      whose family has too much power to be openly accused. Picard's personal
      involvement in this affair works because it allows us to enter these
      proceedings through a relative outsider's perspective and gain a better

      "Sins of the Father" offers a lot to sink your teeth into and reveals more
      complexity to the Trek universe. It begins a storytelling tradition of
      Worf's responses to Klingon political corruption that would rear its head
      frequently all the way up to DS9's "Tacking into the Wind." (The method of
      this episode also would influence the intrigue-based storytelling that
      fueled many early Bajoran-themed stories on DS9.) It reveals Worf as a
      Klingon whose selfless pledge to protect the Klingon Empire is admirable,
      particularly seeing as the Empire sees little reason to return the favor.

      Rating: ***1/2

      "Allegiance" -- Air date: 3/26/1990. Written by Richard Manning & Hans
      Beimler. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      Picard is beamed off the ship by an unknown force and put in a holding cell
      with three other prisoners exhibiting widely varying personalities.
      Meanwhile, a perfect doppelganger of Picard is put aboard the Enterprise in
      his place and impersonates the captain. The false Picard alters the
      Enterprise's course and takes it on an extended detour away from its
      scheduled rendezvous. The real Picard attempts to maintain control of an
      uneasy room where the tension between the prisoners continues to escalate as
      they try, and fail, to find a way to escape.

      "Allegiance" is about observing behavior, and to be sure, there's some
      interesting behavior to observe here, particularly involving the faux
      Picard. He goes about his role as captain, and everything is just slightly
      off, but faux-Picard's explanations and reassurances to the crew are so
      pleasantly convincing that it's not obvious to the crew for a long time that
      there's something truly wrong here. The oddest of the behavior involves
      Picard's dinner with Crusher in his quarters (and she's at a loss to explain
      what happens there), and especially when Picard buys a round of drinks for
      everyone in Ten-Forward. The most entertaining moments in the show are
      watching the crew's confused reactions to the faux-Picard's slowly (but
      surely) increasingly odd behavior.

      Of considerably less interest are the scenes in the mysterious holding cell,
      which document too little progress and quickly grow repetitive. We've got an
      annoying bully monster-alien in the room who threatens everybody (Reiner
      Schone), an annoying pacifist alien who acts like a smug wimp (Stephen
      Markel), and a Bolian Starfleet cadet (Joycelyn O'Brien) who remains mostly
      neutral. Picard must maintain a balance and keep the peace in this room. The
      clue that leads him to his discovery of the truth is pretty lame.

      The whole episode has a palpable what-the-hell-is-going-on-here vibe to it,
      but it's a very slow burn that takes a long time (too long) to reach its
      climax, which is less than satisfying. The problem with the episode is that
      the conclusion (which is actually the story's underlying premise) in
      retrospect cannot support what happens in the episode. If the aliens
      responsible are simply trying to study the concept of leadership, how can
      they be so good at faking competent leadership with their copy of Picard? In
      fact, how can they be so good at copying Picard at all? I don't buy it.

      Rating: **

      "Captain's Holiday" -- Air date: 4/2/1990. Written by Ira Steven Behr.
      Directed by Chip Chalmers.

      The crew of the Enterprise badgers an overworked Captain Picard until he
      grudgingly agrees to take a week of vacation on tropical resort planet Risa.
      Once there, he finds himself in the middle of a ludicrous
      sci-fi/archaeological/time-travel plot, a hopelessly cliched romance with
      Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), and run-ins with an exceptionally annoying Ferengi
      named Sovak (Max Grodenchik in full moron mode, clearly in an early audition
      for Rom). I say Picard's time would've been better spent playing Dixon Hill
      in the holodeck.

      Ira Steven Behr, in his first solo TNG script, plays the Ferengi card. If
      Ron Moore's future as "the Klingon guy" was sealed after his first script,
      then perhaps Behr's fate as "the Ferengi guy" is sealed here. Behr's
      obsession with Ferenginar is well documented, and would continue for the
      rest of the decade, especially on DS9.

      The weak and boring "Captain's Holiday" can't release itself from its sci-fi
      machinations long enough to be a fun romp. Meanwhile, the sci-fi
      machinations are too perfunctory (and absurd) to be taken the least bit
      seriously on their own. The result is a constant compromise where nothing
      has any conviction, least of all the by-the-numbers romance between Picard
      and Vash (who is not without her appeal). It's a wasted opportunity. We want
      to enjoy seeing the lighter side of Picard, but not when he's buried in an
      idiotic plot with such stolid execution. Everyone's chasing the "Tox Uthat"
      (which can stop nuclear fusion in a star, no less), including a couple of
      time-traveling Vogons from the 27th century. For much of the episode, Picard
      takes the Vogons at their word -- probably a bad idea involving any
      invention that can kill a solar system. If this sounds like a lame "Indiana
      Jones" wannabe, that's because it is.

      Rating: *1/2

      "Tin Man" -- Air date: 4/23/1990. Written by Dennis Putman Bailey & David
      Bischoff. Directed by Robert Scheerer.

      Starfleet has observed a mysterious space object -- believed to be a "living
      starship" and dubbed "Tin Man" -- orbiting a star that's about to go nova,
      and sends the Enterprise to investigate and make contact with it. But the
      mission is a race: The Enterprise must reach and contact Tin Man before the
      Romulans do. Starfleet assigns a mission specialist to the Enterprise, Tam
      Elbrun (Harry Groener), a man with extraordinary telepathic skills, even for
      a Betazoid.

      "Tin Man" exemplifies the balanced TNG episode. It's good, not great. It
      puts emphasis, in nearly equal measure, on its central character crisis
      (Tam's), the seeking out of Strange New Life (Tin Man), and a showdown with
      a familiar foe (the Romulans). Tam is an intriguing, flawed individual with
      unique problems -- a loner who tries to push everybody away, and is
      borderline unstable. Troi knows him from the past (he was a patient) and his
      psychological torment is understandable; he hears every thought of every
      person on the ship, constantly. Put yourself in his shoes and you'd probably
      be hard-pressed to consider sanity as a likely outcome. Tam is in contact
      with Tin Man, which has even more powerful abilities for telepathy. Tin Man
      is in the TNG spirit of ancient, wondrous, and powerful forms of previously
      unknown life. Starfleet is curious of such things.

      On the other hand, the Romulans would dissect Tin Man given the chance.
      After the terrific "Defector," in which the Romulans were both smart and
      ruthless, it's kind of a shame to see the Romulans reduced to such bland
      thuggery. I guess someone's gotta do it. When Tin Man destroys a Romulan
      ship while protecting itself, a second ship announces its right to claim
      vengeance on Tin Man. I don't understand what makes them think they could
      possibly be successful, but given that intention, I couldn't figure out why
      the Romulans then just sit there while Tam and Data beam over to make direct
      contact with Tin Man. Why don't the Romulans attempt to board Tin Man?

      The episode's solutions are tidy in the sense that the story has a certain
      number of pieces (two, really) and they are destined to fit together. Tin
      Man once had a crew, but the crew died. It has since roamed the galaxy alone
      and now wants to die, hence it being parked in orbit of a star about to
      explode. Tam and Tin Man provide each other a symbiosis that was meant to
      be. Tin Man will no longer be alone, and Tam will have just one voice to
      contend with rather than hundreds. The episode is the first to be scored by
      Jay Chattaway, who in season four would eventually replace Ron Jones and go
      on to write music for Trek for the next 15 years.

      Rating: ***

      "Hollow Pursuits" -- Air date: 4/30/1990. Written by Sally Caves. Directed
      by Cliff Bole.

      At long last, here's welcome evidence that there are screw-ups in Starfleet.
      Given how the Enterprise is so often a testament to the hopelessly elite,
      it's refreshing to get a story about lowly Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight
      Schultz), a guy who's always late, awkward in groups, inexplicable to his
      shipmates, unable to fit in, and addicted to his fantasies in the holodeck.

      Geordi is fed up and frankly doesn't want to deal with him anymore. Picard's
      approach is more proof of his Picard-ness: Rather than abandon this officer
      and transfer him out, he asks Geordi to make more of an effort to reach out
      and get to know the guy. It's not an easy task. Barclay's shyness reaches a
      level of social paralysis, and it makes him ineffective as a communicator in
      a workplace setting. Meanwhile, he spends all his free time in the holodeck.

      The episode is probably best remembered for its amusing holodeck sequences
      featuring Barclay's overactive imagination and depictions of real crew
      members -- including a uniquely hilarious opening scene where Barclay's
      overconfident alter ego (and it's a *complete* alter ego) struts into
      Ten-Forward and pushes Geordi and Riker around. Later, there's swordplay,
      which features a version of Riker that Barclay has digitally shortened. Troi
      finds it all to be amusing and therapeutic -- until she sees the digital
      version of herself that Barclay has created (the "Goddess of Empathy").

      But the heart of the episode is in deconstructing a man who doesn't fit in
      or feel comfortable. Guinan's sympathy for Barclay's situation is
      commendable. And Geordi makes a real effort to break down his defenses. Of
      course, the hilarious moment when Picard slips and calls him "Broccoli" is a
      classic, comic worst-case scenario. After all of Geordi's efforts, the
      captain accidentally sets everything back a step.

      Does the episode need its overplayed jeopardy premise involving the
      malfunction that causes the Enterprise to race out of control? And does the
      jeopardy have to come down to terse, last-minute warnings from the computer
      that the ship is about to be destroyed? No and no. But I do like the way the
      engineering team swiftly deconstructs the problem with simple logic to find
      the solution. These are smart people working a problem intelligently. The
      episode's closing joke is Barclay's goodbye scene -- to the holographic
      crew. Barclay is a welcome rough pebble among all the Enterprise's polished

      Rating: ***

      "The Most Toys" -- Air date: 5/7/1990. Written by Shari Goodhartz. Directed
      by Tim Bond.

      In a hasty negotiation reached with a merchant, the Enterprise acquires a
      rare chemical substance needed to treat a contaminated water supply on a
      nearby colony. Data is transporting the substance via shuttlecraft when his
      shuttle suddenly explodes, resulting in his apparent death to the Enterprise
      crew. In reality, he has been kidnapped by the crew of the merchant ship.
      The merchant, Fajo (Saul Rubinek), is the owner of an impressive collection
      of some of the galaxy's rarest items (most of them stolen), and he intends
      Data to become the crown jewel of that collection. Fajo even has a chair
      that he expects Data to sit in when he shows Data off to his peers.

      This is a simple plot, no doubt about it. What makes it come alive is the
      characters' dialog and behavior. Fajo initially seems like a character that
      hints at a comic performance, but as the episode continues and reveals the
      depths of Fajo's immorality, you realize there's nothing comic about the
      character or the way Saul Rubinek plays him. This is a man with a boundless
      ego, used to getting what he wants, and with no scruples whatsoever. He
      wants Data to obey, and when Data does not, it quietly becomes a war of
      wills with escalating consequences.

      What I find most enjoyable about this episode is how Data's war is a war of
      manners. Data is just so damned polite, even when confronted by a smug
      egomaniac like Fajo. Data's response to being kidnapped is to ask
      straightforward, sincere questions. When Fajo makes the terms of Data's
      custody clear, Data's response is to explain in straightforward, honest
      terms why Fajo's plan is immoral and why he won't cooperate. Because he's
      incapable of anger, Data's resistance is usually passive, calm, and logical.
      (Imagine Riker or Worf in this situation and you see the uniqueness of
      Data's approach.) In a way, Data's rock-solid logic and unflappable
      temperament almost makes it more maddening for Fajo. Fajo can't anger Data,
      but that makes it no easier for Fajo to control him. It becomes a stalemate.
      The episode's wild card is Varria (Jane Daly), a woman who has been
      gradually Stockholm syndromed into Fajo's clutches (she helped kidnap Data),
      but clearly does not like where she is. Data represents a possible new
      opportunity for her escape.

      The final act, in which Fajo kills Varria for betraying him, is a somewhat
      shocking turn of events. Data's response poses one of those intriguing
      questions that the story asks the audience to decide for themselves: Did
      Data intend to shoot and kill Fajo before he was beamed out? I believe he
      did, simply because the logic of the situation would permit him to take
      deadly action, and, in Data's words, he "cannot allow this to continue." But
      then why would Data lie about having pulled the trigger?

      Rating: ***

      "Sarek" -- Air date: 5/14/1990. Teleplay by Peter S. Beagle. Story by Marc
      Cushman & Jake Jacobs. Directed by Les Landau.

      Famed Vulcan Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) comes aboard the Enterprise to
      conduct delicate negotiations with the Legarans, an alien species that Sarek
      has single-handedly been able to open relations with on behalf of the
      Federation. Sarek intends to seal the talks as the crowning achievement in
      his storied career. While en route to meet the Legarans, however, odd
      occurrences of flaring tempers begins to affect members of the crew, with
      escalating urgency. Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Sarek himself may be
      having problems controlling his emotions; Picard sees a tear in the Vulcan's
      eye during a concert in Ten-Forward.

      The flaring tempers begin ominously but harmlessly, as Wesley and Geordi get
      into a shouting match over who's more hopeless when it comes to women (ah, a
      perfectly appropriate nerd fight!), and slowly escalates: Crusher slaps her
      son in the face for no good reason, and ultimately an entire bar brawl
      breaks out in Ten-Forward -- a visual that proves as amusing as it does odd.
      What's going on here? Crusher believes that it's a case of a rare Vulcan
      mental illness that results in a loss of emotional control. The side effects
      are unintentionally inflicted upon others, caused by Sarek's telepathic
      abilities randomly projecting emotions, and thus havoc, on members of the
      crew. Picard runs into resistance with Sarek's staff and wife Perrin (Joanna
      Miles) when he recommends that they delay the negotiations. A delay would
      derail the talks completely, and Sarek will not hear of it.

      In addition to being a rare, direct, fan-welcome bridging of TNG and TOS,
      "Sarek" is an obvious example of the "actor's episode." Some Trek outings
      highlight action or visual effects as their main selling points; this one
      highlights performances. It's a good, solid story that's elevated by two
      critical acting scenes. One is where Picard confronts Sarek, and Sarek
      attempts to prove his competence while his emotional control is not being
      held together by his aide Sakkath (Rocco Sisto). Sarek's gradual
      deterioration as depicted by Mark Lenard in this scene is an explosive (and
      heartbreaking) sight to behold. The other big scene comes when Picard offers
      to accept a mind meld that temporarily allows Sarek to regain control of his
      emotions long enough to finish the negotiations. In the meantime, Picard's
      mind must host Sarek's savagely intense and unfiltered Vulcan emotions.
      Patrick Stewart is completely uninhibited in showing a rambling, anguished
      explosion of Sarek's inner voices, fury, and soul. It's a remarkably brave
      performance that makes us believe in this intriguing premise.

      Thematically, the story provides a subtle allegory on the elderly and the
      mentally ill, regarding the issues of humiliation they must endure when the
      circumstances of their health force them to abandon important parts of their
      lives and identity. There is no cure for Sarek's condition; like
      Alzheimer's, it will slowly continue to steal him away, separating the
      mental faculties from the man.

      Rating: ***1/2

      "Menage à Troi" -- Air date: 5/28/1990. Written by Fred Bronson & Susan
      Sackett. Directed by Robert Legato.

      The dreaded phrase "Ferengi episode" is probably most associated with the
      annual hijinks on DS9, but here we have a bona fide "Ferengi episode" for
      TNG, still years before DS9 was a thought in anyone's mind. While I'm open
      to the possibility that not all Ferengi episodes are bad (DS9's "The
      Magnificent Ferengi" was passably amusing), I'm resigned to the fact that
      most of them suck.

      We also have Lwaxana Troi, who is TNG's most intentionally obnoxious
      semi-recurring character. Lwaxana *can* be funny and likable in small doses,
      but she's more often not. Combine Lwaxana, the Ferengi, and a lame-brained
      kidnapping plot, and you end up with a sort of Perfect Storm of TNG
      stupidity. The end result is an episode about on par with "Captain's
      Holiday"; it's not quite absolutely horrific, but it's pretty lousy. It's an
      attempt to break formula and change up the tone, but in order to do that,
      the villains must be written as complete idiots.

      Riker, Troi, and Lwaxana are picnicking on Betazed when Ferengi DaiMon Tog
      (Frank Corsentino), who is hopelessly smitten by Lwaxana (in his backward
      Ferengi ways), kidnaps them all. If he had any sense, he would simply kidnap
      Lwaxana and be done with it, instead of taking the additional prisoners that
      will all but guarantee his defeat. (Then again, if the Federation had any
      sense, it would seal the Ferengi border.) Tog is one of these characters
      that's too stupid to live. I know, this is "comedy," but it makes for
      endless sitcom tediousness. Farek (Ethan Phillips) is slightly smarter, but
      that's not saying much.

      Inquiring minds want to know: Is it implied that Tog and Lwaxana have sex?
      Or is it implied that they just sorta maybe kinda make out? The answer is
      beyond TNG's scope of information as a family show, for which we should
      probably be thankful. The show's saving grace is (not surprisingly) Patrick
      Stewart, who has Picard throwing himself into the role of Lwaxana's jealous
      ex-lover in order to thwart the Ferengi. Stewart is entertaining even when
      forced to engage in the silliness that surrounds him. He lowers himself to
      the material and manages to bring it up a notch as a result.

      (Almost forgot: Wesley is scheduled to leave for Starfleet Academy, but he
      misses his ship in order to decode a message that leads the Enterprise to
      the Ferengi. Since Wesley can't go to the academy for another year, Picard
      promotes him to full ensign and gives him a real uniform.)

      Rating: *1/2

      "Transfigurations" -- Air date: 6/4/1990. Written by Rene Echevarria.
      Directed by Tom Benko.

      Until now, I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen this episode since it originally
      aired in 1990. As this is one of those middling episodes of TNG that few
      people seem to care about (myself included), I've had no reason to revisit
      it until now. So a funny thing happened to me while watching
      "Transfigurations." For the first 20 minutes, I couldn't remember what it
      was about or how it ended. Not at all. But as the episode continued, I
      remembered more and more, until finally I said to myself, "Here comes the
      part where Worf goes flying over the railing and breaks his neck." Funny how
      I remembered *that*. Probably because neck-breaking stunts are cool.

      The weird thing was how my experience watching this episode mirrored the
      central character -- an alien (Mark La Mura) who has no memory but recalls
      bits and pieces as the story moves forward and strange things happen to his
      body. The alien was found by the Enterprise crew, a hair's width from death
      after the crash of his escape pod. He does not remember his name or where
      he's from or why he crashed, so John Doe it is. Crusher cares for him over
      the course of a month, and his recovery is a miraculous one that can be
      attributed to his body's phenomenal ability to hea<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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