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

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Star Trek: The Next Generation Jammer s Reviews of the Complete Fourth Season For episodes airing from 9/24/1990 to 6/17/1991 Series created by Gene
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2008
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      Star Trek: The Next Generation
      Jammer's Reviews of the Complete Fourth Season

      For episodes airing from 9/24/1990 to 6/17/1991
      Series created by Gene Roddenberry
      Executive producers: Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman

      Reviews by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" -- Air date: 9/24/1990. Written by
      Michael Piller. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      The Enterprise's plan to destroy the Borg ship with a specially
      directed frequency of energy from the ship's main deflector dish
      fails when it turns out Picard's knowledge of the clever plan has
      been passed to the Borg and has allowed them to prepare a defense
      against it. "Your resistance is hopeless, *Number One*," says
      Locutus. The Borg proceed on their course to Earth as the Enterprise
      sits helplessly awaiting repair.

      The episode's biggest plot conceit, obviously, is that the Borg don't
      destroy the Enterprise or assimilate its crew right then and there.
      Not being a threat, the rationale is that the Borg decide to simply
      ignore the non-threat and proceed to Earth. But come on. Obviously,
      the real reason is that it's the only way to permit the story to move
      forward. Granting the constraint that Picard and the Borg and the
      Enterprise must all survive the legendary "Mr. Worf, fire" setup,
      part two proves surprisingly effective as the solution to what seemed
      like an unsolvable problem. It's not an exercise in rock-solid logic,
      but it is an exercise in compelling TV.

      The tension that was evident in the first part of the story does not
      for an instant wane here. The Borg are still headed for Sector 001,
      Starfleet is still woefully unprepared for the battle, and Picard is
      still in the clutches of the Borg. In an intriguing scene with
      harrowing implications, we see Picard being further transformed into
      Locutus; a streaking tear reveals that beneath Locutus still exists
      Picard, in torment. Aboard the Enterprise, Picard's absence fuels a
      solid character story for Riker, who must assume the role of captain
      under the worst possible circumstances and simultaneously step into
      Picard's shoes (and out of his shadow) for his crew while squaring
      off against Picard as the enemy. Guinan, who offered words of wisdom
      to Picard in part one, now bluntly tells Riker that he must let
      Picard go in order to do his job.

      Meanwhile, the Borg march toward Earth. Starfleet's desperate stand
      at Wolf 359 ups the ante on the foreboding, and when the Enterprise
      subsequently arrives upon the debris of the wiped-out fleet, it's a
      particularly striking scene.

      The secret to this story's success is its careful balance of elements
      and that it never loses sight of the fact that this is a TNG show,
      even amid the chaos. In addition to showing how the crew reacts and
      plans for this looming threat, Michael Piller's script keeps the
      story humming along on all cylinders; the details follow on the Borg
      ship, at Starfleet's desperate stand, and as Riker must hatch a
      daring plan to retrieve Picard from the Borg. This leads to some of
      TNG's most memorable action, in which Picard is retrieved but not
      rescued (the crew has his body but has not freed his mind). The show
      then shuttles into pure TNG problem-solving mode, in which the crew
      must figure out how to save Picard and stop the Borg, which might be
      one and the same.

      Given that the story must resolve itself and Picard must survive, the
      solution is a clever one that allows the Borg to be defeated but
      without the brute force that part one had assured us was not
      possible. I find it highly unlikely that the access to the
      Borg's "sleep" system would not be under higher security, and even
      more unlikely that a self-destruct fail-safe would automatically
      ensue after that. But what the hell -- the execution of the plot and
      the struggle and Picard's angst depicted in Data's hacking scenes
      bring it home as drama.

      The show wisely keeps Ron Jones as the composer, bringing a musical
      continuity to this two-parter in a way that is more crucial than in
      virtually any other multi-part Trek on record.

      Rating: ****


      "Family" -- Air date: 10/1/1990. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed
      by Les Landau.

      In the aftermath of the Borg incident, the Enterprise is docked for
      repairs in orbit around Earth, and members of the crew have the rare
      opportunity to deal with family matters. "Family" is unique in that
      it might be the only episode of TNG that is 100 percent character
      driven. This is an episode that has no plot whatsoever, and that's a
      rare and gutsy choice by the writing staff. A show like this would've
      been unheard of on the original series, but by TNG season four, a
      show like "Family" proves that Trek can be about characters as much
      as it can be about stories.

      All that said, this is one of those episodes that I respect more for
      what it tries to be rather than for what it actually does. There are
      nice threads weaving throughout "Family," but that's the operative
      word: Nice. Not powerful or gripping or original or groundbreaking.
      Merely nice. Many fans rank this among TNG's finest hours. I cannot.
      It's a nice hour, but not a standout one.

      Picard returns to the small French village where he grew up, where
      long-ago tensions with his older brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp) resume.
      The tension for years has been left to simmer on the back burner;
      Picard has not even met his sister-in-law (Samantha Eggar) or his
      nephew Rene (David Tristan Birkin). Robert is at first cold and
      standoffish, and later voices his displeasure over his long-held
      perception of Jean-Luc's arrogance. Meanwhile, Picard is offered a
      job on Earth, and even seriously considers taking it. The Borg
      incident has left him shaken, and he begins to take stock of his life
      as a starship captain, and the personal sacrifices it has imposed
      upon him.

      Percolating tensions eventually boil over with a fight in the family
      vineyard where Picard and his brother come to blows before collapsing
      into laughter while covered in mud -- which unfortunately is a hoary
      old sibling-brawl cliche. Picard's subsequent confession about his
      feelings of helplessness in being assimilated by the Borg is the
      episode's psychological highlight -- but in the end this torment
      seems too simplistically depicted and the full weight of the matter
      is lost.

      There are other palatable but lightweight threads here, including
      Crusher giving Wesley a long-ago recording of his father (Doug Wert)
      before he died, which again visits the subject of personal/family
      loss in the military. Also, Worf's adoptive parents -- Sergey and
      Helena Rozhenko (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) -- come aboard the
      ship, revealing the cultural/emotional divide that has always existed
      between our resident Klingon and his adoptive parents. I found
      amusement in Sergey's enthusiasm for a tour of a real starship: "I
      have all the schematics at home," he brags. Even within Trek itself
      there are Trek nerds.

      Rating: ***


      "Brothers" -- Air date: 10/8/1990. Written by Rick Berman. Directed
      by Rob Bowman.

      The Enterprise races to a starbase to save the life of a young boy
      who has inadvertently eaten poison for reasons that ... well, are
      perhaps a little more contrived than they need to be. (I've always
      found the initial premise of the sick boy to be the episode's most
      obvious weak link.) This emergency is halted, however, when a homing
      signal in Data's brain is triggered and he takes over the ship,
      diverting it to a nearby planet. Data's takeover of the Enterprise is
      depicted with some memorable opening-act action that proves just how
      dangerous Data can be when his human qualities are disabled and he
      becomes, simply, an unstoppable machine. (His multi-dozen-digit
      lockout code of the computer -- recorded in Picard's voice -- is
      classic.)

      "Brothers" is like "Family" with a plot. Coming on the heels
      of "Family," the thematic similarities are interesting, even if the
      storytelling method is completely different. (For one, we're dealing
      with the family roles surrounding an android who has no emotions; for
      another, we have a more traditional Trek structure, with action and
      plot.) When Data's conscious mind is reactivated, he finds himself in
      the lab of his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, long believed to be dead.
      Not too long afterward, Lore walks through the door, having also
      followed the signal home (and proving that "Datalore" was merely the
      beginning of their arc). With both Soong and Lore, we get two
      surprises where we might've expected only one; the story brings the
      entire Soong "family" to one household to tell a tale we didn't
      envision when the hour began. In that telling Soong reveals he's
      dying.

      Brent Spiner is superb in three roles of characters who are very
      different and yet vitally connected by the intimate history they
      share. We see here that Lore is not simply "evil," but a tragic
      victim of his own existence gone awry. No one is more regretful of
      that error than Soong, who would've liked nothing more than to fix
      Lore, if only he'd known he'd been reassembled, and if only there
      were enough time. Rather, Soong has brought Data here to give him the
      gift of basic emotions.

      In the final act the story pulls the ol' switcheroo -- which, I
      suppose, was inevitable -- with Lore disabling Data and taking his
      place so that Soong installs the emotion chip in Lore's positronic
      brain. This seems to have the effect of making him even *more*
      unstable. The way Lore lashes out at his father makes you wince with
      sympathy; here's a man who had good intentions but felt forced to
      shut down Lore like a failed project, and that project now resents
      him for it. And now the father's failure for his first child prevents
      him from realizing his dreams for his second. (Note: No comments
      about B-4 will be entertained.) It may be with a sci-fi twist, but
      human feelings are still the point here. The message of the final
      scene all but guarantees Data and Lore will meet again, and seems to
      ponder what they might ultimately mean to each other.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Suddenly Human" -- Air date: 10/15/1990. Teleplay by John Whelpley &
      Jeri Taylor. Story by Ralph Phillips. Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

      An Enterprise rescue team beams aboard a damaged Talarian ship
      piloted by teenage crew members who have been injured in an accident.
      One of the boys, Jono (Chad Allen) turns out to be human, and a
      medical examination shows evidence of previous injuries that indicate
      possible long-term abuse. How did this human boy end up with the
      Talarians?

      It turns out Jono is actually Jerimiah Rossa, a boy whose parents
      were killed at the hands of the Talarians in an attack a decade
      earlier. A Talarian captain named Endar (Sherman Howard) has raised
      the boy as his son ever since. Uh-oh -- here comes a 24th-century
      custody dispute. Should the boy remain with the father that raised
      him or be returned to his human grandmother?

      "Suddenly Human" is the third family-themed story in a row, but by
      far the least effective. The story takes way too long to get moving,
      spending time on annoying "culture shock" scenes like where Jono
      refuses to talk and instead makes a high-pitched squeal of defiance.
      I say a vow of silence would've been preferable. I also find it a
      little off-putting that Crusher's evidence of broken bones would
      automatically be assumed (wrongly) to have been possible past abuse,
      even torture, at the hands of his father. She should work for DCFS.

      Picard takes Jono under his wing and tries reconnecting the boy to
      his long-forgotten human past. Meanwhile, Endar sits and waits for a
      verdict on whether his son will be returned to him, and seems ready
      to go to war if he doesn't get the right answer. All of which plays
      as flat and obvious (not that I didn't understand Endar's feelings).
      The episode culminates with a torn Jono, in a moment of desperation,
      stabbing Picard in the chest as he sleeps. This prompts Picard to
      realize Jono should be reunited with the Talarian father who raised
      him. Fine, except Picard's unilateral decision seems hugely
      simplistic and hurriedly arrived at. What about the grandmother's
      custody rights? Does she have any? Considering she's a Starfleet
      admiral, don't you think she might have a few choice words for Picard?

      Rating: **


      "Remember Me" -- Air date: 10/22/1990. Written by Lee Sheldon.
      Directed by Cliff Bole.

      After Borg and family matters, TNG turns back to conceptual techie
      sci-fi when Wesley's experiments with a "warp bubble" have bizarre
      consequences for the ship and/or Wesley's mother. (Hint: "And/or" is
      a clue that this story is not what it seems.) There's a flash of
      light, and suddenly people start to go missing from Beverly Crusher's
      world. It starts with her visiting old friend, Dr. Quaice (Bill
      Erwin). He vanishes without a trace, along with all records
      pertaining to his visit and, for that matter, his entire life and
      career. There's nothing to suggest he ever existed, except Crusher's
      say-so. Before long, more go missing, including Crusher's medical
      staff and most the crew. No one but Crusher notices any difference;
      to them it has always been this way.

      "Remember Me" is a clever and inventive depiction of how well-argued
      logic and personal conviction prove useless when the physical
      evidence doesn't support them. Crusher can talk and talk and make
      perfect sense from her point of view, but she comes across to
      everybody else as delusional because they can't see the proof of her
      assertions. As a mystery, the story is deftly structured: It gives
      you hints about the true nature of What's Wrong Here (is it Crusher,
      the universe, or the fact that Crusher is in another universe?) but
      it never completely tips its hand until we have completely identified
      with Crusher's state of mind -- which is one of increasing panic as
      the entire universe seems to be slipping away. Meanwhile, energy
      vortexes appear out of nowhere and threaten to suck her in.

      To me, the absurd highlight of the episode is the scene on the bridge
      where Crusher and Picard are the only people left -- in the universe,
      it would seem. Crusher tries with pure logic to destroy the notion
      that the universe consists of two people cruising around in a
      starship. And yet Picard assures her that's exactly what the universe
      is. He completely believes it. If such a cosmic joke were happening
      to you, you would go mad.

      The twist (nicely executed but not played for suspense or surprise,
      as that would be self-defeating) is that Crusher is trapped in a
      micro-universe created by her own mind as a side effect of
      Wesley's "warp bubble" experiment. The vortexes are actually the
      crew's attempts to retrieve her. When that fails, the story turns to
      more metaphysical matters involving the reappearance, in a nice bit
      of continuity, of the Traveler (see "Where No One Has Gone Before"),
      who helps Wesley bring his mother back to the real universe through
      methods that transcend space and time. "Remember Me" has no shortage
      of exposition or technobabble, but as these things go, it's one of
      the most purely intriguing.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Legacy" -- Air date: 10/29/1990. Written by Joe Menosky. Directed by
      Robert Scheerer.

      When a Federation freighter goes down over the war-torn colony of
      Turkana IV, the Enterprise goes in to rescue the survivors. The
      survivors, however, are now being held hostage by the Alliance, one
      of the colony's warring factions. The other faction is the Coalition,
      and is led by Hayne (Don Mirault), who proposes to work with the
      Enterprise crew in order to rescue the hostages. Turkana, by the way,
      was the home colony of deceased Enterprise crewmember Tasha Yar.

      Story linchpin: Among the Coalition's soldiers is Tasha's younger,
      hotter sister, Ishara (Beth Toussaint, who looks like the younger,
      hotter sister of Linda Hamilton). She volunteers to help the
      Enterprise crew in their rescue attempt. Obvious question of the
      hour: Can the crew trust her, or does she have her own agenda on
      behalf of the Coalition? Fortunately for "Legacy," the crew is smart
      enough to pose this question aloud up front. Picard decides to
      attempt cooperation with the Coalition in the absence of a better
      option.

      "Legacy" is a competent but unremarkable affair: Nothing hugely wrong
      with it, but not a whole lot in its favor, either (unless you count
      Beth Toussaint in a one-piece). It's all but impossible to care about
      the random, overly simplistic sociopolitical conflict between the
      Turkanan factions. We've seen the "two warring factions" plot on Trek
      plenty of times, and "Legacy" gives us precious little political
      intrigue to make this remotely compelling. The action scenes consist
      of competent but unremarkable shootouts in underground tunnels.

      Faring better, but still plenty shy of great, is the material
      surrounding whether the crew can trust Ishara. Some scenes depicting
      the developing friendship between Ishara and Data are palatable, but
      we spend much of the hour waiting for the other shoe to drop and
      Ishara's betrayal to be revealed. Ishara is at the mercy of an
      inevitable plot. And when she's not, her status as "Tasha's sister"
      is mined too heavy-handedly for my tastes.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Reunion" -- Air date: 11/5/1990. Teleplay by Thomas Perry & Jo Perry
      and Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga. Story by Drew Deighan and Thomas
      Perry & Jo Perry. Directed by Jonathan Frakes.

      Klingon ambassador K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson; my, she's tall) comes
      aboard the Enterprise, and she brings along with her a surprise for
      Worf: a young Klingon boy, Alexander, Worf's until-now-unknown-to-him
      son. She's also here on official business. A power struggle is
      imminent in the Klingon Empire between two rivals, Duras (Patrick
      Massett) and Gowron (Robert O'Reilly, making an instantly memorable
      impression with those crazy eyes) vying to become the next chancellor
      of the Klingon High Council. Failure to resolve the dispute could
      result in a civil war that could eventually sprawl well outside
      Klingon borders. K'Mpec (Charles Cooper), the dying chancellor, puts
      Picard in charge of the mediation and reveals that he has been
      poisoned by either Duras or Gowron in a gutless assassination for the
      power grab.

      Like "Legacy," this is another example of TNG's standby, "two warring
      factions with the Enterprise as mediators," except this time it's
      done well. Whenever you involve the Klingons, there's an elevated,
      juicier flavor to the political intrigue and the mediation
      proceedings. Some scenes play like grand melodrama. And, of course,
      the way this all ties in with Worf raises the personal stakes. Worf
      selflessly accepting discommendation to save the Empire in "Sins of
      the Father" plays into matters here, with not only the Klingons
      shunning him at every turn, but the very notion that he cannot
      acknowledge his own son because the dishonor would be extended to him.

      Then there's K'Ehleyr, the non-traditionalist call-it-how-I-see-it
      when it comes to the Klingon Empire, which plays in stark contrast to
      Worf's traditional values. I love K'Ehleyr's impatience with Klingon
      politics. When asked, "War over what?" she responds dryly, "The usual
      excuses: tradition, duty, honor." After a bombing on board a Klingon
      ship, evidence reveals a link with the Romulans, which means someone
      is involved in a conspiracy (although I wasn't quite sure what the
      bombing's goal was). K'Ehleyr starts poking into files to find the
      truth, discovers Duras is the conspirator, and in a shocking turn of
      events, Duras kills her.

      Equally adrenaline-worthy is Worf going into full Klingon mode and
      throwing aside his Starfleet badge to claim his right for vengeance
      and battle Duras to the death. The themes of culture clash are in
      full force here, whether it's the conflict between being a Starfleet
      officer and taking Klingon vengeance rights (Picard reprimands Worf
      in a good scene), or the gulf between K'Ehleyr's human sensibilities
      and Worf's Klingon ways, or how it all ties into how Worf interacts
      with a son he doesn't know.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Future Imperfect" -- Air date: 11/12/1990. Written by J. Larry
      Carroll & David Bennett Carren. Directed by Les Landau.

      An away mission goes bad, and Riker finds himself waking up 16 years
      after the last thing he can remember -- which was that mission. An
      aged Crusher tells him that he contracted a virus on that mission
      which, after lying in wait for years, put him into a coma and wiped
      all memories dating back to the original incident. (Sort of
      like "Memento," except just once instead of every few minutes.)

      "Future Imperfect" paints an interesting "what if" premise. Riker
      awakens to a changed world. Not so changed, mind you, that he can't
      quickly (perhaps too quickly, and taking it awfully well) be brought
      back up to speed. He's now captain of the Enterprise, he had a wife
      (now dead), and he has a young son, named -- perhaps too ham-
      handedly -- Jean-Luc (Chris Demetral). And Riker is scheduled to
      complete treaty negotiations between the Romulans and the Federation.
      Like tomorrow.

      In a show like this -- where a reset is inevitable and it's really
      hard to buy into the emotional arc of the story -- the truth is in
      the details, and I liked a lot of the details. The Enterprise sets
      have been modified just enough to seem like the future in a fanboy
      sort of way. Geordi no longer has the visor. A bearded Picard, now an
      admiral, is on hand for the negotiations. The ambassador in the
      Romulan negotiations is onetime enemy Tomalak, which puts a visceral
      chill into Riker.

      And there are strange things going on here. The computer keeps
      lagging when Riker asks for personal information about himself. Is
      any of this real? That question is answered with a nice touch of
      continuity when video of Riker's wife reveals that she was ...
      Minuet. My favorite part of the episode is when Riker, having
      destroyed the illusion of the ruse, goes on a rampage to prove it --
      demanding that Data make elaborate calculations and telling
      Picard: "Shut up! As in close your mouth and stop talking!" It's all
      a holodeck simulation by Tomalak trying to trick him into revealing
      classified information. (Although, how sad is it that Riker's most
      intimate recent connection with a woman, at least according to the
      mind-scanners, was with a hologram and took place in a matter of a
      few hours? Like I said: plot details, not emotional arc.)

      But wait; the story even has a twist upon the twist. The Romulan
      prison is an illusion too, concocted by an alien boy who was playing
      the part of Riker's son. He's actually an orphan with no company but
      all this equipment that can make pretend stuff. Of course, I'm always
      amazed at how perfectly pretend stuff can be created based on a
      person's memories. "Future Imperfect" is an engaging illusion show
      with some nice hypothetical scenes, but it has a howler of a closing
      line: "To me you'll always be Jean-Luc."

      Rating: ***


      "Final Mission" -- Air date: 11/19/1990. Teleplay by Kasey Arnold-
      Ince and Jeri Taylor. Story by Kasey Arnold-Ince. Directed by Corey
      Allen.

      Wesley is accepted to Starfleet Academy -- this time for real --
      which means he's leaving the show and this episode should therefore
      automatically get four stars, right? Kidding, kidding; I don't hate
      Wesley. At least not always. In seasons three and four he was not
      nearly as annoying as in previous years. Always too smart, yes, but
      not as obliviously obnoxious about it. Wesley accompanies Picard for
      a routine mission, but that mission is interrupted when the broken-
      down shuttlecraft they're riding in with the pilot (who calls
      himself "captain") Dirgo (Nick Tate) has a system failure and crashes
      on a desert moon.

      The Enterprise has its hands full on another emergency mission (a
      disposable procedure plot) and won't reach the crash site for some
      time, so Picard, Wesley, and Dirgo must in the meantime survive in
      the desert with no water or supplies.

      One of the story's points of labor is that Dirgo is obviously too
      stupid to live. The first tip-off is that he argues when Picard
      suggests heading to the mountains, the only possible shelter in
      sight. The second is that he drinks alcohol in the desert sun. The
      third is that he fires his phaser into a force field when he very
      obviously should just wait. That last example comes when the stranded
      party finds a cave with a fountain of water protected by an automated
      energy field (a prize behind an obstacle that seems more like the end
      of a video-game level than something that has a plausibly legitimate
      reason for being there). This results in a cave-in that critically
      injures Picard. Wesley must then figure out how to get the water to
      save Picard's life. Dirgo (as I said, too stupid to live) ends up
      getting killed behind his own impatient plan that Wesley said was a
      bad idea -- which goes to show that you should never blow off the
      teenage genius.

      The real point of the story is the relationship between Picard and
      Wesley, and their scenes while Picard appears to be dying. It's heavy
      on sentiment, gratitude, mutual respect, and the deep-down previously
      unsaid truth that Wesley considers Picard a surrogate father whom he
      just hopes will be proud of him. It's earnest, pleasant, intimate --
      but in the end, "Final Mission" is a little too much like Wesley
      Crusher: a bit cloying.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Loss" -- Air date: 12/31/1990. Teleplay by Hilary J. Bader and
      Alan J. Adler & Vanessa Greene. Story by Hilary J. Bader. Directed by
      Chip Chalmers.

      The Enterprise becomes ensnared in a field that pulls the ship along
      like a boat in a current. It turns out the current is actually a
      swarm of two-dimensional life forms that exist in space on a flat
      plane (which, of course, is not unlike how space travel is often
      depicted in Trek anyway). The crew must figure out how to escape the
      current without hurting the 2D-beings. The sci-fi gobbledygook
      surrounding this storyline is not one of TNG's best examples of sci-
      fi gobbledygook.

      Coinciding with this encounter, Counselor Troi's telepathic abilities
      suddenly vanish. Is there a connection? Gee, what do you think? Will
      Troi have her abilities back before the hour is up? I wonder. "The
      Loss" is a better title than "Two-Dimensional Life Forms" and it
      describes the more relatable of the story's equal-time-shared plot. I
      had sympathy for Troi's loss of her ability to sense other people's
      feelings, whom she aptly now describes as "surfaces without depth"
      and "projections." But the depiction of this just doesn't work. Troi
      has a meltdown where she snaps on Beverly, and I didn't buy it. And
      her almost immediately resigning her post borders on silly as knee-
      jerk overreactions go. Dramatically, the net effect of a helpless
      Troi feels more shrill than effective. Aren't TNG characters supposed
      to be more perfect than this?

      The 2D-beings plot turns to tedium and forced jeopardy
      simultaneously. We've got the 2D-beings headed toward a cosmic-string
      fragment (with the gravity of 1,000 black holes, if I heard right,
      although one would've been sufficient) and the only way for the
      Enterprise to escape comes when Troi hits on the idea of "moths to a
      flame." Of course, creating another "flame" in this instance involves
      reams of cascading technobabble that ... oh, never mind.

      Rating: **


      "Data's Day" -- Air date: 1/7/1991. Teleplay by Harold Apter and
      Ronald D. Moore. Story by Harold Apter. Directed by Robert Wiemer.

      In what proves to be a nice little device, "Data's Day" employs the
      conceit of Data writing a letter to Bruce Maddox (the guy who put
      Data's rights on trial in "The Measure of a Man") in order to supply
      us a first-person narration and a "day in the life" approach to
      observing everyone's favorite android. Data does not sleep, so the
      episode appropriately begins not with him waking up, but with him
      running the bridge's night shift just before everyone else clocks in.

      The story's approach is structurally refreshing -- and because it
      involves Data's bafflement over human emotions, it has an amusing
      whimsy. Sure, we've seen most of this before, but this time we get to
      experience more of it from Data's point of view. The story thrusts
      him into the middle of the upcoming wedding of Keiko and Miles
      O'Brien, and when Keiko has cold feet, she unwisely uses Data as the
      conduit for communicating this information to Miles. Unaware of the
      emotional fallout of a wedding being called off, Data delivers the
      message to Miles as if it's good news. Not a hilarious joke, but a
      whimsically effective one. Data's bafflement is offset by those, like
      Geordi, who take human nature for granted; Geordi assures Data that
      the wedding, inevitably, *will* go forward.

      Worth the price of admission is a scene where Crusher teaches Data
      how to tap dance, which reveals the disparity between his technical
      abilities and his social understanding. He can match step for step
      the most complicated tap-dancing moves, but is at a loss as to where
      to look and when to smile while slow-dancing.

      Amid the lighter elements is a mysterious plot involving Vulcan
      Ambassador T'Pel (Sierra Pecheur) and a rendezvous with a Romulan
      warbird onto which she is to beam for negotiations. When T'Pel is
      apparently killed in a transporter accident, it's Data's natural
      ability for logic that is able to discover that she was not, and that
      she's actually a Romulan spy returning home with information. (The
      ensuing standoff, for once, ends with the Enterprise retreating with
      empty hands.) While this more meaty plot seems at odds with the
      story's lighter tone, in the context of Data's observations and
      narration, it works. "Data's Day" is not groundbreaking, but it is
      pleasant.

      Rating: ***


      "The Wounded" -- Air date: 1/28/1991. Teleplay by Jeri Taylor. Story
      by Stuart Charno & Sara Charno and Cy Chermak. Directed by Chip
      Chalmers.

      The Enterprise is informed by a Cardassian warship captain, Gul Macet
      (Marc Alaimo doing the Gul Dukat performance without the Gul Dukat
      story baggage), that rogue Starfleet Captain Ben Maxwell (Bob Gunton)
      of the USS Phoenix is attacking unarmed civilian targets along their
      border. This is in defiance of a recently brokered treaty that ended
      a bloody war between the Federation and the Cardassians. (The
      Federation is apparently so vast that it was recently at war with
      another power that we'd never even heard of until now.) Picard must
      find and stop the Phoenix before the violence escalates and threatens
      to destroy the peace treaty.

      "The Wounded" is a good story about the effects of war that I wish
      would've been even better -- either more tense, or less obvious. Best
      about it, and most crucially, is that it's the breakout story for
      O'Brien, who is treated like a full-fledged regular character rather
      than just "the transporter chief." It reveals him as having a history
      and opinions, and it even ventures briefly into his life as a
      newlywed. (I enjoyed the Miles/Keiko discussion over breakfast, which
      was *about* breakfast.) He served under Maxwell during the war and
      knows him best among anyone on board the Enterprise. O'Brien's
      coldness toward the Cardassians is explained in a solid scene where
      he talks to one of them about the day during the war when he was
      first forced to kill an enemy: "I don't hate you, Cardassian. I hate
      what I became because of you."

      "The Wounded" is also a crucial establishing point for the
      Cardassians and thus an interesting step (in retrospect) in the
      direction of DS9. Rather than making the Cardassians simple villains,
      the story shows how Macet is genuinely interested in keeping the
      peace. Macet is about as even-tempered as aliens-of-the-week tend to
      be on Trek.

      The same cannot be said for Maxwell, who suspects the Cardassians of
      secret arms smuggling along these supposedly innocent shipping lanes.
      On this hunch Maxwell has attacked two ships and killed 450
      Cardassians. After being tracked down, debriefed, and ordered to
      stand down, Picard still lets him return to his bridge, which strikes
      me as unlikely bordering on reckless -- especially since Picard knows
      Maxwell's wife and children were killed by the Cardassians during the
      war. This leads to a standoff where Maxwell detains a Cardassian
      cargo vessel and pleads Picard to board it and find the weapons. When
      Picard refuses, Maxwell threatens to destroy it. O'Brien beams over
      to the Phoenix to talk Maxwell off his cliff, in what's a pretty good
      scene.

      Overall, this is a good depiction of an embittered soldier who simply
      cannot give up the war, even after peace has been declared. But I
      think "The Wounded" might've been even better if Maxwell were not so
      clearly unhinged. I also think the twist at the end implying the
      Cardassians are actually guilty of Maxwell's charges is somewhat
      counterproductive to the point of the episode.

      Rating: ***


      "Devil's Due" -- Air date: 2/4/1991. Teleplay by Philip Lazebnik.
      Story by Philip Lazebnik and William Douglas Lansford. Directed by
      Tom Benko.

      The Enterprise answers a distress call from the Ventaxians, whose
      world is besieged by its own panic because the terms for a legendary
      millennium-ago deal with the devil is set to expire -- like today.
      According to said legend, the devil, Ardra, will return to enslave
      the world (after having so benevolently granted it 1,000 years of
      peace). Ardra (Marta Dubois) does indeed appear and lay claim to the
      world, demonstrating powers that would seem magical if this weren't,
      you know, Star Trek, where technology can do anything. In response to
      Ardra's parlor tricks, spineless Ventaxian bureaucrat Jared (Marcelo
      Tubert) is prepared to hand over the keys to the planet.

      Not if Picard has anything to say about it. Picard doesn't believe
      Ardra is really the devil because Picard, you know, has an IQ over
      80, which apparently can't be said of any of the Ventaxians. (Is this
      someone's twisted allegory for the Second Coming? Naturally, any
      references to human religions are absent.) The Enterprise crew
      embarks on an investigation to debunk Ardra's assertion and her claim
      to the planet. Meanwhile, Ardra also lays claim to the Enterprise,
      since it's in orbit. This is clearly overreaching, because if there's
      one thing you don't screw with, it's the USS Enterprise.

      "Devil's Due" is, in a word, weak. Or in two words, really weak. The
      plot is a true who-cares scenario: Who cares if the Ventaxians are
      exploited? (Frankly, given their stupidity, they deserve it.) And who
      cares about all the contrived tech details of investigating Ardra?
      And who cares about this woman lusting after Picard? And who cares if
      the Enterprise disappears (which plays like lame unintended comedy)?
      The narrative is a choppy exercise in tedium, revealing its utter
      desperation by finally just becoming a *courtroom episode* where Data
      is the judge. Picard turns the tables in utterly predictable fashion,
      leading to a boring payoff where Ardra is exposed as the con woman
      she is. I have my doubts that any combination of Neat-O Technology
      could so perfectly perform the illusions we get in this episode, or
      if they could, that anyone (okay, maybe Jared, but that's the
      problem) would be fooled into thinking they're supernatural in origin.

      Rating: *


      "Clues" -- Air date: 2/11/1991. Teleplay by Bruce D. Arthurs and Joe
      Menosky. Story by Bruce D. Arthurs. Directed by Les Landau.

      "Clues" is one of those bottle shows that works better the first time
      you see it. It's intriguing when you don't know what's going to
      happen. But it loses something the next time through. As mysteries
      go, "Clues" holds the attention reasonably for an hour. The questions
      are: What happened, and do we dare try to repeat history when we have
      no memory of the consequences?

      As they approach a planet, the Enterprise crew is unexpectedly
      rendered unconscious. Upon awakening, Data, unaffected, says the crew
      has been out for 30 seconds. Gradually, however, clues are discovered
      that Data is probably lying, that the crew was unconscious for much
      longer, and that something serious happened that no one can remember.

      What works best about this story is its pace. It's a slow burn that
      gradually reveals peculiar clues hinting at an inevitable truth: Data
      is covering something up. The evidence -- from Crusher's botany
      experiment to Worf's broken wrist to Troi's freak-out in the mirror --
      all paints an odd picture surrounding the original mystery of the
      planet the crew never reached before blacking out. My favorite dialog
      scene is between Picard and Data, where a frustrated Picard grills
      Data on the facts and Data simply says that he cannot answer. (When
      Data stonewalls, he's never anything but calm, polite, and matter-of-
      fact; he can't answer simply because ... well, he *can't*.)

      What doesn't quite work is the explanation for this whole charade. A
      group of isolationist aliens wiped the crew's memory because they
      didn't want to be found. Except Data's memory could not be wiped, so
      Picard swore Data to secrecy rather than allowing the aliens to
      destroy the Enterprise. But it didn't work and now we need a second
      chance, this time leaving no clues. I'm not sure how you leave no
      clues on a ship with 1,000 people.

      The episode, which opened with Picard on the holodeck trying to solve
      a Dixon Hill murder, does not take the subtle road regarding its
      message, which is that we cannot resist a good mystery. One wonders
      if Picard's holodeck games and his speech at the end are both
      necessary. Show, don't tell.

      Rating: **1/2


      "First Contact" -- Air date: 2/18/1991. Teleplay by Dennis Russell
      Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael
      Piller. Story by Marc Scott Zicree. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      While undercover on the alien world of the Malcorians, Riker is
      seriously injured and rushed to a hospital where the Malcorian
      doctors discover his anatomy is nothing like theirs. "What are you?"
      they ask in astonishment. Riker attempts to maintain his cover by
      claiming he was born with numerous birth defects, but the Malcorian
      doctors are not persuaded. Could he be an alien from another world?
      The Malcorians are on the brink of warp space travel, but do not yet
      know that life exists elsewhere in the universe. Indeed, many in
      their society believe the universe revolves around Malcorian life.
      That belief may be about to change.

      "First Contact" is one of TNG's underrated gems. It is actually
      *about* the very core of the Star Trek ideology: seeking out new life
      and new civilizations while observing the Prime Directive. It pursues
      these Trekkian themes using an approach that feels completely fresh
      and original. The episode's wisest choice is to tell the story
      primarily from the Malcorians' point of view; we come into the story
      with scarcely more information than they do, which means we, like
      they, must play catch-up. Aside from Riker, we see none of the
      Enterprise crew until the moment when Picard and Troi beam into a
      room with Mirasta (Carolyn Seymour), the Malcorian minister of
      science, to announce "first contact." Watching this happen through
      Mirasta's eyes is a crucial part of the effect; we're allowed to feel
      the disbelief, then fear, then astonishment, that she feels. It's
      like Picard and Troi truly are aliens from another planet.

      Another reason this story is fascinating is that it shows us the nuts
      and bolts of how the Federation actually handles these delicate new
      encounters. Riker is just one of several other (unseen) undercover
      Starfleet officers who have observed and listened to Malcorian
      society for years in order to decide when might be the best time to
      initiate first contact. Riker going missing necessitated the process
      to be accelerated.

      Next the Enterprise crew contacts the leader of Malcorian society,
      Durken (George Coe). Picard carefully tries to explain his intentions
      while putting Durken at ease, and in these scenes we get intriguing
      material that subtly reveals the apprehension both men feel in
      stepping wrong in these discussions. Durken suddenly realizes that he
      is but a speck of insignificance in the universe, and both Picard and
      Durken know that the Malcorians' fear might be viral.

      Through Durken and his political administration we see the complexity
      of first contact in how it affects the society being contacted. It's
      possible -- given the sociopolitical tendencies to maintain the
      status quo -- that the Malcorians are not even ready to join the
      galaxy's community. Early scenes show more conservative elements,
      like Durken's security minister, Krola (Michael Ensign), expressing
      reservations over even the proposed warp flight, which didn't even
      assume that other life was out there. And there's talk about how
      Malcorian society should be taking care of itself before it starts
      going to other worlds. It's not often that TNG shows political
      details in a society that feel like they could plausibly come from
      our own current world, but these do.

      Another detail I felt was important was how Picard puts the first-
      contact mission first, and only gradually moves toward the issue of
      getting Riker returned. This feels right; a Starfleet officer would
      put the diplomatic mission ahead of the man, especially with the
      stakes so high. Meanwhile, the hospital administration tries to keep
      a lid on the fact that they have a space visitor lying in one of
      their beds; they debate among themselves the implications of what
      they've got on their hands. When the lid does come off, there's a
      violent reaction and then political maneuvering by Krola to try to
      keep Durken from moving forward. Krola's maneuvering fails, up to a
      point.

      In the end, a larger universe can't trump the societal status quo,
      and Durken declines Picard invitation, saying that his people aren't
      ready. Essentially it's a debate of progress versus what society will
      reasonably accept. "First Contact" has a lot of imaginative details
      about how this sort of encounter would play out using the Trek rules,
      and, for the most part, all the details feel right.

      Rating: ****


      "Galaxy's Child" -- Air date: 3/11/1991. Teleplay by Maurice Hurley.
      Story by Thomas Kartozian. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney), the designer of the Enterprise's
      engines, comes aboard the Enterprise. Geordi is ecstatic, because he
      met -- and kissed -- a holographic version of her in last
      season's "Booby Trap." This can't end well. His boundless optimism
      only makes it that much more obvious when we learn that Brahms is, in
      reality, kind of a pain in the ass. Her first words to Geordi after
      stepping off the transporter pad: "So you're the one who's fouled up
      my engine designs." The payoff is so telegraphed that if "Galaxy's
      Child" were on cable, she would've used a different word starting
      with F.

      Last season's "Booby Trap" was an engaging enough hour, so I guess it
      sort of made sense to do a follow-up on the whole Geordi/Leah thing.
      It's funny but also cringe-worthy to watch Geordi get so worked up
      over this woman whom he met on a *holodeck* (in a best-computer-guess
      simulation) and who doesn't actually know *him*. Reality. Fantasy.
      Two things. Watching Geordi confess to Guinan this 16-year-old-boy-
      like crush is embarrassing enough, but then Geordi arranges a date in
      his quarters where I'm just feeling bad for when Brahms walks out
      perplexed. Because Brahms is *married*. And Geordi doesn't know this
      because, what, he never bothered to find it in the computer? Uh-huh.
      Look at it this way: If you found someone on Facebook you wanted to
      date, don't you think the first thing you'd look at on their profile
      is whether they're, you know, MARRIED? Just wait until Leah finds
      herself in last year's holodeck program. (Her reaction was over the
      top, in my opinion, and when Geordi defended himself I was nodding in
      agreement.) This is either hilarious or sad; I'm not sure which.

      The sci-fi plot, which is sort of an afterthought, involves the
      Enterprise studying a creature (sort of like a whale in space) that
      suddenly attacks the ship with deadly radiation. In defense, Picard
      fires phasers (minimum setting, of course). Priceless is Picard's
      devastated reaction when the phasers accidentally kill the creature.
      It's so wonderfully Picard: We came out here to study this wonderful
      creature and we have killed it; thus we have failed our mission. But
      then it turns out the creature was pregnant, and the baby survived in
      the womb, is born, and starts following the Enterprise around like
      its mother. How cute. Until it latches on and attempts to breast-feed
      all the ship's energy away.

      Leah and Geordi must work together to figure out how to get the
      creature off the ship without harming it. In the process they reach
      an understanding and mutual respect (and make a natural technobabble
      tag-team) -- but, come on, did you really expect them not to?

      Rating: **1/2


      "Night Terrors" -- Air date: 3/18/1991. Teleplay by Pamela Douglas
      and Jeri Taylor. Story by Shari Goodhartz. Directed by Les Landau.

      After finding the USS Brattain, a Starfleet vessel that had gone
      missing, the Enterprise away team beams aboard to discover everyone
      dead, after having apparently gone insane and killed each other.
      There is a sole survivor: a Betazoid man in a catatonic state. Troi
      attempts to communicate with him telepathically while the crew
      attempts to solve the mystery of what happened to the Brattain. But
      then the Enterprise becomes stuck and cannot move from its current
      position, while members of the crew start experiencing hallucinations
      and unease.

      "Night Terrors" initially resembles a ghost story (or, in the Trek
      world, a weird-alien-presence story). The episode's depiction of a
      silent and ominous Brattain hints at a catastrophe that must have
      been initiated by some sort of outside influence. What I like best
      about "Night Terrors" is that it begins with the strange and surreal
      and slowly scales it back to more real-world symptoms. The reason the
      Enterprise is stuck is because of a known energy-draining phenomenon
      called a Tyken's Rift. And the reason people are hallucinating is
      because they haven't gotten any REM sleep for many days. The sleep
      deprivation is causing fatigue among the entire crew that, Crusher
      reports, will inevitably end in insanity and mass violence.

      It's kind of fun seeing the crew so sleep deprived that they're like
      the walking dead, and the hallucinations make for at least one well-
      executed creepy image, where Crusher is in a room full of corpses
      that she suddenly hallucinates as sitting up on their slabs.

      Overall, it's an average outing. The way the mystery is solved by
      Troi and Data requires so many assumptions that one hopes guessing
      and logic are the same thing. And then there are the lackluster
      scenes of Troi's dreams (she's the only one who can dream, because
      she's Betazoid) where she's floating in a green space cloud and
      yelling at two lights. These visuals look like they were conceived
      for a flying cartoon superhero. And why can't the aliens who are
      trying to communicate simply say, "We need hydrogen," rather than
      concocting riddles about "one moon circling the other"? I know; I'm
      being a nitpicker.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Identity Crisis" -- Air date: 3/25/1991. Teleplay by Brannon Braga.
      Story by Timothy De Haas. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      Geordi's close friend -- sort of like his big sister -- Susanna
      Leijten (Maryann Plunkett) comes aboard to report that the other
      officers of an away mission they all had been on several years
      earlier have recently gone missing. The Enterprise tracks a shuttle
      from one of the missing crewmen to the original mission's planet.
      They find no trace of the missing crewman, but Susanna, and then
      Geordi, begin having strange medical symptoms that draw them to the
      planet. It turns out they were both afflicted, on that years-ago
      mission, by an alien influence that is now rewriting their DNA. When
      Susanna starts transforming into an alien, Crusher must race to find
      a way to stop it before Susanna and Geordi are both lost.

      "Identity Crisis" is a tolerable hodgepodge of stories. It's a
      merging of various familiar devices including (1) Starfleet officers
      who have gone missing, (2) an old close friend we've never heard of
      before, (3) a medical mystery, (4) an alien parasite, (5) a holodeck
      investigation, and (6) Fun With DNA [TM]. Actually, this might be the
      best Fun With DNA episode on record, since Fun With DNA generally
      makes me want to retch. Brannon Braga apparently decided that
      if "Identity Crisis" was the starting point then "Threshold" was the
      logical extension, but I digress.

      The most interesting scenes involve Geordi on the holodeck trying to
      put together clues from a video recording of the original mission.
      Hey, look! There's a shadow from someone who isn't there! What is
      that? Before long, Geordi has become an invisible alien himself, and
      goes careening through the ship with the aid of his own personal
      biological cloaking device, like the alien in "Predator."

      The first half of the story does a pretty good job of creating a
      sense of mystery about what's going on, as Susanna slowly,
      psychologically melts down. And the second half of the show -- which
      focuses on the close friendship between Geordi and Susanna as they
      try to save each other -- works emotionally, even as the science goes
      off the deep end (transforming people into aliens and back without
      killing them and in such a way that even their hair looks the same,
      etc.). I can't recommend "Identity Crisis," but there are things
      about it that work in spite of itself.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Nth Degree" -- Air date: 4/1/1991. Written by Joe Menosky.
      Directed by Robert Legato.

      The Enterprise is assigned to repair the Argus Array, a space
      telescope that has stopped working. (It's the 24th-century equivalent
      of the Hubble Space Telescope; was this story about a critical
      scientific tool in need of crucial repairs ripped from the headlines
      of the time?) A mysterious probe orbiting the array zaps Barclay
      while he's on a shuttle mission. After returning to the ship, Barclay
      has a newfound confidence and his brain activity increases
      exponentially. He becomes smarter and smarter, and that begins to
      worry some people.

      The character outline is "Flowers for Algernon," except instead of
      taking a mentally challenged man and turning him into a genius, it
      takes a man of average intelligence (for this crew) and turns him
      into an ultra-confident, cosmic super-genius. In the opening scene,
      regular-Barclay is playing Cyrano de Bergerac in a performance that,
      let's face it, is pathetic despite his best efforts. Later, watch how
      genius-Barclay's acting is so mesmerizing that it practically makes
      Crusher weep. Dwight Schultz's performance as Barclay is pitch
      perfect because it finds the right balance between earnest sincerity
      and dryly ironic narcissism. Schultz, and the episode, know that deep
      down this is all kinda funny because it's about *Barclay*, and they
      don't shy away from the comic notes of Barclay's growing ego and
      arrogance, even if he's always well intentioned.

      Meanwhile, the imaginative sci-fi machinations proceed at warp speed.
      To fix the array, Barclay comes up with a brilliant plan that's
      impossible to execute by anyone except him, and requires a computer
      interface far faster than anything available, so he uses the holodeck
      to build a device that taps him directly into the ship's computer
      core (this device is both creepy and really cool; kudos to the
      production designers), where his brainpower expands and eventually
      takes over the entire computer and, thus, the ship. Barclay begins to
      develop a god complex, perhaps not unjustifiably, and claims he can
      understand the entire universe as a simple equation. He starts to
      scare the hell out of everybody.

      The way the crew reacts to all this is absolutely honest human
      nature; they fear what they cannot predict or understand, and I don't
      blame them -- especially when Barclay puts an energy field off the
      starboard side of the ship and prepares to send the crew 30,000 light-
      years through it, while assuring everybody, "Please, you must trust
      me." The suspense of what waits at the other side is one of the true
      moments of unpredictable awe in the Trek canon.

      What actually waits there, alas, cannot live up to that awe, but I
      did still enjoy the episode's sense of whimsical curiosity, in which
      it turns out that advanced aliens used Barclay as an implement to
      bring the Enterprise here in carrying out their own exploration of
      the galaxy. Barclay is of course returned to normal, which begs the
      question of whether it's a blessing or a tragedy to allow the blind
      man to see before taking it away again. "The Nth Degree" is a
      splendidly unique amalgam of tones and themes, plot and
      characterization, imagination and bemusement, and it ends up being
      one of the most fascinating hours in TNG's run.

      Rating: ****


      "Qpid" -- Air date: 4/22/1991. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr. Story by
      Randee Russell and Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      The Enterprise plays host to an archeological conference, during
      which Vash (Jennifer Hetrick, in a particularly sub-par performance)
      boards the ship ostensibly to rekindle some heat with Picard
      (following up last year's "Captain's Holiday"), but maybe also
      because she has a scheme up her sleeve involving some illegal
      archeologizing (new word; I made it up), which drives Picard's stolid
      sense of duty up the wall even as he cannot fully squelch that voice
      in his head that says he's attracted to her.

      Then Q shows up (in his most perfunctory appearance of all time)
      claiming that he simply wants to thank Picard for saving his life
      in "Deja Q." When Picard balks, Q decides to teach him a lesson about
      those pesky love feelings that Picard claims to eschew regarding
      Vash. So Q teleports the crew to a fantasy realm. But there clearly
      was never a story here. This is the sort of brain-dead production
      where someone said: "We need a Q story. What are we going to do?" And
      then someone else brilliantly offered up, "Robin Hood!"

      "Qpid" is stupid (even dumber than that rhyme) -- amazingly even
      worse than "Captain's Holiday," featuring an even more transparent
      sense of going through the clunky motions of laborious action/comedy.
      About a minute after Q snapped his fingers and sent the entire crew
      into Sherwood Forest, I was ready to check out. This is one of those
      TNG fantasies where anything can happen, and nothing does. The plot
      is nonexistent. The production and costume designers and stunt
      coordinators spend all their money on period details and swordplay
      while those of us wanting this to have any purpose are left
      scratching our heads. It's a snooze fest. As Q comedies go, this
      doesn't have an ounce of the charm of "Deja Q." Everything feels
      forced.

      Okay, it has a couple of marginally funny moments, like when the crew
      is so interested in this Vash woman that Picard is so tight-lipped
      about. Or where Worf purposely smashes Geordi's mandolin and then
      says, "Sorry." (I'm lukewarm to Worf's "I am NOT a merry man!" line.)
      But mostly it's an aimless, disjoined mess of lame Picard/Vash
      bickering and hackneyed action that has no purpose and little
      entertainment value.

      Rating: *


      "The Drumhead" -- Air date: 4/29/1991. Written by Jeri Taylor.
      Directed by Jonathan Frakes.

      The crew discovers that visiting Klingon officer D'Jan (Henry
      Woronicz) has been stealing technical secrets from the Enterprise and
      transmitting them via quiet and clever channels to the Romulans.
      There also has been an explosion on the ship's warp core, leading
      D'Jan to become the obvious suspect of sabotage. Admiral Norah Satie
      (Jean Simmons), a renowned Starfleet prosecutor, comes aboard the
      ship to aid in the investigation of the matter. "Aid in" quickly
      becomes "take over," and soon she's presiding over a sprawling
      paranoid inquiry involving unconfirmed speculation, serious
      allegations, and public hearings. Picard strenuously objects to what
      becomes a witch hunt.

      It starts small and builds slowly: Just a few questions of a few
      people. Satie seems to be doing her job, and even I thought Picard
      was being overly naive when fussing over the fact that her second
      chair is a Betazoid. But soon the investigation has narrowed in on
      Crewman Tarses (Spencer Garrett), suspected merely because he worked
      in sickbay when D'Jan came in for routine procedures. Satie continues
      to press on, and ultimately presses Picard for not clamping down,
      despite the lack of incriminating evidence on Tarses and, further,
      *with* strong emerging evidence that the explosion in engineering was
      actually an accident. The details of the episode are solid, but it's
      the message that really works here. It's painful to watch Tarses
      destroyed over the mere fact that his grandfather was Romulan (rather
      than Vulcan, as he claimed). It's presumed guilt by national ancestry.

      Ultimately, Picard is called to testify, in what raises the stakes to
      a witch hunt while, in narrative terms, serves to turn the story into
      a battle of wills between Satie and Picard. (Hint: Never bet against
      Picard.) The way Satie twists the facts is deplorable; I liked the
      story's invocation of continuity where she essentially attacks Picard
      for being abducted by the Borg.

      There were numerous "courtroom episodes" on Trek throughout the
      years, and "The Drumhead" is one of the best. With the threat of
      terrorism and the ensuing questions of curtailed individual rights at
      the forefront of today's sociopolitical discussion, "The Drumhead,"
      like DS9's "Homefront," is even more relevant in America today than
      when it originally aired. In a way it seems eerily prescient -- until
      you consider that these issues have repeated themselves in cycles as
      a result of whatever the paranoia of the moment may stem from,
      whether it was the Japanese during World War II, suspected communists
      during the Cold War, or terrorist "persons of interest" post-9/11.

      "The Drumhead" is a bit theatrical at times; one wonders if Satie,
      supposedly such a seasoned professional, would so easily be baited
      into a meltdown at the end. Or that she'd so easily have been able to
      lull Worf into her camp. But perhaps that's the point: The law has
      been hijacked by an overzealous individual whose judgment is suspect.
      (You can insert your own current-day political commentary here.)

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Half a Life" -- Air date: 5/6/1991. Teleplay by Peter Allan Fields.
      Story by Ted Roberts and Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Les Landau.

      What is it about the Trois that, given the starring spotlight,
      ultimately make me want to crawl under my kitchen table and hide?
      Whether it's "The Child" or "Manhunt" or "Menage a Troi" or "The
      Loss" -- they just never seem to work. Bad stories? Bad
      characterization? My own anti-Troi bias that I don't want to admit?
      Maybe a little of all of it? I'm not sure, but good intentions
      misfire here.

      In "Half a Life," we have Lwaxana Troi aboard the ship (rarely a good
      sign, although this episode ultimately tries to utilize her better
      than most) at the same time as Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), a
      scientist about to test an experimental procedure on a dying star
      that will hopefully allow his people to save their own dying sun.
      Lwaxana and Timicin meet and fall instantly in love, pursuant to
      every unrealistic timeline in every love story in every TV show and
      movie. This November-November romance isn't bad, but not compelling
      either. But then the other shoe drops: Timicin, in accordance with
      his people's longstanding culture, is scheduled to kill himself on
      his 60th birthday, mere days away.

      To me, the episode was basically unsalvageable once Lwaxana came to
      her daughter wailing ("wailing" isn't a word I have reason to use
      very often) over the fact that Timicin must die "JUST BECAUSE HE'S
      SIXTY!" There's drama, and then there's melodrama. And then there's
      nails on a chalkboard. Lwaxana Troi wailing is maybe two steps beyond
      the chalkboard. I'm being mean, but when you have a story based on
      arbitrary alien customs, performances matter.

      What can I say? Lwaxana is right. (Her message is fine, even if I
      still want to shoot the messenger.) Far be it for me to judge a
      fictional belief, but Timicin's society's custom *is* hopelessly
      silly, and based on all kinds of nonsensical logic and assumptions
      about the dignity of death in the face of aging, and avoiding getting
      so old you're soiling yourself, or whatever. The allegorical point
      here, somewhat rendered useless by stretching the story past the
      absurd point, seems to hint at our own society's general disregard
      for the elderly. But just as "The Loss" was an ineffective allegory
      for disability, "Half a Life" is a failed allegory for getting old.
      Do we blame the Trois? Well, maybe I shouldn't be *that* unfair.

      Rating: **


      "The Host" -- Air date: 5/13/1991. Written by Michael Horvat.
      Directed by Marvin V. Rush.

      Crusher falls head over heels in love with a visiting Trill
      ambassador named Odan (Franc Luz), who is assigned to negotiate a
      solution to an alien dispute that is threatening to escalate into
      war, pursuant to the Two Warring Factions standby oft employed by
      TNG. The Federation knows so little about Trill society at this point
      they don't even know they are a joined species.

      So Crusher is shocked and saddened when Odan is critically injured in
      an attack on a shuttlecraft and it turns out the symbiont slug inside
      him (not even referred to as a symbiont here) is actually "Odan" and
      the external body is just a host. The symbiont is joined with Riker
      as an emergency to keep Odan alive until a replacement Trill host is
      sent. It's interesting to look back at "The Host" and realize how
      much the Trill backstory and rules evolved after DS9 came around. The
      host here is depicted as more of an empty shell rather than a fully
      participating half of a joined whole, which begs the question of
      where Riker's mind goes while Odan is joined with him.

      Odan's negotiations with the Two Warring Factions are pure MacGuffin,
      and I frankly don't care. But as a romance, "The Host" works for all
      the reasons "Half a Life" fails. First of all, we have an actual
      spark of chemistry between the leads. "Half a Life" was labored and
      stolid, whereas "The Host" shows evidence of actual passion and
      emotional risk. Second, we have an alien element to the story that
      actually enhances the storyline rather than detracting from it. "Half
      a Life" was about people who kill themselves at 60, which is so
      arbitrary as to make it impossible to become emotionally invested in
      the premise. "The Host," on the other hand, asks an interesting
      question: What is it that defines us in the eyes of a lover? How
      important is the physical component of love, when you know someone by
      touch and by sight and by the sound of their voice? If the same
      person you knew had a different external package, would they be the
      same person?

      These questions put "Doctor Beverly" through the ringer in fairly
      interesting fashion -- although I think the story would've worked
      better if a regular character had *not* been the emergency host.
      Riker's role as host merely complicates matters (is it ethical for
      Odan and Crusher to pursue the relationship while Odan is in Riker's
      body?) and provides a distraction from the true heart of the story,
      which is: How far does love transcend our physical presence?

      Rating: ***


      "The Mind's Eye" -- Air date: 5/27/1991. Teleplay by Rene Echevarria.
      Story by Ken Schafer and Rene Echevarria. Directed by David
      Livingston.

      En route to Risa for a conference, Geordi is kidnapped by the
      Romulans and temporarily replaced with a doppelganger while the
      Romulans go to work torturing and brainwashing Geordi to turn him
      into an assassin. Let's start with the torture method: It's an
      ingenious story starting point. The Romulans use Geordi's visor
      inputs to tap directly into the visual centers of his brain; Geordi
      is forced to watch whatever horrifying images the Romulans feed him,
      and he's incapable of looking away. It's like "A Clockwork Orange":
      The Romulans condition Geordi with images to psychologically break
      him. It's also like "The Manchurian Candidate": Geordi is returned to
      the Enterprise with false memories, completely unaware he has been
      programmed as an unwitting sleeper agent.

      Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise takes Klingon Ambassador Kell
      (Larry Dobkin) to a Klingon colony facing a rebellion. Vagh (Edward
      Wiley), the colony's garrison trying to quell the uprising, claims
      that the rebels are being armed with Federation weapons. Picard
      suspects Romulan involvement attempting to destabilize the region and
      drive a wedge between the Klingons and the Federation. That sounds
      about right for the Romulans. An investigation is launched. (TNG is
      always launching investigations.)

      "The Mind's Eye" is more brawny, devious, and suspenseful than most
      TNG fare. It features a first-rate intrigue plot that grows from a
      general theme explored from <br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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