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.
"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
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
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.
"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
"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
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.
"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
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?
"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.
"Legacy" -- Air date: 10/29/1990. Written by Joe Menosky. Directed by
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
"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.
"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
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.
"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.
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."
"Final Mission" -- Air date: 11/19/1990. Teleplay by Kasey Arnold-
Ince and Jeri Taylor. Story by Kasey Arnold-Ince. Directed by Corey
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
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.
"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
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-
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.
"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
"The Wounded" -- Air date: 1/28/1991. Teleplay by Jeri Taylor. Story
by Stuart Charno & Sara Charno and Cy Chermak. Directed by Chip
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
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.
"Devil's Due" -- Air date: 2/4/1991. Teleplay by Philip Lazebnik.
Story by Philip Lazebnik and William Douglas Lansford. Directed by
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.
"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.
"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
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.
"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
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?
"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
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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
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
"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.)
"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
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.
"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
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?
"The Mind's Eye" -- Air date: 5/27/1991. Teleplay by Rene Echevarria.
Story by Ken Schafer and Rene Echevarria. Directed by David
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
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