Saturday, December 19, 2009

TNG Season 3

The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989-1990) turns 20 years old this year! It's a season that has aged well. Some of latter-day Trek's most important writers joined the show that year, including Michael Piller ("Evolution"), Ronald Moore ("The Bonding") and Rene Echevarria ("The Offspring"). Dr. Bev (Gates McFadden) made her comeback, and stuck with the series until its end. Even Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) came back for one episode ("Yesterday's Enterprise"), which afforded her character a more meaningful death and the series one of its finest hours. Loads of solid stories developed the characters, explored important issues, and made fun watching all at the same time. Many unforgettable guest characters and actors crossed the screen, some not for the first time, some not for the last. And, for the first time in the franchise's history, the idea of continuing storylines -- as opposed to each episode being its own self-contained, one-hour story -- began to take root.

Where was I in 1989-90? I was a junior in high school in the small town-cluster of Crosby-Ironton, Minnesota. Because the town was surrounded by mountainous heaps of magnetic ore, TV reception was poor. I first saw many of these episodes on VHS tapes recorded by my brother's girlfriend - not that her TV reception was much better. I later saw some of them more clearly in reruns after I went to college. A few of them seemed quite new to me as I sat through the DVDs over the past couple of weeks. If I ever saw them before, I didn't form a clear memory of them until now. So it's been like discovering third-season TNG for the first time!

It began with the episode "Evolution," guest starring Ken Jenkins (late of TV's "Scrubs") as a scientist who has devoted his entire career to preparing a probe to analyze a stellar phenomenon that recurs every 196 years. Just as the big day is about to arrive, however, plans for the Enterprise to launch the probe are held up by a ripple of malfunctions across the ship's systems. It turns out Wesley let an experiment in nanotechnology get loose and infect the computer. The self-replicating "nanites" have mutated into an intelligent life form, and they consider the crew's attempts to regain control of the ship to be acts of war. Basically it's a re-do of Season 1's "Home Soil," only with a cool speech about baseball. Whatever shortcomings one may find in the story, however, Ken Jenkins makes up in his memorable performance - a trade-off that became somewhat of a theme during this season.

This creepy critter belongs to a species called the Sheliak, featured in "The Ensigns of Command." The Sheliak like humans about as much as you like cockroaches. So when they decide to colonize a world belonging to them by treaty, you can imagine their irritation to discover humans already living on it. This colony is news to the Federation, especially since the planet is saturated with deadly radiation. No one can beam down, and only Data can safely visit the planet by shuttle. But the inhabitants won't listen to his warnings that they must prepare to evacuate the world where they have triumphed over 90 years of hardship. It's a tricky mission both for Data, who must convince the colonists to change their mind, and for Picard, who must somehow get the intractable Sheliak to give them more time for the evacuation.

In "The Survivors," the Enterprise investigates a human colony where all life has been wiped out, except for a neat little rectangle of grass and trees with a house on it and the elderly couple who live in it. Why they have been spared is as much a mystery as what happened to everyone else. The heavily armed, hostile aliens who apparently destroyed the world repeatedly come back to chase the Enterprise away, but Picard is increasingly convinced that they are an illusion. There was really only one survivor: an immortal, non-violent alien of virtually unlimited power, who must now live alone with his tormented conscience. The guest stars were Anne Haney, who later played a Bajoran judge in the Deep Space Nine episode "Dax," and John Anderson, whose other credits include one of the most memorable episodes of "The Twilight Zone." And for those of you who have trouble telling these episodes apart, this is the one where Deanna almost goes nuts because she can't get a music-box tune out of her head.

An anthropological "duck blind" on a primitive, proto-Vulcan planet loses its holographic shielding in the opening scenes of "Who Watches the Watchers?" By a series of mishaps, the local natives begin to revere Captain Picard as a god, and the rapid development of a religion threatens to derail all the nice progress their culture has been making. Plus, they have captured Deanna and are considering killing her to appease the anger of "the Picard." It's classic Roddenberryist ideology, taking a dump on religion and (most importantly) making it fun to watch. Who wouldn't enjoy watching Picard's agony as the Prime Directive crumbles before his eyes? Among the guest cast are horror-film maven Ray Wise, best known for his recurring roles on "Twin Peaks," "24," and "Reaper"; he also guest-starred in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Playing the leader of the Mintakan villagers is Kathryn Leigh Scott of the classic series "Dark Shadows," dating back to the era of the original Trek.

In "The Bonding," a crewwoman's death leaves her 12-year-old son an orphan on the Enterprise. Eventually, Worf -- who feels responsible, since the boy's mother died under his command -- forms a bond with young Jeremy Aster, making him part of Worf's Klingon clan. But first, Jeremy must resist the temptation to be coddled and mothered by an alien presence from the planet where his mother died. Whatever this thing is, it has the ability to create the illusion that it is Jeremy's mom, and that they are at home back on earth. In order to save the kid from living out his life in an empty illusion, his Enterprise "family" must convince him to face the reality of his mother's death. It's a solid Star Trek story featuring a kid whose ears earned him the nickname "Clark Gable Jr.," but with less-than-exceptional guest acting it scores as only an average episode. Perhaps not strangely, Jeremy Aster never was never seen again.

"Booby Trap" is the first of two consecutive episodes focusing on Geordi LaForge. In this outing, the Enterprise gets stuck in a type of galactic flypaper, alongside an alien ship that perished there a thousand years ago. Aided by surviving records from the alien ship, the crew works out what has caught them: a passive weapon, disguised as an asteroid field, that drains all energy the ship puts out and converts it into deadly radiation. Now it's up to Geordi to figure a way out of it. To do this, he goes to... well, the Holodeck. But this is not entirely for escapist reasons. Sure, the hologram of Leah Brahms, one of the Enterprise's designers, is pretty. Sure, holo-Leah digs Geordi in a way other chicks don't. But her help is really essential in getting the ship out of its predicament. Really! Susan Gibney reprised her role as Leah Brahms in a fourth-season episode, and played a different character in two episodes of DS9. The alien captain is played by Albert Hall, whom you may (or, thanks to prosthetics, may not) recognize from his recurring role as a judge on both The Practice and Ally McBeal.

The second Geordi episode running is "The Enemy," Trek's take on The Defiant Ones. Only it isn't manacles binding Geordi to a Romulan centurion on the inhospitable planet where they are both marooned. It's a case of rapid neural degeneration, caused by something in the planet's magnetic field. As Centurion Bochra loses the ability to walk, Geordi goes blind all over again -- his brain no longer receives singals from his VISOR. Unless they can figure out a way to spot a neutrino beacon provided by Wesley Crusher, they'll never get home. Meanwhile, "home" means an armed standoff between the Enterprise and a Romulan ship. Bochra is played by John Snyder, who returned to TNG as another character in "The Masterpiece Society." Tomalak, commander of the Romulan ship, became a recurring adversary in three subsequent episodes, played by Andreas Katsulas. Katsulas also appeared in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, besides starring in "Babylon 5" and playing the one-armed man in the 1993 film The Fugitive. A third Romulan in this episode is played by Steve Rankin, who also appeared twice on DS9 and once on Enterprise.

"The Price" was written by Hannah Louise Shearer, about whom I have expressed myself in the past. Unsurprisingly, I don't think it's a very strong episode. As Trek episodes go, it's a total chick flick, with Beverly and Deanna engaging in girl talk while stretching in their leotards, and Deanna rolling in the hay with a bare-chested and sickeningly pretty Matt McCoy (late of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, etc.) -- or rather, Devinoni Ral, one of this season's succession of interestingly named guest characters. Ral is on board to take part in negotiations for the sale of what is supposedly the universe's first known, stable wormhole. It turns out to be less stable than advertised, as two Ferengi find out to their cost (hint: they turn up in the Delta Quadrant, masquerading as gods, in the Voyager episode "False Profits"). It also turns out that Ral has been manipulating the negotiations by means of his empathic sense, inherited from his Betazoid grandma. Deanna rats him out, then passes when he asks her to run away with him "beyond the rim of the starlight," or wherever. It's totally Deanna's episode, but it barely rates as Trek. You know that really tall alien? He was played by Kevin Peter Hall, best known for his role as the title alien in Predator and Predator 2. The actor died only a couple years after shooting this episode, at age 35, of complications from a contaminated blood transfusion.

"The Vengeance Factor" is one of those episodes I couldn't remember ever having seen before... at first. It became a little more familiar as it went along. I reckon the reason it was so hard to recognize is that it took way too long to make up its mind what to be about. It would have been much more memorable if it had gotten to the point faster and stuck to it. First the Enterprise finds a science station that has been ransacked by pirates. Then it traces the pirates, who call themselves "Gatherers," to their homeworld, from which they were driven by clan wars a century ago. The clans have made peace, but the Gatherers continue to run wild, the black sheep of the family, embarrassing their planet at every turn. Picard persuades the leader of the planet to make peace overtures to the renegades, then persuades one of the high-ranking pirates to take them to his leader, then... (yawn) have we gotten to the point yet? No. Actually what it's really about is a vendetta that one seemingly young woman has been carrying out, on behalf of her decimated clan, for over a 100 years. Which puts Riker in the emotionally wrecking situation of having to shoot down a girl he digs. Too bad this came after the second-season clip episode.... The guest cast included the late Nancy Parsons, who starred in all three Porky's films, and Lisa Wilcox, who starred in two of the Nightmare on Elm Street features; besides some rather gross male costars we would all rather forget about.

"The Defector" is about a Romulan who... all right, you're way ahead of me! It's a pretty good episode, but I can't think of anything to say about it except to remark on James Sloyan's first Star Trek appearance. He also appeared as a Klingon in TNG's "Firstborn," as a Bajoran in two episodes of DS9, and as the title character of the Voyager episode "Jetrel."

"The Hunted" is an episode I have always liked. Jeff McCarthy plays Roga Danar, a maximum-security convict who escapes from prison while the Enterprise is reviewing his planet's application to join the Federation. His escape attempts are so clever and daring, his ability to elude capture so weird, and his ability to deal swift death so formidable, that he could easily have been no more than a fiendish enemy. But the fact that he was conditioned by his planet's army to fight in its wars, then discarded from society as an undesirable element, also makes him a sympathetic figure. This ambivalent character puts his society to its ultimate test of survival in the TNG episode that most entertainingly deals with veterans' issues. Gee, that chase through the decks of the Enterprise is fun! Also starring as the planet's leader is one James Cromwell, who later played the inventor of warp drive in Star Trek: First Contact. Cromwell also starred in such films as Babe, LA Confidential, Eraser, W, and Murder by Death. McCarthy, for his part, also appeared in the Voyager pilot (as the ship's original medical officer, whose death cleared the way for the holographic Doctor).

"The High Ground" stands out as one of the third season's most unsatisfying episodes. TNG's only episode to take aim at terrorism, it doesn't say much beyond the obvious, and sometimes painfully obvious. The only reason it's at all watchable is the performance of Richard Cox as terrorist leader Kyril Finn, whose Ansata separatists use a form of interdimensional transport that gradually destroys them. Finn takes Dr. Crusher hostage, and later captures Capt. Picard as well, providing them with an opportunity for the recurring "Jean-Luc, there's something I've been meaning to tell you" gag. He's a contradictory character, with artistic talent, a wry sense of humor, and a willingness to commit cold-blooded murder in the pursuit of his fanatical ideals. There can be no satisfying ending for such a character. Ultimately, inevitably, he ends up face-down with a phaser-hole in his back. And the viewer shakes his head in disgust, mutters "What's the point?" and changes the channel.... EDIT: There was a furore over this episode in the UK, because Data has a line stating that terrorism helped bring about Irish unification in the year 2024. As a result, this episode is banned from broadcast TV in Britian. Was it worth it, guys?

"Deja Q" brings back the galaxy's naughtiest entity in his funniest episode yet. While the Enterprise tries to correct the decaying orbit of a populated planet's moon, Q appears naked on the bridge and announces that the Continuum has stripped him... of his powers, that is. He has nowhere else to go, no one he considers more friendly than the Enterprises, who don't trust him one bit. Nevertheless, as a regular member of the crew he provides enough help solving the moon problem that they decide not to jettison him from a torpedo tube. Their choice becomes less clear when a group of vengeful Calamarain (i.e., intelligent swirls of ionized gas) gang up on him and the Enterprise into the bargain. When Q flees the ship in hope of drawing the Calamarain away, this uncharacteristically selfless act earns his readmittance to the Continuum. Corbin Bernsen, late of "Psych," appears as another Q (billed as "Q2"), and an actual mariachi band appears as themselves in this episode that proves (in my opinion for the first time) that Q can be part of a good story after all.

"A Matter of Perspective" is the episode where the holodeck is programmed to play a simulation of each witness's testimony in a trial to extradite Riker on charges of murder. The victim, a scientist working on some piece of unmemorable technobabble, turns out to have murdered himself while attempting to kill Riker. But while we're all figuring this out, the evidence looks like it might go against Riker. It just goes to show how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Wait! Did I say that? Crap! This wacky Roddenberryism is starting to get to me! I mean, if eyewitnesses are unreliable, what's your alternative? Computer evidence? I believe TOS's "Court-Martial" put paid to that possibility. Anyway, guest actor Mark Margolis ("Apgar") played the crook who shot Paul Sorvino in Law and Order. Craig Richard Nelson ("Krag") appeared in the Voyager episode "Living Witness." Gina Hecht ("Manua") held a recurring role on TV's "Mork and Mindy." And Julianna Donald ("Tayna") also appeared in a DS9 episode as a weird female alien who gives oo-mox to Quark.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" is widely considered one of TNG's best episodes. Conceived as a way to cut the bad aftertaste of Tasha Yar's meaningless death in season one's "Skin of Evil," it brings the Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) of TNG face-on with an earlier ship (ditto-C) via a hole in space-time. By leaving its own time, just when it was on the point of being destroyed by a Romulan fleet while attempting to defend a Klingon outpost, the Enterprise-C failed to prevent a war that was never supposed to happen. History has so changed that Tasha Yar is back from the dead, the Enterprise-D is a battleship, and the Klingons are beating the daylights out of the Federation. Only Guinan can remember the way things were supposed to be. On her say-so, Picard sends the surviving Enterprise-C's back to their own time to fight their hopeless battle so that history will go right, and the war with the Klingons will be averted. And Tasha goes back with them so that her death can have meaning -- or so that she can die beside her guy. Whichever. The guy in question is played by Christopher McDonald, who is otherwise known for playing unpleasant characters, such as Shooter McGann in Happy Gilmore. The female captain of Enterprise-C is played by Tricia O'Neil, who also played a Klingon in the TNG episode "Suspicions" and a Cardassian in DS9's "Defiant."

One of the great Data episodes is "The Offspring," in which the android's rights as a sentient being (legally defined in season 2's "The Measure of a Man") are put to a new test. When Data decides his growth as a life-form requires him to experience reproduction, he builds another android with a positronic brain. Lal at first appears as the unisex thingummy depicted at the top of this post, played by an uncredited actor under a colossal amount of makeup. I mean, he was literally covered from head to toe. The poor guy! Lal eventually chooses a female appearance (played by Hallie Todd of TV's "Lizzie McGuire"), but her rapid assimilation of experiences soon goes beyond anything Data can prepare her for. Along comes a Starfleet Admiral (played by soap opera maven Nicholas Coster) who wants to separate Lal from Data in the interest of cybernetics research. Before the ethical dilemma over Data's rights as a parent can be fully resolved, Lal's first emotions overload her circuitry and she dies. Father and daughter's final scene together is very touching, within the confines of Data's emotionless character. Lal: "I love you, father." Data: "I wish I could feel it with you." EDIT: This was the first of 8 TNG episodes directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes. Frakes also directed episodes of DS9 and Voyager, as well as 2 TNG feature films.

"Sins of the Father" is the episode that turned the corner for Star Trek. When Worf walks out of the Klingon High Council, stripped of his family honor, and there very pointedly isn't a card saying "To Be Continued," you know Star Trek has grown to the point where it has room for an ongoing storyline. This was a risky move for a syndicated show whose episodes, ideally, could be aired in any order a broadcaster saw fit. It basically meant that, besides the free-standing stories, the show would have larger plot arcs woven into it. It meant that a series like Deep Space Nine, in which a single story stretched across as many as ten episodes, could finally be envisioned. And Worf had to suffer for it. First he catches disrespect from a Klingon exchange-officer who turns out to be his long-lost brother Kurn (Tony Todd in the first of his numerous Trek appearances). Then he has to face the high council, headed by Chancelor K'mpec (Charles Cooper, who played a Klingon ambassador in Star Trek V), and answer for the treason supposedly committed by his late father. The real traitor turns out to be the father of Worf's bitterest rival, Duras. To protect the empire from civil war (because the Duras family is so powerful), Worf must accept discommendation. He will be a Klingon without honor until... Well, I'm not telling you. You'll have to wait and see what happens in Season 4! EDIT: You get to see the "Klingon homeworld" in this episode, for the first time. It's a funny thing: now you know what it looks like, but you still don't know what it's called!

"Allegiance" is a fairly crappy episode, but it has lots of cool aliens in it. It introduces us to the Bolians, those chatty bluish fellas with a narrow ridge running down the center of their face. [EDIT: OK, that one guy in season one's "Conspiracy" was a Bolian, I guess. But he wasn't blue!] It gives us our one glimpse of the Chalnoth, whose size, savagery, and dentition are formidable but (one gathers) self-defeating. And it rolls out the gray-skinned Mizarians, frequently seen in the background after this episode, but never studied as close-up as here. And that's besides the really weird aliens, who turn out to have kidnapped Picard and these other critters in order to study command structures. Meanwhile, a fake Picard is running around on the Enterprise, putting the crew's loyalty to the test by issuing inexplicable commands and treating his officers in a bizarre fashion. The "something's not right about the Captain" talk between the officers, as a preface to mutiny, may seem familiar to those who remember season one's "Lonely Among Us." The scene where Picard tells Riker he may be losing it seems lifted almost verbatim from that earlier episode.

"Captain's Holiday" features Max Grodénchik (best known for his recurring role as the Ferengi "Rom" on DS9) as--guess what!--a Ferengi. It introduces the treasure-hunting adventuress Vash, played by Jennifer Hetrick in the first of several Trek appearances. And it displays the spectacle of Jean-Luc Picard trying to read on a verandah on the pleasure world of Risa while, unbeknownst to him, the souvenir he has picked up at Riker's request serves as an open invitation for the women of the planet to offer Picard jamaharon. Whatever that is, it sounds delicious! Vash is looking for an artifact from the future, which has somehow come back in time and gotten lost on Risa. The Ferengi feller is trying to get to it first. Picard gets caught up in the chase, partly at the instigation of a couple of "security officers" from the 27th century. If the "tox uthat" falls into the wrong hands, it could be really bad news. It looks like a smokeless ashtray made out of clear crystal, but it can snuff out a sun. Nasty! This episode took a big step toward transforming the bridge-bound, talky, preachy, stuffy Picard into a sexy action hero. And it's a pretty good show!

"Tin Man" is Starfleet's name for a new life form that has been detected at the edges of explored space -- an intelligent being that is also, somehow, a spaceship. Since the Romulans want a piece of Tin Man, the Enterprise races to make first contact with it. On board as a mission specialist is an extremely gifted Betazoid telapath named Tam Elbrun, played by Broadway dancer-actor Harry Groener. Elbrun is a troubled individual with a history of isolating himself from humanoids and developing a rapport with strange aliens, the stranger the better. His checkered past includes a diplomatic incident that cost 47 lives and a stretch of therapy while Deanna was studying psychology at the U of Betazed. Now she is concerned that he will lose himself in his mental rapport with Tin Man. In the end, Elbrun welcomes this, finding a shared sense of peace and belonging with the ship/creature that has never gotten over the death of its crew. Incidentally, this was the first episode with music by composer Jay Chattaway, who won an Emmy in 2001 for his work on Star Trek.

"Hollow Pursuits" introduces the recurring character of Reginald Barclay, a low-ranking engineer who has one big challenge to his Starfleet career: his personality. Shy and insecure, he has trouble relating to others and doesn't seem cut out for a career in a disciplined environment like the Enterprise. Yet when, very grudgingly, LaForge takes an interest in him, he turns out to have just the right mind and skills to solve a mystery that could threaten the Enterprise. On the other hand (and more to the point of this episode), he also suffers from "holo-addiction." As the presurre on Barclay mounts, he increasingly takes solace in a holodeck fantasy in which he can take down his superior officers a notch or a few. They're none too pleased to find out about it. Holo-Deanna: "I am the goddess of empathy..." The existence of someone like Barclay must violate some tenet of Roddenberry's vision of the future, but it sure makes an entertaining hour of Star Trek. Look for him in later seasons of TNG, as well as Voyager! EDIT: Barclay was played by Dwight Schulz, whom I would have described at the time as "the guy who played H. M. Murdoch on 'The A Team.'" Twenty years later, I find that he is probably best known for playing Barclay on Star Trek!

"The Most Toys" is a troubling episode with a tragic story behind it. First the tragedy: Character actor Saul Rubinek ("Unforgiven," "The Contender") was brought in on short-notice when the actor originally cast in his role (David Rappaport of "Time Bandits") committed suicide during filming. In spite of his last-minute preparation, Rubinek delivers one of the series' most distnctive performances as the ruthless and flamboyant collector Kivas Fajo. Fajo "collects" Data by faking the android's death in a shuttle explosion, then tries to coerce him into accepting his new role as part of an exhibit of rare, and in many cases stolen, objects. One of those objects is a nasty ray-gun that delivers a slow, painful death. Perhaps the fact that, at the moment he is beamed up to the Enterprise, Data is discharging said ray-gun in Fajo's direction, is a sign that he is getting closer to understanding emotions such as anger. Thus Data's parting shot to the captured Fajo -- something like "I feel nothing; I'm just an android" -- is devastating in its irony.

Mark Lenard headlines the episode "Sarek," named after the character he first played in TOS's "Journey to Babel." So yes, this is the Sarek, father of Spock, ambassador of the Federation. Now, at age 202, he boards the Enterprise to undertake a final diplomatic mission before he retires. But a rare degnerative disease is robbing Sarek of his emotional control. And his telepathic powers are projecting his violent Vulcan passions onto the ship's crew. Senseless violence begins to break out: not the best prelude to a diplomatic palaver. Picard has difficulty penetrating the protective layers of wife, chief of staff, and personal aide which insulate Sarek from the truth, but when he finally does, he volunteers to hold Sarek's rampaging emotions in his own mind (via the famous Mind Meld). It's a touching episode about aging, and it sets up a return visit by Sarek in a later season, leading to a crossover appearance by Spock himself.

"Ménage à Troi" is the episode where an amorous Ferengi captain refuses to take "no" for an answer. Smitten with Lwaxana Troi, he kidnaps her along with Deanna and Riker. As one might expect of a Lwaxana episode, it is hysterically funny, with a touch of naughtiness thrown in. The Ferengi are particularly well cast. Frank Corsentino ("Daimon Tog") appeared as three different Ferengi betweem TNG and Voyager, including "Bok" in season one's "The Battle." Peter Slutsker, as the chess-playing Ferengi "Nibor" (I love that name!), also played three different Ferengi, all in TNG, besides another alien in two episodes of Voyager. Even Rudolph Willrich (who here plays a Betazoid official) came back to Star Trek more than once, as a Bolian in Voyager and as an alien hologram in Enterprise. But most significant is Ethan Phillips as the Ferengi doctor. Phillips played another Ferengi in Enterprise and a human in Star Trek: First Contact, but he is best known for his seven-year role as Neelix on Voyager.

"Transfigurations" is the episode that shows us what it looks like when a humanoid reaches the point of evolving into an entity. Mark La Mura plays "John Doe," an amnesiac alien found barely alive in the debris of a crashed escape pod. As he recovers from his injuries under Dr. Crusher's care, he gradually exhibits amazing powers -- healing wounds, even bringing Worf back from the dead. But his body tissues are mutating into who-knows-what, and a painful and frightening surge of energy keeps building up inside him, with increasingly distressing results. Finally, as the Enterprise is confronted by a ship from John Doe's world, it all becomes clear. The Zalkonian people don't tolerate those who are "different." They want nothing to do with the Federation. They just want to destroy John Doe because he threatens the status quo. But they're too late. Before the Zalkonians can fire on the Enterprise, John Doe achieves the higher state of existence he has been building up to. He glows all over like the aliens in Coccoon, transports people through space at will, and finally zooms off into the cosmos as a blaze of pure energy. The overall message of the episode seems to be something about accepting people's differences, but I can't help wondering whether John Doe's fate is the ultimate realization of all Gene Roddenberry's hopes for mankind.

Season 3 ended with a knock-out cliffhanger, featuring Elizabeth Dennehy as Commander Shelby, an ambitious young officer who out after Riker's job. Riker, on the other hand, is considering his third (!) offer of his own command. But it is Picard who makes the biggest career move in this episode, when the Borg recruit him as their spokesman for the invasion of Earth and the conquest of the Federation. It ends with Riker, knowing that Picard is on board the Borg ship, ordering Worf to "Fire!" It was TNG's first cliffhanger, and the two-parter (concluded at the beginning of Season 4) remains one of the series' most popular stories.

Thus ended a season dominated by thought-provoking, politically relevant, character-driven stories. Nevertheless, except for a few groaners like "The Price," one can hardly complain of a lack of action, excitement, and thrilling sci-fi concepts. It was a transitional season that laid the groundwork for later seasons where Picard was stronger, Worf and Data more richly developed, Q and Lwaxana Troi were handled more skillfully, and narrative arcs spanned broader ranges of episodes. It was a milestone season, too; beyond this point, next-gen Trek proved itself more lasting and successful than the original series.

Want a refresher course on previous seasons of Star Trek? Click the following links to see my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three, and of TNG seasons one and two.

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