Season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired from September 1992 to June 1993, roughly my sophomore year in college. It was a good year for me to watch Star Trek; I don't think I missed a single episode of this season in its first run. Plus, it was during this season that DS9 went online, as well as Babylon 5. And it was a great year for TNG, full of terrific episodes befitting a series that had reached its full maturity. It's also the season in which the scary alien shown here gets up after having a hole blasted straight through him, and charges Dr. Beverly again. She vaporizes him -- so much for "First do no harm"! It's a spectacular moment, though it could have been played for comedy (Goldie Hawn: "Look at me! I'm soaking wet!"). And it's only one of the many glories of TNG Season 6.
"Time's Arrow, Part II" starts it off with a conclusion to Season 5's cliffhanger. We find Picard, Riker, Deanna, Geordi, and Beverly in 19th-century San Francisco, trying to track down Data before this happens to him (see picture). Samuel Clemens gets mixed up in it (to say nothing of a young Jack London), with the result that Picard ends up stuck in the past with a gravely injured Guinan. Basically, this episode takes the long way around to show us how Guinan met Picard, though we never find out precisely how Picard met Guinan. I know, it's confusing, but time travel is involved -- as are aliens that exist in another phase of time-space, and who subsist on the life-force drained out of 19th-century humans. Alexander Enberg, who later played a recurring Vulcan on Voyager, makes a brief appearance here as a young reporter.
"Realm of Fear" is the first of two Barclay episodes this season, which perhaps covers for a complete lack of Lwaxana Troi appearances. The uniquely neurotic systems engineer faces one of his worst fears in this episode when duty requires him use a matter-energy transporter. It gets even worse when he is attacked by a floating worm-thing in the data stream (pictured). Barclay becomes convinced that he is suffering from Transporter Psychosis, but it turns out that the worm-things are actually people who have gotten trapped in the *insert technobabble*. It's as cute as Barclay episodes usually are, with plenty of solo scenes for Dwight Schulz to show off his flair for nervousness. Also, one of my favorite images of Deanna comes from this episode, when she is forced to run after Barclay while he speed-walks around the decks to tire himself out before bedtime. A certain unregenerate part of me delights in the little half-hop, half-run she does every few steps in order to keep up. "That brave vibration," etc.
"Man of the People," on the other hand, shows a different side of Deanna: a dangerous, jealous, malicious, horny side. Actually, it isn't a side of her so much as a side of him (Ves Alkar, played by Chip Lucia, pictured). Alkar comes aboard the Enterprise en route to a conflict-torn planet where only he can negotiate a peace. His evil, demented mother comes with him, makes a couple of ugly scenes, then dies. During a private mourning ritual that Alkar shares with Deanna, he zaps her with a psychic link that begins dumping all his negative feelings into her. This psychic toxic waste turns Deanna into a shrewish old woman before her time -- just as it did to his so-called mother before her. When Picard confronts him, Alkar makes a chilling attempt to justify this violation of Deanna's rights. Ultimately, to save Deanna, Beverly has to euthanase her, then revive her after Alkar attempts to form a new link with one of his aides. The procedure causes all the bad vibes to rebound on Alkar, causing him to die of old age in a matter of seconds. The effects on Deanna are reversed -- which is almost too bad, because she made a pretty hot middle-aged sex kitten.
"Relics" brings on guest star James Doohan as Scotty in TNG's third crossover appearance by a TOS character (after McCoy in the pilot and Spock in Season 5's "Unification"). The reason he looks so well-preserved is that he has just spent 80 years trapped in a transporter's *insert technobabble*. Now he feels plumb useless, because engineering has moved so far beyond him and he doesn't have anything to offer. That is, until he and Geordi and a wrecked vessel from the TOS era are the only chance of saving the Enterprise from being trapped inside a Dyson sphere. You know, let's keep that idea quiet for now; otherwise the Obama administration might decide to build it. This episode made Trek history at least because the set crew had to reconstruct the bridge of the original Enterprise. Kind of cool to see it again, eh?
"Schisms" is one of TNG's spooky, paranoid episodes. I mean, it actually has to do with alien abduction -- off a manned starship! Think of it!!! Pictured here is the most effective scene, in which several abductees put their heads together and create a holo-representation of the interdimensional chamber of horrors where they were experimented upon. The aliens are pretty scary, too -- bug-eyed, beak-faced creatures in long, hooded robes who speak in clicks and wield nasty-looking surgical implements. I'm sure glad the Enterprises manage to zip up the seam between their dimension and ours...
"True Q" is one of two episodes this season featuring that omnipotent scamp Q. In this outing, he comes aboard to test the abilities of a sweet young intern who has spent her whole life hiding her amazing powers. Turns out Amanda Rogers is a Q and she didn't know it. This puts the poor girl in a terrible dilemma: can she keep with the program, live among humans and abstain from using her powers? Or must she leave everything she has known and join the Continuum? The scene pictured here, which can't have been nearly as enjoyable as it looks, is part of Q's method of showing Amanda what she can do. The young Q was played by Olivia d'Abo of "The Wonder Years" in what, I must frankly admit, was a less than unforgettable performance.
"Rascals" is the one where Picard, Keiko O'Brien, Ro, and Guinan are turned into children by a freak transporter glitch. You would not BELIEVE how much technobabble results from this! But that's all right, because the very next thing that happens is a renegade crew of Ferengi ambush the Enterprise and claim it as salvage. While the whole adult crew has been beamed down to slave in the salt mines, only the kids remain on board -- apart from Riker, who is staying mum about the codes to unlock the ship's computer. So this gives a bunch of younger-than-they-look heroes a chance to save the day. David Tristan Birkin, who played Picard's nephew in Season 4's "Family," here plays the young Picard himself, complete with a dead-on impression of Patrick Stewart's stiff-armed walk. Isis Jones, who does a spot-on impression of Whoopi Goldberg as young Guinan, later went on to play a younger version of Whoopi's character in Sister Act. Mike Gomez, here playing DaiMon Lurin, also played the very first Ferengi seen on screen in Season 1's "The Last Outpost." His fellow guest-Ferengi Tracey Walter and Michael Snyder had also previously appeared as Ferengi; the latter was also a veteran of the TOS feature films. Meanwhile, this is the last TNG appearance of the O'Briens before they transfer to DS9; and after her very brief appearance at the beginning of this episode, Michelle Forbes appears as Ensign Ro only once more, in Season 7.
"A Fistful of Datas" ends with a priceless image of the Enterprise flying off into the sunset. It's very appropriate for a Trek send-up of spaghetti westerns. While Deanna, Worf, and Alexander take a little time-out in a holodeck recreation of the "Ancient West," Data and Geordi run an experiment in linking the android's brain to the ship's computer. One result is priceless footage of Data doing a bowlegged walk, spitting at a potted plant, and calling people "pardner." Another result is three terrified shipmates trapped in a holo-program with no exit, no safeguards, and a full cast of villains with Data's appearance and cybernetic abilities. How they survive the shootout on Main Street is a sci-fi thing to behold. A cheroot-smoking Deanna, a scene where Worf plays dress-up in front of the mirror, and a cross-dressing scene for Brent Spiner combine to make this episode a Star Trek comedy classic.
"Quality of Life" features three of these cute gizmos, dubbed exocomps by their inventor. She's pretty cute too, but I could only show a picture of one of them, so there it is. Dr. Farallon is convinced these self-propelled, tool-replicating problem-solvers are the key to getting her orbiting particle-beam mining drill on line in time for Starfleet to decide whether to adopt it. But a series of apparent malfunctions lead Data to question whether the exocomps mayn't actually be life-forms. Interestingly, their creator is horrified by the idea. But eventually, the excocomps' ability to balance self-preservation with the needs of the many becomes the key to saving Riker and Picard from a very sticky end. Yet again, the Enterprise has found new life without having to to search very far!
"Chain of Command, Part I" is the episode that faked us all out around Christmas 1992. Pictured here is Captain Edward Jellico, played by Ronnie Cox (late of Robocop, Total Recall, and TV's "Stargate SG-1"), who takes over command of the Enterprise in a ceremony so formal that it appears to be permanent. Is this the end for Picard? It certainly looks that way after his top-secret mission to neutralize a Cardassian bio-weapon turns out to be a trap. Meanwhile, the Enterprises are having a hard time adjusting to their new captain's groove. He doesn't like them, they don't like him, and as tensions mount, so do the rumbles of a potential war with the Cardassians. Gul Lemec, he of the blood-curdlingly wolfish smile, is played by the same John Durbin who previously played the snakelike Selayan ambassador in Season 1's "Lonely Among Us."
"Chain of Command, Part II" resumes where Part I left off, with Picard being held captive by the Cardassians and subjected to brutal interrogation by Gul Madred, pictured here as played by the great David Warner (who also played featured roles in the fifth and sixth Trek feature films, besides many other roles in sci-fi and horror classics). Some of the yuckiest sci-fi food ever filmed appears in this episode -- namely, the live "taspar egg" eaten by the starving Picard. It also gives plenty of scope to a typically chatty Cardassian to develop his race's history and culture -- very appropriate, considering that this was the last new TNG episode that aired before the premiere of DS9, in which the Cardassians play such a crucial role. There is a particularly chilling scene in which Madred allows his daughter to witness the suffering he is inflicting on Picard. Ultimately, Picard gets returned to the Enterprise when his successor, Captain Jellico, corners the Cardassian fleet just as it is about to attack a Federation colony. And we all (including the Enterprises themselves) breathe a sigh of relief as Jellico hands over command to Picard again...
"Ship in a Bottle" brings back the nefarious hologram of Dr. Moriarty (pictured), last seen in Season 2's "Elementary, Dear Data," as well as Lt. Barclay for his second show of the year. Barclay inadvertently wakens Moriarty while trying to fix a glitch in Data's Sherlock Holmes program. Evil genius as he is, Moriarty soon finds a way to hold the ship hostage until Picard follows through on his promise to find a way off the holodeck, both for Moriarty himself and for his intended, the Countess Regina. It's one of those episodes that keeps you guessing and plays with your perceptions, right down to the final line where an uncertain Barclay says to the empty conference room, "Computer, end program." I've gotta claim this as one of my favorite episodes of the season.
"Aquiel" is another Star Trek Mystery, with Beverly playing the role of a crime scene analyst and Geordi the detective. Who the victim is, and exactly what crime happened, isn't immediately apparent. There are supposed to be two lieutenants on a remote communications relay station, but when the Enterprise gets there, the place is deserted except for a dog and a grease spot welded to a piece of deck plating. While Beverly tries to extract the DNA of whichever lieutenant bit the dust, the presumed victim - lovely Aquiel Uhnari (pictured, as played by Renée Jones of "Days of Our Lives") - turns up alive and well on a shuttle in Klingon space. She claims to have no memory after being attacked by her crewmate. The only other suspect is the Klingon patrol who routinely harassed the station, because of course no one would ever suspect that the dog done it! Even after it becomes clear that somebody was a "coalescent organism" who absorbed somebody and then became him, her, or it, nobody suspects the bloody dog until it's almost too late! Well, all right. You didn't see it coming either, did you?
"Face of the Enemy," not to be confused with a similarly-titled Babylon 5 episode, is the one where Deanna gropes her way through a dark room, turns on the light next to the vanity, and gasps when she sees this in the mirror. Deanna, a Romulan?! Well, such surgery has been done before (see TOS's Season 3 episode "The Enterprise Incident"), but usually after the patient has been briefed about his or her mission. Deanna's mission is to help Romulan dissidents escape into Federation space by impersonating an officer of the Tal Shiar, which is sort of like the Romulan KGB. Eventually, inevitably, this leads to a scene where she is in command of the Romulan war-cruiser just as it fires on the Enterprise. What tangled webs, eh? Caught in this one are Scott MacDonald (who appeared in all four Trek spinoffs), Carolyn Seymour (in her third TNG role), Dennis Cockrum (who guested in three Trek series), and Robertson Dean (who played a Romulan here, a Klingon in Enterprise, and a Reman -- the Romulans' sister race -- in the 10th Trek feature film).
"Tapestry" shows us exactly how Picard got his artificial heart, though we have already heard the story (see Season 2's "Samaritan Snare"). In fact, it shows us twice: once with this guy (Marcus Nash, pictured) playing the young Picard, and later with Patrick Stewart as the older captain reliving his checkered past. How does he get this opportunity to correct his youthful mistakes? Well, a power surge stops his artificial heart, sending Picard into the afterlife, where Q appears to him and says, "I'm God. And you're dead." Q gives Picard a chance to see how different his life would be if he hadn't made the mistake that led, eventually, to his artificial heart making an end of him. What Picard sees, however, is worse than death: an unremarkable life as a low-ranking science officer with little chance of advancing to command. So, like the very antithesis of Scrooge begging the spirits to let him do things differently, Picard begs Q to let him do things the same. Because your life is like a tapestry: you pull one thread out of it, and the whole thing unravels. It's an interesting episode, if a little hard to watch as you see Picard messing things up for his younger self; one of Q's most substantial stories ever.
"Birthright, Part I" guest-stars Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell who, believe it or not, is pictured here. He had previously appeared in a more recognizable role (Season 3's "The Hunted") and later made appearances in DS9, Enterprise, and most notably as Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact. But here he is all but unrecognizable under the prosthetics of the Yridian information-dealer Jaglom Shrek; and his appearance in Part II of this double episode was cut short when the actor broke his leg. Whoops! Shrek starts all the trouble by offering to sell Worf information about his late father, who supposedly died in the Romulan attack on the Klingon colony at Khitomer. Mogh is alive, claims Shrek; and he'll take Worf right to him, for a price. While Worf scouts a remote Romulan prison camp where Klingons have been deprived of their honor (i.e., prevented from killing themselves), Data explores his first dream- or vision-like experience, brought on by a power surge. DS9's Dr. Julian Bashir (played by Siddig El Fadil) makes a crossover appearance here. Other guest stars include Cristine Rose (late of "Heroes"), Richard Herd (a well-known character actor who played Tom Paris's father on Voyager), and Alan Scarfe (a three-time Trek guest who also starred on "Seven Days" and whose wife Barbara March played the recurring Klingon character Lursa).
"Birthright, Part II" continues the Worfocentric storyline introduced in Part I, with one proud Klingon resisting confinement to a Romulan prison-camp-turned-colony. The Klingon prisoners have given their parole, intermarried with the Romulans, and settled down to a lifestyle of peaceful coexistence wherein their children are not taught Klingon ways. Worf's coming, with all his stories and songs and Klingon values, upsets the balance and threatens to destroy the peace of this community. One could experience this episode two different ways. From one viewpoint, Worf's behavior is despicable as he fills the younger colonists' heads with racist, if not fascist, ideology. From the other point of view, he's a heroic figure who won't let his captors take away his pride in who he is or where he came from, and whose beliefs hold an appeal that certain young, rootless Klingons can't resist. I wonder if this ambiguity was intended by the writers, but it leads to a bittersweet conclusion.
"Starship Mine" is Star Trek's take-off on Die Hard, with Picard alone on the Enterprise (thanks to the highly toxic "baryon sweep" pictured here), against a vicious gang of dilithium thieves. Meanwhile, down on the planet, his officers are being held at blaster-point at the end of a reception that started boring and went downhill fast. One of the thugs Picard dispatches is played by Tim Russ, who later had a regular role as Tuvok on Voyager. Other guest stars include Alan Altshuld (in his first of four Trek roles), Patricia Tallman (a longtime stunt double with many uncredited Trek appearances, better known as Lyta on B5), Tim de Zarn (a four-time Trek guest known for his recurring role on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"), Glenn Morshower (a five-time Trek actor), and Arlee Reed (who later appeared in Season 7's "Emergence").
"Lessons" makes splendid use of Wendy Hughes (pictured here), an Australian actress with a sultry voice, who makes beautiful music with Picard. He opens up to her about his experiences in Season 5's "The Inner Light," whereby he got his Ressikan flute and learned how to play it. What does she bring to the relationship? A tough but sparkling personality, a piano keyboard that rolls up (boy, would I like one of those!), and the talent to play it. Predictably, their romance hits the rocks when Picard is forced to choose between ship's discipline and his personal feelings. Other than the roll-up piano and some brief footage of a spectacular firestorm, this episode is very light on sci-fi and heavy on romance: very nicely done, but of less-than-average interest to the series' core audience.
"The Chase" is Star Trek's run at It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Only, instead of Jimmy Durante kicking the bucket after he tells everybody to look for the loot buried under a giant W, Norman Lloyd sends the Enterprises, Cardassians, Klingons, and Romulans chasing after a clue hidden in the DNA of life-forms scattered across an entire quadrant of the galaxy. It would be funnier if the antagonists didn't resort to such tactics as wiping out all life on an entire planet just to slow each other down. The Cardassian Gul Ocett (pictured), is played by Linda Thorson of "The Avengers." Her Klingon opposite number is played by four-time Trek guest John Cothran. Salome Jens, whose makeup as the recurring Female Founder on DS9 was not much different from her appearance here, plays the mother of all humanoids. And noted English actor Maurice Roëves gives a brief but remarkable performance as the Romulan commander who surprisingly "gets it." It's one of those episodes that would probably have made Gene Roddenberry blush with pride, with its message on the interrelatedness of all beings going to the heart of Star Trek's ideology.
"Frame of Mind" is the episode where Riker goes nuts. Is he still on the Enterprise, rehearsing and performing a play with psychological themes before going undercover on a troubled planet? Or is he really in a psychiatric hospital on the planet, being treated for psychotic delusions about his life on a starship? Did he kill someone, or is he being set up? Well, you're not likely to have any doubts, but under the influence of some serious drugs, Riker starts to lose touch with the border between reality and fantasy. There's an interesting effect repeated several times in this episode, when reality as Riker perceives it literally shatters around him. One of Riker's fellow patients is played by Susanna Thompson, whose three other Trek roles include the recurring Borg Queen on Voyager. Dr. Syrus, who administers Riker's treatment, is played by David Selburg, whose four roles in three Trek series included that of Mr. Whalen in Season 1's "The Big Goodbye." Andrew Prine, here playing the menacing alien Suna, later played a Cardassian on DS9. And what about the big, slow-talking orderly whose combination of niceness and brutality inject a stiff dose of eeriness into the hospital scenes? He's played by Gary Werntz, husband of film director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, Pay It Forward), who frequently casts him in her movies.
"Suspicions" is another whodunit, this time of the hardboiled variety. Beverly narrates most of the story from after the fact, while sitting in her quarters with Guinan, trying to explain how she ended her Starfleet career. It seems Dr. Crusher had felt an urge to expand her practice into the field of scientific diplomacy. Her first effort in that field was to bring together several scientists to evaluate a new technology for shielding spaceships. Long story short: everything goes wrong, two of the scientists end up dead, Beverly suspects foul play. She violates captain's orders and risks causing an interstellar incident by doing an autopsy on one of the victims, then makes the amazing discovery that the other victim is actually still alive and prepared to kill her to keep his secret. Beverly, perhaps provoked by the wrongness of meeting someone she has already autopsied and finding him alive again, makes sure he's really dead this time. Guest stars include Whoopi Goldberg in her last appearance as Guinan until Star Trek: Generations; Tricia O'Neal (as Klingon scientist Kurak) in her second of three Trek roles; four-time Trek guest Peter Slutsker in his second of three Ferengi roles; James Horan (Jo'Bril) in his first of five Trek roles; and John S. Ragin of "Qunicy, M.E." fame as the human scientist Dr. Christopher.
"Rightful Heir" begins with Worf having a spiritual crisis. He takes a leave of absence and goes to a Klingon holy planet where his people await the second coming of Kahless (see TOS's "The Savage Curtain"). After weeks of punishing meditation without so much as a hallucination of Kahless, Worf is about to pack it in when a flesh-and-blood Kahless appears before him, claiming to have returned. At first, Worf is skeptical, but he becomes a true believer when a DNA test matches the strange Klingon with blood from the original Kahless. Even so, Chancellor Gowron refuses to accept Kahless's claim to be the rightful leader of the Klingon people. He challenges Kahless to single combat... and easily defeats the man who is supposed to be unbeatable. Eventually it comes out that Kahless is really a clone of the original. As a compromise, Gowron agrees to let the Kahless clone serve as the figurehead Emperor, a living symbol of traditional Klingon values. The guest cast includes Kevin Conway (late of Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, and the control voice on the revived "Outer Limits") as Kahless; Norman Snow (the villain in "The Last Starfighter"), Charles Esten (who also guest-starred on Voyager), and three-time Trek guest Alan Oppenheimer (known for his extensive voice work in kids' animated series) as other Klingon characters.
"Second Chances" is the episode with two Will Rikers. There's the Commander Riker we know, and then there's Lieutenant Riker, who has spent the last eight years alone, fighting for survival on an abandoned research station. Somehow (trust me, you don't want me to go into the technobabble) a transporter glitch turned one Riker into two, two similar-looking men who have developed in different directions over the past eight years. The lieutenant is still in love with Deanna, and she finds her buried feelings for Will awakening again. Surprisingly (as Data observes), the two easy-to-get-along-with Will Rikers don't get along with each other. Nevertheless, after surviving mortal danger together, they form a grudging mutual respect. Lt. Riker (who has decided to go by his middle name Thomas) accepts a transfer to another ship, and after Deanna declines his proposal to go together, they bid each other a bittersweet farewell. Look for Thomas Riker to pop up again, in DS9's third-season episode "Defiant," where (tragically) he ends up with a life-sentence to a Cardassian prison. I guess some people just can't avoid a life of boredom... Anyway, this episode is notable for the guest appearance by real-life astronaut Mae Jemison.
"Timescape" is a really fun episode, but hard to describe. I'm going to keep this review short by not worrying about explaining it. Let's just say that Picard, Geordi, Deanna, and Data come back from a boring conference and find the Enterprise and a Romulan ship frozen in time in the middle of a deadly battle. Using a string of technobabble so long that it can envelop your body in a bubble of normal time, they sneak around both ships while everyone is frozen in place, and try to figure out what's going on and how to stop it from happening. The funny thing is, the Romulans weren't actually attacking the Enterprise. Even funnier, the real problem has to do with the eggs laid by indescribable aliens -- watch me not describing them! -- in the Romulan ship's reactor core. What's not funny is that the indescribable aliens are so upset about their mistake that they get in the way of the Enterprises' attempts to help them.
"Descent" is the season-ending cliffhanger in which a battle against behaviorally-atypical Borg triggers Data's first emotion: rage. Later a captured Borg calling himself Crosis (played by three-time Trek guest Brian Cousins) manipulates Data into jumping ship with him. The Enterprises figure out how to chase the Borg through the transwarp conduits they use to jump vast distances, and track Data's shuttle to a remote planet where they are captured by a horde of individualized Borg, led by a gruesome twosome of Data's evil twin Lore and a now equally evil Data. DAH-dum!!! It must be the last one they ever made, eh? And as you see in this picture, it all begins with a poker game between Isaac Newton (played by John Neville of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Albert Einstein (Jim Norton in his second Trek appearance in this role), and Stephen Hawking (appearing as himself).
This is really a fine season, when you put it all together. I can't think of a single really lousy episode. A few of them were a little on the low-key side. A couple of them (such as "Frame of Mind") are hard to watch because they are so ruthlessly intense. But TNG Season 6 has more than its share of laughs, chills, surprises, hard-hitting action sequences, and moments where you want to say Aww... either because it's so romantic, or because you're blown away by the amazing imagery. And of course, it has some sci-fi concepts that will curl the hair on your brain, from coalescent life-forms to fuzz on the fabric of spacetime. It brings back such recurring characters as Lore, Q, and Barclay for some of their biggest stories, wrestles with ethical questions (such as the fate of the exocomps), and pulls in a parade of out-of-this-world guest stars. It's the season where Scotty and Kahless return; where John Neville, David Warner, and James Cromwell all appear; where an actual astronaut plays an Enterprise officer and a world-famous physicist plays himself. And it was the last season that wasn't TNG's last season....
Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, and five; and of DS9 seasons one, six, and seven. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.