Saturday, April 24, 2010

TNG Season 7

The television season of 1993-94 brought Star Trek: The Next Generation to an end. It also happened to be my junior year in college. And although I was a very studious, responsible guy, I took advantage of an abundance of dorm lounges with cable TV to make sure that I didn't miss a single episode of TNG's seventh and last year. Though in quality it did come down a bit from the high-water-mark of Season 6, TNG Season 7 holds up as a fairly solid year of visionary storytelling, ensemble acting, and gosh-wow production values.

"Descent, Part II" picks up where the Season 6 cliffhanger left off, with Data turning evil and joining his brother Lore in a fiendish plot to destroy the Federation. Their henchmen are the Borg, who have become individuals as a result of the Enterprises sending their mate Hugh back to the collective in the classic episode "I, Borg." Hugh himself (played by Jonathan Del Arco) appears as the leader of an anti-Lore resistance cell. Worf and Riker join him in preparing to spring Picard, Troi, and Geordi from Lore's clutches. The prisoners, meanwhile, find out that they have to act fast to break Lore's control over Data (whose "ethical program" has been deactivated), in order to stop the cyber-villain's plan to replace humanoid brains with artificial intelligence. Talk about a positronic brain-fart! Oddly, this leaves Beverly in command of the Enterprise, where she uses the interphasic shield introduced in Season 6's "Suspicions" to elude a Borg ship. Ironically, the tac officer to whom she explains this technology is played by the same James Horan who, as the killer alien Jo'Bril, tried to steal it in that previous episode. The young ensign who spars with Horan's character is played by Alex Datcher, best known as the female lead in Passenger 57.

"Liaisons" is the first seriously dumb episode in Season 7, and by no means the last. In a classic display of that "stupid, self-defeating behavior" of which only Trek aliens are capable, three Iyaaran "liaisons" study different aspects of human existence in an absurdly contrived sort of cultural exchange. Shown here is sci-fi cartoon voice-actor Paul Elding, playing Loquel, who is in charge of experiencing pleasure. Another ambassador focuses on aggression, and thus wears Worf out in a series of combat simulations. The third, played by Alien Nation star Eric Pierpoint in his first of five appearances in all four Trek spinoffs, attempts to mate with Picard (ew!). In order to experience love, his character deliberately maroons Picard on a desert planet, then morphs into a psycho woman (played by Spenser for Hire star Barbara Williams), a sort of female Robinson Crusoe whose desperate clinginess unnerves the captain. This method of studying a culture is so obviously ridiculous that even the characters comment on it, as when Picard tells Voval, "In my society, what you have just done to me would be considered a crime."

"Interface" is the one where Geordi plugs his brain into a space probe, using its sensors, thrusters, tractor beams, etc. to explore the wreckage of a ship trapped in the atmosphere of a gas giant. In a cross between remote-control and virtual reality, he experiences a version of what the probe experiences and guides its actions. It would be a pretty cool way to explore space, except that sensory-overload constantly threatens to fry Geordi's brain. Predictably, he gets hooked on it when he sees a vision of his mother, a Starfleet captain whose ship has gone missing, telling him that her crew is also trapped in the gas giant. Geordi's mom actually turns out to be an alien who needs help getting back to a depth where it can survive. The guest cast includes Warren Munson, who in Voyager would play the recurring role of Tom Paris's admiral father, here playing another admiral; and, appearing all too briefly as Geordi's parents, Ben Vereen and Madge Sinclair, both of whom co-starred with LeVar Burton in the classic miniseries Roots.

"Gambit, Part I" brings the concept of space pirates into the Star Trek universe, in such blatant disregard of Gene Roddenberry's wishes that producer Rick Berman reportedly blindfolded the series creator's bust whenever this script was discussed. They went ahead and made it anyway, and since they were indulging in a two-hour detour into camp, they apparently decided to go whole hog and hire horror maven Richard Lynch (pictured) to play pirate captain Arctus Baran. His performance combines beady-eyed shrewdness with the bad-boy glamor of an ambiguously gay hair-metal singer. The episode begins with the Enterprise officers going way out of character to question denizens of a seedy bar about Picard's disappearance, culminating in the shocking (but unconvincing) revelation that the captain has been killed. Actually captured by Baran's pirates, Picard has assumed the identity of Galen (cf. Season 6's "The Chase"), an expert on ancient artifacts, and goes undercover to find out why Baran is stealing every ancient Romulan or Vulcan artifact in the sector. Eventually Riker joins the charade, pretending to be a renegade Starfleet officer and proving his loyalty by firing on the Enterprise. Oooh, lawks! Could this be the last one they ever made?

"Gambit, Part II" continues where Part I ended, with both Riker and Picard apparently betraying their Starfleet comrades and taking up with a gang of space pirates who, for reasons that only gradually become clear, are snapping up Vulcan and Romulan artifacts everywhere they go. Long story short, the real villain is a member of a fanatical Vulcan separatist movement, who plans to cleanse her planet of alien influences using an ancient "psionic resonator" (don't you wish I had said "insert technobabble"?) as the ultimate weapon. The episode ends by lightly brushing off the never-resolved ethical issues of the captain's and Riker's behavior. Guest stars in this two-parter, besides the unforgettably campy Richard Lynch, include Robin Curtis (who played Saavik in the third and fourth Trek feature films), Caitlin Brown (a recent DS9 guest who also played Na'Toth in B5 Season 1), Bruce Gray (who had played the same admiral in the DS9 episode airing a week earlier), four-time Trek guest Alan Altshuld (previously seen in "Starship Mine"), Stephen Lee (previously seen in "The Vengeance Factor"), and Sabrina LeBeauf of The Cosby Show.

"Phantasms" is the episode where Data starts having nightmares. This gives the android an opportunity to explore his developing subconscious, complete with a humorous session on Sigmund Freud's couch. But the lighthearted fun takes a dark turn when, bewildered by waking dreams and hallucinations, Data stabs Deanna in the neck. This turns out to be a clue, however. The weird and disturbing imagery of Data's dreams are actually based on *insert technobabble* lifeforms, visible only on a wavelength that lies below Data's threshold of conscious perception. Whatever these thingies are, they are sucking the *even more technobabble* out of the crew's bodies, and the only way to stop them is by emitting a high-frequency sound, as the Enterprises find out when they enter a holodeck world based on Data's dream imagery. With scenes of Deanna as a cake, Riker with a straw in his head, and Data as a walking telephone box, it is an unforgettably weird episode. I don't know whether I would call it good or bad; it's just unique.

"Dark Page" guest-stars future star Kirsten Dunst (pictured) as an alien girl whose resemblance to the older sister Deanna never knew triggers a psychic crisis for her mother. Lwaxana Troi, last seen in Season 5, makes an unusually serious appearance as the ambassador to a society that, until recently, has only communicated only by telepathy. She is the first outsider to learn their peculiar telepathic language, and to teach them how to communicate verbally. In the process, however, she has come face-to-face with a "dark place" in her mind, a loss so profound that she has erected mental barriers to hide it from herself. The last TNG episode featuring Lwaxana (though she subsequently appeared on DS9), it also gives us our only look at Deanna's father, played by singer Amick Byram (Prince of Egypt). Norman Large appears as his third of four Trek characters, playing the ambiguously attractive/spooky/innocent character of Maques.

"Attached" describes the two characters shown here in more than one way. Their long-standing friendship, including breakfast together every morning, is put to the test -- and possibly begins to become much more -- when alien mind-control implants give them the ability to read each other's thoughts. While they escape from detention on a planet divided between two paranoid, xenophobic factions, Jean-Luc and Beverly can't escape each other. If they move more than a few paces apart, the implants cause severe nausea. It's sort of like one of those jail-break movies (The Defiant Ones?) where the two escaped convicts are handcuffed together, only with technobabble and a touch of romance. The security-obsessed aliens are hysterical. It may have its bumpy spots, but overall it's fun episode to watch.

"Force of Nature," on the other hand, is quite possibly the worst episode of the season. First off, it suffers from the fundamental flaw of being about so many things that it's hard to work out what it's really about. It's about Data's cat, and then it's about a search for a missing ship, and then (briefly) it's about a brush with the Ferengi, and then it's about an environmentalist zealot who isn't willing to wait for a scientific study to prove her belief that warp-speed travel is destroying the environment. Which, to be blunt, is a jaw-droppingly stupid premise for a Stark Trek episode. I mean, without warp travel there wouldn't be a star trek. So basically Ms. Environmental Wacko blows herself up for nothing because, after all is said and done, the show must go on as if this episode never happened. It's another instance of this series sacrificing all semblance of good storytelling in order to make a statement on a political issue, like the similarly flawed terrorism episode "The High Ground." Boo! Hiss!!!

"Inheritance" gives me an opportunity to complain about all the one-word titles that make certain Trekisodes difficult to distinguish by name. I mean, we've already had "Birthright," "Rightful Heir," "Legacy," and "Descent," and by the end of this season we'll also have "Firstborn" and "Bloodlines." How are you supposed to remember which is the one where Data meets his mother? Played by Fionnula Flanagan (late of The Others, etc.), Dr. Juliana Tainer claims to be Noonien Soong's ex-wife and to have assisted in creating Data. Data is at first skeptical, having never heard of this woman, but her story holds up. Then, when Dr. Tainer is injured during a mission to (oh, who cares?), Data discovers that she is actually an android, Dr. Soong's final and most perfect creation. A holographic message from Soong reveals that he created the android to replace his beloved wife, whose death had devastated him. But then he made the mistake of not expressing his love for her, and she left him. Logically, it's hard to explain how Soong could include this information on a chip that must have been programmed before she left him, but aside from that it's a touching episode in which Data is faced with a unique and poignant dilemma: should he tell his "mother" that she is an android like him, or let her remain blissfully ignorant?

"Parallels" introduces a recurring gag that tantalized Trek fans throughout the remainder of this season: the prospect of a romance between Worf and Deanna that turns out, in every instance, to exist only in an "alternate timeline," a hallucination, or a sequence of events triggered by *insert technobabble*. This first time around, Worf finds himself jumping from one alternate timeline to another, and in several of them he is married to Deanna. (Mercifully, you never actually see their kids.) There are timelines when Wesley Crusher is a lieutenant on the Enterprise. There are timelines where Riker is captain because Picard is dead. There's even one where the Enterprise is all that remains of the Federation because the Borg are everywhere. But the important thing is for Worf to get back to the reality where he won the bat'leth tournament, because losing is never fun. Besides, when the ship arrives at the center of the time anomaly, different versions of the Enterprise start popping into space, and unless something is done, the whole universe will be packed solid with them! It's another fabulously weird and fun episode.

"The Pegasus" is the highly popular episode that suggests that Riker has a taste for serving under bald captains. Terry O'Quinn, late of TV's Lost, plays Admiral Erik Pressman, who captained the starship Pegasus on which Riker served as a young Ensign. The Pegasus was lost after Pressman, Riker, and a handful of others abandoned ship during a mutiny on a top-secret mission. Now they have to work together again to recover the wreckage before the Romulans do. Why? Because the Pegasus was testing an illegal cloaking device, in blatant violation of the treaty that maintains peace between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. And this forces Riker to reconsider whether he did the right thing when he chose to stand by his commanding officer and follow orders. There's just something about the line "Will, you've just ended your career" that sounds right coming out of Terry O'Quinn's mouth. I'm guessing it would have sounded equally good spoken by Ronny Cox, but the writers missed their chance in "Chain of Command."

"Homeward" introduces another character who complicates Worf's family life: his human foster-brother Nikolai Rozhenko, played by Law and Order's Paul Sorvino. Actually, Nikolai complicates everything he touches, as Worf frequently complains. Their bickering relationship has an authenticity that many other family ties depicted in this series have lacked; though perhaps I say this because my brothers and I haven't been on civil speaking terms since, like, birth. Anyway, the current complication Nikolai has brought into Worf's life has to do with his work as an anthropologist studying a culture on a dying planet. Determined to save at least a handful of the inhabitants, Nikolai exploits his relationship with Worf to beam a whole village onto the Enterprise. They then use the holodeck to make the villagers believe that Nikolai is leading them to a new safe place. Computer glitches cause some mishaps, including a particularly tragic one resulting in a young villager's suicide, but eventually the Enterprises succeed in settling Nikolai's friends on a new planet without them knowing anything about it. The suicidal historian is played by Brian Markinson, whose three other Trek appearances (on DS9 and Voyager) were equally striking; while the mother of Nikolai's child is played by Penny Johnson, who later held the recurring role of Kasidy Yates on DS9.

"Sub Rosa" is an episode so daft that it's hard to watch without squirming. I simply can't improve on the Pensive Citadel's review of this episode, which calls it "cheesier than the day shift at the Velveeta plant." It has appalling footage of Beverly writhing in the arms of an invisible lover. It has a dead grandma who sits up in her coffin and shoots green lightning out of her eyes. It has an entity that has survived for hundreds of years, sometimes taking the form of a romantic, Heathcliff-type (played by the same Duncan Regehr who played Shakaar in three episodes of DS9), and sometimes embodied in the flame of a candle that has been passed down through generations of Beverly's family. And after asking you to believe in reanimated corpses, a village in the Scottish highlands that has been exactly transferred to an alien planet, and an alien governor who talks with a slight brogue, it finally abandons all semblance of believability by presenting an energy-based creature who must die, though he is mainly guilty of making sweet love to a succession of strong-willed redheads, because Beverly is willing to resign from Starfleet to be with him. Even knowing that he had slept with her 100+ year old grandmother (ew!) doesn't make this a reason to destroy a possibly unique life-form. The threat to the planet's weather grid is too far-out, and the death of the annoying character of Ned Quint is too welcome, to soften the shock of seeing Beverly kill Ronin, when even she goes on to admit that the future he had in store for her wouldn't have been so bad. How did this rubbish get past the guardians of all that is Trek? It's as if the franchise momentarily regressed to its first televised episode ("The Man Trap"), where killing the last creature of its kind, even on better grounds, contradicted the fundamental values of the show.

"Lower Decks" is an interesting episode in that it looks at the Enterprise's mission from a novel point of view: that of a group of junior officers, most of them non-recurring characters. On the other hand, it is perhaps a sign that the show's writers were growing tired of writing for the regular, ensemble cast. One might spot similar signs in Season 6's "Rascals" (where three of the four child guest-stars represented recurring, rather than regular, adult characters) and in DS9's final-season show "It's Only a Paper Moon" (focusing entirely on two recurring characters), to name only a couple examples. In this look at the below-decks officers and their ambitions, friendships, sacrifices, and problems, we meet a civilian bartender, a young Vulcan engineer, and two friends who are both up for the same promotion. One of them, played by Dan Gauthier of Tour of Duty, Ellen, and All My Children, is an ambitious young man who fears that Riker's personal dislike for him will hurt his chances. The other, the same Bajoran Ensign Sito who as a cadet shared Wes Crusher's disgrace in "The First Duty," gets sent into Cardassian space on a dangerous, secret mission. Dr. Crusher's recurring nurse, Alyssa Ogawa (played by Patti Yasutake), gets a larger role here, as well. But as effective as this episode may be, you have to wonder: "Why am I supposed to care? Are we looking at a pilot for another spinoff series?" The answer, apparently, is No.

"Thine Own Self" is another fine episode that, nevertheless, suggests that the writers were slowing down. For it's also one of those "vacation episodes" in which all but one of the regular characters probably filmed their parts in one day. The one who put in a full week's worth was, as you see here, Data. His current mission is to retrieve radioactive bits from a probe that crashed on a planet inhabited by a Renaissance-era society. Somehow or other, Data loses his memory, with the result that he staggers incoherently into town with a box marked "RADIOACTIVE" in tow. A kind man and his daughter take Data under their wing, call him Jayden, and help him sell the radioactive bits to a blacksmith, who uses them to make jewelry. Naturally, people start to get sick from radiation poisoning. Data applies scientific reasoning, together with the technology available locally, to search for a cure. But some of the townspeople, led by the same nasty blacksmith, decide that Data is some type of monster and "kill" him just as he is pouring lifesaving medicine into the village well. Again, it's a fascinating episode that stretches the limits of the Trek formula. The guest cast includes Ronnie Claire Edwards of The Waltons, Michael Hagerty of Friends, and two-time Young Artist Award-winning actress Kimberly Cullum.

"Masks" is another weird episode in which the entire Enterprise undergoes a process similar to what Picard experiences in "The Inner Light" -- only with more of a menacing twist. An 87-million-year-old alien library, initially concealed in the core of a rogue comet, zaps the Enterprise with an energy beam that starts to replace parts of the ship with artifacts from a long-extinct culture. Data's positronic matrix is also affected, with the result that he develops dozens of personalities. A mytho-historical drama seems to be playing out, focusing on a character named Masaka who was either a fiendishly cruel queen or the goddess of death. Like Season 6's "A Fistful of Datas," only without being at all funny, this episode exercises actor Brent Spiner in playing a multitude of characters, including a female one (Masaka). The solution to the dilemma (how to keep the Enterprise from being completely transformed into an alien city) proves to be surprisigly low-key: Picard puts on a mask, fakes his way through an interview with Masaka while pretending to be her legendary lover/rival, and finally talks her into taking a nap. As soon as Masaka goes to sleep, Data and the Enterprise go back to normal. What's interesting is what this episode tells you without saying a word about it: clearly, the tragedy played out by all the people in Data's head signifies that their world perished in a solar event, like a supernova.

"Eye of the Beholder" guest stars Mark Rolston of Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption, and Robocop 2 as an Enterprise crewman who turns out to have murdered two co-workers and committed suicide before the Enterprise was even launched. How can this be? This can be, perhaps, a hallucination on Deanna Troi's part, as her romance with Worf would suggest. It's almost a law of nature in the Star Trek universe: any changes as thought provoking as two regular characters getting together must be the result of a one-time glitch in reality and/or someone's perception thereof. Never mind that this particular glitch became a season-long tease all the way to the series finale! Rolston's character, Lt. Walter Pierce, was a little bit empathic. So his suicide, by jumping into the *insert technobabble* and being instantly vaporized, left a psychic imprint on the *really, just look it up in the Starfleet Technical Manual*, with the result that a young empathic crewman with everything to live for suddenly did the same thing eight years later. And then, while investigating the crewman's death, Deanna almost does it too -- but only after reliving the entire mystery leading up to the unsolved disappearance of three shipyard employees. It's an eerie episode, though it takes some liberties with the rules of "point of view."

"Genesis" is almost as daft as "Sub Rosa" -- daft enough to qualify, without reservation, as one of Season 7's most disappointing episodes -- but at the same time, it has a certain gruesome fascination. Directed by Gates McFadden (let's not go there), it explores what might happen if a certain string of medical mumbo-jumbo triggered an epidemic of rapid, backward evolution. In a matter of hours, everyone on the Enterprise reverts to some evolutionary ancestor or other, except fortunately Picard and Data, who are off chasing a stray torpedo. Boy, do they find a surprise waiting for them at home! While Picard begins to revert, he and Data try to figure out what caused this to happen and how to reverse it -- all while being menaced by spider-Barclay (pictured here), a venom-spitting, scorpion-like proto-Worf, and a violent, stupid, hairy Riker. Deanna grows gills, and (naturally) proto-Worf imprints on her scent. The key to the scientific and medical hogwash turns out to be a litter of kittens, Nurse Ogawa's unborn baby, and the insulating properties of a hatch-cover in the crawlspace where a predatory proto-Worf corners Picard in the climactic moments. A part of me wishes that the lighting in this episode were better... but then again, I should probably be thankful that I couldn't see it more clearly!

"Journey's End" burns the character of Wesley Crusher to a charred cinder -- though some TNG fans may be disappointed to learn that I'm not speaking literally. The once-promising cadet comes back for his last school break from the Academy with a shockingly bad attitude. Here you see him shooting his mouth off to Geordi, not exactly what you would wish for their last scene together. In due course he flushes his whole Starfleet career and goes off to explore other realms of existence, guided by the Traveler (last seen in Season 4's "Remember Me"). In the meantime, Picard is under orders to remove, by whatever means necessary, a community of American Indians that has settled on a planet that, under the terms of a recently concluded treaty, now belongs to the Cardassians. The Indians don't want to go, and (absurdly, in my opinion) the episode portrays Picard's brief to relocate them as tantamount to replaying the Trail of Tears. The only intriguing aspect is the Indian leader's theory that Picard drew this mission as an opportunity to make up for a stain that has been on his family since the time of the conquistadores. Guest stars include Ned Romero (who played one of the first Klingons on TOS and, later on Voyager, appeared as Chakotay's grandfather), Richard Poe (who appeared six times as Gul Evek in three different Trek series), Canadian singer-actor Tom Jackson, and Natalia Nogulich in one of her six appearances (TNG and DS9) as Admiral Nechayev.

"Firstborn" is the one where James Sloyan appears as a sort of associate member of Worf's Klingon clan, who claims to have been sent by Worf's brother Kurn to protect Worf and Alexander during a visit to a Klingon colony. Actually, K'mtar is Alexander himself, come back in time from 40 years in the future, where his failure to follow the ways of a Klingon warrior resulted in Worf being murdered before his eyes. K'mtar/Alexander has come back, either to persuade Alexander to become a warrior, or to kill him (and thereby himself) in order to save his/their father's life. Oh, it's so confusing! What makes it harder to describe than to watch is that you don't find any of this out until the last moment, by which time Lursa and B'Etor have made another sexy appearance as the co-matriarchs of the rival clan of Duras. Seen for the last time, and the only time this season, is Brian Bonsall as Alexander; his character appeared only a couple times on DS9, played by a slightly older actor. But not as old as James Sloyan! The Yridian freighter captain is played by Joel Swetow, who also played a Cardassian on DS9 and an Andorian on Enteprise. John Shull (the Klingon actor playing Molor in the ritual reenactment) played five other characters, including two more Klingons, between DS9 and Voyager. Rickey D'Shon Collins here completes the last of his three Season 7 appearances as Enterprise youngster Eric. Armin Shimerman crosses over from DS9 to appear as Quark. And FYI, the wryly comical alien named Gorta seen in this episode belongs to a race called the Dopterians, evolutionary cousins of the Ferengi, who appeared four times in DS9 but only once in this series.

"Bloodlines" guest-stars Ken Olandt, formerly of TV's Riptide and more recently a producer of low-budget sci-fi and horror films, as Jason Vigo -- who, according to a vengeful Ferengi and Dr. Beverly's more reliable DNA test, happens to be Captain Picard's son. Whoops! Now the most confirmed bachelor in the galaxy must come to terms with being a Dad. And having a petty thief and fiercely independent adventurer as his son, to boot! Meanwhile, an old nemesis who blames Picard for his own son's death has sworn to kill Vigo, and ex-Daimon Bok shows every sign of being able to do it, no matter how hard Picard tries to protect him. Yes, this is the same Bok who played with Picard's mind in Season 1's "The Battle," though played by a different actor (Lee Arenberg, who played four other Trek characters, including two other Ferengi). Other guest stars include master puppetteer Michaelan Sisti (Dinosaurs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Men in Black II, etc.), Amy Pietz (Caroline in the City), and the always-smiling Peter Slutsker in his last of 3 Ferengi characters on TNG. For the most part, it's a decent episode, though letting Picard off the hook of being Vigo's father was frankly a cop-out.

"Emergence" is the episode where the Enterprise gives birth to a sentient life form. The birthing process is as painful and traumatic as one would expect, with the ship locking the crew out of its own navigational controls, and drawing on a surreal blend of holodeck programs to form a quasi-conscious interpretation of its experience. Troi, Worf, and Data risk their necks entering that dreamlike world, since the holodeck safeties are off. So they are menaced by a gunslinger whose bullets can really kill, shaken around by a train conductor who uses the engine room of the Orient Express to steer the Enterprise, menaced by speeding taxis and buried under a collapsing brick wall. But what's really surprising is that Picard puts up with it, and lets the ship go about its own business -- including flying at maximum warp to suck the *insert technobabble* out of a pulsar. The crew only really interferes when they realize that they have to help the ship finish its birthing process before the power drain causes them to run out of air. It's another typically weird outing from the pen of Joe Menosky and Brannon Braga, both of whom could be counted on to steer the Enterprise into really far-out realms. This episode guest-stars David Huddleston of Blazing Saddles and TV's The Wonder Years, and Thomas Kopache as his second of seven Trek characters spanning all 4 spinoff series and the feature films, including two appearances as Kira's father on DS9.

"Preemptive Strike," TNG's last one-hour episode, guest-stars the late British actor John Franklyn-Robbins as Macias, the leader of a Maquis cell. A who cell, you ask? Well, if you were watching DS9 around the time this episode aired, you would have learned that the Maquis were a motley collection of terrorists and guerillas fighting to resist the Cardassian occupation of colonies handed over by the Cardassian-Federation treaty referenced in "Journey's End." Their activities played a role in the middle seasons of DS9 (which I haven't reviewed yet) and were instrumental in launching Star Trek: Voyager. Now you remember them? The Voyager crew was half Starfleet, half Maquis, right? Right. And this episode is TNG's contribution to setting up that concept, even though Voyager didn't go on the air for another eight months. Meanwhile, this episode also allows Michelle Forbes's recurring character of Ro Laren to go out in a blaze of glory; which is to say, in her only TNG appearance this season, it burns her to a crisp just like "Journey's End" burned Wes Crusher. And I mean just like. Nothing Ro does in this episode can possibly surprise you after what Wes does in that one. But it still surprises Picard; the episode ends with him struck literally speechless by his disappointment with Ro. All the same, her exit has a certain poigancy that Wesley's lacked. It was, let's be frank, a more fitting close for her character's arc. By the way, the character of Kalita (played by Shannon Cochrane) crossed over to appear on the DS9 episode "Defiant," along with Thomas Riker of Season 6's "Second Chances." Cochrane also played Martok's wife Sirella on DS9 ("You Are Cordially Invited") and a Romulan in the last TNG feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis.

"All Good Things..." concludes TNG with a two-hour telefilm bringing together Enterprise past, Enterprise present, and Enterprise future. As a bewildered Picard jumps from one time-frame to another, he relives his first day on board the Enterprise (complete with Denise Crosby's "Tasha Yar" and Colm Meaney's "O'Brien," an unbearded Riker and a frizzy-haired Deanna). He also jumps 25 years into the future -- a possible future, that is, and one contradicted by the feature films -- where Data is a Cambridge don; where Geordi has eyes, kids, a wife, and a writing career; where Beverly answers to the name "Captain Picard"; where Deanna is dead, and where Worf and Riker are both haunted by their feelings for her. In the past, no one knows the new captain well enough to trust him when he starts issuing bizarre orders. In the future, no one is sure all this isn't a symptom of a degenerative neural disorder that afflicts their old captain. Only the present-day Picard has the full confidence of the crew, but it's small consolation when Q appears with taunting hints that whatever Picard is about to do may erase humanity from existence. In the final payoff, Picard finally sees fit to join the regular staff poker game, thereby furnishing the series' parting line: "Five card stud, nothing wild, sky's the limit." The episode is directed by Winrich Kolbe, whose 48 directing credits from all 4 Trek spinoffs include the pilot episode of Voyager. Andreas Katsulas ("G'Kar" on B5) makes his last of four TNG appearances as Romulan Cmdr. Tomalak, three of which (including this one) didn't really happen. Clyde Kusatsu makes his final of three appearances as Admiral Nakamura. Pamela Kosh of Saved by the Bell puts in her second of two TNG appearances, this time as Data's servant Jessel. And Tim Kelleher (Lt. Gaines) makes his first of four appearances across three Trek series.

Season 7 demonstrates that TNG ended at the right time. The show had already put in its strongest season and begun a downward curve. In year 7, TNG showed early signs of losing momentum and becoming mannered; its writers, especially, seemed to be growing tired of the formula that had worked so well for so long. In fact, Season 7 has some of the worst TNG episodes since the shaky first two seasons, albeit mixed with some of its mature masterpieces. So, mercifully, the series ended before it made a complete travesty of itself. And it went out on a strong note, with a satisfying feature-length episode that netted Star Trek's fourth Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (after TOS's "The Menagerie" and "The City on the Edge of Forever" and TNG's "The Inner Light"). And it made way for a handful of fun feature films, a third spinoff series (Star Trek: Voyager, 1995-2001), and an ongoing fandom that could now appreciate TNG as a complete series.

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, five, and six; 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.

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