Monday, November 23, 2009

TNG Season 1

Further to my reviews of Star Trek: The Original Series, seasons one, two, and three, I decided recently to invest in some nicely priced DVDs of the historic seven-year spinoff, Star Trek: The Next Generation. As weird as it may feel to say it, TNG is becoming as much a piece of history as TOS was at the time The Next Generation first aired. It has been over twenty years since the new Enterprise sailed onto TV screens.

As a fan of the original series, I anticipated the rollout of TNG with bated breath, and watched pretty much every episode when it first aired. Its Season One coincided with my freshman year of high school, 1987-1988, so one might say it came at the perfect time for me. Its youthful, hopeful outlook on the universe was a perfect fit for my hungry young intellect. And its 1980s stylings can now be viewed with an appreciation for dated campiness, just as the original Trek looked to 1980s eyes. Alas, where have the years gone...?

Well, let's not waste any more of them building up to my reviews of the first year of TNG!

First there was a two-hour premiere/pilot episode titled "Encounter at Farpoint." It set the scene for a new generation of Trek adventure, as a latter-day Starship Enterprise cruises the cosmos some 80 years after the one helmed by Kirk and Spock. This one is captained by a bald-pated, middle-aged Frenchman, seconded by an enormously tall all-American hero, and thirded by an android with pearlescent skin, golden eyes, childish innocence, and a Pinocchio-like wish to be a real boy. There is also a real boy on the ship, modeled on series creator Gene Roddenberry himself; his mother is the ship's surgeon, a sensuous redhead named Beverly. The rest of the crew is about what you would expect - a glowering Klingon warrior, a touchy-feely empathic shrink from the planet Betazed, a blind guy who gets around with the aid of a sensor device that looks suspiciously like a banana clip... and, as head of security, a gorgeous blond chick who can disarm you with her smile, then pick you up and break you in half across her leg.

So that's the crew. In the movie-length pilot, ever after broadcast as a two-part episode, they share their first adventure together on board a souped-up Enterprise that can break into two sections (for greater defensive manueverability). The adventure itself is really two adventures rolled into one: the story of a mysterious starbase that magically can give you your heart's desire, and whose walls emanate feelings of despair and loneliness; and the story of a rakish, all-powerful alien named Q, memorably (and recurringly) played by John deLancie. In their first outing, they of the Enterprise are put to their first test by Q, proving their worthiness to be allowed to explore the distant reaches of the galaxy. To save themselves from a horrible fate, they only have to solve the mystery of Farpoint Station before an unknown alien ship destoys the world on which it was built. And so the seven-year journey begins!

"The Naked Now" was the new show's first regular, one-hour episode. Similar to the case of "The Naked Time," early in TOS's first season, it uses the plot device of a mysterious plague that loosens inhibitions - sort of like being drunk, but without the physical impairment - to reveal the innermost secrets of its characters. Meanwhile, it makes history as the first time Wesley Crusher saves the ship, a habit that became annoying to many fans of the show until Wil Wheaton left the role in the middle of Season 4. I don't know if I ever complained about it, but if I did, I would regret it now. Looking back, I can't help but think Wes was a lovely boy, and Wil an admirable young actor, and they both deserved all the glory they could get.

Next was "Code of Honor," an episode that now seems really weird when you place it against the overall tone of the series. But for a show still finding its way, it did pretty well in this story exploring the Enterprise's clash with a very different culture. Tasha Yar, the aforementioned kung-fu babe, becomes first a hostage, then a bride, then a contestant in a fight to the death, all as part of one man's shrewd plan to turn his planet's code of honor to his own advantage. If you look past the fact that all the guest characters are black - a fact that may lead some critics to smell racism in the offing - you may recognize this as a strikingly original tale of sociological science fiction.

Armin Shimerman, whose Ferengi character Quark was later a main character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, played one of the first four Ferengi ever to appear on screen in the next aired episode, "The Last Outpost." To be sure, the Ferengi in this episode sport costumes, weapons, and character traits never seen again. Looking back, it seems like a wonderful wheeze. After building up a sense of dread about the Ferengi, through ominous references in the preceding episodes, they are revealed to be such weaselly little things. To me, however, the most disappointing thing about this episode is its final act, in which the force that brought the humans and Ferengi face to face for the first time is revealed to be a sort of tall Yoda. The long-sleeping "Portal" of the extinct Tkon Empire proves, after a momentous buildup, to be an even bigger let-down than the Ferengi.

Next came "Where No One Has Gone Before," an episode whose title (like that of TOS's second pilot) is taken from the captain's opening voiceover/monologue. The arrogant engineer who comes aboard to fiddle with the Enterprise's engines was played by the same Stanley Kamel who, until his untimely death a couple years ago, played the kindly shrink on the detective series Monk. The real brains in the act, however, belong to his weird alien assistant, identified only as the Traveler, who develops a touching bond with Wesley Crusher. So it is the traveler who first alerts Picard that Wesley, having been conceived by the midi-chlorians, is destined to be the kwisatz haderach... or something like that. Whatever. The special effects are pretty cool, considering that they had to do it all with real film cameras and whatnot. If you can get through the new age mumbo-jumbo without hurling, you might recognize it as an important establishing episode for the fledgling series.

Then it gets a little weird. There's just no way to forget "Lonely Among Us." I can even remember where I was, and what I was doing, the first time it came on the air. The episode's off-kilter quality works on one's memory like a burr under a horse's saddle - it leaves a mark. It owes much of its oddness to the exquisitely daft performances of Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden, the latter aided by a surgical visor that, for obvious reasons, was never seen again. Also contributing an idiosyncratic touch were two feuding groups of aliens, played by actors under suffocating layers of latex prosthetics. The rivalry between the doglike Anticans and the reptilian Selay reaches a pitch of sheer grisliness, just in time to serve as the episode's final punchline. It's thaaat weeeeeird!

People of a religious persuasion may be excused from noticing the next episode, titled "Justice." For this is the one where a planet's "God" turns out to be a vessel that somehow exists in more than one dimension at the same time, and the beings who live on it. From a Trinitarian perspective, it's kind of an interesting touch. Data, who through a direct link with this "God" obtains a unique insight into its inner economy, refers to it as "they." Picard, who has no time for theological niceties, persists in calling them "it." And when they/it speak for themselves/itself, the pronoun of choice is "I." This "God" has struck fear of itself into the innocent, pretty young things who live on the planet: the Edo, who enjoy unfettered sexual pleasure and zero crime, thanks to laws handed down from above. One such law demands that Wesley Crusher be excecuted, merely because he ignored a "keep off the grass" sign in a randomly-selected enforcement zone. This creates a dilemma for Picard, who must choose between the Federation's "Prime Directive" and the rights and welfare of his crew. As a thought-provoking episode, "Justice" takes a big reeking dump on organized religion... a sign that the minds behind TNG felt no need to cloak their agenda in subtlety.

The next episode makes up for it, though. "The Battle" is a thrilling, fulfilling, well-produced, just plan awesome episode. In their second appearance, the Ferengi make more of an impression as potentially formidable foes. The device the Ferengi "Daimon" Bok uses to control Picard's mind is a sci-fi concept of diabolical genius. And the way an incident from Picard's past catches up with him deepens him as a character, while his self-doubts and increasingly severe headache make him more believably human. My gut impression is that this episode marks the point where TNG "clicked," where the series found its true tone, where the writers, actors, and film crew suddenly came into tune and began to make music together.

Their tuning slipped a bit in "Hide and Q," however. As Q's second appearance in less than a year, it promised to build on the relationship established between Picard's crew and that omnipotant scamp. It promised to be a merry romp full of cultured jokes, sight gags, disappearances and reappearances, transformations, transportations, and (on Q's part) flamboyant costume changes. And it was all those things... but no more. As far as story is concerned, this episode is a big fat nothing. Or perhaps, recalling a guideline that served the TOS writing staff, it only seems to be nothing because it tries to be too many things. After a skirmish with bipedal pig-creatures wearing the uniform of Napoleon's army, Q's game turns into a test of whether Riker can resist an offer to become powerful like Q. The climactic scene plays like the denouement of a fairy tale, and the final message, if it goes at all beyond the old saw that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," seems to be that God (or the gods) should be scared of mankind evolving beyond Him (or them). Yah, yah, grow up, you snot-nosed atheist bullies! If you're not going to believe in God, then at least do Him the favor of leaving Him alone...

If "Haven" seems at all out of place, at this point in broadcast sequence, it may be because it was only the fourth regular episode to be filmed. For some reason, it then got pushed down to ninth place in the order aired. So it is that, in this episode, you really do hear Deanna Troi address Riker as "Bill," an endearment that had otherwise gone by the board since "The Naked Now." She had reason to be confused, though, as she suddenly finds herself the bride in a wedding that her parents arranged for her when she as a child. The groom is a fine young fellow, but Deanna just isn't the girl he's been dreaming about. Before their naked nuptials can take place (wouldn't you like to be invited to a Betazoid wedding!) the real dream girl turns up on a ship manned by the last eight survivors of a plague that has wiped out entire planets. An interplanetary incident seems likely to follow, but it can't possibly be as interesting as the feud between Deanna's mother (played by Roddenberry's wife, the late Majel Barrett) and the groom's parents. Every moment of the rehearsal dinner scene is a moment of exquisitely timed comedy, culminating in Mr. Data's gleeful request: "Please continue the petty bickering. I find it most intriguing!"

This was immediately followed by another top-drawer episode, "The Big Goodbye." This is the one where Picard takes a recreational trip on the holodeck back to 1941 San Francisco, where he enters the role of private detective Dixon Hill. While he and a handful of officers are enjoying a mish-mash of The Maltese Falcon and other pulp novels, an alien probe fries the holodeck's circuitry, and they become trapped in a fantasy that has become real enough to kill. From today's perspective, it may seem odd to see Picard and his friends ogling the richness and realism of the holodeck's special effects - after all, anyone who followed TNG and its spinoffs saw many holodeck adventures after this one. But it was a history-making episode because it was the first; it deserved its self-indulgent moments where the characters say, "Wow! This is amazing!" because it really was an amazing concept, and well executed too; and it very directly takes on the main point on which all holodeck-related storylines must be based, namely: "What if the line between reality and illusion got rubbed out?" This has troubling implications for a classic TV show; it could almost be criticizing the phenomenon of television itself.

TNG's first-season streak of excellent episodes reached Number 3 with "Datalore," a Trek take on the "evil twin" plot device that has become such a significant part of modern folklore. After exploring Data's origins on a scientific and farming colony that was found lifeless, except for one not-yet-activated android, the episode introduces an identical android named Lore. Distinguished by a facial twitch, an easier grasp of human slang, and a streak of fiendish sadism, Lore steals his brother's identity and tries to give the Enterprise up to a giant crystal snowflake that cruises deep space at warp speed and sucks the lifeforce out of any living thing it encounters. Both Lore and the crystalline entity went on to make repeat appearances, always in episodes critical to the development of Data as a character. But in this episode we get an exciting twofer, with a bonus helping of "Wesley saves the ship!"

I'm not sure whether "Angel One" breaks the great-episode streak or not. At the time, it was notable for a guest appearance by Patricia McPherson. Today, you're going, "Who?" She was that chick on Knight Rider, dude! Sic transit gloria mundi, what? 20-plus years down the road, the episode must stand or fall on its merits rather than TV-personality recognition. And it does have merits. It's a reasonably interesting story about a planet where tall, strong women rule and small, pretty men wear revealing outfits and keep their beds warm. So it craftily brings out the malignant nature of sexism, and culminates in a sermon about societal evolution vs. revolution and the futility of using government power to suppress dissent. Yet, for your entertainment dollar, you'll get more out of Riker's hot-and-heavy flitration with the planet's leader, and the massive outbreak of the flu that sweeps through the Enterprise crew. Also, Worf begins to show potential as a comic-relief character.
WORF: I think I'm going to sneeze. GEORDI: A Klingon sneeze? WORF: That's the only kind I know.
Whether or not "Angel One" continues the great-episode streak, "11001001" tops the whole season, as I believe has been widely recognized. It has spectacular visuals, such as the Enterprise docking at a gigantic orbiting space station. It has the drama and tension of the entire Enterprise being evacuated, then hijacked by weird aliens, then put on a five-minute self-destruct countdown. It has joined pairs of androgynous critters who chatter to each other in a binary-based language that earned this episode an Emmy for sound editing. It has Carolyn McCormick, better known as a recurring pscyhiatric expert witness on Law and Order, playing the holographic love of Will Riker's life. It has Riker playing trombone with a jazz trio from 1958 New Orleans -- only to have the piano player coolly tell him, "Don't quit your day-job." It's a marvelous, funny, romantic, visually impressive episode in which the Enterprise seems, more than ever, like a character unto itself.

And then we enter the first season's most notable streak of suckitude. It begins with "Too Short a Season," which isn't so much a bad episode as one that simply isn't very good. Clayton Rohner, at first under heavy prosthetics, plays an 80-something admiral suffering from a degenerative disease. Nevertheless, the admiral comes out of retirement to negotiate a hostage situation on a world he aided 45 years before. In order to prepare himself for duty, the admiral overdoses on a highly dubious youth-restoring drug, causing him to age backward at an alarming and eventually fatal rate. Rohner, meanwhile, turns out to be not a hideous old wreck but a good-looking youngster, whose acting technique depends heavily on the effectiveness of flaring nostrils. I don't know which was worse: the 30-year-old Rohner dying in the arms of the 70-year-old Marsha Hunt (playing his wife), telling her she will always be his "Annie with the golden hair"; or TOS veteran Michael Pataki, here playing the bad guy, soliloquizing after his lifelong enemy's death: "Your long night... and mine... is over." Ack! One more cliche and I'll break out in hives!

Then came "When the Bough Breaks," which isn't a terrible episode... just a bad one. Featuring Deep Throat from The X Files (real name: Jerry Hardin), it focuses on the children who live aboard the Enterprise... which any student of history (i.e., TOS) could spot as a bad idea right away. I don't know if the difficulty was imagining what families and children would be like in a Roddenberryesque future, or if it was simply that none of the writers had ever met an actual, live child, but this whole episode is dragged down by its inability to portray children believably. Whoever wrote the last scene between young Henry and his father should be caned, or at least spanked. The aliens who kidnap the Enterprise children because they can't have any of their own are yet another example of the sort of "stupid, self-defeating behavior" that marked some of the most flamboyantly phony villains of TOS. And in that respect, this first-season TNG episode showed that Star Trek still hadn't grown up.

Third in this lousy-episode streak is "Home Soil," which isn't so much bad as.... oh, the heck with it! It's stupendously awful! It's almost as bad as they get! Walter Gotell, late General Gogol of the James Bond films, delivers such a revolting performance that, on first seeing it, I thought he was suffering from a stroke. Yet Elizabeth Lindsey goes to heroic lengths to outdo him as the episode's worst guest player - a performance redeemed only by a convincing crying scene. The plot plays out as a murder mystery in which all the surviving guest stars look guilty, but it turns out that a tiny nugget of photoelectric crystal done it. Yes, this is the episode where the Enterprise discovers an intelligent, inorganic life form just in time to hear it call us humans "ugly giant bags of mostly water." Actually, that's an interesting phrase. Which just goes to show, it's an ill wind that blows no good.

Almost as bad as they get - that's what I said. How bad is as bad as they get? The answer is "Coming of Age," the very epitome of an episode trying to be about so many things that it ends up being about nothing. The first ominous sign is when, in the opening scene, Wesley Crusher runs up to some guy you've never seen before and says something like, "I couldn't leave without saying goodbye... and I'm sorry..." I wonder what the writers would have done if they had realized how many slash scenes would be based on this moment. (Actually, I don't know either.) But seriously, why do we care about this person who isn't a character on the show? Even after he nearly blows himself up and ends up owing his life (to say nothing of his 1980s pop-star hairdo) to Captain Picard, do we care? No. Do we even care about Wesley's never-seen-before friends competing with him in a Starfleet Academy entrance exam? OK, a little - but not much. Do we care about the strange admiral and his obnoxious lackey grilling everyone on the Enterprise, as if looking for some grounds, any grounds, to court-martial Picard? Well, yes, we do - but it still manages to be boring, somehow. Other than planting the ominous seed that would bud and blossom in the season's penultimate episode, all this episode has going for it is the chemistry between Wesley and the Benzite cadet-wannabe - you know, the guy with the funny breathing apparatus. It's especially unwatchable now that no one remembers guest-star Robert Ito's credentials as Quincy, M.E.'s lab tech. Again, sic transit etc. Without the aura of familiarity that glowed around him when the episode first aired, Ito contributes nothing to redeem this episode from the yawning pit of... er, yawning.

But a bad streak, too, must end.... one way or another. In this case, it was ended by a terrific episode, "Heart of Glory." Now, you could say this episode tries to be about two things - Geordi's visor and Worf's Klingon heritage - but the visor bit was just a sort of extended teaser, a subplot giving us some insight into the world as Lt. LaForge sees it. As for Worf's worldview, we learn much more from watching him fight an enemy within himself. That lifelong battle is stirred up by the arrival of two renegade Klingons, one of them played with charismatic zest by the same Vaughan Armstrong who later played a recurring Admiral Forrest on Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as ten other characters, belonging to eight different species, in four Trek series. The way his death scene was filmed, together Worf's ritualistic death howl in his honor, is one of the most effective dramatic moments in the entire season. And, for better or worse, this episode was the inspiration for an ongoing arc of Klingon-related episodes throughout this series. It made history as the starting-point of the Klingon race's journey to become the best-developed alien culture in the Star Trek universe. And it was also the beginning of Worf's development into the single most enduring Star Trek character, at least in terms of the number of episodes he starred in: eleven seasons' worth, counting his stint on Deep Space Nine.

In another Trek take on contemporary issues, "The Arsenal of Freedom" depicts the extinction of a global arms race - or rather, a race of weapons dealers whose latest product demo wipes out their entire planet. The late Vincent Schiavelli, well-known to 1970s and 1980s movie fans for his sad-eyed presence in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Ghost, is here cast as the holographic projection of an extinct arms dealer. The weapon that strafes Tasha and Riker was made, believe it or not, of two plastic eggs and a shampoo bottle, spliced together and painted. Not a bad special effect for a cost of $4! It's a fairly cool episode, with lots of action, some development of Beverly Crusher's background and her relationship with Picard, and a test of Geordi's ability to command, furnished in part by the most obnoxious character to go through the revolving door of Enterprise Chief Engineers this season. And for only the second time in the series, we get to see the Enterprise separate into its saucer and battle sections.

The issue of the week in "Symbiosis" was drug addiction, and the parasitic nature of the trade that exploits it. The episode depicts two planets living in a seemingly symbiotic relationship: the one that has developed space flight provides for all the needs of the other, which in return supplies to its more advanced neighbor a medicine to treat a plague that has afflicted their world for 200 years. When Dr. Crusher figures out that the medicine is actually a narcotic, and that instead of a plague the Ornarans suffer from addiction, she pressures Picard to do something about it. The question then becomes what he can and cannot do, in view of the Prime Directive. From a casting standpoint, this is an important episode. One of the guest stars is Judson Scott, who amazingly went uncredited for his important role as Khan's son in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Opposite him appears the same Merritt Butrick who starred as Captain Kirk's son in both Star Trek II and III; tragically, the 29-year-old actor died of AIDS less than a year after this episode was aired. As I watched him in this episode, the realization hit me like a punch in the gut: this dude has been gone for over 20 years! Then there's familiar face Richard Lineback, who in addition to his numerous guest appearances on various Trek series has had a respectable career in the movies. And finally, if you look over the shoulders of Picard and Beverly as they walk out of the cargo bay at the end of the episode, you may spot Tasha Yar raising her hand to wave goodbye. Due to the vicissitudes of shooting schedules, and in spite of the episode that follows, this was the last shot Denise Crosby recorded as a regular member of the TNG cast.

It really was a mistake to let her go. Ultimately, it was what she wanted -- but what a waste! And though her holographic testimony at the end of the episode "Skin of Evil" puts a tear-jerking finishing touch on her character's journey, it was both a premature finish and a senseless one. The creature that kills her is an oil slick (actually a puddle of metamucil mixed with printer's ink), an incredibly evil oil slick named Armus. He can move around, change shapes, envelope people, manipulate them like puppets, kill them like insects. But basically, he's a depressed guy with deep abandonment issues, which he takes out on Deanna Troi (by holding her prisoner inside a crashed shuttlecraft) and everyone who tries to rescue her. Other than a couple of visually interesting bits, like an Armus-coated Riker being puked onto the sand, it's a pretty dull episode. This residue of alien badness repeatedly tries to amuse himself by inflicting horrors on the folks from the Enterprise, only to admit that he doesn't find their pain as fulfilling as he hoped. Eventually, the good guys figure out that if they make Armus mad enough, his power will weaken and they can escape. Yawn. Let's get on with the funeral, all right?

If "Skin of Evil" stunk in a slimy, boring, psychologically tormented way. "We'll Always Have Paris" was at least equally bad, but with a more delicate scent. In an apparent bid to draw more female viewers to the show, it crams every possible romantic cliche into a single one-hour episode. Even the title bears up my contention that it is basically "Star Trek Does Casablanca," only without Nazis or Claude Rains. Instead of a tortured, heartbroken Bogie, you get a sheepishly guilty Picard stealing into the holodeck to wallow in self-indulgent regret about his own masculine weakness, which explains why he left Ingrid Bergman at the train station. Or rather, Michelle Phillips (yes, dear old Mama Michelle), then still in the full flush of her glamorous Knots Landing career, which my stepmom and her friends followed as religiously as I followed TNG. Instead of Paul Henreid, you get Rod Loomis, best known for playing Sigmund Freud in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and, if you can remember back that far, King Zed in the 1982 cult film The Beastmaster. Soft on story, dry as brick dust, completely devoid of romantic chemistry, and only slightly redeemed by the gosh-wow special effects near the end when a time distortion momentarily splits Data into three Datas, it's one of those episodes that makes me as a Trekkie wish I had never heard the awful words "Hannah Louise Shearer." Sorry, if you're no longer with me, I'm referring to the Executive Script Supervisor and co-writer of this episode. Shearer played a role in writing several of my least favorite Season 1 and 2 episodes; in my opinion, this series was not the best fit for her talent. This episode is a case in point.

Star Trek does the nihilistic horror genre, once and only once, in the first season's penultimate outing, "Conspiracy." Even today it's almost unbelievable that such an episode got past the executives. Not that I'm complaining. There's a certain gruesome fun in the one episode that begins in paranoia, ends in unresolved anxiety, and showcases every exploitation-flick device from someone sneaking up to grab Dr. Crusher from behind to all the compromised admirals gloatingly eating live grubs in front of a visibly revolted Picard. Ward Costello (who recently passed away at age 89) turns "Vitamins do wonders for the body!" into a chilling quip before kicking Riker's butt. The sinister-looking Michael Berryman, late of the original 1977 version of The Hills Have Eyes, cameos as one of the few Starfleet captains who hasn't been taken over by the alien parasites, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan gets his head literally blown off after saying "We seek peaceful coexistence" in the scariest way imaginable. OK, it wasn't really his head - but the illusion of his body's disintegration is, without exception, the grisliest effect ever portrayed on Trek. I'm not sure it's really faithful to the spirit of Trek. In fact, I'm pretty sure it isn't. But it is such a flamboyant departure from the series formula that, one might argue, it actually helps to define the overall tone of TNG. Sort of like the exception that proves the rule...

And finally, TNG Season One goes out, as T. S. Eliot said - not with a bang, but a whimper. If the words "extremely mediocre" weren't an oxymoron, they would describe the episode "The Neutral Zone" perfectly. Again, the blame rests with the writers, who tried to achieve too many things with this episode and thereby achieved nothing. The Romulans make their first post-TOS appearance, to be sure; but after building up to it through the entire episode, the Enterprise's confrontation with the Romulans proves to be essentially pointless, an excuse for Marc Alaimo (in the first of his many Trek appearances) to say the words, "We're back!" Alaimo was a history-maker for Star Trek in more ways than one; in TNG Season 4 he played the first Cardassian ever, and in Deep Space Nine he played the very important recurring role of Dukat. Unfortunately, most of the episode has to do with three 20th-century Earth people who were cryogenically frozen at death and shot into outer space. Data finds them, Beverly thaws them, Deanna tries to help them adjust to the 24th century, and although their plight annoys Picard and provokes him to explain more of Roddenberry's vision for mankind's future (imagine no possessions, etc.), they are basically boring. We've tuned in to see the future; why does this episode focus so heavily on the present? Leon Rippy is cute as a country singer who gets a second chance to destroy his liver. Dynasty alum Peter Mark Richman bullies his way onto the bridge and uses his capitalist instincts to guess that the Romulans are as puzzled as the Federation about the disappearance of starbases along both sides of the Neutral Zone. What's actually causing those Starbases to disappear doesn't become apparent until a later season. All you know when this episode ends is that you would have expected more from it.

Overall, Season 1 of TNG was as successful as could be expected. More so. The cast gelled wonderfully - albeit with the senseless and unfortunate loss of Denise Crosby. Many of the series' recurring themes were set in motion: Data's quest to become more human ("Datalore"), Worf's quest to become more Klingon ("Heart of Glory"), Lwaxana Troi's quest to make her daughter more Betazoid ("Haven"), the holodeck's quest to rub out the line between reality and illusion ("The Big Goodbye"). We meet the Ferengi ("The Last Outpost," "The Battle"). We get a tantalizing taste of the new and improved Romulans ("The Neutral Zone").

We laughed ("Haven"), we cried ("Skin of Evil"), we blushed ("Justice," "Angel One"). We explored strange cultures ("Code of Honor") and discovered really far-out forms of life ("Home Soil"). We consumed some serious eye candy ("11001001"), had the socks scared off us ("Conspiracy"), and at one point were almost sure Captain Picard was going to accept a promotion to Admiral and head of Starfleet Academy ("Coming of Age"). The juvenile ideologues on the writing staff took their obligatory dump on religion ("Justice"), the family ("When the Bough Breaks"), and capitalism ("The Neutral Zone"). But then, perhaps more usefully, they took on contemporary political issues such as the arms race ("The Arsenal of Freedom"), drug trafficking ("Symbiosis"), and political repression ("Angel One"). They proved that, even with a new cast and 80s-styled sets, they could ignite the warp engines of the imagination just as effectively as the original crew of the 1960s.

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