Viewing posts tagged TNG Season 4

“For The Great Mouse Ancestors”: The Nth Degree

Here's another episode I never caught during Star Trek: The Next Generation's original run. In fact, I kind of went out of my way to avoid “The Nth Degree” because I always thought it sounded completely ridiculous, a suspicion not helped by the fact it's always represented in magazines and reference books by stills of the final effects shot; that of the Cytherian ambassador. An effects shot which calls to mind descriptors such as “amazing” and “incredible”, except not in their original unironic contexts. So the other night, I actually sat down to watch this episode critically for the first time.

It's actually not bad. But I was right about the effects shot.

“The Nth Degree” is in a lot of ways a response to the third season. There's Barclay back, of course, but it's also another “Let's Do” episode, much like “A Matter of Perspective”. In both cases, the tack the show takes this time around is a little bit more nuanced and appreciable than it was last year. We'll talk about Reg later, but the story we're “paying tribute” to this ...

“Are You Afraid of the Dark?”: Night Terrors

“Night Terrors” is another episode derided by pretty much everyone: From the people who worked on it to the people who watched it, almost nobody has anything kind to say about this story and it's frequently held up as being among Star Trek: The Next Generation's absolute worst of the worst.

You should know where this is going by now. I always thought it was pretty good!

What we've got this week is another step in the show's transition into its next form. Like “Clues”, “Night Terrors” is a story about the Enterprise crew in the thick of a mind-bending cosmic mystery that warps their conception of reality. It's also a competently mind-bending psychological thriller for the audience as well, with some unsettlingly well-done hallucinatory scenes and a plot that goes out of its way to showcase the power of dream logic and dream imagery. A great many future Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes will be comprised of one or both of these storytelling archetypes in roughly equal measure, and while “Night ...

“I'm not saying it was aliens...But it was aliens”: First Contact

I don't get “First Contact”.

To be precise, I don't get the reputation it has. On paper, the episode seems pretty straightforward and self-evident: Do a story about the standard procedure for how the Federation handles first contact situations, preferably one where something goes wrong because something something conflict drama conflict. Even though it comes out of a pathological compulsion to answer the sort of question only a vanishingly small subset of the audience was actually asking and is as such something I don't have an especially deep fondness for just by definition, “First Contact” is at least pretty easy to explain. What I'm not understanding, and have never been fully able to, is why this is considered a timeless classic above and beyond that. Well, at least I certainly hope it's for reasons above and beyond that.

Obviously, the conceit is to explore Federation first contact procedure by taking the perspective of the contactees such that “First Contact” is unique in the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation by being the ...

“Piecing it together”: Clues

This is an episode that has always been noteworthy to me for being one I keep feeling as though I should like a whole lot less than I do. On paper, it sounds like it's setting up an irritating “Shocking Betrayal!” plot involving Data supposedly lying to the crew, which is the kind of story I hate (and compounding the obnoxiousness, we've already been made to watch Data do something similar earlier in the season in “Brothers”). But it's an episode I've always found to be perfectly enjoyable, and all of my hypothetical doubts are always assuaged every time I watch it.

I think what saves “Clues” from the hackish melodrama quagmire that sinks so many other productions in the fourth season is that it goes out of its way to hedge against the stock dramatic conventions this kind of setup would otherwise use as a crutch: The story takes extreme care to ensure we never once think Data actually is attempting to maliciously mislead or betray the crew-In fact, he makes a point of never technically lying (at least not any more than he has to, depending ...

“Time heals all wounds”: The Wounded

The 24th Century Begins. Again.

If there was one story that perfectly encapsulated the virtues and strengths of Star Trek: The Next Generation and demonstrates the things it and only it can do, this would be it. “The Wounded” is an absolute masterpiece; as bold and defiant a statement of purpose for this show as exists, absolutely the story we needed after half a season of directionless navel-gazing and without question the definitive template for how it can stay fresh and relevant even four years into its run. This is it: This is where the new Star Trek: The Next Generation begins and the very first high water mark it must be constantly measured against. This is how good this show can be when people actually understand and care about it.

The reasons why “The Wounded” is a classic seem almost self-evident and obvious, and yet they seem remarkable precisely because of how much Star Trek: The Next Generation has been phoning it in and lowballing itself lately. It may be Star Trek's definitive statement on conflict ...

“Daybreak”: Data's Day

Someone once said “the night is darkest just before the dawn”. And the dawn has broken.

“Data's Day” is not the episode I would consider the true beginning of what we might call Star Trek: The Next Generation Mark II (Mark I having destroyed itself in the chaos of “The Best of Both Worlds” and the past ten weeks or so having been a largely directionless interregnum trying to come to terms with its loss). But it could be called the new show's pilot, and it's a thing of absolute beauty. This is without question one of my absolute favourite episodes in the entire series, if not the franchise, one I always made a point to watch whenever it would come on and a story that has defined a huge portion of how I imagine the universe of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's not absolutely perfect and there are some nitpicks I've always had with it, but even so it's nothing short of a masterpiece and a godsend after half a year of aimlessly puttering about throwing things at the wall and only occasionally tossing ...

“Griefs and Anxieties”: The Loss

Ugh, but first we have to sit through “The Loss”.

Last time we talked a bit about how speculative fiction can sometimes get so caught up in its own ideas it neglects certain other aspects of good storytelling convention. And we also mentioned how Star Trek: The Next Generation's various creative teams have pretty much always had a problem with their characters, for some reason never quite managing to find a way to make them understandably human while also maintaining the idealism they're supposed to represent (a problem that is, I should point out, exclusively limited to the TV series side of things at this point in time. Michael Jan Friedman has never once been tripped up by this). “The Loss” is the most cringe-worthy and egregious example of this worrisome trend we've seen to date, because nobody on the Enterprise seems to furrow quite as many brows in the writer's room as Deanna Troi.

Wesley may have been sent of in an excessively tropish way, but at least it seems like “Final Mission ...

“Dual Survival”: Final Mission

A requiem for the would-be boy wonder?

Wesley Crusher, of course, had to go. That's been obvious to everyone since at least “Encounter at Farpoint”. Perhaps not to the writing staff, however, as the final impetus for the Whiz Kid's resignation from Star Trek: The Next Generation came not out of basic good sense on the part of the creative team, but from the person who played him. Wil Wheaton was an established, in-demand Hollywood film actor before and into his tenure on the starship Enterprise, and it was becoming increasingly apparent that while the show was doing nothing but increasing the stature of his castmates, it was holding him back and forcing him to turn down lucrative job offers. Of course, it's also somewhat bleakly funny for me to point out that LeVar Burton was *also* an established Holywood personality, and he had no problems not only committing to Star Trek: The Next Generation but also holding down a whole second television career over at Reading Rainbow, so it's not exactly like Wheaton was some special case or anything.

But either way, it came to pass that ...

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