Saturday, March 5, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three Retrospective

All things being equal, this is where Star Trek: The Next Generation went from being ok to actually good, and perhaps even great. What started as a pretty ok attempt to spin-off a Strek Trek series from the Original Series took a few missteps in the first couple of seasons, but it slowly found its own identity and point of view as a great series in its own right with the third season.

This season brought us new and improved costumes and the return of Doctor Beverly Crusher. It also gave us one of the best overall seasons of the entire series.

Let's take a look:

1. Evolution
I don't love how they opened up the season with a Wesley episode, but at least it's one of the better ones. It's basically a story about how Wesley is smart, and deals with how his mother relates to him and how he fits in on the ship. Or something. It's a fine episode, but every Wesley episode should end with him getting punched.
Watch it

2. The Ensigns of Command
Data is tasked with convincing a human colony to abandon the planet on which they settled because it is about to be wiped out be the aliens in whose space it belongs. This is a great episode with a clever story and a wonderful performance by Brent Spiner.
Buy it

3. The Survivors
The Enterprise visits a planet that has been completely decimated by aliens, except for one house that is perfectly intact. This is a good, clever episode. I don't have much to say about this one, but it's very well done.
Watch it

4. Who Watches the Watchers?
This is one of the best episodes in the entire history of Star Trek. The enterprise is studying a planet full of aliens. When they accidentally make their presence known, they are worshiped as gods. This is a great story that was wonderfully executed by the writers, actors, and director.
Buy it

5. The Bonding
A young boy's mother dies during an away mission, and the crew deals with the emotional aftermath. Oh, and they also get attacked by some aliens. This is a very thoughtful, well done episode, but it's also a little dry, if only because it has too much of this kid and not enough of the crew. 
Watch it

6. Booby Trap
This is a typical Enterprise-gets-trapped-in-space episode, made somewhat more memorable by the introduction of Geordie's holographic girlfriend Leah Brahams. If you want to know what the hell that means, check out the episode, because it's a lot of fun. The science fiction subplot is ok, but this episode really works because of the soap opera like love plot about Geordie.
Watch it

7. The Enemy
Two Geordie episodes in a row! This episode is just a rip-off of the movie Enemy Mine, but that's ok because it's brilliant. Geordie gets lost on an enemy world during some huge storm, so he has to team up with a Romulan who was also lost at the same time. Together, they learn to put their differences aside and work together to get home. It's a cliched story that still worked because it was so well written and so well acted by the two leads.
Buy it

8. The Price
Starfleet enters into a bidding war for control of some alien planet's wormhole, and Troi falls in love with a competing negotiator. This episode is ok, but it's really only memorable because of the scene where Riker burns the guy who is competing against Riker.
Watch it

9. The Vengeance Factor
Some space raiders or something are killing each other... or something. One of them is a cute girl, so Riker bangs her. He also kills her at the end, because it turns out she was the one killing the other space raiders... or something. This episode is ok, but the scene where Riker finally kills the girl at the end makes no sense. Did he forget that his phaser had a stun setting?
Watch it

10. The Defector
A Romulan officer defects from his homeworld and asks the Enterprise for asylum. Great episode.
Buy it

11. The Hunted
This was Star Trek's version of First Blood. The Enterprise visits some planet that hopes to gain entry into the Federation, when one of their genetically engineered super-soldiers escapes the planet and takes over the ship. Setting aside the heavy-handed story that doesn't really make sense under further scrutiny, this episode is just one long, extended action sequence... so it's the bomb. I like this episode a lot because it's very clever and exciting, but it's not going to make any best of lists. It never really makes much sense how this guy is able to outsmart Data and beat up Worf, but whatever. It's good fun.
Watch it

12. The High Ground
Star Trek's version of the IRA's attacks on The United Kingdom. I actually lived in Europe when this episode first aired, and it was banned from TV on all of the English channels, either because they were afraid it was too emotional or because it attempted to look at both sides of the issue and they thought it was sympathizing with the bombers. I dunno. Anyway... this is a pretty good episode, that wasn't worth the controversy because it was actually a little too even handed to be all that pointed or interesting.
Watch it

13. Deja Q
This is my favorite Q episode. He returns to the Enterprise, having lost his powers from the Q Continuum, and having nowhere else to go. John De Lancie gives an outstanding, hilarious performance as the now human Q, and his interactions with the rest of the crew are a lot of fun to watch. This is one of the best of the season by far. But why is Corbin Bersen in this?
Buy it

14. A Matter of Perspective
Continuing the season three tradition of stealing plots from movies, the writers of this episode just did their version of Rashomon.  I'm not complaining, since this is a great episode, dealing with varying perspectives on the supposed murder of an alien scientist. Riker is accused and all evidence points toward his guilt, but Picard and company slowly study all the evidence and weight the conflicting testimony in order to find the truth. At the end, Riker is found guilty and executed. Just kidding.
Buy it

15. Yesterday's Enterprise
This is classic Star Trek. A rift in time opens up and swallows an earlier version of the Enterprise, bringing their crew 100 years or so into the future, changing time so the Federation is still embroiled in a heated war with the Klingons. This is a tough one to explain and a tough one to follow, but it's one of the best Trek episodes ever. It works both as great science fiction and as a great study of our characters. Brilliant stuff.
Buy it

16. The Offspring
Data becomes a father when he builds a female android named Lal. Starfleet forgets about how Data's identity as a self-aware being was already settled last season and attempts to take her away for further study. It's kind of like how some guy invented Post it Notes, but had them taken away by 3M because he was on their payroll at the time. Or something. Anyway, good episode.

Interesting tidbit: This was the first episode directed by Johnathan Frakes, who played Riker. He went on to direct many episodes of Star Trek and even two of the films. 
Buy it

17. Sins of the Father
A Klingon officer named Kurn comes aboard the Enterprise as acting first officer, and he's a total dick, running his command just as he would on a Klingon vessel. Turns out, he's actually Worf's brother, and he wants him to come home with him to clear their father's name. This episode is awesome and marks the first appearance of long-time Star Trek character Kurn, as well as long-time Star Trek actor Tony Todd.
Buy it

18. Allegiance
Picard is kidnapped by some aliens and placed in a cell with a few other aliens who were kidnapped from their own civilizations. This is a well done little mystery story, with a great performance by Patrick Stewart as Picard, and as the jolly doppleganger the aliens place on the Enterprise to fool the rest of the crew.
Watch it

19. Captain's Holiday
Picard goes on vacation to the planet Raisa, meets a hot chick, and has a little Indiana Jones style adventure. This episode isn't as much fun as it should be, but it's lighthearted and well worth watching. This mark's the first appearance of Jennifer Hetrick as Vash, who comes back one more time on Next Generation, and then again on Deep Space Nine.
Watch it

20. Tin Man
The Enterprise discovers some alien being that is also a spaceship... or something. This is a really weird, but cool episode. It's a neat premise, but it really works because of Harry Groener's performance as Tam Elbrun, the possibly crazy Betazed who befriends Tinman and moves in with him. They get an apartment together, or something.
Watch it

21. Hollow Pursuits
This is the episode for all of the Trekkies who wished they had their own Holodeck, so they could hang out on Ten Forward, hit on Troi, and beat up Commander Riker. The newly introduced Lt Barclay does all of those things and more in this episode, which features the first appearance of the soon to be fan favorite character played by the always brilliant Dwight Schultz. This is a very wacky episode, but it's the kind that crosses-over and is fun for Trekkies and non-fans all the same. This is a good one.
Buy it

22. The Most Toys
Data gets kidnapped by a collector of rare and exotic items from throughout history. This is one of my favorite episodes, not only because it's such a great story, but because Saul Rubinek is so delightfully evil as one of the show's best ever villains Kivas Fajo. 
Buy it

23. Sarek
DeForest Kelley may have made a cameo appearance at the end of the pilot episode, but this is the first real cross-over between Next Generation and the Original Series. Spock's father Sarek comes on board for a diplomatic mission, but his emotional breakdown begins to affect the emotions of the other members of the crew. This was basically a remake of the episode Journey to Babel from the Original Series, but it's so flawlessly acted by Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart that it's an absolute classic.
Buy it

24. Menage a Troi
This episode has Feregeni and Troi's mother Lwaxana, so be warned. It's a little annoying. But... it's also pretty funny.
Watch it

25. Transfigurations
Gates McFadden is a beautiful, charming, talented actress, but the episodes centered around Beverly Crusher are never very good. This is an ok episode that deals with some weird alien with healing powers who falls in love with Crusher... or something. Out of a truly fantastic season, this is the only one that I don't really care for.
Skip it

26. The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1
The Borg return, kidnap Picard, and assimilate him into their collective. This episode is absolutely, 100 percent, bad ass. It's action packed, emotionally rich, and concludes with the first ever season-ending cliffhanger in Star Trek history. At the time, nobody really knew if Picard would survive this one, so the wait for the next season seemed interminable. And while I don't want to spoil anything... Picard lives.
Buy it

Overall, this was a brilliant season of a brilliant TV show. The actors were all secure in their roles at this point, allowing the writers to craft more thoughtful scripts. This was really where the show took off on its own and became a fan favorite TV series.

Skip it: 1 (!)
Watch it: 12
Buy it: 13 (!)

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Wow. What an awesome season. I didn't start watching the show until maybe the fifth season, so I saw all of these in reruns. The writers were really on a roll. These are almost all classics.