And now, the conclusion…
The Hunted: An obvious Vietnam vets storyline, though it feels more like an X-Files story than a Star Trek one in a lot of ways. I like the Roga/Troi scenes, and there’s some good action, plus James Cromwell in a mustache, but it’s extremely straightforward and a bit obvious.
The Host: This episode plays as shrugworthy if you’ve seen Deep Space Nine. Not sure if it would be that much better without it. It’s fundamentally another Crusher episode with a love interest of the week. There’s a bit of a twist in that she hooks up with the Trill via Riker’s body but you can’t unsee DS9, so…
Loud As A Whisper: A noble failure of an episode. I quite like the idea of the deaf character losing his telepathic chorus and then learning to sign, it’s a nice perseverance story. BUT THIS FUCKER IS NOT SOMEONE WE ARE EVER GOING TO SEE AGAIN! So who cares?
Realm of Fear: Barclay’s afraid to use the transporter. And with good reason! It’s better than it probably should be.
Booby Trap: Okay, so the Geordi stuff in the episode is extremely uncomfortable. It’s really not normal to fall for a holographic recreation of a real person, and it’s not great for Geordi to have his mind there while he’s in mortal danger, and I’m not sure the episode gets that. “Virginal Geordi” is such an annoying runner for the show. That being said, the ending where Picard takes the helm is damn good and has real tension and a fantastic ending. This is one I rewatch riding that fastforward button, I do not mind saying.
Phantasms: Another Brannon Braga “weird Lynchian shit happens” episode. He could be a decent writer when he wanted to, but it’s amazing how far he went in television simply by having seen some Cronenberg and David Lynch movies before everybody else did.
Final Mission: Wesley leaves the ship for good. If Wil Wheaton had that one to take back…eh, he’s doing okay. It’s all a bit slow-moving for my taste, but it is nice that Wesley has to pass a worthwhile test and leaves on a high note.
Night Terrors: Nobody can sleep and Troi has nightmares. Everybody’s going to die. “One moon circles” gets belabored after a point but this is effective and cool.
The Outcast: Yeah, it’s a cop-out for a LGBT episode in 1991. But if you look at it as a trans episode instead, then it was WAY ahead of its time. Was that the intent? Doubt it. But who knows?
Ethics: Kind of feel that this episode sidesteps real ethical issues. And we know that Worf isn’t going to be dead or disabled. But it’s fine. Dr. Crusher only gets medical ethics or romance episodes, this is the former.
The Bonding: Say hello to Ron Moore! He’ll be around for awhile. And his first volley is good. Some bits of interpersonal conflict, a story about dealing with death that goes beyond the cliches. The Wesley confession of his anger at Picard is surprisingly strong. I like some of the Worf stuff too.
Remember Me: Remember Crusher? The writers did, for once. I mean, it’s a good mystery episode the first time, but there’s not much character stuff in it. It could just as easily have been a Geordi episode, though the danger there is that the last person to disappear besides him is a woman and then he puts the moves on her (before, inevitably, failing).
A Matter Of Honor: Another surprisingly decent one. I could give a shit about Wesley and the Benzite on the Enterprise and it’s a mistake that they had so many scenes of that shit in there. But Riker on the Klingon ship is excellent. All of those scenes are great. For once at this early point in the show, we have a solid mystery plot and a satisfying conclusion.
Gambit II: They found the special stones, turns out it’s a weapon that has a pretty glaring weakness. Nothing deep here, but it’s a really fun action/adventure outing. Pretty consistent throughout though.
Gambit I: At least they don’t waste a lot of time with Picard supposedly being dead. Honestly, he and Riker are on the pirate ship and into the main plot really quickly. Gotta find the old Vulcan stones.
Rightful Heir: Worf meets Kahless, who turns out to not be Kahless. It’s kind of like Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” but since he’s a fraud (albeit a scientifically created one), not really sure how faith fits in. Kind of recalls the frustrating faith episodes of Battlestar Galactica.
Inheritance: Data’s mom is an android. Actually it’s a replica of his “mom” I guess. There’s something deeply creepy about a man that creates a fuckbot of his dead wife, but the episode doesn’t deal with that.
Sarek: It’s nice to have Mark Lenard back, and as always he makes a potent impression as Sarek. This is an Alzheimer’s allegory, more or less, and it may well all have been to give Patrick Stewart the scene where he takes on Sarek’s violent emotions (which is astonishingly acted, of course, but also of course, no Emmy nominations would be forthcoming).
Pen Pals: Sort of preposterous on a few levels, but a good Data episode and a good Prime Directive episode. The ending is bittersweet in a great way. This is way more nuanced and character-y than would have been the case even a few months earlier.
|68||The Big Goodbye: It’s not an amazing episode like some think, but basically competent, which is an improvement. Framing story is obviously just there to set up stakes and a ticking clock. Also holodeck malfunctions, the ultimate Star Trek story crutch, start here. The real pleasure is seeing Data/Crusher/Picard playing off-brand Raymond Chandler characters in the Holodeck, and that is pretty great.|
Brothers: So Brent Spiner gets to play his whole range, as we not only get Data and Lore but also the generic old guy, in this case as Data’s creator Noonien Soong. I personally love the first 15 minutes and the rest is fine, but frankly I’m not really sure if the “Brothers forgive” at the ending is intended to be ironic or not. Lore is an android with antisocial personality disorder who killed Data’s father. Not really a forgiving sort of thing. It’s kind of a weak ending I think.
The Next Phase: About as much dumb fun as TNG would ever be. It really makes no sense on a variety of levels but it’s never not entertaining.
Parallels: It’s a popular episode, but I’ve never been the hugest fan. It’s cool to see the different variations in the universes but it feels like something’s missing here. The actual plot with the Argus array gets forgotten about completely.
The Emissary: Cool guest star, well structured episode, nice resolution. Unfortunately there is a season two stiffness to it that keeps it going a bit higher. There’s a real nice contrast between the human-raised Klingon Worf who really keeps to the Klingon ways and the Klingon-raised half-human K’Eyhlar who is jaded with the whole thing. Very nice writing to create that tension and to balance it. We’re seeing more and more stuff like this, just saying.
Redemption Part I: The Klingon Civil War begins! Holy shit was that Yar?! Worf leaves?! They’re trying to top “The Best Of Both Worlds” aren’t they? Why?
Lessons: Picard ponders a relationship with a subordinate. Is that even allowed? Apparently. Picard isn’t creepy but it’s all a bit uncomfortable.
Where Silence Has Lease: I kind of wish this episode had come a year later, when they actually knew how to make good television. As it stands it’s pretty good, if a bit original series-like, but with too much wannabe headtrip stuff and not enough of the all-powerful sociopath conducting sadistic experiments on the Enterprise. Perhaps we should be grateful that it’s as decent as it is.
Attached: Picard and Crusher share a telepathic link for an episode. Not surprising they don’t have sex at the end of the episode: it can only be a step down from what they’d experienced already, after all. And I’m not sure a spell in anyone’s mind would make you want to sleep with them.
Unnatural Selection: Surprisingly good. Yeah, it’s another original series ripoff, in this case “The Deadly Years” with Pulaski going all Robin Williams from Jack on us. But it’s a character-based story with some very strong moments for Pulaski and Picard. Almost as though after the past three episodes built around guest stars they realized they needed to change tack. Good thing they did.
Second Chances: Pretty nifty trick introducing transporter duplicate Riker, who has very different ideas from our Riker. Biggest surprise is that other Riker doesn’t die at the end of the episode. Also, basically every episode of Fringe is like this.
Power Play: Pretty good, though the fifth season really does stop trying so much with character. Brent Spiner sets the range-o-meter to Lore again, even though he’s not playing Lore. Colm Meaney fits into his crook with maybe a heart of gold role perfectly. And Marina is fun as a total piece of garbage here.
Timescape: Time freezes right before everybody dies, and a handful of our heroes have to fix it. It’s all elegantly done. Picard’s happy face is one for the ages.
Ensign Ro: Well, Roddenberry was nearly dead, so we can introduce a Starfleet character who gets into arguments and is just generally prickly and disagreeable. Very nice. It’s sort of a great Picard episode to boot–he manages to make his point and ultimately win while still following the rules. Smarts and toughness. Hey, this show had some good characters!
Homeward: A werid Prime Directive episode, in that I’m not sure why the Federation doesn’t do this normally when a culture is about to die out. I like Worf and his stepbrother too, that’s a good relationship. For season seven you could do far worse.
Time’s Arrow (I): Some great buildup for the second part. The end where they go through the gate is compelling.
Suspicions: For my money, the best Crusher episode. Good flashback structure, an interesting scientific/medical mystery, and a very nice resolution.
Future Imperfect: An enjoyable one here. Riker wakes up and it’s 16 years in the future. What happened? Is it all an illusion? It should not be shocking to learn that all is not what it seems and everything will be back to normal soon enough. Lots of fun touches though in the production design: different uniforms, changes to the sets. The ending is kind of a shrug but not one that infuriates. Lightweight but highly engaging.
Preemptive Strike: Odd to have this be the last proper episode of the series, but it’s a strong character piece for Ro. It does sell me on her choice to join the Maquis. Good scene with Picard at the end, too.
The Enemy: It’s definitely a Big Message, original series style episode, and it’s okay. I do like Geordi and the Romulan working together. I less like Worf letting his Romulan die out of bigotry. It’s a choice but not an interesting one. The argument that Worf would do the transfusion on the similarly bigoted Romulan because letting him live thanks to a Klingon would be the better revenge seems like a more interesting resolution than what we got. It’s good, but not the strongest choices.
Half A Life: Oh no, Lwaxana’s back, and she’s…in a tasteful and moving episode that parallels the euthanasia debate? What? I thought she was only in horrible episodes!
Reunion: K’Ehylar returns! And dies! Boo. Also, Worf kills Duras, which basically means that his plan to value stability over justice is already in tatters and he did it for nothing. The episode is great though!
The Offspring: Interesting that Data made his daughter able to pass for a human while he cannot. The ending is touching. But I kind of think the “will Starfleet seize Data’s daughter” elements rehash “The Measure Of A Man” and we don’t need to do that.
Frame of Mind: Riker loses his mind and thinks a play he was in is real. Say this for TNG, they were ripping off David Lynch before everyone else was, and that’s something.
Unification I: Sarek’s dead! Spock’s back! For five seconds at the end. A helluva buildup. But I bet the follow-up is going to be…oh wait, this is TNG.
First Contact: Pretty much how America would have responded to aliens under Obama. Under Trump, your guess is as good as mine.
Deja Q: Honestly, not a bad Q episode! Good in fact! Some nice humor, and you even kind of give a shit about Q a little bit. Way better than the next time we spend time with Q at any rate.
Peak Performance: I quite like this one. The writing here is quite good, I like all the stuff about restoring the derelict ship for a war game, though couldn’t Starfleet provide a new ship for this purpose? I really like Data’s crisis of confidence after losing the game, and the resolution to it as well. Both are well integrated into the theme of using creativity to find ways to win aside from the obvious one.
Data’s Day: Basically a flat-out comedy. It’s pretty good, too. TNG isn’t necessarily known for comedy but giving Spiner the ball and giving him lots of befuddling things to play works great. Data’s smile is great. His dancing is great. I like the, “I have good news, the wedding is off!” bit, even if I think that Data should know better than that. Charming and fun.
Who Watches The Watchers: The Prime Directive shows up again in an excellent episode. The conflict of how to retrieve assets from a pre-industrial civilization is well-handled, and the show wisely treats people in that civilization as smart, curious people who just lack knowledge, rather than as caveman types.
Relics: Heavily nostalgic, but it has a point to make too. Bringing Scotty back, giving him plausible problems (being old, out of step, unable to fit in), but also creating a context where he can be useful again is all great writing.
Conundrum: This amnesia episode is actually pretty good. I do feel like it’s a bit of a plot hole that this species can erase both memories and the computer, but is technologically so far behind the Federation. A false flag story would have been stronger. Still, some nice character stuff here, good suspense, irony.
Thine Own Self: The Data stuff as an amnesiac in a pre-industrial civilization is good. The Troi taking her command exam is better. The title pertains to neither story in any way I can discern.
Clues: A perfectly-constructed mystery that continually changes as more information is learned. A nice attention to detail and economical use of small details to construct a narrative.
Disaster: The title really was tempting fate, but this is actually pretty good. The ship gets fucked up but good and our characters have to work to get themselves out of their situations. Easily the best use of “Frere Jacque” in a thing I can remember.
Silicon Avatar: The bleakness of this episode is almost as dark as you get in this iteration of Star Trek. I find it bracing though.
Tapestry: Not as deep as it may want to be or thinks it is, but still an extremely well-constructed meditation on how choices make a person.
I Borg: Pretty clever to repivot the Borg from being unstoppable to being frail in a plausible way.
Lower Decks: It’s an interesting concept for a one-off episode that was pulled off just fine. Not much really to say about it.
The Wounded: A neocon captain is so goddamn convinced the Cardassians are illegally running weapons that he goes rogue. Picard comes to stop him. A nice episode about war, trauma, and how considered diplomacy is actually the stronger and smarter option than preventive war.
Darmok: This could have been such a debacle and yet it works perfectly. Sort of ingenious how the alien language gets decoded.
Ship In A Bottle: Cool concept that’s sort of like the prototype of Inception. Less holodeck malfunction than holodeck trippiness, which is fine. Also, the Countess is delightful!
The Survivors: Another great one. It’s a show about power: when to use it, what happens when you abuse it. In the end, the old man who had pledged to use his unimaginable power to safe his beloved and then committed genocide as revenge provides a potent capper to an actually compelling mystery. Also, they do have a crime for what he did, they just don’t have the power to punish him! TNG really has arrived.
The Quality Of Life: Essentially “Home Soil” but much, much better. Having Data be invested in the fate of the sentient exocomps fixes what was wrong with that other episode. It’s actually then about one of our characters! This is good.
Dark Page: A great Lwaxana episode. This could have been dicey but a dead daughter gives the character pathos and depth that inform all of what we’d seen before.
The Defector: Good, engaging, tragic, with a nice twist at the end. Always a nice trick when you wind up sympathizing with a total prick of a character. But in this case you can because he gave up everything for nothing, though which he thought was for the cause of peace. Also, the Klingons!
The First Duty: The mother of all Picard speeches. The conflict is really nicely handled. Best Wesley episode? Oh yes.
The Pegasus: There was no way Terry O’Quinn wasn’t going to be a villain. Not with that mustache. Anyway, this is a pretty great one, though Riker’s loyalty to his old captain and fear of career repercussions are a bit oversold. Still, nice mystery, good character work.
Hollow Pursuits: A pretty great WTF moment with the teaser the first time you watch it, with Barclay beating everyone up. Then the episode turns into an excruciatingly well-observed story about social anxiety, though with some hilarious jokes too. It’s a little Infinite Jest-y before the fact with its look at the damaging, corrosive effects of pleasure-seeking, but also hopeful too.
Cause and Effect: This time loop is as high concept as they come, but damn if it isn’t perfectly constructed, with great little details and careful reveals of information.
Family: Picard has an asshole brother, Worf has doting but adorable parents, Wesley meets his dad. No real sci-fi to any of it, it’s all pure quality character work (less so the Wesley stuff), which shows just how far the show had come from “Lonely Among Us,” and how confident they were to even put this out.
Face Of The Enemy: Admittedly, you could have put any character in this story. But it makes sense for Troi, given her empathic abilities. And it is meaningful character-wise, as Troi does have to find the charisma to lead inside of her, and it’s a key transition between her command in “Disaster” and when she takes the bridge test in “Thine Own Self.” Also, it lets her be a badass for once.
Conspiracy: This episode blew my mind as a kid. It’s so shocking and gross compared to what we’d seen so far (and would see later), and yet it made it onto television. It’s so out of left field that it’s crazy that they attempted it, but perhaps even more surprising is that it works beautifully. No wasted scenes, strong choices, all the characters have important stuff to do. Plus, the episode is actually well-plotted and structured! You’d almost think the show had figured it out, but that would be premature. One nitpick: I hate the video game ending where killing the big boss automatically kills all the minions. It’s a crutch for writers to resolve everything nicely. Still, good stuff.
The Drumhead: Surprisingly forceful and effective denunciation of paranoid, McCarthyist politics. The scene where Jean Simmons unravels is pretty great.
Starship Mine: Picard playing John McClane shouldn’t work, and yet it does work. Also, a Data humor subplot that isn’t horrible. I really love this one, actually. It’s really well-plotted and surprising.
Chain of Command I: The Enterprise gets a new jerk captain and Picard, Worf and Crusher start black ops training. Because who better than a mom and a man in his fifties with no background in this sort of thing? J/k this is a great episode.
Chain of Command II: There. Are. Four. Lights! Hey, remember when we all thought torture was horrible? Different times, bro.
Q Who: Another classic. Q is much less manic here, plus THE BORG. That not enough for you?
The Ensigns Of Command: This is a great one. The Enterprise plot is good–Picard triumphant at the end is great, uncharacteristically snotty though given the hassle he went through, quite understandable–but the Data plot on the planet is even better. He really does learn something about how to deal with intransigent humans in a wonderfully satisfying way. Real growth, earned victory at the end. About time.
The Most Toys: So we get another way off the beaten path theme for Star Trek, and another stupendous episode. Saul Rubinek’s Kivas Fajo is supremely smarmy, one of the most “love to hate” villains of this or any show. Some may blanch at Data’s (thwarted) choice to kill Fajo at the end, but as an indicator of his belief that he’s not an object and his desire to defend his freedom, it’s well within the established lines. In a certain way it’s tragic, even though he does not actually have to suffer the consequences of the choice.
The Nth Degree: For my money, one of the most purely pleasurable episodes of the series. Barclay’s superintelligence is given an alternately funny and scary treatment, with so many different moments working. It proves temporary but not at all desirable. The show puts the concept to such good use, though.
The Inner Light: Picard playing the flute at the end still gets to me. I know it still gets to you.
Tin Man: This is another obsession of mine. Strong hook–a powerful alien, a race to make first contact with the Romulans, a compromised “mission expert” who comes off as a real asshole and fairly unstable. A lot of ideas here repurposed from “Encounter At Farpoint,” but now they know how to make good television and it’s compelling. I quite like Tam Elbrun and I like his relationship with Data, and the story about two broken beings creating a bond and finding new reason for living is something I find particularly moving. It’s got all the things I want.
The Measure Of A Man: Obviously it’s fantastic. It was a question the show would eventually have to deal with, and damn if this isn’t the strongest possible way they could go about it. There are prominent guest stars but the focus stays on the central characters, it’s well-structured and downright thrilling. Probably the first time you might legitimately feel that this is a great show.
All Good Things…: Definitely the best Star Trek finale of all time. Deep Space Nine’s comes closest, but the show really manages a nice mystery that’s logically explored, with a surprisingly resonant ending that perfectly wraps up a series in a way that the subsequent movies could only ruin.
The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II: The second half doesn’t wrap everything around a character story, it’s much plottier and spreads around the character moments a bit more. It’s still incredibly good, even if it’s not quite as personally hard-hitting as Part I. The final scene, though, of Picard looking out the window just nails the emotional devastation of the whole story.
Yesterday’s Enterprise: This episode is something of an obsession to me. I’ve definitely seen it more than any other episode of the series, maybe in all of Star Trek. I mean, sure, it’s a nice time travel story that’s clever but still connects emotionally, and the nobility of it is moving. But there are just so many great details: the way Picard steps in front of Worf before the Enterprise-C comes out of the rift, which he inverts both to reveal Yar and then again at the end to reveal Worf. The obviously chilly and untrusting relationship between alternate Picard and Riker. The way the doors don’t open for Data–whether because the sensors are battle-damaged or because the resources that would have gone to that went to another project, we don’t know. Even simple things like having a dark bridge–more warlike–and a starkly lit, militarized Ten-Forward–not a place you’d stay in longer than it takes to eat a meal–are just so well judged and effective, a great example of how much you can get with just a little. And there’s something surprisingly poetic about how the suicide mission in the past precipitates another suicide mission in the present.
The Best Of Both Worlds, Part I: As good an hour of television as the show ever produced. There’s some clever Trojan Horsing going on because for a while it seems like we’re seeing a Picard episode but it’s really all about Riker, who undergoes an existential crisis when he realizes that he’s not the driven career officer he thought he was, that maybe on some level he knows he’s not ready to command. This is resolved in the worst way imaginable for him (but best for us) when he unambiguously discovers that he is ready by choosing to kill Picard/Locutus. It really is a marvel to watch Riker transform into that person in the final scene. That’s the key of it.
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