Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

Encounter at Farpoint (1987Moving picture, 92 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Q. An invincible, incomprehensible, previously unknown yet anthropomorphic new threat who dares to question the sacred moral fibre of humankind, and does it with theatricality, costuming and mind over matter, prompting unprecedented, extreme abuse of the brand-new Enterprise’s untested engine, all within the first ten minutes.

This does not bode well, but an extra 21 years of technological development and confidence in science fiction as a genre dissimilar to the Western do help. The miniature of Farpoint Station is cute and the extra time spent on characterization and society, as opposed to fisticuffs, are most welcome. It’s also more beige. The resolution of the plot combines “The Immunity Syndrome” (1968) (giant primitive aliens living in space) with the perennial lotus-eater motif (evil as always).

References here: “A Matter of Honor” (1989), “Unification: Part 1” (1991), “Relics” (1992), Emissary (1993), All Good Things (1994).

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“The Naked Now” (1987Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A collapsing star causes an infectious intoxication via gravitational waves.

This script could have been pornographic fanfic. It’s nonsensical that the ship has no quarantine procedures. The consequences are ridiculous, all the way from the female scientist who has frozen to death with one arm decorously laid across her chest for TV, to Data catching the bug and having sex with Yar, who reveals she spent ages 5–15 menaced by literal “rape gangs”, and this is after the first episode alluded to massive near-future wars like those of TOS’s 1990s. That’s Trek optimism for you.

The basic premise is quite funny in the age of gravitational-wave astronomy. Alas, the threat posed by the exploding star is that a specific rock might hit the ship, not the cloud or radiation. More centrally, it’s yet another variation on lotus eaters: People harmed by being effortlessly happy and free. I suppose it’s a metaphor for mutiny against the Trek god-captain, from a naïve perspective. Wesley points out to Picard that while the captain gives the orders, it’s other people who do the work. The saving grace of the episode is that it shows Wesley’s right: Without its ordinary crew members—appearing on screen—doing as they’re told, Picard himself can achieve nothing and succumbs to the lotus. He concludes only that the crew must “avoid temptation” in future.

References here: “Angel One” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “Allegiance” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991).

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“Code of Honor” (1987Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Humans with relatively dark skin are the only humans in evidence on a particular planet, where a brutal culture of honour leads to kidnapping one of the crew.

To his credit, Gene Roddenberry fired director Russ Mayberry before Mayberry had finished filming this episode, on account of racism.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991), “New Ground” (1992), “Journey’s End” (1994), Black Panther (2018).

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“The Last Outpost” (1987Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The on-screen debut of the Ferengi, here both evil and stupid and regressive in their sexual politics, to replace the Klingons. Apart from this, the premise is uncommonly interesting and plays out fairly well.

Much later in the development of the franchise, Ferengi women (“females”) would come to be portrayed as biologically equivalent to men in almost all of their abilities and inclinations, and heavily oppressed, but at this early stage, it is implied that the sexes are biologically different, as with the kzin of “The Slaver Weapon” (1973).

References here: “Rules of Acquisition” (1993).

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“Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A warp drive experiment throws the ship 2.7 Mly away and then into fantasyland. Yar’s bizarre “rape gangs” make an appearance and Wesley is prophesied to be the Mozart of fantasy physics.

A mashup of “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968) and “The Ultimate Computer” (1968). Voyager made a TV series out of a 70 Kly detour; this one episode undoes a much longer trip with the Tinkerbell effect.

The technobabble is amusingly poor. An engineer says he “applied the energy asymptomatically”, using the medical term, presumably meaning “asymptotically”, the unrelated mathematical term. The director did not care; the line is not intended to make sense to anyone. Later, the same engineer complains about correspondingly spiritual babble: “That’s just so much nonsense. You’re asking us to believe in magic.” He’s right; the script strongly implies the basic fabric of the Trek universe is spiritual and matter is akin to an illusion. This could be a fanciful misinterpretation of Einstein, who used to explain his most famous formula in layman’s terms as mass and energy being “but different manifestations of the same thing”.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Sins of the Father” (1990), “Tin Man” (1990), “Remember Me” (1990), “Legacy” (1990), “The Nth Degree” (1991), “Journey’s End” (1994).

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“Lonely Among Us” (1987Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The inciting incident is a more sensible “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969), despite the planet dedicated to diplomacy and the first Sherlock Holmes tribute, which is bad, including the phrase “elementary, my dear ”, something that does not appear in canon.

The episode has TNG’s first nonsensically naïve connection of instrument panels to the things they control, not in battle this time but as a means of infiltrating the computer system. This, and particularly Singh’s description of the architecture, provides amusing insight into Trek IT. TOS would never have allowed even such a brief description of such an important topic. TOS would also not have allowed such a profound or morally grey subversion of the captain’s mind and command, which is refreshing, though it doesn’t really go anywhere.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988).

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“Justice” (1987Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A paradise of blondes is maintained by a combination of the panopticon, the death penalty for all offences, and religion.

A remake of “Shore Leave” (1966), without the artificial cornucopia people but with equal naïvité.

References here: “Captain’s Holiday” (1990).

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“The Battle” (1987Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The Ferengi give Picard a headache.

A marked improvement upon “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), with the apparent evil of a vengeful Ferengi instead of the apparent evil of a vengeful feminist, and a substantiallly more reasonable mechanism for subverting the captain’s command. In one amusing scene, Data begins to explain checksums as a means of discovering tampering, which is logical and crucial to the plot, but Riker rudely interrupts him: “I don’t want a computer science lesson, Data!”

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“Hide and Q” (1987Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Q.

In much the same way that TOS wasted its first substantial plot callback on Mudd, TNG wastes it on Q. Yar says it’s “so frustrating to be controlled like this”, which should have made the writers ask why the viewer would feel different.

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“Haven” (1987Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Apart from the corny sexism of the termagant character, this is a pretty solid episode. Optimistic, romantic, peaceful, yet with enough tension to keep it moving. I guess this is where TNG began to find its groove, making it correspond to “The Naked Time” (1966).

References here: “Manhunt” (1989).

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“The Big Goodbye” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Trapped on the holodeck.

TNG one-ups the cheap backlot episodes of TOS by contextualizing the scenes shot on a literal backlot (Paramount’s “New York Street”) as happening inside a simulation that is itself akin to a backlot of the ship. This further weakens the integrity of the fiction, but that’s not enough: The writers add the premise that shutting down a hologram can kill you if you’re looking at it. This is extraordinarily poor science fiction, every bit as dumb as the prototope in “The Practical Joker” (1974).

Never mind the title, which combines The Big Sleep (1946) and The Long Goodbye (1973). The only point of faint interest is a simulated person’s existential fear that he or his family will cease to exist when the simulation shuts down. This form of death–Chandler’s big sleep–gets five seconds of consideration and is then conveniently forgotten.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Manhunt” (1989), “Booby Trap” (1989).

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“Datalore” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

TNG continues to repeat and improve upon TOS. This is “Space Seed” (1967) with evil-AI robotics instead of eugenics, improved mainly by the existence of non-evil AI, damaged by the choice to make Data a mysterious one-off rather than a reproducible Asimovian product of the Federation. Brent Spiner gets to shine.

References here: “The Schizoid Man” (1989), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Brothers” (1990), “Silicon Avatar” (1991), “Second Chances” (1993).

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“Angel One” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Smell-based disease and matriarchy. Months after “The Naked Now” (1987) the ship still has no quarantine procedures.

More poorly conceived than The Female Man (1975).

References here: “The Outcast” (1992), “Sanctuary” (1993).

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“11001001” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A relatively interesting premise, and the women portraying the sexless Bynars are a lot more fun than the unmuscled, Max Factored rulers of the preceding episode. Alas, Riker and Picard are trapped on the holodeck, the premise is not explored and the starbase is just another garage à la The Search for Spock (1984).

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990), “The Outcast” (1992).

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“Too Short a Season” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

When you take a double dose of rejuvenation potion from Cerebus II, your DNA gets skewed and you lose the makeup.

Observe the musical cue that ends the opening, suggesting that at this point, even a tiny local infringement upon Picard’s personal authority is an outrage. This attitude would later be relaxed to good effect, but this episode combines two of the perennial threats in Trek thus far: Anybody who outranks the captain, and any transcendence of “natural” human limitations, punished by death. The more interesting motif, of a fascist planetary regime enabled by a corrupt Federation interpretation of its Prime Directive, sharing Federation technology, is sidelined. That sort of thing would be more prominent in the 2020 sequel (Star Trek: Picard).

References here: “Unnatural Selection” (1989), “Ensign Ro” (1991).

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“When the Bough Breaks” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

An advanced civilization known only from myth, rendered sickly and infertile by the equivalent of a hole in its cloaked planet’s ozone layer, kidnaps the kids of the Enterprise.

It’s the usual deus-ex-machina Trek aliens: Overwhelmingly powerful, culturally stable for millennia, ruled by an AI, yet so completely human that they are willing to replace themselves with Earthicans raised partly in their culture. The aliens’ relative peacefulness and honesty are refreshing, as is the children’s response: A hunger strike. However, it amounts to no more than a transposition of child-snatching myths into SF, together with a half-hearted pro-science and environmental message.

There’s a funny kitsch detail in the alien (Aldean) utopia: Young Harry, taking calculus at about 10, gets to be a woodworking artist on an ecologically ravaged planet where good wood is presumably scarce, and where his only tool is one that doesn’t allow him to touch the material. It’s a kind of beam weapon that makes a thousand cuts per second; an inverted 3D printer. Real woodworkers would probably not appreciate the complete loss of tactility and relevance of grain.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “Imaginary Friend” (1992), “The Trek Not Taken” (2013).

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“Home Soil” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The terraformation of Velara III.

The first instance of good science fiction in TNG, by something more than the standards of old TV shows. It makes all the writerly points of Q, but by intelligent means, beneath the surface.

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“Coming of Age” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Transparent. Wesley fails, which is good, but a plot convenience. The trick question on matter and antimatter shows a bit of respect for science, but in the most trivial way. The fear test is similarly trivial, when it should have been Dune (1965) territory. Picard’s refusal of a promotion in the face of badly behaving superiors is another plot convenience; it serves as an opportunity for serialization in retrospect, but leaves him boringly overqualified for his job for the rest of the series.

References here: “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988), “Skin of Evil” (1988).

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“Heart of Glory” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Good treatment of the Klingons as retconned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), including brow ridges and a culture of their own.

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“The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Vincent Schiavelli as an alien arms dealer.

Riker confirms that he turned down his own command for his current position, effectively refusing a promotion just like Picard in “Coming of Age” (1988), leaving them both overqualified and suggesting a form of cowardice. On the other hand, neither Riker nor Yar have any idea what could melt tritanium, the transuranic material of their own ship’s bulkheads. This is equivalent to a modern naval officer asking what could melt steel, which is a little silly, as is the plot. The highlight of the episode is La Forge commanding the B team; he succeeds of course, but his slight insecurity adds the human dimension missing with Picard and Riker.

References here: “The Icarus Factor” (1989), “Battle Lines” (1993).

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“Symbiosis” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The Socratic dialogue on addiction really drives home what a strawman exercise this is, no matter how sympathetic its message. Among the many versions of The Odyssey’s lotus eaters in Trek, this one is unusual in that it features somewhat realistic opium-style addiction and withdrawal, and does not make people happy, but it is usual in that lotus-eating nearly destroys two civilizations. It is a detail symptomatic of moralism that the addicts do not even keep their trading ships in repair, clearly endangering their sole supply. I suppose I should be happy that neither side clearly symbolizes US ethnic minorities, but I would have preferred something more like the export-dependent Gaza wine industry’s intersection with the Justinian Plague.

References here: “The Game” (1991), “The Inner Light” (1992), “Descent: Part 2” (1993).

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“Skin of Evil” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Troi is trapped by a tar pit.

A stated matter-antimatter ratio of 25:1 contradicts “Coming of Age” (1988) more quickly than I expected. In another surprise, the notion of a self-identified creature of pure “evil” is not subverted here in any way. It’s a nonsensical premise, defeated by our heroes using a trivial model from human developmental psychology. This is just as dumb as the TOS crew killing AI by self-contradiction. Yar’s death as such is handled very well, happening in the manner of unnamed crew deaths and not being undone as show-regular deaths were in TOS, but her holodeck funeral is kitsch.

References here: “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “The Most Toys” (1990), “Legacy” (1990), “The Next Phase” (1992).

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“We’ll Always Have Paris” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Crappy self-sealing treatment of temporal paradoxes with universal subjective awareness, coupled with the crappy story of how Picard once messed up a date.

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“Conspiracy” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

I saw some of the first season as a child. Though I remembered no individual scenes from the other episodes in 2020, I remembered the ending of this one, probably because it scared me. It’s The Puppet Masters (1951) without an insider perspective, more stupid enemies and TOS-style fisticuffs, in a style reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s contemporary work. The tone of elevated drama is unusual for TNG, as is the plagiarism from Aliens (1986). It was apparently very well received and influential on later Trek productions; the 2020 sequel (Picard) is consistently dark like this. It’s funny how this specific contradiction of the nominal positivity of the franchise is associated with the captain’s superiors.

References here: “Contagion” (1989), “Q Who” (1989), “Shades of Gray” (1989), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Drumhead” (1991), “The Game” (1991), “Power Play” (1992), “Dramatis Personae” (1993), Star Trek (2009).

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“The Neutral Zone” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Data haphazardly picks up some corpses from the 1990s on the way to breaking a long truce with the Romulans.

The script by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Clee is amazing, but as with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), the main attraction here is what runs counter to Star Trek as a franchise. From TNG’s holodeck episodes and TOS’s many backlot episodes set in versions of the 20th century, you’d expect the retrophiles of the Enterprise to jump at the idea of meeting actual 20th-century people. Instead, Picard is callous about the prospect and actively avoids contact. In this informal local retcon, letting an operational, possibly manned 20th-century craft be destroyed by a hostile binary is just nature. It’s an interesting touch that the business of cryogenics is said to have died out in the 21st century, on account of humans ceasing to fear death and have possessions; this all implies a level of nihilism greatly at odds with the rest of season 1, which this episode closes.

It is good writing. Picard’s complete disinterest is in line with the stated premises of the narrative, wherein the viewer’s own time was a hellish prelude to a civilizational awakening. One of the resurrected men is a hedonistic US Southerner, like the version of McCoy in “This Side of Paradise” (1967); realistically, he would be about as interesting to a 24th-century explorer as a toothless medieval opium fiend would be to Alexander Graham Bell. Indeed, the once-rich men are narcissistic and make natural, entirely incorrect assumptions about cultural continuity, much as the studio stylist assumed that 1988 hairstyles would still be in vogue in the following decade. Unfortunately, the once-richest man makes himself useful, going the Ayn Rand route after all. That last detail is consistent with “The Survivor” (1973), where a human from the Federation has pursued and won personal wealth and become respected for it.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “Unnatural Selection” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “The Most Toys” (1990).

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“The Child” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Troi gets magically pregnant.

Idiotic writing. The only point of interest here is the introduction of Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Guinan, in a few scenes irrelevant to the awful plot. It was a good choice to replace Yar with a third major black character, and a civilian, but it is symptomatic of latent sexism that Guinan, just like Troi, is chiefly marked by her empathy and listening skills; Yar was similarly marked by the threat of rape.

References here: “The Survivors” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “The Offspring” (1990), “Ménage à Troi” (1990), “Transfigurations” (1990), “The Loss” (1990).

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“Where Silence Has Lease” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The crew stupidly gets their ship stuck in an intelligent pothole and hit the self-destruct button.

Better than “Skin of Evil” (1988), but not by much.

References here: “A Matter of Honor” (1989), “The Loss” (1990).

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“Elementary, Dear Data” (1988Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Moriarty on the holodeck.

A natural union of “Lonely Among Us” (1987) and “The Big Goodbye” (1988). The writers continue to display a curious ignorance of Sherlock Holmes, using “elementary, dear ” again and stating incorrectly—with respect to Doyle’s continuity—that Holmes died in “The Final Problem” (1893). As fan fiction, it’s poor.

The only other pleasure on offer is that of a thought experiment. It’s proved here that the ship’s computer can generate an autonomous, creative intelligence equivalent to Data, with a power surge of a few seconds, and store it indefinitely, apparently at no cost. This digs a deep plot hole. Just as Troi should still be mourning her cosmic baby Jesus from a couple of episodes back, the computer should be able to solve most if not all of the practical problems the crew encounters by spinning up a million different sandboxed supergeniuses and running some Bayesian composition function across their conclusions.

The extradiegetic reason why this does not happen is that it would be easy. In this particular episode, La Forge parallels the problem by insisting that his manual construction of a naval miniature is what makes the miniature worth having, contradicting the writers’ admiration for the automatic woodworking tool in “When the Bough Breaks” (1988). La Forge’s minature-building is sympathetic, but his conclusion from it borders the sunk-cost fallacy and represents a poor basis for worldbuilding.

The intradiegetic reason why intelligences aren’t created more often is implied by the script, in three parts:

  1. In order for something to be smarter than a person, it must first be conscious, i.e. self-aware.
  2. Because a conscious being is aware of existing, it must want to continue existing, at least in whatever reference frame it has.
  3. Any such wish is sacred in its reference frame.

Therefore, the unstated conclusion to the thought experiment goes, it would be morally wrong to knowingly create intelligent simulations in the first place, and especially to let them spot an enclosing reference frame, and this instance of doing so was an innocent mistake not to be repeated. Biological reproduction is exempt from this conclusion for no apparent reason.

Premise 1 seemed plausible in 1988 but is likely wrong. It mirrors one of the predictions of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (1979) and has been contradicted by later research in computer science. If it is possible for a non-self-aware AI to beat all people at go, it is surely possible for a non-sapient AI to beat a person at “Holmesian mysteries”, another game, if not general problem-solving based on all past Federation experience.

Premise 2 is wrong. There is reason to think that the conatus or active desire to exist—which is not universal in humans—is an emergent effect of natural selection and not rational. There is no reason to think that it automatically comes with perceiving one’s existence or being able to reason. You could argue that Moriarty has it because he was started from a human template, which is ignored.

Premise 3 is not even wrong. It is religious and contradicted even inside the fiction, by a precedent specifically in the tiny canon of TNG holodeck episodes up to this point: “The Big Goodbye”, where the very title refers to terminating another simulated person who has become aware of his ontological status. Picard expresses no regret here for his actions in that near-identical situation. The only difference is that more CPU power and admin privileges have been allotted to Moriarty. Compare also “The Neutral Zone” (1988), where the writers strongly imply that civilized people in TNG have no fear of death (i.e. non-existence) and do not respect such fear.

Q.E.D., viz. the thought experiment is broken in each one of its parts. If you care about that sort of thing, the aesthetic experience of watching the episode is also poor. I suppose it is popular because of its pageantry and GEB-like game.

References here: “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Booby Trap” (1989), “The Offspring” (1990), “A Fistful of Datas” (1992), “Ship in a Bottle” (1993), “Phantasms” (1993).

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“The Outrageous Okona” (1988Moving picture, 45 minutes)

I appreciate the premise of the Enterprise meeting two hostile vessels that are so technologically inferior as to be harmless; it’s a nice change of pace, but there is nothing else in the A plot. Data’s B plot is even more pointless. It’s written with contempt both for the previous holodeck episode and for the actual study of humour as it existed in 1988, such as the work of Elliott Oring. By design, it has no content.

References here: “Phantasms” (1993), Firefly (2002).

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“Loud as a Whisper” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

An arrogant, inbred deaf-mute royal is hired to mediate in a genocidal war he knows nothing about.

The most deliciously beige episode of TNG: An off-white choir beams down from the blue-and-beige Enterprise interior to meet earth-toned humanoids on a rocky brown world. The simple special effects are very nice, though it just might be the 2012 retouch: Reddish skeletons consumed in a flash. The basic premise is not bad: The conflict on Solais is more believable than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) and it makes some sense that the peoples of Solais would glorify a famous mediator regardless of his actual competence. The quasi-Jungian choir must have looked good on paper; a little bit like Dune (1965).

Alas, the weaknesses pile right up. Researching a conflict to determine the facts is crucial for impartiality but never happens, even after the mediator is humbled. If the ship’s computer is able to translate every spoken language to English and back, it should obviously be able to handle a common sign language, just as Data does. If the mediator knew he’d want artistic decor, he should have requested it at the preparatory meeting, not on site and not from an engineer. If the theme was supposed to be disability—the mediator’s as well as La Forge’s—then how come all of the Solaisians are 100% physically intact, despite all their warring? Could casting not find a single one-armed extra? The final scene, of Riva alone at the table without so much as a bed roll, a piece of chalk or a scrap of human-compatible food, gives little cause for confidence and therefore undermines the idea of turning one’s disability to one’s advantage. There are good reasons why real-world mediators are not generally deaf or completely silent.

The premise of the episode represents an opportunity to start in medias res on the planet, introducing the choir to the Solaisians and having negotiations fail after a few minutes, concluding with hard-won progress in a later round of substantive negotiations concerning specific local culture and some disability-ability brought by war. The TV production model seems to have forbidden this, just as it forbade extensive serialization; instead, it required dead-end romance.

References here: “The Price” (1989), “Tin Man” (1990), “The Host” (1991), “Man of the People” (1992).

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“The Schizoid Man” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Whereas in “Datalore” (1988) Data investigated the site of his own creation, here he meets the mentor of his creator.

“Datalore” rehashed “The Enemy Within” (1966), which rehashed Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). This one rehashes “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), which rehashed Abrahamic possession fiction. Funnily enough, the results are almost identical in both cases: Brent Spiner gets to play evil for a while and nothing of value is learned.

References here: “Brothers” (1990).

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“Unnatural Selection” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Unnaturally rapid ageing wipes out the crew of another ship.

The brief creche scene, of psychic superhuman children at play doing telepathy and telekinesis, begs for comparison with Akira (1988). In the earlier film, the children—Akira himself among them—are natural talents, discovered and then artificially enhanced, provoking a disaster with inescapable, ineradicable consequences of the highest significance to human history. In the Trek version, the children are created by genetic engineering. One of the intentional features of this engineering—an offensive immune system unrelated to psychic ability—causes massive genetic damage in normal humans. This is what manifests as rapid ageing.

Nominally, the stakes are similar, but the actual consequences in Star Trek are limited to the destruction of one ship, which is itself nonsensical given how the mystery of the new pathology is resolved. It is implied that human genetic engineering was and will remain known and legal in the Federation, although later productions—including a prequel—are internally contradictory on this subject, as is “Space Seed” (1967). Even in a hard-nosed pro-science culture like that implied by “The Neutral Zone” (1988), itself contradicted elsewhere in TNG, it is inelegant to suppose that the Federation would allow such extensive and disparate modifications of human DNA for non-medical transhuman purposes, occurring simultaneously and in the same subjects, together in one locale. A subtle problem with the immune system is a good idea for a complication, and to make it curable only by distributed DNA repair is another good idea, but it’s the kind of problem you would spot in lab mice or with some other basic precaution available in the real world. To ignore that is stupid. To have the disease accelerate ageing linearly by a factor of about 50000 is silly. Massive genetic damage would not, for instance, turn your existing hair white or give you arthritis before causing more novel effects. Progeria can be distinguished from ageing partly in that it does not cause arthritis. The symptoms selected here must have had some naïve conceptual link in the writers’ minds with the reversed ageing and “skewed” DNA of “Too Short a Season” (1988), and perhaps the accelerated ageing of “Wink of an Eye” (1968). It’s a makeup department solution to a writers’ problem.

On a higher level, where Akira points to hubris in relation to cosmological forces and builds interesting social consequences, “Unnatural Selection” is only a cautionary tale about human genetic enhancement as a scientific pursuit, where even psychic powers fall under the domain of science and turn out to be incidental. The script’s conclusion on science is to be expected, given the moderate inside-the-envelope philosophy in most of Trek. It could have been as bad as Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984). In 2020, a corresponding SF TV series would have spun out at least half a season’s worth of consequences, and been better for it.

The lack of a meaningful quarantine procedure remains foolish. Pulaski’s death is heavily foreshadowed but averted, to my surprise. The method by which she is cured elevates O’Brien to a character for the first time, which is fun. His description seems to imply that normal ageing could be undone by the same method, and indeed any type of damage from genetic decay or disease, on the premise that a person’s transcoded DNA is literally one of the variables in their personal “pattern” for teleportation, and that teleportation effectively rebuilds the phenotype from such data as if replaying its life from conception. This in turn implies that genetic modification could be done with ease, in adult volunteers instead of germ cells or foetuses, and that undesirable consequences could be reversed without loss of life. Consider Data’s creator and that man’s mentor, both of them mad scientists working in isolation, like Victor Frankenstein. It is implied here that such scientists could readily and legally produce something worse than Khan, or better. This detail prompts the question why so much narrative weight is placed on one of the ship’s doctors, less on the other victims, and still less on technological or social possibility. Akira’s beauty, transgression and rich symbolism are missed.

References here: “The Hunted” (1990), “Tin Man” (1990), “Data’s Day” (1991), “The Wounded” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “New Ground” (1992).

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“A Matter of Honor” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Riker gets seconded to a Klingon ship with a subatomic bacteria problem.

The second appearance of Benzites is accompanied by Wesley’s surprise that these extraterrestrials look mutually similar in his eyes, yet can still tell each other apart. Compare the Romulan ear stunt in “The Enterprise Incident” (1968). Both scripts imply that the writers had a genuinely anthropocentric view not only of Trek but of the real world. On the same note, the new Klingons remain amusing. Here, they eat only the equivalent of surströmming: Various foods clearly meant to signal group affiliation and toughness, rather than provide the main functions of food. It looks like the special-effects team had fun. Alas, this particular look into Klingon culture does not make sense, especially not their concept of justified mutiny as Riker uses it. O’Brien continues to be a speaking part, seeing a bit of development.

The technobabble is lazy in this episode, but its premise is symptomatic in an interesting way. Subatomic bacteria is an oxymoron and there’s no reason to think neutrinos would be toxic to such life. The presence of life on the subatomic scale must be compared to the various larger lifeforms already encountered, including those of “The Immunity Syndrome” (1968), Encounter at Farpoint (1987) and “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988). The huge number of human races and near-perfect humanoid species, including Benzites and Klingons, occupy the middle of a wide range. The Benzites are here implied to have a mineral origin, but are still basically human.

The real reason why Wesley confuses the only two Benzites he’s ever seen is extradiegetic. Both characters were played by the same actor, in the same prosthetic and makeup. This functions as an unintentional metaphor for the way that almost all intermediate-sized organisms are scripted as humanoid so they can be cheaply played by humans in medium shot. This explanation does nothing for the fiction because it is extradiegetic, existing only outside the fiction.

Trek’s biophysics are doubly broken. The humanoid mid-range clump is implausible, the apparently thriving life forms on scales from the subatomic to the stellar are implausible, and the juxtaposition of both damages the illusion further, because it implies that life should be everywhere all the time, while leaving no reason for the clump. There was no plan for this to ever make sense. In the same way that Wesley’s comment shows the writers’ own expectation that they would be able to tell any two aliens apart, the kitsch biological worldbuilding shows naïveté and disinterest.

References here: “The Emissary” (1989), “Evolution” (1989), “Sins of the Father” (1990), “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), “New Ground” (1992), “Cost of Living” (1992), “Rules of Acquisition” (1993).

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“The Measure of a Man” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A court drama to resolve Data’s legal status.

The writing is noticeably sharper than the TNG norm, and the plot callbacks are denser. There are allusions to “The Naked Now” (1987), “Datalore” (1988) and “Skin of Evil” (1988) as well as the US history of slavery through Guinan, played by The Color Purple’s Goldberg. Once again, seriousness and continuity mark one of the most celebrated episodes, suggesting that a better show would have been possible.

After a promising start, the court drama is all bad. The argumentation follows “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) perfectly, making its broken train of thought almost explicit. The drama’s conclusion is that Data has a soul, an unconfirmed religious assertion in a world where psychic powers are nominally subject to science but not applied to the issue at hand. Despite the risibly high impact of Riker’s arguments against personhood, the writers fail to convey to what extent the problem is socially constructed. Actual plot continuity would have required the officers to be intimately familiar with greyscale personhood problems even just from xenobiology classes and everyday holodeck experiences like “The Big Goodbye” (1988). It’s a step up from the treatment of artificial intelligence in TOS, but it’s still untenable and anthropocentric. Despite the focus on gendered pronouns, the feminism is more impressive. Phillipa Louvois is two steps up from TOS’s soft-focus women, but unfortunately, she was a one-off.

References here: “The Offspring” (1990), “Dax” (1993).

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“The Dauphin” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Wesley as the suave sailor who’s seen it all is a terrible topos for a nerdy pubertal romance, but Riker and Guinan’s bad bar repartee is hilarious. I predicted the Animorphs plot twist—something similar happens in “The Survivor”—and did not like the worldbuilding; just another centuries-long war in optimistic Trek, with more of the metamorphosing magic from “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969) and the first crappy 3D CGI landscapes.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990), “The Host” (1991), “New Ground” (1992), “Aquiel” (1993), “The Storyteller” (1993).

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“Contagion” (1989Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The Enterprise’s sister ship, the Yamato, is destroyed by an ancient computer virus in the neutral zone.

One of the enduring foibles of Hollywood is the fear of exposition, and especially “frontloading”, which is opening with exposition. Producers assume that this challenges and therefore alienates a broad audience. The sheer density of exposition in this episode is greater than anything seen in the franchise up to this point. It completely dominates both the introduction and the first act, which is bold and refreshing. Of course it’s silly that the captain of the Yamato would have micro-vlogged about the basics, and that Wesley would ignore the chain of command and interrupt Picard—whose hobby from this point on is suddenly archaeology—for a similarly trivial briefing on the subject, but the intent is good and the implementation shows some artistic confidence, as well as trust in the viewer.

The exposition includes talk of a “galactic Rosetta stone” for a fallen, once widespread humanoid civilization, the Iconians of 200,000 years before, and it turns out these people had superior teleporters. This might reasonably have something to do with the ubiquity of humans throughout the galaxy and therefore with the fundamental premises of the franchise. Alas, no; an explanation for that would not come until 1993.

There’s good kitsch. Picard equates the mythical status of the Iconians with that of China “until Marco Polo traveled there”; the writers doing their research in the children’s section of the library. It’s funny how the first malfunction of the Enterprise’s own systems is a glitch in one of the self-opening doors. The second malfunction accompanies Picard’s first order of “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Another glitching door actually stops La Forge from discharging his duties in an emergency; maybe that’s why modern aircraft carriers don’t run all of their personnel doors on servos controlled by a single central computer.

The basic premise of a computer program infecting the ship’s central computer is good, in fact necessary. TNG would have been significantly worse if nothing like this ever happened. It should have happened earlier, and the ship should have been designed for the eventuality of electronic infiltration and warfare. Not all of the consequences are good: Techno-skeptical Pulaski joyously reverts to “your head and your heart and your hands” while Data characterizes one of the franchise’s many user-hazardous computer interface panels as an inexplicable “random” occurence.

There is enough raw material in this episode to frame a season’s worth of plot. Between this, “Conspiracy” (1988) and the Romulans, there would have been enough to build the narrative backbone of an appropriately brief and serialized TNG. Instead, the writers almost literally hit the reset button.

References here: “Evolution” (1989), “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Chase” (1993), “Force of Nature” (1993).

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“The Royale” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A 2037 NASA astronaut was abducted by aliens and trapped in a hotel from a dime novel.

This is effectively a holodeck episode without the holodeck: A moronic hybrid of “Metamorphosis” (1967), where early human spacefaring leads to first contact, “A Piece of the Action” (1968), where a piece of US mob culture shapes a remote place, “Spectre of the Gun” (1968), where the sets are unfinished, and the numerous episodes where super-powerful one-off alien forces are brought in to enable whatever the writers wanted to do in their bottle episode, never to return. In this case the aliens never even turn up or communicate and have no motives. In the final scene, Riker correctly concludes that “None of it makes any sense.”

That admission is a red flag in this bad writing about bad writing. Getting the last word, Picard replies that the mystery is akin to that of Fermat’s last theorem. There’s a perceptible difference in elegance. This is the first episode of Star Trek that feels not only fully derivative and pointless, but fully derivative specifically of other episodes of Star Trek.

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“Time Squared” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The plot contradicts “Assignment: Earth” (1968) where the Federation engages in deliberate time travel. Aside from this detail, TOS’s fascination with the captain’s status, and a somewhat naïve “mirror universe”-like conception of paradoxes, the episode is remarkably well written and directed. It’s high-strung and moody like “Obsession” (1967), a proper drama with Aristotelian unities. What’s initially presented as a character study of Riker turns out to be a character study of Picard, under interesting “sfnal” premises where he eventually kills himself six hours into the future. Poor O’Brien only gets to stand around dumb-founded on the big hangar set.

References here: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990), “Allegiance” (1990), “Parallels” (1993).

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“The Icarus Factor” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The actors butcher the Japanese dialogue in the “anbo-jyutsu” duel between Riker and his distant father, wherein the US writers display their love of karate, The Book of Five Rings (1643) and Urusei Yatsura (1981).

It was already confirmed in “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988) that Riker turned down his own command for his current position. To repeat his choice here—rather than three seasons later—is one of many mistakes. More importantly, the script fails to interrogate the ideology of self-improvement in relation to his choice. He remains in his comfort zone—and everyone approves—after it turns out that his father lied and cheated to drive him toward precisely the kind of advancement idealized in other episodes.

References here: “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990), “Family” (1990), “Second Chances” (1993), “Rivals” (1994).

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“Pen Pals” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Data violates the prime directive and gets a pat on the back.

The B plot here is Wesley commanding his first team for a survey. The results of the survey are pretty cool, but the archism turns out to be expectedly creepy. Wesley says to Riker, “Every time I try to give an order, something inside of me says, ‘What makes my judgement so superior to these people?’”, where the people in question are experts and Wesley is not. Riker answers the question as if the only problem was confidence, not domain knowledge or any other form of competence. Riker does admit that leaders make mistakes, but completely ignores what purpose is served by orders and when to give them. Naturally, it turns out that Wesley’s unmotivated decision to order an expert to do extra work, against the expert’s motivated advice from experience and probability, is what saves the day. This unlikely conclusion suggests that bosses know better than experts, who are just lazy. Though TNG is a lot more polished than TOS, it still runs on Carlyle’s great man theory and “Court Martial”’s contempt for ordinary people.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990), “Hero Worship” (1992), “Imaginary Friend” (1992).

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“Q Who” (1989Moving picture, 46 minutes)

The introduction of the Borg.

One of the weaknesses of Q as a concept is ironed out. The costumed pageantry is gone, just this once. The improductive, posturing cruelty is still present and the concept as a whole remains a convenience for bad writing. Stupidly, Guinan knew all about the Borg all along and told nobody, and is somehow a 200-year-old peer of Q, prompting the question why she isn’t doing Q’s work revealing the Borg.

On a higher level of writing, the Borg replace the bugs of “Conspiracy” (1988) in the position of a planned recurring threat. The swerve is ugly but it’s ultimately a good choice: The transgressive man-machine interface of cyberpunk is a welcome update to the similarly transgressive subversion of free will that comes with the 1950s-style alien brain parasite trope. The funny thing is they’re both communist metaphors. As depicted in this first outing, the Borg are like the soulless conformists of A Wrinkle in Time (1962), to the point that Federation instruments cannot detect signs of life when they’re docked into their stations. In the final scene, Picard concludes that Q and the Borg provide “a kick in our complacency”, indicating that the Borg’s caricature of collectivism stands in contrast both to Trek’s individualism and to its philosophy of self-improvement through struggle. With just a few tweaks to their visual design (not so much repetitive vacumolding, much more non-humanoid biological diversity, more of the unaesthetic pragmatism represented by the cube), this could have been an excellent choice.

References here: Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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“Samaritan Snare” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The A plot is La Forge taking the role of the Samaritan in Luke (ca. 80–110 CE) and suffering as a result, which is anti-Christian but not much else. Troi says the kidnappers are “unwilling to wait for the timely evolution of their species’ intellectual capacity” or, in other words, they’re too stupid to fend for themselves and don’t want to sit through another 50,000 years of natural selection. The actors do a good job of this farcical premise.

The B plot is Picard getting his heart replaced and expressing his love of William James. This is more fun, mainly because it’s peaceful and free of superstitious stigma against artificial hearts. Also, both the surgeons and the patient are dressed in blood red, which is fun kitsch. Alas, Pulaski stepping in to save Picard near death is a terrible solution: It would have been far better for anonymous experts to pull through in a situation where the crew’s superheroic abilities are disabled.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “Final Mission” (1990).

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“Up the Long Ladder” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Two divergent old human colonies are recontacted.

Solid kitsch. It’s both a Western genre crossover like “Spectre of the Gun” (1968) and a horror story about cloning. Both stories are poorly written. In particular, it makes little sense that the Irish Wild West feminist would wear a knitted crop top and fuck Riker on day one, and it also makes little sense that the entire crew of the Enterprise would refuse to donate DNA samples to a colony of clones.

The cloning idea is actually pretty great at its core. It could have been an episode about transformed social mores, akin to The Forever War (1974). It is made kitsch partly by its wildly misinformed pre-Dolly premises. Cloning technology here is inherently corrupting and all clones are created as hairless adults as opposed to growing from zygotes. A series of hilariously bathetic choices in the musical scoring of the climax sinch it. It is obvious that the writers thought being cloned would be horrifying, because they genuinely believed that it would both copy you as you were and diminish you, and furthermore, they believed that sexual reproduction does the same thing but does it right. This is more poorly conceived than “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973), in which cloning only becomes a serious problem when you also kill the original.

It’s funny to see such stupidity in an otherwise promising script. There’s a lot of really nice incidental detail: O’Brien jibes with the primitivists, the Enterprise is described as self-cleaning, its fire suppression system is well characterized though not shown, and it’s strongly implied that most apparently alcoholic drinks contain harmless “synthehol”, not ethanol and definitely not Synthol; this would be confirmed and clarified as a fairly recent development in a 1992 episode.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Imaginary Friend” (1992), “Relics” (1992), “A Man Alone” (1993), “Progress” (1993), “Sanctuary” (1993).

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“Manhunt” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

It was a bad idea to combine “Amok Time” (1967) with the worst part of “Haven” (1987) to build a sexist allegory of pushy menopausal women. It was a bad idea to reprise Dixon Hill on the holodeck from “The Big Goodbye” (1988) as a diversion from the first bad idea.

References here: “Clues” (1991).

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“The Emissary” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Klingons unaware of peace with the Federation.

To portray a half-human half-Klingon female, the makeup department went with stereotypical human femininity: Heavy rouge, mascara, eyeliner etc. The brow ridges are softer to go with rounder human facial features, the hair is a little less bristly and, most incongruously, the skin on K'Ehleyr is lighter than that of any full Klingon in the episode. This is an example of what TV Tropes refers to by the pun “Sexy Dimorphism”, the regression of a nominally non-human physiology to an idealized near-human form in females only. Compare the previous episode, where both Worf and the fish-like Antedeans (not sexed) are portrayed in a comedic light because they are not human and do not have human tastes in food or physical attractiveness. Compare also “A Matter of Honor” (1989), where a fully Klingon female is portrayed as grotesque both in her appearance and in her sexual forwardness—which are interlinked—again for comedic effect. Finally, compare the anonymous monsters of Worf’s holodeck calisthenics program, reprised in this episode: They are neither comedic nor physically attractive, which leads illogically to the implication that they are male.

There are many worse offenders than Star Trek when it comes to these tensions, which arise from a natural extension of deictic, literally self-centered thinking to one’s sex and species as illusory norms in sexism and a form of anthropocentrism akin to racism. US cartoons of the period were typically much worse at this sort of thing. Here, it’s on the level of mild caricature of anything beyond the norm, and is merely dull.

More surprising is the repetition of various tropes from the presentation of Spock in TOS. He was vaguely torn between two natures, both allegorical of sides of human nature, with no clear distinction made between species and culture (nurture). Spock was judged by his failures according to either standard. It is the same with K'Ehleyr; no development since the ’60s.

References here: “Reunion” (1990), Emissary (1993).

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“Peak Performance” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

One ass-pull after another. Notice especially how a species of business-minded, proud, Data-equivalent geniuses interested in strategy are not already running the galaxy, and how Burke, evidently a stand-in for Worf, seems dangerously incompetent. This prompts the question why the Enterprise doesn’t just blow up on every third shift, when Carlyle’s blessed few are asleep.

References here: “Violations” (1992).

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“Shades of Gray” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The only flicker of interest in this clip show is that “Conspiracy” (1988) is visually quoted, indicating that its plot was not retconned, despite the previous episode (“Peak Performance”) explicitly referencing the Borg instead. The editors weren’t concerned with cleaning up.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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“Evolution” (1989Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Dr. Crusher returns, Pulaski having already left. Wesley Crusher accidentally releases a breeding pair of medical nanites, endangering a larger scientific experiment.

The nanites introduced here at the start of the third season are portrayed as a standard medical technology, which makes sense. It would account for some of the proven advances in medicine, as well as explaining why Wesley is experimenting on them; if they are common, then it’s reasonable to feature them in a school project. The scenario of their release is similar to that of “grey goo”, a term coined by K. Eric Drexler in 1986. This puts the script’s basic premises in the territory of extrapolation from then-current science, and promises a reasonable bit of worldbuilding with far-reaching consequences, much like “Contagion” (1989). Indeed, here too, the writers acknowledge the reliance of the crew on the central computer, and the hazard of even random failures.

Alas, the plot quickly goes off the rails. The central computer’s self-correcting abilities, supposedly fault-free throughout the fleet for generations, should be able to detect the physical degradation of a CPU. If nanites are medically safe, they should be safe for use by the self-correcting feature itself, and they don’t need to be self-replicating. Detecting rogue nanites should certainly not be a problem, given that it could be done at a distance, on another ship and with vastly smaller organisms, in “A Matter of Honor” (1989). The nanites should not leap to human-level intelligence or interests, nor be satisified with a planet. This conclusion is anthropomorphizing and ill considered.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Brothers” (1990), “Cost of Living” (1992), Scrubs (2001).

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“The Ensigns of Command” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

This seems to be where TNG hit its stride, putting this and all subsequent seasons of the show a point above the first two seasons in average IMDb rating. There’s a lot of “good TV” about it: Romance, comedy, high drama and good character scenes. It’s also good science fiction. I especially appreciate the non-humanoid aliens, with their non-human language and mentality; they are even better than the slugs of “The Eye of the Beholder” (1974) because they are not an allegory for human behaviour. I also appreciate La Forge’s rare conclusion, after an appropriate investigation, that the Hail-Mary technical innovation Picard has requested can be done, by a team of 100 in 15 years.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Night Terrors” (1991).

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“The Survivors” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

An old couple survive alone on a planet otherwise devastated by a Husnock attack.

There’s a quality to it that reminds me of SF short stories as they were written for anthologies in the 1950s. It’s Ray Bradbury-esque in its toxic nostalgia. At the same time, it uses the established elements of the franchise well. Troi’s B plot is both integrated into the A plot and smarter than “The Child” (1988). Michael Dorn aces the delivery of Worf’s diplomacy (“Good tea. Nice house.”). The commonplace franchise motifs, of cornucopia, lotus-eating and an overwhelming alien threat, are not cheap plot devices here. The humans do not fawn archistically over the godlike being, nor do they extract some cheap moral point. It’s simple, but this time, it’s well done.

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“Who Watches the Watchers” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Xenoanthropologists accidentally reveal their presence to the Mintakans, an uncontacted Renaissance-equivalent society.

The plot is forced, not only in relying on coincidence. In particular, the core cast is too heavily involved: It would have made more sense for Dr. Crusher to be perceived as divine and for hobbyist actors to beam down in place of Troi and Riker, since Troi can sense emotions over astronomic distances anyway. The Mintakans are boring: They seem to have almost no culture, their purported similarity to Vulcans is not actually used, and Liko’s religious experience drops quickly into psychosis in this atheist parable. It’s an odd touch for the chief anthropologist to claim that the rise of religion is inevitable, as if in Asimov’s psychohistory.

For all that, the writers manage to get their point across. They apparently picked Picard to have him swim against the current of archism in Trek. Recall that, according to “Court Martial” (1967), Captain Kirk was “no ordinary human being”; instead he was the sort of man who could fuck a slave in “Bread and Circuses” (1968) and get away with a clean conscience. Picard, on the other hand, says to the ignorant Liko that “You are nobody’s servant”, and lets himself be shot, not as a blood sacrifice à la Jesus but to show religion and hierarchy as false. This is one of those instances where Star Trek does seem honestly utopian.

References here: “Allegiance” (1990), “First Contact” (1991), “Homeward” (1994).

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“The Bonding” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A crewmember dies exploring a booby-trapped dungeon, leaving a 12-year-old orphan.

It’s not a great treatment of death, and the writers fail to formulate any meaningful defence of Trek’s refusal to extend life very far beyond Yahweh’s limit of 120 years, but hey, at least they tried, and they didn’t make a stereotypical ghost story out of the mother’s return. They did, however, fail to account for how a child in such a situation could simply go to the holodeck and have the same experience, which should have been the plot.

References here: “Half a Life” (1991), “Imaginary Friend” (1992), “Inheritance” (1993).

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“Booby Trap” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

La Forge’s having no luck with the ladies and has to get the ship out of an ancient asteroid-field trap.

This is another episode where the ship’s computer comes to the fore as a potential character, in the tradition of “Wolf in the Fold” (1967). In this incident, Picard nearly gives it the conn and worries about the ship controlling its crew, inverting the normal hierarchy, but the usual human-chauvinist claptrap wins the day.

The problem of the trap is all technobabble, as opposed to a meaningful engineering challenge. The romance narrative is polluted by this technobabble but so well done in other respects that it shows a kind of maturity to the concept of the holodeck, which is where it takes place. The hologram can now be shut down safely. Plausibility demands this feature, which contradicts “The Big Goodbye” (1988). La Forge gradually simulates more and more of a dead propulsion system designer, thus ending up on the holodeck where they can work together. This demonstrates the holodeck’s promise as a human-machine interface and an id machine of sorts, better than any previous episode.

Since it is the ship’s computer doing all the thinking for the designer, the episode raises the same questions about efficient problem-solving as “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) and actually answers one of them: It is now ethically good to run a simulation of a brilliant expert to solve a problem, even when the energy it requires is scarce. This implies, again and even more strongly, that it should be common, prefiguring the Doctor of Star Trek: Voyager. The imagined dilemma of “The Big Goodbye” is discarded: The designer is always aware of her ontological status, and either hard-coded or sufficiently intelligent not to try to change it.

References here: “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “Aquiel” (1993), “Phantasms” (1993).

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“The Enemy” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

For the first time in Star Trek history, a Federation officer’s uniform gets really dirty. As usual, this prompts the question why he isn’t wearing appropriate clothing.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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“The Price” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Troi’s sudden love story and insincere moral dilemma in this episode have the emphasis of an A plot. They do not have the abject stupidity of “The Child” (1988), but the writing and acting don’t sell them, just as it was in “Loud as a Whisper” (1989). I wonder why it was Troi who got all these romantic plots and subplots, while Riker got the less romantic one-night stands. I suppose it has to do with Troi’s telepathy, which makes the character almost a caricature of a prosocial woman. Ral, having the same supernatural ability but being a man, is the villain, in the tradition of male villains having some conspicuous feminine quality. Here, Sirtis gets to do calisthenics with McFadden in bust-emphasizing leotards, as if neither of them knew any other women; another touch of fan service as in “The Naked Now” (1987).

The most interesting part of the episode is the opening scene, where Troi both finds her job tiresome and expresses dissatisfaction with the synthetic food she’s always eating. This scene is like “The Neutral Zone” (1988) in its incongruent minority view of the franchise’s human culture, but whereas “The Neutral Zone” teases an unsentimental utopia, “The Price” deviates in the opposite direction: A sentimental dystopia patterned after “The Molecular Café” (1963) and the common intuition that anything made easy is therefore fake and bad.

References here: “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), “Data’s Day” (1991), “The Host” (1991), “The First Duty” (1992), “Time’s Arrow: Part 2” (1992), “Progress” (1993), “Second Chances” (1993).

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“The Vengeance Factor” (1989Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

There are many levels of autonomy.

The punk-rock costumes are adorable. The suggestion that the “Gatherers” need a piece of land given to them to give up their nomadic lifestyle puts another dent in the idea of “the final frontier”, where land would be cheap.

References here: “The High Ground” (1990).

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“The Defector” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Having tried comedy and music, Data tries Shakespeare. The point of interest here is the Romulan costume, which looks as if a US designer had made a quick pencil sketch of a kimono and sent it straight to production.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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“The Hunted” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The irreversible programming of Angosian soldiers.

Excellent treatment of the Prime Directive in this Vietnam War allegory, as thinly veiled as those of TOS. This one draws on a science-fictionalized form of military indoctrination similar to the “eptification” of Stand on Zanzibar (1968). It’s on the near side of transhumanism, but the effects are almost as drastic as “Space Seed” (1967) and “Unnatural Selection” (1989), as they should be. The costume design is good kitsch: Danar’s suit has a diffuse dark line down the back, all the way through his ass crack, which is probably intended to give the illusion of muscles.

On a side note, this episode canonized the stagehands’ term for the interior crawl spaces in the franchise’s spacecraft, the “Jefferies tubes”. Intradiegetically they were named after a 22nd-century engineer, extradiegetically after Matt Jefferies, the real-world designer of the original Enterprise model and art director on TOS. In Aniara (1956), there is a “first engineer” character whose chief expertise is in undescribed “Yesser tubes” (yessertuber); it would have been fun if these two kinds of tubes were somehow related.

References here: “The Wounded” (1991).

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“The High Ground” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

An allegory of the Troubles, wherein it is stated that “Irish unification” took place in 2024, Gates McFadden’s big watery eyes are at their best, and the hair-and-makeup department decides to just go with a single streak of grey hair as the defining trait of an entire human civilization. As a depiction of hate, it’s far more nuanced and intelligent than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) or “The Vengeance Factor” (1989), with some nice extrapolation from non-standard teleportation technology.

References here: “The Wounded” (1991), “Ensign Ro” (1991).

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“Déjà Q” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Q.

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“A Matter of Perspective” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Riker is accused of murder.

“Wolf in the Fold” (1967) has a computer powerfully assisting a trial. The basic plot of this episode is a little less silly, but instead of providing expert analysis, here the ship’s computer simply displays a series of reconstructions of a crime, directed by the accused and the witnesses. I guess it’s supposed to be Rashomon (1950), with all ambiguity eventually resolved by hypertech forensics. The thing is that presenting a perfectly convincing virtual reality is a bad idea in itself, for psychological reasons. By design, real-world trials are held with a bare minimum of comparable stimuli.

References here: “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Drumhead” (1991), “Schisms” (1992).

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“Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The most militarily themed episode since “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (1973). It is a pleasingly elegant union of “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Time Squared” (1989) and classic space opera. It is particularly smart to tell the story through the eyes of a party doomed by history having gone “wrong”: The alternate Picard agrees to send the Enterprise C back for another go because he knows the Federation is losing its war, his ship is indeed on the verge of being destroyed, and it is strongly implied that the Enterprise C itself is also lost, though this was officially retconned at the start of season 5. Everybody in the main body of the episode is thus killed in battle, to the effect that Picard’s sacrifice is undone and unremembered, as he intended. For once, the episodic nature of the series is put to good use. Ironically, the Enterprise’s bridge is as dark as bridges would be in later, less episodic Star Trek series like the sequel, Picard.

It is also clever that Yar returns after her first-season death. This is fan service, and another one of those pirate-ship-versus-empty-sky problems of alternate history: It’s silly that her being there would be the biggest difference in the crew after 22 years of open war. It is only clever in that it adds nuance (the alternative isn’t all bad), and a bitter sweetness stronger than Kirk’s fling with Edith Keeler. Rather than choosing life, Yar chooses to improve upon what Guinan calls an “empty” death, which is only more fan service and dramatic inflation.

Guinan’s part in the story is not clever. I really like the implication that this sort of thing is the reason for her personality, but it does not make sense that she perceives the timeline mainly in terms of right and wrong, without being able to articulate what’s different, and yet people still believe her. As in “Assignment: Earth” (1968), this means there’s a canon among all possible events, which is teleological and dull.

References here: “Redemption: Part 2” (1991), “Cause and Effect” (1992).

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“The Offspring” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Data’s child.

In a sense it’s the union of “The Child” (1988) and “The Measure of a Man” (1989). The writing is better than either of the two. Though there are elements of the stereotypical robot sitcom and the ending is sentimental, the writers hit some impressive marks along the way. The production even included a relevant scene with a non-hetero couple, but unfortunately, it was cut by social conservatives.

Lal, at first, is explicitly non-gendered, by design and for good reason. Picard stands on libertarian principle, like a Heinlein hero, not merely squirming under the traditional Trek incompetence of anybody above the captain but actually making a political point consistent with his society’s ideals. Most importantly, in Picard’s first conversation with Data on the subject, it becomes apparent that while Picard assumes Data has not thought the matter through, it is Picard who has not.

“Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) makes an argument and ignores the biological parallel to that argument. Here, Data brings up the biological parallel to defend his actions, and he manages to do this without invoking either anthropocentrism or a slippery-slope existential-threat model of reproducing AI. It’s just a valid argument against essentialism. Haftel’s later bus-factor argument is also valid, which by the standards of Star Trek is a triumph of reason, worldbuilding and functional drama. It’s quite possibly the best script in the franchise up to this point, and Spiner’s acting does it justice.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “In Theory” (1991), “The Outcast” (1992).

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“Sins of the Father” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

With an arrogant seconded officer on board, the Enterprise visits the capital of the “Klingon Imperial Empire”.

The new Klingons continue to be a fun fantasy race, and an inversion of “A Matter of Honor” (1989) would come naturally in the continued exploration of it. This episode baits that inversion and then becomes a more myopic affair: A lost sibling in Worf’s dubious biography and a court drama coloured less by established Klingon culture than by the title’s allusion to the Old Testament (ca. 164 BCE) and by Picard’s nonsensical heroics, including even TOS-style fisticuffs where the captain draws his knife too slowly to explain his survival.

As Picard himself points out, it doesn’t make sense that the Klingons would forsake honour, something they love, to avert something they also love: a righteous struggle. Framed slightly better, this choice about the culture would have been an effective setup for the Klingon civil war because, although it is generic and internally contradictory, it does bring some depth and stakes to the setting. It is, at the very least, another step toward plot serialization. What really brings it down is how it makes Worf a kind of Ruritanian prince, and a linchpin in the fate of his entire civilization, in much the same way that Wesley is named the Mozart of future physics in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987).

Yar’s rape gangs were pretty dumb, but her having the fortitude to overcome them was quite sufficient for the dramatic apex of the back story of a security officer. It is a poor conceit to make some individual members of the bridge crew so much more important than that in contexts unrelated to their jobs. It must be intended to give them a glamorous aura, but what it really does is prompt the question why they’re still working in harm’s way.

References here: “Reunion” (1990), “Redemption: Part 1” (1991).

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“Allegiance” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A mysterious blue monolith abducts Picard, leaving an impostor.

The narrative framework is an extreme example of previously unknown, immediately forgotten, nameless aliens arranging the plot. It is a premise that they are powerful enough to do it, and a separate premise that they are so weak as to be humiliated by the bridge crew as soon as they reveal themselves. In this case, the plot is a set of two implausible logic-puzzle tests, which only makes the abusive framework more stupid.

That said, the subject matter of the plot, once forced into play, is a great deal better than the similar “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969). Instead of the impostor simply challenging Picard for his authority, the super-powerful aliens are doing it to find out more about authority, because they don’t have it and don’t need it. There is no anarchist or anarchonist purpose in this; quite the opposite. When the impostor is recognized, it is by his joviality and camaraderie with the crew, which are recognized as wicked, not because he eventually does abuse authority. Meanwhile, the real Picard incorrectly identifies Esoqq, a still-more aggressive parody of a Klingon, as an anarchist. The “Mizarian” Tholl more closely models the behaviour of real-world anarchists. Predictably, it is Picard himself, “trained to command”, who solves the puzzle. Despite open reference to his more egalitarian sacrifice in “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989), this conclusion is archist, unlike and worse than the conclusion of “The Naked Now” (1987), but it is still smarter than a Picard-on-Picard fist fight would have been. It’s just not as smart as “Time Squared” (1989), the previous double-Picard episode.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990), “Conundrum” (1992), “Liaisons” (1993).

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“Captain’s Holiday” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The script’s concept of archaeology is out of 1920s pulps. Risa, another pleasure planet which would be reused throughout the rest of TNG, is more nuanced than “Shore Leave” (1966) or “Justice” (1987), but for some reason, it’s got the same amount of sex kittens and they’re viewed in a similar light, except by the captain with his “Protestant work ethic”-style contempt for lotus-eating.

References here: “Qpid” (1991), “The Game” (1991), “The Inner Light” (1992).

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“Tin Man” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A tormented psychic talent is sent to contact a huge alien creature—not humanoid but codenamed “Tin Man”—approaching a dying sun.

A candidate for the best episode of the series. Tam Elbrun, the psychic, combines something of the double-edged titular character of “The Empath” (1968) with the melancholy new-wave goodness and anguish of Gateway (1977). The creature itself, and the larger plot around it, constitute a more intelligent remake of “Obsession” (1967) and “The Doomsday Machine” (1967), the events of which are forgotten here, which is a plot hole. I like that Elbrun’s appearance is ordinary: He’s not TV handsome, not charismatic and not evil, and his interaction with Troi makes perfect sense, unlike the romance plots of “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) etc. Psychic powers are explored more deeply than in previous episodes, without being a joke (Troi’s mother) or breaking the ontology (“Where No One Has Gone Before”), though an allegory of autism is a possible reading. It’s an extrapolative view of the fictional phenomena as natural and subject to science, as in “Unnatural Selection” (1989). The only thing really wrong with the script is how it ties into Data’s character development, squeezing in a teleological view of human life that is hollow and disconnected from the rest of the script.

References here: “Ménage à Troi” (1990).

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“Hollow Pursuits” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Barclay is too shy for Engineering.

This is the second time the writers use the holodeck very well, the first one being “Booby Trap” (1989). Censorship forbids direct confirmation that Barclay is having sex with simulated members of the crew, but the implication is strong enough, and the reactions are suitably nuanced. There is an overriding authorial interpretation of this practise as lotus-eating and therefore morally wrong, but not primarily because it offends Riker and Troi. Instead, framing and outcome mark La Forge’s point of view as correct: He respects Barclay’s privacy, worrying only that such uses for the holodeck are “seclusive”, a funny way of saying antisocial.

In La Forge’s interpretation, the moral problem is not what Barclay is doing to others but what he isn’t: By avoiding deep social relationships, he deviates from implicit requirements on the personality of a Starfleet engineer. The root cause is a combination of insecurity, shyness and creativity. Forcing Barclay to interact more with others and take more responsibility for real-world problems—using his creative lateral thinking—addresses the root cause and makes the man delete his holodeck scenarios of his own accord; all but one of them. This is clearly meant to seem wholesome, wise and conducive to personal growth, like all the other moral lessons of Trek.

Contrary to Riker’s assumption, there is apparently no regulation against simulating versions of one’s colleagues for one’s own amusement. Though the high-ranking officers have not heard of it being done, personal use of the holodeck is not metered or monitored. Other forms of wish fulfillment would, I assume, be common and more widely accepted. Compare, for instance, Worf’s recurring calisthenics program to Barclay’s rigged Alexandre Dumas-style sword fights: Both are essentially personal violence for entertainment, without real suffering or even simulated cruelty.

The door to the holodeck stays unlocked and is not marked for privacy. Some critics consider this a plot hole, but I think it plays into the moralism. It could be meant to limit activities like Barclay’s. Perhaps the episode itself is meant in part to do worldbuilding, providing a canonical explanation for why lotus-eating on the holodeck is neither banned nor popular: It has the social status of porn and heavy drinking ca. 1990. It is not explicitly compared to drug use, but it is shown to be harmful in itself. While this conclusion is likely false, it is still a worthwhile thought experiment to attempt because the underlying question seems more relevant to human psychology and society than all previous holodeck episodes. Self-serving fantasy, after all, rushes into each new artistic medium we invent. Before worrying about accidentally producing personhood by accurate simulation, the designers of the ship would have asked “What do people want to do?” Consider, for example, what the makers of TNG thought their own audience wanted to see, such as the exercise scene in “The Price” (1989), a scene objectifying both of the very same women who exist in caricature on Barclay’s holodeck. This detail, as well the makers’ consistent denial and Barclay’s later appearances, speak against the interpretation of Barclay himself as a caricature of the fans.

There is a similar sense of relevance in the secondary focus of the plot, wherein seemingly unrelated malfunctions stack up. There are holes in this plot, including failure to check a detailed manifest or teleporter log, all of the suspect substances being made up like the ones in “Requiem for Methuselah” (1969), and the climax, where a physical jam causes the entire ship to accelerate uncontrollably, exceeding all safeguards in a dull ticking-clock set piece. All of that aside, it is a fun environmental problem. More importantly, it provides the franchise’s most detailed look at ordinary crew members up to this point: Hiring, firing, bullying, division of labour, daily procedure, dispute resolution, and human life on board in general. Coupled with Barclay’s realistic roundedness, this is a step forward.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991), “The Nth Degree” (1991), “The Host” (1991), “Cost of Living” (1992), “Realm of Fear” (1992), “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993), USS Callister (2017).

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“The Most Toys” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Data is abducted by a collector.

The plot belongs in a 1950s US comic book. The only difference is that Data is unemotional in the naïve manner of Spock, and therefore not anguished by cartoon evil, as the crew was in “Skin of Evil” (1988). As in “The Neutral Zone” (1988), Picard takes the naturalistic, dysteleological perspective on death. Worf’s replacement as head of security is not even mentioned. As in “The Man Trap” (1966), an alien is played by a human actor’s hand.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “A Matter of Time” (1991), “Descent: Part 2” (1993).

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“Sarek” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Quoth Troi: “Vulcans do have the same basic emotions we do. They’ve just learned to repress them.” That important clarification, 24 years overdue, improves on Sarek’s own description in “Yesteryear” (1973). It is about as close as the writers got to an admission on screen that the concept of the Vulcans, being an allegory of a false Cartesian emotion-reason dichotomy, bolted onto unrelated magical powers and an unrelated alien species cross-breeding with humans, was always a bad one. Here the writers attempt to reintegrate across that dichotomy by means of senile disease, which is doomed to fail, as it failed for sex in “Amok Time” (1967).

Instead of a denouement, we get only Picard emoting in a chair, as a sort of power behind the throne: The secret hero suffering for the greater good while another man gets the glory. Apparently, lots of fans are happy just watching Patrick Stewart acting in that chair. I’m not. It’s mildly interesting that TNG brought up senility, but although this is better than “The Deadly Years” (1967), it was not done to confront the franchise’s aversion to transhumanism.

References here: “Night Terrors” (1991), “The Host” (1991), “Unification: Part 1” (1991), “Relics” (1992), All Good Things (1994), “Parkvakten i Sarek” (2016).

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“Ménage à Troi” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The title’s pun refers to Riker being imprisoned together with the Trois. Deanna is secondary here to Lwaxana Troi, the mother, played by Majel Barrett (1932–2008). Barrett was also TOS’s Nurse Chapel, the classic voice of the ship’s computer in all series up to this point and some later ones, more roles than any other actor in TAS, and a significant figure in fandom. If Roddenberry had gotten his way, Barrett would have been the original first officer instead of Spock, as seen in Star Trek: The Unseen Pilot (1965/1986). If Lucille Ball had gotten her way, the pair of them would have been fired early on, because Ball abhored both nepotism and the fact that Roddenberry was committing adultery against his first wife with Barrett before marrying Barrett instead in 1969, while also having an affair with Nichelle Nichols.

I mention this because Barrett’s appearance as Lwaxana in this episode, the third of six in TNG, seems aimed to add a bit more depth to what has been a sexist stereotype: A belittling, cajoling, loud, vicious, confident and sexually assertive older woman with few friends. Notice how Picard’s loathing and Tog’s wooing of Lwaxana are both played only for laughs, and how she and Deanna engage in precisely the kind of stylized interpersonal drama that is common on other shows, but from which TNG is otherwise liberated (excepting the preceding episode among others, usually with a supernatural explanation). Alas, the character was so poorly designed from the beginning and the abduction plot so weak that the episode is still boring, but I appreciate the attempt to spotlight Barrett as capable of more than the stereotype. This is part of an ambivalent rebound from the more open sexism of the first couple of seasons, typified by “The Child” (1988) and both Crosby and McFadden leaving the show.

The episode also brings poor new details on Ferengi society. They are immune to telepathy because their neurology is fundamentally different, apparently even stranger than “Tin Man”’s, even though the Ferengi are an allegory for human greed, like the trolls of mythology. Their ships look much more like human-built ships than do the Klingons’, despite both their alien neurology and the allegory. Their ears are erogenous, part of a curious phenomenon where humanoid aliens in SF have their most prominent non-human feature sexualized, as with Star Wars’s Twi'lek and their erogenous appendages to the head.

Another unfortunate detail is that Wesley, when prompted to consider how things might change in the years to come, elects to stay on the Enterprise instead of going to the academy, and is rewarded with a field promotion. Precisely as with Riker and Picard refusing promotions that would have taken them off the ship, and being more loved for it, Wesley remains in his comfort zone, or his rut, depending on how you want to look at it. This is hypocrisy, because the show preaches a different kind of personal ambition, whether you call it overachievement for power over others, or a less harmful ideal of challenging oneself to realize one’s potential. Even as described in this episode, this ideal is supposed to include the willingness to embrace change and let go of familiar comforts, yet the conclusion betrays the ideology yet again.

References here: “Remember Me” (1990), “Half a Life” (1991), “The Forsaken” (1993).

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“Transfigurations” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

This episode clearly shows the vein of Christian fanfic underlying a lot of Star Trek’s evolutionary scenarios where more advanced beings resemble the god Jesus more closely, as in “Errand of Mercy” (1967) and “The Child” (1988). It’s also a remake of “Bread and Circuses” (1968), another vein of Christian fanfic. It’s done better here, juxtaposing space Jesus with a more probable fascist state and the Federation’s hospitality, despite the silly amnesia plot and a flirt with Dr. Crusher. Part of the reason I like it is that space Jesus’s effect on La Forge is to make him happy and romantically fulfilled: One of the rare instances where magic of this type does not have a downside. Also, O’Brien as the memil who’s injured himself on the holodeck is pretty funny.

References here: “The Inner Light” (1992).

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“The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Good continuity with respect to the Borg threat.

References here: “I Borg” (1992), “Parallels” (1993).

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“The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

I like Troi’s role in the deus ex machina process, but the jerk back to status quo ante—completed in the next episode—is painful. Even the DNA changes are miraculously reversed and thus revealed as a technobabble premise. The show would surely have been better if Picard had actually been lost forever, in place of hitherto unknown ships. Though the action is averted, Riker’s decision to tokkōtai the cube at warp speed also feels strange; it certainly demonstrates high stakes, but it isn’t anchored in the culture, as shown by Wesley’s astonishment.

The title should be taken as a reference to Locutus, but it can be read against the grain as a reference to Riker’s career choice. This two-parter reiterates a third and fourth time that Riker refuses to be promoted (cf. “The Icarus Factor”). Given that the Federation resolves to rebuild a decimated Starfleet, and that the crew of the Enterprise has an effective monopoly on experience of the Borg, half of the officers should be directly ordered to train other crews and command other ships. The writers try to have the best of both worlds: An unsentimental ideology and a sentimental ensemble-cast production with comfortably familiar faces in familiar roles every week.

It is a curious choice to continue highlighting this internal contrast while leaving Riker in place. It makes me wonder whether the writers and producers argued over the matter, with the writers—who were themselves more mobile than the cast—effectively pushing for a shift by continuing to bring up the paradox. It may have had something to do with the conflicting approaches of long-time executive producer Rick Berman, and relative newcomer Michael Piller, whose superior vision and stewardship put the show on track in the third season.

I also wonder whether there would have been a Locutus back when “Contagion” (1989) was the plan for a recurring threat. I suppose there would have been. Heinlein did it, after all.

References here: Emissary (1993), Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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“Family” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

In the aftermath of the first serious Borg attack on the Federation, Picard, Worf and Wesley meet close family.

The Enterprise’s orbital dock is a coherent piece of scaffolding, basically a fixture that I assume moves under its own power. This is much smarter than the garage in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

Notice how Worf’s Russian adoptive parents have a slight Hollywood Russian accent, whereas Picard’s French family speak British English; maybe Picard left his universal translator switched on. The writing briefly humanizes the captain, who blames himself for succumbing to the Borg and considers a new career. In a parallel to the characterization of Riker’s father in “The Icarus Factor” (1989), albeit a gentle one, the script suggests that Jean-Luc’s brother’s bullying and their father’s traditionalism helped produce a competitive streak in Jean-Luc that ultimately drove him to become a captain. As with Riker, they are reconciled, and Picard’s authority is legitimized, as usual. This is too faint to really serve as an explanatory model for how heroes are made in the franchise; it may be meant simply to underline heroism by emphasizing triumph over adversity. Compare the case of Worf, whose affinity for Klingon culture is cast here as a form of chūnibyō rebellion. The good closing shot suggests a more gentle idealism in the next generation, which is nice.

References here: “The Inner Light” (1992), “Progress” (1993), “Inheritance” (1993).

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“Brothers” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

With no further reference to the Borg, the show revisits the storyline of Data’s origins, deliberately contradicting and thus retconning facts presented in “Datalore” (1988) and “The Schizoid Man” (1989) while building upon “The Offspring” (1990) and introducing a chip that would give Data emotions.

Chock-a-block with good ideas, such as:

The emotion chip, alas, is not one of the good ideas. It’s more of the broken pre-scientific philosophy that underpinned Spock. Lore, the silly evil twin, also goes pretty far into Frankenstein (1818) territory, which doesn’t make sense either.

The parasites suggest realism à la We Who Are About To... (1976), in stark contrast to the franchise’s previous pleasure planets. Similarly, Data’s detour—caused by OEM malware akin to a parasite—is one of those moments on Star Trek where the scales fall from the writers’ eyes and they extrapolate from established facts, as they should have been doing all along. In most cases the consequences should be terrifying to Starfleet, but instead, people plod on, blissfully unable to draw conclusions. Previous examples of this phenomenon include the transporter malfunction in “The Enemy Within” (1966), the nanites in “Evolution” (1989), and the hypothesis formulated in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) that any of 4000 power sources on board can randomly malfunction, without it being detected, in such a way that glass melts elsewhere.

The only official consequence of Data’s detour is that Riker wants to talk to him about it later, in a scene that never actually occurs. This is fun kitsch, but disappointing. Data’s extreme effectiveness and obvious inventiveness under the influence of Soong’s signal to return call into question both Starfleet’s IT security and why Data has not been more effective solving problems up to this point, such as in “The Most Toys” (1990). At the same time, it invalidates the Frankenstein analogy. Clearly, Data under the influence is the real Data. There is no anguish there, no possibility of a grievance for being created with flaws. Data’s talkative normal personality must be running on top of what we see in this episode, and it’s slowing him down.

References here: “Remember Me” (1990), “Clues” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Nth Degree” (1991), “Power Play” (1992), “A Fistful of Datas” (1992), “Descent: Part 2” (1993), “Phantasms” (1993), “Necessary Evil” (1993).

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“Remember Me” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Dr. Crusher imagines an old friend with an improbable name.

Part of a vein of solipsist metaphors in SF. It’s comparable to “The Electric Ant” (1969), but oddly enough, it turns out to be a sequel to “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987). Again, the answers are spiritual. The premise is thus inelegant and the sutured causality of Crusher’s world is unappealing, taking the captain last, before modifying the ship itself, instead of limiting the world to Crusher’s existing knowledge. The resulting form of drama, one of personal trust in the face of contradictory or lacking evidence, would come to dominate a lot of bad TV SF in the following decades. Just like the bickering of “Ménage à Troi” (1990), this drama of personal trust is especially noticeable in Star Trek because the writers normally—thankfully—abstain from it. It’s spun here as akin to gaslighting, which is uncomfortable given the treatment of women on the cast.

The concept of a “warp bubble” is another prime example of technology in the franchise being effectively out of control without rational reaction (cf. “Brothers”). It is stupid that a teenager would be allowed to run experiments of ontological significance inside a fully crewed and operative flagship, inside a major space station. As a result, the script reads more like the ghost stories of TOS than as SF.

References here: “Clues” (1991), “Cause and Effect” (1992), “Parallels” (1993).

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“Legacy” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Tasha’s sister on the planet of rape gangs.

Following a number of other episodes studying the central characters by means of their backgrounds, this one does the same, but for a character who died in “Skin of Evil” (1988) and had a perfunctory backstory, not improved by this elaboration. Also, Data is strangely naïve and asserts that friendship is not emotional.

This episode contains another one of those glitches in vocabulary, like mistaking symptoms and asymptotes in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987). Dr. Crusher says “sonomic” chromosomes, perhaps thinking of Sonoma, California. As in the earlier case, the script uses the right word (in this case “somatic”). It also has a pronunciation guide for “chromosomes” (“KROH-mah-sohms”), a term coined in 1888 by von Waldeyer-Hartz. With an educated, well-functioning crew, it would have been easy to catch the actor’s error in rehearsal or on the set and do one more take of the basic shot-reverse-shot dialogue where it happens. There must have been many other cases where such errors were indeed caught, but the survival of some into the episodes as they aired clearly demonstrates how occasionally ambitious writing got chewed up by a fairly standard TV production model.

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“Reunion” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Alexander.

More Klingon intrigue (fun!), one Klingon played by Robert O’Reilly whose wild wide-open eyes rival Lloyd’s of The Search for Spock (fun!), the introduction of the impractical bat'leth (not fun), more crew members playing important roles in external events linking “The Emissary” (1989) to “Sins of the Father” (1990) (not fun). As usual with the more densely written episodes high on continuity, though some truly consequential events occur, the snap back to status quo ante is proportionately painful: Worf has done something murderously inappropriate, Picard asks him whether he wants to stay on, Worf says yeah; roll credits.

References here: “Redemption: Part 1” (1991), “The Outcast” (1992).

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“Future Imperfect” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Riker wakes up 16 years after he first caught a virus and cannot remember the intervening time, in which he brought the Federation to the brink of peaceful triumph.

A pleasantly ambiguous union of:

The way the first and second acts dwell on the possibilities of Riker’s future life, including a Ferengi crewman and the hope of peace with the Romulans, is typical of a novelistic, utopian SF imagination rather than Trek’s usual love-hate relationships with lotus-eating and sedentary habits. Indeed, many of the details predict how the franchise was about to evolve, despite the fact that it all turns out to be another id machine of sorts, like Total Recall (1990), and not a flash forward. Notice especially Riker’s comment to Troi that “I can’t imagine you leaving the Enterprise.” Of all the changes 16 years are supposed to bring, that’s the one he can’t believe. Wesley is absent and Picard has also been promoted, but all the rest of the core cast are still doing their old jobs. It’s not clear whether that’s supposed to be part of the fantasy’s appeal, or one of its cracks, or both. I think that ambiguity is important; it elevates what could have been another “Shades of Gray” (1989) to a worthwhile meditation on the franchise.

References here: “Parallels” (1993), All Good Things (1994).

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“Final Mission” (1990Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A follow-up to the less-interesting plot thread of “Samaritan Snare” (1989), where Wesley, the bland stand-in for the children in the audience, approaches the figure of authority in awe and trepidation. The plot of this one is dumber, barely working to get the pair into a dramatic situation that teases Picard’s death and averts it by Wesley hacking a DRM’d drinking fountain. Picard is juxtaposed with an alternative authority figure, the evil “captain” of a shuttle whose death is barely noticed and much less mourned. I like the simple scene of the bridge crew’s rescue; it’s cozy.

References here: “Frame of Mind” (1993).

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“The Loss” (1990Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Flatlanders disable Troi’s telepathy.

OK, the premises are dumb, like “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988), Troi’s reaction is dumb and the writing shows traces of “The Child” (1988), robbing the professional woman of her power by magical means. The implication, actually made explicit by Riker, is that Troi’s confidence stemmed from an unfair magical edge and resulting sense of superiority. Misogyny may have been the true purpose of the episode, and it’s not a good allegory for becoming disabled because it isn’t serialized. Still, it’s got some good character moments, acing the Bechdel test in multiple interactions between Crusher, Troi, Guinan and Brooks, a one-off secondary character. Allenby, Wesley’s replacement while he’s at the academy, adds yet another woman in a speaking role, though Allenby never developed a personality.

Continuing from the previous episode, which measured shearing forces in “metric tons per metre” and radiation levels in “millirads”, this one mentions “two million kilodynes”, instead of “two gigadynes”, which would be 20 kN in the SI system. The units are funny, but I really appreciate the use of real-world scales, a step up from stardates and Sulu’s “types A to M” in “Metamorphosis” (1967).

References here: “The Outcast” (1992).

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“Data’s Day” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

O’Brien marries Keiko, Data learns tap-dancing, and the Romulans simulate a transporter malfunction to retrieve a deep-cover agent masquerading as a famous Vulcan diplomat.

The nominal A plot is Data’s day-to-day life, narrated by Data for science. This is pleasant because Spiner’s portrayal is pleasant, but it comes with many bad ideas, including more Holmes and again the pretense that friendship is not emotional. Showing the dancing mainly in medium shot is a cheap trick.

The improbable Romulan ruse, which Troi should have caught, is discovered when Dr. Crusher detects bit-level errors in DNA, which she says are typical of replicated matter. This is another small squirming motion in the franchise’s unresolved ambivalence about authenticity, technology and human effort. It legitimizes Troi’s discomfort with synthetic food in “The Price” (1989), but it is not consistent with “Unnatural Selection” (1989), which shows instead that teleporters—a related technology—can perfectly record DNA and even restore it when damaged.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991), “Face of the Enemy” (1993).

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“The Wounded” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

O’Brien’s favourite captain flips out and they sing Thomas Moore’s “The Minstrel Boy”.

Though the prop department didn’t do a great job of Keiko’s food, and O’Brien would hardly be surprised by her diet after they get married, the continuity from the previous episode—limited to her interaction with O’Brien—is good: Simple enough for TV but meaningful, again showing that human life continues beyond the bridge and the problem of the week. It’s too bad the writers can’t keep O’Brien’s rank straight, but he gets to save the day, in brilliantly anti-war fashion. I like that development from “Unnatural Selection” (1989). It’s nice to see the pacifist theme continue from “The Hunted” (1990), “The High Ground” (1990) etc.; O’Brien’s central role makes this one another allegory of the Troubles.

This episode briefly mentions the Borg and introduces the Cardassians. The former would remain a rare high-power threat, whereas the latter would become the most referenced alien species in the last couple of seasons, being more easily manageable by the writers. I like the brown, I like the poorly vacuum-formed armour, and I like how Maxwell being right, albeit stupidly inarticulate, adds dimension to the episode’s diplomacy.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991), “I Borg” (1992).

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“Devil’s Due” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

This could have been TOS. Taking the trouble to show “Ardra” as a Legend-style pop-culture Satan patterned after Mastema repeats “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” (1973). The basic plot resembles “The Apple” (1967): Christian mythology, deception and a dubious, here quite literally millennarian utopia. It is especially dubious that Ardra truly did nothing to save Ventax, and instead works on seducing Picard, evidently out of personal lust unconnected to its con, which suggests that the intended attraction here is DuBois’s sexy dominatrix and not the critical thinking that franchise captains should have applied in many previous episodes. It’s still better than Q. The best part is the back story of Ventax, which gets a surprising amount of exposition through the trial: The local planetary civilization manages to avert environmental disaster and war through democracy and deliberate abstinence from the most destructive high technology. That high technology is not described, but living standards seem to have remained quite high without it. This is a surprisingly positive spin on what is essentially a deep-green political model, despite the religious mass hysteria that threatens the scientists in the opening.

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“Clues” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A 30-second blackout seems to have lasted longer.

The initial foreshadowing—which uses Dixon Hill again, despite Picard tiring of the holodeck version in “Manhunt”—is not promising, and the resolution is uniformly bad. Imagine the sequence of events told in chronological order; it doesn’t make sense. Still, the middle part of the episode is very good. It is the union of “Brothers” (1990) and “Remember Me” (1990), though unlike “Brothers”, it fails to show what a force Data should be under the circumstances. With a better, Oedipus Rex-level explanation for why knowing would have been bad, the episode could have been great.

References here: “Conundrum” (1992), “Timescape” (1993).

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“First Contact” (1991Moving picture, 44 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The union of FTL travel as a coming of age in “Metamorphosis” (1967) with Federation surveillance of a pre-contact society, as in “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989). The script even touches on UFO mythology, as in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967), and government conspiracy covering up alien contact, which is more novel for Trek. While the script would have benefited from a deeper physical and cultural divide, as usual, it was the right choice to align the narrative primarily with the Malcorians.

It’s implausible to have Riker as an infiltrator on the ground, with incomplete surgery and no effective tracking or artificial corpse substitution for emergency extraction, but Bebe Neuwirth’s bit part as a nurse is very funny: She nails the spoof of TOS-style sexuality. The more central Malcorian woman, Yale, reads like an Ann Druyan type, or Jill Tarter as the basis of Ellie Arroway in Contact (1985).

References here: “The Host” (1991), “Frame of Mind” (1993), “Homeward” (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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“Galaxy’s Child” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

In the A plot, La Forge revisits “Booby Trap” (1989), meeting Leah Brahms in person. In the B plot, the ship encounters yet another one of those mysterious giant creatures living in space and accidentally kill it.

“Booby Trap” called for a follow-up, but in the form of changing methods, not a romantic drama about the two individuals who happened to be involved the first time. There is only a moment of self-criticism: Dr. Brahms accuses La Forge of doing what Barclay is implied to have done in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), that is have sex with a computer rendition of a living person without the original’s knowledge or consent. This is self-criticism only in that it attacks the franchise’s normal plotting as implicitly sexist and exploitative; compare Yar’s behaviour in “The Naked Now” (1987). For that matter, compare how Troi and Dr. Crusher—not the men—both speak up in the B plot when it touches on maternity, even of the most exotic kind. However, the criticism is misapplied here. La Forge’s defence is poorly written in view of the fact that he irrationally hid what he had done because he was ashamed of it, even though it was genuinely innocent and not akin to Barclay’s actions. This means that the A plot is ill conceived. It’s the sort of writing done for ordinary TV drama, heavy on emotional confrontation, light on ideas. Even the B plot is similarly thin, leading nowhere, avoiding worldbuilding.

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“Night Terrors” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Not night terrors.

TNG’s strongest ghost story. As such it corresponds to “The Tholian Web” (1968) etc. The resolution is in the style of Bamse comics with respect to ghosts: The Federation ships’ loss of power is caused by a known natural phenomenon, while every other phenomenon (Troi’s dreams, the other Betazoid’s behaviour and the crews’ paranoia, hallucinations and dementia) are caused by fumbling attempts to convey a solution to the first phenomenon through control of dreams. This isn’t very good writing, because it requires multiple large coincidences (including hydrogen making a powerful non-nuclear explosive and the ticking-clock timing of the resolution) and exaggerates the effects of losing REM sleep, but there is an underlying elegance to it. As in “The Ensigns of Command” (1989), the non-humans feel alien. Worf’s madness underscores the serious mood, which corresponds to “Obsession” (1967), and Data saving the day is less of a deus ex machina than usual. Picard’s anecdote strengthens a metaphor like that of “Sarek” (1990), and rather better. The return of Keiko for a recurring look into everyday life on board is good fun; more of that would have been needed in many other episodes.

References here: “Cause and Effect” (1992), “Schisms” (1992), “A Man Alone” (1993), “Eye of the Beholder” (1994).

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“Identity Crisis” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

La Forge has spent the last five years as a pupa without even knowing it.

This is another one of those episodes, like “Contagion” (1989) and the more similar “Unnatural Selection” (1989), where the ideas could sustain half a season of a later show. I’m not saying the most central idea is good as implemented, but it is sufficiently suggestive of something very good. It creates a slow-acting phenomenon, an organism that reproduces in a manner akin to both a retrovirus and a cordyceps fungus but remains in control of the host body indefinitely, and is undetectable in its very long incubation. This is both worthy of a more systematic exploration and capable of posing a major threat. Granted, transmissibility is described as low, but this is contradicted by universal transmission on Tarchannen III, and was alterable in the writers’ room.

To devote only three quarters of an hour to the concept, with a compressed opening sequence, harms the material. Picard says he’ll leave a beacon to warn other ships, but that seems inadequate. As with his own recovery from corresponding assimilation, the biological effects clean up all too easily. It would have been stronger to see several members of the crew gradually disappearing over many episodes before any connection was made. In fact, I would have preferred such a dysteleological invader, on the pattern of a zombie apocalypse, to the more teleological and moral threats of “Conspiracy” (1988) and the Borg, even if it turned out that the Tarchannians were in some sense akin to the Great Race from The Shadow out of Time (1936) or otherwise eventually capable of aligning some intelligence with their complex instincts, as Data does in “Brothers” (1990).

The forensics are adorable. La Forge on the holodeck is like Deckard retroactively rotating the contents of a photo in Blade Runner (1982); it’s quite clear that there is not enough information in the “found footage” (notice the static camera as on old studio TV, despite a crewman operating something very light!) for what La Forge is doing, but it’s fun to see him pioneering good and novel uses for the holodeck again after “Booby Trap” (1989); “A Matter of Perspective” (1990) does not count. The use of UV lighting is similarly fun, and prefigures a slightly later era’s criminal dramas; it’s especially cute that it takes Data several minutes to create a new instrument for it when the ship’s several geologists, doctors and security staff must surely have UV lights, not to mention prints on file for the replicator. Making a dramatic hypertech-unobtainium sequence (Data’s workbench! Riker’s impatient checking in!) out of an ordinary blacklight demonstrates the producers’ ignorance even of quite simple existing technology, which is a charming bit of kitsch. Despite all the attention, the lamp emits some visible light anyway. Given that sequence, it is not surprising that TNG once again abuses more important concepts in genetics and evolutionary theory, but it sure is evocative SF in spite of all that.

References here: “Interface” (1993).

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“The Nth Degree” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Barclay is not shy enough for Engineering.

Revisiting the character from “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) is fine, but this outing is inadequately connected to the original. The writers try to make the connection through a symbolic eversion of Barclay’s original problem, so that the pattern of a self-serving fantasy is imposed upon the real world and Barclay is truly powerful, but it doesn’t work. All the parts of the script are just a bit broken, including the Cytherian, whose “dialogue” is at least funny. The physics reiterate the spiritual basis of “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987), and retcon the contents of the centre of the galaxy as described in “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” (1973). Barclay’s novel UI is also not plausible. “Brothers” (1990) is a superior depiction of superior intelligence.

References here: “Understand” (1991), “Phantasms” (1993).

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“Qpid” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Robin Hood as depicted here has nothing to do with “A Gest of Robyn Hode” (ca. 1450) or the earliest appearance of Guy of Gisbourne, and everything to do with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Incidentally, it was Basil Rathbone who played Gisbourne in that movie. The same actor played the version of Sherlock Holmes on which the writers based their knowledge of that character. I conclude that Federation records on literature were hacked by the Rathbone estate.

The opening is not so bad. I did not expect Vash to return from “Captain’s Holiday” (1990), and the romantic drama is somewhat successful with Picard, but the main body of the plot is ignorant pageantry built on cruel humiliation.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Cost of Living” (1992), “Q-Less” (1993).

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“The Drumhead” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Picard goes on trial for defending a quarter-Romulan medical technician against accusations of treason.

Possibly the darkest episode of the series. Kirk went on trial in “Court Martial” (1967), but as was common in the original series, that episode was mainly about the personal threat to Kirk as a hero and a figure of rightful authority. “The Drumhead” is smarter, ranging as far as racial prejudice and hateful obsession corresponding to “The Wounded” (1991) before ultimately focusing on the right to a fair trial even under the difficult conditions evidenced by “Data’s Day” (1991).

“Data’s Day” clearly illustrates why the Romulans would inspire Admiral Satie’s paranoia. Their fantasy HUMINT skills are better than the Soviets’. In addition, Satie is introduced as having discovered the threat of “Conspiracy” (1988). This is probably a retcon as she did not appear in that episode, and it does not make sense that its effect upon her mentality would be the only long-term consequence of the events depicted therein, but nevertheless, the writers acknowledge by allusion that the Federation does face threats of a type that could easily lead to creeping authoritarianism. It was good of them to devote an episode to the problem, as a non-trivial example of serialization and worldbuilding.

The script is not optimistic about the state of the Federation. Picard ultimately wins the day, but he does so in a sequence patterned after the McCarthy hearings as they were edited for the cinema in Point of Order (1964). Admiral Henry, a silent role not to be confused with the similarly sympathetic Admiral Haden of “The Wounded”, walks off the fancy courtroom set like McCarthy’s critics were falsely shown to do. These figures of authority—the admirals on regular duty—are more competent than Kirk’s masters in TOS, but not by much. Compare “A Matter of Perspective” (1990), where Picard himself tolerates an obviously broken local legal system that puts Riker at risk.

The episode is dark not because it implies that Star Trek’s brand of idealism is limited to the Enterprise while the rest of civilization shows some realistic rot, but because you can take the “star” out of “Starfleet” and read the entire episode as an allegory of the US justice system. The true threat here is not bad apples like Admiral Satie, who resembles Colonel Jessep of A Few Good Men (1989) but is on the other end of the proceedings. The threat is the weak democracy and martial culture of post-Gulf-War USA, which would lead to wars of aggression following the September 11 attacks a decade later. It is probably not a coincidence that both Henry and Haden are people of colour. Fantasy anti-Romulan racism maps onto the real-world racism of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). The episode does not extend to an indictment of the mass incarceration of people of colour under the terms of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, but that implication seems to hover not far below the distant horizon of interpretation.

This is darker than “Conspiracy”’s squick because it is more intimate on the level of real-world correspondence and comes with less catharsis: Instead of the orgasmic detonation of an alien’s head as in Scanners (1981), “The Drumhead” has Worf apologizing for being drawn in, like the kids in “The Wave” (1981). Alas, it is somewhat undermined by the canonical consequences in Star Trek: Picard (2020), where the Romulans continue infiltrating the Federation as if they were in fact racially evil and quite capable of the profound deception Satie suspects in Picard.

When this episode was written, Gene Roddenberry was in poor health after his 1989 stroke. He would die six months after it aired. The institution of marriage, which he had insisted would not exist in Star Trek’s future, had been canonized right alongside Romulan HUMINT in “Data’s Day”. Perhaps the rot of “The Drumhead” is another sign of Roddenberry’s loss of control, but I suppose not. Roddenberry’s TOS had meditations on race and justice. This one is better than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) or, for that matter, “Code of Honor” (1987).

References here: “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), “The First Duty” (1992), A Few Good Men (1992), “The Pegasus” (1994).

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“Half a Life” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An astrophysicist’s career pushing stars around on Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams is about to be cut short by his society, which kills all of its members at 60 Earth years of age. The elder Troi intervenes.

This second attempt to add nuance to Lwaxana is less successful than “Ménage à Troi” (1990) because she starts out just as mean as ever and still a clown. Her advocacy for natural death is unfortunately made contingent upon her own age, as well as her personal affection for Timicin, the physicist. The stereotypical termagant is thus doubly doomed by menopause unto death and the lasciviousness associated with morally bad women. Symbolically, she fights for Timicin’s life to defend her own status. The writers try to make this work by putting their own reasoned defence of a natural death into her mouth, but they seem to have struggled. The result is as much of a fantasy as “The Bonding” (1989).

It was a mistake to posit that all people must die at 60 and that their society will go to war to preserve this custom. It’s a kitsch premise, a straw-man stand-in that occludes a range of interesting real-world opinions on death by making them inapplicable. The episode should instead have concerned assisted suicide, or euthanasia, or some more sfnal idea such as transhumanism or the preservation of the dead in a digital afterlife (perhaps updating “All Our Yesterdays”), in the same way that the previous episode thrives on indirect real-world correspondence. Like “Suddenly Human” (1990), the episode instead brings up something potentially interesting, wastes the opportunity to address it, and concludes that it is best not to bother anyway.

The prolific David Ogden Stiers (1942–2018), who got his start in THX-1138 (1971/2004), does much to save the episode as Timicin. Though he wears the same sort of cheap and silly makeup the studio came up with for all the one-off humanoid species and has the unenviable job of falling in love with Lwaxana, he brings an atypical sincerity and naturalism to the role.

References here: “Ethics” (1992).

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“The Host” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A symbiotic ambassador has a medical emergency.

After Michael Piller and his favoured writers pulled TNG out of its initial difficulties, it seems as if the new team no longer knew what to do with Will Riker. Spock’s magic had gone to Troi, Spock’s character had gone to Data, and for that matter, Kirk’s ass-kicking ability had gone to Worf, leaving no unique quality or heritage for the first officer. Riker had been running on Kirk’s virility, but this was at odds with abandoning the “Wagon Train to the stars” pitch and fisticuffs of TOS. As a result, Riker was doing rather little through the third and fourth seasons of TNG, sometimes acting mainly as a conservative force like Pulaski, e.g. “Hollow Pursuits” (1990). “The Host” features him more heavily, perhaps as a contractual obligation, but as in “First Contact” (1991), the way he’s used is so strange that it underscores the problem.

The episode is the union of “The Dauphin” (1989) where the younger Crusher’s love is obstructed by a mind-body-dichotomy surprise and “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) where a negotiator with weirdly contradictory qualifications must stop a war, or in this case, avert one. The negotiator’s health problem and personal importance recall “Sarek” (1990) and are equally nonsensical. The symbiotic organism actually states that, despite working as an ambassador to more unitary humanoids for several decades, it never occurred to it to mention its own nature even to its lover, which is stupid. The use of Riker suffers both from these poor biological premises and from Frakes’s limited acting skills.

The symbolic level of the narrative is also broken. Crusher meeting Troi in the Enterprise beauty parlour is even more of a Bechdel dud than their exercise scene in “The Price” (1989). As usual, when these women have an affair of any kind, it’s charged with emotion and commitment, unlike Riker’s, because of sexism. Finally, the only thing breaking up the affair is that ambassador Odan is implanted in a woman, not that this woman is evidently sapient in her own right and presumably robbed of the rest of her life in the process. The actual properties of these species have almost no exposition. I guess no one cared until DS9.

References here: Emissary (1993).

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“The Mind’s Eye” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

La Forge brainwashed.

Yet more Romulan shenanigans of such potency as to undermine “The Drumhead” (1991). The concept of brainwashing on exhibit here is a science-fictionalized version of popular US paranoia concerning Soviet society in the late 1940s and ’50s. As such it’s closely related to Them (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and especially The Manchurian Candidate (1962), but it’s several decades late, and it’s lazy. The only concession to the concept having fallen out of fashion is that Data points out how “brainwashing” is not an accurate term. It’s not accurate because the psychological concept itself does not work, and never did; brains are non-washable. It does not make sense that control of La Forge’s visual perception would have such results. Another game with holodeck technology would have been better, but still weak. Fortunately, Levar Burton is always fun to watch; just listen to that little verbal shrug when he goes to see Dr. Crusher about his insomnia.

Risa is referenced again, inanely: La Forge asks what the weather is like there, apparently expecting it to be uniform across the planet, and it is indeed uniform, but also constant. A stand-in for La Forge goes to Risa, indicating that even in the 24th century, white people still can’t tell the difference between two people of colour, even though, as per “A Matter of Honor” (1989), they expect to be able to tell the difference between two aliens. Apparently none of La Forge’s acquaintances at the conference recognized him, nobody wanted to go with him, etc. The name of his shuttle is not another allusion to Japanese pop culture: It’s named for astronaut Ellison Onizuka, killed in the Challenger disaster, not Onizuka Eikichi of Shōnan Junai Gumi (1990).

References here: “Redemption: Part 1” (1991), “Ensign Ro” (1991), “The Game” (1991), “Face of the Enemy” (1993), “Interface” (1993).

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“In Theory” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Lieutenant Jenna becomes infatuated with Data while they’re modding torpedoes to be fired into a dark-matter nebula.

Solid comedy. It’s not as smart as “The Offspring” (1990), but it may be the most entertaining treatment of Data trying to emulate humanity. The B plot is plastered on for suspense and doesn’t work. As with Spock in “Assignment: Earth” (1968), we learn mainly that Data likes cats.

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“Redemption: Part 1” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Picard again arbitrates in the dispute over Klingon succession.

More of O’Reilly’s amusingly wide eyes from “Reunion” (1990) and a lot of plot continuity, including Worf resigning as he should already have done to kill Duras. Alas, the flipside is a lot of discontinuity. The plot hinges on the premise that women are barred from the High Council, which contradicts Gowron’s offer of a seat to a woman in “Reunion”, as well as examples in “Sins of the Father” (1990). Guinan has already seen Worf laugh. The battle is a letdown. It’s a bad idea to have the Romulans repeatedly appearing on site yet for their influence to be so mysterious, even after “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), that the Federation is neutral. The reveal of Sela for the cliffhanger, teased in “The Mind’s Eye”, is nonsensical.

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“Redemption: Part 2” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Once again, status quo ante. Data gets to captain another ship, which could and should have been a whole season, but it’s only for a little while. He returns with Worf, who rejects the Klingon culture he supposedly loves. Nothing really changes. Nobody is really promoted or demoted at the end of the arc.

Picard gets Sela’s backstory from Guinan: The “Yesterday’s Enterprise” version of the woman harried by rape gangs in her childhood was ultimately raped, then betrayed, then effectively reincarnated in the daughter who’d betrayed her, and somehow the shitty supervillain daughter ended up in a bizarre situation in precisely the same parallel universe that an alternate Picard once restored through his self-undoing sacrifice in an episode that was very good partly because it seemed episodic. The writers slipped up making that episode serialized in this terrible way, and reversing Guinan’s intuition about it. In this instance they picked just about the worst way to combine serial and episodic drama: shortening, undermining and even undoing the good.

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“Darmok” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A novel alien species that speaks only in metaphors derived from iconic images.

Structured like 1940s short-story SF, it is an appropriate thought experiment and a smarter remake of “Arena” (1967). The script’s understanding of linguistics isn’t good, but the thought experiment is not about language.

Picard calls Tamarian expressions metaphorical, but even if they are “dead” metaphors and are not in fact learned through human-like language about them, then they would still be subject to the universal translator in the same way that the English word “McCarthyism” can be translated to other languages without explaining who McCarthy was. If the images (i.e. scenes, imagined tableaux) are instead primary in Tamarian psychology, as Troi seems to think, then I would expect their culture to be more visual, like Internet memes 25 years later: Their body language would play into it, their ship would resemble an icon, etc.

Billy Joel had accidentally chronicled much of the history of the Soviet Union in his list song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which became a big hit when the Union collapsed and this episode was made. You can use that song to recall some major events in history between 1949 and 1989, but if you do not already know those events from other sources, the song will tell you nothing. Similarly, an entire natural language made up of the names of Internet memes would not work. It would just be “Mudkip”, “Harold, hiding his pain” etc.

I therefore agree with Ion Bogost’s conclusion (“Shaka, When the Walls Fell”, The Atlantic, 2014-06-18) that Tamarian speech is not language but a means of identifying the underlying logic of a situation, without coding for it in detail as a computer program would. The main functions that languages serve in human culture would have to be served in other ways on Tama, perhaps through specialized features of the brain, like those of The Mote in God’s Eye (1974). Their exasperated laughter at human speech is intriguing; I wonder what their own translator, if they have one, makes of human language.

Bogost thinks that Picard goes wrong reading Homer to prepare for another meeting with the Tamarians. I agree that it doesn’t make sense intradiegetically, in part because the Tamarians’ actual myths are evidently more relevant and already on file—or at least somewhat accessible to xenoanthropologists—but the real thrust of the thought experiment is classical humanism. Just before Picard brought up The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100–1100 BCE), I thought to myself that in this situation, I would have tried bringing up The Epic of Gilgamesh. The fact that Picard actually does so, at some length, is absolutely beautiful. It’s almost Trek’s idealism at its finest: Data says he has encountered over 1700 (sapient?) extraterrestrial species, and yet even among one of the most bizarre in his experience, the power of myth can still bridge the gap. This can be read as describing Star Trek itself, with its myth of the frontier, its orcs (Klingons), elves (tricky pointy-eared Romulans), trolls (Ferengi) and so forth, all put to work as symbols in thought experiments: As something like Bogost’s logics.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, Emissary (1993), “Captive Pursuit” (1993), “Liaisons” (1993), “Sanctuary” (1993), “Masks” (1994).

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“Ensign Ro” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A court-martialed Bajoran prisoner of the Federation is released to assist the Enterprise in tracking Bajoran terrorists, who are in turn hunted by Cardassians.

It’s not obivous from the contents, but this was designed mainly to set up a recurring, cynical character. The refugee (settlement) camp scene, where prolonged material want has transcended the franchise’s usual economic hand-waving, is as close to the reality of war as the franchise had gotten up to this point. It makes more sense than “The High Ground” (1990). The revelation that the Federation (Kennelly) would supply weapons to unaligned belligerents in an illegal “conspiracy”, as they were accused of doing in “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), like “Too Short a Season” (1988), is somewhat pointless in its grey morality; it feels like an attempt to add more nuance and equivalence than Star Trek is built for. As expected, Picard is the individual moral superior who pushes back.

References here: “Sanctuary” (1993), “The Pegasus” (1994).

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“Silicon Avatar” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker is cockblocked by the crystalline entity from “Datalore” (1988).

The idea of the creature as a vampire hunting throughout the Federation for decades without attracting more attention is weak, and the idea of Data having walked around with the personalities of all the colonists on Omicron Theta for all that time is dubious at best. The forensics are unimpressive. Once again, the writers seem happy to contradict the established facts of Data’s backstory, in this case the fact that Lore communicated with the entity by known means (subspace), unused and forgotten here. Still, it’s a good treatment of recurring themes, including the misapplication of human feelings to alien minds, with Picard on the side of tolerance and understanding of the killer. Ellen Geer makes a good obsessive scientist, turning around to appreciate Data, while Data remains appropriately unmoved by his own momentous ability to bring back a simulacrum of the scientist’s son.

References here: “Unification: Part 1” (1991).

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“Disaster” (1991Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Enterprise hits a patch of black ice and ends up in a ditch.

Troi in command is fun, though unfortunately predicated upon vindication by unlikely ticking-clock fiat. The other threads of the narrative are uninteresting. Keiko giving birth with Worf as the comedy doula is a little funny, but nonsensical. Picard taking care of the kids has some emotional depth (climbing that ladder with a broken leg and gritted teeth, literally tied to his charges), but it’s such an unlikely coincidence. Dr. Crusher and La Forge’s thread, as well as the larger premise of the “quantum filament”, exemplify more of those Trek threats that should be keeping people up at night but never do.

The best thing about the episode is the dystelelogical nature of the disaster. It really is an unforeseeable accident without an enemy or even animal agency. TOS and TNG needed a lot more of this persons-versus-environment class of conflict.

References here: “The Outcast” (1992).

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“The Game” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker brings a thought-controlled game with him from a visit to Risa.

This variation on lotus eaters differs from “This Side of Paradise” (1967) and “Symbiosis” (1988) mainly in its union with “The Mind’s Eye” (1991). It’s brainwashing on a level so effective that it poses a bigger threat to the ship than “Conspiracy” (1988). The game seems to act just as rapidly as the alien parasites did, and requires only standard replication technology for its reproduction, instead of the alien parasite’s life cycle. Doing it through a game, and a game that apparently produces orgasmic pleasure in tight close-up, makes this the second strongest case of lotus-eating in the franchise.

The woman Wesley meets in a lift provides the key. She says the game almost plays itself, and is actually easier when you don’t “force it”, i.e. don’t put effort into it. This is a clue that the Ktarians were added to frame the episode. The main threat is symbolic. It is the threat of happiness. Here, as in ancient Greece, you are not allowed to be happy without having justified that happiness to yourself or others through labour toward some goal.

“Any crewmen who ate the lotus,” Homer recited in The Odyssey (ca. 700 BCE), “lost all desire to send a message back, much less return, their only wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters, grazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home dissolved forever.” Odysseus does not accept such contentment: “But I brought them back, back to the hollow ships, and streaming tears — I forced them, hauled them under the rowing benches, lashed them fast and shouted out commands to my other, steady comrades: ‘Quick, no time to lose, embark in the racing ships!’— so none could eat the lotus, forget the voyage home.”

It is no accident that the game comes to the ship via Risa, the pleasure planet that resembles Calypso’s cave on Ogygia, where Odysseus himself is held captive in a state of paradoxic misery and contentment. La Forge was also brainwashed on the way to Risa. Etana Jol, the Ktarian captain, is Calypso. I suppose Wesley is only Telemachos; it is a plot hole that Picard, i.e. Odysseus, has succumbed to the game despite his resistance to Risa itself in “Captain’s Holiday” (1990). Wesley Crusher and his crush have to solve the problem like child detectives in a novel for starting readers.

Notice also that both the game itself and Data’s cure for its effects are visual, just like the Romulans’ brainwashing was visual. This is a completely naïve concept of the mind as controlled by visual perception, the sense considered most important in Western rationalist philosophy. This is the bad idea parodied in A Clockwork Orange (1962) with its ineffective Ludovico technique of mind control. The episode is such awful kitsch that it doesn’t even rise to the level of a baseless tirade against video games.

References here: “The First Duty” (1992), “The Inner Light” (1992), Spår i mörker (1997).

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“Unification: Part 1” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Sarek and Spock.

A novelty: The first mid-season two-parter in TNG, with on-screen text observing the recent death of Gene Roddenberry, and Spock as the first TOS character to return since an elderly McCoy’s short appearance in Encounter at Farpoint (1987). There are heavy callbacks to the various serialized plot threads of TNG and a call forward to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which premiered about a month after this episode. This production thus marks a new level of confidence and the franchise’s lesser annus mirabilis, prefiguring 1994 when TNG would end, DS9 would be on, Voyager would be in the starting pits, and Generations would cover it all in fan service and nostalgia like a layer of syrup on a stack of VHS tapes.

Alas, with the nostalgia comes the bad ideas. There’s a dress-up plot that resurrects a conceit of “The Enterprise Incident” (1968). The death of Sarek is a better allegory for the death of Roddenberry than “Sarek” (1990), but it is only an allegory, and the effects of the mind meld on Picard are not meaningfully specific, just a hook for sentimentality like Data recalling the thoughts of a dead boy in “Silicon Avatar” (1991). The overarching plot of Spock gone rogue to aid a peaceful underground faction is interesting on paper, but doesn’t take off; it’s implemented with “Bread and Circuses”’s love of the mythology of early Christianity and would not be greatly honoured later (cf. Picard). In this case, the peace-loving Romulans in their tunnels read as though they’re based on the romantic motif of persecuted early Christians meeting in the catacombs of Rome (Romulus).

What really saves this episode is the small B plot at the Qualor II junkyard, partly because the character and costume design for Klim Dokachin are well above the norm (cf. Concertina #1 colour scheme). I appreciate all these little looks into normal society outside the navy.

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“Unification: Part 2” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

There is an attempt here, in Sela’s final appearance, to give her a personality. The character remains a bad idea. Spock and Data’s conversation, obviously about their respective symbolic roles in each series, is similarly a sign of literary ambition but doesn’t deliver. Once again the overarching plot is poor: The Romulans stage a regime change with 2000 troops against an entire planet, but do worse than Brigade 2506 at the Bay of Pigs. Spock’s reaction to all the warfare and the cloak-and-dagger intrigue is to give up on everything but philosophy without even a shrug. It would have made sense if the closing credits had acknowledged he was found dead in a crackdown three days later, trying to argue with an interstellar fascist regime that can pinpoint individuals from orbit and has fantasy HUMINT powers.

The bar scenes at Qualor II are captivating in their campiness. Trek had never gotten this close to an imitation of the Star Wars (1977) cantina before, and for good reason. It’s overloaded with spectacle, not a good direction for the continued look at multi-species society outside the navy, but it’s all in good fun.

References here: “New Ground” (1992), “Face of the Enemy” (1993).

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“A Matter of Time” (1991Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An asteroid wrecks the climate of a human colony and a human time traveller boards the Enterprise to study it.

The time travel story would have been funnier if TOS had not put its heroes in a similar role in “Assignment: Earth” (1968). Not commenting on that here is a plot hole or retcon, including the fact that Picard speaks of a Temporal Prime Directive only as a hypothetical, when it should already exist, along with the technology the earlier ship used to travel through time. It ends disappointingly, rather like “The Most Toys” (1990), and borders on the bullying pageantry of Q.

The B plot about the asteroid has very high potential and actually includes the explicit use of carbon dioxide, presumably inspired by James Hansen’s 1988 US Senate testimony, The End of Nature (1989) etc. It is not used well; CO2 has an atmospheric dwell time of a couple of thousand years, orders of magnitude more than the dust of an asteroid strike, among other gaps. Still, it’s fun to see such an early use of John Tyndall’s greatest discovery in popular culture, and fun that there is no moral charge to the gas here as there is to lotus-eating.

References here: “True Q” (1992), “Inheritance” (1993).

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“New Ground” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A potential next generation of FTL travel is tested while Alexander gains a more prominent position in the plot, making Worf a working father.

After various fluctuations since TOS’s initial mongol horde, starting as early as “The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967), by this point the writers of TNG had settled on an interpretation of the Klingons as an Iron Age human warrior culture. Despite their mooky food and occasional throwaway references to strange practices like moral mutiny (“A Matter of Honor”), the Klingons have Christian-style marriage, monarchy, poetry (“The Dauphin”), opera (“Unification: Part 2”) etc. Retconned brow ridges aside, they are functionally almost identical to the human Ligonians of “Code of Honor” (1987). It is probably relevant in this regard that Worf was absent from “Code of Honour”.

It had been well established through Gowron and his rivals that even the concept of personal honour is a front for egoism and nepotism among Klingons, the same as it was in Viking society: Nominally a shared and racial ideal, but learned, unenforcable and deprioritized in practice by almost every member of the society. This episode further entrenches this humanization of the Klingons by portraying Worf, a traditionalist, as merely stern in his childrearing, not alien. It’s a sign of real-world progress that Picard takes a permissive stance on Worf as a working dad, but I would have expected no less in 1992, the “Year of the Woman”.

The B plot echoes “The Ultimate Computer” (1968). The scientific methods employed are even worse than “Unnatural Selection” (1989), obviously lacking basic safeguards and leading to improbably spectacular results to serve two of the writers’ ambitions: To have nothing change and to add tension to what would otherwise have been an episode about basic parenting skills, too little like space opera. It’s poorly done, except La Forge’s excitement.

There’s a tiny C plot touching on environmentalism, in much the same way as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Alexander’s teacher mentions the white rhino going extinct, and indeed, one of only two subspecies of it did go functionally extinct in 2018 when the last male northern white rhinoceros died in Kenya. The episode’s example of an endangered species is nothing real but another pair of those hand puppets that are effectively just gloves with sculpted details. In this instance, Riker actually carries two of the inanimate puppets in medium shot, showing with complete clarity that they end in a flat base the width of the human actor’s upper arm. Hilariously, despite Alexander’s concern for the species, the production obviously did not bother to get a set of props with legs or a tail on them. It’s kitsch, like “The Man Trap” (1966).

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“Hero Worship” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A traumatized child attaches himself to Data, emulating the android as a superman free of emotion.

The basic concept is stronger than “Pen Pals” (1989) but ruined by pedestrian child acting and directing. I get the sense that the producers wanted someone younger than Wesley as a stand-in for the children in the audience, but this wasn’t the way to do it. The solution to the usual threatening B plot is unusually clever, but similarly simple.

References here: “Cost of Living” (1992), “Imaginary Friend” (1992).

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“Violations” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A telepath able to retrieve and synthesize other people’s memories at a distance abuses his talent.

This is partly in the horror genre: A dumb and creepy supervillain attacks the main characters for personal reasons, inducing anxiety to the point of coma, and La Forge can’t do anything about it except to ask the computer a series of reasonable but ultimately irrelevant questions about the causes of similar symptoms. I like how that scene goes nowhere at all.

There’s still a lingering stink of early-season sexism here, in that Troi is instantly sexually objectified by a non-human, suffers rape and is helpless to do anything about it, but at least the writers explicitly acknowledge that what happens here is rape, it is a horrible crime, and there is no male-gaze signal that the viewer should take pleasure in it. This is a step forward.

The problem is the lack of worldbuilding outside of that one scene with La Forge. If the memory-controlling Ullians in this episode teamed up with the Zakdorns from “Peak Performance” (1989), they’d have Bene Gesserit-level political power as a faction more interesting than the Romulans. Instead, the two races are fully isolated and contained by the episodic writing, invented and maintained only for the problem of the week.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Liaisons” (1993).

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“The Masterpiece Society” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An obscure human colony threatened by a hunk of neutrons turns out to be practising eugenics to build an integral commune.

Incongruous with the franchise after “Space Seed” (1967), and less tongue-in-cheek about its admiration for thoroughbred humans, but good enough on its own merits. It’s Brave New World (1932) in a bottle, cleaned up (no artificial idiots, no soma) and undone by the peaceful protest of its own people, as it should be. The explicit double metaphor of La Forge’s visor for the problem of this utopia is weak, and so is the biblical fanboy stuff (“Moab” and “Aaron”, Eden and exodus), but there is a healthy respect for the thought experiment.

References here: “The Outcast” (1992), Gattaca (1997).

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“Conundrum” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Aliens block all of the semantic memories of the entire crew.

The title alludes to “Clues” (1991) and is in the tradition of TNG Sherlock Holmes fanboyism, solving a contrived mystery just in time. The nature of that mystery is similar to “Allegiance” (1990), but the evil (“Satarran”, Satanic) alien actually instrumentalizes humankind for its own ends, a surprisingly rare occurence in Trek, and just as interesting as an examination of authority. We get some of the latter here as a bonus, when Picard overtly deprioritizes even trying to find out whether he is the commanding officer.

Voice-over in the denouement just barely averts the fridge-logic abyss of “The Changeling” (1967). The script has to point out how unreasonable the plot is: Given that the Satarran—it may have been just one—could quickly block the memories of a thousand people, and rebuild Data, and corrupt the central computer, and perfectly impersonate a human, it is not plausible that hijacking the Enterprise against a relatively primitive civilization would be its course of action. A more plausible plot could have been very good. Instead, we get one good scene of Data as a bartender, and Riker and Laren hooking up after literally forgetting their enmity, which is a fun idea but ends up harem-y as depicted here. Even A Wind Named Amnesia (1990) makes more sense.

References here: “Thine Own Self” (1994), All Good Things (1994).

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“Power Play” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

As usual, no special precautions are taken when some of the most important members of the crew descend to an extremely hostile environment and get stranded there for another ghost story. This one is uncommonly self-conscious, mentioning that Picard would have rejected an explanation involving ghosts, despite Trek having established both that and stranger metaphysical conceits. It turns into another “Space Seed” (1967) scenario of mysterious superiors escaping prison, with Data’s body providing some of that superiority and literal ghosts of humans not being involved after all. The conception of the rogue Data is weaker than “Brothers” (1990), as rogue Datas would remain throughout the series; this one is principally a brute.

The episode has the hallmarks of the actors on a long-running show having some fun playing different characters, but that’s not the attraction here. The attraction is the unusually tight direction. The scene of Riker averting disaster on the bridge is particularly pleasing; there appears to be a protocol for this bizarre form of mutiny, as there should be in this world after “Conspiracy” (1988).

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“Ethics” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Worf gets a spinal injury.

It is a sign of the show’s maturity that no hypertech threat or deus ex machina is tied in for a B plot. With a brief aside to help the Denver, there is only the plot of Worf’s injury and the focus in that plot is not ethics but each established character’s individual reaction and interplay. The episode is set up and shot like a conventional prime-time drama. Science fiction takes a back seat, with conventional vs. experimental medical techniques working by a perfect—albeit generic—real-world analogue without important new semantics or worldbuilding.

The character interplay works well enough. It is especially satisfying that Michael Dorn gets to shine without any of the clowning comic relief that some directors subjected him to. It was a pleasant surprise that Riker’s refusal to assist Worf’s suicide actually rises above the level of conventional superstitious bluster, surpassing “Half a Life” (1991). Caroline Kava’s guest role as the unethical Dr. Russell is distractingly reminiscent of Kate McKinnon’s later role as a Hillary Clinton on SNL.

The problem is the fundamentally episodic nature of TNG. It is immediately obvious that Worf will make a full recovery. Even when the writers literally turn off life support and all monitoring and declare him dead, it is still obvious that he will make a full recovery, which makes for a frustrating hamster wheel of a viewing experience. The main use of science fiction in the episode is in fact the ass-pull that brings the patient back, corresponding to the resurrection of McCoy in “Shore Leave” (1966). If there had been consequences, the episode would have been very good.

References here: “Cause and Effect” (1992), “Parallels” (1993).

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“The Outcast” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker learns about the genderless society of the J'naii.

Granted, it’s primarily an allegory, like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969). However, this one looks to have been inspired by The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and a deeper understanding of the real world. Let’s break it down:

At level zero the allegory is irrelevant and the episode is just a tragic hetero love story like the many similar stories in TOS where Kirk was left theoretically mourning some babe forever. Four things make this level work: Frakes’s acting, which is above average; the way he consults Troi as if he really intended to make Soren his main squeeze; the way he ropes in Worf for the showdown, which feels like a callback to their intimate exchange in the previous episode—though it is not—as well as to “Reunion” (1990) (no lessons learned); and finally, the ending.

At level one, which is the material premise of the allegory, the J'naii are sexless. That’s not new in TNG; “11001001” (1988) also featured sexless humanoids, though not for allegory. Compare “Angel One” (1988), which reversed the sexual power dynamic of 1980s USA; level one is in precisely that vein of writing, i.e. “Like us, but the other way around so you see the absurdity.” Here there’s a problem with the presentation. Just like the Bynars, and like Lal in “The Offspring” (1990), the J'naii are all played by normal-sized Hollywood women. Stronger efforts at androgyny would have helped.

At level two, which is the cultural premise that gives the allegory its body, the J'naii deprecate the gender binary. They consider themselves enlightened because they have consciously passed beyond the need for gender. This seems more plausible than a lot of other cultural extrapolations in Trek and falls in line with level one. It’s probably relevant that their society appears to be somewhat egalitarian, perhaps as a result, i.e. a conclusion from the premise. Interestingly, the moral charge of this conclusion is intriguingly ambivalent: Is J'naii equality a dangerous anti-American sameness, or is it merely a more advanced form of Starfleet’s equity and community? As my girlfriend pointed out, both societies are pajama-oriented.

At level three, the J'naii have some gendered individuals who are considered deviants. For the purposes of allegory, these people must correspond to something in the real world. If the allegory were a simple inversion of the gender binary as a norm—that is if it had stopped at level two—the deviants would correspond to non-binary humans, but no such humans are ever mentioned. Instead, the interpretation shifts toward homosexuality because the J'naii cultural mainstream enforces their society’s non-binary norm through conversion therapy, mirroring failed real-world attempts to convert gay people either to a cishet orientation or, through forced transition, to the opposite sex. Level three thus begins to contradict the simple inversion at level one, and it does so in a suitably ambiguous fashion. It is no longer clear just what aspect of LGBTQ+ issues is the true subject, which is itself appropriate: The subject becomes, in part, the ambiguity that lies beyond the gender binary where Riker normally operates.

At level four, the writers flip the script. J'naii conversion therapy actually works, as far as can be determined. Nonetheless, Soren’s anxiety and fear are obviously real problems. This is a clever sfnal conceit; as with “The Masterpiece Society” (1992) it places the worldbuilding just outside rote dystopian territory and takes the edge off the preachy aspect of the courtroom scene, without minimizing the historical suffering of LGBTQ+ people. I assume this violation of the allegory as it exists at the preceding levels was deliberate, though I might be wrong. If I’m right, the ceiling of the allegory touches on a less constrained metaphor.

The success of Soren’s conversion therapy is a good explanation for why the relationship does not work out. It’s better than Worf’s total recovery from the events of the preceding episode which, like “The Loss” (1990), should have caused lasting disability. It is also a good reason for Riker’s haunted look in the closing shot. Most of the “lost loves” of the franchise’s male leads end up dead, like Edith Keeler in “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967). What happens to Soren is undeniably more interesting. Is Soren no longer a she? Is that even important? Riker, whose Alaskan he-man heritage is played up, looks more crushed here than he was by the loss of Minuet in “11001001”, but alas, even a good closing scene cannot save status quo ante.

Side notes: It’s funny to me that the name “Soren” is usually an anglicized form of the Scandinavian name Sören (Søren), which is masculine; the patch of null space is another kind of black ice like the quantum filament of “Disaster” (1991) and should have people terrified instead of dipping into it; and finally, the unit of energy here is the SI joule instead of the CGS erg that would have been suggested by “The Loss”. A superficially reasonable application of the SI system is a different kind of step up from “The Jihad” (1974), which mentions Kelvins and metres, but betrays a profound ignorance of both. On a higher level it all works out in the end, writing-wise. “The Outcast” seems more relevant to its own time than “Angel One” and has aged with dignity even into the 2020s, which is a feat. All in all, a good example of allegory in TV SF writing.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Interface” (1993).

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“Cause and Effect” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Enterprise is destroyed.

As with a lot of the best episodes, the attraction here is the possibility of continuity. Picard shouting for “all hands” to “abandon ship” would have had little emotional charge in a one-off short film, and it has little emotional charge here because, as with Worf’s injury in “Ethics” (1992), it is immediately apparent that it will not stick. There is, in fact, too little cause and effect in “Cause and Effect”. To tease the effect and then pull back from it, returning again to status quo ante, is production masochism: Using the show to demonstrate how the show could have been better, instead of making it better.

Notice that Dr. Crusher is the first to carry Cassandra’s burden of foreknowledge. This recalls her function in “Remember Me” (1990), suggesting an association between the mother, nostalgia, and danger. Like the first time, this has overtones of The Turn of the Screw (1898): Is the doctor on to something or is she going crazy? Alas, in both cases, the audience knows the truth, suggesting the writers wanted a sense of narcissistic gnosis rather than James’s genuine ambiguity. Crusher goes to the captain like Guinan in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990), and is believed like Guinan. Notice also the vindicated apophenia in how Data sends back only the number 3 to inform a future iteration that Riker’s suggestion for how to avoid a collision with Kelsey Grammer is correct; the ambiguity of the poor signal again suggests that the writers were going for narcissistic fantasy, but in that detail, the audience is not privy to the meaning of the signal before the prevailing iteration of Data is.

I don’t see how Grammer’s crew made it through 80 years without finding out. Even if the other ship cannot detect “dekyons”, surely their memories would still be increasingly affected by the franchise’s usual mind-over-matter foundations. I prefer “Night Terrors” (1991) as a more elegant piece in a similar vein.

References here: Groundhog Day (1993), All Good Things (1994), “On Your Mark” (1995).

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“The First Duty” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Wesley puts his career in jeopardy at Starfleet Academy.

A second “The Drumhead” (1991), but about the follies of youth and the hazards of personal loyalty, rather than pseudo-McCarthyist paranoia. As usual, what’s missing is the consequences. I love the idea of Wesley’s loyalties having shifted to his new friends in his absence from the show; that makes perfect sense for a teenager. I would have been happier if he had in fact kept silent and been expelled; his prophesied career in fantasy physics would still have been possible, merely disconnected from the strangely local concept of manner fighter aircraft in space—which has little to do with physics—and from a less local military career.

The episode is a lost opportunity to divorce Star Trek’s particular concept of personal quality from fitness for and interest in a military career, and/or add more nuance to Wesley in particular. Both of those things are done, but not here, only later. The portrayal of Boothby further highlights this lost opportunity. His remembering Picard contradicts “The Game” (1991) and his aversion to herbicides and other modern tools falls in line with the naïvely essentialist concept of technology in “The Price” (1989), but he is at least a sympathetic human character just outside the military.

References here: “Lower Decks” (1994), “Journey’s End” (1994).

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“Cost of Living” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Enterprise blows up a meteoroid and Lwaxana Troi plans to settle for a man she’s never met.

The Lwaxana plot undoes the progress made in the portrayal of that character up to this point. In short, she decides to escape from her troubles into a children’s program of whimsy and pageantry akin to “Qpid” (1991), which indicates that the worst writers on TNG had a lot of affinity for her.

The B plot of the meteoroid is an unfortunate mashup of the subatomic bacteria of “A Matter of Honor” (1989), the infiltrating nanites of “Evolution” (1989), the exotic substance of “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) and the more general, perfunctory large-scale threats the writers routinely added to broaden the appeal of the aforementioned episodes and e.g. “Hero Worship” (1992).

References here: “Dark Page” (1993).

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“The Perfect Mate” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Romantic slave fantasy.

TOS-type material, or TAS for that matter; the idea of a perfect woman waiting for you resembles “The Lorelei Signal” (1973) and the stereotypical miners resemble “Mudd’s Passion” (1973). Picard’s conversations with Dr. Crusher indicate that the writers knew what a bad idea this was. They did it anyway, and as usual, the only result is status quo ante with another lost love.

References here: “Second Sight” (1993), DearS (2004).

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“Imaginary Friend” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An alien impersonates a kid who doesn’t exist.

The episodes most clearly directed at children seem to be among the least liked by adults: “When the Bough Breaks” (1988), “The Bonding” (1989), “Pen Pals” (1989), “Hero Worship” (1992) etc. Guinan was only hastily written into the episode, but Goldberg acquits herself unusually well.

In the poltergeist phase of the alien impostor’s career, Troi’s cup falls over, spilling her drink. Her reaction is to get a towel, somewhat contradicting the assertion in “Up the Long Ladder” (1989) that the ship is self-cleaning.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “True Q” (1992), “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993).

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“I Borg” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Picard attempts to use an isolated Borg drone to destroy that faction with a geometric fork bomb.

This is the point where the Borg begin to turn, like the Klingons, from external threat to future ally (Voyager’s Seven of Nine). The quick triumph of US-style individualism is pat but Picard’s attitude—and Guinan’s—call back to “The Wounded” (1991) and show that the writers were genuinely concerned with overcoming resentment and hate as a major theme of TNG. I sense a variety of fruitful metaphors lurking under the interactions in this episode, and thankfully no single allegory. The allusion to “The Best of Both Worlds” (1990) is uncommonly confident; Picard’s meeting with “Hugh” would make little sense to a casual viewer.

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“The Next Phase” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

La Forge and Laren are shifted out of phase with ordinary matter in an operation to help some Romulans.

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”, this rehash of “Wink of an Eye” (1968) is about as good as the original. At some point, somebody in the writers’ room must have asked “But how are they breathing?” or “Why do the lifts support their weight?” or “Why are they still illuminated?” or “How come they can hear people talking in phase if they cannot be heard?” etc. etc., but no such questions are ever brought up on screen. Instead, it’s all weak character-based drama around the idea of seeing people react to one’s own death. However, the assumed death of La Forge is treated with less gravity than the death of Yar in “Skin of Evil” (1988), because the writers and actors all took status quo ante for granted and did not pretend otherwise. Laren’s initial assumption that she is truly dead puts it near Sutter’s Cloud, but it’s ultimately more ordinary bad writing.

References here: “Realm of Fear” (1992).

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“The Inner Light” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kamin recovers from a fever on Kataan.

The most loved episode of TNG, and a Hugo winner, and rightly so. However, just like “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), which also won a Hugo, “The Inner Light” is good in large part because it is unlike Trek.

The plot carelessly mixes “All Our Yesterdays” (1969) with the backstory of Superman in Action Comics (1938). The idea of commemmorating Kataan’s civilization by forcibly injecting the memories of one outsider from it into the mind of one alien human is a bad one. It makes some sense that Picard’s identity is mixed into Kamin’s both when he internalizes the replay and when it ends, but there’s a nonsensical implication that Kamin’s real life was marked by Picard’s interests from that point on: From having been a smith who is never seen doing his job, Kamin becomes a driven astronomer, agronomist etc. after a “fever” with delusions. Given that the life boat then picks Picard, the most readily available explanation for this deliberate confusion is a form of mental time travel, less elegant than Last and First Men (1930) or The Shadow out of Time (1936). Given the culture of Kataan, it is not reasonable to suppose that the boat picks Picard because he is in charge, and reincarnation would be an unnecessary supernatural premise, so I cannot find any satisfactory explanation. Fortunately, that is just the plot.

Kamin’s life resembles the life of Picard’s brother in “Family” (1990), but the episode wasn’t meant to connect to the series, much less to be its crowning achievement. Staff writer Ronald D. Moore commented in 1997 that the intention was to return to status quo ante, just like TOS had done after “City”. It was only much later that the writers realized they could refer back to “The Inner Light” as a transformative experience, and they only did it once. I wonder if they saw the irony of that. One of the best things about the episode is that, within the life of Kamin and with the exception of the Force-ghost finale, cause and effect reign supreme at the scale of decades. The story of that life would not have been touching if it had been like TOS and TNG, where any lasting change is rare.

What makes the episode great is that it represents the apotheosis of a motif at the very heart of the franchise, which I have continually referred to by the symbol of Homer’s lotus-eaters. The village of Ressik is another cave on Ogygia but, crucially, Kamin’s wife Eline is not Calypso. Despite Picard’s expressed assumption, there is no hostile agent behind the illusion, as there is none behind Homer’s lotus. It is also important that Ressik has a participatory system of government where Picard’s normal authority is inapplicable, so that there are neither villains nor rivals in a zero-sum competition over power. This makes the trip a realistic and meaningful utopia reminiscent of Always Coming Home (1985). Thus, when Picard/Kamin himself arrives at the philosophy of making “now always the most precious time”, that is readable as Picard overcoming the flaws he exhibited in “Captain’s Holiday” (1990).

Most of the time on Trek, the lotus is destructive beneath a false joy, as in “The Game” (1991). In that episode, Picard tasted the lotus and had to be rescued from it. That version of the motif is derived from Abrahamic and totalitarian propaganda against personal contentment: The false notion that bliss without constant labour is bad. This gets conflated with the narcotics that Gene Roddenberry got himself addicted to; see for instance “Symbiosis” (1988) where addiction makes people stupid and lazy. Even Picard’s brother, the winegrower, is shown to be bitter and jealous of Picard. Only rarely, when it is coated in fabulism, the lotus on Trek can be sugary, as in “Shore Leave” (1966), “The Lorelei Signal” (1973) or “Transfigurations” (1990).

“The Inner Light” is different. It is like an episode made out of the closing shot of Picard’s nephew in “Family”. Here, the lotus is an ordinary life well lived in a state of literal anarchism, neither poisonous nor wishful. When Picard tries that life, for lack of his preferred option, he attains wisdom. This temporarily fixes a central problem, complementing Trek’s long-term optimism about technological and economic development with a more immediately relevant acknowledgement that people do not need those good things to be happy. Ironically, it would have been even better if the entire core cast—including Patrick Stewart—and setting had been held over to the coda. It is great precisely because it is marked by the absence of the franchise’s pervasive flaws (status quo ante, hierarchy, fear of contentment), while its most central strengths remain in force.

How wonderful Star Trek would have been if it had run on this restful pseudo-Daoist understanding, instead of Roddenberry’s restless hypocrisy and archism.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud, “Chain of Command: Part 2” (1992), Emissary (1993), “Tapestry” (1993), “Lessons” (1993), “Progress” (1993), “Second Chances” (1993).

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“Time’s Arrow: Part 1” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A familiar severed head is found in a cave on Earth, supposedly untouched since the 19th century.

When I saw a credit for the guest role of Samuel Clemens, I knew it was going to be another Western-genre crossover, masturbating over US history. It’s funny that TNG’s most intimate remake of “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967) comes right after TNG’s peak.

References here: “Phantasms” (1993).

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“Time’s Arrow: Part 2” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

More dress-up, with Clemens taking the central role and even starting Jack London’s career. The conclusion purports to be Picard understanding that he met Guinan in the 19th century, an extreme coincidence she’d retroactively known about all along; this is a bad idea because there is no previous indication of it (the first meeting of Picard and Guinan on Picard’s side has never been shown) and because it further enshrines the regular cast at the centre of the universe.

More interesting is the way Starfleet explains the future to Clemens. Hearing that hand-wrapped cigars can be synthesized, he laments how new technology “only serves to take away life’s simple pleasures”. It is Troi who counters his impulse (“I think what we’ve gained far outweighs anything that might have been lost”). Compare Troi’s position in “The Price” (1989), where she herself expressed Clemens’s point.

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“Realm of Fear” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Barclay is scared of transporters.

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”. On the one hand, I appreciate an episode about that teleporter technology, including the first set of POV shots showing what it looks like to be teleported, albeit under abnormal circumstances. It’s also fun to see Barclay again but, on the other hand, the version of Barclay in this episode has no meaningful relationship with either one of his previous two appearances. I guess the writers made the connection that because the original version of Barclay in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) was introverted and creative, it was therefore logical for the same character to have various non-social phobias and to imagine that his actual perceptions are delusions. As far as I know, those traits aren’t correlated.

The script acknowledges neither “Mirror, Mirror” (1967) nor “The Next Phase” (1992). Instead, it seems built as an allegory of the fear of flying, with La Forge—who was himself unceremoniously declared dead following an almost routine transporter malfunction in “The Next Phase”—asserting that teleportation is “the safest way to travel”. Instead of discussing already canonical events, the script introduces a somatic “transporter psychosis”, basically incurable brain damage prevented only stochastically by backup equipment. Such strange choices in the writers’ room. The actual reason for the malfunction is pretty good, being essentially ecological.

References here: “Timescape” (1993), “Phantasms” (1993).

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“Man of the People” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Another weird high-status negotiator in this union of “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) and a parasitic The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Nothing but bad ideas.

References here: “Liaisons” (1993).

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“Relics” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Scotty’s jury-rigged a form of stasis on the surface of a Dyson sphere.

The blurb is fantastic: Scotty from TOS seeing new technology, the concept of pausing a life by storing it in a transporter pattern buffer, and the Dyson sphere itself. Unfortunately, each of these breaks down. Despite fan-servicing allusions, including one to the Dohlman of “Elaan of Troyius” (1968) and one to “Jim” Kirk, Scotty is treated in the mode of “Sarek” (1990), as an allegory for old people who are no longer professionally relevant. That doesn’t make sense, because his transporter modification alone is clearly brilliant and potentially society-changing even in the 24th century, and McCoy was still alive in Encounter at Farpoint (1987) without any such invention, so Scotty is relevant, most especially to the problem of the sphere. Alas, nobody shows real interest in the invention’s implications.

Scotty’s ostensible irrelevance takes over the episode for half an hour, confirming the status of synthehol (“Up the Long Ladder”) and overshadowing the sphere. It is bad kitsch for the crew to exclaim that the Dyson sphere is a very old idea, and to explain its non-detection up to this point with reference to its gravity. Gravitational lensing is such a basic concept in physics that when the episode was written, astronomers had already hit upon the idea of automating observations for it at scale, so that it’s implausible for Starfleet to find its first sphere only now. When they do find it, they should be prepared to assume it’s a bigger threat than the Borg, but instead, there’s just a quick thrillride into it and nothing is learned or revisited later. Most of the potential is wasted.

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“Schisms” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker doesn’t feel rested when he wakes up.

It starts off as an inferior remake of “Night Terrors” (1991) with its REM-sleep fantasy and then takes a left turn at the trial-by-hologram in “A Matter of Perspective” (1990), skidding out of that turn, off a cliff, into the deep end of UFO mythology. I was surprised to see this straight-faced illustration of an alien abduction scenario married to the pseudoscience of recovered-memory therapy.

It’s humourless kitsch, including the detail that crew members go missing without the computer raising an alarm. At least the aliens are reminiscent of “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930).

References here: “Frame of Mind” (1993), The X-Files (1993), “Dark Page” (1993).

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“True Q” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Q.

More lotus. The clowning scene where Riker is mind-controlled as a sexual object in a top hat spells out the central, facile idea: Getting what you want is bad for you and you are wrong to want it. “I thought it would be romantic,“ says Amanda the witch, “but it’s empty.”

The B plot about a broken atmosphere reiterates that of “A Matter of Time” (1991) with even less reference to real-world concepts. It’s sad how secondary it is. The magical solution to it could have been interesting if the problem had first been explored, to build up a sense of hopelessness about solving the compounded effects of casual geoengineering by non-magical means, but it’s too shallow. The writers’ interest was clearly in the A plot’s fabulism, as in “Imaginary Friend” (1992).

References here: “Birthright: Part 1” (1993).

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“Rascals” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Child versions of Picard, Guinan, Laren, and Keiko O’Brien.

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”, this remake of “The Counter-Clock Incident” (1974) would have been an awkward children’s show even in TOS.

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“A Fistful of Datas” (1992Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

More Western pageantry, more “trapped on the holodeck” bullshit. Alas, Data’s efficiency in “Brothers” (1990) is again absent, despite the triple Spiner, making this even dumber than “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988).

References here: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993).

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“The Quality of Life” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Highly adaptive drones in an energy-based mining satellite experiment.

The hollow Exocomp props, “flying” suspended from wires, are adorable kitsch. I really like the fun attempts at scientific methods—with Data’s complete lack of pride—and economically important innovation. A lot of the other stuff seems half baked.

References here: “Suspicions” (1993).

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“Chain of Command: Part 1” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Picard is replaced and sent on a black op.

The premises are bad. After dealing with absurd Romulan intelligence shenanigans for generations, Starfleet happily takes some unlikely Cardassian bait. They send a naval captain(!), a doctor(!), and the manager of ship’s security, instead of adequately trained marines, into a dungeon in what amounts to an act of war. Meanwhile, Picard’s replacement is such a heel that status quo ante is never far enough from the plot. These mid-season two-parters apparently call for a Ferengi mook in a bar to be awkwardly persuaded, in this case seduced by Dr. Crusher. Only the Cardassians save the episode.

References here: “Necessary Evil” (1993).

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“Chain of Command: Part 2” (1992Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

This makes it look as if part 1 was just the setup for this stark but ultimately pointless torturefest, in which the opportunity to refer back to “The Inner Light” (1992) for Picard’s inner light is wasted. Again, the Cardassians are an amusing faction. I appreciate the cultural worldbuilding (swings of cultural vs. economic/military capital), though stronger contrasts against the Romulans would have been good.

References here: “Duet” (1993), “Gambit: Part 1” (1993).

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“Ship in a Bottle” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A sequel to “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988).

Pleasantly extrapolative and ultimately less morally dichotomous than I had expected.

References here: “Phantasms” (1993), “Homeward” (1994).

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“Aquiel” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A disinteresting retread of “Booby Trap” (1989) and “The Dauphin” (1989).

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“Face of the Enemy” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Troi wakes up as a Romulan.

Idiotic. The plot revisits “The Enterprise Incident” (1968) and “Unification: Part 2” (1991), with the greatest weaknesses of both, except Sela. Notice the detail that when Picard and the rest see Troi, they immediately recognize her and trust that she is still their Troi, despite their experience with Sela, and “Data’s Day” (1991), and “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), and the fact that she is simultaneously able to pass as a Romulan with zero preparation.

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“Tapestry” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Q.

The premise is not bad for a Q episode, but the conclusion is vile. Supposedly, in an alternate life where Picard was able to use his hard-won lessons about compromise and diplomacy from middle age in an episode from early adulthood, this somehow has the effect that he becomes a junior officer instead of a senior officer on the Enterprise, and he hates it so much that he prefers death. The finale is therefore TOS-style fisticuffs to reclaim his command. This is another regression from “The Inner Light” (1992), back to the paranoid authoritarianism of TOS, and death is undone yet again.

References here: “Second Chances” (1993).

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“Birthright: Part 1” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

In a visit to station Deep Space Nine, Worf learns his father could be alive and Data has a dream of his creator as a young man, before he was created.

This is the first cross-over activity from the TNG side with the parallel show DS9, which had begun to air six weeks earlier. TNG never really acknowledged that O’Brien left the ship to go work on the station, but there is a scene on the other show, in Emissary (1993), where Picard and O’Brien say goodbye.

In one of the opening scenes, La Forge rejects some pasta for tasting like “liquid polymer” and resolves to fix the station’s replicators. This seems to imply that replicators in less than perfect order could easily produce poisons that are not detectable by taste. It alludes to “Babel” (1993), where the same replicators were also producing foul-tasting food. In that DS9 episode, unrelated sabotage of a replicator had terrible results that were not detectable by taste, but there is never any sign of the technology itself being dangerous even when it’s out of order.

Despite its dramatic myopia and reliance on coincidence, Worf’s plot at least promises to pull at the most interesting plot thread in his personal background, which is the collaboration between a Klingon faction and the Romulan state.

Data’s plot is distastefully anthropocentric, but otherwise wholesome and pleasant. I appreciate the detail that Data’s dreams are a sort of dysteleological (albeit externally planned!) fallback from conscious mental activity, like human dreams, and that in one dream he flies outside the hull, much like Amanda and Q in “True Q” (1992); a neat metaphor for transcendence.

References here: “Interface” (1993).

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“Birthright: Part 2” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The premise of Klingons raised in captivity, away from their native culture, sets up an opportunity to solve nature-nurture problems in Trek. Alas, the scene where Worf berates a youth for tilling the soil with a complicated spear, made of obvious sheet metal, is enough to puncture that effort. There is no reason why the youth would have such a spear in captivity, or why he’d be dumb enough to think it more practical for his purpose than a trowel.

References here: “Progress” (1993).

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“Starship Mine” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Enterprise is put in dock to be swept for baryons, but also gets subjected to a heist.

The writers apparently thought that a “baryon” was something quite exotic, but nearly all matter you see in everyday life is baryonic matter, including atoms of any sort. It is therefore possible to interpret the high-tech sweep in this episode as akin to taking a vacuum cleaner to a car. I find this very funny.

The heist motif is done pretty well, genre-wise; it’s tightly directed. I especially like the detail that Worf’s crossbow comes into use because normal weapons are disabled by the sweep. It just doesn’t make sense that Picard would be opposing the heist Die Hard-style, instead of some random crew member. The subplots—about small talk etc.—all go nowhere, unfortunately.

It is a funny detail that part of the plot hinges on “trilithium resin” being highly toxic, a premise introduced here, partly as a plot convenience and partly to spice up the technothriller aspect. Compare the extremely safe and portable dilithium crystals in “The Alternative Factor” (1967).

References here: “Phantasms” (1993).

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“Lessons” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Picard falls in love with an astronomer.

Good drama using the established facts, including TNG’s only reference back to “The Inner Light” (1992). The biggest problem with it is status quo ante, not the convenient disaster or the musical goofs.

References here: “Second Chances” (1993).

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“The Chase” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The major humanoid civilizations in the local sector of the galaxy all work to complete the same archaeological work, which turns out to be the key to their biological similarities.

This episode is important because, to my knowledge, it is the only remotely successful attempt to explain, in intradiegetic terms, why the franchise is dominated by humanoid species with apparently diverse origins. Of course, the only real reasons for that are production budget constraints and the limits of human imagination and interest in popular television, but it’s nice to see the writers at least try to make it work at scale.

The explanation offered here is that ancient aliens seeded the galaxy with their own DNA in such a latent and subtle fashion that mutually similar humanoid species popped out of the otherwise independent ecologies of—apparently—thousands of planets at around the same time. This is better than “Bread and Circuses” (1968) with its “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development”. However, it’s worse than “Contagion” (1989) would have been, if “Contagion” had gone the distance to propose an explanation on a shorter time scale. On a still-shorter time scale, it is also worse than “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968) with its program to rescue minor ethnic groups.

As it was implemented and as its name implies, “The Chase” is primarily a thriller, not an expository piece. Its exposition, when it comes, is subjected both to the thriller’s need for an implausible puzzle and to a moral message to come together in peace, very much like the Cold War parables of TOS. As expected, the revelation has no apparent effect on politics in later episodes.

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“Frame of Mind” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker’s sanity is questioned, either in the script of a play or in an alien mental institution that is also a torture chamber.

I’m surprised they made another “Schisms” (1992). This one is predicated upon the same bad idea as “First Contact” (1991), namely that Riker—a naval high officer on an exploratory flagship—gets sent in as a deep-cover infiltrator on the ground in a non-human society. Like “Schisms”, it deteriorates into an obtuse allegory of paranoia and near-schizophrenic negative ideation. It’s a lot deeper, with respect to the possibility of madness, than “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), but it does not make sense. The elite rescue mission is fun though, just like “Final Mission” (1990).

References here: Twelve Monkeys (1995).

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“Suspicions” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dr. Crusher has been fired and tells Guinan about it.

I love that the plot revolves around a dubious scientific experiment, even more so than “The Quality of Life” (1992), albeit with less interest in methodology. It’s also kind of cool that the dubious scientist in question is a Ferengi supposedly suffering speciesist prejudice, although the writers of earlier episodes clearly chose to portray the Ferengi as a species of horrible trolls, against whom prejudice would be justified—unlike human racism—which blows up the allegory. It’s very cool that Crusher is fired and forced to contend with IT security, but as always, there are no consequences, just a villain.

References here: “Interface” (1993), “Rules of Acquisition” (1993).

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“Rightful Heir” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Klingon saviour returns to a mixed reception.

Densely packed. It is unfortunate that Data is humanized by means of his conclusion that he has made a “leap of faith”. It is similarly unfortunate that the Klingons, too, are now perfectly human-like even in their religious feelings and the patterns of their mythologies, but the (atheist) worldbuilding is actually good, even more Dune-like than “The Jihad” (1974). Gowron is more fun than usual in that royal generalissimo costume.

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“Second Chances” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A different Riker, left behind in an accident eight years earlier.

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”, this episode clearly shows the franchise’s teleporters copying matter without moving it, implying the original is destroyed. This is inconsistent with “The Savage Curtain” (1969), and as stated in “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973), destroying a working original is tantamount to murder. In this particular incident, Riker was not preserved at the point of origin, but merely copied twice, without this being detected.

The dramaturgic purpose of the malfunction is the union of “The Enemy Within”, which shows an alternative version of a familiar character in the present, and “Tapestry”, which examines how a familiar character’s past could have been different with more humility. This could easily have gone wrong, but both writers and actors seem to have put in more effort than usual. They took the idea of a copied, naturally diverging person seriously, and did not insert the childish moral dichotomy of “The Enemy Within” or “Datalore” (1988). The angle on nature vs. nurture is perfectly good.

This is the only good episode about Riker’s relationship with Troi. The way it is described here is consistent with “The Price” (1989), the episode that suddenly introduced their hiatus for the writers’ convenience, or perhaps for their squeamishness with Roddenberry’s proposed polyamory. “Second Chances” would have been even better if its version of events had been planned from the start. More broadly, it would have been a great episode without status quo ante. Its tone recalls the bitter sweetness of “The Inner Light” (1992), where science fiction is used to picture what might have been. Thomas Riker, who has spent eight years with nobody at his command, is less headstrong and more relaxed. Like Picard in “Lessons” (1993), he is more romantic as a result, and more prepared to enjoy life. This doesn’t necessarily make sense. Since is it Will Riker who patched things up with their father in “The Icarus Factor” (1989), Will should perhaps be the more critical of blind ambition, but I’ll take it.

References here: Sutter’s Cloud.

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“Timescape” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

On their way back from a scientific conference, Picard, Data, Troi and La Forge encounter local anomalies in the flow of time.

This remake of “Wink of an Eye” (1968) is the best of TNG’s entries on the theme of puzzles, even better than “Clues”. That’s partly because the set piece makes a little more sense in retrospect, partly because the exotic root cause is ecological, like “Realm of Fear” (1992), and finally, it’s better partly because the motif of walking around in a single moment of time and discovering counterintuitive causes from their results is a beautiful symbol of extrapolative science fiction. It’s soft science fiction, of course, and as usual, it’s silly to send only four of the most senior officers to the same conference.

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“Descent: Part 1” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Data is rattled battlin’ an individualistic Borg collective.

It starts out very good, with more dramatic tension and continuity than most feature films in the franchise. It’s also good that Troi tells Data there are no “negative” emotions. She does not explain this point and the rest of the episode begins to contradict it.

References here: “Phantasms” (1993).

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“Descent: Part 2” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

This part 2 both reiterates Troi’s point about emotions from part 1, and rejects it. Some of the writers apparently had a basic understanding of emotions as morally neutral, but they failed to pursue this understanding.

Remember that, in past episodes, Data has routinely expressed emotions including amity, curiosity, consternation, moral judgement, and aesthetic appreciation. In “The Most Toys” (1990), he fires a gun in anger to kill his captor. As shot, this two-parter disregards all that history and builds a Cartesian, Christian association between emotion and moral wrongs.

Not only is anger a negative emotion here, in spite of Troi’s superior knowledge. Data turns bad through emotion as such, not through any more direct mind control. The way this works is riddled with further self-contradictions. He becomes addicted, not like one of B. F. Skinner’s pigeons but the way people in “Symbiosis” (1988) are to drugs. He openly states that he wants more emotion, as if all feelings were euphoric and not modes of cognition that should already be familiar to him.

The script uses facts established in “Brothers” (1990) to make Data a threat to others, but they’re the wrong facts. Instead of making him highly effective, he’s just ineffective and a jerk, and it’s all pinned on the false notion of bad emotions overpowering good intellect.

This mishandling of the central motif is coupled with other bad ideas. Though still a bad caricature of collectivism, the local Borg have lost their flavour and are now simply henchmen. Picard so quickly regretting his abstinence from genocide seems unlikely, but Dr. Crusher in command with her new bridge crew is a fun change of pace.

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“Liaisons” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Three Iyaaran ambassadors explore human concepts.

It’s the union of “Allegiance” (1990) and “Man of the People” (1992) or “Violations” (1992), which is not something I anticipated. The “Allegiance”-like part of the plot is an improvement insofar as the aliens are not overpowering, and the “Man of the People”-like part of the plot is similarly an improvement insofar as it does not objectify the subject of (here, attempted) gaslighting and sexual abuse, but the area of overlap between these two parts is the idea of a thought experiment on inelegant xenobiological premises. Essentially, the writers invented yet another species just to produce three uncomfortable social situations for TV drama, with no larger thought behind it that would have corresponded to “Darmok” (1991).

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“Interface” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

La Forge gets in too deep with new telepresence technology while trying to rescue his mother, who is captain on a ship in distress.

This is another “Identity Crisis” (1991), hooked up to the more recent recurring motif of major characters risking their jobs over personal passions (“The Outcast”, “Suspicions”, “Birthright” etc.).

As in “Identity Crisis”, the basic premise—here using vaguely transporter-and-holodeck-like technology to troubleshoot without risking crew health—is fine, but should have been a recurring, worldbuilding feature. Adding “psychosomatic” wounds to it in a crude Platonic theme like “The Mind’s Eye” (1991) is poor science fiction. The further addition of La Forge’s closest family in the remote yet oddly private sphere of the “interface” almost hits a deep psychological note, but the implementation is too shallow. LeVar Burton is arguably the most fun actor on the regular cast but he doesn’t fully land this one. Perhaps the script was overloaded.

References here: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995).

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“Gambit: Part 1” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Another mid-season two-parter with another mook in a multi-species bar to be awkwardly persuaded. This time, it’s not a Ferengi but another one of those cool-looking Yridians with a very soft RTV-silicone face; good job on that mask. This time the bar scene opens the episode, so it’s quickly out of the way. All those bar scenes must have a cultural relationship with the stereotypical taverns of medieval fantasy TRPGs, where lazy writers assume that a universal interest in ethanol and noisy socialization create whatever interfaces are required to kickstart any type of adventure plot.

Both parts of Gambit deal centrally with space pirates, a clichéd motif Roddenberry had repeatedly shot down, including in “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), though not in “The Pirates of Orion” (1974). The way the two-parter deals with them combines the charismatic, flamboyantly dressed supervillain of “Space Seed” (1967) with a set of remote-controlled torture devices akin to that of “Chain of Command: Part 2” (1992). Unfortunately, torture by remote control happens without the surveillance and operant conditioning that would have made the villain effective and interesting. It also goes against the grain of history in that many pirate crews have been more democratic than naval crews, because their captains aren’t backed up by state violence.

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“Gambit: Part 2” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Most of Gambit is a long side track that’s really just about seeing the actors at work in contrived situations. Picard and Riker double-cross their new boss while Data takes command on the Enterprise in his usual style. The finale instead deals with a conveniently harmless psychic superweapon, disabled by thinking happy thoughts.

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“Phantasms” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Data has disturbing dreams.

All across TNG, there is gradual creep in the apparent acceptability of consulting simulated experts for advice. This starts in “Elementary, Dear Data”, which has a simulated fictional person of superior intelligence, who would naturally be useful as a consultant, but he is created by accident and then banned. The subsequent episode, “The Outrageous Okona”, shows the apparently normal state of affairs at that time: In it, a member of the crew consults simulated experts, but these appear to be of sub-human intelligence and therefore limited use. In “Booby Trap”, consulting a simulation of a real persion as an expert is dubiously exploitative but permitted in an emergency, signifying a more liberal attitude. “The Nth Degree” marks the first appearance of a simulated Albert Einstein, used as a consultant on new physics. “Ship in a Bottle” adds the deliberate trapping or “bottling” of a self-aware genius, albeit for no practical purpose. “Descent” reprises Einstein with other famous geniuses, showing that their use is now socially acceptable in a more normal case and for a practical purpose, though not exactly for consultation in that instance. The show thus arrived here, at the socially acceptable use of Sigmund Freud—who is apparently aware of being simulated—for use as a bottled expert consultant on psychology, presenting novel ideas for practical purposes. TNG never got any further. Compare the packaged expert minds in “The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” (1964), which hit the same level of thinking 29 years earlier, without computers.

There is much of “Time’s Arrow” (1992) about the figure of Freud. The historical celebrity factor seems to have outweighed all those previous concerns about the morality of simulating smart or self-aware people. When it is Einstein, or Freud, Starfleet apparently does not care about morality anymore. Perhaps that’s because the producers thought it was a fun little spectacle and the rational part of their minds shut down. Anyway, as in all previous iterations, the use of Freud here again raises the question why simulated experts are not more popular in more important applications.

That detail of worldbuilding aside, this episode also engages in worldbuilding for Data, who now has a Freudian “subconscious” and irresistible Psycho-style urges. It was a bad idea to choose pseudoscientific psychoanalysis, specifically, for this development. It leads to another implausible puzzle wherein the characters must interpret a tenuous symbolism to fix the day’s crisis. As in “Realm of Fear” (1992), the solution to this puzzle is ecological, dealing with yet another set of mindless organisms in a tangential layer of the world, which is fun but—like transporter malfunctions—should have people more frightened. Once again, Data goes on the fritz without the efficiency of “Brothers” (1990), but in this case that’s semi-plausible. I imagine it would have been possible to write a better script about Data’s more developed dream “function” based on 1990s psychology instead of 1920s psychology, but it’s a fun little camp adventure.

On another peripheral note, it is explained here that Picard has been actively avoiding an annual ball with the admiralty for the entire duration of TNG because he hates such formal parties. This is consistent with e.g. “Starship Mine” (1993), and much more broadly consistent with the habitual depiction of officers above the captain on Trek as inferior; why indeed would Starfleet insist on such a boring tradition when it must present a juicy target to their enemies.

References here: “The Pegasus” (1994).

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“Dark Page” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

While training other telepaths to speak, Lwaxana Troi is trapped in a part of her own mind.

Though it is not otherwise entertaining, this episode is interesting in my morbid perspective on TNG as a sui generis train wreck. True to Roddenberry’s vision, it deals with people overcoming their flaws, with the aid of enlightened, friendly aliens. No fist fights, no Western genre crossover, no clichés, no apocalyptic B plot. It is gratifying that Majel Barrett got to make her final appearance on this particular show (and in this role) in this sensible manner. I am even glad that this poses a severe contrast against Barrett’s earlier appearances as the elder Troi, especially “Cost of Living” (1992).

Just like the previous episode, this one deals heavily with the interpretation of what is effectively a dream as if it expressed a kind of riddle about the Freudian subconscious, something real dreams don’t do. This time the riddle is less contrived, but it is also less surreal. It’s certainly more 1990s, touching again on the theme of recovered-memory therapy as in “Schisms” (1992). Happily, the aliens are not to blame this time around.

Briefly stated, “Dark Page” implies that Lwaxana Troi has been an asshole through most of her previous six appearances (five on TNG and one in “The Forsaken”) because her mind has been consumed with repressed guilt over letting a child die in an unlikely case of brief negligence. There is a sexist tone to this choice. Her husband, Deanna Troi’s father, is not blamed; instead Deanna has a rather touching meeting with him mediated simultaneously by Lwaxana’s memory and the alien telepath who connects Deanna’s mind to Lwaxana’s; pretty clever.

If the show had been properly serialized, Lwaxana’s “dark page” would have been the implied explanation even for her escape from worldly cares in “Cost of Living”. However, status quo ante makes such interpretations meaningless. I can’t imagine the writers planned for any of this material back in the ’80s. The episode is also not well executed. Barrett’s role is actually quite small, and static close-ups on silly temporal prosthetics do not convey the force of psychic power for television.

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“Attached” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dr. Crusher and Picard develop telepathy by technological means as they escape a paranoid isolationist power whose rival on the same planet wants to join the Federation.

The A plot about paranoid local superpowers would have fit right into TOS, like “A Private Little War” (1968). The B plot about Dr. Crusher’s personal relationship with Picard is more interesting, but like so much else in TNG, it is hamstrung by status quo ante. In the end, after overcoming years of distance and mutual misunderstandings through a wonderful sfnal conceit, their relationship does not actually change, for one invalid reason: The production model.

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“Force of Nature” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The most popular means of travelling faster than light is found to cause environmental damage.

I can only read this as an allegory of anthropogenic global warming, generalized on the model of soil erosion and many other environmental problems. As such, it is a curious historical artifact from the decades of wilful denial, but it isn’t very well made. Given that Picard has retained his interest in archaeology added in “Contagion” (1989), it would have made more sense to start from there, positing that the Iconians or whomever actually did trigger this environmental problem in the past and the galactic civilization of that era collapsed as a result, explaining why there are “humanoids” isolated on thousands of planets. The writers instead go with a most unlikely scientific terrorist plot, where they should have had interested parties convening in the same manner as “The Jihad” (1974) for a sober evaluation of the research.

As usual, the writers and producers are terrified of figuring out how fast the different levels of warp are, which weakens the conclusion. The incidental conversations between La Forge and Data are a nice way to pad the runtime in the absence of much-needed exposition on the way to that conclusion, but they revolve around conversion efficiency, another of TNG’s awkward placeholders for fictional science and engineering. Warp speed comes on a scale of about 1 to 10, and efficiency is a percentage; beyond this, there is nothing.

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“Inheritance” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Data’s mom.

Like everything else in Data’s backstory, this was obviously improvised, not planned, and therefore contradicts the established facts. The ideas it adds are not good. The B plot looks more promising on paper, being about another large-scale intervention in planetary habitability, but just like “A Matter of Time” (1991), it’s built for cheap thrills, phoning in the geology, ecology and local culture. Again, as suggested in “The Bonding” (1989) and done in “Family” (1990), someone (here Data) meets a dead family member as a hologram, prompting the question why this is not a more established social change.

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“Parallels” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Worf’s world shifts around him.

The union of “Remember Me” (1990) and “Future Imperfect” (1990), with a little bit of “Time Squared” (1989) thrown in towards the end. The mischaracterization of quantum physics is dull and the whole thing is queasily myopic. When Worf says “everyone” came to his birthday party, he means the regular characters on the show, and the main development of the episode is that he is retroactively romantically involved with one of them, which does not make sense. Brent Spiner is at his best deadpanning Data’s offer to investigate when exactly they began “coupling”. Wil Wheaton briefly returns as Wesley Crusher, reintegrating a previous set of regular characters for extra introversion.

Though I do not understand why this episode is celebrated, I note as usual the correlation between positive fan reception and relative serialization. In one of the episode’s alternate worlds, Picard died in “The Best of Both Worlds” (1990); in more than one, Worf’s injury in “Ethics” (1992) had consequences, though not the most likely consequences; and in an extreme outlier, a protracted war with the Borg has made the crew desperate enough to attack versions of itself just to prevent the return to status quo ante. Alas, they fail.

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“The Pegasus” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker is surprised to find that the most important part of his backstory, hitherto totally unknown, is relevant.

Another dense and moody episode that does some decent worldbuilding on the long-established pattern that anybody who outranks the captain of the Enterprise is a dick. In this case, it turns out that Federation brass has purposely violated an important arms-control treaty for more than a decade and plans to continue doing so, by exploiting a technological breakthrough that is conceptually related to the show’s various examples of lateral ontologies, like the parasites of “Phantasms” (1993). This is isn’t quite as believable as “The Drumhead” (1991) or “Ensign Ro” (1991), but like them, it’s reasonable in the way it brings nuance to Roddenberry’s optimism about the future of the state. The specifics are not terribly well implemented—I was hoping for more of “From Beyond”—but I like the Romulan captain’s diplomacy and the idea of Riker having obtained his maverick streak by fleeing a mutiny and then regretting it.

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“Homeward” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Worf’s human brother, a xenoanthropologist, tries to rescue the humanoid culture he studies, thus violating the Prime Directive.

Another day, another technobabbling environmental holocaust glossed over in favour of another pointless injection of backstory for Worf. Both are perfunctory. Instead, the emphasis lies on a Platonic thought experiment. This begins like the union of “Who Watches the Watchers” (xenoanthropologists failing to keep their distance) and “First Contact” (surgical alterations for undercover work as a member of another, uncontacted, species, contacting it) and proceeds like the union of “The Paradise Syndrome” (the deliberate preservation of other species’ cultural diversity by resettling samples on other planets) and “Ship in a Bottle” (people deliberately kept ignorant of being in a simulation, though in this case they themselves are not simulated). The concept is finally sold by Vorin, who is both skeptical and solely responsible for illustrating how his culture is different at all, and is the first to exit Plato’s cave.

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“Sub Rosa” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dr. Crusher on the planet of 18th-century Scotland.

Another ghost story, this one in the mode of 19th-century romanticist hacks, with fog forming in the corridors of the Enterprise. As an “Abbess Phone Home” story it is even more bizarrely out of place in TNG than “Assignment: Earth” (1968) was in TOS, and did not launch a spin-off. It is almost unwatchably dull, and makes no sense at all as an injection of personal backstory (family history). That said, I kind of like the campy nod to cheap erotica and the unusual angle on lotus-eating. Dr. Crusher actually resigns her commission (alas, without consequences) to experience her grandmother’s perpetual fuckfest with a handsome ghost, whose non-human origin is handwaved in the flimsiest possible manner. After the obligatory scenes showing this to be a poor decision made under the influence of mind control, she still concludes that her grandmother—who is raised from the dead in the process—was happy with the ghost.

References here: “Journey’s End” (1994).

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“Lower Decks” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Junior officers don’t know about the plot.

The idea of focusing more on ordinary people, with flaws and strengths and lasting mortality, is a great one. So great in fact that it became the ninth Star Trek TV series in 2020, titled, like the episode, Lower Decks.

Exactly how the episode’s writers messed up this first attempt is symptomatic of the preoccupations they display throughout TNG. Like women in stereotypical Hollywood movies that pass all but the last step of the Bechdel test, there is more than one junior officer in this episode, and they speak to one another, but they speak about senior officers—the men of the analogy—and especially about getting promoted.

In their spare time, the junior officers play poker, exactly like and in fact contemporaneously with the regular cast’s senior officers, instead of having other interests that could have showed more of the ship or the world. Some of them are underdeveloped as characters even given the limited space available, and both Worf and Picard subject one of them—a woman introduced in “The First Duty” (1992)—to deceptions for bad reasons. A shift change occurs on screen, but there is no “night shift” scene where the senior officers are gone. Even at the very end, when Picard goes on the intercom to announce the death of a crew member, the camera is on Picard; the effort to show how the crew perceives him is not serious. Only Bruce Beatty’s Ben and Alexander Enberg’s Taurik really deliver on the inherent strength of the premise.

References here: “Thine Own Self” (1994).

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“Thine Own Self” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Data’s a bit broken, but his universal translator still works. The local Enlightenment-style doctor believes he is an ice-man from the Vellorian mountains, and also believes in a set of four elements, like Aristotle. She is not prepared for the metal in Data’s box, marked “Radioactive”.

Good A plot; easily the best of the “Data befriends a child” episodes. It’s a version of the 1987 Goiânia accident in the backwaters of Trek, married to Kirk’s amnesia from “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968).

Apropos of “Lower Decks” (1994), alluded to here, Dr. Crusher reveals in the opening’s B plot that she took up training as a commander for a reason she can barely even recall: to “stretch”. That’s a euphemism. Despite glimpses of self-awareness and meritocratic egalitarianism, such as “Conundrum” (1992), the heroes of TNG want to and do in fact command lesser (i.e. normal) humans, just like on TOS. The true reasons for this hierarchical hero worship are ugly, and the writers apparently realized they are ugly, so they completely failed to explain them, leaving only Crusher’s vague impulse to “stretch”, not to rule and order others to their death, as Troi does in a qualifying simulation in this episode.

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“Masks” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The gods of an ancient civilization physically reshape the Enterprise and take over Data.

There is an interesting seed at the heart of the script: Pairing the puzzle of theoretical archaeology with an alien culture like “Darmok” (1991). Alas, the implementation is almost uniformly bad, including the prominence of Ihat, the haughty trickster god, who resembles Q.

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“Eye of the Beholder” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A lieutenant who helped build the ship suddenly commits suicide. Troi investigates.

Aside from the ass-pull of the climax, which is too extensive an illusion, there is a lot to like here. It’s ultimately the second best ghost story in TNG after “Night Terrors” (1991), because it takes a decisively scientific approach to psychic powers. The script names a special neurotransmitter for them, La Forge refers to “psychic photographs” (in reality, a sham), and the phenomenon is divorced from the presence and intent of any living or undead person, which is all appropriate. At the same time, the problem really is ghosts; the writers aren’t cowards this time around.

This is also one of very few episodes where the action filmed on an interior set is geographically connected to the shape of the ship. The place where Kwan kills himself is identifiable on the exterior model. The particular set is an obviously cheap one-off, but still, it’s nice that they tried.

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“Genesis” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Barclay is too hypochondriacal for Sick Bay, so Dr. Crusher quickly decides to “activate” one of his recessive alleles (“genes”) with a “synthetic T cell”.

Although it anticipates CRISPR/Cas9, the writers’ understanding of biology is childlike, which makes for laughable kitsch, a lot of special-effects makeup, and another case of Data saving the day from a problem that doesn’t bother him. The same writers continue to ship Worf and Troi, but as in previous episodes, they retreat from the effort by the end, as if testing the waters of fandom.

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“Journey’s End” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Wesley Crusher briefly returns, tired of Starfleet Academy, while the crew relocates some generic non-Indian Indians. Their settlement is 200 years old and devoted to a lifestyle several hundred years older than that, but it’s inside a planned no man’s land under a treaty with the Cardassians.

This would have been a pretty bad idea under any circumstances. The non-American native Americans of this episode must be compared to the prominent appearance of no-longer-American native Americans in TOS’s “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968), where their transportation by ancient non-humans was a deliberate act to preserve their culture. That older premise went some way toward explaining why their culture was in fact preserved, to the superficial standards of Hollywood. In both episodes, the two respective peoples look and act the same.

Here, the writers posit that some 22nd-century Earthicans of native-American descent went to recreate the civilization of some of their ancestors, by voluntarily leaving their ancestral lands light years behind them, and deciding to treat Klingons etc. as spirit animals while otherwise reverting to a roughly 16th-century culture and remaining stable in it for 200 years, all while the rest of humanity moved on. This is less credible than “The Paradise Syndrome” under the circumstances, and it illustrates a consistent underlying interest. It’s not Wagon Train to the stars this time around, not the Space Western genre, but nor is it anthropology or history or even science fiction. It’s just ignorant and callous pop mythology: quietly brave and persecuted “Indians”, who will help a pinkish-beige protagonist find a deeper wisdom. It is a meme of racism.

For some reason, the association between race and culture in this episode is stronger even than “Code of Honor” (1987), which implied that darker-skinned people are barbaric. The race-based motif is subverted only in the detail that the efficacy of the tribe’s stereotypical magic is again attributed to an alien, i.e. the “Traveler” from “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987), who was only pretending to be played so well by Tom Jackson.

“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” (1974) compares more favourably. In that episode of TAS, a member of the crew who identifies as Comanche and has a strong interest in history is able to provide vital clues about an ancient alien who visited Mesoamerican peoples, all while the crew member leads a normal life as part of the dominant human society and culture. His apparent race is significant, but not wholly defining. Compare also “Progress” (1993), a similar scenario about dislodging a few traditionalists for grand political reasons. In “Progress”, it is the same ethnic group both doing the dislodging and being dislodged, and while neither party looks stereotypically Hollywood Indian, their ethnic group does in fact represent native Americans according to authorial commentary, such as that of Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

There is a critically honest impulse in the fact that Picard, the greatest hero on the show, willingly takes the job of transporting the generational LARP by force despite knowing how tragic this is, and despite his not liking the woman who gives him the job. That’s a continuity error, but the deliberate dischord meets the minimal standard of historical awareness, even though everybody else in Starfleet seems happy forcibly displacing a neutral society which has no meaningful political relationship with the Federation. Sisko acted similarly in “Progress”, though that episode did not have the genocidal undertone.

The episode ends, predictably, in a white-saviour narrative where it turns out that “The First Duty” (1992) did in fact presage Wesley’s failure in Starfleet and the realization of his Mozart powers in another domain, as pure superhero magic. I appreciate that the writers delivered a sliver of continuity and closure here, but the only smart thing about it is that the revolt on the surface puts the temporarily immoral Picard on the same level as his Cardassian counterpart: both pulling out in a panic. This episode is otherwise worse than its predecessors within the franchise.

It is another silly detail that Dr. Crusher berates Wesley for throwing away his career over a mere vision, when she herself did exactly the same thing in “Sub Rosa” (1994) weeks earlier.

References here: “Preemptive Strike” (1994).

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“Firstborn” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Alexander doesn’t want to participate in the first rite of Klingon manhood.

A remake of “Yesteryear” (1973). The plot twist (K’Mtar being a time-traveling Alexander reversing his own choice) only works because the series has set up a strong expectation that each new bit of personal backstory will be a retcon with no foreshadowing. Good kitsch. Also noteworthy is one of the more subtle nods to DS9, through “bilitrium”, a conceit of “Past Prologue” (1993). This is based purely on worldbuilding, not face recognition, as it should be.

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“Bloodlines” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A fanatical Ferengi criminal vows to kill a stranger he claims is Picard’s son.

Episodic family drama, tacked on the tail end of TNG at the cost of believability. Only the hairline joke is any good.

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“Emergence” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

In the fourth-to-last episode of TNG, the Enterprise becomes self-aware—as indicated by what Mark Twain would have called “theatrical gorgeousness”—and then it’s right back to status quo ante. At least Mark Twain himself is not part of this particular trapped-on-the-holodeck meltdown, which repeats “The Practical Joker” (1974).

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“Preemptive Strike” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Laren returns and becomes a double agent.

Though the writers used Laren rather little, it’s nice that she was one of the few characters who had a perceptible arc, especially because it ended here, with Laren returning to her roots and literally betraying the Federation over the same political issues that initially made her suspect and that blackened the Federation both in her first appearance and in “Journey’s End” (1994). The writers finally made a move that would have had consequences, if only there had been anything left to the series other than its two-part finale.

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All Good Things (1994Moving picture, 105 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Q.

Instead of changing the crew, or changing the mission, or doing anything else with finality, the writers decided to combine an extensive callback to Encounter at Farpoint (1987) with a remake of “Future Imperfect” (1990) and “Cause and Effect” (1992). Alas, the promise of senility in a lightly SF’d-up version of Alzheimer’s disease is not a bow to realism, nor a remake of “Sarek” (1990), but simply an arbitrary complication and red herring, perhaps one of Q’s bullying tricks but ultimately irrelevant.

It is not clear in what way Picard perceives three timeframes at once. That perception is supposed to make for a puzzle like “Conundrum” etc., but the whole thing was apparently staged by the gods of the Q Continuum as a test of lateral thinking, under arbitrary premises, which is dull.

At the end, the writers undermine their own work by decanonizing the future they sketch here, which is 25 years ahead of the “present time” of the show. The narrative closures of that future (Picard’s marriage to Dr. Crusher and their subsequent divorce; the failure of Worf’s now-cemented but slow-moving relationship with Troi over Riker’s resentment, Worf leaving Starfleet etc.) are therefore tentative. The most solid pieces of this grand send-off are instead the reappearances of Yar and O’Brien, but these come without narrative significance.

In the end status quo ante conquers all. Not even the finale is allowed to establish change in a world of science fiction.

References here: “Progress” (1993).

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