Well, it's taken some time, but here at long last (at least for me!) is a review of the end of TNG. As with previous year-end reviews, this contains first an episode-by-episode rundown, and then a commentary on the year as a whole. So, on we go...
I. Season 7, Episode by Episode | ----------------------------------+
"Descent, Part II" Written by: Rene Echevarria Directed by: Alexander Singer Initial rating: 6.5. Best quote: "Have you felt any other emotions?" "There *are* no other emotions."
This cliffhanger resolution, like many, ran into problems, but here they ended up being disturbingly apt harbingers of problems to come. Although "Descent II" had many things going for it -- Brent Spiner's acting, a pretty good use of Bev's command, the actual use of old technological breakthroughs (the metaphasic shielding), and many nice incidental moments -- the episode tended to collapse under the weight of sloppy thinking on the part of most of the characters, gigantic doses of technobabble, and the implication that Picard and Geordi could probably make a functioning starship out of a hairpin and two sticks of gum. When I cheered "I, Borg" two years ago (and still would), I had no idea it was going to lead to something like this. As was typical for season-opening shows, "Descent, Part II" was a disappointment.
Final rating: 5.
"Liaisons" Written by: Roger Eschbacher & Jaq Greenspon (story); Jeanne Carrigan Fauci & Lisa Rich (teleplay) Directed by: Cliff Bole Initial rating: 5. Best quote: "Besides, you look GOOD in a dress."
This falls into the "yes, and?" category of TNG shows for this season. Of the three "interests" examined, only one (the food obsession) was truly horrid; the rest of it had bits that worked and a lot of bits that didn't. For the most part, though, it seemed like everyone from actors to writers to directors was still on vacation, and this felt like a 15-minute concept stretched out well past the fraying point.
Final rating: 3.5.
"Interface" Written by: Joe Menosky Directed by: Robert Wiemer Initial rating: 9. Best quote: "You disobeyed my direct order -- you put yourself in grave danger. I am NOT happy."
"Interface" isn't quite as good in retrospect as I thought, but it's far more solid than I think it's given credit for much of the time. Although the show suffered from a slow pace almost as much as "Liaisons" did, and both the sudden influx of relatives and the "gee-whiz" status of telepresence seemed a little implausible, I thought both premise and plot were quite solid, most everybody did strong work on the acting side (Burton and Frakes in particular), and we got a rarity: a mystery that was *not* solved and explained away. I have to admit, I like that.
Final rating: 7.
"Gambit, Part I" Written by: Christopher Hatton and Naren Shankar (story), Naren Shankar (teleplay) Directed by: Peter Lauritson Initial rating: 4. Best quote: "We cannot just SIT here!" "On the contrary, Lieutenant; that is exactly what we must do."
I said back in the fall that "Gambit" as a whole could be considered a B-movie for TNG, and I'll stand by it. Part II got to have fun with everyone chewing scenery and solving problems, and as such was fun -- but part I was saddled with the unenviable task of making any of it remotely plausible, and failed pretty badly. The actions of the three highest command officers were *all* absurdly risky and sloppily done, and as such it took a solid half-episode of laughter and taunts before I could really settle down and watch the rest of it. On the other hand, Stewart got to have lots of fun as "Galen the Smuggler", and Data's command presence is not to be missed.
Final rating: 4.
"Gambit, Part II" Written by: Naren Shankar (story), Ronald D. Moore (teleplay) Directed by: Alexander Singer Initial rating: 9. Best quote: Oh, tons. Here's a sampling: "I have difficulty remembering whose side I'm on." "...he's only stunned." "I must admit -- I am experiencing a similar sensation." "Wait a minute: you've been declared dead. You can't give orders around here."
"Gambit, Part II" got to deal with all the fallout from part 1, but despite that turned out pretty enjoyable. It had its share of problems, certainly, such as James Worthy's zombie-like performance, the serious silliness with the servo, some slowdowns in the pace and the heavyhandedness of the Deep Moral Significance). However, despite all that, this show managed to just *crackle* with excitement. Data's command was good as usual, the double-double-double-double-crosses were more than entertaining, and there was more sparkling dialogue here than in the four shows before it combined. "Gambit II" was a pretty shallow piece of work, but even Twinkies can be good once in a while.
Final rating: 8.
"Phantasms" Written by: Brannon Braga Directed by: Patrick Stewart Initial rating: 9.5. Best quote: Again, a smorgasbord. Examples: "Mr. LaForge, why isn't my ship moving?" "It is a cellular peptide cake." "Wff mnt frfting!" "Zere might be a paper in zis..." "But I have no sexual desire." "Ah! Impotence on top of everything!" and "You must talk to him; tell him that he is a _pretty_ cat, and a _good_ cat, and --" "I. Will. Feed. Him."
"Phantasms" was by far the best show of the season up to that point. Its biggest problems were a slightly rushed ending and a slight case of technobabble, but neither stuck out very much. And "Phantasms" did have a great deal to offer: the running-gag "jeopardy" of the Admirals' banquet, great comic elements in Worf's offer to take care of Spot and in Tyler's crush on Geordi, reality bending all around, dialogue that snapped every time you tripped over it, and (of course) serious use made of Data's capability of dreaming, still in my opinion one of the greatest things to come out of late-season TNG. The imagery was intense, and put to excellent use. Nice one.
Final rating: 9.5.
"Dark Page" Written by: Hilary J. Bader Directed by: Les Landau Initial rating: 4. Best quote: "Mother? Can you hear me?", but only when followed by "Can you see me?" right afterwards from the audience. :-)
And here, TNG took a turn into serious "movie-of-the-week" territory. I give it credit for *attempting* to give Lwaxana Troi some depth, and for the concept of Cairn telepathy. However, the execution of the latter was truly bad (sound effects imitating swarms of locusts went out with "Exorcist II: The Heretic", didn't they?), and I'm one of those people that thinks Lwaxana is an absolutely depth-defying character (pun intended). Add to that poor acting from both Majel Barrett and Norman Large (Maques), and you have a show that, while among the better Lwaxana shows, doesn't get any further than that dubious distinction.
Final rating: 4.
"Attached" Written by: Nicholas Sagan Directed by: Jonathan Frakes Initial rating: 7.5. Best quote: "THAT is not funny." "I wanted to see if you were still listening."
"Attached" wasn't bad at all. It suffered from a couple of plot goofs (the pain-link portion of Picard and Crusher's attachment, for one), a premise that I thought wasn't that necessary to start with, and some poor production values, but on the whole everything ELSE turned out fairly well. The pacing and dialogue were both strong (the former of which is typical if not universal for Frakes-directed shows), everyone's acting was very much on form, and the subplot with the ultra-paranoid Kes leader was a scream. And, surprisingly enough, I warmed a lot more to the Picard/Bev "revelations" than I expected to. Given my skepticism in advance about it, the fact that the show got me as close to pleased with it as I was is very much to the show's credit.
Final rating: 7.
"Force of Nature" Written by: Naren Shankar Directed by: Robert Lederman Initial rating: 3.5. Best quote: "Spot. This is down. Down is GOOD."
The only quotes that even came close had to be from the Spot section, because those were the only parts of the show even possibly worth remembering. While I'll admit the premise of warp drive causing environmental damage is intriguing, this wasn't the way to do it: the pace was glacial, the preaching was almost as blatant as in "Symbiosis" and other flagrant "message" shows, the acting was sleepy, and when you dug through all the massive piles of technobabble the show created, you discovered that the scientists didn't actually prove *anything* about their cumulative claim. This show wasn't offensively bad (those were later in the season), but it was definitely a "for completists only" affair.
Final rating: 3.
"Inheritance" Written by: Dan Koeppel (story); Dan Koeppel and Rene Echevarria (teleplay) Directed by: Robert Scheerer Initial rating: 8. Best quote: "Some of the colonists objected to having an anatomically correct android running around without any clothes on."
Now *this* was more like it. Just as in the case of "Attached", I came into this show skeptical: a mother for Data? Come on. However, even more so than "Attached", "Inheritance" took a potentially terrible concept and mined it for gold. Despite some setbacks such as bogus geology and (especially) the total absence of Data catching Juliana up on Lore's history, almost everything else worked: Fionnula Flanagan was every bit as convincing after you knew she was an android as before you did, Data's deductive skills were both on target and uniquely suited for him, both acting and writing were very strong efforts almost entirely throughout the show, and the Data/Soong scene was up to the level of all the other Data/Soong scenes we've seen (which says a great deal; those scenes are amazingly good). Nice job.
Final rating: 9.
"Parallels" Written by: Brannon Braga Directed by: Robert Wiemer Initial rating: 10. Best quote: Again, we've got tons. Let's see... "I think Data's painting is making me dizzy." "That would make my mother your stepmother." [eyes bulge] "I had not considered that ... it is a risk I am willing to take." "I do remember; I just remember it differently." ... and, of course, the infamous "Captain, we're receiving two hundred and eighty-five thousand hails.", sure to go down in history as a classic. :-)
"Parallels" was a marvelous piece of work. When the only objections I noticed on a repeat viewing were the onset of the Worf/Troi relationship (which is more a problem with later shows, not this one) and minor glitches about time references back to past events, this was one solid outing. The premise of "Schrodinger's Klingon" was great, and the execution of Worf's gradual shifting and gradual confusion was marvelous right down the line, from broad strokes like the role-reversal of Bajorans and Cardassians to little details like Data's eyes changing color. And as if we didn't have enough to make us jump in this show, we had the appearance of an Enterprise from a Borg-ravaged universe, which chilled the blood to no end. "Parallels" was and is one of the best of the season.
Final rating: Still 10.
"The Pegasus" Written by: Ronald D. Moore Directed by: LeVar Burton Initial rating: 10. Best quote: Again, vast quantities, including: "I don't know; I think the resemblance is rather striking. Wouldn't you agree, Number One?" "Isn't there something else you have to do?" "I was two months out of the Academy, my head still ringing with words like 'duty' and 'honor'." "... and if I find that that trust has been misplaced, I will have to re-evaluate the command structure of this ship." "So on reflection, you'd rather be a traitor than a hero." "I was no hero, and neither were you!" and "I have a lot of friends at Starfleet Command, Captain." "You're going to need them."
Although "Parallels" was a great deal of fun, I think "The Pegasus" is in many ways a much richer show. Although the issues raised here have provoked tons of debate about the wisdom of the Treaty of Algeron and Picard's alleged hypocrisy in breaking treaties himself while standing on principle with Admiral Pressman, the very fact that it *does* raise points for debate is evidence of its strength. Beyond the broader points, though, this was a great trial-by-fire episode for Riker, had a marvelous sense of atmosphere about it (particularly surrounding Pressman), and a nice mix of serious drama and good clean fun (the latter being the entire "Captain Picard Day" premise, which was a scream). LeVar Burton managed to coax superb performances from everyone as well. "Parallels" is in the running for best of the season, as I said, but I think "The Pegasus" may actually have that honor.
Final rating: 10.
"Homeward" Written by: Spike Steingasser (television story), Naren Shankar (teleplay), other material by William N. Stape Directed by: Alexander Singer Initial rating: 6. Best quote: "It is the sign of LaForge."
"Homeward" is not an episode that ages well at all. Although the general concepts behind Nikolai's plan were sensible enough, the sheer implausibility of his original actions, the sheer lack of considering alternatives, and the heavy-handed preachiness of Picard made this a textbook case of how *not* to handle a Prime Directive show; it left even the majority of the Directive's defenders squeamish about it. The show had some good scenes (such as that between Picard and Vorin, and many of Dorn's main pieces), but that's about all it had going for it. Not impressive.
Final rating: 4.
"Sub Rosa" Written by: Jeri Taylor (television story), Brannon Braga (teleplay), other material by Jeanna F. Gallo Directed by: Jonathan Frakes Initial rating: 2.5. Best quote: "It just sort of rolled in on us, sir." -- Riker, about the fog
"Sub Rosa" made a really bad impression on me at first. In retrospect, though ... it's even worse. About all I can say in favor of this episode is that there were very small bits of dialogue between Picard and Beverly that were worth remembering. Beyond that, though, this was a show that was virtually rotten to the core. Even discounting the questionable similarities between this and Anne Rice's _The Witching Hour_, this show was so remarkably sexist in its presentation of Bev's situation and the alleged "eroticism" involved as to be quite offensive, at least to me. Add to that heavy doses of technobabble, the almost all-pervasive tendency of the show to turn a ghost story into "plausible" science, a screaming-fit ending that also flies in the face of the crew's "respect other lifeforms" philosophy, and the likelihood that Frakes mailed in his directions this week, and you get what was probably the worst show of the season.
Final rating: 1.5.
"Lower Decks" Written by: Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias (story), Rene Echevarria (teleplay) Directed by: Gabrielle Beaumont Initial rating: 9.5. Best quote: "Come on, Geordi; you don't have to quit just because I'm *unbeatable*."
Now *that's* more like it. "Lower Decks" offered a major change of perspective for the show (one I wouldn't mind seeing more often), and a nice slice-of-life drama shown through the four ensigns. Although bits of the Bev/Ogawa scenes seemed a tad overdone, and there were some strange glitches in time referents (very pervasive this season, I might add), that was all way overshadowed by some excellent work with Sito (both with Worf and with Picard), a strong plot, intelligent acting and directing by virtually everyone, and a double-barrelled poker sequence that's worth watching many times over. Nice work.
Final rating: 9.
"Thine Own Self" Written by: Christopher Hatton (story), Ronald D. Moore (teleplay) Directed by: Winrich Kolbe Initial rating: 9. Best quote: Again, several, including... "Did you come here for something in particular, or just general Riker-bashing?" "Father said she went to a beautiful place, where everything is peaceful, and everyone loves each other, and no one ever gets sick. Do you think there's really a place like that?" "Yes ... I do." and "Rock, fire, sky, and water are the four basic elements of the universe."
Speaking of alternate perspectives ... while "Data-as-Frankenstein" is the sort of concept that could make for a truly awful show, this show rather cleverly used Data as both the poor doctor and his monstrous creation, and did it so superbly that the Data bits of "Thine Own Self" are among my favorite Data scenes ever. (Admittedly, as a science teacher I'm biased; the Aristotelian science classes and debunking of "argument from analogy" made this poor heart sing. :-) ) The only thing marring the show (other than the final confrontation 'tween Data and the villagers, which just screamed "Hollywood setup") was a fairly iffy subplot surrounding Troi's command test, which felt very shoehorned in. Beyond that, though, this is a keeper.
Final rating: 8.
"Masks" Written by: Joe Menosky Directed by: Robert Wiemer Initial rating: 6.5. Best quote: "Well, aren't we the persistent one." "Ihat." "Is anyone else so charming?"
"Masks", on the other hand, was just weird with a capital Q. (The Q is silent, you see; that's what's so odd about it...) The show seemed at least partly designed to give Brent a chance to show off how multi-faceted he is, and on that level it worked; Brent *is* very talented, no doubt about it. However, it did so at the cost of a seriously unrealistic premise, loose ends and questions abounding everywhere (what about animals? what about the rest of the crew other than the Big Seven?), and the general feeling that the writer knew lots of things we didn't and simply didn't feel like letting us in on the plan. That's fine for part of a story, but not a whole one; and as such, "Masks" was kind of a mismash.
(And I still maintain that one of the most unintentionally (?) funny sequences in this episode comes about a quarter of the way in, when Picard is holding a recently-created pillar out in a particularly ... intriguing fashion. Watch for Frakes's major smirk-fest once he notices.)
Final rating: 6.
"Eye of the Beholder" Written by: Brannon Braga (story), Rene Echevarria (teleplay) Directed by: Cliff Bole Initial rating: 4.5. Best quote: "Is there someone in particular you would rather I not be involved with?" "Mr. Worf, you sound like a man who's asking his friend if he can start dating his sister."
An episode with a quote *that* good can't be all bad. Unfortunately, that's easily the best thing "Eye of the Beholder" had going for it. Although the premise of Troi having a major hallucination was plausible enough, and good care was taken to keep the point of view centered on her thereafter, it wasn't enough to really make me warm to a show that was, essentially, an excuse to get Troi and Worf together in a way that "didn't count". Add to that a lot of serious talking-heads scenes, the fact that the Worf/Troi pairing seemed forced *anyway*, and some lackluster work from Sirtis in the final ten minutes or so of the show, and you get something that, while not awful, isn't particularly good either.
Final rating: 4.
"Genesis" Written by: Brannon Braga Directed by: Gates McFadden Initial rating: 2. Best quote: "My capillaries are shrinking."
Ouch. When Brannon Braga is good ("Phantasms", "Parallels", etc.), he's really good; but when he's bad ("Sub Rosa" and this, for instance), he can be appallingly so. While "Genesis" may not have been offensive on a moral level as "Sub Rosa" was, it killed more brain cells in the watching. The plot was moronic on both a scientific level *and* a dramatic one (sensors mysteriously work only when the plot calls for them, as do computers, as do doors, etc.), the technobabble was jacked up to a level that could carry off small mammals, and the use of growling animals to create a creepy feeling long ago ceased to carry much weight with me. Add to that the fact that acting (with a few exceptions) was pretty sub-par, and the implication that a careless action by Bev could kill thousands *without her noticing or even caring*, and you get a serious competitor for worst of the season, and an almost definite resident of TNG's bottom ten shows, period.
Final rating: 2.
"Journey's End" Written by: Ronald D. Moore; based on material by Shawn Piller & Anatonia Napoli Directed by: Corey Allen Initial rating: 7. Best quote: "I think that's the first time anyone has ever used that particular word [sacred] to describe me."
After "Genesis", anything would be a step up, and as such "Journey's End" may have gotten a slightly higher rating in the spring than was really justified. While this was a generally good farewell to Wes, and acting was pretty solid all around from both regulars and guest stars, the implications of Wes becoming a proto-Traveller seemed to go unnoticed, and any references back to "The First Duty", which would provide the best of all possible *reasons* for Wes to be so unhappy, went unmade. Further, the "look, we're being multicultural, dammit!" nature of many of the Native American scenes seemed extremely out of place and unnecessary. "Journey's End" is still watchable, but mostly for the Demilitarized Zone issues it sets up later in both TNG and DS9 than for Wes.
Final rating: 5.5.
"Firstborn" Written by: Mark Kalbfeld (story), Rene Echevarria (teleplay) Directed by: Jonathan West Initial rating: 7. Best quote: "I'd just be knocking on his door again in a few days ... and I wouldn't be in as good a mood."
The biggest criticism that lurks behind "Firstborn" is that it marks a turning in Worf's and Alexander's relationship that should have come months or years before it did. Other than that, the criticisms are smaller, if prevalent: the Duras sisters, once considered a large enough threat to build a major plotline around, are now used almost as villain comic relief (and what's more, they're apparently *let go*), Worf is too credulous (as is too often the case), and Brian Bonsall still hasn't gotten Alexander quite right. However, the show *did* have an intriguing premise behind it, some good development on Worf's part, some good strategy behind the locating of the Duras sisters, and a stellar performance by James Sloyan.
Final rating: 7.
"Bloodlines" Written by: Nicholas Sagan Directed by: Les Landau Initial rating: 6. Best quote: "... but one thing's clear; you'll never look at your hairline again in the same way."
As with "Eye of the Beholder", any show with a quote *that* inspired has to have something going for it. Unfortunately, it and the Picard/Bok sequences comprise the vast majority of the episode's appeal. Unlike many, I found Bok surprisingly menacing and a worthwhile villain -- but there was no reason for his return, particularly when his situation is now left just as unresolved as it was six years ago. As for Picard and Jason, the less said is generally the better; Jason came out of a balsa wood cookie-cutter, and it showed in the lack of depth all his scenes (with Picard or not) had. Stewart did the best he could with weak material, but it really wasn't enough to give more than flashes of brilliance.
Final rating: 4.
"Emergence" Written by: Brannon Braga (story), Joe Menosky (teleplay) Directed by: Cliff Bole Initial rating: 7. Best quote: "O brave new world that has such people in it." "It seemed appropriate."
"Emergence" was also pretty strange, though it avoided the "okay, this just got too strange" syndrome that "Masks" ended up with. Although the ease of the ending and the unspoken implications of the Enterprise being able to create life were serious drawbacks (not the implications themselves, but the fact that no one noticed them), and the technobabble level was annoying (though not overpowering), "Emergence" worked for me somehow. Most of the weirdness seemed to have a point (thus rendering it "symbolism" :-) ), everyone did a good job with the material, and when it comes right down to it, the show got me involved. That's not enough to make a stellar show, but it's enough to make a good one.
Final rating: 7.
"Preemptive Strike" Written by: Naren Shankar (story), Rene Echevarria (teleplay) Directed by: Patrick Stewart Initial rating: 8.5. Best quote: Several, again. Here goes: "Are you Maquis?" "What if we were?" "If you were, I would ask if I could join you, and help you fight." "When I listened to that music he played for me, I was never afraid to go to sleep. And when he died ... I realized even he couldn't make all the monsters go away." and "It's been a long time since I really felt like I belonged somewhere."
As TNG geared up for an ending, it laid a further foundation for DS9 and for "Voyager", and came up with one of the bleakest, nastiest shows of the season. Although there were bits and pieces of "Preemptive Strike" that didn't quite ring true (the ease of Ro's infiltration, for one, and Picard's presence in the bar confrontation), and Ro's long absence made the show less powerful than it otherwise might have been, the show was still *extremely* powerful on many levels. While there's been much debate about whether Ro made the "right" choice, I think it's fair to say that this was the dramatically right choice for future stories, and it's an ambiguous enough issue to let healthy debate exist -- which is always a big selling point with me. The show was paced well, gave its characters hard choices and *made them pick one*, and everyone upon everyone worked wonders in the acting department. A nice piece of work.
Final rating: 9.
"All Good Things..." Written by: Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga Directed by: Winrich Kolbe Initial rating: 10. Best quote: What, just one? You must be mad. :-) Here's a lengthy list of candidates:
"Captain, we've got a problem with the warp core, or the phase inducers, or some other damned thing." "Actually, I really like running around the ship in my bare feet." "What is a Q?" "It's a letter of the alphabet, as far as I know." "SORRY! That's not a yes or a no question; you forfeit the rest of your questions." "...But what have we seen instead? You worrying about Commander Riker's career, listening to Counselor Troi's pedantic psychobabble, indulging Data in his witless exploration of humanity?" "You have always used your knowledge of Klingon honor to manipulate me." "Because it always WORKS, Worf!" "Where is the anomaly?" "Eh? Where's your mommy? Well, I don't know..." "Mister Data, you are a clever man -- in any time period." "Goodbye, Jean-Luc; I'm going to miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end." "For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. THAT is the exploration that awaits you: not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence." [Really, the whole speech should be here, but I'm not that crazy. :-) ] "Four hands in a row; how does he do it?" "I cheat." And, of course, "So, five-card stud, nothing wild; and the sky's the limit..."
After a weak season, we all at least got a sendoff fit for the show's better days. Although there's been much debate about "errors" in the main plot of the Anomaly, I think most of them aren't really errors, but primarily ambiguities that might have been better left cleared up. (One exception is that Picard should have insisted on a scan of himself in the future to prove that what he was saying was legit.) Fundamentally, though, Q's speech is right: TNG *has* been about characters and humanity, not about temporal physics and "studying nebulae"; and from a character standpoint, everything about "All Good Things..." worked very well indeed with me. Winrich Kolbe outdid all his other past work with this piece, action fanatics got one of Trek's best battle scenes, cat fans got Data's house in Cambridge :-), acting fans got to witness both Stewart and Spiner give performances that should by rights be Emmy material -- and when it comes right down to it, this show *moved me*. Quibblers be damned; that's what I care about.
Final rating: 10.
As with last year, if we were to strictly average that out we'd get roughly a 6; whether a little more or a little less depends on whether you count "All Good Things..." as two votes for being two hours. (I'd tend to.) As with past seasons, though, I don't think you can boil a season down to a single number. All this would indicate to me is that this season was *definitely* a comedown from the last two years, and I didn't need a calculator to tell me _that_. So, onwards to the second (and far shorter) part of the review, namely...
II. General Commentary | -------------------------+
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
Mostly, though, it was the Blah of times. Although season 7 had its undeniable bright spots, for the most part this year seemed to chug along on fumes without any real idea of where it was going or why.
I'm feeling vaguely split-personality about my own reactions to the season. On the one hand, I've voiced objections many times to the TNG universe apparently "knowing" things were coming to an end and thus preparing lots of "final looks" at situations. On the other hand, though, when the close of the season brought things like "Bloodlines", I found myself asking "why in blazes are things like *this* getting done as one of TNG's farewell notes? What's the point?" That seems a bit inconsistent to me, but so be it; I contain multitudes. :-)
In past seasons, though, most episodes sparked some sort of strong reaction in me, whether for good *or* ill. This time, of 25 shows, it's telling that only 10 provoked a major reaction from me right from the start, and in two of those cases ["Sub Rosa" and "Genesis"] the reaction was highly negative. Now, it's entirely possible to argue that this means only that I've become jaded, and I'll readily admit that possibility. Given that others have come away with such an attitude, though (and the included-only-for-reference notes that I have, as a whole, enjoyed both DS9 and "Babylon 5" tremendously this season), I think it's far more likely that TNG *itself* became jaded with this year. While there were several shows I will value as a worthy contribution to TNG [among them "Phantasms", "Parallels", "The Pegasus", "Lower Decks", and "All Good Things..."], there were a great many that, rather than being amazingly good or amazingly bad, were simply amazingly *there*.
As such, this season gave off the impression of a show adrift, which in many ways I think it was. In many cases, some of the essential elements of the characters were lost for the sake of "a good story", or more often "a neat moment". For instance, the Worf/Troi relationship opens up a lot of interesting questions about how such a relationship between two vastly different cultures can survive and grow. Instead, except for "All Good Things..." they were really only used as plot shockers. Even in the latter, they were used primarily to show their effect on *Riker*. It was superbly done, but there could have been much more.
Then, there's Picard. While some of the best shows put him to good use, we also had things like "Gambit", which led our usually cautious and sensible captain to act like a blithering idiot in going off to investigate mercenary activity _without telling anyone_. There's also "Bloodlines", with its suggestion that Picard was potentially fathering children all the time without knowing it (no doubt serious Kirk adherents will consider this a positive change :-) ), and "Homeward", which turned him from a caring individual willing to use rules to his advantage into a plodding and preaching bureaucrat.
Why, I have to ask, were these things done? Trek at its best has been about characters -- and when those characters are misused, that advantage is completely lost. "Weird moments" are nice for their own sake on occasion, sure; but a show comprising solely of weird moments is a show that few can latch onto, as "Masks" can probably demonstrate.
Then, there's the Dreaded Technobabble Trend [tm], which I brought up as a problem to watch for last year. Far from being solved, alas, it festered, multiplied, and killed off small animals to feed its children with. Granted, with the exception of "Emergence" there was nothing this year that seemed solely about the workings of 24th-century technology (well, perhaps "Force of Nature"...), but serious technobabble silliness was used to get *out* of a great many plots. For instance:
-- "Interface". Actually, this one wasn't bad.
-- "Force of Nature". Ick.
-- "Sub Rosa". Ghost stories tend not to work particularly well in this genre anyway, but to then "justify" it by saying "look, we've substituted 'anaphasic lifeform' for 'demon', so it's really SF!" is, to be honest, an insulting argument from where I sit. Here, technobabble was simply an *excuse* for a poor show.
-- "Eye of the Beholder". Granted, this was a special case: psychotechnobabble. :-) Even so, the way out of this show was a gobbledygook explanation that basically said, to quote Tasha, "It never happened." Ugh.
-- "Genesis". This gets its own rant later.
-- "Bloodlines". "Resequenced his DNA?" This is supposed to solve everything and make life all better? Come on.
-- "Emergence". Here, the biggest problem with the technobabble was simply its vast prevalence; the plot itself was fairly reasonable.
Although the above may not seem like all that much, it's seven full episodes that could have either been pruned of technical problems to improve them, or seven slots that could have been replaced with more drama-heavy shows instead. Either way, it was one of the factors in this season's decline. [It's worth noting, though, that in at least a few cases such as bits of "All Good Things..." and "Parallels", some of the dialogue managed to note that it was all incomprehensible. It's not as good as pruning it, but a sense of perspective never hurt.]
As for "Genesis" ... what can I say that I didn't say months ago or earlier in the review? Although it did not appall me as much on a scientific level as did "The Chase" [probably because (1) it didn't dance on top of my hot buttons the way "The Chase" did, and (2) I was too numbed with pain by the rest of the show], it did not have drama to back it up. I can even understand (vaguely) the reasoning that must have gone into this concept at a story meeting:
"We need another story; what else can happen just on the ship?" "I've got it! Let's turn everybody into animals!" "Why?" "It'll be cool." "How?" "We'll have their DNA start mutating backwards -- they'll 'de-evolve'." "Um, you realize that that's absurd..."
The problem in this particular case was that *no one listened* to the last line of that hypothetical conversation. I know it or something close to it was said, so what happened? There is a limit to suspension of disbelief, and based on the people I've spoken to, "Genesis" went about a dozen levels past it for many.
This review is starting to sound like a full-fledged bashing of the season, which I really think is undeserved. As I said, season-7 TNG did have quite a bit to offer:
-- "Phantasms" took one of the best late-season bits of character evolution, Data's dreaming, and ran with it;
-- "Gambit, Part II", despite being utterly silly in its premise, was a roller-coaster ride of set pieces.
-- both "Inheritance" and "The Pegasus" managed to insert a bit of past history into the characters *without* seeming implausible and managing simultaneously to present terrific personal crises and personal drama.
-- "Lower Decks", at very long last, showed a bit of the less "fortunate few" in Starfleet.
-- "Thine Own Self" ... well, just *worked*!
-- "Firstborn" DID give Worf and Alexander a major step forward in their relationship. [I have to admit, though, that I'd have preferred resolving their problems by claiming that in "Genesis" Worf turned into a species that eats its young. :-) ]
-- "Preemptive Strike" brought the seedier, hard-edged feel of DS9 that many felt TNG lacks to the show and saw how it fit. It also gave us a proper farewell to a character that hadn't really had one.
-- And, of course, "All Good Things..." ran the gamut of emotions in what it evoked, at least for me. I won't quite go the way of one of my students and say "they saved the best for last", but it was fitting.
So, for those who say season 7 was an uninterrupted plunge, I have to look at the above and say "you weren't watching hard enough". It had its problems, no doubt about it, and the season did represent a drop from the quality we've seen over the past few years; but that doesn't invalidate the good things that we *did* get.
I said last year at this time that "as TNG heads into its final season, I hope it manages to go out with its head held high." While I don't think it managed to do so for much of the season (certainly, there was a four-show block where nothing got higher than even a *6*, and that was part of a full eight-show run where nothing broke 7), "Preemptive Strike" and "All Good Things..." showed than when the final crunch came, they could still do good. Now that the staff is moving on to DS9 and to "Voyager" [and to the films!], it is my hope that they can get a little hungry again and not be content with whatever stories come along.
All of the four staff writers have things which they can be very proud of. From this season alone, Rene Echevarria has "Inheritance", "Lower Decks", and the teleplay for "Preemptive Strike"; Naren Shankar has the story for "Preemptive Strike", plus many excellent credits from other seasons; Brannon Braga has "Phantasms", "Parallels", and "All Good Things..."; and Ron Moore has "The Pegasus", "Thine Own Self", and "All Good Things..." as well. Those are what I will try to walk away from this season with a memory of: not "Genesis", "Sub Rosa", and many shows which made me wonder "and the point being?", but the shows that stretched TNG, and made us remember the better times and hope for a wondrous future for these characters.
That's it for the season. Onwards to the films!
[Coming from me, since many have asked: a DS9 season-2 review sometime relatively soon, a TNG series retrospective sometime before the millennium comes :-), and of course, book reviews as appropriate and a review of "Generations" in November. Until then ... peace be with you.]
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: email@example.com UUCP: ...!firstname.lastname@example.org "I. Will. Feed. Him." -- is it Worf, or is it any other cat owner? :-) -- Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Technical design, graphic design, interactive features, HTML & CGI programming by Andrew Tong. || All materials Copyright © 1987-1995 by their respective authors. || Document created: June 5, 1994 || Last Modified: November 09, 2010