by Mike Lunsford, Editor
Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of the shows that I name as my favorites of all time. No, I don’t go around just telling anyone who will listen that I love it, but sometimes these things come up in conversation. As I mentioned in my review for Season 1, my memory of this 30 year old series was not the best. I needed to go back and watch it again. While, at times, Season 1 was eye rolling-ly horrible, Season 2 stepped up it’s game, but as you’ll see, it almost had no other choice.
When looking back on Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1, it accomplished its goals, brought something new and followed suit with some established Trek tropes.
– New ship
– New crew
– Same spirit of exploration
– Familiar allegories and stories
– A bridge officer plowing through alien/holographic women (looking at you Riker)
When looking at a project as ambitious as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2 was really the “make or break” season. You were remaking an iconic show 20 years after the original. There is an intense amount of pressure with something like that. Also, so many fans would be so happy to see the new iteration of the show, there would be a lot forgiven. Short of Season 1 being a steaming pile of tribbles (which it wasn’t), the show would get renewed. But its future was dependent on Season 2 establishing these new characters and giving the new series something to distinguish itself from it’s predecessor.
Right off the bat, the new series established some of that identity. They made a few changes to the Enterprise crew, some were great choices, others raised some eyebrows. The great choices begin with fan favorite, Lieutenant Geordi La Forge received a promotion from navigator to Chief Engineer. I was already a fan of LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow so it was exciting to see him get another pip on his collar. Lieutenant Worf was made full-time Chief of Security. Who else would be more appropriately placed than the giant Klingon? They also brought in a non-Starfleet shipmate and a whole new part of the ship previously unknown. Whoopi Goldberg was brought on as Guinan, the bartender and “manager” of the Enterprise’s bar/lounge/café known as Ten Forward. The new locale was an incredible addition as it gave a place for the crew to commune with one another. It also allowed for some flexibility with storytelling locales.
Now, let’s talk about those questionable changes. Gates McFadden, who played Doctor Beverly Crusher, was fired from the show. There were rumors abound that some, including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, thought that her character development was lacking. She was replaced by Diane Muldaur who played Dr. Katherine Pulaski. The two doctors couldn’t be more different in style and execution. Pulaski might as well have been a female clone of Dr. Leonard McCoy from the original series. Just like “Bones,” she didn’t trust the transporter, she had existential debates with Commander Data, and she wasn’t afraid to fight with the captain to do what was best for his health. It was a bit transparent that the character was not well thought out and a replacement. In fact, Muldaur even refused having her name in the main cast credits at the beginning of the show. She stayed as a “guest star” for the entire 2nd season, her only one of the series.
Season 2 had some incredible episodes. In fact, some of them ended up being some of the best of the entire series. Let’s review some of the winners and losers from Season 2:
- Elementary, Dear Data – This episode is a perfect example of what Star Trek is all about; where is the line drawn between technology and life? In an attempt to give android Commander Data a real challenge with a Sherlock Holmes-inspired case on the holodeck, Dr. Pulaski and Geordi create a Moriarty that is such a worthy opponent, he becomes self-aware. This episode was just another boring, no-space-battles episode when I was young. As an adult, this episode raises questions that still don’t have answers. When does life begin? Can a holgram be “alive?” When a villain is so well written and acted that you legitimately feel for their cause, it sticks with you.
- The Measure of a Man – Not to be outdone by the “can holograms be considered living beings” episode, Season 2 gives us one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever. A Starfleet scientist wants to take Commander Data off of the Enterprise to study him. The prospect of an army of Datas is something Starfleet would is fascinated by. It raises the same question Moriarty asked: is the concept “I think, therefore I am,” enough to constitute being a living entity? Is Commander Data a living being or Starfleet property? The scientist petitions for a court case in which Commander Riker must act as prosecutor and Captain Picard the defense for Data’s rights. This episode might make you ask your laptop nicely if it wants to help you write your next email.
- The Royale – I remembered this one as a kid: why were Riker, Data, and Worf in a hotel/casino on some weird planet but couldn’t leave? Turns out, it didn’t matter because the reason was stupid. The episode seemed like a “crap! We gotta find another filler episode. Where’s that one written when you guys were sleep deprived?” kind of episode. So why was this strange hotel on an otherwise inhospitable planet? Turns out some alien force accidentally dragged a 21st century astronaut across the galaxy and couldn’t get him back to Earth. They felt so bad, they created him a world based on a terrible novel he had on board, because they thought that was what ideal human life was like. That was the only reading material he had? They couldn’t ask him first? Dude didn’t have a Playboy with him? Astronauts were notorious porn hounds (verification needed), we all know that! It might have been a much more risqué episode that could only be aired after dark. It would have been perfect for Riker!
- Time Squared – I know a lot of people like this episode, but it just didn’t do it for me. An unconscious Picard duplicate is found in a shuttlecraft adrift in space. As time lapses, the duplicate begins to stir and we find out it’s because of some event that can not be avoided. Why would the captain leave his ship? How can there be two of them at the same time? Ehhhh, who cares… it’s all solved by warping INTO the problem. Great solution guys. Very James T. Kirk of you, however also very BORING.
- Peak Performance – I love this episode. The Enterprise splits into two teams; one lead by Picard, the other Riker for “war games.” In the midst of their battle simulations, a Ferengi ship attacks and Picard/Riker have to come up with a solution to their new problem.The whole episode is fun from beginning to end. The Starfleet assessor is an obnoxious, strategy expert who plays Data in a virtual chess/checkers game that he has never been defeated in. Data loses the first match but then finds a way to stalemate him into quitting upon rematch (he says “I busted him up” after getting the assessor to quit out of frustration, which is quite satisfying as well).
- Shades of Grey – OK, so I want to mention this episode for a few reasons. First off, it’s sucked. It’s one of the worst episodes of any Star Trek series ever. In fact, the man who wrote it, Maurice Hurley is quoted as follows regarding the episode:
“(It’s a) piece of sh*t, it was just terrible.”
Here’s why it sucked: it was a clip show! It was the season finale and at this point, you’re only 2 seasons in and you’re already doing a clip show? Come on, guys. The narrative was Commander Riker was infected by some alien virus and his memories are effecting it. Good memories feed it, bad memories kill the virus. So they literally show every clip involving Riker from the past 2 seasons. But here’s the thing with this episode: it had to suck. Season 2 ran out of money because of the best episode of the season and, to this point, the best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q Who?. Since Paramount was unwilling to bend on the budget, they had to do a bottle episode to finish the season and well… you get this “piece of sh*t.” But, in it’s defense, you don’t get Q Who? if you don’t skimp on the budget for the rest of the season. Speaking of the best episode…
- Q Who? – This episode becomes one of the most memorable in the pantheon of Star Trek. Never has a villain been introduced in such a way that you are legitimately worried like you are when Picard and crew are forced to meet the Borg. Our good friend, the omnipotent Q decides that the Enterprise crew is a little too cocky for it’s own good. He warns “there are horrors beyond your comprehension” and then proceeds to show Picard and company. Q introduces them to an alien presence that is half machine-half living being that has a collective conscious known as “the Borg.” They can adapt to any weapon you may fire upon their crew or their ship. They will not stop until they possess every useful material that comprises your ship and “adds it’s distinctiveness to their own.” They can not be reasoned with. There is no escape from them.It has been debated for years if what Q did was helpful or not. In introducing Starfleet to the Borg presence, did it give them a head start in preparing for a nearly unstoppable force or did it show the Borg another place for them to conquer and assimilate? What was interesting to me was in this particular episode, the only thing the Borg were interested in was the technology on board the Enterprise. They hadn’t become the future-zombies that later episodes and movies would turn them into, assimilating friends and crew members. I didn’t remember that from my original viewing when I was young.
The creation of the Borg could be credited with giving Star Trek: The Next Generation the staying power that it wouldn’t have had without them. Interestingly enough, the Borg were created because another new alien species didn’t pan out the way they would have liked. The writers literally had to create a new villain because the Ferengi were so lame. Granted, the Ferengi would go on to be quite entertaining in future seasons/series but they were not intimidating or a formidable opponent. They were just annoying. The Borg gave this new, evolved crew a truly frightening challenge that would effect them in seasons to come.
When looking at Season 2 holistically, it was a revelation. It had 3 incredible episodes that helped define the series for years to come. It also had, easily, one of the worst pieces of Star Trek ever made. Overall, it certainly gave the characters some needed depth and brought us something to fear for years to come.
ComicsOnline gives Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 2 – 4.5 sci-fi allegories out of 5.
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