Wednesday, June 8, 2011

TNG Rundown: Season Two

My last post navigated the debris-strewn battlefield that is Season One. I was surprised to find the body-count totaling more good episodes than bad. Yet, factoring the ones that must be endured, Season One still tipped into the 'Awful' category. The show's survival, as I've said, was due in no small part to die-hard fans, likely pressuring loved ones and Nielsen families with both bribes and promises to shower. I know I did. Shower that is. Well, not often.

Anyway, it worked! Paramount renewed, and, so, on to Season Two!

Now, it should be noted that this was a tumultuous season for several reasons. First off, Roddenberry's cancer was starting to get the better of him, which is horrible. Rick Berman was shouldering more and more of Roddenberry's burden, which might be argued as equally horrible. While cancer is never a good thing, we did get an easing of the iron-fist that Roddenberry had on the writing and direction. Factor in Patrick Stewart being somewhat unhappy with the show's direction, and we have the makings for a rocky ride.

The results? Let's see!

As always, shows are rated as Enjoy It, Skip It, or Bear It. A further reminder: Bear It shows are ones I would skip were they not important to the meta-plot. Watch them with a bucket and a towel handy.

As Doctor Miranda Jones
27 – The Child
We trade in the delectable Gates McFadden for the lovely and talented Diana Muldaur. She's a great actress, and I wish they'd done more with her. Her character was, essentially, a re-hash of Doctor McCoy, all the way down to distrusting technology and hating the transporters. An entertaining throwback, but less-is-more with that approach. She should have been a featured guest on a few episodes rather than a full-time cast member. On top of it all, she starts out by getting in Data's grill.
As Doctor Pulaski
As Data was so loved by the fans, the same fans took an instant dislike to her, alas. Oh, as for plot, Troi gets the 24th century version of immaculate conception or some other nonsense. The whole thing could have been solved with a shuttlecraft, but, hey, I'm just a human with a brain. Oh, and Whoopi Goldberg and her impending-workplace-disasters-disguised-as-hats joins the crew as the bartender. (She's actually a pretty decent character, though she does little more than say Howdy! in this one. She might talk to Wesley or something, but you know, whatever.)
Bear it. (And apologies in advance.)

28 – Where Silence Has Lease
The Picard Maneuver never gets old. … No, wait, that's wrong. It gets old the second time he pushes the button. Which is this one. Seriously, if you're going to threaten everyone's death and the destruction of the ship, leave it for the season finale. And, preferably, let us actually SEE the explosion. Otherwise it's very humdrum.
Skip It.

29 – Elementary, Dear Data
What's this? An actual attempt to explain Data's intelligence using actual logic?? Doctor Pulaski hits it on the head that Data is a slave to his programming. Unfortunately, the episode's kickoff conflict is inherently flawed, as a properly programmed computer is the perfect deductive reasoning machine. On top of it, the holodeck computer creates what is, in essence, a new human life, complete with wants, needs, and emotions. If the Enterprise computer can do that for a holodeck character, why can't Data have emotions again? (/handwave “These aren't the plot holes you're looking for). Anyway, these aren't the plot holes I'm looking for. I'll move along. Not a bad episode, and makes a good stab at a Holmes-style mystery.
Enjoy It. (Barely)

How YOU doin'?
30 – The Outrageous Okona
Picard earns some diplomatic chops, and we want to punch Wesley in the face. Wait, that's almost every episode. Ummm, let's see... Oh! Teri Hatcher is in this one (for all of two minutes), at the tender young age of twenty-four, before time and the knife take their toll. Yowza! Other than that, the episode is rather forgettable, but you won't kill yourself watching it. Well, probably. I make no promises.
Enjoy It.

31 – Loud as a Whisper
An interesting premise with a deaf telepath who uses a 'chorus' of three telepathic interpreters to speak for him. They end up vaporized, and he's left without a way to communicate. Oh, wait, except that Data can learn anything in about five minutes. Ultimately, I think this one started out with a solid concept that ended up undermining itself. They settle for a 'believe in yourself' ending, which is, well... okay. I guess. More could have been done here.
Skip It (though you can Bear It if you're a completionist.)

32 – The Schizoid Man
Bwahahahahahahaahaaa! Ooooahahahahahahaaheheheheheeee!!! Hhaahahahahaahahahaa!!!! Data gets possessed. Literally. Oddly, the premise holds up if we think of Data as solely a programming construct and apply the same definition to the human soul. How very Roddenberry. Yet, short of an intentionally and spectacularly bad eulogy from the possessed Data, there's nothing to see here. That is unless my raucous laughter has you curious. But is Eric laying a trap for you? That doesn't sound like him, does it? Noooo... surely not! (Shut it, Ackbar!)
Skip It.

33 – Unnatural Selection
Once more, an entertaining premise utterly undermined by the goddam transporter. While the problem of a mutant virus that causes unnatural aging is fixed by the transporter, they fail to explain why the damn thing can't fix every last little health problem. The episode sets a precedent for transporter abuse that is quietly, and rightfully, swept under the carpet.
Bear It.

34 – A Matter of Honor
Klingons! And fun ones, too. We learn a fair bit about how the Klingons live and work aboard their ships when Commander Riker serves as first officer aboard one of their vessels. Pretty believable all around, and pretty fun. I liked it. I'll say little more so as not to spoil it.
Enjoy It.

Picard objects. (No, as a verb, not as in 'Picard artifacts.')
35 – The Measure of a Man
Ah! A masterpiece. Easily one of the top five Trek episodes in the entire franchise. A beautiful episode by the wonderfully talented Melinda M. Snodgrass. I'm an unabashed fanboy, and, if you watch this episode, you will be too. I refuse to add spoilers, so, essentially, Data's existence is at stake, and a hearing is called to determine if he is a person or property. Perfectly executed, and brilliantly written. And, yet, if Roddenberry had had his way, this one would never have been written. But that's Melinda's story, and not mine.
Enjoy It. Truly. Best episode of the season!

36 – The Dauphin
Ugh. Wesley. Our little man grows up and gets his first kiss. It's cute to watch and remember our own first crushes. You probably won't lose sleep over this one, whether you watch it or no. Oh, and Anya is badass, though Worf starts to get the reputation as kind of a wuss.
Bear It.

37 – Contagion
I enjoyed the mystery in this one, as lost civilizations from the dawn of time are one of my twitches, but the resolution is incredibly annoying. As if 'reboot it' isn't the very first goddam thing you do when you suspect you're having computer trouble. I know the Enterprise computer doesn't run on Windows (or does it??), but, seriously, switching the problem component off and back on is the FIRST thing any engineer should try.
Bear It.

38 – The Royale
A fun episode! One wonders if the writer (Keith Mills) didn't use one of his own early novels as the setting for this one. Given that the episode is entertaining and clever, the fictional novel comprising the setting must have been one of his earliest attempts. His writing prowess definitely increased by the time he authored this episode.
Enjoy It.

39 – Time Squared
Vomit time. 'Travel far enough and you meet yourself' is taken literally for Picard. Oh and the ship is in danger. And there might have been an explosion or two. Or something. Dull. Forgettable.
Skip It.

40 – The Icarus Factor
Bwahahaha!! Oh man, you've GOT to see this one just for the hokey 'ultimate evolution of the martial arts' scene. Anyway, Riker gets offered his own command, and we get to meet his father, who is every bit the arrogant ass that Riker is. The 'fathers and sons' message is apt, and acceptable, but, really, the chuckle-factor of the 'fight' is the best reason to watch this.
Bear It.

41 – Pen Pals
Another fine episode by Melinda Snodgrass and Hannah Louise Shearer. A solid look at the application of the Prime Directive, although Picard's decision seems rather arbitrary. Honestly, I would love to have seen a followup episode wherein Picard gets called into question over this one. I did raise a brow over the 'meeting' in the captain's quarters to discuss the situation. Wasn't LaForge an ensign? And Worf a lieutenant junior-grade? Why were they even in the room? The writer in me knows it was for the counterpoints, but the military enthusiast rolls his eyes. Still, that's easily ignored given the entertainment factor. Well done, all around. Even the Wesley segment. No, really!
Enjoy It.

Knock knock. Q's there?
42 – Q Who
FINALLY! An enemy the Federation can't talk their way out of fighting. Everyone likely knows what species I'm talking about, but I won't spoil it. As you can tell from the title, Q guest stars, and steals the show. And the ship. And the only weak point is Guinan squaring off against Q. Psht. As if.
Enjoy It. Truly.

43 – Samaritan Snare
A solid episode, generally. It sets up what I consider to be the finest TNG episode of all time in Season Six. Also: Pakleds! These guys are great. They're exactly what happens when you give someone brawn over brains. The one flaw in the episode is Picard's reason for taking his trip is rather arbitrary, and poorly supported in his character. I won't say more, but, leaving that one tiny bit aside, this one is Good Clean Trek.
Enjoy It.

Brain... off...
44 – Up the Long Ladder
Another Snodgrass episode, and a controversial one. Some loved it, some hated it. Very few have a middling opinion. For my part, the cloning science and inherent troubles was spot-on and well-researched. The 'old Irish townsfolk' analogs were entertaining and believable. The humor was perfection, especially after such a long, dark soul-sucking wasteland of heavy themes and plodding topics that has been Seasons One and Two. Other highlights: Riker gets laid, Charlie Murphy shows up in triplicate (not actually played by Charlie Murphy, but hilarious) and Worf impresses an Irishman with booze. That last bit is worth double the price of admission, and I would pay real money to try one of those beverages.
Enjoy It.

45 – Manhunt
Space Cougar on the prowl! A funny episode, though it's over-the-top humor rather than subtle. Picard dons his sweet hat again for another holodeck jaunt, but, otherwise, not much goes on in this one. It's okay to have a 'downtime' episode, but this sort of crawls along. Watch it if you want. I'll say Bear It, but I'll leave you off the hook if you don't.
Bear It (but only if you want to).

Worf likes his ladies hot & angry.
46 – The Emissary
Worf gets laid! And, for a Klingon babe, not bad! Suzie Plaksin plays Ambassador K'Ehleyr (pronounced 'Kaylar' and really should have been spelled that way), and I'm betting she was cast primarily for her impressive height. She can look Worf in the eye. The fact that she's a great actress is a double bonus. She makes several appearances in a couple of Trek franchises, but this is her most memorable role. The plot is solid, the resolution is clever, and this is good Trek. Quite recommended.
Enjoy It.

47 – Peak Performance
Believe it or not, I liked this one. Yes, yes, I'm a heretic, but I could totally see an android having a loss of confidence. Also, Picard delivers what was a bit of a life lesson for me. “It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not a failing. That is life.” Considering I was sixteen watching this, that was an important one to absorb. Plus, we actually get to see some ship-to-ship combat. I know that the focus of Trek isn't the blasty-pow-pow, but it's still fun to see once in a while. The biggest flaw was the resolution. Worf could trick Enterprise sensors thanks to his knowledge of their command codes. So, how did he fool the Ferengi? Eh, a minor quibble.
Enjoy It. (Or not, but you have to at least Bear It.)

48 – Shade of Gray
Okay, whose goddam idea was this? A clip show? In Star Trek? If Jonathan Frakes was leaving the show, then fine. Riker's death would have been the only way to redeem this one, and guess what? He didn't die. I can't make my displeasure at this farce more plain.
Skip It. (Or Bear It, if you want to share my rage.)

You know, we didn't have one 'rogue admiral' all season? What the hell, Season Two? Slacking already? Let's tally it up:

Skip It: 5
Bear It: 6
Enjoy It: 11

Of twenty-two episodes, half are enjoyable. Better ratio than last season (which was 26 episodes), and featuring, once more, Measure of a Man, easily one of the finest Trek episodes of all time.

Bad parking job. Seriously.
For me, Season Two showed me what the show was capable of in terms of plot, characters, and scope. Problem was, it had been a rough two years. By all accounts, the producers and execs were not the easiest people in the world to work with, and rumors began to rise about Patrick Stewart making Season Three his last. Small wonder, as there were scant few acting challenges in this season, and the writing was helter-skelter.

It's not like I'm building suspense here, since everyone knows just how many seasons TNG ran, but, at the time, the whole thing was greatly in question. A show like Star Trek can survive the loss of a relatively minor character (with apologies to Doctor Crusher). Yet, it would be very hard-pressed to survive the loss of Captain Picard.

The writers knew this, and played a trick on us in Season Three.

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