6.21.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 33: The Next Generation (Season 7)

Before we dive into TNG's last season, have a look at the Twitter page for The Next Generation (Season 8) These things are a riot. (You can read an interview with their author here) Just a couple of faves:



Someone kickstarter the Geordi vs. the sentient bees movies, stat.

For TNG's last season, Michael Piller was focused more on DS9's 2nd season, so Jeri Taylor took over as showrunner. Of the scripts produced, Ronald Moore (in 1998) said, "I wish we could've had a more coherent idea of what we wanted to accomplish (in season 7.) Too much of it was random story-telling without a sense of bringing the show to a conclusion."

I both agree and disagree. Compared to something like Moore's eventual BSG series (or even to DS9,) the season-long "wrap-up" factor of TNG seems rather paltry, but compared to TV of its era/ TOS, it's fine enough. It reminds me a bit of the last season of Cheers, actually - revisiting series highlights, saying goodbye to fan-favorite and some not-so-fan-favorite recurring characters, and ending with a huge finale that does the whole show justice and then some. (Yet more Cheers/ TNG overlap!) But it is true that a certain "let's run out the clock as we ready the bigscreen adventures" vibe permeates many of the episodes. 


That said, Season 7 contains some of my all-time favorite Trek moments, so let's dig right in.

23. Journey's End As with "The Outcast," I admire the attempt, but the execution is a bit problematic. Wesley leaves TNG-lore to go be space-blaaaow! with The Traveler at episode's end, though he returns for a cameo in Nemesis. (The Traveler is notably not his plus-one.)

22. Force of Nature The Warp-5 speed limit thing seems to be enforced about as stringently as the Organian Peace Treaty. (Or the Bill of Rights.)

21. Dark Page i.e. the one with Kirsten Dunst.

 
And this guy and his "scary face." More psychic-violation-of-Troi.
20. The Pegasus (EDIT: Actually, this should be much higher. I might re-do some of these rankings for a Best-of-TNG Fiesta Bowl sort of post, and when I do, I wouldn't be surprised to see this one all the way up near the top 5. I quite misremembered its tone, but I'm watching it again tonight and it's really landing with me.)

19. Preemptive Strike

18. Gambit pts. 1 + 2 This is actually a very well-plotted-and-paced story with some great moments.

Such as the return of Robin Curtis.
But then David Coverdale shows up as the alien baddie, and things fly off the rails every time he's onscreen.

 
 
Okay, so it's not David Coverdale. But good God is the Neelix Factor in full bloom, here. One more time:
The actor (Richard Lynch) doesn't do a bad job, but when you look this ridiculous, it's tough to overcome.
17. Interface

16. Bloodlines aka the "Picard learns he has a son he never knew" episode.

15. Liasons

14. Firstborn Not much of a fan of Zach Handlen's TNG re-watch, but his write-up for this episode is pretty spot-on.

13Masks From here on down, all episodes are pretty solid "A"s. This one has some great visuals.

 
 

12. Eye of the Beholder I originally had this ranked around #20, but bumped it up on re-watch. Crazy-Troi is kind of fun.


Much has been made of how the series slowly moved Worf and Troi together only to jettison this plotline for the movies. I'm fine with it, either way. I like Troi and Riker ending up together for the symmetry of it all (see "Encounter at Farpoint") but I like the chemistry between Dorn and Sirtis, too.

11. Inheritance aka the "Data meets the Mom he never knew" episode. I quite like this one, though. When it comes to Data's Family episodes, I'll take this and "The Offspring" over any with Lore (or Soong's arc on Enterprise.)

10.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, Written by Nicholas Sagan
After escaping imprisonment on an alien world, Picard and Beverly find that their thoughts are connected by brain implants. 


It was suggested in the comments last time around that perhaps Beverly could have been subbed-in for Neela in "Lessons." If that had happened, this would have been a fine place to end the Picard/ Beverly romance arc. A couple breaking up once they discover they can read each other's thoughts is an intriguing idea, and it would have fit both characters well.

As it is, it's great fun to watch McFadden and Stewart at work, here.


9.
Directed by Alexander Singer, Written by Spike Steingasser and Naren Shankar
Worf's adoptive brother violates the Prime Directive by saving a group of villagers from a doomed planet. 

Hey! It's that brother I never mentioned!
Yaaaaaaaay, brother...
In case number 3032 wherein I disagree completely with popular internet re-watchers, the AV Club's Zach Handlen sums up "Homeward" like this: "Basically, the episode breaks down to: Nikolai does something that violates Federation ordinance; Picard is upset; Nikolai has a plan that solves everything; Picard fumes some, but they follow the plan; it basically works out. " 

Is he right? Sure. I guess the difference for me, though, is I'm perfectly fine with these sorts of slice-of-life-aboard-the-Enterprise stories. I'm fine with conflicting points of view and anti-dramatic resolutions if other stuff is in place that I do enjoy, and there's plenty of that here: "the sign of LaForge," the whole move-them-in-the-holodeck idea (which was pretty clever,) Worf's and Nikolai's managing to convey a whole history together in their relatively sparse screentime, and many other little moments. 

The suicide gives the whole experience its proper punctuation. Any time a forced relocation happens, some blood is spilled/ sacrifice is made. Sometimes a subtle reminder of that is just as effective (sometimes even more) than an explicitly-spelled out tirade. (See "Journey's End.") 

7.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, Written by Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga
Beverly Crusher attends her grandmother's funeral, but a mysterious entity that inhabited her grandmother is now focusing on her. 


This one provokes much outrage. Again, Zach Handlen's review is a pretty good example of the most common objections, though he seems to miss the point fairly spectacularly when he demands to know "How is this not rape?"

Pretty sure that's the whole point, dude.
Wrapped in gothic romance/ soap opera tropes and tied with a bow of TOS "Metamorphosis."

Far be it from me to mock any who seek to combat rape/ bullying/ racism or what-have-you - I'm pretty emphatically on the don't rape/ bully/ be racist/ what-have-you side - but isn't this episode a rather overt deconstruction of the "rape fantasy" element of gothic romance?

I mentioned TOS "Metamorphosis" above and while I feel it's an apt comparison - an episode that seems to simultaneously question and affirm what is commonly referred to as "gender-normative" assumptions -  it has more in common with "Spock's Brain," i.e. its absurdity is rock solid and airtight. It matters not one iota whether the writers intended it as deconstruction or not; what we get is textbook deconstruction, regardless.


I'd wager most people don't watch Lifetime movies for their intricate takes on gender relations or romance, or vengeance, nor True Blood because it treats the vampire genre "with the seriousness it deserves." More to the point, it's somewhat silly to think the writers and producers of these shows do not knowingly play with such perceptions and make that part of the enjoyment of watching. I realize ironic detachment isn't for everybody, but if you're so inclined, there's a hell of a lot of "ewwww but that's brilliant" stuff going on here. It belongs in the same category of evaluation as Disturbing Behavior, Cruel Intentions or Showgirls. i.e. something that employs the genre's inherent contradictions so sincerely that it becomes super-mega-meta.

Ask yourself what the significance of the camellia flower left on the grave is. Or go beyond the appearance of normal gothic-romance imagery and apply it to the rape-fantasy subtext. (Also, read Margaret Atwood's "Rape Fantasies.")


In case anyone thinks I'm reading too much into it, a) read what its performers and writers have to say about it, and b) remember how this one ends?

 
Not subtle. Reminds me of the end of Dead Alive, Peter Jackson's masterful Freudian horror satire.

Picard's "I had to meet the man who swept away not just one but two of the Howard women" makes me laugh every time. Patrick Stewart plays this one pretty well in general, but Gates McFadden steals the show.

Incidentally, Gates McFadden has had a lot of fun with these "continuing adventures of her action figure" in her twitter feed.
7.
Directed by Gates McFadden, Written by Brannon Braga
Enterprise crew members de-evolve into prehistoric creatures after a medical treatment by Dr. Crusher goes wrong. 

'Nuff said? 


This is another one I had much lower on my list until this past re-watch. It's such a fun premise, and the cast is obviously enjoying themselves in the horror-movie setting. (Something we'll see come to full fruition in First Contact.)

 

6.
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont, Written by Ron Wilkerson, Jean Louise Matthias, and René Echevarria
Junior officers vie for a single promotion spot and speculate on the reasons for recent unusual actions taken by the command crew near the Cardassian border. 


This Upstairs, Downstairs story is a lot of fun. The way the mission unfolds by putting the audience in the same position as the Ensigns (i.e. a need-to-know basis) was definitely the right way to go.

Taurik gets paired with Geordi. He plays the smug Vulcan almost too well.
Nurse Ogawa appears in quite a few episodes and has cameos in the films, as well.
Sam Lavelle ends up getting the promotion once Sito is reported missing. Good performance from Dan Gauthier. It's easy to sympathize with his ambition and his uncertainty, as well as the ambivalence he feels at episode's end.
Sito Jaxa almost came back for a DS9 story arc - and totally should have.
And Ben, the civilian whose friendly interaction with both "decks" puts him in a unique position.
The reactions of and interactions with the "senior class" are perhaps the best parts.


5.
Directed by Winrich Kolbe, Written by Christopher Hatton and Ronald D. Moore
Data suffers amnesia in a primitive society while Troi applies for a promotion.

This has one of my favorite openings: Data wanders into frame like Frankenstein, opens his mouth and emits a metallic roar. Then, after the credits/ commercial break, the roar continues, and the title appears. That combination of events (screencapped above) is just so Pop Art and fantastic.

"It's simple. You are an Ice Man."
The Frankenstein aspect was of course intentional. As Ron Moore puts it, "He comes into the medieval village, befriends the little girl, and is eventually attacked and chased by people with torches." He adds, "I got a kick out of Data being the kid at the back of the class, raising his hand, inventing quantum mechanics with stone knives and bearskins."

Spiner knocks it out of the park, as per usual. It's a shame an actor of his versatility has been in so little post-TNG. (Though his internet series Fresh Hell is fairly entertaining, as is his Twitter feed.)


The Troi-gets-promoted story provides some nice interaction between her and Riker.

I just hope, for her sake, that "What is a containment breach?" isn't a question on the exam.
4.
Directed by Patrick Stewart, Written by Brannon Braga
Interphasic parasites contaminating a conduit in a temporary replacement warp core causes Data's dream program to generate nightmares. 


The famous (and perhaps over-applied) Godwin's Law states that the longer an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler "slowly approaches 1." A similar double-law exists for actors, I think, re: going into therapy, and the results of said therapy making a way into their scripts.

 

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The more an actor learns about his or her own motivations, the more he or she can bring to the table. (I guess there are other schools of thought - I don't want to say any one approach to acting is better than any other.) And I have no corroboration that this episode is the result of anyone's individual therapy sessions, it's just my best-guess. Regardless, it's a fascinating mix of imagery and insight.

Although the dis to Freud is a bit pat. It's still somewhat fashionable to go after Freud, particularly if one hasn't read his books.
This is a remarkable episode both as a surreal mystery and as a Data story, and the title works on multiple levels.

3.
Directed by Robert Wiemer, Written by Brannon Braga
After Worf returns from a bat'leth tournament, he is the only person who notices subtle changes on the Enterprise.


This episode is, to coin a phrase, totally awesome. I don't really know what to say beyond that.

Although it always bugged me that Worf and Troi have a son named "Eric Christopher." It's a weird reaction on my part, I grant you, but it just immediately conjures up images of Troi dressing up Worf's son in dainty blue-boy clothes. Would Worf put up with this crap? Worf's son should be named something Russian/Klingon and be raised on the blood of slaughtered Ceti eels.
Wil Wheaton's presence on the alternate Enterprise-D is a nice detail.
The most memorable sequence is at the end, when all the Enterprises start blinking into existence, and the various crews have to talk to one another to figure out how to get Worf home. (I particularly like the interaction between alternate-Riker and "our" Picard, and the little look Picard gives "our" Riker when he's told "It's good to see you again, Captain.")

 
Frequent contributor Jeff B made a good observation: "Wild-eyed Riker is the kind of character that always makes me think. Does seeing him help or harm other Rikers? Do some of them see him and find the resolve to not break like he did if ever confronted by the same set of circumstances? Or do they find that glimpsing him weakens their resolve, as they think "God, is that what I'm capable of?"
2.
Directed by Cliff Bole, Written by Joe Menosky and Brannon Braga
A series of puzzling events on and off the holodeck lead the crew of the Enterprise to a surprising conclusion: The ship is creating its own offspring. The crew has to assist with this arduous process to ensure the survival of the emerging lifeform – and their own. 

This one gets such a bad rap. Unlike "Sub Rosa," which I recognize one has to be in the mood to view through certain lenses in order to fully appreciate, "Emergence" should be immediately accessible both as metafiction and above-board storytelling. Yet it gets trashed pretty much whenever it's discussed. This has baffled me more and more over the years. I think only the general reaction to Insurrection makes less sense to me; both are not just good, not just great, they're perfect encapsulations of All Things Trek.

The stage is set pretty explicitly at the beginning, as Data performs Prospero's famous speech from The Tempest.
But it's driven home at the end with Picard's remarks to Data:

"The intelligence that came out of the Enterprise didn't just come out of the ship's systems. It came from us. From our mission records, personal logs, holodeck programs, our fantasies. Now, if our experiences on the Enterprise have been honorable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?"

Is there a better description of meta-Trek than that? Keith DeCandido, naturally, thinks both the episode and this speech "fall flat" and "are poorly conceived." After slogging through almost all of his re-watch reviews over the course of this stretch of the Captain's Blog, I think I can credibly say Keith DeCandido and I disagree on pretty much all Trek fundamentals. So, an episode that brilliantly illuminates those fundamentals for me would of course not appeal to him.

 

True, the production staff were wrapped up in "All Good Things" and pre-production for Generations, but sometimes - and I think it's definitely the case here - what we write on auto-pilot best expresses themes or concepts we'd otherwise overthink.


This and "Ship in a Bottle" are probably the most eloquent descriptions and examinations of the Trek community - from its writers to its performers to its fans - that exist, moreso than any critical commentary or essay. That both feature the holodeck getting a mind of its own is a big part of it, but this one takes the concept even further. 

(Insert Lebowski quote of your choice)
Over the years, people's generally lukewarm reaction to this episode has made me question my affection for it more than once, but each time I take it apart and put it back together, I end up liking it even more. Watching it again for this re-watch was perhaps the most I've ever enjoyed it. I've never known anyone else who esteems it as highly as I do, but I humbly caution the Trek community that when you are challenged by Q in the afterlife, your failure to recognize the brilliance of "Emergence" (and Insurrection, but we'll get to that one) could bode poorly for humanity. I beseech you on its behalf to ponder the error of your ways.

And speaking of the trial of humanity:

1.
Directed by Winrich Kolbe, Written by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore
Picard is mysteriously traveling back and forth through time, thanks to Q, and he is unwittingly to blame for the destruction of Humanity.

Not just my favorite of Season 7, but my favorite of all TNG. I covered it a bit in the very first Captain's Blog, so I won't go on about it too much here. But it's just such a well-constructed story, and its sentimentality is top notch.

 

I can't quite put my finger on why, but every time I try and picture it as a movie, it doesn't translate well. But as a television episode, and particularly as a season finale, it's just about foolproof. Every performer brings his or her A-game.

Data has a brighter future in the alternate timeline than he does in Nemesis.
Why can they never settle on a consistent visor-less look for Geordi?
Dor-sho-gha!
Stewart's "cranky old man" routine for Old Picard is so much fun.
Less fun but likewise well-performed is Frakes' Bitter Old Riker.

Until BSG's "Daybreak," this was the finale to which I compared all other finales. (I probably like it even more than "Daybreak," but that one set a new standard, I feel, for "Epic.") Few shows wrap things up with such class and precision. In a more enlightened world, this would be a Christmas or major holiday viewing tradition that binds a culture together and makes you call your family and old friends.

The sky's the limit.

 ~

And there we have it. The little show that could became the big show that did. I had a lot of fun with this re-watch / these write-ups; thanks for reading and all your comments. Feel free to let me know your own favorite episode(s).

13 comments:

  1. I still thin "All Good Things..." is the best series finale of all. I like BSG's a lot, and "The Sopranos" one would another close runner-up; but I think even they yield to the TNG finale.

    I love how weird "Phantasms" gets. Almost as much as I love semi-insane Riker from "Parallels," which I could have watched for several hours.

    Overall, I think it was one of the weaker seasons of the series, but there are some really great episodes, no doubt.

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  2. "Journey's End." What a piece of shit. And that whole thing about Wesley rising to a higher plane of existence is inexcusable.

    I agree that "All Good Things..." is the best of the season, and it's in my top 5 episodes for the whole series. Q was wonderful, as usual. I really wish they had written him into one of the TNG movies.

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    1. Dude, I'm with you on the Q subject. It's criminal that nobody made a Q movie. That was money just waiting to be counted, and probably a lot of it. Hell, they could probably still do it and make a mint.

      I can't remember enough of the specifics of "Journey's End" to speak to it. I don't have a problem with Wesley becoming a Traveler in theory, though, because I liked the first season episode where that story was introduced. But I do think the series fumbled the ball in terms of turning that into an ongoing story. I think the series fumbled the ball with Wesley in general; I never disliked him the way a lot of people did, but I think the writers did him no favors.

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    2. I miss Q. JDL did such a great job with that character. I just assumed they'd do a Q movie at some point but unless something really unexpected happens, we'll probably never see it.

      I didn't hate Wesley at all, just thought the creators didn't know what to do with him. He either saved the day or was the cause of the problems in the episode. There wasn't much middle ground with Wesley.

      By the way, I really dig your Bond blog. When't the next installment coming?

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    3. Thanks!

      Man, I really dig that Bond blog, too. I just keep managing to not find enough time to, you know, actually DO anything with it.

      I'd been planning to tackle "A View to a Kill" after a series of posts I've been intending to do on my Stephen King blog about "The Stand," but those are going to take some time to produce. I think I may vault "A View to a Kill" over those.

      So hopefully, that post will appear in the next week or two.

      Back on the Wesley subject for a second, my theory about what happened there is twofold:

      (1) Wil Wheaton is an actor of limited range, so the show had only a few options in terms of how to use him.

      (2) The character was a personal one to Roddenberry, so the producers had to keep him for fear of angering the Great Bird.

      Those are somewhat irreconcilable problems. And sure enough, it led to there not being much in the way of middle ground.

      I think the storyline with the Traveler could have worked, but it would have required commitment to it on the part of the writers, who never really showed any inclination to do so. Is the Traveler ever even mentioned outside of those two episodes? I can't remember, but I don't think he was.

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  3. I like All Good Things, not as much as you, but quite a bit. My favorite bit is the Enterprise-D dreadnought that has to be a reference and homage to Franz Joseph's dreadnought from the Starfleet Technical Manual. Besides the TOS Enterprise, the TOSera dreadnought is my favorite Trek ship. Some say it's ungainly-looking, but I love it.

    http://www.cygnus-x1.net/links/lcars/uss-federation-class-dreadnought.php

    But far and away my favorite episode of this season, and, if I think about it long enough, perhaps the entire series, is Parallels. As much as I look askance at time travel stories in TV shows, I LOVE parallel universe stories in general. I think DS9 used the Mirror Universe far too often, which is just a tiny patch on the larger tapestry of parallel universe story possibilities. Something like Parallels is done far too infrequently on TV or movies, and even then, is often done poorly. Parallels is the best use of the concept I've seen on TV or in movies. It would have been nice had they addressed things like the conservation of energy in discrete, separate universes or why Enterprises weren't appearing in the same space as others, but given how good the episode is, that's a small complaint.

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  4. Speaking of alternate timelines and Data, that's a good point about his future in All Good Things being much happier than his "mainline" fate - I'm now going to assume that Nemesis is just one possibility for Data's future, and that he lives on in countless others.

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  5. And here I thought the "Sub Rosa" and "Emergence" write-ups would be the most controversial/ commented-upon...

    JB - yeah, "Parallels" is pretty awesome. (Awesome enough for me to overlook some of those questions, as well, I agree.) Didn't DS9 only have 3 or 4 mirror universe eps? Were there more than that? Making Nemesis only an alternate future works for me. Let's look at it as a "cautionary tale," like the Terminator. Only 100% less bad-ass.

    JC / BB - I second the call for more You Only Blog Twice. A couple of Q eps, as we've seen, are personal faves, but I didn't care for his appearances in other series. If you like JDL, tho, I highly recommend his and Nimoy's Alien Voices series - fun stuff. I replaced the Shatnerverse audio I was listening to with those guys, and it's smooth sailing.

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    1. I like the Q/Janeway episodes, but the DS9 one is fairly lame. He and Sisko had zero chemistry.

      I never minded "Sub Rosa," personally. I thought it was a pretty decent episode. "Masks" is the one I've never liked, for some reason. I remember being amped to see a new episode when that one aired, and then THAT one aired, and I was all like, "That's it?!? What a buncha shit!" I got over it, though. Arguably.

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    2. I guess my humor didn't quite land in this one. I'll have to start handing out exit surveys and score cards at the end of these posts.

      I've always enjoyed stuff like 90210 and crappy genre pics, etc., always in an ironic way, but then somewhere in film school we started reading "normal" stuff as highly subversive. I guess in a deconstructionist way. I never quite got out of the mindset. Anyway, as a result, one time I was watching "Sub Rosa" with an ex-girlfriend, and she and her friend were getting wildly grossed out by the episode, whereas I finally started picking up on the thousand ways it was deconstructing the whole gothic romance/ rape fantasy thing (whether on purpose or not, I don't know/ care) and ever since I've found myself on the lonely road of championing the episode. I'd love to meet Gates McFadden and ask her what the hell was going on.

      "Masks" has many irritating elements, but I do like that one.

      "Emergence" for me is always a dealbreaker. People don't seem to go for that one, whereas for me it's one of the most memorable eps of the series and a real love letter to fans. (The fans response seems to be "Return to Sender." Hey, more for me!)

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    3. Yeah, that sounds about right re:DS9 Mirror Universe episodes. That's far too many, to me. Two was too many. One was obnoxious enough.

      Another episode that bugs me is Genesis. NextGen isn't the only show guilty of using "devolution" in a way that just doesn't appeal to me, and seems to show a lack of real knowledge about what evolution is or does. Maybe they purposely played fast and loose with the theory to construct the story they wanted to tell. Whichever, it just wasn't fun enough to overcome what I disliked. If it had been fun, I'd have happily waved off the problems I had, as in Parallels.

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    4. I'm not sure I agree that having three or four mirror universe episodes is too much. But I'll let you know how they fare when I get a chance to see them.

      I remembered Genesis as not much fun, but this past time I quite enjoyed myself. I think you'll find the evolutionary theory element of it isn't all that wonky when you re-watch. Plenty of wriggle room and covering fire.

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    5. However, it's certainly one of those things where if you're not enjoying yourself, the somewhat cavalier approach to the topic can be grating or terminally distracting.

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