Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 5
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney, Whoopi Goldberg

I skipped the first episode of Season 5, “Redemption Part 2” because I watched it and reviewed it with the previous season. Also, as this season ends with the cliffhanger of “Time’s Arrow Part 1”, I went ahead and watched Part 2 from Season 6 and will include that with this review. Season 5 starts strong, so strong I wrote-up a review of the episode, “Darmok” itself because I really enjoyed it. Other early episodes of Season 5 were very good, or thought-provoking, or at least entertaining. Unfortunately, by the time of discs 5 and 6 in this set, the quality really drops. One of the drawbacks of longer seasons is that episodes that would probably be rejected are produced instead. It’s almost a paradox – as fans or even casual viewers we always want more of our favorite shows – but the 1980s style of American TV production produced longer seasons with some excellent episodes, some really bad episodes, and many mediocre episodes. This was true across genres and production companies and was inherent in the production style of the 1980s and very early 1990s.

The other problem with ST: TNG is that there is no continuity between episodes, and everything is stand alone. This is especially true with season 5, which has no theme or real character development (with the exception of Alexander, but we will get to him). The need for Star Trek to “punch the reset button” after every single episode is one of the aspects of the show that irritated me when it originally aired, and now with nearly every show having an “arc plot” for at least the season, it really stands out as a problem. One of the problems with hitting the reset button so, so often, is that there is absolutely no sense of jeopardy for the characters, which undermines the plot.

The perfect example of this is “Ethics”. In “Ethics”, Worf and Geordie are in one of the cargo bays doing some sort of inspection, when a stack of barrels falls, knocks Worf to the ground and knocks him unconscious. He wakes up in sickbay, where Dr. Chrusher tells him his spinal cord has been crushed and he’ll never walk again. Worf, as part of his Klingon beliefs that we have never heard of before, then asks Riker as a friend to help him commit suicide because “Once a warrior can no longer stand to face his enemies – it is time.” There are, of course, multiple problems with this. First, it’s an ableist argument that “death is preferable to being in a wheelchair”. People in wheelchairs lead full and happy lives all over the world – the only “problems” they encounter are the obstacles put in their way by people who don’t rely on wheelchairs for transport – like stairs going into the main entrance of a building. Now in the ST: TNG episode both Riker and Crusher argue against Worf killing himself – going so far as to use his son, Alexander, against him, which of course has it’s own problems. But we don’t ever get a Klingon in a wheelchair. Because, wouldn’t you know it, an expert, experimental neuroscientist shows up, out of nowhere, with an experimental treatment where she essentially uses a 3-D printer to re-grow Worf’s spinal cord. Dr. Crusher has lots of discussions about using this experimental treatment which hasn’t even started human trials yet. And conveniently, there’s a disaster at a nearby Federation Colony and the Enterprise is turned in to a disaster triage center and sickbay. The experimental scientist, for no reason whatsoever, tries one of her other experimental treatments on a patient – and kills him. Dr. Crusher is livid, but her arguments in the episode make no sense. The first rule of being a doctor is: Do no harm. It’s made clear, there was an approved treatment for the patient’s issue, and it was a routine one. The experiment scientist ignores this treatment, in favor of trying her own. That’s a basic violation of medication procedure, medical ethics, scientific ethics, and logic. You always try the proven thing first – if it doesn’t work, or if the patient is known to have an allergy to the proven treatment, then you try something else. But you don’t walk in and try a brand-new experimental treatment, with no consent from the patient, before even trying the actual standard treatment. It’s dumb – and in a real hospital, the doctor who did that would be up on charges and probably have their license revoked.

In the end, though, the experimental scientist presents her experimental treatment to Worf. And the standard treatment of external neurostimulators on his legs hadn’t worked well for Worf (though it may have worked better given time). Worf makes an informed decision to try the experimental treatment, after discussing it with his son, Alexander, Riker, Crusher and the scientist. He understands the risks and sees it as “all or nothing”, which, frankly, makes sense for his character. He even explains both the possible benefits (he will walk again) and the possible risks (he will die) to his son. That works and makes sense. At that point, the scientist is following procedure. Her human (Klingon) experiment should be monitored by an IRB board, and a more general form of experiment would involve double-blind testing and a control group, but for this type of procedure, she is actually doing what she should be doing. During the procedure, things go well, and then they don’t. Worf “dies”. But of course, this is ST: TNG, so we know they won’t kill off a major character. And sure enough, when Worf is lying on his back, suddenly the monitors come back to life, and Worf survives. We see him getting physical therapy, but we know that he’ll be fine, and by the next episode, no one will even mention he broke his back. Sigh. There is absolutely no sense of jeopardy in the surgery scenes because we know Worf won’t die. There is very little sense of jeopardy throughout the episode because we know Worf won’t be permanently handicapped anyway. So the episode really ends up with the audience wondering, “What was the point?”

The episode “Violations” has Troi, then Riker, and finally Dr. Crusher, mind-raped by a telepath. Most of the episode focuses on Troi, who initially accuses the wrong telepath of the three on board the Enterprise. But Data researches several planets that the three telepaths visited, and discovers twenty-two cases of “unexplained comas”. The short coma was the first symptom of the attack (both Riker and Crusher also fall into comas). The episode, though, shows Troi’s attack several times and Riker and Crusher’s only once each. When Troi realizes that her attacker had planted a false memory of who attacked her to cover himself, and it correlates with Data’s evidence, she makes a formal complaint. The attacker will be dealt with severely by his people. The telepaths were “memory historians who were supposed to gently help people recover memories, which they then store. For people who voluntarily undergo the procedure – there are no negative effects. The rapist telepath was violating people without consent, and warping memories to make them traumatic. However, after Troi announces her mistake, the man she accused is let free, and the correct man is arrested – the episode just ends. Riker and Crusher are actually still in comas. And even, assuming they wake up in a day or two, all three of them (including Troi) are going to need considerable therapy to recover from their experience. The episode would have been more interesting if less attention had been paid to the attacks, and more to recovery – especially a realistic portrayal of recovery. This would have been especially true for Riker – it would have been interesting to see him vulnerable for a change.

“Cause and Effect”, directed by Jonathan Frakes, is an episode I’ve seen before in re-runs and I really like it. Basically, the Enterprise gets stuck in a time loop that always ends with its destruction. Because it’s a time loop, we see the crew doing the same things, saying the same things, at least three times. Because it’s television, there’s a short period in each loop where the crew actually learns something new – but because they are in a loop, they forget it the next time around. Eventually, they realize this and Data sends a message of a single word. And Data figures it out, changing what they do, and breaking the loop. When the captain asks for a check on the time with Federation standard – they discover they have been in the loop for just over 17 days. But the other ship they nearly hit? It’s been in the loop for 80 years. That’s not the only thing I like about the episode though. The direction starts off pretty standard – over the shoulder shots, switching back and forth to medium close-ups of whoever is speaking, etc. Then, as the same actions and dialogue happen, again and again, the direction changes – so in the first shot, the camera is behind Dr. Crusher during the first deal of the poker game. But by the third time around, it’s behind Data instead. The scene of Geordi going to Dr. Crusher is also filmed in standard television-style the first couple of times, but then, by the third time the camera is looking up from the floor. These unusual shots or even changes in camera position do two things: first since the dialogue is the same it keeps it from being boring, and secondly, it’s an almost sub-conscience trigger to the audience that “something is wrong”. Normally, a television director would not want to use such low shots or move the camera around as happened in this episode, but here, it adds to the story. Still, I did wonder about the ship from 80 years ago. Picard says they are going to send them to a Starbase, but you’ve got a whole STARSHIP’S worth of people who are 80 years out of date. At the very least they will need a crash course in Federation history and culture. Will they fit in? How will the Federation deal with people who, presumably, were listed as “missing and presumed dead”? Can they vote? What about work? Any knowledge they have is 80 years out of date. To put it in perspective, it’s like if an entire steamship of people from 1939 suddenly turned up in 2019. Think about that – Would they even be able to adapt? I wouldn’t mind a short mini-series following the crew of this ship that Picard rescued from the time loop.

“Masterpiece Society” and “The Outcast” both deal with issues and do so badly. The “Masterpiece Society” both defends genetic engineering of people (and a society with no one who has a disability or is different) and ends with twenty-something extra people on the Enterprise who decide to escape their pre-ordained fate. “The Outcast” was meant to be a pro-LGBT episode, but actually manages to do the opposite, suggesting that a society of gays and lesbians would persecute straight, hetero people (which is, of course, ridiculous and an argument of Conservatives who hate those who are different. Also, whenever Civil Rights are granted to another group – that group never “turn the tables” on their former oppressors – the people tend to be too busy living the lives that were formerly denied to them). “Cost of Living” has Deanna’s mother nearly marry exactly the wrong guy. Oddly enough, Alexander manages to dissuade her, simply by asking the types of questions a child would ask.

The less said about “The Perfect Mate”, the better. It’s a sexist disaster and I may write up a review of it by itself. But it basically suggests the true purpose of women is to serve men by becoming what they want. It’s terrible. That Picard buys into this idea and seems to agree that women are not people and don’t deserve protection by whatever the Federation has in terms of a charter of Rights and Freedoms of Individuals, makes it worse.

“The Next Phase” was interesting because Ensign Ro and Geordi get turned into ghosts by a combination of a disaster on a Romulan ship and a transporter accident. Of course, they figure out how to fix it, and do so just in time to prevent the Enterprise from being destroyed by the Romulan ship, but it’s nice to see Geordi and Ro paired off. The engineering aspects of the entire story are interesting too. The “reset button effect” is there (we know Ro and Geordi aren’t dead) but the story still manages to be interesting anyway.

The season ends with the two-part “Time’s Arrow”. Data’s 500-year old head is found by archeologists in a cave in San Francisco. In part 1, the Enterprise crew, especially Picard, try to avoid the inevitable. In Part II, Data ends up, by accident in San Francisco in the 1880s where he meets Samuel Clemens, Jack London, Guinan and eventually the main crew of the Enterprise who are trying to rescue him, as well as some aliens who are killing humans for “energy”. Part 2 suffers a little bit from the “reset button effect” – we know that Data will survive and everyone will end up back where and when they belong. But there are some interesting twists and turns none the less.

Overall, Season 5 started very strong, lost its way in the middle of the season, and picked up with the season finale. I can recommend it, even with the flaws, except for “A Perfect Mate”, and even Classic Trek had a few really bad episodes.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.

ST: TNG – Darmok Episode Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Story Title: Darmok
  • Season: 5
  • Episode: # 2
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “Season 5” – 7 discs total)
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney
  • Original Air Date: 09/30/1991
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

The Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok” is a fascinating study of linguistics and culture and I really loved it. The idea was very cool, even if I figured out exactly what the Tamarians were doing a lot earlier than the crew of the Enterprise. The episode starts with the command crew of the Enterprise discussing that they have received a message from the Tamarians, an alien species that the Federation has encountered before, but has also utterly failed to establish any sort of relationship with. In fact, all the previous Federation captains had declared that the Tamarian language is “incomprehensible”.

The Enterprise meets the Tamarian ship and open communications – the Captain, and at times his crew, make declarative statements, of proper names and places, but of course, the crew of the Enterprise doesn’t understand. Finally, the captain and his first officer make statements to each other, the first officer backs down and Picard and the Tamarian Captain are beamed down to the surface, like in the Classic Trek episode, “Arena”, where Kirk and the Gorn are forced to fight each other by a third entity. But unlike “Arena”, the Tamarian doesn’t want to fight Picard. What Picard discovers is that the Tamarian is both trying to teach Picard his language and that by facing an adversary together, a monster on the planet, they may learn enough about each other to communicate. And of course, both communications and the transporter are cut off by the Tamarian ship. This makes Riker and Worf nervous and prone to doing dumb things – like interfering. The Tamarian’s plan works, as Picard, slowly figures out that the Tamarians communicate by example, by metaphor. Unfortunately, Riker’s attempt to beam up Picard during the battle with the monster results in the Tamarian captain’s death. Picard figures out enough to communicate with the Tamarians and then the Enterprise leaves.

OK, so far, so good – but why did this episode resonate with me so much? Because the Tamarian language reminded me not so much of “metaphor” but of the short-hand language that fans use. For example, if I said, Picard and Tamarian Captain like “Arena”. A Star Trek fan would probably know what I meant. But to someone who had never seen Star Trek or the episode “Arena” that would be incomprehensible. Besides, in this story, although Riker and Worf assume the situation is “Arena” and are therefore worried about Picard, that’s not actually what was going on. It’s actually a lot more like “Enemy Mine”. (A 90s SF movie where a human and an alien who are in a war no less crash land on the same planet and have to work together to survive.) See what I did there? Again, without the explanation of “Enemy Mine” a reader may or may not understand the reference.

In the episode, “Darmok”, Data and Counselor Troi eventually figure out that the phrases being used by the Tamarians are proper names, places, and then even locate references to those names and places in the Enterprise‘s databanks. But there is no context. And in this case, context is everything.

I watched the entire episode with the subtitles on, and that may have helped make it obvious that the format of the language was to refer to something. E.G. what the Tamarian was saying was, “this situation is like the situation of “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, but of course, Picard had *no idea* what had happened at Tanaka or who Darmok and Jamel were. He figures it out. At the end of the episode, Picard’s monologue and eventual dialogue with the First Officer of the Tamaran ship is fascinating because as a viewer you only understand part of it – but the Tamaran First Officer grins – he understands, and although he’s sad at the loss of his captain, he knows there has been a connection made.

There are a few other things in the episode, Troi, out of the blue tells Riker the Tamarians have “no sense of self-identity”, which is both a pretty big assumption and probably wrong. They do have a strong sense of community and connection through shared experience and stories. Again, like fans. I remember once discussing a television show with a friend and she mentioned how the ending had ruined it for her. I’d stopped watching that particular show before the last season so I asked, “Why? what happened?” And she said, “They Blake’s 7‘d it.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Now again, some out there might understand both what my friend said, and why I was sorry about it. For those of you scratching their heads, going, “huh?” and reaching for IMDB, Fandom Wiki, or Google, let me explain, Blake’s 7 was a British SF show most famous for its last episode, in which, Spoiler – they killed everyone off. This, in a show which routinely killed off regular characters. So she was basically saying “they killed off everyone” in this show she liked but using fannish shorthand to explain it. Again, this is how the Tamarians talk to each other all the time. In fact, when the Captain and his First Officer are arguing about what to do it’s clear they both are citing a story or an idea – the Captain’s idea for getting the Enterprise crew to understand is “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, the First Officer’s is “[somebody] his sails unfurled”. We never really learn what that means, so who knows if it would have worked or not. But it also seems clear in that first scene that the Tamarians think the Enterprise crew is somewhat dumb to not understand them. Even the Tamarian Captain gets frustrated with Picard at times. Again, those of us with our fingers on the pulse of pop culture can relate.

I did feel that as someone with some background in linguistics, although some languages on Earth use more metaphors than others, and as my examples of fannish shorthand show, sub-cultures often can use metaphor, shared experience, and shared cultural knowledge to augment language – it’s not possible to construct an entire language that way. Imagine if instead of saying, “I’d like to a cup of coffee,” it would be, “Special Agent Dale Cooper in the Cafe”. But then that might get you pie not coffee. And another approach, which Picard actually tries on the planet, is to define basic words – like “fire” or “give”. This is part of how he and the captain do learn to communicate, but it’s Picard who learns the alien language, not the other way ’round, which again, is a major point in this episode’s favor.

So again, I really liked the episode and I hope the rest of the season is this good. I usually just review ST: TNG episodes by the season, which is what I’m planning on for Season 5. But I just had to address this particular story, because I just loved it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney, Whoopi Goldberg

The first episode of Season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation is actually part two of Season 3’s cliffhanger, and since I watched and reviewed it with Season 3, so I skipped it here. The first episode I watched (the second of the season) was “Family” which shows the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 459. Picard returns home to France on Earth and his brother’s family vineyard. He spends time with his nephew, his sister-in-law, some old friends, and naturally – his brother. His brother is rude, mean, self-centered, and practically Amish in his attitudes towards technology (he uses only traditional methods to harvest his grapes and make wine, he doesn’t allow his wife to use a replicator and forces her to spend hours cooking from scratch, and he constantly discourages his son’s interest in technology, space, and especially Star Fleet). The brother is extremely rude and mean to Picard as well. Meanwhile a friend of Picard’s shows up to talk to him about his plan to raise the ocean floor to create a new continent and more living space on Earth. Picard suddenly shows an interest in this fantastic project, having read the relevant journal articles. His friend comes back with a job offer, stating they need to have someone in charge of the project who has a real sense of command and commitment. Picard considers it, but when he runs into his brother on a walk in the family vineyard the two start fighting. The verbal insults turn physical and the two end-up literally rolling around in the mud. Eventually, they break out in laughter. Picard and his brother finally talk and Picard admits he was terrified and disturbed by his experience with the Borg. The brother tells him, “Well, What do you know? The great Picard is human,” or words to that effect. Picard returns to the Enterprise. The secondary or “B-plot” of the episode has Wolf hosting his human adoptive parents on the Enterprise. They are Russian Jews but did not force their culture on Wolf – in fact, his mother says that Wolf insisted everything be Klingon as he grew up, including his food. Wolf’s parents did their best to raise him in his own culture instead of their own.

Another episode, I found, perfectly illustrates both the best and the worst of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that is “Data’s Day”. The episode is told in first person from Data’s point-of-view as he writes a letter of a typical day aboard the Enterprise to a friend and colleague. Data is meant to be “father of the bride” to Keiko for her wedding to O’Brien. Keiko gets cold feet but the wedding eventually goes on as scheduled. Meanwhile, we discover that Data has a cat (whom we will later learn is named Spot). I like Data – and I love his cat, Spot – who’s adorable. I can even forgive the issue that several different cats played Spot – and it’s a bit obvious. And I like this episode – nothing Earth-shattering is going on, it’s just a character-focused episode that’s enjoyable to watch. But it perfectly illustrates major issues with Next Gen. First, who is Keiko? I think we might have seen her once – in the background, maybe, and now she’s marrying O’Brien? Did they ever think of maybe introducing this relationship just a little bit more gradually? Keiko says she wants Data to be the father of the bride because he introduced them – and that’s all the background we get. It would have been much more satisfying if the relationship between Keiko and O’Brien had been teased throughout the season with the wedding at the end of the season. Second, Where did Spot come from? Now, I love Spot – and I’m a cat person. And I actually think it makes sense to have a cat on a spaceship. Sailors had cats on their ships to catch mice and rats. And considering that cats are proven to have a calming effect on people, it makes sense to have them on a spaceship. And I’m sure they have some type of technology for cleaning the litterbox. But where did Spot come from? I missed Spot in season 3 – and I was hoping that by watching ST: TNG in order I would find out where Data got Spot. Was Spot found on a rescue mission? Did Data adopt the cat from a previous crew member? I even did an Internet search on the subject and nope – Star Trek: The Next Generation just never explains the addition of a new cast member.

The second to the last episode of the season is also a Data-heavy episode, which has a wonderful scene with Spot. “In Theory” begins with Data and a young woman working together in Engineering. It’s obvious the two are friends. Their friendship develops into a romantic relationship – but in the end, she dumps Data because he isn’t human. But the final scene of the episode has Data sitting in his quarters, in semi-darkness, when Spot meows at him, comes over and jumps on his lap. Data continuously strokes his cat as the episode fades into final credits. First, this shows Spot’s emotional acuity – s/he knows Data’s hurting (despite his insistence he has no emotions) and seeks to help his owner. Second, Data is stroking his cat, both seeking comfort and offering it. Spot purrs, and the bond between android and cat is obvious. It’s a bittersweet ending to the episode.

The rest of the season consists of mission episodes, episodes focused on a single cast member, one episode featuring the return of Q (played brilliantly by John DeLancie) – this time with a Robin Hood theme, and another episode with Barclay (played by Dwight Schultz). It’s pretty standard, though the writing quality and the direction is definitely improving. Some of the episodes are depressing – but not as many as in Season 3.

There is a bit of a not-quite season-long arc plot as we are used to in US television now, but more of a theme and that is the relationship between the Federation and the Klingons and also the Romulans. The Federation is now allied to the Klingons. However, the détente between the Federation and the Romulans seems to be breaking down. Last season, Worf experienced discommendation (being formally dishonored) by the Klingon Empire. His father (deceased) was blamed for selling out the Klingon outpost at Khitomer to the Romulans. Even though Picard and Worf had not only found evidence that Worf’s father was innocent – but that the actual traitor was the father of Duras who was maneuvering his way into a majority position in the Klingon high council. Fearing a Klingon Civil War – Picard and Worf decide to let Worf take the blame. In Season 4, this comes back to haunt them both. The Leader of the Klingon High Council chooses Picard to be the Arbitrator in choosing the next leader of the High Council. He also tells Picard he knows he’s been poisoned – and then he dies on the Enterprise. There are two candidates for the position- Duras and Gowran. Duras is a traitor and in league with the Romulans. Gowran is violent, stupid, much older, and not well liked, especially by the Klingon military. In the final two-part episode (which again carries over to Season 5) Picard and the Enterprise travel to the Klingon homeworld. Picard chooses Gowran as the new leader of the high council. Although Worf had killed Duras in a previous episode – his “long-lost son” appears and tries to take his father’s position on the council. Picard and the temporary Klingon leader shoot this down. Work comes clean about his father’s innocence and presents evidence to the Klingons against Duras and his family. The entire mess leads to the feared Klingon Civil War. Worf resigns from Star Fleet to join his brother in the war. Picard goes to extraordinary lengths to try to stay as neutral as he can and to observe the Prime Directive. But he does convince the Federal high council that even though they need to stay out of Klingon affairs – they can prevent the Romulans from “secretly” arming the Duras side in the war. He gets Star Fleet to set-up a blockade at the border between Klingon and Romulan space. Picard meets a Romulan commander who claims Tasha Yar was her mother. Guinan, a time-sensitive, thinks this is somehow possible – and mentions the disappearance of Enterprise C at Khitomer – she also says Picard may be to blame. Besides this continuing Klingon plot – there are other episodes in which the Romulans are shown to be behind various nefarious events such as trying to start civil wars on Federation colonies, etc.

Wesley leaves early in Season 4 to attend Star Fleet Academy. His last episode is actually pretty good as he, Picard, and a miner are heading back to a planet when their shuttle crashes. Wesley has to deal with an injured Picard and a pig-headed miner as well as an unusual alien on a dessert moon. The limited cast is used to good effect, and Wesley gets to “do stuff” without being an overly arrogant brat. Meanwhile, Riker is on the Enterprise stopping a spaceship of radioactive waste from crashing into a densely populated planet. Even though they eventually get a report that Picard and Wesley’s shuttle never arrived at its destination – Riker cannot leave right away, an entire planet’s population is at stake and Riker does the smart thing and takes care of that first. This is a major change (and a good one) from Classic Trek. Kirk would drop everything to save one crew member, especially one of his bridge crew (such as Dr. “Bones” McCoy or Spock) – Riker, quite rightly, decides that saving an entire planet is a bit more important than trying to find two people from his crew – even someone as important as Picard. He has people from the planet do searches and contacts Star Fleet for help but stays on mission helping the Federation colony. This makes much more sense, frankly, even if it might seem a bit cold. And, as pointed out earlier – Wesley and Picard bond, but Wesley also has to care for Picard and solve problems on his own, so I quite liked the episode.

Overall, I thought Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 was better than Season 3, and I will continue watching and reviewing this series eventually between other shows. The series really suffers from “punch the reset button” issues and not being willing to have true arc-driven plots. The stand-alone nature of the series is annoying and detrimental to the series. As I pointed out in my Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 Review other series at roughly the same time such as Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were starting to have season-long continuing plots. British series from the 1970s and earlier also had continuing plots, so a decade before Next Gen. It just doesn’t make sense for the network and producers to assume the audience can’t remember what happens from week to week on a television series, or to ever show any change occurring for the main characters.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney

I remember when Star Trek The Next Generation was first announced, and watching the entire first season and hating it, so at the time – I didn’t watch any more. I have watched the show occasionally in re-runs since then, so I know it improved from the first few seasons. Due to several factors, I’ve purchased Seasons 3-7 (Amazon’s massive Star Trek sale last year helped a lot) so I will be watching and reviewing all the seasons, plus the Complete Star Trek: Deep Space 9, eventually. But for now, I’m going to focus on season 3.

The third season of ST: TNG seems to be a transitional season – it still has some of the problems of the earlier seasons, but there are some good elements here as well. The early episodes of the season feel very cold and emotionless. They are also surprisingly depressing or sad for Star Trek. There’s an episode where a child loses his mother in a senseless accident. There’s an episode where Data creates a child for himself – and loses her. And just the general feel of many of the episodes is not the hopeful tone we normally associate with Star Trek.

However, about the midpoint of the season, things start to change. First, as is common for ensemble pieces, several episodes focus on specific characters – giving them each more of a chance to shine, rather than a single line in the episode to justify their name in the credits. Second, characters who will become semi-regulars, or at least, frequent guest stars show-up for better or worse. One of my favorites was Lt. Barclay, played brilliantly by Dwight Schultz. In “Hollow Pursuits”, Barclay is a newly transferred lieutenant in engineering. We can see he’s painfully shy, so much so he even stutters on occasion. LaForge is getting annoyed by his constantly being late, and general lack of confidence. Picard, however, noticing that Barclay has been transferred from ship to ship, decides they will help Barclay come out of his shell and become an Enterprise-class officer. So he orders LaForge to make Barclay his special project. LaForge actually takes to the task – giving Barclay additional duties, encouraging him, asking ship’s counselor Deanna Troi how to help him, etc. Troi mentions Barclay is very imaginative. Between Deanna and LaForge, they find Barclay had created a number of adventures in the holodeck – adventures featuring characterizations of the crew. In the adventures, Barclay speaks like an old-time movie matinee idol and works out his issues (among other things, he has a crush on Troi, which becomes a problem when he’s ordered to seek counseling with her). The ship is also experiencing intermittent problems, and it’s Barclay who comes to the realization as to what the problem is – which he works with LaForge to resolve. I liked Barclay – and I know from seeing this show in re-runs we will see him again. But I also enjoyed seeing an entire episode devoted to the engineering crew (we see a lot of O’Brien as well).

We meet Deanna’s mother – who largely seems to exist to annoy Deanna and bug her about getting married. Sigh. Yes, it is as annoyingly “old-fashioned” as it sounds. The Ferengi show up in several episodes – they are disgusting, annoying, and basically “nerdy” – which isn’t the best villain to have in a show like this. For most of the season, the Romulans are also villains. Starfleet is now allied with the Klingons but seems to be close to war with the Romulans. Q shows up once, and even though the character is an updated version of “The Squire of Gothos”, DeLancie is so much fun, I can’t help but like him. Not a character to have to show up every episode though, just the one episode in the season is fine.

One annoying, really annoying, problem with Next Generation is that constantly hits the reset button with every single episode or two-parter. We know characters are never really going to die, or leave, or get married, or have children, or basically change – because, in the next episode, everyone has to be the same. The show is incredibly static, and there is very little, if any, growth in the characters in season 3. This really irritates me – and it irritated me back when the show aired (season 3 would have aired in 1989-1990). Other shows were beginning to show character-development and change around then. Babylon 5 managed to more-or-less follow the show runner’s plan for a 5-year run. And of course, British dramas weren’t afraid of permanently killing off characters, or changing a television series to fit the times. I wanted to see character change and development – and there was virtually none in the entire season.

Finally, season 3 ends with “The Best of Both Worlds”, part 1 – so yes, I took out season 4 and watched part 2. It’s an episode I’ve seen many times, though not always in sequence – Picard is captured by the Borg and turned in to Lucius of Borg. Of course, by the end of part 2, he’s rescued and turned back into Picard. I will say, that considering the Borg are basically Star Trek’s answer to Doctor Who‘s Cybermen (who first appeared in the 1960s) – the Borg soldiers did manage to be quite scary, especially with their built-in weapons. I did find it weird that Star Fleet apparently sent every ship they had to the Battle at Wolf 359, but they all lost – and the Enterprise, all by itself, manages to defeat the Borg within sight of Earth. Really guys? The Enterprise is that good? Didn’t anybody else in Star Fleet have a clue about defeating the Borg? Come on, really?

Overall, the series is worth watching and Season 3 is recommended. I’m probably going to be skipping around between various series, but I will review additional seasons of ST: TNG and link them.

The Commitments

  • Title: The Commitments
  • Director: Alan Parker
  • Date: 1991
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox, Beacon Communications Inc
  • Genre: Musical, Drama
  • Cast: Colm Meaney, Andrew Strong, Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher, Johnny Murphy
  • Format: Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“It has to be ‘The’ something — all the best 60s bands were ‘The’ something.” — Jimmy Rabbitte

“The Irish are the Blacks of Europe, and the Dubliners are the Blacks of Ireland, and the Northside Dubliners are the Blacks of Dublin.” — Jimmy Rabbitte (explaining to the band why they’re going to play “Dublin soul”)

I love this movie! The music, Motown, Blues, and Soul – is great, both in the background and the numbers that The Commitments actually sing. The movie is told from the point of view of Jimmy, an Irish teenager / young 20-something who is fascinated by the music business and wants to get out of the poverty he’s living in. However, rather than pulling at the heartstrings, or telling Jimmy’s story in a sad way – Jimmy tells his own story by interviewing himself, answering questions from the unseen or heard “Terry”, like he’s become the success he’s always envisioned.

The film starts with Jimmy deciding to form a band – he puts an ad in the paper and starts gathering up a group of people for the band – mostly people he knows, some who come to him, and even a few he’s heard sing – at weddings, in church, etc, and puts together the band. However, the montage sequence of the open auditions is hilarious – singers, musicians, and front bands – people of all descriptions show up at his house and just start singing or naming their “influences”. It’s great.

The band begins to come together and Jimmy invites in a girl he knows, her friend who he thinks is gorgeous, and the two bring a third friend – becoming the back-up singers or “Commitment-ettes”.  They also get to perform several Motown-inspired numbers in the film (think Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross and the Supremes). He also finds an incredible lead singer, Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong), who’s rude and dirty-mouthed, but can really sing. He also finds a sax player, drum player, and piano player. Finishing out the band is a trumpet player who’s old enough to be the father to most of the people in the group – but claims to have played with all the greats, even the Beatles. Jimmy believes in all of Joey Fagan’s stories.

First rehearsing over a pool hall, then slowly getting gigs, things seem to be building up to a slow rise to success. Their first gig is a community center – which falls apart when the overly-excited Deco somehow manages to cause an electric explosion on the “stage”. As a result, Derek needs a run to the E/R, but ends up OK and unhurt.

Each gig seems to get better and better – but tensions erupt between members of the band. At their best gig, as the group sounds their most professional, and an agent even approaches Jimmy to sign them with a small record label – the personal conflicts boil over. When Wilson Pickett fails to show to jam with the group, like everyone was depending on, and Joey had said would happen, it all falls apart.

In the end, unlike other films with this type of structure – The Commitments don’t become the next big thing. They don’t even become a small success, everything falls apart. What makes the film great is its unpredictability, and it’s sense of atmosphere. These kids are poor, the poorest of the poor – thus Jimmy’s statement about the Irish being the “Blacks of  Europe”, and as working-class poor kids, music is one of the few ways out. And that doesn’t even work for this group of misfits who just have bad luck. Something happens at each of their gigs, until the final one features some of the best music – and some of the worst personal interaction, as the girls are all fighting because Joey’s slept with all of them, the drummer and Deco can’t stand each other, the saxophonist would rather play jazz, etc.

Finally, there is a lot of humor in the film, too. The description may sound grim, but it isn’t a grim movie. I enjoyed it – and I continue to enjoy it where ever I see it. There are lots of quips and even character humor. For example, Colm Meaney, Jimmy’s Da, is an Elvis fan – his reactions to the “auditions” are priceless.

And everywhere and everyone in the film is playing music or singing or dancing – from the granny with her violin, to Meaney singing “Unchained Melody”, to traditional Irish songs sung or played by street musicians. The background music that’s mostly Motown is also fantastic, as is the music actually sung by The Commitments.

This is an Irish movie, filmed completely in Ireland, yet the Irish teenagers, especially Jimmy, the band’s manager, love Motown and identify with the rhythm of Soul. It’s also great fun. The characters are sharply drawn and sympathetic. The music is great. The background Motown/blues/soul music is excellent. The music sung by The Commitments is also excellent. And the storyline really sings.

Musical Numbers

Mustang Sally
Too Many Fish in the Sea
Mr. Pitiful
Bye Bye Baby
Show Me
Take Me to the River
The Dark End of the Street
Hard to Handle
Chain of Fools
Mustang Sally
I Never Loved a Man
Try a Little Tenderness
In The Midnight Hour

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dante’s Peak