- 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
- DVD: R1, NTSC DVD
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.