- 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
- DVD: R1, NTSC DVD
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.