Category Archives: The Next Generation

Also known as TNG

“The Enemy”

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“So, you haven’t watched ‘Roots’. How about ‘Reading Rainbow’?”

Geordi is left behind (but not Kirk Cameron-style) on a particularly nasty planet near the Neutral Zone after the Enterprise responds to a distress signal. Riker and Worf take a survivor from a crashed Romulan shuttle back to the ship while Geordi must try to find a way to escape and survive. He encounters another Romulan survivor (John Snyder) and must convince him to help in the escape attempt despite two centuries of hostilities and prejudices. Meanwhile, Crusher is unable to save the Romulan on the ship after Worf refuses a transfusion that might have saved him. Picard must then deal with a tense standoff with a Romulan warbird and its leader, Commander Tomalak (Andreas Katsulas) who crosses the Neutral Zone. At the last minute — and with the prospect of war hanging in the balance — Geordi is able to signal the Enterprise by modifying a probe sent to the planet by Wesley. With Geordi and the second Romulan saved, the standoff ends, with the warbird returning to its own territory.

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“Klingon … can you take this candy wrapper off my face, please?”

Why it’s important

This is the first in a handful of episodes over the next few seasons in which the Romulans become recurring villains. In the second season, only “Contagion” features actual Romulans — after they returned with much sound and fury in “The Neutral Zone” —  and doesn’t set things in motion like this episode does. The idea that a standoff could be another Pearl Harbor — a comment Picard makes — is a major point surrounding the Federation/Romulan dealings over the next few seasons.

This episode is the first in TNG where that idea really hits home, which is why it made the tapestry. But “The Enemy” isn’t as good as other upcoming episodes featuring the same topic, notably, “The Defector”, an excellent episode later this season. Tomalak shows up again there and a couple other times, including TNG’s finale “All Good Things … “. Galorndon Core, the planet in this episode, is referenced a handful of times as well.

More of Worf’s back story and its effects show up here, too. We saw a glimpse of this in “Heart of Glory” and “The Neutral Zone”, but his refusal to give a transfusion to save the Romulan on the ship, the Romulan’s unwillingness to take the transfusion (he says he doesn’t want to pollute his body with “Klingon filth”) and efforts to convince Worf from Crusher, Riker and Picard provide a microcosm for the relationship between the three powers. In fact, the Romulan hatred of Klingons (as opposed to simple disdain) really shows up here for the first time.

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Insert Harry Mudd joke here.

What doesn’t hold up

There are some logical issues. The big point of conflict is that the Enterprise can’t leave the planet to return the first Romulan survivor to the warbird without recovering Geordi. Why didn’t the Enterprise simply leave a (well-armed) shuttle in orbit to try to recover Geordi — or perhaps leave the saucer section? The Enterprise could have taken the survivor into the Neutral Zone and avoided the entire standoff.

Sure, there are some reasons why that could be problematic. Maybe leaving a shuttle or the saucer section undefended at the planet (where a cloaked ship might appear and open fire) wouldn’t be ideal. But the idea isn’t even suggested. And keep in mind that the Enterprise (until the end of the episode) doesn’t know there’s another Romulan survivor.

It’s also somewhat odd that the storms on the planet affect some electrical systems, but not others. Geordi’s VISOR, his tricorder, his phaser and the Romulan’s disruptor all seem to work OK. But early dialog indicates that the storms should cause more problems. Riker says Data would be seriously messed up by the storms.

Final thoughts

Something happens in this episode that really should have happened throughout the first two seasons. Wesley comes up with a good idea that ultimately saves the day — and it’s not annoying to watch! It’s further evidence that TNG really got its sea legs in the third season and that the biggest problem with Wesley early on was the execution. Having a boy-wonder type wasn’t inherently flawed.

This episode also allows LeVar Burton to shine away from his usual glut of technobabble. Geordi’s an interesting character in that he’s much more down-to-Earth (down-to-galaxy?) than the other characters on the show, with the possible exception of Crusher. That’s not to say this episode wouldn’t have worked with Picard or Riker stuck on the planet. But putting Geordi in the role was a good choice. His discussions with the Romulan on the planet work quite well.

Coming later this week …

TNG’s first what-if scenario and a true classic. Pass the TKLs …

“Q Who?”

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“We haven’t faced a ship like this since the Fuzzy Dice Dreadnaughts of Pimpulon 8!”

Q returns and asks to join the Enterprise crew. Turns out he’s been kicked out of the Q Continuum and figures his services can be of use to his Starfleet buds. When Picard refuses — citing his lack of trust in Q and confidence that humanity is ready for what’s ahead — Q sends the Enterprise to an uncharted area of space. Despite Guinan’s warnings — her people were from this region — Picard decides to do some exploring before heading back and finds planets attacked in the same manner as the outposts in “The Neutral Zone”. Then, a cube-shaped vessel appears and attacks the Enterprise. Guinan identifies them as the Borg, a race with a collective consciousness bent on assimilating useful technology. With the Borg about to overtake and/or destroy the Enterprise, Picard pleads with Q to send the Enterprise back to Federation space. Q, impressed with Picard’s ability to suppress his pride for the sake of his ship, acquiesces. But Picard and Guinan end the episode discussing the quiet realization that the Borg, now that they know of the Federation, will be coming.

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The logical, and sinister, next step after Babybjörn

Why it’s important

The second classic episode of TNG is also the series’ most consequential. The Borg become the major nemesis for Picard and Co., showing up again in the series’ best episodes, “The Best of Both Worlds”, a few other times and, of course, in TNG’s best film, “Star Trek: First Contact”. The Borg also become the main bad guys starting in the middle seasons of Voyager, and the loss of Benjamin Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, in the Borg attack at Wolf 359 (the aftermath of which is seen in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”) becomes a major background element for DS9 .

Oh, Dr. Tolian Soran (an el-Aurian like Guinan and the main bad guy in “Star Trek: Generations”) is so motivated to return to his family (killed by the Borg) that he’s cool with killing the population of a pre-warp civilization as a way to bring the time-traveling Nexus to him. That, of course, is the major premise behind the film and it leads to the destruction of the Enterprise-D and the death of James T. Kirk.

I could keep going, of course. It’s actually hard to imagine Star Trek in the 1990s without the Borg. Hell, they even made an appearance in “Star Trek: Enterprise” in 2003.

I listen very well to others, including a few kung fu instructors along the way.
“I listen very well to others, including a few kung fu instructors along the way.”

What doesn’t hold up

There really isn’t much in this episode that doesn’t work. It’s a little strange that we don’t learn more about Guinan’s earlier encounter with Q and why he calls her “an imp” who isn’t what she appears to be. But whatever.

The biggest problem is that dialog in this episode seems to indicate that the Borg have already been in Federation space and, in fact, attacked Starfleet’s outposts last season along the Neutral Zone (in “The Neutral Zone”). If true, then Picard’s sense of urgency at the end of the episode should have been even greater. It’s not just that the Borg “are coming.” It’s that they’re already there — or, that they could get there by some method very quickly.

Final thoughts

TNG’s second season really wasn’t that great, but this episode, “The Measure of a Man” and “Peak Performance” and “Contagion” were outings that showed the series’ potential. Of course, the second season was affected by a writers’ strike and was just 22 episodes long (the shortest in TNG’s run).

Although this episode has a lot of great moments, the scene with Picard, Riker, Q and Guinan in Ten-Forward is my favorite. No other Star Trek captain, not even Kirk, would have considered letting Q join his or her crew. But Picard, ever the explorer, does kick around the idea — as he sees that learning more about Q would be “frankly provocative” and part of his mission. It’s a telling moment for Picard, as he’s most willing among the Star Trek captains to risk his ship in the pursuit of knowledge. There’s no way Sisko, Janeway or Archer would have even talked through the idea with Q. Kirk is arguably the only other commanding officer who would have thought through the proposal, but the fact that Q wasn’t an attractive female would have likely killed his chances.

Coming next week …

As our friend Worf would say (with trademark disdain): “Romulans”.

“The Measure of a Man”

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“Can Pinocchio do this, bitch?”

The Enterprise arrives at a new starbase, near the Romulan border. While there, Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy) pops up with orders to take Data apart so Starfleet can build more androids. When Maddox’s plan seems like a stretch and even dangerous, Data resigns from Starfleet. Maddox goes to the new base’s JAG officer, Captain Phillipa Louvois (Amanda McBroom) and convinces her that Data is, in fact, Starfleet property — meaning he can’t resign. Picard challenges the ruling and demands a hearing. Louvois grants it, but her limited staff requires that Picard must represent Data while Riker must represent Maddox (or else Louvois will maintain her original ruling). Riker’s strong arguments almost convince Louvois, before Picard’s counter-arguments turn the tide. Louvois rules that Data is a machine, but not property. In true Data fashion, he tells Maddox to keep working — and that he’ll be willing to help once Maddox gets closer. The episode ends with Data thanking Riker for his willingness to do his duty and save him from Louvois’s original judgment.

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“Come on, everybody! Give Commander Data a hand!”

Why it’s important

Simply put, this was TNG’s first classic episode. For that reason alone, it almost made the tapestry. But there are other reasons it got here, too.

Questions surrounding Data, his rights, his very existence, etc., were a major part of TNG. Exploring Data’s backstory began in the first season episode “Datalore”, but “The Measure of a Man” was the first episode to address it in a serious, thought-provoking way. The events here are referenced (sometimes quickly) throughout the next several years. Notably, they arise in “The Offspring,” when Data builds another android and “The Quality of Life,” in which Data assumes Picard’s role in protecting mechanical beings he believes are sentient lifeforms.

Less important, though still relevant, is furthering the idea that the Federation is expanding and is a multi-layered organization. Not all layers of it are apparently equal, as we’ll discuss. But it is interesting to see what Starfleet looks like outside of the Enterprise.

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Picard in full bad-ass mode.

What doesn’t hold up

The big problem here — something we discussed in “Datalore” — is the idea that Data’s been in and around Starfleet for more than 20 years and only now are these questions being raised. Part of the Maddox backstory is that he opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet — which means that Maddox is older than he looks or was a boy genius. I wonder, again, why the creators decided to put the discovery of Data so far in the past. Even 10 years would have been easier to swallow.

The other issue is that the the admiral we meet at the beginning of the episode and Louvois (initially) are really pretty narrow-minded when it comes to Data. This further stacks the deck against Data to up the drama. But are we to believe that the only enlightened officers in Starfleet serve on the Enterprise? Throughout TNG, we learn that Data is well-known throughout the Federation — so it’s not as if Louvois and the admiral can be excused because they hadn’t put much thought into the matter. Maddox, obviously, holds beliefs about Data — but his reasoning (while awful) is at least believable and well thought out.

Lastly, I’ve always wondered why Maddox simply didn’t represent himself in the hearing. It provides some drama when Riker is forced to verbally spar with Picard (and Data), but you’d figure Maddox would be better prepared to make arguments, as studying Data and robotics is his life’s work. Early in the episode he convinces Louvois of his cause.

Final thoughts

Complaints aside, this is truly one of TNG’s finest hours. It’s thought provoking without being preachy and it includes some of the best acting in the series.

By this time in TNG, Patrick Stewart had really figured out Picard. The unnecessary officiousness of season one was gone, replaced by a passionate but measured commanding officer who would become, arguably, Trek’s best character. Brent Spiner, who also took some time in the first season to get comfortable in his role, really shines here, too. The scene with Maddox in Data’s quarters is strong. Spiner’s ability to play Data effectively making an argument without being impassioned was a key to TNG’s success.

But of special note is Jonathan Frakes, who turns in his best performance as Riker (even stronger than in “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Star Trek: First Contact”). Here, we see Riker as thoughtful, loyal and resourceful. Later in the series, Riker is often written as the chowder-head character whose obvious questions/objections allow other characters to provide exposition (for a great example, watch “Time’s Arrow, Part II”).  The reasoning behind forcing Riker to argue against Data’s rights here was sort of a stretch (as we noted above) but the payoff was worth it. The final scene in the observation lounge with Frakes and Spiner is pitch-perfect.

As TNG went on (and perhaps not coincidentally as Frakes became more involved in directing) Riker became more of a marginal character, perhaps matching only Crusher for lack of scenes and stories, especially in the sixth and seventh seasons. But the Picard-Riker-Data trifecta worked here as well as it did in any TNG outing.

Lastly, the somewhat questionable addition of Whoopi Goldberg to the cast in season two was justified by her performance in this episode. The idea that Guinan has Picard’s ear and can provide an outside perspective was extremely useful throughout the series. That relationship is really first established here in the wonderful scene in Ten-Forward before Picard’s closing argument.

Coming later this week …

One of Trek’s most consequential hours. And the bad guys sound Swedish …

“The Neutral Zone”

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“We are back. And if we knew what ‘mic-dropping’ was, we’d do it here.”

In one of the weirdest story combos ever, the Enterprise happens upon a sleeper ship containing three humans who’ve been frozen since the late-1980s. Meanwhile, the Enterprise must head to the Neutral Zone to discover if the loss of several outposts was caused by the Romulans, who (ahem) have been unseen for several decades. Most of the episode is spent explaining the 24th century to the three humans while en route to the Neutral Zone. There, a Romulan warbird appears  — apparently, as part of an investigation into what happened to the outposts on their side of the zone, which met the same fate. As neither side has committed a transgression, the Romulans turn around and go home — but not before telling Picard and Co. that their absence is over. “I think all of our lives just got more complicated,” Picard says. Meanwhile, the three 20th-century humans are sent on a slow ship back to Earth, in search of low-mileage pit woofies.

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“Say it with me. ‘Low-mileage pit woofies.'”

Why it’s important

Well, this is the first look at the Romulans since way back in “The Enterprise Incident”, other than a stray ambassador and appearance of blue ale in the movies. Their intentions to re-emerge change the math in a major way for the Federation, and started the Ferengi (clearly, the creators’ initial bad guys when TNG launched) on a glide path to comic fodder. Oh, and this is the first time in Star Trek where an actual date is attached to the “current” timeline. Data tells the 20th-century humans that it’s 2364 — even though, back in “Encounter at Farpoint”, he told Riker he graduated in the “class of ’78”. So, either Data is really, really old (he’s not) or the creators flubbed.

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“Romulan ale? No, we’re gonna give you a cold glass of ‘shut the hell up.'”

What doesn’t hold up

The destruction of the outposts appears to have stemmed from a Borg attack. This is stated pretty clearly next season in “Q Who?” — in which the Enterprise finds planets with the same patterns of destruction, in a distant part of the galaxy. How the Borg were around the Neutral Zone and why we didn’t see them again (in Federation territory) until “The Best of Both Worlds” was never really explained.

Stranger still, the Romulans’ long absence sure seems at odds with what we learn later — and even some of what we’ve seen in the first season. Allegedly, the Enterprise was off to face some Romulan battle cruisers at the end of “Angel One.” Of course, we never learned what happened with that. But we know that the Klingons (who likely would have shared intelligence with Starfleet) had somewhat recent dealings with the Romulans, based on Worf’s dialog in “Heart of Glory”. In that episode, we learn that the Romulans attacked and destroyed Worf’s home colony (Khitomer) about 20 years earlier. We learn later that the Romulans and Klingons were allies prior to the attack. There are plenty of other things we learn in TNG, DS9 and Voyager that make this episode fall short (the Romulans’ attack at Narendra III, Picard’s statement that the Romulans have been working to destroy the Federation/Klingon alliance for 20 years, etc.) that don’t work at all with what we see in “The Neutral Zone”.

The real problem is that the creators decided to up the stakes in this episode by making the Romulans more mysterious than they really should have been (if only based on first-season mentions). This actually harks back to the introduction of the Romulans in TOS (“Balance of Terror”) when no one in the Federation had ever seen a Romulan. That didn’t make a ton of sense, either, because it relied on the premise that visual communication wasn’t possible in the 22nd century (when we know there was such communication in “Star Trek: Enterprise”). But at least in “Balance of Terror”, the idea that the Romulans hadn’t been around for a century held up.

Final thoughts

This is really a sloppy episode. The 20th-century human shtick actually isn’t awful — it gives Troi something to do and the interactions between Data and one of the humans is somewhat entertaining. But to mash that story up with something as big and important as the re-emergence of one of the Federation’s most notorious enemies? Who thought that was a good idea? I suppose it sort of works because the episode didn’t appear willing to have the Romulans actually do anything — except some saber-rattling — and something needed to fill the rest of the hour.

And, really, the Romulans’ re-emergence doesn’t amount to much for at least a year, as they only appear in one second-season episode (“Contagion”). Granted, what happens in the galaxy isn’t limited to what happens to the Enterprise, but we don’t really see much of the Romulans again until the third season. So, as far as being “back” …

Coming next week …

We already know Data’s fully functional. But is he a toaster?

“Heart of Glory”

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“We never beat James Kirk!!!!!!”

The Enterprise finds a small group of Klingons on a crippled freighter who are actually renegades threatening “the alliance.” There’s no talk of the ice world of Hoth or X-Wings, so I’ll go ahead and guess the alliance in question is the one between the Federation and its former nemesis, the Klingon Empire. The renegade Klingons, of course, long for the “old ways” and threaten to destroy the Enterprise to prevent capture when a Klingon warship comes calling. Worf’s loyalty to Starfleet is tested (a theme we’ll see time and again for the next 12 years) but our favorite Klingon (belatedly, as we’ll discuss) does the right thing and saves the day by killing one of the Klingons who threaten the ship.

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“Worf — it’ll be nice when you’re all paranoid in later seasons to the point where you wouldn’t let a major security threat roam the corridors of the Federation flagship. Something to think about.”

Why it’s important

The presence of Worf in TNG’s first season  had been an indication that things were somewhat copacetic between the Federation and the Empire — at least, compared with most TOS-era Trek. But this is the first episode that cements the bromance that we see for most of the next decade or so between the two powers. The ending of hostilities/formation of an alliance with the Klingons also becomes the major point of  “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, which premiered about three years after this episode, though it took place about 80 years earlier in the Star Trek universe.

Of course, this is the first episode to explore Worf’s backstory (what’s up, farming colony of Galt?) and details mentioned here pop up over the next decade. Lots of other Klingon items — the death scream, etc. — show up later, too. As noted previously, the Klingons really changed (beyond the forehead ridges) starting around “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and continuing through TNG and DS9. It’s an ongoing evolution, as we’ll discuss below.

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How Geordi sees Riker. Time well spent, creators.

What doesn’t hold up

The episode paints Worf as a sort of unknown among Klingons. While his rescue by a human Starfleet officer and subsequent backstory are mentioned, his presence in Starfleet is a surprise to Korris and Konmel. That makes sense in this episode, but it’s odd given apparent high standing of the House of Mogh — named for Worf’s father — in future episodes. Wouldn’t the average American know if a Rockefeller were serving in the Russian navy?

Smaller details are off, too. Korris notes “the traitors of Kling”, which was either a bad idea for the name of the Klingon homeworld (called “Kronos” starting in “Star Trek VI”) or a strange term used as some sort of generic way to describe the Klingon people — i.e., “the traitors of man.” If the latter is the case, it’s odd that we never hear that kind of language again. Or maybe it’s just good that the term was put out to pasture.

From a character standpoint, Worf knew Korris and Konmel were up to no good pretty early in the episode — they admit destroying a Klingon ship — and his inaction nearly cost 1,000 people their lives. While this works dramatically, it doesn’t fit Worf’s paranoid/dutiful persona that we see in subsequent years, nor is it something we’d want to see from any member of the Enterprise crew (Picard asks Data about his loyalty in “Datalore”, when our favorite android is put in a similar situation). That said, the rest of the Enterprise crew is pretty chill about letting the Klingons have the run of the ship, given the odd circumstances surrounding their recovery from the freighter. Chalk it up to first-season rough spots, I guess. Keep in mind that Picard, a few years later, is actually hesitant to let three kids see the Battle Bridge. Maybe Picard trusts shady Klingons more than some kid who does a science project about radishes?

Final thoughts

This is a fascinating episode for a lot of reasons, but I love Picard and Riker’s reaction to learning that Klingons were on the freighter. It shows the schism between making the Klingons our new BFFs while still acknowledging the bad-dudes backstory. It’s interesting, too, because the portrayal of Klingons that we truly see starting in the second and third seasons — more snarling and animalistic — is fairly subdued here. The reliable Vaughn Armstrong puts in a good performance as Korris, but his portrayal comes across strangely (“I will speak only to my countryman — only to Worf!”). He sounds more Cardassian than Klingon.

Lastly, the whole thing at the beginning of the episode where the bridge crew can see from Geordi’s perspective while he’s on the freighter with Riker and Data was really odd. It had little to do with the rest of the episode, it makes Starfleet technology seem limited (are visual feeds that hard to pull off in the 24th century?) and it’s especially weird as we never see the crew try this again. It almost comes across as the crew wanting to see what Geordi sees rather than wanting to use a visual feed for the sake of a visual feed. And having a visual feed would have been especially useful to Picard in early TNG, when he often asks Riker-led away teams what they see. Having a visual record of the Borg ship in “Q Who?”, for instance, would have been pretty valuable.

Coming later this week …

The crew ends its first season by learning the term “low-mileage pit woofie.” Oh, and the Romulans are back.