Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 5)

The Thinker by Rodin

Season 5 of this series holds its own, which is good because usually by the fifth season of anything the quality tends to degrade. Granted, the formula rarely changes from week to week with any of the Star Trek series. The Enterprise/Voyager/Deep Space Nine station is almost always under some jeopardy or unprecedented conditions and the plucky crew somehow manages to triumph over certain doom. If exploring space were this dangerous no one would bother. Anyhow, if you want to scan Season 5 and watch only the good stuff, you can use my mini episode reviews with confidence.

  1. Redemption II. This conclusion to the Season 4 cliffhanger was worth the summer wait as Picard and the Enterprise try to keep a Klingon civil war from starting while Romulans covertly try to smuggle arms to traitorous Klingons who want to the empire to ditch the Federation. Picard becomes something of a commodore and strings together a temporary fleet to blockade the Romulans along the zone between the Romulan Empire and Vulcan. This is a really fun episode particularly because Commander Data becomes temporary commander of the understaffed Sutherland and he gets to kick some serious ass. Denise Crosby clearly regretted leaving the show in Season 1 because she is back again as Tasha Yar’s daughter, now the Romulan commander Sela, who apparently inherited none of her father’s DNA. As a bonus Worf finally gets rid of his discommendation, which will prove useful in the seasons ahead. (Note: the Sutherland was a British ship also commanded by the fictional Horatio Hornblower, and was woefully understaffed. That is doubtless not a coincidence here.) A+
  2. Darmok. Picard gets caught up in an encounter with Danthon (Paul Winfield), a prominent Tamarian who is wrestling with an unseen foe on the planet where Picard is taken. Conveniently the Enterprise cannot rescue the captain but there’s the additional challenge that Tamarians communicate through metaphor, making communications almost impossible. Lots of flash and action in this episode, but little light here, so it’s eminently skippable. C.
  3. Ensign Ro. A disgraced Starfleet officer, Ensign Ro, is assigned to the Enterprise to help persuade her fellow Bajorans to refrain from attacking Federation colonies. Her real mission is something much worse that involves the Cardassians, but there’s the added complication that she has a smartass mouth and does not follow orders. Guinan helps her sort things out as does Picard, who adopts her as something like the new Wesley while he is off at the academy. Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) becomes something of a recurring character through Season 5. A-
  4. Silicon Avatar. The Crystalline Entity is back (see Season 1) and lays waste to a colony and all the life forms on the planet, except for some colonists the Enterprise away team manages to save deep inside a cave. Doctor Marr, a specialist on the entity, joins on a mission to confront the entity but has a chip on her shoulder because the entity killed her son. As the entity shows signs of intelligence the choice becomes whether to talk to it or kill it. B
  5. Disaster. A series of powerful vibrational strings nearly destroys the Enterprise. The show becomes a fight for survival with a number of subplots, some of them a bit annoying. Keeping it wholly on the Enterprise certainly saved production costs. B
  6. The Game. Wesley pays a visit to the Enterprise during a break from Starfleet Academy and gets a serious crush on Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd, I mean, who wouldn’t?) Riker meanwhile returns from the pleasure planet Risa with an addictive game that soon take over the Enterprise crew for nefarious ends, and only Wesley and Robin aren’t playing. The problem with the episode is one you see repeatedly: piss poor security practices, but otherwise it’s pretty fun to see the crew turn into game playing zombies. B-
  7. Unification I. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has gone rogue and has secretly moved to Romulus where he is trying to teach logic and peace to an underground movement. Before going, Picard meets briefly with Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard), who is estranged from Spock and close to death but shares what he knows about Spock’s mission. Picard uses a cloaked Klingon ship to secretly go to Romulus to contact Spock, bringing Data along. They find Spock just in time to end the episode so it can be continued in… A
  8. Unification II. … the second part wherein Spock spurns Picard’s request to stop his cowboy diplomacy. Picard also conveys the news of the death of Sarek, which does affect the logical Vulcan, particularly after he mind melds with Picard, who shared his mind with Sarek in a previous episode. Back on the Enterprise, Riker figures out that some missing Vulcan ships are being used by the Romulans to start an armed insurrection on Vulcan. This is being masterminded by … you guessed it … Sela (Denise Crosby) from the first episode of the season. A
  9. A Matter of Time. Penthara Four is hit by an asteroid that is triggering a catastrophic and sudden global cooling event. The only way to fix it is through a highly risky maneuver likely to wipe out all life on the planet and Captain Picard gets to decide if it’s worth the risk. A “historian” time traveler from the 26th century played by Matt Frewer shows up to supposedly document this famously historical incident but unsurprisingly he has ulterior motives. Frewer (“Max Headroom”) enlivens the show but really there’s not much worth viewing here. C
  10. New Ground. Worf’s adopted human parents decide they are too old to take care of his son Alexander, so Worf and Alexander have to try to establish a functional relationship, an uphill task. This is really the meat of this episode, such as it is, while the “plot” involves an experimental “solitonic wave” that could replace warp drive but causes a predictable crisis instead. At least Worf is no longer the only Klingon on the ship at the end of this episode. Pass. C
  11. Hero Worship. The crew finds only a child alive in a federation science vessel. After rescue, he quickly starts emulating Data as a way to cope with his feelings of loss and presumed guilt that he caused the catastrophe on his ship. The Enterprise gets caught up in the same phenomenon and has to figure out how to survive it. Nothing here you haven’t seen elsewhere, so pass. C
  12. Violations. Some “telepathic historians” join the Enterprise on a peace mission, but one of these mind readers has boundary issues, which causes those affected like Troi and Riker to be psychologically raped then go into traumatic comas. B
  13. The Masterpiece Society. Moab IV is in great danger because a stellar core fragment is due to pass by the planet, destroying its insular and otherwise unknown colony of humans creating utopia through good genetics and isolation. They accept help from the Enterprise only with great reluctance. Of course interaction causes changes to the dynamics of their society and breaks the Prime Directive too. It becomes clear that if the colony survives it will still be permanently altered by their presence. B-
  14. Conundrum. An alien ship scans the Enterprise and wipes out everyone’s memories of who they are. The aliens on the ship unsurprisingly have ulterior motives and plan to use the Enterprise as their proxy in a longstanding war. This turns out to be a fun and novel episode: some place the crew has actually never gone before. While not the show at its best, it is one you will want to watch for its theatrics. A-
  15. Power Play. The Enterprise picks up a distress call from what turns out to be lifeless moon. Upon landing the away team is quickly possessed by something. Eventually we learn it’s the spirits of prisoners left there doing the possession. The moon is a penal colony and these evil spirits are all trying to escape the planet. They possess Data, Chief O’Brien and Counselor Troi who nearly succeed in taking over the Enterprise so these spirits can return “home”. Except for seeing Data getting nasty, there’s not much reason to tune in to see this one. C
  16. Ethics. Worf’s spine gets severed in an accident, which proves that not only is security pretty poor on the Enterprise, but they don’t know how to secure barrels properly in the cargo bay either. In short, Picard is running a sloppy ship! Worf wants a dignified death and asks Riker to kill him like a Klingon would do, which he won’t. All this confuses and stresses his poor son Alexander. A rogue surgeon Dr. Russell comes aboard and advocates for a risky procedure to replicate and replace Worf’s spine, which gets Dr. Crusher’s professional dander up. Not sure what the point of this episode was except to fill out a season, but rest assured you can skip it without guilt. C
  17. The Outcast. The J’naii, a genderless species, contacts the Enterprise to get help finding a missing shuttle. This becomes quite a fascinating episode in today’s light, as it parallels the modern LGBT movement in a sort of reverse way. Those among the J’naii with gender feelings must be “corrected”. Soren, with feminine feelings, is one of these and working with Riker they develop strong feelings for each other. The only things that doesn’t quite work here is that Soren should have had male orientation, as it would have made it much more interesting for Riker to fall for a man, a critique Jonathan Frakes shared afterward. Otherwise it’s quite excellent, a couple of decades before its time, and one of the few episodes where the Enterprise actually boldly goes where no show up until that time had dared to go. A
  18. Cause and Effect. The Enterprise becomes caught in a time loop that always results in the destruction of the Enterprise. The interesting take here is how they figure a way out of it when they have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s déjà vu all over again. A
  19. The First Duty. Cadet Wesley Crusher gets injured during a maneuver with teammates around Saturn’s moons. Will the truth come out? Picard, scheduled to address the graduating students naturally gets involved since Wesley is involved and helps him do the right thing. B
  20. Cost of Living. Perhaps channeling Gene Roddenberry’s death during this season, his wife Majel Barrett appears again as Troi’s mother Lwaxana, who is feeling her age and agrees to be betrothed to a man she hasn’t met. Needless to say they aren’t well suited for each other, so she fusses over Worf’s son Alexander instead. This is as cringe-worthy as all these episodes. D
  21. The Perfect Mate. An empathic metamorph who can sexually and romantically bond perfectly with any male and is in peak hormones comes aboard the Enterprise. An ambassador is ferrying her to a planet where she will be a key part of a lasting peace between two warring worlds. She is every man’s ideal mate but when her guide Briam has an accident, Picard has to figure out a way to coach her while not getting involved with her. This episode is just fascinating and the most interesting part is puzzling through how Picard manages to do what no one else can do and stay detached from her. So it becomes something of a psychological study of Picard’s brain and motivation. It leaves it unanswered, but my guess is Picard is too self-controlled to allow himself to wholly let down his guard to anyone, even the perfect mate. Best of the season. A+
  22. Imaginary Friend. A young daughter of a man who works in engineering has an imaginary friend, which due to some usual fantastical events becomes a real evil alien girlfriend who starts wreaking havoc on the ship. Quite skippable. C
  23. I, Borg. The Borg are not back, but one Borg, a survivor from a crashed Borg scout ship, is rescued and isolated aboard the Enterprise. Picard who was once Locutus of Borg wants to use “3 of 5” to implant the viral idea of individuality that would destroy all the Borg. However, isolated from the collective this Borg, who the crew names Hugh, slowly gains an appreciation for humans and causes Picard to rethink his strategy. Good stuff. A
  24. The Next Phase. Trying to help a distressed Romulan ship, Geordi and Ensign Ro get caught up in a transporter “accident” that appears to have killed them, but in reality puts them in a time phase so that they can’t be seen while they wander around both the Romulan ship and the Enterprise unseen. Along for the ride is a Romulan who plans to destroy the Enterprise when it completes repairs and goes into warp drive. Can Geordi and Ro get back to their own phase and save the Enteprise? Of course, but the fun is getting there. B
  25. The Inner Light. Encountering an unmanned alien ship, Picard gets stunned and finds himself on another planet and in a new life, which unfolds over 30 years. He is married and eventually has two children and grows old while only minutes pass on the Enterprise. The plot here doesn’t really make any sense (how did the people of this planet create such a powerful probe when they have barely mastered putting a satellite into space?) but it strangely becomes a very moving episode anyhow. A
  26. Time’s Arrow I. Data’s deceased head is found underneath San Francisco, dated to the end of the 19th century. The Enterprise investigates the source of particles found in the chamber, which eventually sends Data back to this time and his probable death. Guinan advises Picard to go on a rescue attempt, because otherwise they will never meet. Includes Jerry Hardin playing a convincing Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The conclusion awaits in Season 6 but this doesn’t quite feel like cliffhanger material. B

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