Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Not with a Bang but a Whimper

Picard's reaction after watching season 7
I recently finished re-watching the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), and I must admit that our collective fond memories of that show are definitely viewed through rose-coloured glasses.

Don't get me wrong, TNG is a very important Trek show. It, along with the original cast's movie series, cemented Trek as a phenomenon, shepherding the franchise into its arguable peak period of the early to mid-90s. Its legacy is secure. However, when watching the individual episodes, especially backwards through the scope of the brilliant Deep Space Nine (DS9) that followed, TNG just doesn't hold up on the whole.

Yes, when TNG is firing on all cylinders, it's excellent. Every episode, with very few exceptions, Patrick Stewart delivers a nuanced performance that's unrivaled by any other actor in all of Trekdom, save perhaps Leonard Nimoy's Spock. The problem with TNG is the inconsistency. It could be great one week, then dreadful for the next few. (This pattern definitely continued with the TNG movies: for every one great entry, we get three bad ones.)

Trek fans will argue about which season of TNG is the best until they're as blue in the face as a Bolian (generally, seasons 3 to 5 are in that conversation, maybe 6), but I think we can all agree the final season is where they just threw their hands in the air and gave up.

Oh boy, season 7, where to begin? If you're not familiar with it, there's a great Twitter feed called TNG Season 8 that expertly mocks the increasingly ridiculous story lines from the end of TNG's run. The one-line synopses of fictional episodes sound absurd but after recently having seen season 7, they're shockingly plausible, a logical extension of where this show was going.

You know you're in for a rocky time on any TV show when a character's family member shows up out of nowhere every second episode; clearly the writers were grasping at straws.

To wit:
  • s7e1, "Descent, Part II": Data's brother Lore has a poorly thought-out and even more poorly explained plan of taking over the Federation using the Borg. Bad episode.
  • s7e3, "Interface": The VR specter of Geordi's mom appears to him after her ship goes missing. Bonus points: Geordi calls up his dad, too. Bad episode.
  • s7e7, "Dark Page": Troi mom comes back again (ugh) and we find out Troi had an older sister who died when she was young. Bad episode.
  • s7e10, "Inheritance": Data's "mom" shows up. Surprise, she's an android. Bad episode.
  • s7e13, "Homeward": Worf's foster brother shows up and tries to save a doomed village. An embarrassing hour of TNG.
  • s7e14, "Sub Rosa": Crusher has a romance with a ghost who was previously her grandmother's ghost lover. Another embarrassment.
  • s7e20, "Journey's End": Crusher's son Wesley comes back one last time to save Space-Native Americans. Decent episode if only for setting up some stories that get explored further in the subsequent Trek series.
  • s7e21, "Firstborn": Worf is concerned his son Alexander isn't growing up Klingon enough. Meh episode: Alexander remains stupid and Worf continues being an awful parent, but has a neat time travel element. Also, DS9's Quark appears.
  • s7e22, "Bloodlines": Bok (from season 1) returns, vowing to kill Picard's long lost son. Turns out it's not really his son. Oh well. Lame episode.
  • s7e23, "Emergence": The Enterprise essentially has a baby, plot holes and logic be damned. Awful episode.
As we can see, just under half the episodes of the final season had lame, we're-out-of-ideas family plots that did a disservice to the series as a whole. Perhaps the writers/producers were too busy making DS9 and prepping Voyager, as well as getting Generations made, I don't know. Yet, amid all this trash, they did manage to turn out some of the best episodes of the series, such as the back-to-back winners "Parallels" and "The Pegasus", as well as "Lower Decks" and, of course, the wonderful series finale, "All Good Things..."
You should be embarrassed!
But if you're still craving more episodic TNG after binge-watching season 7, there's a great Twitter feed you can check out...