ST:TNG:6x04: Relics

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“NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D.”

Ironically, the (arguably) least consequential of the Original Series / Next Gen crossover episodes, “Relics,” is probably the best of the lot. As befits its guest star, it’s a wild and sloppy affair, but wonderfully entertaining and warmhearted. Scotty has, since about the third Star Trek movie, been a largely laughable caricature more than a character; and even as part of Star Trek’s core cadre back in the ‘60s, his role was, for the most part, purely functional. How unexpected, then, that in “Relics” we don’t just get to have a bit more fun with the original chief engineer, but we get some added emotional “oomph” for our money, too. And if you’re not tickled by the fact that Scotty beamed himself into the future, well, you’re reading the wrong rewatch column.

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ST:TNG:6x03: Man of the People

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“I don’t know who that woman was, but she was definitely not his mother.”

This flatly ridiculous episode casts Deanna in a bizarre reimagining of The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which Deanna herself is the picture. (In case you miss any of the obviousness, the alien race that delivers Ambassador Alcar to the Enterprise is called the Dorians.) “Man of the People” is proof of two things: one, Deanna really, really shouldn’t ever date; and two, perhaps directly related to one, the Next Gen writing staff really can’t write for Deanna.

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ST:TNG:6x02: Realm of Fear

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“There’s a nerve cluster just behind the carotid artery. It stimulates the part of the brain that releases natural endorphins.”

It’s back to business as usual on the Enterprise, which brings us the  annual Barclay episode (though, I realize, there was no annual episode last year; and there’s two this year, actually). Having previously featured in two of Next Gen’s best episodes (“Hollow Pursuits” and “The Nth Degree”), poor Mr. Barclay has now been reduced to a functional caricature. Need a neurotic Enterprise crewmember to have neurotic problems related to something that other people are just fine with? Barclay’s your guy.

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Blogging the Next Generation returns! ST:TNG:6x01: Time’s Arrow, Part II

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“MISTER PICKERD. I’ll be reminding you that it’s one o’clock.”

[Majel Barrett Computer Voice] Last time, on Blogging the Next Generation… I was working my way through the complete Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray when the braintrust at CBS Home Video gummed up the works completely by delaying the release of the series’ sixth season by about half a year. Now, at last, they’ve got on with it (though no sign, yet, of a release date for Season Seven, so who knows when we’ll finally be given the opportunity to complete this trek through the stars) and our rewatch continues as we rejoin our heroes in mid-cliffhanger, lost in the 19th century…[/Majel Barrett Computer Voice]

So – let’s see if I still remember how to do this. What began as a thrilling and nostalgic trip back into just how sharp Star Trek: The Next Generation actually was in its early years, has long since become a process of caretaking a descent into blandness that overcame not just Next Gen, but all of Star Trek following (approximately) the start of TNG’s fifth season.

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ST:TNG:5x26: Time’s Arrow

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“It has occurred. It will occur.”

We’ve arrived at the point in modern Trek where a year-end cliffhanger episode is a given, rather than a storytelling flourish arrived at organically. “Time’s Arrow” should be perfectly wired for me – it’s Next Gen’s Back to the Future III episode – but like most of post-Season Four TNG, it’s lackluster and weak-willed, which I’ve described as “beige storytelling” over the course of this year. There’s less charisma and definition to the drama, and the beats play softly and without much impact. “Time’s Arrow” is perfectly serviceable as an idea for a story, but it’s not very exciting as an episode of a space adventure series.

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ST:TNG:5x25: The Inner Light

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“Tell them of us, my darling.”

Here’s another canonized episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation about which I am highly conflicted. Even now, having watched the episode again for the first time in ten years or more, I can’t quite figure out where to land on it. It’s unarguably well-made and is as unique a story as Next Gen ever told, but it also feels dauntingly incomplete and underscaled for the scope of its idea. Which translates to: I don’t like it as much as everyone else seems to.

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ST:TNG:5x24: The Next Phase

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“Now I suppose I’ll never know what you were gonna say about me.”

Finally, Season Five gives us an episode that actually feels like a Next Gen episode. And thankfully, it’s a grand old time to boot, an admittedly flyweight science fiction adventure romp in which Geordi and Ro get “phased,” rendering them invisible to their colleagues, and able to walk through bulkheads, doors, and other people – but not, in classic ghost story fashion, through the floor apparently. No matter. I love this episode because it plays to all of the series’ core strengths: inventive (and VFX-enhanced) adventure; a good sense of fun throughout; and, in direct opposition to many of the other episodes this season, it’s thoroughly rooted in character.

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ST:TNG:5x23: I Borg

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“We are Hugh.”

I fucking hate the Hugh the Borg episode. I always have. Everyone else loves it; I absolutely loathe it. As you’ve probably realized by now, a) I was a huge fan of the Borg as they were originally conceived in “Q Who,” and b) I couldn’t stand watching them get thoroughly de-fanged by Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek: Voyager.

Fuck, they were such a good idea at the beginning. But the writers chickened out completely on just letting the Borg be the Borg, preferring instead to simultaneously bring them down to our level (an understandable side-effect of needing, pragmatically, to find a way to defeat them every time they showed up) while upping their “cool” factor as one of Star Trek’s signature villain races. They accomplished the latter by massively expanding (and thereby de-mystifying) the Borg’s entire tech-noir backstory. Nanoprobes, assimilation tubules, the Borg Queen, Unimatrix One… all of this explain-the-Borg claptrap was the Midichlorians before there were Midichlorians. Don’t even get me started on Seven of Nine.

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ST:TNG:5x22: Imaginary Friend

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“I think she’s real for you. And that’s real enough for me.”

We’ve spent a lot of time with the children of the Enterprise in Season Five. This is largely Alexander’s fault, and it steers the complexion of Star Trek: The Next Generation into a disappointingly bland amalgam of family entertainment, with all of the teeth taken out. (Imagine Doctor Who if it were never allowed to be scary.) The final child-centric episode of the year is “Imaginary Friend,” and it’s far and away the weirdest. An alien being poses as a little girl’s imaginary friend in order to explore the Enterprise. In an outright reversal of the approved structure of a Next Gen episode, the little girl in question – Clara Sutter – is not only a guest star, but is a guest star with almost no connection whatsoever to any of the principal characters.

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ST:TNG:5x21: The Perfect Mate

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“Who she is changes when the next man comes into the room. And I find myself hoping the next man won’t come in.”

Space whore! The Next Generation! The oldest profession comes to Star Trek c/o a deeply skeevy premise wherein an alien empath naturally, willingly turns herself into the perfect woman for whatever male she happens to be in front of. And she happens to be in front of Captain Picard.

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