ST:TNG:6x11: Chain of Command, Part II

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“THERE! – ARE! – FOUR!! – LIGHTS!!!”

The history of Cardassia, some of it anyway, is laid out in miniature over the course of Gul Madred’s torture sessions with Captain Picard in Part II of “Chain of Command.” We learn that it was a civilization of deep history and art, that fell to poverty and despair before ultimately being taken over by its military to dig its way away from the brink of self-destruction. The pre-war Germany vibe is strong, and a lot of the groundwork laid here carries nicely onto Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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ST:TNG:6x10: Chain of Command, Part I

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“A challenge. You should prove an interesting challenge.”

We have arrived at, arguably, the apex of Star Trek: The Next Generation's pop cultural power: the week it gave birth to a spin-off. I can't recall if “Chain of Command” coincided with, or immediately preceded, the launch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but it was all hands on deck for this season in Star Trek history. The third Trek series, whose creative and narrative accomplishments are so enormous that they really deserve their own rewatch blog [cough blu-ray, CBS? cough], was proof positive that Next Gen had, in less than six full years, gone from unpopular gamble to franchise-building mainstay. And by running both series simultaneously, Paramount and Rick Berman were in some ways anticipating the birth of the mega-franchise in popular entertainment, some fifteen years later.

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ST:TNG:6x09: The Quality of Life

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“Commander – is it your intention to continue to grow your beard?”

Time for your annual reminder that Data is a person – by proxy this time, but the principle is the same. Data determines that a group of industrial mining robots called Exocomps have developed some of the criteria for life, and the usual moral dilemma ensues.

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ST:TNG:6x08: A Fistful of Datas

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“Felis catus, is your taxonomic nomenclature an endothermic quadroped, carnivorous by nature?”

We’re going to be called upon to ask what was in the water at the Star Trek: The Next Generation writers’ offices this month. Last week, the crew got turned into kids, and this week it’s a spaghetti western on the holodeck – where half the characters are incarnations of Data. (Next week, Data will adopt a bunch of robots. Yes he will.)

Fortunately, as with its predecessor “Rascals,” the batshit gamble in “A Fistful of Datas” pays off just fine, more or less. I liked this episode a lot when it first aired. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as it might have – it feels fairly slow now, and it’s the first of Patrick Stewart’s directorial efforts that I’d say is badly directed. Sequences are staged conventionally, split-screen visual effects are unimaginative, and the final gunfight – which should be the showpiece of the whole episode – never entirely clicks. But still, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

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ST:TNG:6x07: Rascals

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“I assure you, I am Captain Picard.”

Well here it is, the got-dang silliest premise in the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the one that should have been this series’ “Spock’s Brain;” an idea so stupid you’re amazed any credible professional actually said it aloud in a story meeting. The one where the crew… gets turned into kids. This is a bizarre, flatly preposterous idea for a show, and if Next Gen weren’t so utterly unapologetic about it, from the title down (I mean – “Rascals”! How cute is that!), it would probably be a wall-to-wall disaster.

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ST:TNG:6x06: True Q

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“The jury’s still out on that, Picard. Make no mistake.”

Imagine the following delivered by a heavily bearded man in a thick, west country accent: “YOU’RE A Q, HARRY!” It wasn’t till this time through “True Q” that I cottoned to the fact that it’s essentially the Harry Potter story, on the Enterprise – with the “wizard” in question being a young lady who finds out that she’s actually a Q. Oh, Q’s no Hagrid and Amanda’s no Harry, but the first act of the episode is fun, as Amanda goes around the ship, “accidentally” making things happen.

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ST:TNG:6x05: Schisms

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“Felis catus, is your taxonomic nomenclature an endothermic quadroped, carnivorous by nature?”

Between this and “Man of the People,” we’re now deep into episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation whose existence had mercifully been deleted from my memory banks. I used to know this shit like the back of my hand – my brother used to tease me about / be amazed by my ability to spit out the title of a Next Gen episode off a single second of a single shot, anytime we flicked past one on TV. I was slightly better able to recall “Schisms” than “Man,” but in both cases, it took some work to call up a rough description of the plot.

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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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