Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season Four (1991)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry

When we last left the Starship Enterprise, the cybernetic Borg Collective had kidnapped and assimilated Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), forcing him to lead their attack on the Federation.  Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) has taken command of the ship and implemented a plan that would destroy the Borg ship... and Picard along with it.

Of course, nothing goes as planned - the Enterprise's super-weapon fails, the Borg having assimilated knowledge of it from Picard's mind.  Riker must learn to let go of what he's learned under Picard's tutelage and form his own plans in order to outwit his former Captain and save billions of lives.

But it doesn't end there; Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) will meet his creator, long thought dead.  Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) will investigate the disappearances of a team of former teammates.  The crew will encounter the younger sister of their fallen comrade, Tasha Yar.  Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) will go on his final mission as a member of the crew before heading to Starfleet Academy. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) will find love, only to have it torn from her.  Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is the only way the crew can communicate with stranded aliens... through her nightmares.

And Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) will come face to face with the disastrous consequences of accepting discommendation the year previous to save the Klingon Empire from civil war.  Now, with Chancellor K'Empec (Charles Cooper) dead, two competitors for the throne, Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) and the traitorous Duras (Patrick Massett) could lead the Empire down that road anyway.  In the gripping season finale, Worf must choose between his loyalty to Starfleet and his birthright as a Klingon warrior.  Saving the Empire will bring him honor, but will also cost him dearly.

The fourth season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" may be the show's finest, with a truly excellent batch of episodes.  The season opens with the spectacular conclusion to Season Three's cliffhanger, "The Best of Both Worlds."  Immediately following, the show takes a break from trekking through the stars with "Family," which chronicles Picard's return to Earth following the Borg incident.  Apparently the only episode of the entire series without a single scene featuring Data (or the ship's bridge), this episode is a straight up drama, with Picard dealing with his old-fashioned, obstinate brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp).  While many episodes in the series tell their story and then the show moves on, this is one of the few times where the emotional impact of one episode carries over and is dealt with in the next.  Patrick Stewart knocks it out of the park once more in the climactic scene, his stoic, powerful Captain Picard breaking down into tears at confronting his own weakness.

Further excellent episodes follow.  "Brothers" reunites Data with his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong (Brent Spiner) and his brother Lore (also Brent Spiner).  Written by executive producer Rick Berman, the episode gives Data the chance to ask his 'father' all the questions about his existence that he's been chasing his entire life, and even shows him the opportunity to gain the ability to feel emotions.

"Final Mission" features Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard crashing on an alien world where the only source of water is protected by a deadly force field.  This is one of the few times in the series that the Wesley character feels like more than just a two-dimensional bit of teenage wish-fulfillment.

"Devil's Due" is a hilarious episode that has the Enterprise crew encountering an alien world that claims the Devil is soon to arrive.  Not long after, the mischievous Ardra (Marta DuBois) appears, and Picard takes it on himself to prove that she's just a talented con artist rather than the devil.  There's a good solid mystery here for the crew to solve, and a lot of great lines and good performances.  The cast is clearly having fun with this one, so we do, too.

In "The Drumhead," a Starfleet admiral comes aboard the ship to root out Romulan spies after the ship's engines have been sabotaged.  But once the spy is uncovered, it doesn't stop there and the search becomes a which hunt that threatens to destroy lives and careers, including Picard's.  Each season of "The Next Generation" has at least one episode that is just a flat-out fantastic hour of television.  "The Drumhead" explores the paranoia of witch hunts, of seeing enemies everywhere, and it remains just as dramatic and relevant today as it was 20 years ago.  Try to watch this episode and not think about the current attitudes regarding terrorists in our "post-9/11" world.  The entire climactic scene is constructed to make you feel uncomfortable as the crew realizes exactly what is going on, right on down to Ron Jones' excellent musical score. 

Other highlights of the season include "Clues," in which the crew attempts to reconstruct the events of a missing day, "Night Terrors," where lack of REM sleep causes the crew to deteriorate mentally, "Half a Life" which explores a society where everyone is required to commit suicide at age 60, and "The Wounded," in which a Starfleet captain attacks colonies along the Cardassian border.  "The Wounded" serves as part of the set up for the backstory of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

Among all these excellent episodes are three particular ones that give Season Four some real heft.  Continuing on after "Sins of the Father," the episodes "Reunion," "The Mind's Eye" and "Redemption" that are one of the show's best storylines.  It explores deeply the political situations of the Klingon Empire and delves into the character of Worf and his conflicted loyalties.  The plot by Duras and later his sisters Lursa (Barbara March) and B'Etor (Gwynyth Walsh) to conquer the Empire with aid from the Romulans is fantastic to watch unfold, bringing the galaxy to the brink of war.

"Redemption" is a fantastic season finale, epic in scope and character.  It's literally stuffed full, and I can't believe as much occurs in this one episode as it does.  It moves at a blistering pace, and is absolutely riveting to watch.  While it might not have the iconic reputation of "The Best of Both Worlds," it is nearly that episode's equal when it comes to crafting an excellent closing for the season.

Season Four of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is a great batch of episodes.  The highlights are dramatic and vastly entertaining.  The show stumbles, though rarely.  Episodes like "Family," "The Drumhead," "Reunion" and "Redemption" are damn fine hours of television, and shouldn't be missed.