Thursday, June 24, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Two

Following a debut season that anyone might have characterized as “instructive,” Next Generation made a few changes for its second year, moving into more confident writing, giving Riker a beard, and replacing Dr. Crusher with Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur, who like “Lwaxana Troi” Majel Barrett had acted in the original series twenty years earlier). When I say “more confident writing,” I mean the quality of the episodes was infinitely more even, though still not quite representative of the show fans would grow to wholeheartedly embrace. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) signed up, too, during this season, proving to be the second most enduring addition, after some Swedish dudes named the Borg.

2x1 “The Child”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, however, was its first episode, which took a marked departure from the first season by building itself around Deanna Troi, who had been probably the least utilized member of the cast previously. It was an opportunity actor Marina Sirtis was ready for, and probably helped set the tone for the season, and the show’s quest for a new and better direction.

2x2 “Where Silence Has Lease”
Representative of the material the writers would often depend on, but were still not yet capable of fully exploiting, this is a strange little adventure that sees the crew trapped in an impossible situation and asked to endure the study of an entity that has no concept of the human condition. Ah, yeah, sounds pretty generic, but still pretty fun to watch.

2x3 “Elementary, Dear Data”
Turning Data into Sherlock Holmes in 2009 probably would have been easier, but they tried it in 1988, and were told to never do it again. Dixon Hill was better, anyway. But we got Moriarty out of it, and that would turn out to be pretty awesome later.

2x4 “The Outrageous Okona”
I think I’m pretty much the only person who still remembers this episode at all, but I don’t mind. I thought Okona was a pretty unique Star Trek character, probably the closest the franchise will ever get to Han Solo. Unless you count Chris Pine’s Kirk.

2x5 “Loud as a Whisper”
The memorable “deaf people society” episode, and probably one of the show’s best efforts at making diplomacy seem dramatic, which was something Picard would do pretty well with two separate Vulcan icons later, among other examples.

2x8 “A Matter of Honor”
Riker participates in an officer exchange program, giving us the first real Klingon highlight of the series, and Riker’s best episode to date as well.

2x9 “The Measure of a Man”
The show’s first classic finally sees everyone firing on all cylinders, because performance happens to rest on Data’s right to continued existence! Not only does the android get his first sober exploration, but Picard and Riker are pushed to the limit as well, particularly since the latter is forced to represent the prosecution. Probably the moment viewers realized this crew was worth following after all.

2x10 “The Dauphin”
You know Wesley is getting older when he gets an episode that revolves around a girl instead of his genius, and that pretty much explains this one.

2x12 “The Royale”
This would be the overlooked “Piece of the Action” for Next Generation, in which the crew stumbles into a planet that has patterned itself after a thriller a long-dead astronaut brought with him on a flight. Not much to say about the characters, but it’s still pretty fun, and probably would be remembered if later seasons didn’t greatly alter the basic appeal of the show.

2x13 “Time Squared”
Another unappreciated gem from the season sees Picard in a time paradox come back to the ship and try to help himself and his crew avert certain disaster. As far as Picard was concerned, this probably didn’t register as well as it could have, like the first two seasons in general, thanks to a general lack of warmth from the character, which was one of the first things changed for the third year. But don’t worry, Patrick Stewart. Avery Brooks suffered the same problem in the next series.

2x14 “The Icarus Factor”
One of the curious things about Riker was that no matter how appealing Jonathan Frakes could make him, repeated attempts at developing his backstory never really seemed to work, at least for the most part. There was the aloof attempt at his past romance with Troi, and then this episode, which introduced his dad, which probably belongs in the depository most fans keep their memories of the early Next Generation years.

2x16 “Q Who?”
This would be the other signature moment of the second season. Q’s appearance was almost beside the point, because here is that introduction to the Borg that I alluded to earlier. There might almost have never been another Borg episode, not even “The Best of Both Worlds,” and their legacy in the Star Trek franchise would probably have been already assured.

2x17 “Samaritan Snare”
This might be considered the reverse “Q Who?,” featuring a bunch of idiots stealing their way to prosperity and giving La Forge a terrible headache while they were at it.

2x19 “Manhunt”
Well, combine Lwaxana Troi and Dixon Hill, and doesn’t that pretty much say everything?

2x20 “The Emissary”
Finally Worf has an episode he can be proud of, even if his troubled relationship with K’Ehleyr is never quite resolved happily, the kind of story Spock never got, exploring the effects of trying to live in two different worlds and never quite succeeding.

2x21 “Peak Performance”
A war games scenario that ends up providing a surprisingly fun ensemble adventure, nothing too dramatic, but like the second season as a whole, pretty pleasant on the whole.

With a bunch of really good maneuvering, the season helped foster the kind of affection that would eventually lift Next Generation to new levels of success, while also demonstrating that a little more work still needed to be done…

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