Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Next Generation 3x1 "Evolution"


The third season of Next Generation kicks off with an episode that anyone from this moment forward would find very familiar, in some ways a template of what the franchise and not just the series would be like from this moment forward.  It's also the start of the series finally looking like the one you remember, and as it would look for the remaining five seasons (including this one).

Aside from uniforms and characters now falling into sync with history, "Evolution" is a classic ship-malfunctioning episode, which engages the whole crew (in the original series it would simply have been Scotty trying to work a miracle, or Tribbles turning up in inappropriate places), which in some ways is very similar to what the previous two seasons had featured, but as with everything else it seems completely fresh, like seeing it for the first time.  We've also got a patented Federation scientist acting as a kind of foil to our cast of regulars, not being nearly as philosophically ideal as Picard and company, although he does wonder for one of two Crushers in the spotlight.

The one I'm thinking about is Wesley, the resident boy wonder, who is thrust into the spotlight right from the start of the episode, which takes a casual approach to the bold new era about to begin.  He's asleep, pushing himself hard to achieve the results he and everyone else expects from him.  This in itself is a marked contrast to the Wesley from the first season, who never seemed to have to work at anything (except the curious interlude featured in "Coming of Age").  He's starting to feel like a real boy!  But his temporary friend cautions him that the bright future he indeed has in front of him has a great deal more complications than he might expect.

It's not hard to see the writers treating the whole episode as an acknowledgment that they know as well as the rest of us that a momentous occasion has come, but that this is no time to rest on laurels.

The other Crusher, naturally, is Beverly, the resident doctor in six of seven seasons.  It's still odd to think that she was absent during the second season, but "Evolution" marks her return, and even briefly acknowledges the lapse in continuity that would never happen again in franchise lore (once a cast member always a cast member, unless you leave, and then you're pretty much gone for good).  It's another bit of continuity that would never have happened in the original series.  In fact, a lot of "Evolution" is about the Crusher family.  It's everything that the first season never really did, so is another sign that the third season is all but a reboot of the whole series, which in some ways it might as well be.  Beverly spends a lot of time reflecting on Wesley's future, about his life in general.  It's a rare family moment for the two, but then, the whole season breathes new life into the greater Next Generation family.

Lest you think the Borg are not already on the mind of the series that by the end of the season would make history with "The Best of Both Worlds," know that your friendly neighborhood Collective is indeed referenced at the start of it.

The most appropriate aspect of the episode, however, is the fact that "Evolution" is in many ways a redo of one of the show's own previous episodes, "Home Soil" from the first season, featuring artificial intelligence arising and taking everyone by surprise.  As I indicated in my review of that episode, "Evolution" is better, more subtle.  Although Picard comfortably assumes the moral high ground in the matter, it's really Wesley who has the most significance in the matter.  Curiously enough Data, the android whose very existence was challenged in the second season classic "The Measure of a Man," doesn't play much of a role here.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Ken Jenkins
Whoopi Goldberg

Memory Alpha summary.

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