My second viewing of Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation was an eye-opening experience. Simply put: it was crap.
Hey, I’m as big a TNG apologist as anyone, and, while I accept that there were many events in the first season that remain important to the mythos of TNG, such as Tasha Yar’s death and the first appearance of Q and—I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of any of it at the moment. Let’s just agree that it’s best to get the first season out of the way and move on to the rest.
Season Two is part of the rest, of course. It had its problems, but none as big as in the first season. The documentary Chaos on the Bridge describes many of the behind-the-scenes obstacles in detail, and I’ve already written about them. But, this season of ST:TNG contains two of my favorite episodes of all of the Star Trek shows I’ve watched during my Boldly Going project so far.
The first is episode 2.8 “A Matter of Honor” in which Commander Riker participates in an officer exchange program with the Klingons. It was the first TNG episode that I gave 4-out-of-5 stars to in my own personal scoring of Trek episodes. To me, 4 stars means that I thought it was “very good.” That’s pretty deep into the series to get a 4-star episode, I think.
What was it about this episode that spoke to me, personally? I think it was that it was the first episode I felt was really character-centered. Prior to this, all of the TNG episodes felt too much ensemble and too much technology focused. This was a Riker episode, pure and simple. And, when he chose to allow the Klingon captain to strike him, this revealed more about Riker’s character than any episode up to that point. Until “Honor,” we just had to accept that Riker was as great as every character said he was in the show. After the episode, we begin to see for ourselves.
I was still riding the high of this episode when I watched episode 2.9 “Measure of a Man” in which Data is put on trial to determine whether or not he was property of Starfleet. Spoiler: he was not. This was the first episode I gave 5 stars to, which means it was damn-near perfect to me. Again, a character- not an action-piece. This time the characters examined more deeply were Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. After watching this episode, I thought “This is it; Next Gen has arrived.”
This thinking was a bit premature, however. These two episodes were the highlight of a season truncated because of a writer’s strike. Even so, there were no real stinkers like those found in the first season. Most of the season was just OK. Not bad, but not very good either. Just OK.
Until this watch-through, I never really appreciated the addition of Dr. Pulaski. She was more in the mold of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy than Beverly Crusher. Her bigotry directed at Data, as an android, bothered me throughout the season, but otherwise I thought she was a great addition to the show. She was the opposite of a Yes-man, and something that the show sorely needed. It’s bittersweet knowing that she would vanish again after this season, but I seem to remember that Beverly Crusher becomes a better character later. Time will tell.
Season Two also saw the addition of Guinan as the Ten-Forward bartender in many of the episodes. She was a welcome addition. For that matter, Ten-Forward was a welcome addition. We also find out that Captain Picard has an artificial heart in an episode that shows he and Wesley Crusher becoming closer. Riker’s dad makes an appearance. He used to have a relationship with Dr. Pulaski, it seems, and Riker has major daddy issues to work out. Lwaxanna Troi shows up again, apparently in heat, and we learn more about Betazoids than we knew we wanted to know. Q makes another obligatory appearance, of course, which will become a Trek trope. Deanna Troi gets raped by a space ghost and gives birth to a child. Joe Piscopo makes an appearance as the greatest comedian who ever lived (irony) in the same episode that Teri Hatcher also appears, showing that they are real and they are spectacular. Data play-acts as Sherlock Holmes for the first time, and it is a good episode, if not necessarily a great one.
TNG snobs almost always say that the series didn’t come into its own until Season Three. While this is probably true, the second season wasn’t without its high points.
I still maintain that, except for certain specific episodes, the first season can be skipped entirely without missing a thing. The second season, however, offers enough gold to be worthy of your viewing. Two of my favorite episodes in the entire series are in this season, and enough else that is interesting enough to warrant your attention.
Is the third season better? Most assuredly so. And we’re going there next.