It’s supposed to be common knowledge among Trekkies that Season 3 is where TNG finally hits its stride and becomes the television show we remember and love.
Season 3 was better than the first two seasons. I don’t even think that’s up for debate. But—and this is purely subjective—Season 4 is where the TNG I remember and love (for the most part) truly begins.
Okay, there is one episode in this season I consider subpar, and that’s episode 4.10 “The Loss,” but I’ve already bashed that one enough. This season offers two of the episodes that go on my Trek All-Time-Best list (which, as of the end of seasons four of all the Next-Gen era series, has only 23 episodes on it). The first of these is episode 4.1, the second part of “Best of Both Worlds.” I can see most Trekkies nodding in agreement over this choice. I still have a Locutus of Borg action figure around here somewhere. My second choice for the All-Time-Best list may surprise some of you. It was episode 4.8 “Future Imperfect.”
In this episode, Riker awakes sixteen years in the future, in which he’s the captain of the Enterprise and has a son whom he named Jean-Luc. He has no recollection of the intervening years because of a bout with Altarian encephalitis he picked up all of those years before, which has now given him amnesia. I’m not normally a fan of amnesia plots (this seems to be an overdone trope), but I’ll cop to a kind of giddy attraction to alternate timeline/dimension plots, which is what this one begins to feel like. It becomes something else, and I’ll try not to spoil it for you. I’ll give you a hint, though. It’s a precursor to the movie Inception‘s dream-within-a-dream component, and I like what TNG did with the concept.
My praise of these two episodes (and mild dislike of the other) in no way diminishes the remaining 23 episodes of the season. Seventeen of these earned a 3.5-star rating from me; the remaining six earned 3-star ratings. Nineteen episodes rated “above average” or better equates to a good season of television for any series. As far as I’m concerned, Season 4 set the bar for the second half of the entire series.
There were other stand-out episodes for me. Episode 4.2 “Family,” in which we get to meet the families of both Jean-Luc Picard, still recovering from being assimilated by the Borg, and the Klingon Worf, nearly made my All-Time-Best list. It was also nominated for an Emmy, which was no mistake.
Episode 4.11 “Data’s Day” is another of my personal favorites. The “day in the life” plot centered around Data, who is the only TNG character who’s awake 24 hours a day, featured the marriage of Miles and Keiko O’Brien, which later carried over to DS9, and a dance scene between Data and Dr. Crusher. Gates McFadden, who had been a well-known choreographer long before TNG, choreographed this scene. Like “Family,” this episode isn’t what I would call a “big event” episode, but I liked the way it made me feel.
I’ve written about episode 4.19 “The Nth Degree” already, but, even aside from marking my halfway point through this entire Boldly Going project it remains an episode I like even if it’s just another Starfleet officer gains godlike powers story (please, no more). This time, the officer in question is Reginald Barclay, an uniquely insecure and imperfect Trek character with whom most of us can probably identify. The fact that Dwight Shultz used to be Howlin’ Mad Murdoch on the A-Team didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the episode.
I thought episode 4.22 “Half a Life” demonstrated a lot of heart. I admit to a kind of fondness for Lwaxana Troi stories, anyway, and in this one we get to see Majel Barret’s serious acting chops, playing against David Ogden Stiers of M.A.S.H. fame as a man who is culturally obliged to commit suicide. The ending of the episode makes perfect sense to me, but I’m still surprised that the makers of Trek did it.
I could go on about the things I liked in every episode (and some of the things I didn’t, I’m sure). Taken as a whole, what I liked is that TNG begins to embrace more serialized storytelling in this season. Things that happened in previous episodes now seem to have consequences. I didn’t always feel that before.
The fact that Picard was Locutus will have lasting repercussions throughout all of Trek, of course. Ronald D. Moore’s love of Klingons shines through in several episodes, while the earlier episode with Worf’s lover K’Ehleyr has had lasting effects. Wesley Crusher leaves the show less than halfway through the season, which I realize was a cause for celebration for many of you; I find myself missing him afterward. Geordi LaForge, through tampering with his cybernetic implants, shows that Data isn’t the only one who can betray the Enterprise crew without punishment.
Family seems to be an underlying theme throughout the season as well: Picard’s brother and his family; Worf’s parents and later his son; Troi’s mother; Data’s “father” Noonien Soong and his brother Lore; Tasha Yar’s sister. We also get more of a sense of the Enterprise crew as family. Things are gelling, and it feels good.
You’ve twisted my arm, so I’m going to lodge a minor complaint about the finale episode, part one of the two-part “Redemption.” It is impossible to follow a finale like Season 3’s “Best of Both Worlds,” and while this episode is definitely not of the same caliber, it’s still a good episode. My complaint is the final cliffhanger reveal of a Romulan officer who looks a lot like Tasha Yar. Yar was never one of my favorite characters, even though I celebrated her “redemption” in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” I saw no reason to go back to that particular well again, even if this is, as I suspect and remember, a serialized continuation of that great earlier episode. Denise Crosby wanted off the show, and I, for one, would have been happy to keep her off after earning her hero’s death. I can’t imagine that this original finale reveal did more than induce groans.
None of this ruined the season, though. This one is—no surprises here—a “highly recommended” review from me.