The Good: Excellent acting, Good character arcs, Generally fresh stories, Improved continuity
The Bad: A hard weak link in "In Theory."
The Basics: Nearing perfection, Star Trek The Next Generation's fourth season has something for everyone.
"Perfection" is a word I tend to use very little when it comes to film or music. Far more often, I discuss why things are imperfect. So, it's a rare thing to have a show that has a perfect episode ("Duet" in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the film Magnolia) or a compact disc that is a perfect album (like Heather Nova's Siren). Usually there is a weak spot in the episode, movie or album that prevents it from achieving perfection. It's an almost impossible thing to pull off a perfect season of television. To my mind, Sports Night Season Two and Seasons five and six of Star Trek Deep Space Nine come to mind as perfect.
Star Trek The Next Generation Season Four comes close, closer than I would personally like to admit. Why? I think season three of the show has more perfect episodes than any of the other Star Trek The Next Generation seasons, but it also has some real stinkers ("The Bonding" comes immediately to mind). Season Four of Star Trek The Next Generation, conversely has less perfect episodes and only one notable bad episode (the penultimate "In Theory" remains near the bottom of my Star Trek The Next Generation list).
What may one expect when watching the fourth season of Star Trek The Next Generation? First, there is a greater sense of continuity. Episodes seem to have more consequences here, beginning with the season opener "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II." Following Picard's horrific experience with the Borg, he needs some down time and he receives some catharsis in returning to France in "Family." It's also a relief for us, the viewer; in a series that is notorious for wrapping things up nicely by the end and never revisiting consequences, "Family" is a breath of cool air, allowing those who have watched two very tense episodes unwind and explore the human psyche better. And the Borg Incident is referred to specifically in two other episodes, reminding us that the galaxy is very much aware of how near the Federation came to falling.
But the other characters have important arcs in season four and they feel that way because we are subject to their consequences for their actions. Wesley Crusher leaves finally to go off to StarFleet Academy. Data encounters his creator quite directly, which leads him to a continued need for emotion and even more airtime than in the third season.
The most influential character this season, however, is Worf. Having suffered a serious setback in the third season's "Sins Of The Father," Worf struggles frequently in the fourth season with the consequences of his discommendation. In "Reunion," Worf must deal with other Klingons as a new head of the Klingon High Council is chosen. In "The Drumhead" and "The Mind's Eye," he encounters Klingons who would manipulate him for his lack of honor.
The season breaks down with the standard 26 episodes with the characters changing the dynamic of the show profoundly. Arguably, Picard has four episodes, the entire cast participates in the first two of the season making them true ensemble works, Data picks up the most episodes of the season at five, with Laforge getting a surprising three episodes to expand his character. Dr. Crusher, Riker, and Troi each check in at two a piece, with Lwaxana Troi, Wesley Crusher, O'Brien (who finally has a name this season!), and Barclay each picking up an episode of their own. While Worf with only two episodes exclusively Worf winds his plot thread through the season and ends up the focus of the season finale.
How it breaks down is quite significant in Season Four. Riker, who had four and a half episodes in the first season and a significant role in another five, has diminished to two episodes exclusively on him. While Worf appears to be on par with the remainder of the crew (less Picard, Data and Geordi), he has made some of the biggest gains this time out. For example, in the LaForge episode "The Mind's Eye," Worf has significant scenes, as he does in the full cast "Family" and the heavily-Picard "The Drumhead." So while Worf only has two episodes entirely focused on him, it feels like more because his presence has grown.
In actuality, Geordi LaForge has the most per capita growth this season, with "Galaxy's Child" (where he meets the actual Leah Brahms of "Booby Trap"), "Identity Crisis" (wherein he is turned into an invisible alien), and "The Mind's Eye" (where he is brainwashed) all coming late in the season to remind us that he is alive and a vital character. Well, he's actually a chew toy for the writers, but after three seasons of neglect, LaForge finally gets some time.
The show has actually become, by this point, the "Data and Picard Show." Realizing that they have something good in Data, the plethora of Data shows begins in Season Four with "Brothers." The best episodes of the season, however, (outside the magnificent Worf story "Reunion") pair Picard and Data together. Indeed, the key to the season premiere lies in Data and Picard and the bond they have formed over the earlier seasons. "Clues" is a masterful work which, for the first time, explores the adversarial nature of the Picard/Data relationship and it does it well. Yet, their bond is powerful and explicit in "Night Terrors" as Picard loses his ability to command.
What may a viewer expect from Star Trek The Next Generation Season Four on DVD? First, all of the great character work I've mentioned above. It makes a difference. If you've never watched an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, season four is a great time to start. Watching the season three finale preps one for pretty much all of season four. There's a flow and the feeling that there's life on the USS Enterprise outside what we see week to week comes in clearer, establishing a more universal place for new viewers.
And those new viewers are in for a treat. The season opens with an action-packed suspense episode ("The Best of Both Worlds, Part II") and following the sequel "Family," it does not let up for the season. Gone are the pedantic philosophical tirades that characterized seasons one and two. Instead, there is action with familiar foes (Lore returns in "Brothers," the Romulans pop up in a few episodes) and new adversaries (Tasha Yar's sister, for example in "Legacy" and the introduction of the magnificent Cardassians in "The Wounded"). In fact, the Cardassians represent the most profound shift in the Star Trek universe, paving the way for Star Trek Deep Space Nine.
But more than simply action-adventure stories, there are intelligent adventures, like the tension-filled, philosophy-driven "First Contact." There are romances, "In Theory" and the bizarre "The Host." And there's possibly the best mystery in the Star Trek franchise in an episode called "Clues." There's courtroom drama ("The Drumhead") and outright humor (the Robin Hood rip off "QPid").
This DVD set includes featurettes on the season and the characters, but no commentaries on any of the episodes.
In short, the DVD collection is one of the best with a diverse season of episodes that lives under the rule "if you don't like this episode, try the next one; it's something completely different." A must for any fan of Star Trek The Next Generation and a great collection for anyone who loves good television!
Because the DVDs do not tell you what episodes are in this boxed set, I have reviewed all 26 episode of the fourth season! Reviews of the episodes in this boxed set are available at:
The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II
The Nth Degree
Half A Life
The Mind's Eye
Redemption, Part 1
For other Star Trek season, episode and DVD set reviews, please visit my index page on the subject for an organized listing!
© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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