Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Philosophy Lesson In Unexplored Territory: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 Underwhelms!

The Good: Different from most of what is and was on television, Imaginative
The Bad: Over philosophical, Pedantic, Preachy, Light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Only for the die hard fans of the series, the second season of Star Trek The Next Generation is a philosophy lesson in motion.

When Star Trek The Next Generation completed its first season (click here for that review!), it left quietly and while the studio never said anything, there must have been doubt as to whether it would return the next fall. At the end of season one, there was little incentive to return, save that this was Star Trek and the fan base was huge based on that alone.

When Star Trek The Next Generation returned the next season, it began with a ridiculously long entrance, as if to say "Ha! We made it back! Ye who doubted ought to take that!" This fact was rammed home to me recently as I popped the first disc of the season 2 Star Trek The Next Generation into my DVD player. The season opener, "The Child" has an incredibly long lead in, accompanied by a grand orchestral score that serves to bring the viewer back to the 24th Century, a very definite time and space.

While the first season of Star Trek The Next Generation could have been sub-titled "Philosopher Kings In Space," season two ought to have the tag "Philosophy Lesson In Unexplored Territory." Basically, the second season takes the crew into new locales while advancing philosophy.

In fact, more than the first season, Season Two delves into philosophy. If you're a fan of the Star Trek The Next Generation films, this season is not for you. There is a lack of action, the episodes are positively cerebral. There are new places, new aliens, but essentially, it's another series of philosophy lessons.

While there are twenty-two episodes this season (a writer's strike cost the show four episodes), the overwhelming concentration of philosophical debate becomes obvious and eventually overbearing.

The season opens with the introduction of two new characters, Dr. Katherine Pulaski (who replaces Dr. Crusher) and Guinan (an alien bartender). Pulaski gets right into the series with an episode ("The Child," a Troi episode) that explores the nature of experience and learning. When Troi becomes impregnated, a brief debate ensues over her right to choose whether or not to carry the baby to term. Once that occurs (on the Pro-Choice side, which is nice to see), Troi's child begins to grow at a rapid rate and its experiences are noted as being experimental, as if something is studying how to grow up.

To the detriment of the series, especially this season, one highly philosophical episode follows another, with the Enterprise then being sucked into an alien laboratory ("Where Silence Has Lease"), creating life forms ("Elementary, Dear Data") and then exploring the nature of humor ("The Outrageous Okona"). The season plods along with episode after episode simply exploring a new way of viewing a problem in a different location.

That's not to say that the season is without its charms. In fact, the best episode of the season is also one of the most philosophical ones, "The Measure Of A Man." In that episode, Data is in jeopardy of being replicated and his right for existence is literally put on trial. It's an incredible legal and moral exploration of the military-industrial complex.

This season continues the first season's tradition of non-violence, philosophical exploration and exploration. Unfortunately, it does little to advance the characters or plot much. In the first eight episodes, only one ("A Matter Of Honor") is ever alluded to again (in the third season's "Sins Of The Father"). They are largely unmemorable and unremarkable.

Following "The Measure Of A Man" (season 2's ninth episode), the episodes stagnate again as the characters become moralistic, pedantic, preachy individuals. Between "The Measure Of A Man" and the surprisingly action-packed "Q-Who?," only "Contagion" stands out as an interesting episode. The rest, such as "The Royale" are, well, boring. They tell stories or explain ideas ("Pen Pals"), but do little else.

The second season has, essentially, three good episodes that are not only excellent, but rewatchable. "The Measure Of A Man," is a great character and societal study, "Q-Who?" sees the return of the villainous Q and the introduction of the scary badasses The Borg who become a menacing villain, and "The Emissary," where Worf has his chance to explore Klingon sexuality in one of the best character development episodes of the series.

The DVD set is especially nice because the images are great, crisp, DVD quality. The bonuses are fun. We get to see props and interviews previously not visible outside the Paramount lot.

But is it worth it? Certainly not for anyone but a die hard Star Trek The Next Generation fan. This is not the collection for the person with casual interest in the series, especially for those who have become interested from the feature films. This set is a very different collection of people and events than the moviegoing fans would be used to.

Is the movie version better? Probably not, but it's definitely more watchable. There's a better rhythm, the attention is easier kept.

My review of the second season of Star Trek The Next Generation is somewhat prejudiced, as I was a HUGE fan of Star Trek The Next Generation growing up. During the writer's strike, certain episodes (i.e. "The Dauphin") were played repeatedly, each week. They were quite tired, it was a big detraction from the flow of the series. When I rewatched some of those episodes, now over a decade past, I could still quote lines. It was just plain sad. The only thing worse than the repetitive episodes was the horrible season finale clip show that did not do justice to the series.

This season lacks action, it lacks excitement and it suffers from being one long philosophy lesson. In the 22 episodes, hand phasers are almost never used, shipboard weapons also infrequently utilized. It's a pacifist show and that's refreshing. It's just not terribly interesting to watch over and over again.

Best episode is "The Measure Of A Man," the low point of the season is "The Royale."

To help you get a better idea of exactly what is included in this boxed, set, please check out my reviews on all 22 second season episodes available at:

The Child
Where Silence Has Lease
Elementary, Dear Data
The Outrageous Okona
The Schizoid Man
Loud As A Whisper
Unnatural Selection
A Matter Of Honor
The Measure Of A Man
The Dauphin
The Royale
Time Squared
The Icarus Factor
Pen Pals
Samaritan Snare
Up The Long Ladder
The Emissary
Peak Performance
Shades Of Gray


For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD review, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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