Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Star Trek The Next Generation's First Surprise Grand Slam Is "Too Short A Season!"

The Good: ACTING!, Character, Plot, Direction
The Bad: MINOR effects flaws
The Basics: A shockingly great episode, "Too Short A Season" tells the story of one man attempting to make up for the wrongs of his past in a hostage situation.

The first season of Star Trek The Next Generation is much-maligned and I shall confess, I am often guilty of speaking poorly of the season. The truth is, it's a fine season and as far as television in general goes, there have been far worse first seasons of shows. My thought on Star Trek The Next Generation is usually that if one accepts the first season as "Philosopher Kings In Space" then you'll have little to complain about. Still, most people have somewhat lowered expectations for any first season episode of Star Trek The Next Generation.

So "Too Short A Season" often comes to viewers and fans alike as a surprise. The bigger shock is that the episode appears on so few Star Trek The Next Generation Top Ten Lists. The truth is, it's the first home run Star Trek The Next Generation hits. Watching the episode for the first time in fourteen years, I was knocked out by the quality of the episode.

"Too Short A Season" sees the Enterprise taking aboard a special ambassador to handle a hostage situation on a distant planet. The ambassador is none other than Admiral Jameson, the man who successfully negotiated with the Mordan leader Karnas. Karnas now finds the hostage situation out of his hands and Jameson arrives, quite old, quite tired, and quite arrogant that he can solve the problems.

Admiral Jameson is full of surprises, though. The first, which becomes apparent early on, is his ability to walk. The ancient admiral has been bound by a wheelchair (well, a futuristic one without wheels) for years and he displays an ability to walk early on. But more important, Jameson has a relationship with Karnas, which involved the hostage situation Jameson aided with forty years before. It seems Karnas was unwilling to negotiate with Jameson for anything but weapons in the past and in a breach of protocol, Jameson secretly provided them to get the hostages released. To keep the Prime Directive intact, Jameson also gave Karnas' enemies the same weapons, plunging Morden II into forty years of civil war. Now that the war is over and Karnas is in power, he wants to take on the man he blames for the problems of his planet: Jameson.

The only real problem with "Too Short A Season" are minor problems with the make-up. Admiral Jameson undergoes a rather incredible transformation and there are moments when his make-up appears less than convincing. A younger person plays Admiral Jameson, so the process by which he is made to appear older is occasionally sloppy. Not sloppy enough to rob this episode of a perfect rating.

The first remarkable aspect of the episode is the acting. Clayton Rohner is amazing as Mark Jameson. All of the minor faults with the make-up are overcome by the strength of Rohner's acting. He pulls off Jameson perfectly with the convincing subtle twitches of the old man through the vigorous presence he portrays in the action sequences. Without a doubt, the make or break aspect of the episode is Rohner who not only saves a potentially lame idea, but propels the episode with a vitality that makes the episode shine.

Similarly, guests Marsha Hunt and Michael Pataki are wonderful, as Jameson's wife and Karnas, respectfully. Pataki returns to the Star Trek fold, as he played the Klingon first officer in "The Trouble With Tribbles" and this is a vastly more subtle role for him. Patrick Stewart does his usual amazing job playing off Rohner with class and dignity that keep the characters stable when Jameson - by the script - could have been quite erratic.

The characters move and motivate this episode. Jameson, specifically, is the cause and the solution to the action of "Too Short A Season." His past is only the beginning of the episode and what makes him tick, what he truly desires, is what the episode is truly about. But equally important is Karnas, who appears at first as a simple villain with little depth. Instead, it is revealed that despite his grudge against Jameson, he is passionate about the people of his planet. He is a wonderful foil to Jameson. And playing off both of them is Picard, who has little development in the episode, but whose stability makes a great deal of sense.

The director deserves much credit here. Without Bowman's guidance, this episode could easily have ended up as one of the worst. Instead, his vision brought a shaky idea into a solid script into a sharp, telling episode that has Star Trek The Next Generation accomplishing what it ought to, without sacrificing its soul. "Too Short A Season" IS "Philosopher Kings In Space" but it doesn't feel that way. That's the wonderful thing about it and the reason this episode is one of the best Star Trek The Next Generation episodes ever produced and easy for non-fans of science fiction or Star Trek The Next Generation to enjoy.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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