Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Pace Picks Up In The Final Frontier With Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three!

The Good: Character development, acting, plots, pacing
The Bad: Some weak episodes, an occasional philosophical tirade
The Basics: A marked improvement from the second season, the third season is one of television's strongest and arguably the best season of this show.

Star Trek The Next Generation's second season was plagued by a writer's strike and one of the worst season finale's ever (Trek's only retrospective episode - "Shades Of Gray"). It seems the staff on Star Trek The Next Generation was determined not to let the same thing happen for the show's third season. Fortunately, for all of us, they succeeded.

Almost immediately, the series escapes the long speeches and philosophical diatribes that made the first two seasons inaccessible to anyone but Star Trek fans or philosophy majors. The largely philosophical season opener, "Evolution" escapes the familiar mold by throwing in a moment of menace and the threat of a Borg ship.

While the season slowly evolves from diplomatic missions ("The Ensigns Of Command") to a sociological study ("Who Watches the Watchers?") into more action-oriented fare ("The Defector" and "The Hunted"). That's not to say that the philosophy is lost. "The Hunted" is basically a futuristic exploration of Vietnam veterans on a planet that engineered a perfect soldier to win a war. There's a lot of talking in it, but there are also a lot of chases and fighting.

The season is an interesting mix of thoughtful debates and well paced adventures. The third season marks the return of Dr. Beverly Crusher. Dr. Pulaski leaves and outside a notation in "Who Watches The Watcher?" I believe we never hear of or from her again.

This season is also the important shift in the character elements of Star Trek The Next Generation. While season two has essentially the same balance as the first, season three was when the writing staff woke up and realized they were neglecting their best resources.

Season three has twenty-six episodes. While Picard still carries the bulk of the episodes (approximately 7), Data's lot in the series goes dramatically up (three episodes are inarguably Data episodes), while Riker seems to lose in the balance (he has three episodes and one of those is balanced with Troi). In fact, the supporting players who have been neglected pick up quite a few episodes. Worf gets two strong roles, Geordi takes two or three, Troi gets two as well. Dr. Crusher returns as something of a support role and Wesley Crusher suffers greatly. In fact, outside an important bit of character advancement in "Menage a Trois," Wesley Crusher loses the great amount of attention he has enjoyed up until this point. Even the recurring villain Q has more of an episode than Wesley ("Deja Q").

Season three is a treat for the fans, bringing back Lwaxana Troi, Q, and even characters from Star Trek (Sarek). In fact, one of the most fan-appreciated episodes marks the return of Tasha Yar. "Yesterday's Enterprise" seeks to fill in the gap in the Star Trek universe by marking the appearance of the current Enterprise's predecessor.

The season's finale, "The Best Of Both Worlds" is easily one of the series' strongest. Marking the return of the Borg, it is a cliffhanger episode that made the summer of 1990 an anxious one for most fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. It's also a very accessible episode for non-Trekkers.

The real gem of season three, however, is one of the more philosophical episodes. "The Survivors," the third episode on the first disc, is a wonderful exploration on the nature and consequences of pacifism. While often overlooked by fans, "The Survivors" is one of the most intriguing character and philosophy studies of the series and the resolution to the episode is one of the most telling moments of humanism ever put onto television.

The other surprise of this season is a little-noticed episode called "The Vengeance Factor." While many recall the interesting "The Offspring" and the action-filled "Yesterday's Enterprise," the wrenching character development of "The Vengeance Factor" stands as one of the series' most haunting episodes. In fact, outside one season six episode, I don't believe Riker has it as good as he does in this episode.

This season still has its weaknesses, like the frustratingly obvious "The Ensigns Of Command," but it's such a refreshing step up from season two. Star Trek The Next Generation is the first season where non-fans of the series may find enjoyment. This is a season that anyone may find much to enjoy.

The best episodes are "The Survivors" and "The Best Of Both Worlds, Part I," the low point of the season is the Dr. Crusher hostage situation "The High Ground."

Because the boxed set is ambiguous in its contents for those who do not already know the series, check out my reviews of all 26 third season episodes at:
The Ensigns Of Command
The Survivors
Who Watches The Watchers?
The Bonding
Booby Trap
The Enemy
The Price
The Vengeance Factor
The Defector
The Hunted
The High Ground
Deja Q
A Matter Of Perspective
Yesterday's Enterprise
The Offspring
Sins Of The Father
Captain's Holiday
Tin Man
Hollow Pursuits
The Most Toys
Menage A Troi
The Best Of Both Worlds


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

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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