Monday, June 6, 2011

A Season Of Stride: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Five Is Wonderful!

The Good: High amount of continuity and good episodes, Excellent acting, Decent special effects, Good character development
The Bad: Mostly just "Hero Worship."
The Basics: A strong season of Star Trek The Next Generation give the whole cast more of a crew feeling while still focusing strongly on their best individual assets.

Most television shows take a while to hit their stride, but when they do . . . they just sprint for as long as they can before falling completely to pieces. Some series' get into the right rhythm and then manage to do an endurance run to keep running. Star Trek The Next Generation is an example of the latter type of series.

In the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation, there are twenty-six episodes and most all of them are at least good and the vast majority are worth recommending. In fact, the series' best episode, "The Inner Light" appears in the fifth season. There's a lot to celebrate in the fifth season.

The first and only major change to Star Trek The Next Generation is that a new character is introduced. In the third episode of the season, a Bajoran character named Ro Laren comes aboard the Enterprise and mixes some conflict in with the rather bland and stable crew. Ensign Ro appears in five other episodes of the season and plays as a foil to the sometimes out of touch enlightened crew. That is, Ro provides an anchor for the viewer, someone we may readily identify with. After four years of seeing the philosopher Picard, the gallant Riker, the super-intelligent Data and the inhuman Worf, it's nice to see someone who is a little off balance, someone with a temper and who has had difficulties.

But the fifth season uses Ro as a foil in only some of the episodes while maintaining and expanding the fine qualities of the crew in the other episodes. The fifth season has more of a sense of serialization than any of the previous seasons and it works to foreshadow Star Trek Deep Space Nine. So, what is the fifth season all about?

In the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation, the Klingon Civil War ends with the exposure of the Romulan connection ("Redemption, Part 2"), the Bajoran situation is introduced ("Ensign Ro"), and the Crystalline Entity returns ("Silicon Avatar"). The Enterprise gets nearly destroyed ("Disaster"), Spock returns ("Unification Part 1 and 2"), and some of the characters are possessed ("Power Play"). But the season continues strong with Worf being injured ("Ethics"), Picard raising a family on an alien planet ("The Inner Light") and Data being found dead in San Francisco ("Time's Arrow").

But more important than what the season is about is what happens to the characters. Picard makes the most significant leaps forward in character in the continued trend to humanize the distant philosopher. Finally, Picard opens up to children in "Disaster" and falls in love in a compelling way ("The Perfect Mate") and gets a family ("The Inner Light"). Picard continues a great tradition of meaningful first contacts ("Darmok," "The Masterpiece Society" and "Imaginary Friend").

Picard is not the only one who undergoes character growth. As has been happening, Data and Worf continue to follow Picard in the number of episodes focused on them. Data experiences more bemusal and personal horror ("Silicon Avatar"), command ("Redemption, Part 2"), an undercover mission ("Unification"), a taste of parenthood (the below-average "Hero Worship") and even death in the season finale ("Time's Arrow"). Worf opens the season with an exploration of his Klingon heritage ("Redemption, Part 2) and he continues to grow through emergency medical experience ("Disaster"), the return of his son ("New Ground") and his growth as a parent ("Cost of Living"), being violently overpowered ("Power Play") and critically wounded ("Ethics").

More than anything, the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation embraces the idea of the Enterprise as a functional crew and its cast as an ensemble. As a result, there are fewer episodes that focus on a single character. Out of twenty-six episodes, only thirteen focus primarily on a single character. Indeed, even the season finale which is motivated by Data becomes more of a complete cast finish.

The plot and characters continue to grow, but more than that, the acting reaches new heights. Brent Spiner gets a chance to expand his talent by playing a violent criminal ("Power Play") and Patrick Stewart infuses Picard with compassion and love in three of the episodes. It's a welcome change on both parties and they are not exclusive; Levar Burton plays with more action in "The Next Phase" and Michael Dorn gives a truly passionate performance in "Ethics." Marina Sirtis, though, gets the greatest leaps. In season five, Sirtis has the chance to play authoritarian ("Disaster"), criminal ("Power Play") and Data ("Time's Arrow") and she plays them all expertly.

Fans of Star Trek The Next Generation know what to expect; continual character growth and great acting as a result of individual missions. Here, however, they get an added bonus, a sense of continuity and consequences: the Klingon Civil War ends and there are lasting ramifications that come back up, in "Unification" for example. "I, Borg" explores the consequences of Picard's victimization by the Borg.

Those who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation will discover some of the best that science fiction may produce. There are interesting characters and they grow and change over the season. There are decent special effects, especially in the area of make-up in this season and the acting is above most dramas on television. But this is also the season that Gene Roddenberry died during and as a result, there is a marked increase in phaser fights and violence. That's not a criticism, just an acknowledgment of the truth; with Roddenberry's passing, the new team that took over saw the opportunity to do more than talk their way out of situations. This makes this season of Star Trek The Next Generation far more accessible to the people who have not classically been a fan of the series.

While this is an excellent season and the DVD has some real nice behind the scenes extras (Patrick Stewart singing to Gene is precious and worth the DVD price alone), it's not perfect. Still, it's closer than most television series' ever get.

Because the boxed set DVDs assume the viewer know what is inside without providing a decent listing, here is what the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation consisted of:
Redemption, Part 2
Ensign Ro
Silicon Avatar
The Game
Unification, Part 1
Unification, Part 2
A Matter Of Time
New Ground
Hero Worship
The Masterpiece Society
Power Play
The Outcast
Cause And Effect
The First Duty
Cost Of Living
The Perfect Mate
Imaginary Friend
I, Borg
The Next Phase
The Inner Light
Time's Arrow


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© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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