The Good: Well-executed, Good character development, Nice acting
The Bad: Thinly conceived
The Basics: When a transporter duplicate of Commander Riker is found on a distant planet, Riker finds himself in an awkward position in "Second Chances."
Occasionally, there comes an episode in a television series that wants to do something outlandish or metaphorical and as a result, the plot is contrived to fit the moral. In Star Trek The Next Generation, one episode that did that was "Second Chances." Levar Burton's directoral premiere is an attempt to make a commentary on Commander Riker's character and it does so in one of the most weakly conceived ways. It's astonishing how good this episode is considering how weak the motivation for it is. And yet . . . it remains as one of the better episodes of the series.
When the Enterprise visits a barren planet, it is a strange homecoming for Commander Riker; he visited it several years prior and barely made it off the surface alive. There was a problem with the transporter and he returns to find the difficulty was more intense than first realized; a duplicate Riker was beamed back to the planet as he was beamed up to his ship. The ragged William Riker on the planet attempts to integrate into the Enterprise crew under his middle name, Thomas. But he finds being around Counselor Troi and working with others is quite difficult for him now and he eventually transfers to another ship.
Essentially, "Second Chances" takes its time differentiating between William and Thomas Riker and in the process, Counselor Troi discovers a man who did not give up on their relationship. It's a clever piece in that way because essentially what the episode is saying is that the fundamentals of a person do not change. So even after being stranded alone for several years, Thomas Riker - while asocial - is still ambitious.
Despite a desperately thin plot, "Second Chances" works fairly well as a character study because of the quality of the acting and directing. Levar Burton's first directoral outing is an impressive piece. He manages to have a distinctive visual style to the episode and there are several moments that Burton does an excellent job of lining up eye lines and such that are essential when one of the characters is bluescreened in.
Much of the episode involves Jonathan Frakes being bluescreened into scenes opposite himself. Frakes does an excellent job acting against himself and that's not an easy task. Given that William and Thomas are in so many scenes together, Frakes has a singularly difficult task in creating two different characters.
Frakes succeeds at doing more than just lining his eyelines up appropriately. In creating Thomas Riker, Frakes changes his posture and his facial control in a way that encourages his eyes to be more pronounced and expressive. Add in the changes in voice tones and speech patterns and Frakes makes a distinctive individual.
And what if the plot is contrived? The message is universally accessible, making "Second Chances" a pretty easy viewing for anyone, not just those who are fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. Indeed, "Second Chances" is a well-directed tale that will appeal to anyone who enjoys psychology because the dual Rikers, especially how they interact with Troi, create a definitive exploration of one person and the repercussions of his choices.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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