Thursday, August 4, 2011

Star Trek The Next Generation Goes Out On The High Road With Season 7!

The Good: Nice character development, Fine acting, Special effects
The Bad: The weak episodes in the season are devastatingly weak
The Basics: As Star Trek The Next Generation winds down, the seventh season presents a view of the Enterprise crew that tries to wrap up loose ends while adding intriguing new directions.

As Star Trek The Next Generation wound down, the series attempted to tie up loose ends and prepare for the first film, Star Trek Generations (reviewed here!). The seventh season of the series featured episodes that expanded character, attempted to explore new plots, deal with new issues and push the envelope of what television could be. For the most part, the seventh season of Star Trek The Next Generation works because it manages to continue pressing the successes of the past episodes into new directions.

The seventh season of Star Trek The Next Generation features some of the best character work of the series. Opening with the mixed "Descent, Part II," where an emotional Data torments Geordi to his meeting his "mother" in "Inheritance" to dreaming out "Phantasms" and "Emergence." Picard similarly expands his character from an experiment in love in "Liaisons" to becoming a pirate in the "Gambit" two-parter to making an intellectual leap in the series' conclusion "All Good Things . . ."

But the character that benefits the most is easily Worf. Worf has an experience in alternate universes which inspires him to date Troi ("Parallels"), is reunited with his stepbrother ("Homeward"), trains a junior officer ("Lower Decks") and explores the consequences of Alexander having his own destiny ("Firstborn"). Out of the 25 episodes, one being the double length finale, the character focus breaks down with: 3 Worf episodes, 5 Data episodes, and 4 distinctly Picard episodes. The rest of the episodes are spread out with a single episode for Geordi, Lwaxana Troi, Riker, Dr. Crusher, Deanna Troi, Wesley Crusher and Ensign Ro each, 5 episodes that use the full ensemble and one that focuses on the junior officers aboard the ship. This leads to the final season having an overall more balanced feel to it and while it seems Data has priority over Picard, one of the four distinctly Picard episodes is the double-length finale "All Good Things . . ."

At least on par with the character development is the acting. In the seventh season, some of the actors have a chance to illustrate just what they can do, even when it has nothing to do with their characters. Brent Spiner pushes Data forward as an emotional being in "Descent, Part II" and does an amazing job of portraying completely different characters when infested in "Masks." Indeed, the latter example is a poignant example of an actor playing someone completely different from his character and doing it with grace and a bold performance. That such great acting comes in one of the shakiest episodes is refreshing.

Spiner is only one example. Gates McFadden has the chance to act an orgasm and that's fun to watch and definitely a push in her portrayals that she never had to do before. Patrick Stewart infuses ore humor in Picard and Dorn has a chance to act outside his make-up in "Homeward." Marina Sirtis adds moments of commanding presence to Troi in "Thine Own Self" and Majel Barrett reprises her role of Lwaxana Troi with amazing presence and heartwrenching depth in "Dark Page." All around, the acting is excellent in the seventh season of Star Trek The Next Generation.

And the stories told here tend to be interesting. Picard joins a mercenary ship and hunts down ancient weaponry in "Gambit, Part 1 and 2." Data has a nightmare in "Phantasms," Lwaxana stirs up a repressed memory in "Dark Page," and Picard and Dr. Crusher share a mental link in "Attached." Worf's interdimensional adventure in "Parallels" is fascinating and intense, a secret from Riker's past resurfaces with serious ramifications in "The Pegasus," and the Enterprise's mission is observed by those on the "Lower Decks." And add to that, an alien library takes over the Enterprise in "Masks," the crew de-evolves in "Genesis," and the series ends with an amazing time travel adventure in "All Good Things . . ."

The problems with Star Trek The Next Generation season seven arise when the episodes are bad. The season episodes that are bad are simply wretched. In "Force of Nature" the idea is introduced that warp fields damage the fabric of space and time. This is a ridiculous notion and the episode is easily one of the three worst episodes of the entire series. Outside Brent Spiner's acting, "Masks" is slow and somewhat silly in plot. "Liaisons" and "Interface" get the season off to a rocky start by being slow, high-concept episodes and drawn out ideas that take a lot to bring to fruition. Fortunately, the ruts in the seventh season are few and while they are deep, the series comes out of them with style and sophistication.

The bonuses on this DVD set are worth the money. The preview for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVD set is wonderful and a fun teaser. The Captain's tribute, wherein Patrick Stewart gives parting words to his castmates is a touching tribute that those who have spent the last year collecting the DVD sets will find emotional and emotionally satisfying to close the series. While still lacking in any form of commentary during the episodes, the production briefings and "making of" special offer new insights on many of the episodes, most especially "All Good Things . . .," the series finale.

The season seven DVD set is a payoff to those who have been fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, attempting to finish off smaller plot lines like the Picard/Crusher relationship, giving Wesley Crusher a fate, while going in new directions like giving Worf and Troi a fresh chance to explore a new direction with one another and exploring the obvious larger issues that the series has always striven for like Data's quest for humanity. And the series does an excellent job of making potentials and pushing the limits of where it has already been. So the seventh season feels like it is moving toward something, not simply aimlessly exploring like some of the earlier seasons of the series.

Who will enjoy the seventh season of Star Trek The Next Generation? First, and most obviously, anyone who enjoyed any other season of the series. This is the payoff for six years of character development and here the characters and actors get a chance to try to say good-bye to the day to day portrayal of their Star Trek personas. Anyone who likes decent science fiction will enjoy this set, anyone who likes good stories will find many of these pieces to be worthwhile and intriguing. Add to that, there is a sense of movement throughout this set that lends itself well to a season in a DVD boxed set.

The irony of this boxed set is that it feels like the series is moving to an end, when - in fact - the actors came back the next week after shooting the final episode to begin filming the first Star Trek The Next Generation film, Star Trek Generations. The season seven Star Trek The Next Generation DVD set gives fans of the series a chance to see their beloved characters through to an endpoint and gives new fans the chance to see the actors and characters in their peak, which makes this a surprisingly accessible set. Either way, the behind the scenes extras are intriguing and the episodes tend to be better written than most shows on television today.

Knowing that the DVD boxed sets are particularly unhelpful for those who might not know the episodes by season, the episodes included in this boxed set are reviewed at the following places:
Descent, Part 2
Gambit, Part 1
Gambit, Part 2
Dark Page
Force Of Nature
The Pegasus
Sub Rosa
Lower Decks
Thine Own Self
Eye Of The Beholder
Journey's End
Preemptive Strike
All Good Things. . .


For other television reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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