Saturday, September 3, 2011

So Long To The Good Old Days On This Ship! "All Good Things. . ."

The Good: Excellent special effects, Decent character work, Nice acting, Mood
The Bad: Moments of melodrama, Continuity
The Basics: When Captain Picard begins moving back and forth through time, the Enterprise crew is drawn into its final mystery Star Trek The Next Generation concludes with "All Good Things . . ."

There is always a melancholy that accompanies a series finale when the series is popular and has not gone stale when the show ends. A lot of people, it seems to me, still cling to Star Trek The Next Generation as the best work in the Star Trek franchise because it left many of them feeling good about the show and when it ended, they truly yearned for more. People who read my reviews loyally tend to know that I am more partial to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, which had an amazing run, culminating in a series finale that left everyone (character and audience) completely miserable. In short, both shows went out as they came in and with the tenor of the series. So, "All Good Things . . .", then, is a somewhat bittersweet reflection on seven years of mostly good times.

Captain Picard finds himself moving backward and forward through time to two distinct periods: one, approximately twenty years in the future where he is retired and another on the day he took command of the U.S.S. Enterprise. As he acclimates to the time jumps, he comes to realize that there is a purpose to the shifting and he soon learns from Q that the universe is going to be destroyed because of something Picard has done. Picard soon discovers a spatial anomaly in all three time periods one that he must figure out the nature of if he is to stop the destruction of humanity.

"All Good Things . . ." is decent character-driven science fiction that does not try to be anything else. That is to say that this is a science fiction story, with a heavy emphasis on the scientific premise being explored. If Star Trek The Next Generation was a story about a group of explorers, then this does seem to be a fitting send off for them, providing them with one last phenomenon to try to understand. The episode attempts to conceal the science fiction nature in moments of philosophy, but the truth is, this is science fiction. Besides, what would science fiction be without philosophy?

The effect "All Good Things . . ." has is to effectively bookend the series, by ending it with essentially the same story that began it, we may see how far the characters have come. The hope of "All Good Things . . ." then is to illustrate character growth, which it does generally well. As a result, this is an episode that will be appreciated more by fans of the show than by those tuning in on a lark.

For people who are not acquainted with or fans of the show, the trial scenes with Q - the villainous omnipotent being who started his torment of the crew back in the pilot episode - are likely to be difficult to get into. They rely heavily on the knowledge of who this adversary is and, to a large extent, how he has grown as a character throughout the seven years. However, even people watching this episode alone are likely to enjoy the humor he brings into an otherwise intensely dramatic situation.

Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of "All Good Things . . ." is the nostalgic sense it has to it. For people who have stuck with the show all seven years, it's nice to see the flashback times to what the Enterprise was like back in the first season. Sort of. The flashbacks to the past Enterprise may be technically correct, but they lack attention to detail. Things like Tasha Yar's hair are dramatically off, reminding the viewer that this is not really the past (i.e. it wasn't filmed back in the first days of the show).

Conversely, there is a weird sense of hopeful nostalgia for fans in seeing the potential future that Picard visits. Seeing what could happen to the characters, especially now in the wake of Star Trek Nemesis (reviewed here!), is a great deal of fun. The only awkward thing about it is that the relationships are played out with a sense of backstory that seems to have ended years ago (i.e. the future characters talk as if they have been apart from one another for over twenty years), yet they all seem to feel it is quite natural to come back together. This has been a problem throughout other episodes as well, most notably with Picard in references to the Stargazer (the ship he had before the Enterprise). People you are with a long time tend to be the ones you bond the most with; twenty years apart from people you only spent thirteen years with is bound to change your priorities and loyalties to them. Yet, the characters do not seem to have any such difficulties with saddling up for one more adventure together.

Essentially, this is a science fiction mystery. As a function of that, there are a wide variety of locations - from spacedock to a futuristic England to the Romulan Neutral Zone to primordial Earth - that are traveled through, making "All Good Things . . ." a visually spectacular episode. Add to that a very impressive space battle and you have all the makings of a great episode. And the space battle here is impressive, especially considering that it precedes the Star Trek Deep Space Nine war stories that pushed the boundaries of Star Trek space battles.

But what binds the episode together is the characters and it's hard to think of how Star Trek The Next Generation could have done a better, more thoughtful, sendoff for the characters as they were by this point. Picard is very much in command (Star Trek The Next Generation in the end, was Picard's show), Data is growing, Worf has so much potential, Riker has learned love may be more important than ambition, Troi has struck out on her own as an independent woman, Dr. Crusher has let others into her life and Geordi still hasn't been able to hold down a romantic relationship.

The episode is held together quite masterfully by the acting of Patrick Stewart. More than any other member of the cast, Stewart uses this last hurrah to explore the thoughtful nature of his character. Here, Stewart plays Picard once more as the poet explorer, intent on expanding the human condition, and not like some awkward warrior, as he has been presented in the films as. Stewart plays Picard with great realism as an older man and sells the audience on what could have appeared to be a cheap technique to tell the story.

All in all, this is a fitting end to Star Trek The Next Generation, leaving the series primed for the film franchise to begin. It may be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of science fiction, but will be appreciated most by those who are fans of Star Trek The Next Generation.

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


For other Star Trek franchise episode, movie and DVD set reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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