So here we are, at the end of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. 22 episodes, a smaller compliment than any other season, because of a writer’s strike. The result is a show that has improved a lot in terms of direction, pacing, tone and overall production value, and yet is wildly inconsistent in terms of writing and storytelling. The season has more than it’s fair share of installments that are mediocre, lame, or pointless feeling. And yet at the same time, there are a number of episodes which display the series’ first real signs of greatness.
There are a number of elements that the second season introduced which were clear signs of the series finding its feet. These included Geordi becoming Chief Engineer, the introduction of Ten Forward, Worf settling into the role of permanent head of security, O’Brien being established as a transporter chief, and perhaps most importantly from a symbolic perspective, Riker growing his beard. The series also stopped pretending the Ferengi were the major threat of the galaxy (limiting their use to one episode – and effectively at that), introduced a lot more Klingon lore, and continued the slow burn on the Romulan involvement. Most excitingly, the show season saw the debut of the Borg, one of the best and most memorable creations in Star Trek history.
The second season is also easily identifiable as the one that featured Dr. Pulaski. And not only did the show introduce Pulaski, it really seemed committed to pushing the character and giving her lots of exposure. She appears in 20 of the 22 episodes, and in many has a major role, including Unnatural Selection, The Icarus Factor, Elementary, My Dear Data and Up the Long Ladder. As a character, she is actually pretty interesting, with a lot of unique quirks and a capacity for different perspectives that probably would not have been possible with Dr. Crusher. Unfortunately, she was also difficult to actually like, and I don’t think I’ll really be missing her as we head into Season Three.
The other major introduction in the season was Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. Guinan is a character that could have been easily been extremely aggravating and annoying with the stunt casting / wish fulfillment of having Whoopi Goldberg play the part and her apparent niche in the show of sage advice-giver. And indeed there are times later where she will be. But so far, she’s used fairly well, appearing in only five episodes – generally playing a significant role in subplots, though being integral to the main story in one (Q Who), and offering truly profound insight in another (The Measure of a Man). So I don’t mind Guinan at this point though her presence can feel a bit arbitrary.
The third recurring character this season is Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien, who is by far the most successful of the three. He doesn’t have any big focus episodes but he feels very much like part of the family, and it’s no surprise that he goes on to be one of the characters who appears to appear in the most episodes of the Star Trek franchise.
I recall hearing or reading something LeVar Burton said between Season’s 1 & 2, in which he mentioned that Season 1 had been all about establishing the lead characters (Picard, Riker, Data), and that now that we were into Season 2, there’d be more chance to really establish the secondary characters, such as Geordi. This was true to an extent, but actually Picard, Riker and Data all had more great episodes / powerful moments built around them than before, and though some of the supporting characters got some additional attention, Burton’s Geordi La Forge was not one of them. Although in his case, the lack of any real stories built around him was sort of made up for by the steady presence he was given as Chief Engineer. As a result, we certainly got to know the “real Geordi” more deeply than we had before.
The best episodes of the season, in my opinion, are as follows:
• The Measure of a Man – Wonderfully using Picard, Data and Riker to deal with some tough issues and grand themes – the shows first top rate episode, which is all the more notable since it is one with no “action” in it at all.
• Q Who – The best use of John De Lancie’s Q, so far, and introducing the Borg, the series’ best antagonist.
• A Matter of Honor – Taking the Klingons further than we’ve seen them so far, and including lots of good action and drama and character work for Riker.
The honorable mention episode would have to be Pen Pals, which was a solid exploration of the Prime Directive all the way through. Other stories that I thought were pretty good include Contagion, Manhunt, The Emissary, and parts of Peak Performance. There were a number that could had decent set ups and could have been good, but just didn’t quite pull the story together in the end. These included Where Silence Has Lease, The Icarus Factor, and especially Time Squared. Consequently, Time Squared turns out to be one of the worst episodes of the season, although not as bad as the very dregs, which include The Outrageous Okona, Shades of Gray (as a bit of a gimme), and my personal pet-peeve, Up the Long Ladder.
For the best episode for each character, I’d suggest
• Captain Picard – The Measure of a Man
• Riker – A Matter of Honor
• Geordi – A tough pick. He had a large role in Elementary, My Dear Data, but it wasn’t really a great Geordi story. For his best episode, I guess I’ll say Samaritan Snare, in which he has a leading role, gets to do a lot of engineering, and gets to be clever.
• Worf – The Emissary
• Troi – Another tough one. She had a couple of major roles, in The Child and Loud as a Whisper. But I guess I enjoyed her best in Manhunt.
• Data – Unlike the first season, he had lots of good stories here. The best is The Measure of a Man, but Pen Pals makes a good go of it.
• Wesley – His starring role is in The Dauphin but I enjoy the characterization in Samaritan Snare better.
• Dr. Pulaski – The old-age makeup is a put-off, but still Unnatural Selection offers the best view of the character.
• O’Brien – His scene in the transporter room with Riker in Pen Pals was probably the most character-revealing for him.
• Guinan – Her scene with Picard in The Measure of a Man was outstanding.
Some other notable comments about Season One:
• Number of Omnipotent, Semi-Omnipotent, Locally Omnipotent or super-highly advanced beings / races encountered by the Enterprise crew: Two – Nagilum & Q (again)
• Number of characters Brent Spiner got to play (counting characters Data was playing): – This is a bit of a push, but I’d say Six – Data, Fake Data (Where Silence Has Lease), Sherlock Holmes (Elementary, My Dear Data), Comedian Data (The Outrageous Okona), Ira Graves (The Schizoid Man), and Broken Dying Data (Contagion). He also turns up as “Carlos from South America” in Manhunt, but he doesn’t act any differently there than normal.
• Number of named recurring characters: Four – Dr. Pulaski (20 episodes), O’Brien (17 episodes), Guinan (5 episodes), and Ensign Sonya Gomez (2 episodes).
• Number of Chief and Assistant Chief Engineers: One – Geordi!
• Number of guest actors who later went on to have major roles in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Two(again) – Robert O’Reilly aka Gowron (Manhunt), Armin Shimmerman (again) aka Quark, from Peak Performance.
• Number of Holodeck episodes (where a significant portion of the plot requires the Holodeck): Twofor the main plot – Elementary, My Dear Data and Manhunt. Two more for major subplots: The Icarus Factor and The Outrageous Okona. Also, there is The Emissary, which has a number of scenes on the holodeck, but the holodeck itself is not actually critical for the most important of these.
• Number of Holodeck malfunctions: Zero! Technically, the holodeck doesn’t malfunction in Elementary, My Dear Data. Rather, trouble arises because the computer just does what Geordi tells it to.
• Number of Time Travel stories: One – Time Squared. My memory is that eventually there will be a lot more, I’m curious to see how right I am.
• Relatives of main characters who appear: arguably, Five – Ian Andrew Troi (The Child), Ira Graves whom Data referred to as his grandfather (The Schizoid Man), Kyle Riker (Icarus Factor), Lwaxana Troi (Manhunt), and K’Eylehr, who according to tradition was Worf’s wife (The Emissary)
• Number of (Potential) romantic entanglements & heavy flirtations: Eleven – Troi & Riva (Loud as a Whisper), Riker and two Klingon women (A Matter of Honor), Picard & JAG Captain Philippa Louvois (sort of – The Measure of a Man), Wesley and Saleeya (The Dauphin), Riker and Guinan (The Dauphin), Riker and that female crew member in Ten Forward (Pen Pals), Dr. Pulaski & Kyle Riker (The Icarus Factor), Riker and Brenna Odell (Up the Long Ladder), and Worf & K’Eylehr (The Emissary) and Lwaxana Troi with both Picard and Riker (Manhunt). OK, some of these are pushing it a bit.
• Number of Enterprise crew members who die: Twenty – Haskell (Where Silence Has Lease), Future-Picard (Time Squared) and 18 off screen crew members (Q Who). Also, Data appears to die in Contagion.
• Number of episodes in which a main character is possessed or otherwise mentally controlled: One – Data in The Schizoid Man.
• Number of New Life Forms Encountered for the First Time, not counting races of basically humanoid aliens: Five – Ian Andrew Troi / Life Force Entity, Nagilum, the Borg (humanoid, but sufficiently different to count), Saleeya’s race of shape changing balls of light (definitely a new life form, encountered more or less for the first time), and the micro-organism from Shades of Gray. Also, in a sense, Data is established as a “new life form”, and you could also argue that Moriarity fits this bill, especially in light of all that happens later.
• Main Characters who didn’t appear in episodes: Wesley (Elementary My Dear Data) Geordi (Matter of Honor), Wesley & Worf (Shades of Grey)
– Geordi: Absent in two episodes
– Worf: Absent in one episode, except for flashback footage
– Troi: Absent in one episode
– Wesley: Absent in five episodes (though present in one of those in flashback footage)
This means that Dr. Pulaski is in as many episodes as Geordi and more than Wesley, and O’Brien is in as many Wesley if you don’t count his flashback appearance in Shades of Gray. Also, with Geordi’s absence in a couple of stories, it means that the only characters to be in all the episodes of the show so far are Picard, Riker, and Data.
• Number of direct references to prior incarnations of Star Trek: Zero
• Number of episodes with…
– Klingons (aside from Worf): Three (A Matter of Honor, The Icarus Factor (holograms) The Emissary
– Romulans: Three – Where Silence Has Lease (ship only, and it’s an illusion), Contagion, and Peak Performance (again it’s a ship only, and it’s again it’s an illusion)
– Vulcans: Zero
– Ferengi: One – Peak Performance
• New guest characters to watch out for in the future: Two – Moriarity (Elementary, My Dear Data) and Admiral Nakamura (The Measure of a Man)
• Number of times Geordi orders for engineering controls to be transferred to the bridge: Four – Where Silence Has Lease, Time Squared, Unnatural Selection, The Emissary – I feel like there might have been one more early in the season but I couldn’t find it at a quick review.
• Number of times Picard orders Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: Two – Contagion, Pen Pals
• Number of Poker games played by the crew: Two – The Measure of a Man, The Emissary
• Number of guest actors who went on to have small but memorable parts in Total Recall (1990): Two –Lycia Naff (Ensign Sonya Gomez) and Roy Brocksmith (Sirna Kolrami).
And finally, the Season Two essential viewing: (not the best episodes, but the ones that are most important for the overall story of the series)
• The Child – Introduces Dr. Pulaski and Guinan, as well as explaining Dr. Crusher’s absence and establishing Geordi’s new permanent role
• Elementary, My Dear Data – Introduces Moriarity, who makes a reappearance several seasons hence
• Q Who – Reestablishes Q, and introduces the Borg
• The Emissary – Introduces K’Eylehr and her relationship with Worf, which will have huge impact on the series in the future
On top of this, you could include The Measure of a Man and The Icarus Factor, which both have moments that are referenced briefly in later stories.