Some argue that Season 3 is the best season of Next Generation. I am withholding such judgments until I finish reviewing the whole series, but it is certainly miles ahead of what went on before. Where Season 2 definitely displayed an overall upswing of quality, it’s with Season 3 that the show truly hits its stride, producing more than just a handful of truly “great” episodes.
The universe of the program is now feeling populated by a number of fun concepts that we can look forward to visiting in on from time to time. In addition to the steady participation of Q, Lwaxana Troi, O’Brien and Guinan from earlier years, this season has brought us key recurring characters such as Reg Barclay, Kurn, and Tomalok. This season truly brought the Klingons into Next Generation as a real fully developed culture and political system in a way that we haven’t had before. It succeeded in making the Romulans an interesting and credible threat. It used the Borg as effectively as they ever will be. And it even dealt with the Ferengi well, overall. And with Sarek, the show finally embraces its connections with the original series.
The regular cast feels far more settled as well. Even though she didn’t have any great episodes, it’s nice to have Dr. Crusher back. Geordi finally gets to feature in some great episodes, Troi is often well-used, and in spite of the fact that Wesley will only be a regular for another half season, it feels like we’re finally watching the regular cast of the series that we all remember. However, having said that, this is the season that starred former regular Denise Crosby in one of the franchise’s all time best installments.
Thinking through the best episodes of the season, there are three that come to mind immediately: Yesterday’s Enterprise, Sarek, and The Best of Both Worlds. But really Deja Q and The Offspring are right behind. But then, so are The Enemy, The Defector, Sins of the Father, and Hollow Pursuits. All of those are great episodes.
Most of the other episodes of the season were perfectly OK, or were doing well except for a few problems. The only ones that I really felt like I overall did not like were Evolution (which was too bad as it was the season opener), Allegiance, and Transfigurations, which I think was my least favorite. I am also personally irked by Who Watches the Watchmen? even though I acknowledge the show is relatively well paced and directed.
What about the best for each of the regular characters? Let’s see…
• For Captain Picard, there are a lot of contenders. Sarek probably gives us Patrick Stewart’s most memorable performance (just because that mind meld scene is so amazing), Captain’s Holiday is probably the most important for the growth of the character, Who Watches the Watchmen? might be the most revealing about him. But I’d have to say I am most fascinated by his decisions and responses as seen in Yesterday’s Enterprise.
• Riker – There is no doubt that it has to be The Best of Both Worlds.
• Geordi – The Enemy gives him a lot of focus but my favorite for really showing us what this character is like would be Hollow Pursuits, because we really get to see him being a chief engineer.
• Worf – Overall, the best episode for him is the Klingon-focused Sins of the Father, but his supporting role in The Enemy is so strong it nearly overshadows this.
• Dr. Crusher – It’s not a great episode, but probably her role in The High Ground is her strongest. But also really like her small part in Captain’s Holiday.
• Troi – I think after some pondering I have to go with The Bonding because that’s where we really get to see her being a ship’s counselor. But her most memorable moments are as holo-Troi in Hollow Pursuits.
• Data – Like Picard, he has a bunch of good ones, including in Deja Q and The Most Toys. But for overall impact, you can’t argue with The Offspring.
• Wesley – It’s not a great episode but it’s hard to think of anything but Evolution, his starring turn. I still remember his depressed, “I always get an ‘A’” line to Guinan, and felt it captured the plight of his character well. But it was also good to see “angry-Wesley” in Sarek, and “out-of-his-emotional-depth-Wesley” in The Bonding.
Some other notable comments about Season Three:
• Number of Omnipotent, Semi-Omnipotent, Locally Omnipotent or super-highly advanced beings / races encountered by the Enterprise crew: 2, (not counting Q again, of course)–Kevin Uxbridge in The Survivors and the thing that John Doe turns into in Transfigurations. The alien experimenters in Allegiance, the Koinonians in The Bonding, and Gomtuu in Tin Man all verge on this as well, but are probably not quite up to that standard. Overall, the series is having less of these than they used to.
• Number of characters Brent Spiner got to play (counting characters Data was playing): Only 4 this time – Data, the Nanites in Evolution, King Henry of Henry V in The Defector, and one of the musketeers in Hollow Pursuits.
• Number of named recurring characters: 4. O’Brien, Guinan, Tomalok, and Christy Henshaw.
• Number of guest actors who later went on to have major roles in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: 1 – Max Grodenchik who appeared in Captain’s Holiday.
• Number of Holodeck malfunctions: Zero. But really, what it accidentally does in A Matter of Perspective is really something that it should be designed to avoid.
• Number of Time Travel stories: 2 – Yesterday’s Enterprise and Captain’s Holiday. But still, none our main characters actually do any serious time traveling yet.
• Relatives of main characters who appear: 2, not counting the Crusher’s of course. You’ve got Lwaxana Troi, and Kurn, Worf’s brother.
• Number of (Potential) romantic entanglements & heavy flirtations: At least 11 – Wesley and some girl (Evolution), Data and Ard’rian (Ensigns of Command), Geordi and Holo-Leah Brahms (Booby Trap), Troi and Devinoni Ral (The Price), Riker and Yuta (The Vengeance Factor), Tasha (we’re still counting her, right?) and Castillo (Yesterday’s Enterprise), Beverly and Fake Picard (Allegiance), Picard and Vash (Captain’s Holiday), Riker and Troi (Menage a Troi), Geordi and Christy Henshaw (Transfigurations), and Beverly and “John Doe” (Transfigurations).
Also, you could argue Finn and Beverly (The High Ground), Riker and Lal (The Offspring), Fake Troi and Barcay (Hollow Pursuits), Picard and Lwaxana (Menage a Troi), and, depending on your point of view, Riker and Mrs. Apgar (A Matter of Perspective). We won’t count Wesley and the “one attractive lady” Suzanne Dumont (Sarek) as we never actually saw her on screen.
• Number of Enterprise crew members who die: it’s hard to say. Between 15-23, permanently. That would be Marla Aster (The Bonding), three unnamed crewmen (The High Ground), and between 11 and 19 engineering crew members (Best of Both Worlds). Furthermore, Worf dies in Transfigurations in a bit of an unlikely way, although he is shortly thereafter healed. Also, Riker and basically everyone else – though not Tasha, it turns out, from an alternate reality (Yesterday’s Enterprise).
• Number of episodes in which a main character is possessed or otherwise mentally controlled: 2 – Data in Evolution, and at different times, Wesley, Geordi, Picard, Riker, and O’Brien in Sarek.
• Number of New Life Forms Encountered for the First Time, not counting races of basically humanoid aliens: 6. The Nanites in Evolution, the Douwd in The Survivors, the Koinonians in The Bonding, the Calamarain in Deja Q, Gomtuu in Tin Man, and the next step of Zalkonian evolution from Transfigurations.
• Main Characters who didn’t appear in episodes:
– Geordi: Absent in 1 episode (Captain’s Holiday)
– Wesley: Absent in 4 episodes (Who Watches the Watchers?, The Defector, Déjà Q, Captain’s Holiday)
• Number of Actors who Directed episodes: 1 – Jonathan Frakes, who directed The Offspring.
• Number of direct references to prior incarnations of Star Trek: 1 – with Sarek appearing in Sarek, as well as direct references to Spock, Amanda, and the events of Journey to Babel.
• Episodes with…
– Klingons (beside Worf): 1 – Sins of the Father, and as just ships: The Defector and Yesterday’s Enterprise
– Romulans: 3 – The Enemy, The Defector, Tin Man
– Vulcans: (at least in a major role) 1 – Sarek
– Ferengi: 3 – The Price, Captain’s Holiday, Menage a Troi
– Borg: 1 – Best of Both Worlds. An illusion of them also appears in Evolution.
• Guest characters from previous seasons to reappear: 3 – Q, Lwaxana Troi, and Mr. Homme.
• New guest characters to watch out for in the future: 8 – Tomalok, Kurn, K’Mpec, Duras, Vash, Reg Barclay, Sarek, and Perrin. Also, Commander Shelby and Admiral Hanson both appear in part 2 of The Best of Both Worlds.
• Number of times Picard orders Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: Surely I missed this, because I didn’t notice one example of this. In The Best of Both Worlds, Picard offers earl gray tea to the admiral, but I’m not sure they actually have any.
• Number of Poker games played by the crew: I don’t know if I have forgotten some, but I only recall 2: Allegiance and The Best of Both Worlds.
And finally, the Season Three essential viewing: (not the best episodes, but the ones that are most important for the overall story of the series)
Evolution – Explains that Beverly has returned
The Enemy – Introduces Tomalok and potentially key to the Romulan plot. Frankly, though, I can’t remember how important this and The Defector actually are in an of themselves.
The Defector – Continuing the Romulan plot. Same caveat as above.
Yesterday’s Enterprise – Key to understanding the 4th season cliff hanger and the Romulan plot
Sins of the Father – Key to the Klingon plot, which will eventually coincide with the Romulan plot. And introduces Kurn, Duras, and K’Mpec.
The Most Toys – Explains how Wesley becomes a full ensign
The Best of Both Worlds – Reintroduces the Borg and sets up the obvious cliff hanger, which will permanently shape the franchise
Booby Trap – Introduces Leah Brahms, who eventually appears in the flesh, and who Geordi may end up marrying
The Price – Only important if you are also watching that one episode of Voyager that has some of these characters in it
Deja Q – I’m pretty sure the events of this story are brought up the next time Q turns up.
Captain’s Holiday – Introduces Vash, who turns up two more times in the franchise
Hollow Pursuits – Introduces Reg Barclay
Sarek – Re-introduces Sarek and explains his illness, which will be see again, along with Perrin.