I have completed my re-viewing of the highly acclaimed fourth season of Star Trek (links to all of which can be found here). Let’s do a quick recap before moving on.
Season Four of Next Generation opens up very strongly with the conclusion and the aftermath of the Borg story, and then it goes on to have lots of other good episodes…the series is really in its prime at this point. This doesn’t mean that every installment is outstanding – there are a handful of weak ones, or episodes with good set-ups but weak resolutions. But generally speaking, when you tuned into Next Generation during this period, you could count on getting some good television.
This was a year for the series to flesh out it’s broader universe. Numerous episodes featured repeat appearances by recurring characters, and a number of others were devoted to furthering both the Klingon and Romulan storylines (which eventually become the same storyline). We also had a lot of good business for Colm Meaney’s Chief O’Brien, including having him get married and have another episode in which he was the feature character. We were also introduced to the Cardassians, a new major antagonist for the franchise. This season also marks the departure of Wesley Crusher from the ship, which is the last adjustment the series will make to its regular cast. He will become another recurring character in the future.
As has been commented before by many, a lot of the episodes feature relatives of the regulars or some other sort of “family” theme. It threatens to get a little repetitive, but it’s a nice device to help us connect with the characters more deeply.
My favorite episodes of the season are Family and Reunion. They stand ahead of everything else in terms of blending character, action, and drama. I think I’d follow them with Brothers, Data’s Day, and maybe Half a Life as the next strongest. But also in the “Good to Great” category this year are The Best of Both Worlds part 2, Legacy, The Wounded, First Contact, Galaxy’s Child, Identity Crisis, The Nth Degree, Qpid, and The Mind’s Eye. Almost all the others are at least worthy, or have strong elements. For my personal unfavorites, I’d have to cite Clues, The Drumhead (though I know many love it), and In Theory. Final Mission was quite blah as well. And probably Night Terrors, except for that creepy scene in the morgue.
As for the best for each character, I’d call it:
• Picard – Hands down, it’s Family
• Riker – Equally hands down, Best of Both Worlds part 2
• Geordi – Geordi had a few good episodes this year, but I think I’d have to give it to Identity Crisis. I like the fact that we see a real friendship in his life.
• Worf – Reunion, without a doubt
• Dr. Crusher – Remember Me is not my favorite episode, but I think it’s quite a good Crusher story
• Troi – Certainly The Loss is the one that we get to see the most of Troi, although I like her supporting turn in Half a Life.
• Data – There are a few possibilities, but I’d have to give it to Brothers
• Wesley – Final Mission, almost by default
Some other notable comments about Season Four:
• Number of Omnipotent, Semi-Omnipotent, Locally Omnipotent or super-highly advanced beings / races encountered by the Enterprise crew (not counting Q again, of course): 3–Barclay & the Cytherians (The Nth Degree), and the Paxans (Clues).
• Number of characters Brent Spiner got to play (counting characters Data was playing): 6 – Data, Lore, Dr. Soong, Warp Bubble Duplicate Data (Remember Me), Holographic Data (Future Imperfect), and Data as Scrooge (Devil’s Due). You could also stretch it and include “Romantic Data” from In Theory. In Qpid, Data never really assumes another personality.
• Recurring Characters (or characters who reappear from previous seasons): 26 – O’Brien, Guinan, Gleason (Best of Both Worlds part 2 & Future Imperfect), Lore, Gowron, K’Mpec, Duras, Transporter Technician Hubbel, K’Ehleyr, Tomalak, Minuet, Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, Ensign Tess Allenby (Final Mission, The Loss), Keiko O’Brien, Admiral Haden (The Wounded), Madeline (Clues), Ensign McKnight (Clues, In Theory), Leah Brahms, Ensign Sariel Rager (Galaxy’s Child, Night Terrors), Reg Barclay, Q, Vash, Lwaxana Troi, Mr. Homm, Kurn and Sela. Plus Shelby and Admiral Hansen from The Best of Both Worlds (part 1)
• New characters to watch out for in the future: 18 – Jack Crusher, Helena Rozhenko, Rene Picard, Dr. Noonien Soong, Gowron, Alexander, Transporter Technician Hubbel, Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, Ensign Tess Allenby, Keiko O’Brien, Ensign McKnight, Ensign Sariel Rager, Holodeck Albert Einstein, Lursa, B’Etor, Toral, and Sela. Plus some others who will reappear in Redemption, part 2.
• Number of guest actors who later went on to have major roles in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: No new ones, for the first time.
• Number of Holodeck episodes (where a significant portion of the plot requires the Holodeck): Just 2—Identity Crisis and The Nth Degree. Maybe you could say Galaxy’s Child.
• Number of Holodeck malfunctions: None! In the first four seasons, the holodeck has only actually malfunctioned once, though misuse of it led to danger in two other stories.
• Number of Time Travel stories: None! (Qpid isn’t time travel).
• Relatives of main characters who appear: 15 – Robert & Marie Picard, Rene Picard, Jack Crusher, Sergey & Helena Rozhenko (all from Family); Lore & Dr. Soong (both from Brothers), Ishara Yar (Legacy), Minuet & Jean-Luc Riker (both from Future Imperfect), Keylehr & Alexander Rozhenko (both in Reunion), Keiko O’Brien (Data’s Day and others), and Lwaxana Troi (Half a Life). (I know, some of these are a little bit of a stretch.)
• Number of episodes with an overt family-related theme or element: 10 – Family, Brothers, Suddenly Human, Legacy, Reunion, Future Imperfect, Data’s Day, Galaxy’s Child, Half a Life, and Redemption. You could also argue Final Mission (Picard is Wesley’s surrogate father).
• Number of (Potential) romantic entanglements & heavy flirtations for regulars and recurring characters: 14 – Data & Ishara Yar, Worf & Keylehr, Riker & Minuet, Miles & Keiko O’Brien, Ardra & Picard (Devil’s Due – though entirely one sided), Riker & Lanel (First Contact), Riker & Troi (The Loss), Troi & Barclay (The Nth Degree), Geordi & Leah (Galaxy’s Child – also one sided), Picard & Vash (Qpid), Q & Vash (Qpid), Lwaxana & Timicin (Half a Life), Beverly & Odan (The Host), and Data & Jenna D’Sora (In Theory). Not counted are Geordi and his Romulan-induced fake memory of someone from The Mind’s Eye.
• Number of Enterprise crew members who die: Just one! Poor Lt. Van Meyter from In Theory, who fell through a hole in the floor.
• Number of episodes in which a main character is possessed or otherwise mentally controlled: 4 – Identity Crisis (Geordi), The Nth Degree (Barclay), The Host (Riker), The Mind’s Eye (Geordi). Bad luck for Geordi this time around.
• Number of New Life Forms Encountered for the First Time, not counting races of basically humanoid aliens: 7 – the 2-dimensional beings (The Loss), the Paxans (Clues), the Galaxy’s Child beings, the telepathic beings from Night Terrors, the aliens in Identity Crisis, the Cytherians (The Nth Degree), and the Trill (The Host) (I think they qualify),
• Main Characters who didn’t appear in episodes: Data (Family), Wesley (Legacy, Future Imperfect, and everything after Final Mission), Dr. Crusher (The Wounded), Geordi (First Contact), and Troi (Identity Crisis).
• Number of Actors who Directed episodes: 2 – Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart.
• Number of direct references to prior incarnations of Star Trek: None, I think.
• Episodes with…
– Klingons (beside Worf): 4 – Reunion, The Drumhead, The Mind’s Eye, and Redemption
– Romulans: 4 – Future Imperfect, Data’s Day, The Mind’s Eye, and Redemption.
– Vulcans: 1 or 2 – Data’s Day (but not really) and Qpid
– Ferengi: 1 – Future Imperfect
– Cardassians: 1 – The Wounded
– Borg: 1 – Best of Both Worlds part 2
• Number of times Picard orders Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: Just once, unless I missed an example, in Remember Me.
• Number of Poker games played by the crew: Again, only one, unless I missed something, in Legacy.
And finally, the Season Four essential viewing: (not the best episodes, but the ones that are most important for the overall story of the series)
The Best of Both Worlds – Resolves the Borg cliff hanger
Brothers – Introduces Dr. Soong, the emotion chip, and brings back Lore
Remember Me – Moves the Wesley / Traveler story forward
Reunion – Introduces Alexander and Gowron, killing of Keylehr and Duras
Final Mission – Explains where Wesley got off to
Redemption – Introduces Sela, Lursa, B’Etor, and Toral; reverses Worf’s discommendation, and significantly moves the Romulan and Klingon plots forward
Family – Introduces Worf’s human parents, as well as Picard’s brother and nephew who are referred to in Generations
Data’s Day – Introduces Keiko and marries her off to O’Brien. Would be essential if we’d ever seen that O’Brien was not married before, or if he was a proper regular
The Wounded – Introduces the Cardassians, but I’m not sure it’s really essential for our understanding of them
Qpid – Explains how Vash wound up with Q, which you’d need to know if you go on to watch Deep Space Nine
The Mind’s Eye – Strongly teases the Romulan / Klingon alliance, and vaguely introduces Sela, but not really critical for any of that.