Season Six of Next Generation is beginning to show a few signs of growing thin, but overall still makes for enjoyable viewing. The thin-ness is really the same as for Season Five – there are no big story-arcs winding up. Indeed, there aren’t really any big story-arcs winding down either. Those all finished a couple of years prior, and the new ones are really being saved for Deep Space Nine. We also see the roles of various regular fixtures on board the ship sort of peter out, such as Guinan, Alexander, Ro, and the O’Briens. Though some will show up one more time next year, basically their presence as regular parts of the Next Generation landscape end on a whimper this year.
What we do get is a bunch of stand-alone episodes, including some great of ones. And really, that’s what Next Generation was best at–not story arcs, or interpersonal relationships, or big concepts–this show was good at delivering powerful single installments full of drama and humor. And so on that level, Season Six is still working.
With all that, there is still as much direct building on the series’ past than we’ve ever had before. We get a look-in from various recurring characters, like Barclay, Q, and Lore (no Lwaxana or Wesley this year). We see characters from other Star Trek series, like Bashir and more famously, Scotty. We touch base with all of our favorite aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, the Ferengi, and the Borg. We get episodes which deliberately hearken back to prior adventures like Elementary, My Dear Data, The Inner Light, and I, Borg.
With all of that there is a comfortable sense of familiarity about the show, which isn’t always to its benefit. There are even inklings that things like time travel adventures and holodeck stories are beginning to become part of the franchise’s formula. So in spite of the many good episodes that we got to enjoy, I feel like you can tell in retrospect that the end of the series is approaching.
What are the best of those good installments? Unlike previous seasons, there is not one or two that stands above the crowd as absolute classics. But as I look back at it all, I think I’d have to identify the season’s best episodes as Frame of Mind and Tapestry – two stories that are really “solo” stories (Riker and Picard, respectively) and deal heavily with altered states of reality. Following behind these just a little bit is Chain of Command – both Part I and Part II.
Other solid episode in the season include Schisms, A Fistful of Datas, Face of the Enemy, Second Chances, Timescape and Descent. Lessons, Rascals and Ship in a Bottle all work pretty well as well. And of course, Relics is really enjoyable, but mostly if you are a classic-Trek fan. Most of the others are okay at least, although less successful ones include True Q, Man of the People, and Realm of Fear. At the bottom of the barrel must surely be Aquiel (bland, so bland), Starship Mine (enjoyable, but stupid, so stupid), and Time’s Arrow part II (ambitious, but clunky, so clunky).
Which episodes would I consider to be the best for each character? Let’s see…
• Picard – I love Tapestry, and Lessons is good, but you can’t really look past Chain of Command part II
• Riker – Second Chances is good, but Frame of Mind blows everything else out of the water
• Geordi – Aquiel is his starring role this year, but uh…no. I enjoy his large role in Timescape, but maybe Relics?
• Worf – The actual “Klingon” episodes are all a bit flat, but A Fistful of Datas is his best turn this year.
• Dr. Crusher – Like Geordi, her largest role in Suspicions was not a great story. I’d go instead for her supporting bits in Lessons, or maybe Frame of Mind
• Troi – Face of the Enemy, without a doubt
• Data – Descent
Some other notable comments about Season Six:
• Number of Omnipotent, Semi-Omnipotent, Locally Omnipotent or super-highly advanced beings / races encountered by the Enterprise crew (aside from Q and his relatives): Zero, unless maybe you count Moriarity when he is controlling the holodeck.
• Number of characters Brent Spiner got to play (counting characters Data was playing): Eleven – Data, Lore, Frank Hollander, Eli Hollander, Annie Meyers, Bandito, Henchman (those last five from A Fistful of Datas), Hallucination Data (Frame of Mind), Hallucination Data playing the psychiatrist (also Frame of Mind), Dr. Soong (Birthright part I) and Data as Sherlock Holmes (Ship in a Bottle). You could say Eleven if you also count the brief moment Data reads as Puck when they are trying to trick Picard’s landlady in Time’s Arrow part II.
• Recurring Characters (or characters who reappear from previous seasons): Fifteen – Guinan, Chief O’Brien, Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, Barclay, Ensign Sariel Rager, Mr. Mott, Q, Keiko, Ensign Ro, Molly O’Brien, Alexander, Moriarity, Ensign McKnight, Gowron, and Albert Einstein. Also, Samuel Clemens and Jack London reappear from the previous season’s cliffhanger finale.
• New characters to watch out for in the future: Two only – Admiral Nechayev, and also Crosis the Borg who only reappears in the conclusion to this year’s cliffhanger finale.
• Number of guest actors who later went on to have major roles in other Star Trek series: Two – Tim Russ (Tuvok on Voyager) shows up in Starship Mine, and Salome Jens appears in The Chase before going on to play the Founder in Deep Space Nine.
• Number of Holodeck episodes (where a significant portion of the plot requires the Holodeck): Four – A Fistful of Datas, Schisms, Ship in a Bottle, and arguably, Relics.
• Number of Holodeck malfunctions: One only, I guess, in A Fistful of Datas. You can’t really say Ship in a Bottle represents a holodeck malfunction, unless that’s what you consider Moriarity to be.
• Number of Time Travel stories: Three – Time’s Arrow part II, Tapestry, and Timescape.
• Relatives of main characters who appear (aside from Alexander): Three – Picard’s father (Tapestry), Data’s “father,” (Birthright part I), and Lore (Descent)
• Number of (Potential) romantic entanglements or heavy flirtations for regular characters: Twelve – Troi & Alkar (Man of the People), Troi & a young Ensign (Man of the People), Troi & Riker (one-sided, in Man of the People), Amanda Rogers & Riker (also one-sided, in True Q), Worf & Miss Annie (A Fistful of Datas), Geordi & Aquiel (Aquiel), Picard & An Unnamed Woman (Tapestry), Picard & Penny (Tapestry), Picard & Marta Batanides (Tapestry), Worf & Ba’el (Birthright), Picard & Nella Daren (Lessons), and Troi & the Second Riker aka “Thomas” (Second Chances).
• Number of Enterprise crew members who die: at least Twelve. Lt. Hagler (Schisms), Richardson and seven other crew members (Lessons), Franklin (Descent), Corelki (Descent), a security officer walking around with a phaser rifle (Descent). But there were also unspecified “heavy casualties” in Rascals. And of course, nearly everybody died when the Enterprise exploded in Timescape, but they got better.
• Number of episodes in which a main character is possessed or otherwise mentally controlled: Four – Man of the People (Troi), A Fistful of Datas (Data, arguably, as he turns into a Western cliche), Frame of Mind (Riker, also arguably) and Descent (Data, for sure).
• Number of New Life Forms Encountered for the First Time, not counting races of basically humanoid aliens: Four – the clicky creepy things from Schisms, the exocomps from The Quality of Life, a coalescent organism in Aquiel, and the out-of-time alien from Timescape.
• Main Characters who didn’t appear in episodes: Geordi (Rightful Heir, and as a voice only in Tapestry) and Troi (Rightful Heir and Birthright part II)
• Number of Actors who Directed episodes: Three – Patrick Stewart (A Fistful of Datas), Jonathan Frakes (The Quality of Life and The Chase), and LeVar Burton (Second Chances)
• Number of direct references to other incarnations of Star Trek: Four, at least: Scotty appears in Relics, Kahless (who once appeared in an original series episode) showed up Rightful Heir. Face of the Enemy featured a bunch of references to Spock. And Dr. Bashir and Deep Space Nine appeared in Birthright part I.
• Episodes with…
– Klingons (beside Worf or Alexander): Six – Aquiel, Birthright part I, Birthright part II, The Chase, Suspicions and Rightful Heir.
– Romulans: Five – Face of the Enemy, Birthright part I, Birthright part II, The Chase,Timescape
– Vulcans: One – Suspicions
– Ferengi: Three – Rascals, Chain of Command part I, Suspicions
– Cardassians: Three Chain of Command part I, Chain of Command part II, The Chase,
– Borg: One – Descent
– Bajorans (aside from only Ensign Ro): One – Descent – a crew member sitting around helping to guard the captured Borg
• Number of times Picard orders Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: Two – Rascals and Lessons.
• Number of Poker games played on the ship: Three – The Quality of Life (Beverly, Riker, Geordi, Worf), Second Chances (Riker, Worf, Data, Other Riker), Descent (Data, holographic Einstein, holographic Stephen Hawking, holographic Newton)
• Number of unauthorized shuttle launches from the Enterprise: Two – Lessons and Descent. I wish I’d kept track of this from the beginning.
And finally, the Season Six essential viewing: (not the best episodes, but the ones that are most important for the overall story of the series)
Definites: (not many this time around)
Second Chances – Introduces “Thomas” Riker, who appears on an episode of Deep Space Nine and in lots of Star Trek-spinoff material
Descent – In addition to setting up the next season’s opener, it also reintroduces the Borg and Lore. More importantly, the two-parter brings up significant stuff about Data’s emotions and emotion chip.
Time’s Arrow part II – simply to resolve the cliffhanger from the last season, but not important for any other reason
Relics – Important if you want to understand how Scotty is running around in Next Generation-time in all those Star Trek book
Chain of Command part I & II – Just so we can understand how bad the Cardassians really are
Ship in a Bottle – Resolves, after a manner of speaking, the Moriarity character from his Season Two appearance in Elementary, My Dear Data.
Birthright – Only because it is vaguely referenced in Rightful Heir
Rightful Heir – Only because there are vague references to the Klingon emperor in the future