TNG S02E19 Manhunt (1.5 out of 5 stars) More ambassadorial hijinks, beginning with two mute aliens beaming on board, whose physical appearance is the topic of much discussion, and then the arrival of Lwaxana Troi, converting Troi’s mother from one-shot virtual cameo to recurring character. She has once again boarded the Enterprise with marriage on her mind, but instead of a husband for Deanna, this time she is attempting to bag the Captain for herself. So, this is a low-stakes, relationship comedy-of-manners episode – not what I’d prefer, especially when the characters are still so fuzzy. But this one did elicit some smiles from me, notably when Picard using a loquacious Data as a verbal shield between him and Mrs Troi’s libido. Not wanting anything to do with Betazoid pon-farr, and just when I was starting to enjoy this episode, Picard retreats to the “safety” of the Holodeck and his Dixon Hill fantasy, whereupon the stakes plunge through the floor. Like all good assassins, the Antedeans arrange matters so they have to be onboard the Enterprise unable to respond or notice what’s around them for as long as possible, all the while festooned with easy-to-discover secret space-dynamite. LWAXANA: You can’t detect these explosives with your transporters. DATA: (reading the transporter control panel). Captain, I am detecting large amounts of explosives. Apparently one of the largely mute, motionless delegate-assassins is Mick Fleetwood. Did I dream this episode?

TNG S02E20 The Emissary (4.5 out of 5 stars) No, we’re not quite ready for Deep Space Nine yet. We start with another visit to the card table, and again it’s a good omen. The early scenes on the bridge are thick with intrigue, and saving six hours by stuffing Suzi Plakson into a tiny probe haring across space at warp 9 does much to engender a high-stakes feel. This isn’t the return of Dr Selar, it’s the first appearance of K’Ehelyr, Worf’s ex. So this is another episode about who’s going to get married to whom, but it’s much more interesting on a character level, and much more exciting on a sci-fi adventure level. Plakson is wonderful as the no-nonsense half-human, half-Klingon, and Michael Dorn’s face when he first sees her is perfect. She’s on board because there are Klingons about to come out of hibernation who think the war is still going on – a perfect puzzle for the pacifist crew to have to try and solve. This is very fine stuff, combining all the best aspects of what the franchise is capable of. Another sewn-together-by-monkeys admiral’s uniform on Gromek.

TNG S02E21 Peak Performance (3.5 out of 5 stars) Roy Brocksmith looks delighted to be on board the Enterprise, covered in latex and scurrying around like a cross between Manuel and Groucho Marx. He’s a fine, fine actor and for once the sight of somebody greedily devouring the scenery doesn’t unbalance the tone of the whole show. The premise is a nifty one too – an old ship is taken out of mothballs and given to Riker and Worf as part of a war game exercise, to prepare for the impending Borg threat. This is supervised by the aforementioned Brocksmith but early on far too much time is taken up playing a silly video game, which works far less well than poker as a method of revealing character flaws and hidden motivations. Data’s loss gives him the glums. “We’re less than an hour away from a battle simulation and I have to hand-hold an android,” growls Picard, and I share his frustration, especially as that’s the end of this sub-plot. Once the battle simulation begins and the Ferengi – yes, the Ferengi! – screw up the exercise, things take a turn for the far more interesting and exciting, and the solution to their problems is neat and tidy if not tremendously cathartic.

TNG S02E22 Shades of Gray. Flat on his back, Riker relives past glories (and some idiocies) in this budget-saving clip show of zero interest. I can remember rushing home from lectures at Southampton University to watch this on BBC2 and being crushed to discover that the season was ending with this tepid remix. Not a Star Trek episode, so no score.

Season 2 summary

  • Another rough ride. The characters are more clearly-defined so when the show is just doodling in the margins it’s often more watchable than it was in Season 1, but the really strong episodes are still few and the bad episodes are still really, really bad.
  • Much of this is due to the writers’ strike with a reduced episode count, a clip-show, a recycled Phase II script and some contradictory writing all symptoms of this unforeseeable problem. A show on a big network would probably have been cancelled.
  • The cast have settled in nicely now. Stewart rules, as ever, Spiner is often excellent, Frakes often finds something interesting to do with Riker, and Michael Dorn is growing into Worf. Wesley is much less annoying and although Geordi is hardly ever given anything more than exposition, Burton continues to fling himself at the lines with such enthusiasm that it hardly matters. Only Troi is getting left behind, ignored both by the writers and the rest of the bridge crew.
  • Undermining the family feeling is Dr Pulaski, who never finds her place. Imagine how much more interesting the Picard/Wesley dynamic would be if Beverley Crusher was still in the mix. (I imagine it would a be “a bit more” interesting.)
  • Average score for Season 2 is 2.78, only a marginal improvement on Season 1 and still a long way off the glory days of early TOS. Top stories this year include the promising Elementary Dear Data, the fascinating A Matter of Honor, the teasing Q Who, the very fine The Emissary and the truly excellent The Measure of a Man. Worst stories include the horrid The Child, the dire Pen Pals, the tedious The Outrageous Okona, the dopey The Royale and the eye-wateringly bad Up the Long Ladder. What’s frustrating is that even when stories begin with an excellent premise such as Picard-from-the-future in Time Squared, too often the execution is weak.
  • So, this new show, which nobody thought would work, has somehow managed to find stronger foundations. What it needs now to elevate the storytelling to even greater heights is some sort of… pillar.
Trekaday 027: The Final Frontier
Trekaday 029: Evolution, The Ensigns of Command, The Survivors, Who Watches the Watchers, The Bonding, Booby Trap