DS9 S02E23 Crossover (5 out of 5 stars). Bashir is continuing his mission to annoy everyone on the station into being his friend, and today it’s poor Kira’s turn to listen to him prattle on about music, do drama school breathing exercises and mansplain English idioms. Suddenly everything goes skew-whiff and they find themselves in the Mirror Universe.

I have two things to say about the Mirror Universe. The first thing is that it makes no sense whatsoever. The Mirror Universe with the precise and limited differences from the one we knew which we say in TOS would have given rise to a far more divergent one than the one we get here. Certainly none of the Earth people we’re familiar with would ever have been born. However, that’s a very dull thing to worry about. The fun of a mirror universe is seeing our regular characters all with goatees and eyepatches.

The other thing to say is that – especially in a post-Discovery landscape – it’s slightly amazing that we never travelled to the Mirror Universe in TNG and that we almost got to the end of Season 2 of DS9 before we saw it again. Anyway, now it’s here and it’s glorious. Nana Visitor slinks over to her other self in a uniform that’s painted on and sinks her teeth into the scenery. She gets to lay out the plot, which connects directly to Kirk’s adventures in Mirror Mirror. Spock’s mission of peace led to an alliance of Cardassians, Bajorans and Klingons taking over this part of the galaxy and subjugating the humans. The delicious twist here is that Mirror Kira is a pacifist (at least by the standards of this world) and Our Kira hopes to learn her warlike ways. Nana Visitor does a wonderful job of sustaining the scenes with herself and the video effects are top-notch, as is the wonderfully gory death of Mirror Odo at Bashir’s enthusiastic hands.

Mirror O’Brien tries to jump universes too, and with memories of Thomas Riker, I wondered if he might succeed. Actually it’s Mirror Sisko who turns out to hold the key to their return, and he promises to look after Mirror O’Brien. This is a brilliant continuation of what TOS began, a wonderful showcase for the cast, and if I know DS9, it’s the beginning, not the end.

Those Mirror Universe Klingon goons have auto-transporters too.

TNG S07E24 Preemptive Strike (4.5 out of 5 stars). The issue of the Cardassian Demilitarised Zone continues and – hey! – Ro Laren didn’t decide to stay as a child. She’s back in the fully-adult person of Michelle Forbes and it’s a treat to see her again – at the absolute last minute. Federation ships are firing at a Cardassian ship. This is essentially TNG cos-playing as DS9 – a feeling strengthened not only by all the Cardassians, including Gul Evek, but also the presence of Forbes, who was offered DS9 and turned it down. TNG’s identity asserts itself more thoroughly as Picard drinks tea with Admiral Nechayev. While chronicling the early years of TNG, I amused myself considerably noting the wild variations in uniforms which Starfleet’s top brass turned up in. Now, things have settled down and we have not just one uniform, but one Admiral. Natalija Nogulich took one TV job once and it turned into a three-year association with the franchise. It’s also nice to see elements of their relationship developing from episode-to-episode. This of course is all a set up for Voyager (to the extent that Voyager will remember about the Maquis from its second episode onwards) but we weren’t to know that in 1994.

The solution is to have Ro Laren infiltrate the Maquis. As a Bajoran in Starfleet, she’s conflicted about helping the Federation to help the Cardassians. It’s deep, nuanced material, and that she does it out of personal loyalty to Picard is very satisfying. What follows is about the warmest, most humane depiction of a terrorist gang fighting dirty to bring down a dominant power that you’ll see this side of Star Wars. It’s hard to know what outcome I want, and that’s exciting. The stakes really are more about Ro Laren’s soul and less about the Maquis-Federation-Cardassian conflict. It’s thrilling stuff, and the ending is grim perfection. Really the only thing which hurts this is that I know we aren’t going to see how the story continues from here: Michelle Forbes never returned to the franchise.

DS9 S02E24 The Collaborator (3 out of 5 stars). It’s Vedek Bareil’s turn to look into the Flashback Box of Dutch Angled Dream Imagery and he sees a vision of his hanged body cut down by Major Kira. During some post-coital exposition, it transpires that Bareil is in the running to be the new Bajoran Kai and that Kira has a vote, even though if he wins, she’ll see a lot less of him.

Smarming around the station is the deliciously malevolent Louise Fletcher as Vedek Winn. She doesn’t seem certain of the difference between “infer” and “imply” so you know she’s a wrong-un. Pretty soon, she’s buttering up Sisko and seems mysteriously open to Bajor joining to the Federation – if that’s the will of the prophets. A public appearance of the two of them would not be appropriate until the vote for Kai is concluded, of course, since Winn is Bareil’s chief competition.

Elsewhere, a Bajoran collaborator turns up on the station and is promptly arrested by Odo. Kubus Oak wants to end his exile and return to Bajor, which Kira denies but which is approved by Winn. This is pretty dense politicking and it needs to tap into our core characters and their relationships more than it does early on, if it’s to be truly engaging. Too much of this is people with latex heads telling stories about people we’ve never met with silly names. We never saw the Kendra Massacre which everyone is referring to, so we have to take the characters’ word for it that it matters.

Winn’s plan is to use Kubus’s testimony to smear Bareil and take the Kai-ship for herself, and she recruits Kira to find out the truth about who was responsible for what. One problem is that this one is all Kira, Odo and then tertiary characters like Winn and Bareil. I appreciate the depth of DS9’s bench of characters, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to check in with the regular cast once in a while. There are fleeting scenes with Quark and O’Brien, but there’s next to nothing for Dax or Bashir or even Sisko. Jake is still MIA, of course.

The best episodes of DS9 use the ever-present political situation to examine our characters and put them under unique pressures, but without sacrificing strong adventure storytelling. This isn’t one of the worst episodes by any means, but a lot of it feels like “Last time on Deep Space Nine” rather than a story unfolding in front of us right now. Because this is Deep Space Nine, Winn – who’d certainly twirl a moustache if she had one – is the one who comes out on top. It is the will of the prophets. I just hope next time they will us a more exciting story.

TNG S07E25 All Good Things… (5 out of 5 stars). On paper, this is one is absolutely insane. Picard in three time zones, one of which is the world of Encounter at Farpoint. O’Brien is back. Yar is back. Q is back. (Only Wil Wheaton doesn’t make the party.) There’s a Federation ship with an odd number of warp nacelles, and the initial creation of life on Earth hangs in the balance. Nothing about this should work, and if attempted at any other point in the show’s history it would likely be an awkward near-miss at best and a colossal dumpster fire at worst. But final episodes play by different rules, and watched knowing it’s the finale, I can’t help but immediately surrender and allow myself to be intoxicated by its nostalgic charms.

There’s masses of plot to get through, even in 90 minutes, so we skip the first time jump and just have a panicky Picard asking Troi what date it is and who’s the president. As he’s explaining what’s been happening, he is translated to a French vineyard, years in the future and a middle-aged Geordi with bionic eyes is reminiscing about all that technobabble he used to spout. (He’s married to Leah Brahms which is just a little ick.) Other episodes, like Parallels and the very similar Future Imperfect, have given us glimpses of our characters in different times or different versions of now. Once we see Geordi, we’re eager to know what has happened – or will have happened – to the rest of the cast too. And once we see Tasha (who is still chief of security, Jean-Luc), we’re eager to know who else will turn up from the show’s past.

Everyone gets their moment to shine: Data is reclining in cat-riddled leather armchairs at Cambridge, Crusher is doing medical research on board her own ship, Riker comes riding to the rescue and Worf is governor of a Klingon colony – and everyone gets back into their old togs and hairdos for the pre-Farpoint scenes. Only Troi is mysteriously absent from the future, having died off-screen. Jonathan Frakes makes a clean-shaven appearance in the past thanks to some old footage. How fortuitous that he was down on Farpoint Station! His is the only old-aged make-up not to be convincing. For some reason, he looks like a 14-year-old playing Methuselah in the school play.

The reason for all these shenanigans? It’s not a very good one: the trial of humanity begun by Q never ended. That basically means the writers, using Q as their instrument, can take us anywhere and anywhen they wish. Of particular note is Brent Spiner’s pitch-perfect impersonation of Brent Spiner c. 1987. Easier to miss is his more relaxed rendition of Data in the future, complete with occasional contractions. He truly is a remarkable actor.

Quite apart from the fact that, by design, the three timelines don’t affect each other, this is so self-evidently a birthday party in televisual form that the biggest plot hole (the three identical ships firing tachyon pulses are two Enterprises and one Pasteur) is simply a wildly uninteresting concern. Of far more interest is watching Patrick Stewart in the old uniform look out at a bridge crew who have no idea what this new bald captain is all about and asking them to take a leap of faith. It’s wonderful stuff, delivered with such delicacy and lightness by an absolutely world-class performer. Almost anyone else would have taken the opportunity to grandstand. Stewart knows that he doesn’t need to push. It’s all there, waiting for him. Bravo.

It concludes with a scene almost unparalleled in its sappy sentimentality. Picard joins the poker game. Very likely deliberately, Picard’s acceptance by the rest of the crew, albeit late in the day, mirrors Stewart’s early conflicts with his fellow actors. He saw them as horsing around and being unprofessional. They saw him as a stiff-assed theatre actor who took himself far too seriously. They changed him much more than he changed them. The poker game was also the last scene shot for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen this episode something like six times and I still had a lump in my throat.

We aren’t saying goodbye to this crew completely, but this is the last television episode with them as the regular cast (although everyone will make guest appearances in Picard), it’s the last appearance in the franchise of Denise Crosby, the last appearance of Commander Tomalak, and it’s the last time Patrick Stewart says “Space, the final frontier.” So, let’s raise a glass, and send them on their way. The sky’s the limit, indeed.

TNG Wrap-up

  • Seasons 1 and 2 of TNG flailed around, trying to discover how to make the Enterprise-D Then it flew. And Season 6 was – to my surprise – my favourite by some margin. Season 7 isn’t chaotic in the same way as those early seasons. It feels tired, more than anything. Too many episodes were half-assed remixes of overly-familiar elements. There was almost nothing new in Firstborn, or Inheritance or Emergence.
  • That doesn’t mean it didn’t sometimes swing for the fences, but too many of those big swings were epic failures like Sub Rosa or Force of Nature. Sometimes I was able to laugh along with these more outré episodes, as with Masks; sometimes I wasn’t, as with Genesis. The big early two-parter showed that the sometimes solemn and definitely-not-goofy-like-TOS-was nineties show could be fun and silly too, but the rest of the season couldn’t sustain the momentum.
  • Unlike many shows that go on for a series too long, TNG did manage to keep its cast together. The deep affection we have for this crew after seven years and 170-odd episodes counts for a lot, and episodes which lean into this like Attached, The Pegasus and Parallels are the best, although there are no five-star masterpieces this year – until the very end.
  • Troi continued to grow into her role both as an officer, and a character on the show who can do more than intone “I sense evasion, Captain.” But while Crusher got her best episode in years, she also got her worst, and her character development stopped years ago. Poor LeVar Burton, one of the strongest actors in the cast judging by the pilot, got next to nothing, and his big episode this year is a complete turkey.
  • Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn all continue to do great work, whether leading episodes or playing support and after all this time Patrick Stewart still gives the impression that he loves turning up to work every day.
  • Average score for Season 7 is 3.00, comfortably ahead of Seasons 1 and 2 but clearly bested by Seasons 3-6. The overall average for TNG is 3.30, just nudging ahead of TOS with 3.23.
Trekaday 055: Journey's End, The Maquis, Firstborn, Bloodlines, The Wire, Emergence
Trekaday 057: Tribunal, The Jem'Hadar, The Search