13 March 2012

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" The Complete Fourth Season

Star Trek: The Next Generation The Complete Fourth Season
Starring Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr. William Riker
Co-Starring Levar Burton as Lt. Cmdr. Geordie LaForge, Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher, Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi, Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data, Wil Wheaton as Ensign Wesley Crusher
Created by Gene Roddenberry
DVD Release Date: 3 September 2002
DVD List Price: $69.98

As noted in the insert pamphlet and discussed in the bonus content, the fourth season of TNG really created the heart of the series. Under the editorial direction of Michael Piller, the writing staff got away from the formulaic "alien of the week" structure and shifted the focus to the characters.

The season opens with the concluding half of "The Best of Both Worlds," which isn't just TNG's most important event, but perhaps the most pivotal moment in the course of the entire franchise. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is taken captive by the Borg and involuntarily turned into one of them, his individuality suppressed and his knowledge exploited to decimate the Federation. An audacious rescue of Picard leads Riker to victory. The next episode, though, is not only the thesis of the season but for my money, TNG's most underrated episode. Fan lists of favorite episodes rarely include "Family," but they should. Picard goes home and begins to process his trauma amid conflict with his cantankerous brother, Robert.

Subsequent episodes spotlight Data (Brent Spiner) reuniting with his brother, Lore (Brent Spiner) to meet their creator/father, Dr. Noonien Soong (Brent Spiner) ("Brothers"); Riker tempted with a future in which he has a son ("Future Imperfect"); Troi (Marina Sirtis) once again trying to endure a visit from her overbearing mother, Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) ("Half Life"); and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) seeing a recorded message from his deceased father and later leaving the Enterprise (and the series) to attend Starfleet Academy ("Final Mission"). Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) becomes significantly more prominent in the middle of the season, marrying Keiko (Rosalind Chao) ("Data's Day") and appearing in more scenes than just running the transporter. The crew also encounters Ishara Yar, sister of their late comrade Tasha ("Legacy").

Because the series was produced for syndication, ongoing story lines were discouraged (remember, this was more than 20 years ago) but there were some episodes whose implications allowed for subsequent payoffs. The most notable of these is the saga of Lieutenant Worf and his contentious relationship with the Klingon Empire. Throughout the course of this season, several of his fellow Klingons put the screws to him over his dis-commendation (reluctantly accepted in a third season episode to preserve the peace and cover the treachery of a powerful Klingon family). He learns of a son he sired with K'Ehleyr, a half-human/half-Klingon and eventually becomes the most important figure in the course of events in the Empire.

Two of the best episodes, "The Wounded" and "The Drumhead" have significantly more weight today than I think they had at the time they aired. Seeing them in the post-9/11, post-Bush world is a reminder that, as Jon Stewart noted, "If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values. They're hobbies." TNG's morality could seem idealistic and at times, naive. I find these two episodes, though, terrific reminders that we're better as a people and as a society than we have allowed ourselves to be in the last ten years and I sincerely believe that we are capable of embracing the more tolerant and accepting views espoused in those two episodes. We need not bury our heads in the sand to avoid the poison of paranoia; we need not jump at shadows to remain vigilant.

It was an interesting season for me to revisit at this juncture of my life, as my own family is changing. There's the divorce, obviously. I'm adamant about continuing to be uncle to my niece and nephew regardless of the legal definition of our relationships; they're family regardless of anything else. My uncle is exploring the possibility of moving to Florida, and my cousin (with whom I am very close) is conflicted about whether she wants to go with him if he does. It was reaffirming to be reminded by the crew of the Enterprise that family isn't always obligatory, but that it can be chosen...and that it can overcome any challenges made by time and distance.

Favorite episodes:

  • "Family"
  • "Data's Day"
  • "The Wounded"
  • "Qpid"
  • "The Drumhead"

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