Paramount // 1992 // 1200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // February 4th, 2003
"Sokath, his eyes uncovered."
As interest seems to be waning in this once venerable franchise, it might be of some help for our friends Berman and Braga to take a look back at the fifth season of The Next Generation. I have fond remembrances of this year of the series. Most of that stems from the fact that I cannot think of TNG without recalling certain episodes: "The Best of Both Worlds," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Darmok," and "The Inner Light" -- to name but a few. In writing this review and consequently refreshing of my memory of all the episodes in this year, I was surprised to find so many clunkers in the midst. Season five seemed to be stronger in my memory than what fact showed me today.
But the funny thing is that season five still stands out as a great year because of two extraordinary episodes: "Darmok" and "The Inner Light." Anyone familiar with the show knows these without further comment. In all my years, I've never heard a truly negative word uttered in regard to these two fine stories. What's refreshing and perhaps amazing is that one could almost classify the episode as "anti-Trek," for lack of a more precise phrase. For in each one, which both happen to have a very strong Picard factor, there isn't the usual abundance of technobabble, space battles, and far-fetched science fiction nonsense. Yes, there's some of that going on, but the majority of each episode focuses on man. It's the evolution of man and his place in the universe: How one man can make a difference; How life can so quickly change; How you can become a better person in the blink of an eye.
These episodes remind us that it isn't always special effects, sci-fi plot twists, and the mega adventure that captivates the fan. It's the evolving story of man in the final frontier.
Picard and company are still out in the vastness of the Alpha Quadrant, and this year they had a tendency to stumble into a lot of trouble. For the most part, their problems seemed to have a technological slant to them: soliton waves, silicon entities, quantum filaments, temporal causality loops, and the like. It was the year to show off the science fiction in the show -- let's see what fantastic and unique problem we can throw at the crew this week. Luckily, most of the ideas worked, yet there are quite a few too many inferior episodes this year -- surprisingly, most of these episodes were character focused. But, as said above, there are a few that absolutely save the year and make you crave for more.
Everyone involved with the show knew their part and it shows. The show is pumping along on all cylinders and presented a wide variety of tales to enjoy. It was about this time that word began to leak out that TNG was only going to run seven years. That was a shocking blow to fans, for the show was as popular as ever -- decidedly more so than the original series even. And then another rumor began to circulate: another spin-off. Well, looking back, we all know how this all worked out. But what a concept! A tremendously successful and profitable a show yanked off the air before it faded into Nielsen oblivion.
Let's take a quick look at this diverse group of 26 episodes and see what's really skulking in subspace. As I've done in my other TNG set reviews, I've compiled the individual episode scores to determine the story score in the scales of justice.
"Redemption, Part II"
The Klingon War comes to fruition as a result of Romulan manipulation. Worf, now resigned from Starfleet, isn't assassinated though he clumsily falls victim to Lursa and B'Etor. Perhaps he was distracted by the abundance of kleavage. Grade: B-
An absolutely fascinating story that centers on the ease of communication in the Trek universe due to the universal communicator. When Starfleet encounters a seemingly friendly race that is unintelligible, how do you communicate? Grade: A+
The introduction of a multi-faceted and complex character who isn't cookie-cutter Starfleet clean, Ensign Ro Laren is brought on board to flesh out the development of her race, the "Bajora," to help facilitate the eventual birth of Deep Space Nine. Although an obvious ploy for the spin-off, Ro turns out to be a fascinating character worthy of additional stories. Grade: A-
There are exactly two good things about this episode: (1) the really cool title and (2) the shameless flirting between Riker and Carmen. I could go for some dessert right about now. Grade: B-
Troi takes over the Enterprise, Data loses his head, Picard is trapped in a turbolift with kids, and Worf has to deliver O'Brien and Keiko's child. Just another day in the life when the Enterprise bumps into something the writers made up. Grade: A
Ugh, he's back and the little twit once again causes unwarranted havoc upon the crew. Wesley needs to be flushed out the deuterium chutes. The saving grace of this episode is Troi's deliciously circumspect description of why chocolate is so good. Grade: C-
"Unification, Part I"
The big P.R. machine kicked in to tease us with the belief that Spock was going to be in this episode. Well, he is, but just for thirty seconds. Fortunately the rest of the episode is quite intriguing as a potential ending of hostilities between Vulcan and Romulus ensues. Grade: B
"Unification, Part II"
Spock finally shows up, but then everything gets quite silly. The buildup was far more satisfying than the payoff. Grade: B-
"A Matter of Time"
The man with the best name in the universe plays temporal shenanigans with Picard. Berlinghoff Rasmussen (the name of my firstborn, if there ever is such a thing) claims to be a historian from the future who wants to watch Picard and his valiant crew as the endeavor to save a dying planet. Grade: A
No, it's not. Just more old territory with an Alexander story. An absolutely retched story that cannot even be saved by a cool, geeky new propulsion method -- the soliton wave. Grade: C
*Hint* *Hint* Everybody loves Data, so let's make a show so everyone who doesn't will realize what they're missing and join the fun! Grade: C
Tonight on UPN: when telepathic historians attack! Grade: C-
"The Masterpiece Society"
I once had an ant colony; there was Dr. Antsy, Professor Antwerp, Mr. Ante, Mrs. Ante, baby Ante, and so on. It was really neat to have such power and to control the destiny of such little things. My little ant society was perfect, until I got bored and they died. Grade: B-
I forgot that I ever had an ant colony. It so happens that Picard and crew forget they are in the midst of a climatic battle against their mortal enemy. Worf takes command, and he and Commander Duffy turn the Enterprise into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Grade: A
What's with Troi and the writers' fascination with giving her b@!!$? I like my Betazed women to be doe-eyed and slinky. Still, it's pretty cool to see her take charge and shoot her fellow crewmembers. Riders on the Storm. Grade: A-
There are just so many problems with this episode that if I were to list them all, this review would break the sound barrier. Just know that Worf should have been permanently paralyzed and to wit dead. But no! They had to go and come up with yet another implausible Trek loophole. Grade: D+ (Lowest grade ever -- but not the worst episode of the series.)
Riker gets the hots for an androgynous alien, whose name isn't Pat. The episode almost works in its morality tale of sexual tolerance, but knowing what kind of intergalactic stud Will is, you can't quite believe the situation. Grade: B-
"Cause and Effect"
A repetitively fun episode where the Enterprise gets caught in a temporal causality loop. Dr. Frasier Crane makes an appearance to help everyone cope in the immediate aftermath. Grade: A
"The First Duty"
Man, the little cheese-whiz Wesley is back for a second time this season, and once again the dumbass is causing problems for not only Picard but for his Academy classmates too. Someone needs to vaporize the twit! Grade: B
"Cost of Living"
This episode marks the dramatic decline of a once interesting character: Lwaxana Troi. Going through a "mid-life" crisis, Lwaxana agrees to get hitched to some man she's never met. In the process, her normal ebullient behavior is reigned in due to the groom's standing. In addition to that boring plot, Alexander continues to reinforce the idea that children are better not seen and not heard, and yet another unusual life form is surreptitiously eating the Enterprise. Three crappy ideas for just the price of one! Grade: C-
"The Perfect Mate"
Famke Janssen is the woman that every man wants but no one can have, for she's already promised to some royal dude in hopes of forging peace between their two planets. Being the true Rico Suave, Picard doesn't let that get in the way of some romancing. Grade: A
I had momentarily forgotten how many bad episodes were in this season; I hope I can once again forget. This time, a lonely little girl's imaginary friend turns real and decides that adults are scum. What do you do to scum? You wipe it out! Grade: C-
The Borg, once beautifully malevolent and evil creatures, are dumbed down into boring adversaries because of one little runt drone who gets separated from the hive mind. Picard, in his infinite compassion, decides to allow a drone who regains some sense of individuality to return to the collective instead of infecting him with a potentially genocidal virus. Grade: C
"The Next Phase"
A completely impossible tale where Geordi and Ro get phase-shifted. Thinking they're dead, they wander around the Enterprise having fun. Geordi, not ready to believe he's in the afterlife, pieces together the Romulan plot to destroy the Enterprise. Grade: A
"The Inner Light"
The absolute highlight of season five, "The Inner Light" is a beautiful and amazing story of Picard living another life in the span of a few minutes. You are treated to an astonishing performance by Patrick Stewart as he realizes the man he may have been had he not been in Starfleet. The alternate life may have never occurred, yet Picard is forever changed. Grade: A+
"Time's Arrow, Part I"
Data's head is found buried in San Francisco. Given a perfect opportunity to explain how an android ages, instead, the story focuses on boring run-ins with historical personalities. Grade: B-
Too bad "The Inner Light" wasn't the final episode of the season. Instead of a tepid "cliffhanger," we could have enjoyed a satisfying and complex story that ended on a unique and emotionally poignant note.
As this is my fourth review of the TNG sets (this fifth season coming after my review of season six, for those of you counting at home), I'm running out of adjectives and ways to say things differently in these sets. It is decidedly hard, as the sets are almost perfectly cookie-cutter. There's nary a difference in any of the seven. If you've bought one set, then you know exactly what you will get in any other set. The transfers from set to set are quite consistent: the full frame video gives us rich, excellent colors with correct flesh tones, solid blacks, and no transfer errors; the 5.1 remix of the episodes continue to have clean and clear dialogue in the center channel, a respectable bass through the subwoofer that actually feels a touch more powerful than other years, but still only token use of the surrounds.
On a quick side note, I will give Paramount half a point for adding the occasional "touch" to the episode menu: a flute for "The Inner Light," a Borg interface on "I, Borg." I know it would have taken a tremendous amount of time and space for more creativity, yet it would have been nice to get at least one custom menu per disc. (Boy, I'm just never satisfied!)
And now we move on to the supplements of year five:
Mission Overview Year Five (18 minutes): This segments focuses on a few of the "key" episodes from this year, "Unification," "Darmok," "The Inner Light," and "I, Borg." Some of it's more interesting than others, while some of it is a bit too sycophantic. And, Jonathon del Arco wins the George W. Bush speech prize for saying "you know" one hundred times in a two-minute interview. Well, at least Jon can read his lines better.
Departmental Briefing -- Production (15 minutes): This one jumps all over the board: more information on "The Inner Light" (though some of it is a repeat from the previous feature), some rationalization about Klingon anatomy, Frakes' "director's school" on "Cause and Effect," and Picard ripping the kid a new one in "The First Duty."
Departmental Briefing -- Visual Effects (17.5 minutes): One of the better features that gives an overall detailing of the effects work throughout the series, not just year five.
Memorable Missions (18 minutes): Paramount really didn't need to split out this feature from "mission overview," as they both say the same thing. Is there anything wrong with a 30-minute bonus feature? Nope. This one talks about "The Game," "First Duty," "Power Play," "The Perfect Mate," and "Disaster." Fortunately, they do talk about some stuff that most people don't already know about each episode.
A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry (27 minutes): The Great Bird of the Galaxy passed away during this season of TNG. It's an overall touching tribute to the man who brought Trek to life, as the actors share personal memories of what Gene meant to them. The only insincere moment comes from, no surprise, a Paramount executive.
And lo and behold! Hallelujah! It's a miracle! Paramount finally added a little something extra to this set -- something a little fun, something unscripted, something no one has ever seen before. At the end of the tribute to Gene, there's a one and a half minute routine of Patrick Stewart singing and dancing the "Alphabet Song" in his Trek uniform on the bridge of the Enterprise. It's another small tribute to Gene, and it's wonderful to see. Now, if only Paramount would have seen fit to add more bloopers, cut scenes, and so on at any point in any of the sets, their value would have been immensely greater.
Have you watched half of the episodes they put on this year? They are really bad! A game that takes over your mind? Sounds like Tipper Gore's worst nightmare. A redundant Klingon physiology? What a lame way to save a character, but, then again, doesn't every Trek character have to die and come back to life? Imaginary friends that want to kill people? Temporal causality loops? Quantum filaments? This stuff is all so far fetched and phony, how can you take any of it seriously? This is stretching the franchise's credibility to its limit.
If you are teetering on whether or not to buy any of the sets of TNG or this one specifically, then you should not hesitate. Go forth and buy this set. The transfers are quite solid, the bonus material is a touch better than average, and the year contains some of the finest storytelling in the run of the show. Be warned, however, that not all of the shows this year are worthy of a repeat viewing, but do not let that sway you from a wise investment in your DVD collection.
All charges against Paramount and season five are dropped. With this season holding some of the finest episodes of the series, a fine tribute to Gene, and a true behind-the-scenes joke, this set has an edge in being the best of the entire collection.
Mirab, his sails unfurled.
Review content copyright © 2003 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1200 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Mission Overview: Year 5
* Departmental Briefing: Production
* Departmental Briefing: Visual Effects
* Memorable Missions
* A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry
* Wil Wheaton's Official Site