Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation (published May 12th, 2009), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) (published July 24th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published December 17th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (published April 24th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Two (published May 23rd, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Three (published July 18th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four (published September 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Six (published December 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Seven (published February 10th, 2003), and Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Jean-Luc Picard Collection (published August 23rd, 2004) are also available.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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"
"Unification, Part I"
"Unification, Part II"
"A Matter of Time"
"The Masterpiece Society"
"Cause and Effect"
"The First Duty"
"Cost of Living"
"The Perfect Mate"
"The Next Phase"
"The Inner Light"
"Time's Arrow, Part I"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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Scales of Justice
• Mission Overview: Year 5
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