Fun fact: Feeding Judge Clark Douglas nachos is a violation of the prime directive.
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 Three (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four (Blu-ray) (published July 30th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Redemption (Blu-ray) (published July 30th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), 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 Five (published February 4th, 2003), 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.
Return to the final frontier!
"Moving from one assignment to another is a part of the life which you're choosing."
Facts of the Case
As our second season begins, both Beverly Crusher and Tasha Yar have departed (the former from the Enterprise the latter from the mortal coil). The no-nonsense Doctor Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur, The Miracle Worker) joins the crew and immediately stands in sharp contrast to Beverly's warm, affectionate bedside manner. It'll take some time for Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, X-Men), Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes, North and South), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis, Crash), Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton, Reading Rainbow), Worf (Michael Dorn, The Santa Clause 2) and Data (Brent Spiner, Independence Day) to get used to this major staff change, but in the meantime, there are bigger problems to deal with: urgent distress calls from distant planets, potentially deadly holodeck malfunctions, diplomatic challenges, a return visit from Q (John De Lancie, Breaking Bad) and much more. Engage!
The strong ensemble chemistry that was a high point of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season has been thrown into chaos at the start of the second season. Two of the show's three lead female characters had vanished—both Denise Crosby and Gates McFadden had left due to feeling frustrated with the nature of their respective roles. While Crosby had been absent for the last portion of season one, the shift definitely takes a while to grow accustomed to. Enter Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski, easily one of the show's most controversial, hotly-debated characters. While it's easy to beat up on Pulaski due to her somewhat confrontational personality and the character's failure to really mesh with the rest of the crew, it must at least be admitted that the show's producers were trying to do something interesting with the character. On a show filled with mostly-unified optimists, Pulaski provided Picard and others with some cynical counterpoint. The approach didn't always work, but the show has never been given enough points for effort in this department.
The show's struggle to integrate Pulaski into the mix serves as something of a microcosm of its larger struggles: in season two, we witness the somewhat clunky new Star Trek series Gene Roddenberry created fighting for space with the richer, sharper, more character-driven show it would eventually become. There are quite a few clunky episodes littered throughout the second season, but the high points of the show's sophomore year are much greater than those of season one. Over the course of the season, we see Patrick Stewart really beginning to come into his own as Picard, Brent Spiner's Data finding his groove, Michael Dorn successfully making subtle changes to Worf's persona and the show as a whole generally making an effort to start asking who these people are and what makes them tick. To watch the second season of TNG is to witness a show in the process of finding its voice, and the journey as a whole is more satisfying than the one we took in the first season.
Perhaps the strongest episode of the second season is "The Measure of a Man," a great installment that finds Data, Riker and Picard trapped in the midst of a heated ethical debate. It's a soulful, smart, moving episode that ranks among the show's finest hours, and arguably the first truly classic episode of the series. Other highlights: the exceptional "Q Who" (almost every Q-themed episode is worthwhile in some regard, but this is among De Lancie's better appearances), the Sherlock Holmes-inspired "Elementary, My Dear Data" and the Riker-centric episode "A Matter of Honor" (which gives Riker one of his better early installments and which provides an exceptionally compelling look at Klingon culture). To be sure, there are still a number of painful misfires (the irritating "The Outrageous Okona" and the terribly underwhelming season finale "Shades of Grey" spring to mind), but the good most assuredly outweighs the bad and mediocre this time around.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two (Blu-ray) is another winner on an audiovisual level, with another strong transfer that allows the show to look vastly better than ever before. While CBS handled the restoration of the first season in-house, the time and effort involved was more considerable than they anticipated. As such, they handed the task of restoring the second season to HTV-Illuminate (to be overseen by some of the same folks involved with the first-season transfer). Eagle-eyed viewers may notice some visual differences, but many of those will be due to the fact that the second season of the show was shot on a different brand of film stock than the first season. The second season has a more naturally filmic look than the first, but the level of detail remains approximately the same. Blacks are deep and inky, depth is exceptionally impressive and flesh tones look warm and natural. TNG is never going to offer a Lost-style knockout punch in this department, but I continue to be quite impressed with the show's transformation.
The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is even more satisfying this time around—not so much because the work done in this area is particularly stronger or weaker on a technical end, but because the show made noticeable improvements in the scoring department during its second season (you'll find episode scores that rely less on incessant blaring horns and which blend more seamlessly with the overall sound design). The tracks are consistently immersive and engaging, with crisp, clean dialogue, some impressively cinematic sound design and musical cues that fill the room with a sense of atmosphere. The Enterprise itself can often be felt to some degree, as the constant rumblings of the ship wander through your sound system and add a great deal to the overall experience. In short, the show sounds fantastic (particularly when you consider that we're dealing with an '80s television series).
The show continues to impress in the special features department, delivering some superb new features alongside a host of old ones. First up is a marvelous hour-long roundtable conversation with all of the principle cast members. Plenty of laughs, warm memories and fun anecdotes are offered up in this delightful supplement; it would be worth buying as a stand-alone feature. You also get the two-part documentary "Make It So: Continuing Star Trek: The Next Generation" (81 minutes) that covers a host of developments and behind-the-scenes stories from the second season (as well as providing a good deal of info on some of the things that happened towards the end of season one). It's an atypically in-depth look at the season as a whole that is essential viewing for fans of the series. There's also a brand-new extended cut of "The Measure of a Man" (an additional 13 minutes have been added), a brief featurette on the restoration of the second season, a 10-minute gag reel and two audio commentaries (one on the extended "Measure of a Man" with Melissa Snodgrass, Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda and one on "Q Who?" with Dan Curry, Rob Bowman and the Okudas. Fans of Levar Burton will be delighted to discover both a TNG-themed episode of Reading Rainbow and a brief new promo for a Reading Rainbow app. Also returning (in standard-def, sadly) are the old "Archival Mission Log" featurettes ("Mission Overview Year Two," "Memorable Missions," "Selected Crew Analysis Year Two," "Inside Starfleet Archives: Penny Juday Starfleet Coordinator" and "Departmental Briefing Year Two: Production") and an old promo for the second season. Overall, an even more exhilarating batch of supplements than the season one collection.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two doesn't quite represent the show at its peak (it would finally arrive at the point during the third season), but it nonetheless makes large steps in that direction. The casting shake-up is problematic and there are some serious clunkers in the mix, but episodes like "The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who?" are strong reminders of just how good this series can be. I can't wait to dig into season three.
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