Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode Guide - Season 5

By season 5, the Star Trek: The Next Generation creative team began stretching their wings a bit, extending upon ideas which had been slowly evolving through seasons 2 through 4: Data’s progression to humanity, Worf’s place in Federation society, and of course the bad ol’ Borg.

One or two clunkers (e.g. the inexecrable Violations) aside, ST:TNG season 5 is show-for-show one of the best Star Trek seasons of the lot, with typically strong scripts and a couple of bona fide classics (Darmok, The Inner Light) mixed in. Ohhhh, and about midway through the season are a pair of episodes devoted to some old dude named Spock…

1. Redemption, Part II – After starting with perhaps the best cold open in TNG history (it’s either this or “Cause and Effect”) featuring Captain Kurn acting as a totally insane badass, we get more space warfare and Captain Jean-Luc Picard getting the Federation involved – after all, if the Federation’s Romulan enemies are attempting to overthrow the Federation-based government, that’s of interest to the ol’ UFP.

The Duras clan-backing Romulan leader is revealed to be a half-human named Sela, whose mother is Tasha Yar – more paradoxically, a Tasha Yar who was captured from the USS Enterprise-C decades earlier (cf. “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). Sela’s tale of Yar’s final fate is even more grisly than her backstory or the alternate death of “Skin of Evil”.

Picard’s plan has been organized and put into operation: 23 Federation starships (two of which are helmed by Riker and Data) at the Klingon-Romulan border have formed a net of sorts that will reveal anything which attempts to cross, namely the cloaked Romulan ships carrying weapons, supplies and information to Duras’s troops. The Romulans find a way to sneak through the invisible barricade, but acting captain Data saves the day with some amazing tactics. As Picard says later, “Nicely done.”

This could be said for the entire episode. *****

2. Darmok – An all-time fan favorite, which is amazing in that “Darmok” is centered on language and linguistic concepts. Perhaps it’s down to the acting, with Patrick Stewart’s Picard playing off Paul Winfield’s Dathon, a member of an alien species that not even those handy universal translators can handle (aside from the pronouns and conjunctions, that is), just brilliantly. *****

3. Ensign Ro – The title character temporarily – then permanently with regular guest appearances – joins the Enterprise crew in order to help track down a Bajoran terrorist. ***

4. Silicon Avatar – Dr. Kila Marr, a scientist specializing in the study of the heretofore purely destructive “Crystalline Entity” once encountered on Data’s home world (cf. “Datalore”), now seeks to communicative with the being – but she holds a grudge. Considering the predictability of this episode, Picard et al really should have seen the rather obvious conclusion coming from a light-year away. **

5. Disaster – Most functions in the Enterprise are disrupted or worse when the Enterprise takes a couple hits from a “quantum filament.” O’Brien and Troi are the only officers left on the bridge; Dta, Riker, Worf and Guinan are stuck in Ten Forward; LaForge and Dr. Crusher are in the cargo bay, where highly explosive plasma threatens disaster to the entire ship; and Picard is trapped in an elevator with three crying children- epic stuff... ***

6. The Game – Sure, the video game of discs and cones that addicts essentially everyone on the Enterprise except the visiting Wesley Crusher and a friend seemed pretty lame in 1991, but tell me you couldn’t market that as a premium app for your iPhone 25 years later… **

7. Unification, Part I – Federation officials receive word that a certain Ambassador Spock has gone Romulan. Picard first meets with the not-yet-dead Sarek, who advises Picard as to whom Spock might be contacting on Romulus. Picard and Data are disguised as Romulans and take a cloakable Klingon ship to get to Romulus in another “Search for Spock.” (Spoiler They find him in the last minute of screen time.) ****

8. Unification, Part II – Talk about your clash of generations: As it turns out, Spock is seeking to reunify the Romulan and Vulcan people (though we should admit that ultimately he’s not very successful, given his exposition in Star Trek XI). When he is presented with an officer from a high-ranking Romulan official, Spock falls for the trap set by Sela. But, of course, not for long. ***

9. A Matter of Time – A historian from some 200 years in the future boards the Enterprise to witness some upcoming historical events. In the end, he turns out to be – repeat after me – not what he seems. Some very good bits turned in by guest star Matt Frewer. (Dude, he was Max Headroom!) ***

10. New Ground – Worf plays single parent, as his own foster parents return his son to him, explaining that young Alexander is not adapting to life on Earth. Meanwhile, LaForge’s experiment with the transporter causes a natural disaster. **

11. Hero Worship – Data rescues a boy from a nearly destroyed ship, and the boy emulates his new hero to the nauseating point of acting like a cute android. Meanwhile, a mysterious shock wave continuously hits the Enterprise and hey isn’t this episode a bit like the last one…? **

12. Violations – Now here’s one way to cleans the viewer’s metaphorical palate after two young boy-centered show: Do one about Counselor Troi getting mentally raped by a member of the privileged class. Seriously, with a “mystery” and “suspense” dumped by the end of the first half of this one, what’s the point of finishing it…? 0

13. The Masterpiece Society – A colony on Moab has been isolated for 200 years and has enjoyed the advantages of selective breeding, but must accept Federation help in diverting a potential planet-killing phenomenon. **

14. Conundrum – Nothing like a good head trip episode to the season back on track! Within seconds of opening the episode, the memory of every crew member (including Data) has been erased. Luckily, the bridge crew (including the prominent Commander Kieran MacDuff) are soon ready to rejoin their forces in the midst of the massive war they’re fighting. But something just isn’t right…****

15. Power Play – Disembodied aliens take possession of Data, Troi and O’Brien, mostly because these three are by far the most likely to be mentally taken over than any other characters in the entire Star Trek pantheon (well, except Kes, but we don’t need to talk about her here). ***

16. Ethics – A Worf-centric episode that may also be some sort of comment on euthanasia. Worf is paralyzed in an accident and requests that Riker help him perform an honorable ritual suicide; Dr. Crusher seeks medical alternatives. **

17. The Outcast – In a story probably about 20 years ahead of its time, Riker falls in love with an androgynous alien, who is ultimately brainwashed back to her society’s norms into believing that distinct gender identification (not to mention wanting to roll around in the sack with a very hirsute male male such as Riker) is a twisted aberration. **

18. Cause and Effect – The Enterprise explodes before the theme music comes up, then again before each of the commercial breaks. How can the crew get out of one hell of a time loop? Very cleverly. Stick around to the very end for an excellent cameo appearance. ****

19. The First Duty – All it took to make a good, solid Wesley-based script was to boot him out of the regular cast. In “First Duty,” Wesley is held accountable for a stunt he and some other cadets pulled at Starfleet Academy which left one dead. ****

20. Cost of Living – Now here’s a match made in Sto'Vo'Kor: Lwaxan Troi and Alexander Son of Worf. Such happens when Deanna’s mother makes her annual visit to the Enterprise to marry, what, her ninth potential fourth husband? ***

21. The Perfect Mate – An ambassador traveling to make trade negotiations has his cargo broken into by a pair of Ferengi also temporarily aboard the Enterprise. Among this crew is a pheromone-gushing woman set for arranged marriage (so like a 24th-century mail-order bride, then), who wreaks havoc on every male on the ship before getting off – I mean, disembarking. ***

22. Imaginary Friend – The Enterprise plays host to yet another disembodied alien, this one from a nebula (come to think of it, they’re always finding weird stuff in Nebulas; best steer clear next time, Mr. Crusher) who takes on the form of a young girl’s imaginary friend. **

23. I, Borg – A well-acted and decently suspenseful episode is marred by the wussification of the Borg (who wouldn’t truly recover their in badassery until Star Trek: First Contact film) and the fine tradition – carried on by Janeway throughout the last half of the Voyager series – of not utterly destroying the scary cybernetic menace when given a clear chance … ***

24. The Next Phase – LaForge and Ensign Ro’s head trip A bizarre accident seems to make LaForge and Ensign Ro noncorporeal, with Ro ultimately believing they’ve entered the Bajoran afterlife. ***

25. The Inner Light – A high-concept episode that’s an all-time favorite of Wil Wheaton and innumerable Star Trek fans. Picard finds himself living an ordinary life on a long-dead world. A simple, wonderful story that might have been made even better if the cutting back to scenes of the Enterprise crew hovering concernedly over Picard’s body were removed. *****

26. Time’s Arrow, Part I – “Time’s Arrow” certainly isn’t the best ST:TNG season-enders, but it’s gotta be the weirdest. A dandy grabbag of a story includes a temporal paradox involving a decapitated Data (!), Guinan’s first meeting with Picard, ominous aliens who drain humans of lifeforce, and Mark Twain. ***