May 7, 2020
The 10 most underrated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (part 2)
Here now is the second half of my article in which I name the 10 most underrated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Click here for part 1!
Season 5: “Violations”
This episode is quite a little chiller. The Enterprise is giving a lift to a trio of telepathic aliens known as Ullians: Inad (Eve Brenner), Tarmin (David Sage), and his son Jev (Ben Lemon). These people do their telepathic thing by probing one’s memories in order to flesh out any forgotten or scarcely remembered bits. This is demonstrated in the beginning when Tarmin helps Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) remember something from her childhood.
During dinner with the crew, Tarmin proves as overbearing as Lwaxana Troi (Troi herself even says as much later on) when he embarrasses his son in order to make his point. But Troi cheers Jev up later, saying that he’s not the only one with an annoying parent. That night, as she prepares for bed, Troi slowly becomes overwhelmed by a memory involving Riker, whose place in the memory is soon taken over by Jev. As he assaults her in the memory, Troi falls into a coma.
Riker deduces that Jev was the last person to see Troi before she conked out. Obviously pissed off, Riker promises an investigation after questioning him. But later, alone in his quarters, Riker becomes overwhelmed by a memory in which an emergency in Engineering resulted in a crewman’s death. Riker lapses into a coma as Jev guilt trips him about it.
Crusher examines Keiko to see if she could potentially experience any side effects, but discovers she’s fine. Before the doctor can continue further though, Jev puts her in a coma after forcing her to relive the moment when Picard showed her the body of her husband Jack (Doug Wert).
Eventually, Troi awakens but can’t remember much. Jev offers to assist her with that, and probing her mind, frames Tarmin as the perpetrator. But shortly afterward, LaForge and Data deduce that Jev is the real culprit, and with Worf, detain him just as he’s about to assault Troi (for real this time).
While we know who the guilty party is from the start, and while the climax is a bit too obvious, this episode still does a good job at delivering jolts. The memory flashes experienced by Troi, Riker, and Crusher are nicely done, and LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner are given a chance to show off their nice buddy chemistry as LaForge and Data attempt to get to the bottom of things.
Season 5 & 6: “Time’s Arrow” / “Time’s Arrow, Part II”
This cliffhanger two-parter, part one of which concluded season 5, and part two of which begins season 6, is unique in TNG’s run in that it’s a stand-alone adventure. In contrast, “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Redemption”, “Descent”, and “All Good Things…” were each pieces of a bigger puzzle.
Returning to Earth, the crew finds Data’s head among some ruins beneath San Francisco. Further analysis indicates that it’s been there since the 19th Century. They also find evidence of other extraterrestrial interventions among the ruins and go to the planet which may house said aliens. Despite Picard’s attempts, Data vanishes and finds himself in 19th Century San Francisco. Among those he encounters are Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin) and even the younger version of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) from that period.
Guinan agrees to help Data track the aliens traveling to this time period. At the same time, Part I (and the fifth season) concludes with Picard and the others, sans Worf, following Data.
Part II has everyone reunited and learning that the aliens are coming to this tme period in order to feed off the energy of human beings, specifically those dying of cholera, hence anyone finding their bodies can just blame the disease for it.
As with The Terminator, the very event the time travelers hope to avert occurs anyway. But unlike that classic 1984 film, things end on an upbeat note as Data gets his head reattached (albeit one with five centuries of dust on it), the aliens are defeated, and the crew and Mark Twain are back in their own times.
I’ve heard numerous complaints from some fans about this one since it aired. For instance, there have been complaints of too much technobabble, as well as questions about how Picard and company acquired the period clothes we see them wearing when Part II begins.
But this romp is never boring, with Hardin delightfully chewing the scenery. Regarding the wardrobe, I’ve always assumed they got the clothes the same way Kirk and Spock got their clothing in “The City on the Edge of Forever”: they stole them (or they could’ve traded in their normal clothes, that works too). As for the technobabble complaints, oh, please! The technobabble here is no worse than it would be in the later time travel two-parters “Past Tense” and “Future’s End”.
One of my colleagues said it best: It’s certainly not a wildly original time travel premise, but it’s competently done.
Season 6: “Birthright, Part I” / “Birthright, Part II”
This two-parter begins as a crossover with Deep Space Nine, which was in the middle of its first season at this point. The Enterprise arrives at the station for a Bajoran aid mission. Bashir comes aboard to use the ship’s computer to scan a recently found device. As he, Data, and LaForge analyze it, the machine shoots a bolt of energy knocking Data out. However, Data still experiences seeing his creator Dr. Soong (also played by Spiner) before he’s reactivated. Encouragement from Worf prompts him to go over his experience, and convincing LaForge and Bashir to repeat the accident, discovers that Soong had a dream program built into him.
At the same time, Worf is approached by a Yridian (James Cromwell) who informs him that his father is still alive and living in a Romulan prison camp. Worf is incensed at the thought of his old man being taken alive, but his words to Data prompt him to seek his dad out regardless.
Forcing the Yridian to take him to the planet, Worf finds that his father is indeed dead, but there are other survivors of the massacre which took his parents, and they’re peacefully living with Romulans on this planet.
Tokath (Alan Scarfe), the Romulan who oversees this world, informs Worf that he took pity on the captured Klingons and arranged for them to live their lives on the planet in peace. He’s even taken the Klingon Gi’Ral (Cristine Rose) as his wife, with whom they have a daughter Ba’el (Jennifer Gatti).
Worf’s attempts to escape fail, but he begins to leave an impression on the young Klingons that are now being raised here, including Ba’el. Eventually, Tokath decides to execute Worf to keep the peace he’s built, but the young Klingons stand up for him and declare their desire to leave.
The plot with Data is nicely wrapped up in Part I, leaving Part II exclusively focused on Worf, with only two scenes on the Enterprise. Some have understandably taken Worf to task for breaking apart a peaceful settlement. At the same time though, Worf’s stance is understandable, as the young Klingons have no idea of the heritage they have, which in one sense reminds me of how Native Americans were made to essentially forget their heritage when they were forced onto reservations. Even Worf’s resentment of Romulans is changed slightly when he tells Ba’el he loves her even though she’s half-Romulan.
The final scene, in which Worf deliberately lies to Picard in order to preserve the honor of the survivors, and Picard’s subsequent “I understand,” also hit home.
Both Data and Worf’s storylines would get memorable followups (“Rightful Heir” and “Phantasms”).
Season 6: “Lessons”
All the Trek series have, at best, a hot and cold track record when it comes to love stories. TNG was no exception, with such stories ranging from bland (“Aquiel”) to downright awful (“Angel One”). So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that when DS9 began to pair off some of its main characters in its later seasons, the results weren’t exactly must-see TV.
One exception to this, however, was Worf’s relationship with his baby mamma K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson). She only appeared in two episodes (“The Emissary” and “Reunion”), but her impression was immediate and her chemistry with Dorn palpable. The character’s shocking death in her second appearance would lead to, as far as I’m concerned, Worf’s finest moment on either TNG or DS9.
A close second to that stellar pairing, though, is this episode, which finds Picard falling in love with his new head of Stellar Sciences, Lt. Cmdr. Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes). What makes this one special is that these two actually get to know each other before declaring their love. The ending of the episode, in which they part, is also poignant, as Picard realizes that he can’t bring himself to potentially order Daren to her death if they remain together on the Enterprise.
As with Dorn and Plakson, the chemistry between Stewart and Hughes is wonderful. But my favorite scene is one I was actually hoping would be in it. It’s the moment when Picard tells Daren of how he acquired his flute by recalling the events of TNG’s masterwork “The Inner Light”. Kirk uses his bravado to make women fall for him, while Picard uses continuity.
Season 7: “Dark Page”
This is the second episode focusing on Lwaxana Troi which actually made me think more highly of her. The reason for this is thatlike “Half a Life”, the story here puts her in a vulnerable position.
Troi’s mom is visiting the ship in order to communicate with a race called the Cairn. This race only communicates telepathically, so Lwaxana is onboard to help them speak verbally. She develops a close bond with the young Cairn girl Hedril (a then-unknown Kirsten Dunst). But soon, Lwaxana begins to have a nervous breakdown, even snapping at Riker at one point.
Not long afterward, Lwaxana falls into a coma. With the help of Hedril’s father Maques (Norman Large), Troi telepathically enters her mother’s mind in order to help her. But Lwaxana drives her daughter out of her mind. Troi’s subsequent finding that her mother deleted several years worth of entries in her journal leads her to re-enter her mind. It’s then that she discovers that Lwaxana has been covering up the existence of Troi’s previously unknown older sister Kestra (Andreana Weiner), and that Hedril’s resemblance to Kestra triggered Lwaxana’s breakdown.
TNG wasn’t the first series to dig up the “previously unknown sibling” cliché, and, as Sherlock recently proved, it wasn’t the last. But I enjoyed this episode for the wonderful scenes between Sirtis and Barrett, and for giving us more info on Troi’s background, as she rightfully takes center stage in order to save her mother.
Fittingly, this was Lwaxana’s final appearance on TNG. But she would appear twice more on DS9, and in her final appearance on that show (“The Muse”), there’s a nice bit of continuity in which Lwaxana talks about Kestra with Odo.
This wasn’t an easy list to compile. In fact, I can think of other TNG episodes that could be added. For example, season 5’s “The Perfect Mate” was good for the nicely understated way that Picard begins to fall for Kamala (a then-unknown Famke Janssen) and it has nice scenes between Picard and Crusher, which today serve to remind us that the absence of scenes between these two is one of the major reasons why the four TNG films ended up sucking big time.
Another is season 6’s “Frame of Mind”, which is nicely reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s film Repulsion, with Riker in the Catherine Deneuve role.
Still, as I mentioned in Part I of this article, with so many episodes, it was inevitable that some would fall under the radar.