Sins of the Father reprised a concept from Season Two’s “A Matter of Honor”. In that episode, Riker acted as an officer on a Klingon ship via an exchange program, so the Klingons return the favor here. Commander Kurn (Tony Todd) comes to serve on the Enterprise and generally drives all the crew up the wall with his demands. All except for one: he goes curiously easy on the only other Klingon on board, Worf. The latter regards the compliments as an insult and confronts Kurn, who provides the rationale for his behavior: he wanted to test Worf because the two turn out to be brothers!
The Klingons feel Worf’s father may have betrayed them at a battle in which he died and the sons were lost, and by Klingon law, the elder brother - that’d be Worf - needs to challenge that judgment and clear his father’s name. The Enterprise jets off to facilitate this matter. Picard orders his staff to use their facilities to research the battle in question to find any evidence possible to solve the matter.
“Father” expanded nicely on Worf’s backhistory and managed to avoid the soap opera tendencies that might mar such a plot. We learned a little more about the Klingon ways and got good delineation of Worf’s character. We even saw Picard go at it with a little more hand-to-hand combat! “Father” offered a tight and compelling tale.
In Allegiance, a mysterious alien force transports Picard to an unspecified location. There he meets a pair of other abductees: Starfleet Cadet Mitena Haro (Joycelyn O’Brien) and moderately cowardly Kova Tholl of Mizar II (Steven Markle). Eventually another captive arrives: a beastlike critter named Esoqq of Chalna (Reiner Schoene). The three struggle to figure out why they were captured and what to do about it. Meanwhile, a Picard lookalike maintains control on the ship, but he provokes some suspicions due to unusual behavior. He orders the ship to skip a prior assignment to head to a particular pulsar. Actually, that action doesn’t perk up that many ears, but “Picard’s” quirky attitudes seem a little off to the others.
“Allegiance” offered a decent program, but it seemed a little too obvious to be totally successful. The scenes between the four captives went down a predictable path: they mistrusted each other at first but learned they needed to forgo prejudices and work together to succeed. The parts on board the Enterprise seemed a bit more intriguing, especially as the crew grew more suspicious of the captain. The examination of their possible willingness to remove Picard from duty provided some interesting moments, but I still felt “Allegiance” seemed like a good episode that failed to become great.
After a particularly grueling fortnight of mediation, Picard seems worn out and the crew deems he needs a vacation. Captain’s Holiday revises a classic Trek concept: a paradise populated by scantily clad babes. After much cajoling, Picard eventually agrees to head to this place, so he lands on the planet Risa. However, this being Trek, some complications must arise. For one, a Peter Lorre-esque Ferengi named Sovak (Max Grodenchik) makes nonsense demands of Picard, and these partially involve a babe named Vash (Jennifer Hetrick). Not only that, but some time-travelling future-dwelling critters called the Vorgons pester Picard for his aid. All of this revolves around a special device called the Tox Uthat.
Part Maltese Falcon, part Indiana Jones, “Holiday” wears its influences on its sleeves and blends them moderately well. At the very least, the program provides something unusual for ST:TNG, as it seems more devil-may-care than normal. Picard gets to expand his character into Captain Kirk territory, which is nice to see. It isn’t a totally successful experiment, but it offers an entertaining and likable show.
Tin Man introduces a problematic Betazoid named Tam Elbrun (Harry Groener). Troi knew him in college, and despite his remarkable telepathic skills, a negative reputation precedes him; during a “first contact” with a new culture, apparently Elbrun botched the job and some fatalities resulted. He comes aboard the Enterprise with orders for a mission along those lines, though with a twist: they go to meet an organic creature that constitutes a ship. Elbrun participates to try to make contact with this being referred to as “Tin Man”, since no other form of communication seems to work. The Enterprise needs to race to beat the Romulans to this target, but Elbrun’s apparent instability causes concerns among the crew.
This show provided a decent concept behind it, as I thought it seemed interesting to get into other Betazoids besides Troi and her mother, especially since the latter usually is played for laughs. The ultra-powerful telepath and the new culture also featured potentially satisfying elements. However, one factor harmed the show: Groener’s grating and overwrought performance as Elbrun. Granted, he was supposed to be erratic and irritating to a degree, but we also needed to sympathize with him as well, and that never occurred. Elbrun came across as consistently whiny and pathetic, which meant “Tin Men” never succeeded as well as it should have.
During Hollow Pursuits, we meet Lieutenant Barclay (Dwight Schultz), a meek, perpetually tardy, stammering screw-up who harbors fantasies of toughness - and toward Troi - that he explores on the Holodeck. Picard assigns LaForge to bring Barclay up to snuff, which turns out to be a pretty big project. Matters complicate when LaFroge discovers Barclay’s active fantasy life and starts to try to address the lieutenant’s issues.
Since it usually seems as though every member of Starfleet works at a certain level of near-perfection all the time, I liked this episode’s focus on a more flawed officer. We don’t see enough of these kinds of flaws in the show’s characters. However, “Pursuits” seemed somewhat pointless, since it introduced Barclay simply to discard him. His appearance looks like a one-off, and he didn’t play an integral role in a major storyline; eventually he helps solve a problem that affects the Enterprise, but the entire thing felt like an excuse to spotlight this nerdy personality. “Pursuits” offered an entertaining episode - especially during Barclay’s Holodeck adventures - but it lacked much depth.
By the way, could Barclay’s stunt double possibly bear less of a resemblance to Dwight Schultz? And with all the hundreds of folks aboard the Enterprise, shouldn’t it be tough to get a slot on the Holodeck? It seems like Barclay gets free run of the place.
At the start of The Most Toys, Data helps load a substance needed to purify a colony’s contaminated water supply. However, the folks from whom he obtains the substance abduct him and make it look as though he perished on a shuttle explosion. Trader Kivas Fajo (Saul Rubinek) wants to keep Data as part of his personal collection of exotic rarities. Data works on methods to escape his prison, while the Enterprise moves on with its mission. However, LaForge suspects that something improper has occurred and he tries to solve the mystery.
The moments on the Enterprise lacked their usual zing, especially since the crew didn’t seem all that broken up by the apparent death of Data; the episode paid some lip service to their dismay, but it felt as though they took it less seriously because the audience knew this wasn’t the case. On the other hand, the battle of wills between Data and Fajo provided some entertaining moments. Rubinek plays sleazeballs well, and he made Fajo an interesting and lively villain. The ending seemed a little opportunistic, but it helped flesh out Data and add to his personality.
Although “Encounter at Farpoint”, the first-ever episode of ST:TNG, featured a character from the original series, none occurred since then. None until Sarek, that is, which brought back Spock’s father (played by Mark Lenard). Nearing retirement, Sarek comes aboard the Enterprise to go on a mission in which he’ll act as ambassador to meet a new culture for the first time. Oddly, not long after the ambassador’s party arrives, crewmembers start to behave antagonistically and angrily toward each other. The thoroughly unemotional Sarek also shows irritability and even cries during a musical recital. Dr. Crusher believes he has a syndrome that affects elderly Vulcans and that his innate telepathic abilities affect the crew. Picard needs to deal with the issues without insulting Sarek and also ensuring the success of the fragile mission.
I never liked the appearance of Dr. McCoy during “Farpoint”; it seemed gratuitous and pointless. Happily, ST:TNG didn’t pile on similar references to the original show, which made later ones such as this more effective. Sarek’s presence appeared sensible and intriguing, and “Sarek” provided a good episode that expanded our understanding of the Vulcans and created a rich program.
If nothing else, Ménage A Troi wins the award for worst title pun of Season Three. It provides our annual look at Counselor Troi’s flamboyant mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett), who comes aboard as part of a conference. Lwaxana pressures Deanna to find herself a man and settle down, and she heavily pushes her daughter to rekindle things with Riker. To complicate matters, a Ferengi named DaiMon Tog (Frank Corsentino) sets his romantic sights on Lwaxana, and during a shore leave on Betazed, he eventually kidnaps the Troi women as well as Riker. Lwaxana tries to use her charms to manipulate Tog and escape, and the others attempt similar tactics. The Enterprise doesn’t learn of the abduction for a couple of days due to communications interference.
During early appearances of the Ferengi, they came across as excessively mannered and annoying; they were crude characters with no sense of definition. However, they managed to grow over time; happily, this episode no longer displayed the chittering and mannered beings evident earlier. Lwaxana also started to become less of a caricature as she developed more of a personality; she still existed mainly for comic relief, but she showed a little more depth. Overall, the episode provided a reasonably entertaining and enjoyable diversion.
Wesley haters take note: you almost get rid of the boy here. In what became a running theme on the show, during “Troi”, Wesley was supposed to leave the Enterprise to take his oral exam and finally enter Starfleet Academy. Of course, the show’s producers found a way to keep him on the ship: he played a crucial role in the return of Riker and the Troi women. Because strict Starfleet rules wouldn’t allow any leeway, this meant Wesley couldn’t try to enter the Academy for another year. I can’t wait to see Season Four’s excuse for Wesley’s inability to leave the Enterprise!
Season Three’s penultimate episode, Transfigurations has the Enterprise rescue a man who crash-landed on a planet surface. To stabilize him for transport, Dr. Crusher needed to biologically link the man with LaForge, and “John Doe” (Mark LaMura) recovers at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, he possesses no recollection of his identity, though he causes a sensation when he shows remarkable abilities, like a literal healing touch. Dr. Crusher clearly develops a strong affection for the mystery man. Geordi starts to feel especially perky; he even overcomes his usual pathetic shyness around women to finally go after hottie Christy again.
“Transfigurations” felt like some missed opportunities. Both LaForge and Dr. Crusher could have been expanded as characters, but their elements of the show remained limited. Instead, the episode concentrated on the Christ-like figure of John Doe, who lacked enough presence and spark to make the show more compelling. “Transfigurations” remained interesting but failed to become anything more than that, and it also suffered from a pretty sappy ending.
Season Two introduced the Borg and set them up as a major threat. However, almost all of Season Three passed without much mention of them. That changed with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the series’ first-ever cliffhanger episode. The Enterprise receives a distress signal from one of the Federation’s most distant colonies. When they arrive, they find nothing where a town used to be. Suspicions immediately arise that the Borg caused this disappearance. To investigate this event, Admiral Hanson (George Murdock) and Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) come aboard the Enterprise. Shelby proves to be very ambitious, and she seeks the position it appears Riker may vacate for the captain’s chair elsewhere. This leads him to question his own decisions, as he doesn’t understand his reluctance to leave the Enterprise.
When eventually the Enterprise meets up with the Borg, they provide a peculiar demand: for Picard and Picard alone to leave the ship and come to their Cube. He refuses and battle ensues. Thanks to a tactic thought up by Shelby, they manage to break free of the Borg grasp long enough to escape, where they enter a dense nebula to evade them while they regroup. Eventually the Borg break through, abduct Picard, and set a course for Earth.
I won’t provide any more details, but of course, I can’t provide that many more details. As I noted, this episode doesn’t actually finish during Season Three; I’ll have to wait to get the Season Four set to discover the resolution.
That stinks, but at least I only have to stew for about eight weeks before I watch the conclusion; during its original airing, fans sat for months between parts one and two of “Best”. Still, it’s a tough wait, since “Best” lived up to its title and provided one of Season Three’s strongest episodes.
When I started my review of “Best”, it may have sounded as though I griped about the absence of the Borg during Season Three. Actually, I’m glad that the show’s producers demonstrated restraint. The Borg are probably TNG’s most popular and intriguing creations, and the program easily could have used them up quickly. Instead, the show’s personnel wisely decided to parcel out Borg appearances to make them all more effective. That worked, as Borg episodes became special entities all their own. “Best” is only half a show, but it’s a very good one that ends Season Three on a high note - albeit a moderately frustrating one.
If you go over my discussions of all 26 episodes, you’ll note very few shows that I outright panned. I liked some more than others, but Season Three included almost no total dogs. In a nutshell, that’s the reason why I feel Season Three outdid the first two. If you compare the very best programs from Season One vs. Season Two vs. Season Three, you’ll likely find consistency; each year offered a handful of genuinely great shows. However, if you tally the number of truly bad episodes, you’ll find that the vast majority of these occurred during the series’ first two seasons.
And that’s why I definitely preferred Season Three. The show achieved a significantly higher level of consistency and really hit its stride. Storylines flowed more naturally and the characters generally seemed more believable and less forced.
Probably the most significant improvement came from Patrick Stewart’s performance as Captain Picard. Possibly the most talented actor of the ST:TNG crew, I think Stewart couldn’t really discard his natural discomfort with the role during the first couple of years; he didn’t display any significant problems, but only during Season Three did he really appear to inhabit the part of Picard. He made the captain much more subtle and powerful this year, as he showed greater dimension. The differences didn’t come across as tremendously overt, but I felt them just the same, as Picard finally seemed worthy of his reputation.
The series grew in other ways as well. For example, a program like “The Offspring” would probably have been insufferable during the first two seasons, whereas here it managed some depth and life. The series also boasted some clever but still logical endings, such as during “The Hunted”. Trek can be pretty predictable at times, but this year they spiced things up without seeming improbable or out of character.
I have no idea if future years of Star Trek: The Next Generation will equal or top Season Three, but these 26 episodes largely impressed me. A few moderate duds slipped through, but that seemed inevitable, and the show managed to maintain a high level of quality for the most part.