At the start of Night Terrors, the Enterprise locates the USS Brattain, a ship that went missing about a month earlier. They discover that except for Betazoid Andrus Hagen (John Vickery), the crew killed each other in violent ways. As Troi tries to delve through the mucked-up thoughts of Hagen, strange ghostly occurrences begin to happen all over the ship. They discover they’re stuck in a “Tyken’s Rift”, a trap that won’t allow them to leave the area, but this doesn’t explain the strange feelings, hallucinations and personality alterations experienced by the crew.
“Terrors” offered a good little mystery. It focused more on plot than character but still allowed enough of those elements to emerge. For once, it was nice to see a story in which Troi played an important role but wasn’t relegated to the strictly touchy-feely side of things; she actively helped solve the problem. “Terrors” seemed like a clever and involving tale.
Identity Crisis revisits LaForge’s past. During a mission before his time on the Enterprise, he and the crew of his prior ship unsuccessfully investigated some mysterious disappearances. Five years later, the other crewmembers have started to vanish and act erratically themselves. Geordi’s old friend and colleague Commander Leijten (Maryann Plunkett) comes aboard to assist in the matter. On an away mission to investigate, Leijten acts erratically, and Picard fears that Geordi will follow suit. These fears intensify when we see bizarre physical changes affect Leijten.
More Geordi so soon? Well, at least this show didn’t focus on his love life. Actually, the program was another deadline-based mystery like the last show, though it took a different emphasis. Whereas “Terrors” dealt with a ship-wide concern, among Enterprise crew, only Geordi became affected here. I still don’t care for Geordi, but his annoying characteristics didn’t negatively affect this program. Overall, it provided a pretty interesting and unusual tale.
The Nth Degree brings back terribly shy Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schulz) from Season Three’s “Hollow Pursuits”. When he and Geordi investigate a probe that apparently disabled a remote telescope, it blasts them with a beam of light. This doesn’t affect LaForge, but it apparently leaves Barclay with greatly escalated intellectual powers; for example, when the probe follows the Enterprise and no one can figure out how to get rid of it, Barclay invents a way to strengthen the shields so proton torpedoes can be used at short range. Medical tests reveal that all of his abilities have been enhanced by this action - including his normally woeful social skills - so the crew needs to determine how to deal with this uber-Barclay. Initially he seems harmless, but eventually he connects himself to the ship’s computer and takes over its functions.
Why do I get the feeling that the folks behind Next Generation noticed how long it took them to get to a LaForge-based episode and they then worked overtime to make up for that neglect? Actually, that probably overstates the role Geordi played in “Degree”, as he mainly acted as a high-level supporting character. “Degree” resembled that old Trek staple: the omnipotent force that the Enterprise must thwart. The fact a crewmember became that power altered the equation somewhat, but otherwise the plot seemed fairly typical for the show. It came across as somewhat silly but generally entertaining. I did like the manner in which the episode ended; it wrapped up in an interesting manner.
Continuing this string of blast from the past episodes, Qpid brings back a couple of recurring characters. During preparations to speak at an archaeological conference, Picard re-encounters maverick Vash (Jennifer Hetrick) from Season Three’s “Captain’s Holiday” sand they rekindle there previously burgeoning romance. She stirs up a reaction on board, but she gets cheesed odd when she learns that Picard never discussed her with other crewmembers.
Matters complicate when intergalactic prankster Q (John de Lancie) comes by for his annual visit to the show. He feels a debt due to Picard’s assistance in Season Three’s “Deja Q” and wants to do something nice for the captain to repay this. Q observes Picard’s woman troubles and decides to intervene. In the middle of the captain’s speech, he transforms Picard and crew into Robin Hood and his Merry Men; he casts Vash as Maid Marian and forces them to rescue her.
“Qpid” feels a little gimmicky at times, but it still offers a fun program. The show throws a lot of curves at the viewer and comes across as a fairly light and lively episode. Both Vash and Q offer interesting characters, and the show integrates them nicely. At times “Qpid” seems a little too much like a holodeck-based piece, but it still works well.
Clever Animal House reference: when Geordi’s Alan-a-Dale strums tunelessly on a mandolin, Worf takes the instrument, smashes it, and says “Sorry”.
In The Drum Head, the Enterprise hosts J’Dan (Henry Woronicz), a Klingon scientist who comes on board as part of an exchange program. The suspect him of espionage and sabotage as part of a plot that involves the Romulans. Retired Admiral Satie (Jean Simmons) comes back to action to investigate, and she launches a panel that includes Picard and her Betazoid assistant Sabin Genestra (Bruce French) to find out about the conspiracy she feels exists. Problems arise when Picard opposes the heavy-handed tactics Satie uses for the investigation, as these seem to go against Starfleet philosophies.
Hello, “Afterschool Special”! While “Drum Head” bandies about some valuable ideas that relate to the protection of freedoms - topics even more relevant in today’s climate - it does so in a fairly ham-fisted manner. It’s great to see still-lovely Jean Simmons again, and the show offers a reasonably engaging mystery, but it seems a bit too pushy to really succeed.
For more recurring character fun, we find Half a Life, which brings back Troi’s ever horny mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett). While she visits the trip, Dr. Timicin (David Ogden Spiers) meets with the crew to discuss some plans that relate to his reclusive planet of Kaelon II. They suffer from a dying sun, and he tries to revive it with the help of the Enterprise. As usual, Lwaxana latches onto the newly arrived man, but unlike most of her targets, Timicin seems interested as well. However, after the sun experiment fails, Timicin plans to return to his home, where the society expects him to kill himself when he turns 60. That’ll happen soon, and Lwaxana strives to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Since Lwaxana usually appears on the show for comic relief, it seems nice to see her get something with a little more depth. Of course, much of the material remains comedic, but her burgeoning relationship allows the character to grow nicely. The discussion of Kaelon II’s euthanasia program takes “Life” a little too close to “Afterschool Special” territory again, but it generally seems like a reasonably compelling little show, one with an unusually strong focus on a tertiary character.
The Host links Dr. Crusher with a new boyfriend, Ambassador Odan (Franc Luz). On board to deal with internal strife related to the planet Peliar Zel, Odan gets injured during a shuttle trip to the surface. When she works on his injuries, Crusher finds that there’s more to Odan than meets the eye. The man she knows is just a host body to a little dude living in his stomach, and when the host dies, he needs a new shell. The ship’s artificial supports can’t keep him alive until a new body arrives, so someone on board needs to provide lil’ Odan the necessary support in the meantime. Riker volunteers, which creates some odd feelings.
“Host” feels like little more than a gimmicky love story. The moments between Odan - whether portrayed by Luz or Frakes - and Crusher seem flat and without much passion, and the diplomatic mission receives too little attention to succeed. The episode offers a moderately compelling premise but it doesn’t go much of anywhere. In addition, we really didn’t need another ill-fated love story so soon after “Half a Life”.
All Geordi, all the time? With The Mind’s Eye, the engineer takes the center stage yet again. At the start of the show, LaForge heads toward a conference on a shuttlecraft, but he encounters a Romulan warbird that abducts him. They send a doppelganger to replace him at the conference while they submit him to some Manchurian Candidate style mental conditioning to make him a mindless killer. In the meantime, the Enterprise escorts a Klingon emissary named Kell (Larry Dobkin) to the site of a rebellion within their empire; he suspects that the Federation assisted the revolt. Eventually LaForge returns to this setting, where we watch him act as a ticking time bomb as we wait for his brainwashing to affect his actions.
“Eye” provides a moderately engaging show, but it seems far too predictable, and the plot doesn’t offer enough suspense to make it work. We see many cheesy techniques to make us think Geordi’s about to go ballistic that remind me of cheap horror movies. The show features a compelling plot, but the execution seems passable at best.
Over the last handful of episodes, we saw a lot of ill-fated love stories, and In Theory tosses another one into the mix. We meet pretty but unlucky in love Lt. D’Sora (Michelle Scarabelli). After she splits with another crewmember, she starts to see even-tempered and considerate Data as the ideal mate. After consultation with key compatriots, Data decides to go ahead with this potential relationship, and most of the episode follows this unlikely pairing. In the meantime, the Enterprise encounters a strange phenomenon that briefly phases parts of the ship out of the normal continuum. This needs to be halted before it destroys the vessel.
That last part of the plot feels like something tacked on to satisfy folks disinterested in the romantic elements. It doesn’t come to much or go anywhere, really, as the emphasis remains strongly on Data’s doings. Those sections seem a little more successful, but I can’t help but feel we’ve been down this path in the past. We’ve seen many episodes that emphasize Data’s inability to comprehend standard human social interaction and emotions, and this one doesn’t appear to add much to the mix. However, it remains consistently entertaining, if not anything special.
Historical note: Patrick Stewart directed “In Theory”, which made him the second Next Generation actor to also direct an episode. Jonathan Frakes started this trend with Season Three’s “The Offspring”, and he also helmed this year’s “Reunion” and “The Drumhead”. They’d remain the only cast members turned directors until the series’ final year; at that time, LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden joined the ranks of actor/directors.
Season Three ended with a cliffhanger, and Season Four does so as well with Redemption, Part I. All through this year, we constantly got reminders of the dishonor Worf experienced in Season Three’s “Sins of the Father”. “Redemption” brings that matter to a head. Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) nears the ceremony to make him the leader of the Klingon High Council, but problems related to his deceased competitor Duras remain. That dude’s sisters B’Etor (Gwynyth Walsh) and Lursa (Barbara March) may enact some dastardly doings to prevent his ascension. Worf tries to reverse his dishonor and he connects with brother Kurn (Tony Todd), who apparently espouses civil war to recompose the corrupt High Council. Worf opposes this, but he thinks up a method to keep Gowron in power and also clear the family name. In the meantime, backed by an alliance with the Romulans, Duras’ sisters push the appointment of his son Toral (J.D. Cullum). This eventually leads to battles related to the Klingon civil war. All of this comes to a head when Worf must choose between his role as a Starfleet officer and his obligations as a Klingon.
While not quite up to the standards of the Borg saga in “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Redemption” nonetheless offers a pretty solid piece of work. It provides intrigue, action, and a few cool twists, including one at the end that took me totally by surprise. I was happy to see additional development of Worf’s tale, and I look forward to the conclusion to this two-part program when we get to Season Five.
Although Season Three offered a marked improvement in episode quality over the first two years, I didn’t notice a similar jump during Season Four. For the most part, the series stayed the course and maintained a level pretty equivalent to that of the prior year. Actually, I think Season Three probably seemed a little more compelling than Season Four, but the two reside on the same place.
I’m too lazy to add up the numbers, so I can’t say if one particular cast member dominated the show. Of course, I’m sure that Picard played the most prominent role, but among the rest of the crew, I don’t know which one got the most time. However, to me it felt like Worf’s year. As I noted during my discussion of “Redemption Part I”, we frequently heard about Worf’s dishonor, and shows that provided important character development for him bookended the season. When I think back on Season Four, the prominence of Worf definitely stands out to me.
Overall, the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation continued the series’ progress. It maintained the high level of quality seen during Season Three and helped expand our understanding of the characters. Not each episode succeeded, but none of them totally tanked, unlike Seasons One and Two, which included more than a few clunkers. Count Season Four as a solid one.