The SmarK DVD Rant For Star Trek The Next Generation: Season 7

The SmarK DVD Rant for Star Trek The Next Generation: Season 7

– I’m skipping the sixth season for the moment because this one was available cheaper (by $30 in fact) for a short time and thus ended up in my collection first. The sixth season will join it in a few weeks and I’ll have a review then. But for now

– In 1994, after 7 years on the air, Star Trek TNG came to an end — an ending that was inevitable with the death of Gene Roddenberry and Paramount’s desire to move onto feature films. The seven year limit has now become a Star Trek tradition, although many are doubting that Enterprise will even make it to three. Just to get off on a quick rant, I am now on the verge of ditching Enterprise completely because it’s becoming so damn BORING. Nothing ever happens, the characters don’t grow, there’s no real dramatic tension because the plots are such recycled pap this season that you know the ending 40 minutes in advance, and the only way that Berman & Braga seem to know how to spice things up is by doing the famous “Brannon Braga it-was-all-a-dream” ending. And this is coming from a guy who thought the first season was tremendous sci-fi fun, but this is a show that’s completely devoid of original ideas only two years into its run. And it’s a shame because I wanted to love this show so much from Day One. However, after the horribly disappointing season premiere and endless ass-kickings from every civilization who can fly a ship and ENDLESS reruns, I’m rapidly losing interest in following the show any further if nothing’s gonna happen. With such a limited crew, you know everyone is gonna be fine in the end. There’s no background players to provide color (like Barclay on TNG or Garak on DS9), or supporting crew members to show up from time to time and provide continuity (like O’Brien on TNG). Everything is “Alien civilization tricks Archer into letting them on board and then hijacks the ship until the Vulcans save them” or “Archer and crew member land on alien world, get kidnapped, and lead a revolt”. TNG’s seventh season may have been the literary equivalent of cat poop as far as Braga’s writing went, but at least there was NEW ideas being put forth.

Which of course brings me to that season

The Film

The final year of my favorite Star Trek series is about two things — Family relationships (storyline-wise) and playing dice with the rules of the Star Trek universe (in the real world). People have some SERIOUS mother issues going on in the final year, and Brannon Braga, loosed from the bonds of having Gene Roddenberry watching over his scripts, goes insane and takes most of the crew with him. It’s a very different year than the first six, and with only a few highlights and MANY lowlights it’s generally regarded as a good thing that they stopped when they did, lest the show end up in the toilet of public opinion like Voyager did. Oddly, there was some serious attempts at forging a strong continuity in the final year, referencing many older episodes over the course of the season and introducing bit players that would reappear in DS9, but at the same time so many loose ends were left untied that you have to wonder why the writers didn’t do a better job in giving the season a “finishing” feel to it. Plus the FUCKING STUPID Troi-Worf “romance” that no one wanted to see but still got shoved down the throats of fans who had been patiently waiting for the Troi-Riker relationship to finish playing out at the end. There was indeed some weird shit going down this season, and indeed the show is much darker and gloomier than Roddenberry intended — there’s deaths, departures and insanity on a regular basis, and this darker tone was carried over into DS9, as well.

Disc One

“Descent II”. The second part of the sixth season cliffhanger sees Data reuniting with evil brother Lore to control a subset of the Borg who were turned into individuals by Hugh Borg. Now, it just goes to show how badly things had become screwed up when the freakin’ BORG need another bad guy to spruce up their ranks. And as season premieres go, this one is pretty boring, as Data snaps out of it long enough to foil Lore’s evil plan and deactivates him for good. This ep does, however, re-introduce the “emotion chip” that was first brought up in the fourth season and comes into play again in the movies, but there’s not much else notable about it.

Family issues: Data and Lore have a stormy reunion.

Crew members gone insane: Data is hypnotized by Lore’s emotion chip into serving him. He is forgiven immediately afterwards by Picard.

“Liaisons”. Another rather dull episode sees a routine diplomacy session with an alien race turn into two boring subplots about aliens learning human ways, while Picard ends up stranded on a planet with a soccer mom. Zero in the way of dramatic tension here.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Interface”. Third yawner in a row sees Geordi trying out a new virtual reality toy that allows him to directly control a small probe within in a deserted ship. While there, he meets the ghost of his recently-dead mother, but in classic Star Trek fashion, it just turns out to be another alien. They’d even end up recycling THAT plot point by the end of the season.

Family issues: Geordi comes to grips with his mother’s death and we learn that his dad is Ben Vereen. And yet the poor guy still can’t score with anyone.

Crew members gone insane: Everyone is convinced that Geordi must be smoking SOME sort of medicinal drugs for his blindness once he starts seeing ghosts.

“Gambit part 1”. Picard’s hunt for a mysterious Romulan artifact has him “dead” on a planet, which leads Riker to take a team to chase the captors and lands HIM in their clutches, too. Some cute moments as Data commands the ship in their absence and Riker & Picard pretend to be enemies on the alien ship, but the story isn’t there.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: Riker seemingly deserts Starfleet as a part of the charade.

Disc Two:

“Gambit part 2”. The alien artifacts turn out to be a Vulcan super-weapon that turns thoughts into DEATH. But all you need is love, apparently, and I need is a barf bag. The theme of “Piker and Riker get kidnapped and lead a revolt” would later be recycled a few times on Enterprise.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Phantasms”. The very definition of a whacked-out Brannon Braga episode, as Data’s experimentation with dreaming leads him to see bizarre images of crew members as metaphor, and sends him over the deep end until he’s longing to kill Deanna Troi. Sadly he stabbed her before she had a chance to tell us about the great anger she was sensing in him. In the end, it’s just more aliens. Visually, it’s an interesting episode, but if I wanted David Lynch, I wouldn’t have skipped the entire run of Twin Peaks.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: Data is a certifiable box of mixed nuts by the end of this one.

“Dark Page”. While communicating with a race of aliens who only speak telepathically (including a young Kirsten Dunst!), Deanna’s mother Lwaxana becomes overwhelmed and goes into a coma, induced by a traumatic event from her past. More Braga metaphors and dream sequences follow, and we learn just HOW bad of a parent Lwaxana really was. Am I watching Star Trek or the X-Files here?

Family issues: Deanna and her mother continue their ongoing argument, and Deanna learns of a long-dead relative.

Crew members gone insane: Troi’s mother has a nervous breakdown.

“Attached”. Picard and Dr. Crusher get kidnapped during negotiations with a potential Federation member and connected via a mental “rope” between their minds. They escape the prison, but are forced to remain connected with a telepathic link, and we learn what they’ve been feeling for each other all this time. The paranoid Kes provide comic relief, as it’s a nice, quiet character-driven episode to relieve all the Braga madness.

Family issues: The spectre of Beverly’s dead husband, Jack, looms large over Picard’s feelings for her.

Crew members gone insane: Beverly and Picard hear each others’ thoughts throughout the episode.

Disc Three:

“Force of Nature”. In yet another preachy liberal claptrap episode, this time the environmentalists are apparently alive and kicking in the 24th century, in the form of aliens who boobytrap the ship in order to spread their message about warp speed being destructive to the fabric of the universe. And you thought Greenpeace was obnoxious. In the end, the radical viewpoints of these wackos are rushed through the Science Council without debate or further research, and all space flight is limited to Warp 5 except in emergencies. Much like Prohibition, this rule was so fundamentally dumb that it was scrapped by the first movie.

Family issues: The alien wackos are brother and sister, and she commits suicide to prove her point.

Crew members gone insane: The writers for pitching such a retarded idea.

“Inheritance”. In another one of those improbable retrofitting of history episodes, Data learns that Noonian Soong had a wife that he never mentioned and history never recorded. Well, that’s convenient. Even more so when it turns out that she’s yet another android. You know, for a guy who whines all the time about being alone in the universe, Data sure has a big family. Brent Spiner elevates the mediocre script, as usual.

Family issues: Data meets mommy.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Parallels”. This one is so goofy that you KNOW Braga had to think it up. Worf returns from a tournament and begins moving along parallel universes, with subtle differences each time he shifts. Along the way, the seeds of the Worf-Troi relationship are sewn for the first time, as he learns that she’s his wife in just about every universe but his own. Nice to see Worf getting some time to stretch his acting muscles a bit.

Family issues: Worf and Troi adjust to married life.

Crew members gone insane: Everyone thinks Worf is losing his mind.

“The Pegasus”. Hands down one of the high points of the season, as Riker’s old CO is now an admiral, and one who wants to recover their old ship from the Romulans because of top-secret stuff on board. Riker’s loyalties and ethics are stretched to the limit, and the payoff once you learn what the secret weapon is makes it worthwhile. Sadly, the device was never mentioned again on the shows, because it sure would have helped against the Dominion.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: None.

Disc Four:

“Homeward”. Worf travels down to a dying Federation colony, and discovers that his adoptive brother Nikolai (played by Paul Sorvino) is running the show for them. When it becomes apparent that the whole place is going to be wiped out, Nikolai breaks the Prime Directive and has the whole tribe beamed to the holodeck until a new world can be found. Picard is naturally not thrilled about the situation, but goes along with it because apparently the Prime Directive ceases to apply if your intentions are good.

Family issues: Worf & Nikolai.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Sub Rosa”. And now we go WAY into left field, with an old fashioned ghost story based in a Scottish town (well, a Federation colony designed to look like one, at any rate), as Beverly meets her grandmother’s paranormal lover and gets REALLY horny throughout most of the show. Of course, in the end it’s just another alien. The multiple scenes of Dr. Crusher nearly bringing herself to orgasm would NEVER had made it under Roddenberry. And what the hell is “Sub Rosa” even supposed to mean?

Family issues: Bev gets sloppy seconds from grandma.

Crew members gone insane: Beverly again.

“Lower Decks”. In a refreshing change of pace, this is an episode focusing entirely on four junior officers and what things look like from their point of view, as they compete for a promotion to lieutenant. It’s really neat seeing what the “big seven” seem like through the eyes of newer people, and another decidedly dark turn for the series sees one of the young officers in a body bag by the end of the show. A good episode in any season and a strong highlight in the awful seventh season.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Thine Own Self”. Two weak and unconnected storylines fill up an hour here, as Data is left on a pre-warp world with no memory and a radioactive canister, while Troi takes the test to become a full commander and sets in motion the events that would blow up the ship in the first movie. In fact, she blows up the ship three times in the testing simulations alone! Take the hint, Troi! Neither story is particularly strong here.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: Data loses his memory.

Disc Five:

“Masks”. And away down the spiral we go, as the Enterprise finds an Aztec temple buried inside a comet (no wait, it gets better!). Soon, the whole ship is magically transformed into stone statues and grass huts, and Data has 18 different personalities. The ending is deus ex machina at its worst and the big showdown is Data and Picard wearing masquerade ball masks and reciting bad poetry at each other. About as bad as it sounds.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: Data, again. New record for him, I think.

“Eye of the Beholder”. And it’s back to a Braga mainstay, as Troi gets to go insane again and the whole episode was a dream. Two clichés for the price of one! The “plot”, as it were, revolves around a crew member committing suicide (upping the death count to three so far this year) and Troi & Worf investigating. Troi finds echoes of a murder plot from years before and lives it all out in her mind. Sadly, she doesn’t commit suicide herself at the end.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: Troi gets hysterical, as stipulated by her contract.

“Genesis”. The nightmare episode of stupid sci-fi to end all nightmare episodes. A virus is let loose on the ship, causing everyone to “de-evolve” into primitive forms until Data can save the day. The plot is non-existent, and it’s all a coat hanger for the actors to jump around like morons while the makeup crew justifies their budget for the year. Once the cat “de-evolved” into a lizard, they lost me.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: All of em.

“Journey’s End”. The plight of the American Indians is moved into space, as the Enterprise is called in to move their sacred colony in order to give the planet to Cardassia as a result of a peace settlement. The analogy is so obvious that the writers than feel the need to have the characters SPELL IT OUT for anyone who doesn’t get what the big message behind the show is. I.E., white people are bad for stealing land from the Indians hundreds of years ago. At the same time, Wesley Crusher has become a BAD BOY, dropping out of Starfleet Academy to smoke pot and bang hot chicks. No, not really, but it’d more interesting than hanging out with that Traveler dude. I mean, he wants to show Wesley the wonders of the universe? Sounds like a pickup line, dude. Thankfully, Wesley goes away for good, even if there is only 5 shows left in the series at this point.

Family issues: Wesley is rude and insolent to his mother.

Crew members gone insane: Wesley is all brooding and DARK and stuff.

Disc Six:

“Firstborn”. Worf is determined to spend quality time with Alexander and teach him to be a warrior, but Alexander is more in touch with his human side and refuses to go that route with his life. A mysterious friend from the Klingon homeworld helps to try convincing Alexander about the advantages of being a bloodthirsty maniac, but doesn’t get through to him. Then, a twist ending that nearly sinks the entire episode and induces a groan every time I see it. The show would have been fine without the Big Secret, and why they felt the need to add it is beyond me.

Family issues: Worf continues to grapple with being a parent and a Klingon.

Crew members gone insane: None.

“Bloodlines”. Picard learns from a renegade Ferengi that he may have fathered a son 24 years ago, and that son is in danger of being killed. A boring hour of Picard trying to bond with the poor guy results, and in the end the threat is actually minimal, much like the effort put into this dog.

Family issues: Picard copes with being a daddy, and having a loser for a kid at that.

Crew members gone insane: Picard thinks he’s seeing things when the Ferengi appears at mysterious times.

“Emergence”. More metaphors and imagery, as the ship appears to be coming to life, and using the holodeck to represent that. What the eventual point was, I don’t even know, because this one sure as shit doesn’t go anywhere.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: If you count the ship.

“Preemptive Strike”. Ro Laren returns, bumped up a rank after months of Starfleet spy training, and is sent in to infiltrate the Maquis. She just wants Picard to be proud of her, but unfortunately the Maquis make a compelling case for her services, and she betrays the Federation and breaks Picard’s heart. Another dark and depressing ending in a series.

Family issues: None, although Picard treats Ro like his daughter, and Ro’s actions are affected by memories of her dead father.

Crew members gone insane: Ro turns heel and leaves Starfleet for the Maquis.

Disc Seven:

And finally

“All Good Things”. In the series finale, Picard jumps back and forth through time as a result of meddling from Q, trying to figure out the solution to a puzzle involving three time periods and three anomalies in space. Truly epic and brilliantly acted and written, and a terrific way to wrap up the show and send it on to feature films. The “big seven” all sitting and playing poker at the end is one of the simplest and yet most powerful images in the show’s run, and this one episode nearly redeems the season by itself. Okay, not really, but it’s damn good and it lives up to the hype and still holds up today.

Family issues: None.

Crew members gone insane: It’s thought by the others that future Picard is just dreaming the whole thing as a result of his neurological disease.

Overall, this is probably the worst season of the lot, with no direction or guidance from Roddenberry to keep the writers from going to the extremes of their excesses. Longtime fans will get a kick out of the self-referential nature of the continuity and the Crusher-Picard relationship, but for casual fans, start with the middle seasons, not this.

The Video:

As good as 10 year old TV material is gonna look. Unfortunately one side-effect of the super high resolution of DVD is that the cheap green-screen and CGI effects look incredibly cheesy and fake when viewed on such high-quality media. Other than that, colors are bright, the picture is noise-free and without compression artifacts for the most part, and contract is always good — the black of space is a good solid black. No complaints here at all.

The Audio:

Kudos to Paramount for the excellent job of remixing everything in full 5.1. This is the treatment that the show needed all along — surrounds are used for everything from space battles to mysterious noises in the background to music. The subwoofer rumbles throughout the shows to represent the ever-present engines of the ship. Dialogue is crisp and clear and the sound is aggressive without being overpowering. I’d say this is a better sound mix than many movies I’ve heard on DVD. Great job on this season, and all the others.

The Extras:

The usual season overview (15 minutes) and production featurette (15 minutes), plus Patrick Stewart doing an entertaining solo interview about his memories of the show and cast (15 minutes). There’s also a 30-minute “Starfleet Memories” documentary which is moderately interesting for about 5 minutes and then 25 minutes of talking heads thanking people I don’t know or care about and droning on while doing so. There’s just nothing new to say here. As well, a relatively short “Making of All Good Things” featurette (10 minutes) covers the makeup and writing of the show. And finally, a 5-minute preview of the DS9 DVD sets upcoming in 2003, which is pretty much an extended commercial. In short, the usual for these sets.

Ratings:

The Film: **

The Video: ***1/2

The Audio: ****

The Extras: ***