The SmarK Blu-ray Rant for Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season Three)

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So because Paramount is awesome, they have resumed sending me the Blu-ray seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation again after skipping season 2 (and if there was any season to skip, it’s THAT one), and I even got a little bonus with this set!  I love these remastered sets SO MUCH, especially when you watch an episode on Blu-Rry and then switch over to Netflix to compare, and the difference is amazing.  The original version looks washed-out and grainy, whereas the new one could fit onto TV today aside from the aspect ratio.  I really wish that the series had originally been shot with 16×9 framing, but as has been explained by the directors several times now, there’s just too many light stands and makeup artists standing in the open matte frame to make it work, plus all the effects shots were composed for 4×3 and you’d have to basically redo them all from scratch.

As for the show itself, this was truly the season where Michael Piller, as head writer and executive producer, defined the look and feel of the show and made it from an also-ran into, in my opinion, a superior product than the original series. The third season brings with it some minor cosmetic changes and a few major character changes. Uniforms now have a collar and a much more military look to them, kind of like the dress uniforms seen in the early seasons but without the skirts. Beverly Crusher is back from Broadway purgatory (and for those who have asked, the actual reason for her departure seems to be a closely guarded secret that no one will divulge), taking over for Dr. Pulaski, who never achieved anything more than “guest-starring…” status for the year she was on. Worf has been promoted to full lieutenant, and LaForge is Lieutenant Commander now.  As the third season picks up, the writing is becoming much more balanced between the characters and the pacing is established early and works well. This season has the benefit of including the two episodes widely considered the greatest in Star Trek history by many, making it an absolute “must have” set for fans.

Disc One:

– Evolution. In the season opener (actually produced second), Wesley goes from saving the ship to nearly destroying it, as he falls asleep while illegally experimenting on nanites – microscopic medical robots that are injected into the bloodstream and can do minute repairs on the human body. Wesley decides to see if he can evolve them artificially, and you know what happens when someone plays God in Roddenberry’s universe. Yes, it’s another Star Trek cliché let loose early, as The Ship Goes Crazy with nanites running wild in the computer core and snacking on the processor. Meanwhile, an overzealous visiting scientist – himself a former child prodigy – begins getting antsy about seeing his life’s work ruined by a delay in the experiment, caused by the nanite problem. He takes things into his own hands, and the tiny nanites are none too pleased with his method of communicating with them (i.e., trying to exterminate them) and soon it’s WAR. Nice to see Wonder Boy taking the blame for the ship’s problems for once instead of making everyone else look foolish.

– The Ensigns of Command.
The first Data episode of the season sees him with quite the predicament indeed – the Enterprise is called by a super-powerful race of ugly aliens called the Sheliak, who have informed the Federation that they intend to settle on a world inhabited by what appears to be a human colony. Indeed, the planet had been given to the Sheliak decades earlier in a complex treaty negotiation, and they give the Enterprise three days to get rid of the colonists, or eradication will result. Two problems: Radiation around the planet prevents normal use of the transporters, and there’s over 15,000 colonists on the planet! Data (who is unaffected by the radiation) is sent down to convince the government that evacuation is the best option, but their stubborn decision to stay and fight the potential invaders forces him to take more drastic measures in demonstrating his point about the superiority of the Sheliak. Meanwhile, Picard uses all his diplomatic stalling powers to try to talk the un-talkative aliens into giving him three weeks instead of three days. Another strong episode to start the season, although Data’s oblivious responses to the hot young chick throwing herself at him throughout the show are a bit disheartening.

– The Survivors. This is like something out of the Twilight Zone, as the Enterprise comes across a former colony planet that has been wiped out by alien invaders…except for one house and an elderly couple living inside it. Picard sends people down to investigate, but other than a bit too much homespun charm, there’s nothing really to discover about how and why they survived the holocaust of an entire planet. However, Troi thinks something is amiss, and when she tries to find out, she begins hearing a music box playing in her head 24/7. I heard the same thing happened to Lionel Ritchie all the time. Deafened by the music, there’s nothing left for her to do but…wait for it… Get Hysterical! It seems as though the alien invaders keep returning, but never quite get rid of the Enterprise, which leads Picard to finally put all the pieces together and figure out exactly what he’s dealing with. And the payoff is REALLY powerful and jaw-droppingly depressing, once the motive behind trying to cover up the secret of the planet is revealed.

– Who Watches the Watchers? Four good episodes in a row start out the third season, as Picard is again forced into violating the Prime Directive and watching the house of cards collapse faster each time. This time, in a premise not far removed from the same one used to open Insurrection, the Enterprise is called to repair a hidden survey station on a primitive world, where Federation anthropologists study a proto-Vulcan race in the Bronze Age. Minor note: Pamela Segall plays one of the natives of the planet in her younger days, and she would go on to be the voice of Bobby Hill on “King of the Hill”, and most recently as Marcie on Californication. Anyway, one of the natives sees more than he should have, and is so shocked by technology that he slips and breaks his neck, necessitating a trip to the ship to heal him. The memory wipe doesn’t quite stick, however, and the poor guy is left babbling about a great god who brings people back from the dead – The Picard. Soon his whole village is worshipping the Almighty Picard, leading to the crew having to do some serious damage control, lest they create a whole planet of scientologists. It’s the old theme about “any technology significantly advanced will resemble magic” reworked in a fun way without the heavy-handed lecturing of the earlier seasons.

– The Bonding. While leading an away team, one of the people under Worf’s command is killed, leaving a son behind. He immediately wants to take the boy under his wing and show him the Klingon death rituals to cleanse his spirit, but Troi thinks that might be a BIT much for the poor kid. However, things get weird when the mother seemingly returns from the dead with the ability to transform the world around her. Not one of the better efforts of the season.

Disc Two:

– Booby Trap. Yes, it’s the beginning of a great Star Trek tradition, as Geordi gets shot down in flames by a date on the holodeck and sulks about it. However, he’s soon given something to take his mind off his love life, as the Enterprise is flying through an asteroid field and discovers an ancient warship still transmitting a distress signal. Unfortunately, their distress soon becomes the Enterprise’s distress, as something starts sucking the power out of the ship just like the dead ship. Geordi goes to work finding a cure, and to help him he creates a holographic representation of Dr. Leah Brahms, one of the designers of the ship’s engines back on Earth. And before you can say “horny black guy”, he’s falling in love with her while working out the solutions to their problems. The real Leah would visit the ship in a later season and be none too happy about his little hologram.

– The Enemy. Another great tradition begins, in this case ripping off Enemy Mine, which would be listed in the 10 most influential movies of all-time if you were going by Star Trek writers alone. The Enterprise finds a blowed-up Romulan ship on a nasty planet, complete with a survivor. Worf & Riker bring him back to the ship, but Geordi (who is having a bad year so far) gets stranded on the planet with a malfunctioning VISOR. And, as it turns out, with another Romulan, this one armed. So they proceed to help each other reach safety, as per sci-fi clichés. Back on the ship, things take a decidedly darker turn as the Romulan is dying and there’s only one person with a blood type that will match – Worf. But hey, when it comes down it, Worf will do the right thing and spare his enemy’s life, right? Nope. In a rather shocking turn of events for the lightweight drama that is generally Star Trek, Worf coldly chooses to let the Romulan die (and thus bring the Federation to the brink of war) rather than give up his lifelong hatred of them. That’s why Worf’s a badass. There was some REALLY serious bad vibes going on in this episode, and it’s a shame that the Romulans were never fully developed into the monster heels that they could have been.

– The Price. The Enterprise is called in to host negotiations for possession of what appears to be the first stable wormhole in existence. The Ferengi butt in uninvited and soon offers are being thrown around for the wormhole. Picard sends Data & LaForge into the wormhole to investigate, but they discover that it’s actually unstable and thus worthless. Meanwhile, one of the alien negotiators (played by king of smarmy jerks Matt McCoy) seduces Troi and she gives it up yet again. She must have a thing for diplomats. Most of this was sappy talk between Troi and her loverboy, but it wasn’t bad as filler eps go.

– The Vengeance Factor. When a Federation outpost is raided by a group of renegade pirates, Picard decides it’s time to go to the parent planet and tell them to bring the outlaws back into the fold again. Unfortunately, the groups have been estranged from each other for 100 years and reconciliation doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Riker, not to be outdone by Troi, puts the moves on the monarch’s head servant, who happens to be a murderer (unbeknownst to the crew), after carrying a family grudge against the rebels for decades. Riker does some detective work after finding a dead body amongst the rebels, while Picard brings the rebel leader for a sitdown with the big kahuna of the group for peace talks. The final explanation is a bit deus ex machina, but this was a fun episode overall.

– The Defector. Now we start breaking out the Cold War paranoia, as the Enterprise is cruising the Neutral Zone and catches a distress call from a Romulan scout ship, which appears to be getting shelled by a warbird. Turns out the guy on board, a low-level logistics clerk, has discovered plans for a Romulan invasion via a hidden base in the NZ, and he’s willing to switch sides in order to prevent war. But IS he is a defector, or a spy? Evidence starts piling up on both sides of the question and war with the Romulans seems inevitable. When the Enterprise finally investigates the location of the base, all hell breaks loose and it’s a super-tense ending as all the cards are laid on the table. A fun episode with a great ending.

Disc Three:

– The Hunted. Star Trek meets Rambo, as the Enterprise assists a scientific-minded planet looking to become part of the Federation. Unfortunately, a dangerous lunatic has escaped from their penal moon (little etymological pun there, sorry) and threatens the safety of people everywhere, so they ask the crew to catch him. This seems easy enough, but he almost evades them with clever tactics, not to mention he doesn’t register as a life form. What is he, a lawyer? Anyway, they finally catch the guy, and it turns out that he’s a genetically enhanced super-solider, programmed to kill when threatened and strong enough to kick Worf’s ass without breaking a sweat. Troi and Data listen to his sob story and you know Troi would be giving him some Betazed lovin’ if there wasn’t a forcefield blocking her way but amazingly he escapes AGAIN while being transferred back to the prison. Finally, Picard has had enough and heads down to the planet to tell the whole lot of them where they can get off, which is pretty much what I would have done, too.

– The High Ground. And now we get a comment on terrorism, as the Enterprise offers medical aid to a planet in the midst of bombing attacks from a terrorist faction. Unfortunately, Beverly once again crosses the line between stubborn and stupid, and gets herself kidnapped by the leader of the mad bombers. They only want a doctor and they’re good people at heart, they claim, but at the same time they slaughter thousands of people in the name of their freedom. It’s funny because this episode plays out totally differently in the wake of 9/11. Anyway, they can transport themselves instantaneously to plant their bombs, but the actual technology does long-term damage to them, making them truly suicide bombers. Once they kidnap Picard and start fucking with the ship, however, you know they’re not gonna keep the upper hand for long. Had this one been written after 2001 it likely never would have made air, but discounting future events it’s a pretty fair look at both sides of the argument about terrorism as a method of combating oppressive government control.

– Deja Q. Probably the most fun episode of the season sees Q banished from the Continuum for being a pest to the universe. Of course, he decides to live out his mortal life on the Enterprise (much to Picard’s chagrin) and immediately annoys everyone on board. Unfortunately, they’re on kind of a deadline, what with a moon threatening to crash into a populated planet and all, and Q is being threatened with death by a roving mist-like intelligence called the Calamarane. But despite his better judgment, Picard uses Q’s expertise and saves him from his attacker, because that’s what us humans do. The real meat of this episode is John DeLancie and Brent Spiner springboarding off each other with just about every line and furiously trying to underact the other guy. Probably one of the best Q episodes after the Robin Hood one.

– A Matter of Perspective. Ah, yes, a good old sci-fi murder mystery, as Riker returns from a trip to a space station and it blows up, killing a scientist he had been arguing with. Seems pretty cut and dried, but they decide to have a trial anyway. In order to assist, they program the holodeck with witness reports from all the people involved, giving us three different sides of the events leading up to the explosion. The common thread is that the scientist was working on a new form of energy, caught Riker apparently making out with his wife (Troi and Picard’s lack of belief when Riker protests his innocence is a neat touch) and was about to file a formal protest with Starfleet when the space station blew up. Riker obviously had means, motive and opportunity, but what REALLY happened? The truth is SHOCKING. Well, okay, not really shocking, but it does keep you guessing until the end. Data’s art critique to open the show is also hilarious, and foreshadows his eventual love of painting.

Yesterday’s Enterprise. Considered by many to be the best episode of any Star Trek series, ever, this one is a brilliant time travel puzzle wrapped around a powerful performance by a returning Denise Crosby. Basically, a rift in space opens up and the Enterprise D (our beloved vessel) runs into the Enterprise C, shot ahead some 25 years into the future. However, once the old Enterprise appears, everything changes instantly – suddenly the current ship is a warship, and Tasha Yar is still alive. And apparently the Federation is getting its butt kicked by the Klingons. It seems that when the Enterprise C disappeared all those years ago, it was in the midst of saving the Klingons from the Romulan attack on Kittimer, and without it there to help, there was never an alliance between the Klingons and the Federation, and war quickly broke out. Tasha starts to realize all this while helping to repair the beat-up Enterprise C, and also falls in love with the only officer left alive on that ship. When the rift opens again, there is of course only one choice to make for her life (and death) to have meaning behind it, and thankfully she’s given some semblance of dignity and importance to her demise after the silly death she was given in the first season. This is just such a fabulous episode thanks to the great writing, little details in the subtly redesigned war-time Enterprise, mounting tension and great acting from all involved. It’s time travel with a PURPOSE, rather than just being a silly plot device. This is the episode you need to buy the box set for.  Plus you get TWO audio commentaries for it; the one from the original DVD set with the director as well as a new one with Michael Okuda, Ronald D. Moore and a couple of other people.  Fun stuff on the commentary, especially Moore talking about the various drafts of the script and how Denise Crosby loved the character so much that she actually devised a way to return from the dead a THIRD time later in the series.

Disc Four:

– The Offspring. And ANOTHER great one follows, as Data decides it’s time to procreate. Except in his case, he creates a new android, which he names “Lal”. Apparently it’s from the Hindu and means “hot piece of ass”. And no sooner is a new female on board (even mechanical) than does Riker make his move, leading to the all-time great Data line (“Commander, I must ask what your intentions are towards my daughter.”). Unfortunately, cybernetic females are just as complex to figure out as real ones, and it turns out that her positronic brain wasn’t 100% working. And you can guess what happens in the end. A really really complex performance from Brent Spiner here, as he has to play someone with no emotions and yet still torn up by the loss of his family member. Although once again I have to point out, for someone who whines about being alone in the universe, Data sure has a lot of relatives.

– Sins of the Father. The awesome Klingon bloodlines plot begins officially here, as we meet Commander Kern for the first time and he serves as interim first officer on the Enterprise in return for Riker’s visit to the Klingon ship in season two. However, he quickly reveals to Worf that he is his brother, and further the Klingon High Council has branded their father, Mogh, a traitor, thus tainting their own honor for generations to come. Worf gets all pissed off and brings Picard to the homeworld to protest his father’s innocence, but it becomes apparent that people, specifically heir apparent Duras, don’t want the truth to come out. The revelation of what really happened at Kittimer and the choice Worf has to make as a result are powerful stuff that start storylines which last all the way until the seventh season, and even into Deep Space Nine! Great stuff.

– Allegiance. This one is basically a big puzzle, as Picard is kidnapped by aliens and left in a room with three other people, with no apparent common ground between them. Who brought them there and why is left for them to figure out. Back on the ship, a duplicate of the captain takes his place, and he immediately begins giving strange orders and singing drinking songs. It’s the latter one that REALLY bugs the crew, oddly enough. This had some fun moments, but didn’t really have anything interesting to say.

Captain’s Holiday. A nice light episode sees an overworked and stressed-out Picard badgered into a vacation on Risa, the pleasure planet, by his crew. Once there, he only wants to read his book and soak up some sun(s), but women keep throwing themselves at him. Poor bastard. But since this IS Picard, he can’t help but get involved in an adventure, in this case aiding the debuting Vash in eluding pursuit from a Ferengi who thinks she has a mysterious chip belonging to him. The Ferengi in question would return as Rom in DS9. Picard and Vash go on a dig in a cave to find an alien artifact, under threats from other, time traveling, aliens who also claim possession, and in the end it leaves Picard feeling better than any week of R&R could ever do. A whole episode of Picard is a winner 9 times out of 10, and this is no exception.

Disc Five:

– Tin Man. This time it’s another empath who Gets Hysterical, as the Enterprise picks up Tam, a super-telepath haunted by the voices of millions of people talking to his brain at once, and who is a little bit loopy as a result. His only solace is in chatting with emotionless Data (thus providing a double meaning for the title), until they come across a giant life-form in space that appears to be a ship. Problem: The Romulans also want to get in touch with it, and a race ensues as the Enterprise gets more and more beat up. The ending is suitably deus ex machina, but that’s Star Trek for ya.

– Hollow Pursuits. This one HAD to be written about fans who do that creepy fanfic stuff on the internet these days. It introduces Lt. Reg Barclay (aka “Broccoli”) an eccentric and withdrawn, but brilliant, engineer who also happens to be addicted to the holodeck. He creates elaborate fantasy scenarios involving the rest of the crew to blow off steam, and when the real people discover them, BOY is he embarrassed. Problems are escalating in the real world, however, as The Ship Is Going Crazy and no one can figure out why. Not even Wesley! Barclay saves the day, however, and his holo-addiction would create one of the most beloved recurring characters in the show, as he would make appearances all the way until the final season of Voyager, including a cameo in First Contact. And for someone who asked, yes, Dwight Schultz is better known as “Mad Dog” Murdoch from the A-Team.

– The Most Toys. Another terrific Data-centric episode sees him getting kidnapped by a famous collector of rarities, where he forms an emotional bond with the abused spouse of our villain. The crew thinks Data has been killed, but they eventually figure out the scam and head over to have a talk with the collector. Data, however, stages his own quiet rebellion, which unfortunately ends with his new friend getting murdered in cold blood, just as the Enterprise beams Data away during an act of cold-blooded vengeance. I knew he had it in him. Super acting from Brent Spiner turns a potential snore-fest into a winner.

– Sarek. One of the first major appearances for a character from the original series sees Spock’s father introduced into the 24th century universe for the first time. He is, sadly, going nuts and being overcome by emotions due to a loss of control caused by Bendii syndrome. With a major negotiation upcoming and his talents needed, Picard mind-melds with him to take the edge off, and keeps him going long enough to save the day. This one is obviously carried by the acting jobs of Patrick Stewart and Mark Lenard, and you couldn’t ask for better people to pull it off.

– Menage A Troi. The most drop-dead hilarious episode of the season sees Riker and Troi spending some quality time together on Betazed (wink wink), but before anything can happen, Lwaxana and some Ferengi with a grudge interrupt the proceedings. Riker and the women are kidnapped and have to fabricate a daring escape from the Ferengi. Well, okay, it’s not so much daring as waging a war of wits with the unarmed, but they could have tripped and suffered a nasty bruise! Faced with enemies unwilling to give back his officers and himself unwilling to start a war over it, Picard unleashes the deadliest weapon of them all…melodramatic Shakespearean acting! All the fun and happiness is tempered by Wesley getting promoted to full ensign and thus being given a real uniform instead of the pajamas he had been wearing all season. Still, despite that, one of the truly must-see episodes of the show’s run.

Disc Six:

– Transfigurations. It’s Star Trek meets the Green Mile meets X-Men, as the away team finds a crashed escape pod on a desolate planet, with only one survivor, a man with no apparent identity and life-threatening wounds. However, those injuries soon begin to heal themselves, and the mysterious stranger also begins to heal others. Even Geordi gets some lovin’ from cutie Julie Warner, who had previously dumped him in “Booby Trap”. Although Worf takes credit for teaching him about women. However, things are not great for the stranger, as it turns out that he’s being hunted by people from his planet and faces execution if he returns there. Actually, it’s exactly like the Green Mile, come to think of it. But hey, who didn’t love that movie?

– Best of Both Worlds, Part 1. You may have heard of this episode before. It turns out that the Borg, first introduced in season two, move a lot faster than they initially anticipated, and are on the way to kick some Federation ass. Unfortunately, they can now adjust their shielding faster than the phasers can affect it, and manage to kidnap Picard while storming the bridge. Picard is transformed into Locutus, their spokesman in the quest to assimilate the Federation, and Riker is left in charge of the Enterprise, along with mega-bitch Elizabeth Shelby as first officer. Would they actually kill off Picard after three seasons? The final exchange between Evil Picard and Riker (“Resistance is futile” “Mr. Worf…fire!”) as the show fades to black will send chills up your spine if you’ve never seen it before. If you have seen it before, witness the all-out violence of the space battles in glorious 7.1 sound. A true classic of Star Trek that unfortunately didn’t live up to the hype when the second part was crafted in between seasons. That small matter aside, this is a masterpiece that is referenced time and time again in later Star Trek mythos and set the stage for First Contact and retroactively created the Commander Sisko character that would debut in DS9 later on. And it just plain kicks ass.

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Bonus:  Best of Both Worlds Parts One & Two

And I believe I mentioned a special treat from Paramount, which is in fact the Best of Both Worlds theatrical edit on a separate Blu-ray!  I had seen a trailer for it when I went to see Jurassic Park 3D last week, and wouldn’t you know they’re releasing it on Blu-ray at the same time as the version that debuts in the theater.  It has both parts of the cliffhanger and a new commentary from the Okudas (duh), the director and Elizabeth Dennehy, who played Commander Shelby.  She’s pretty cool and funny about the whole experience, and thankfully the character mellowed out a lot in the New Frontier novels that followed the show so I don’t hate Shelby quite as much now.  However, the theatrical edit does NOT work.  Instead of the awesome pounding music score from the cliffhanger in the first episode, they use the edit from the second episode so that it just moves seamlessly from “Mr. Worf, fire” to the second episode, and all the heart-wrenching dramatic tension is sucked out of the episode.  Considering what a defining part of my fandom that moment was (along with many others), it’s disappointing to lose it like that.  This disc also has a new 30 minute documentary with the actors and writers discussing the restoration of that particular episode, with much of the same stuff covered as Dennehy covered in her commentary track.  Overall, it’s a cool idea and it’s worth having for the commentary track if you’re a huge nerd like me, but otherwise it’s strictly for super-casual fans of the show who only want that two-parter.

Audio & Video

Oh my.  When they went back and fixed the show for Blu-ray, they went back and FIXED it.  The CGI effects are now on par with some of the theatrical releases, colors are BOLD and jump off the screen…the dark and murky backgrounds are now bright and clear, it’s amazing overall.  Easily just as good as the original series redo.  I can’t even overstate how much better this looks and how much work would have been needed to change it from the original videotape resolution into full HD.

The Pulse

So that’s the third season, and if you can find a bad episode in that bunch, you’re a pickier Trek fan that I am, because I was able to sit through the entire 26-episode run without feeling ripped off or insulted by any of them. A minimum of Wesley and a maximum of Data and Picard make this season the standard by which all the others were measured, and easily my favorite of the bunch. If you’re looking for a starting point into the show, here you have it. Skip the first two seasons if you need to, but don’t miss this one.

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