Lynch's Summary Review: Season 7 of TNG (2 of 2)[edit | edit source]

WARNING: This article contains spoiler information regarding "Star Trek: the Next Generation"'s seventh and final season. Those not familiar with the season and who wish to avoid spoilers should stay clear.

II. General Commentary[edit | edit source]

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Mostly, though, it was the Blah of times. Although season 7 had its undeniable bright spots, for the most part this year seemed to chug along on fumes without any real idea of where it was going or why.

I'm feeling vaguely split-personality about my own reactions to the season. On the one hand, I've voiced objections many times to the TNG universe apparently "knowing" things were coming to an end and thus preparing lots of "final looks" at situations. On the other hand, though, when the close of the season brought things like "Bloodlines", I found myself asking "why in blazes are things like *this* getting done as one of TNG's farewell notes? What's the point?" That seems a bit inconsistent to me, but so be it; I contain multitudes. :-)

In past seasons, though, most episodes sparked some sort of strong reaction in me, whether for good *or* ill. This time, of 25 shows, it's telling that only 10 provoked a major reaction from me right from the start, and in two of those cases ["Sub Rosa" and "Genesis"] the reaction was highly negative. Now, it's entirely possible to argue that this means only that I've become jaded, and I'll readily admit that possibility. Given that others have come away with such an attitude, though (and the included-only-for-reference notes that I have, as a whole, enjoyed both DS9 and "Babylon 5" tremendously this season), I think it's far more likely that TNG *itself* became jaded with this year. While there were several shows I will value as a worthy contribution to TNG [among them "Phantasms", "Parallels", "The Pegasus", "Lower Decks", and "All Good Things..."], there were a great many that, rather than being amazingly good or amazingly bad, were simply amazingly *there*.

As such, this season gave off the impression of a show adrift, which in many ways I think it was. In many cases, some of the essential elements of the characters were lost for the sake of "a good story", or more often "a neat moment". For instance, the Worf/Troi relationship opens up a lot of interesting questions about how such a relationship between two vastly different cultures can survive and grow. Instead, except for "All Good Things..." they were really only used as plot shockers. Even in the latter, they were used primarily to show their effect on *Riker*. It was superbly done, but there could have been much more.

Then, there's Picard. While some of the best shows put him to good use, we also had things like "Gambit", which led our usually cautious and sensible captain to act like a blithering idiot in going off to investigate mercenary activity _without telling anyone_. There's also "Bloodlines", with its suggestion that Picard was potentially fathering children all the time without knowing it (no doubt serious Kirk adherents will consider this a positive change :-) ), and "Homeward", which turned him from a caring individual willing to use rules to his advantage into a plodding and preaching bureaucrat.

Why, I have to ask, were these things done? Trek at its best has been about characters -- and when those characters are misused, that advantage is completely lost. "Weird moments" are nice for their own sake on occasion, sure; but a show comprising solely of weird moments is a show that few can latch onto, as "Masks" can probably demonstrate.

Then, there's the Dreaded Technobabble Trend [tm], which I brought up as a problem to watch for last year. Far from being solved, alas, it festered, multiplied, and killed off small animals to feed its children with. Granted, with the exception of "Emergence" there was nothing this year that seemed solely about the workings of 24th-century technology (well, perhaps "Force of Nature"...), but serious technobabble silliness was used to get *out* of a great many plots. For instance:

  • "Interface". Actually, this one wasn't bad.
  • "Force of Nature". Ick.
  • "Sub Rosa". Ghost stories tend not to work particularly well in this genre anyway, but to then "justify" it by saying "look, we've substituted 'anaphasic lifeform' for 'demon', so it's really SF!" is, to be honest, an insulting argument from where I sit. Here, technobabble was simply an *excuse* for a poor show.
  • "Eye of the Beholder". Granted, this was a special case: psychotechnobabble. :-) Even so, the way out of this show was a gobbledygook explanation that basically said, to quote Tasha, "It never happened." Ugh.
  • "Genesis". This gets its own rant later.
  • "Bloodlines". "Resequenced his DNA?" This is supposed to solve everything and make life all better? Come on.
  • "Emergence". Here, the biggest problem with the technobabble was simply its vast prevalence; the plot itself was fairly reasonable.

Although the above may not seem like all that much, it's seven full episodes that could have either been pruned of technical problems to improve them, or seven slots that could have been replaced with more drama-heavy shows instead. Either way, it was one of the factors in this season's decline. [It's worth noting, though, that in at least a few cases such as bits of "All Good Things..." and "Parallels", some of the dialogue managed to note that it was all incomprehensible. It's not as good as pruning it, but a sense of perspective never hurt.]

As for "Genesis" ... what can I say that I didn't say months ago or earlier in the review? Although it did not appall me as much on a scientific level as did "The Chase" [probably because (1) it didn't dance on top of my hot buttons the way "The Chase" did, and (2) I was too numbed with pain by the rest of the show], it did not have drama to back it up. I can even understand (vaguely) the reasoning that must have gone into this concept at a story meeting:

"We need another story; what else can happen just on the ship?" "I've got it! Let's turn everybody into animals!" "Why?" "It'll be cool." "How?" "We'll have their DNA start mutating backwards -- they'll 'de-evolve'." "Um, you realize that that's absurd..."

The problem in this particular case was that *no one listened* to the last line of that hypothetical conversation. I know it or something close to it was said, so what happened? There is a limit to suspension of disbelief, and based on the people I've spoken to, "Genesis" went about a dozen levels past it for many.

This review is starting to sound like a full-fledged bashing of the season, which I really think is undeserved. As I said, season-7 TNG did have quite a bit to offer:

  • "Phantasms" took one of the best late-season bits of character evolution, Data's dreaming, and ran with it;
  • "Gambit, Part II", despite being utterly silly in its premise, was a roller-coaster ride of set pieces.
  • both "Inheritance" and "The Pegasus" managed to insert a bit of past history into the characters *without* seeming implausible and managing simultaneously to present terrific personal crises and personal drama.
  • "Lower Decks", at very long last, showed a bit of the less "fortunate few" in Starfleet.
  • "Thine Own Self" ... well, just *worked*!
  • "Firstborn" DID give Worf and Alexander a major step forward in their relationship. [I have to admit, though, that I'd have preferred resolving their problems by claiming that in "Genesis" Worf turned into a species that eats its young. :-) ]
  • "Preemptive Strike" brought the seedier, hard-edged feel of DS9 that many felt TNG lacks to the show and saw how it fit. It also gave us a proper farewell to a character that hadn't really had one.
  • And, of course, "All Good Things..." ran the gamut of emotions in what it evoked, at least for me. I won't quite go the way of one of my students and say "they saved the best for last", but it was fitting.

So, for those who say season 7 was an uninterrupted plunge, I have to look at the above and say "you weren't watching hard enough". It had its problems, no doubt about it, and the season did represent a drop from the quality we've seen over the past few years; but that doesn't invalidate the good things that we *did* get.

I said last year at this time that "as TNG heads into its final season, I hope it manages to go out with its head held high." While I don't think it managed to do so for much of the season (certainly, there was a four-show block where nothing got higher than even a *6*, and that was part of a full eight-show run where nothing broke 7), "Preemptive Strike" and "All Good Things..." showed than when the final crunch came, they could still do good. Now that the staff is moving on to DS9 and to "Voyager" [and to the films!], it is my hope that they can get a little hungry again and not be content with whatever stories come along.

All of the four staff writers have things which they can be very proud of.

>From this season alone, Rene Echevarria has "Inheritance", "Lower Decks", and the teleplay for "Preemptive Strike"; Naren Shankar has the story for "Preemptive Strike", plus many excellent credits from other seasons; Brannon Braga has "Phantasms", "Parallels", and "All Good Things..."; and Ron Moore has "The Pegasus", "Thine Own Self", and "All Good Things..." as well. Those are what I will try to walk away from this season with a memory of: not "Genesis", "Sub Rosa", and many shows which made me wonder "and the point being?", but the shows that stretched TNG, and made us remember the better times and hope for a wondrous future for these characters.

That's it for the season. Onwards to the films!

[Coming from me, since many have asked: a DS9 season-2 review sometime relatively soon, a TNG series retrospective sometime before the millennium comes :-), and of course, book reviews as appropriate and a review of "Generations" in November. Until then ... peace be with you.]

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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