There’s no doubt that the fifth season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had been a spectacular one, featuring such amazing episodes as “Darmok,” “Ethics,” and “The Inner Light,” so the prospect of saying that the show somehow managed to get even better is a very heavy statement. However, when season six rolled around, it was magic time for a series that had already captured the imaginations of millions of fans. This was the season where everything clicked perfectly into place, where just about every week was a great storyline that dealt with important issues that few science-fiction works dared to deal with. With so many fantastic episodes, it’s going to be hard to narrow it down to just a few to talk about, but as always, I’ll try my best.
Perhaps the most famous episode to come out of this season was “Relics,” which dealt with the crew finding Captain Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) suspended in a transporter beam in which he had been trapped for the last several decades. Finding himself to be a man out of time, he must adapt to life in the 24th century. However, the challenge comes in how to make himself feel useful after the leaps and bounds that technology has made since he was forced to save his own life by using the transporter. Not only that, but he must also come to terms with the fact that everyone he knew is gone. Featuring a fantastic performance from Doohan, it’s a touching storyline that offers excitement (the crew must deal with being trapped inside a giant sphere that encloses a star) and an emotional pull as Scotty tries to adjust to a multitude of changes. In short, it’s got everything you could want in an episode of “Star Trek,” including an homage to the classic series.
“Frame of Mind” has always been a personal favorite episode of mine. The premise has Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) preparing for the lead role in a play just before he is to go on an undercover mission. Out of nowhere, fantasy and reality appear to combine as he finds himself in an alien insane asylum accused of murder, with his doctors telling him that his life on the Enterprise is an illusion. Filled with enough twists and turns to make your head spin, this episode has you guessing what’s real and what’s not as much as Riker, resulting in a dark, complex episode and a thrilling ride as our hero tries to keep a grasp on reality and his own sanity. As far as “Star Trek” mysteries go, this is simply one of the very best.
What would a season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” be without a Q episode? In one of Q’s most memorable appearances, “Tapestry,” Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is badly wounded at a conference, taking him to what would appear to be the afterlife. It is here that he finds Q (John de Lancie), who gives Picard the news that he has died. However, Q gives him the extraordinary chance to go back to when he was a young man and change the circumstance that resulted in him needing a false heart, which came from a barfight he and his friends had with some Nausicans. He is eventually successful in changing the event, but what he discovers of his life afterward makes him think twice about whether the change was a good one or not.
This is a particularly fascinating episode because it deals with something that everyone has no doubt thought of at one time or another: changing an event in the past that you think may make your life better. However, as Picard comes to discover, changing something like this is not necessarily for the better. Every little event shapes a person into who they are, just as this fight with the Nausicans shaped the Captain into who he would become: a man willing to take risks as opposed to someone who plays it safe and fails to stand out at all. “Tapestry” ends up being an excellent episode not only because of its compelling story, but because it’s an intriguing life lesson that makes us question whether we would really want to change any of the big decisions that got us where we are. It may be one of TNG’s quieter episodes, but it’s no less thrilling than any of the most action packed storylines.
The final episodes I’ll go into are “Birthright, Parts 1 and 2.” The story has Worf (Michael Dorn) finding out that his father may have survived the massacre at Kitomir and might now be living with a group of survivors in a Romulan prison camp. However, when he arrives, he discovers that his father is not actually alive and that the Romulans and Klingons are now living together on this planet in peace. This is something that Worf cannot comprehend due to his blind hatred of the Romulans, but still the surviving Klingons attempt to make him understand, especially since they can’t let him leave due to the risk of him telling where they are.
This is a great two-parter that touches on themes of honor, prejudice, and the ability to get past preconceived notions of other people. After surviving the Kitomir massacre, these Klingons lost their honor and voluntarily stayed in what was originally a prison camp, but the Romulan in charge took pity on them, giving up his career in order to stay and allowing them to live out their lives in peace. This peaceful cohabitation eventually led to mingling of the species, something that Worf is absolutely appalled at when he finds out. All his life, Worf has hated the Romulans, making this a very difficult situation for him. However, to make things worse, he discovers that the young Klingons in the group have not been taught their ways, something that he quickly tries to change. Like with “Tapestry,” it’s not filled with action, but it ends up being one of the most compelling pair of episodes because of its willingness to delve into important themes that weave into a thoughtful story that exemplifies what “Star Trek” is all about.
Other outstanding episodes include “Realm of Fear,” “Chain of Command, Parts 1 and 2,” “A Fistful of Datas,” and “Ship in a Bottle,” with the list going on and on, which only goes to show just how amazing a season this was. At this point, I would normally point out a bad episode or two, but season six simply doesn’t present any. In the special features, there are one or two staff members who refer to the episode “Aquiel,” which involves a murder mystery aboard a space station, as a “fiasco,” but I’ve always found it to be a decent episode. Perhaps it’s not one of the strongest of the season, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a “fiasco.” More than likely, this is them simply being overly-judgmental of their own work through comparison with other episodes in the season.
Season six is truly one of the best seasons of any “Star Trek” series ever produced. Gene Roddenberry may have passed away during the previous season, but the staff carried his spirit right into this next set of adventures with an even stronger desire to tell stories that shared Gene’s optimistic viewpoint by touching on those traits that he always felt were the very best that humanity had to offer. That is the very heart of “Star Trek,” and just one of many reasons why it will live on as one of the greatest franchises in television history.
Just like with the Blu-ray of season five, the video presentation is where this release greatly disappoints. The show is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and has supposedly been remastered in 1080p High Definition, but the picture has lots of noticeable grain and blurriness. To make matters worse, it’s once again presented in “shrunken box” format, with black bars on all sides and a reduced picture in the middle. The look of the picture could simply be a result of the difficulties in trying to clean up a show that’s 20 years old (i.e. it was shot on film and was before HD was available). As with season five, it’s still watchable, but I would think that they could do a slightly better job than this. On the other hand, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you every little element of the soundtrack in crystal clear quality, so at the very least you get excellent quality in one of these areas.
Beyond the Five-Year Mission – The Evolution of Star Trek: The Next Generation: A fascinating three-part featurette that takes a look behind the scenes at important elements of the show such as directing, production design, and cinematography, while also exploring such areas as the start of “Deep Space Nine” and how Whoopi Goldberg got her role as Guinan. Definitely worth the 90 minutes to watch.
Audio commentaries on Relics, Tapestry, and Frame of Mind: Informative commentary tracks featuring Ronald Moore and Denise & Michael Okuda.
Deleted Scenes on Select Episodes: As a huge fan of the show, the chance to see any missing pieces from episodes I’ve seen many, many times is a huge plus, so even though the scenes might not add much, they’re still intriguing to watch.
Archival Mission Logs: As usual, all of the extras that were on the DVD release have been included, all of which are worth taking a look at.
Episodic Promos: These previews for the episodes aren’t exactly essential, but they are neat to see.
Gag Reel: About five minutes of goofy outtakes that are somewhat amusing.
While the video could have used a lot more work to bring it up to regular Blu-ray quality, this remains an excellent release of the best season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” produced in its seven-year run. Along with a plethora of fantastic episodes, there’s also a wide variety of special features that will be sure to fascinate die-hard fans of the show or someone just going through it for the first time. Just like with the other “Star Trek” Blu-rays I’ve had the opportunity to review, this is one that’s definitely worth adding to your collection.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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