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Lynch's Spoiler Review: TNG Seaons Six
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...@juliet.caltech.edu>
===============================================

WARNING:  This article contains spoiler information for season 6 of "Star
Trek: the Next Generation".  Those not acquainted with the season and not interested in being spoiled should stay clear.


Well, it's summer again -- and that means another year of TNG to review.  
(Sorry this is so late, but I was out of town for a bit and also had to, as is my wont, rewatch the season before writing this.)  


The format of last year's review seemed to work rather well, so I'll continue
it.  Thus, you can expect two sections to this review.  First, there will be
an episode-by-episode rundown, giving final ratings and some quick
commentary.  Then, afterwards, there will be talk of the season in general,
including trends good and bad.  (Part I is likely to be the longer of the two, so be warned.)  Ready?  Hope so.

And so...


I.  Season 6, Episode by Episode  |
----------------------------------+


"Time's Arrow, Part II"
Written by:  Jeri Taylor (teleplay), Joe Menosky (story)
Directed by: Les Landau
Initial rating:  5.
Best quote:     "I'll see you in five hundred years, Picard."                 "And I'll see you -- in a few minutes."


I was hoping for a lot more out of this show than I got.  While the
Picard/Guinan bits remain wonderful, and most of the "technical temporal"
issues were dealt with cleverly, there were a lot of details left unexplained
or simply ignored, and everything aside from the Picard/Guinan scenes felt
fairly flat.  (In addition, the heavy bit of moralizing on _both_ sides of
the Twain/Troi "conflict" was far too blatant to be even remotely interesting.)  All in all, this falls a bit.

Final rating:  4.


"Realm of Fear"
Written by:  Brannon Braga
Directed by:  Cliff Bole
Initial rating:  8. Best quote:  Barclay -- "I'm always nervous.  Everybody knows that."


On the good side, this had a lot of humor flowing from the characters
(Barclay in particular), some crackling dialogue here and there (particularly
in the Barclay/Troi interactions), and a nice general air of creepiness in
much of the episode.  A lot of mundane transporter chitchat, however, coupled
with an extreme case of technobabblitis, made a lot of this far less
interesting than it might've been.  A big upturn from the premiere, but still not nearly up to the usual levels.

Final rating:  6.


"Man of the People"
Written by:  Frank Abatemarco
Directed by:  Winrich Kolbe
Initial rating:  3. Best quote:  None.  


You wouldn't think an episode would fall lower than an initial rating of 3,
but this managed it.  Unpleasant on a first viewing, this turned almost
unwatchable on a second.  About the only thing it has going for it at all is
a vaguely reasonable ending and a nice scene where Alkar defends his actions.
However, putting that against rotten dialogue, stiff acting from virtually
everyone, a squishy "don't be negative" plot and some serious character
mistakes (such as Worf being quite as incompetent as he was shown to be
here) is a seriously unfair contest.  If "Relics" weren't the other half of this tape, the sucker would get a magnet to it.

Final rating:  2.


"Relics"
Written by:  Ronald D. Moore
Directed by:  Alexander Singer
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Too many to pick just one, so here are four.
                "Synthetic Scotch, synthetic Commanders..."
                "Here's to ye, lads..."  [said on the bridge of the original
                                                Enterprise]
                "Just because something's old doesn't mean you throw it
                        away."  
                "I've spent my whole life trying to figure out crazy ways of                         doing things."


And then, just as the season seemed to be stumbling without fail, there came
salvation from, of all things, the past.  Starting from a wonderful SF
premise (the Dyson sphere and Scotty's transporter desperation), Ron Moore
went on to create a wonderful "fish-out-of-water" story about everyone's
favorite Scotsman.  The scene on NCC-1701 is absolutely breathtaking, and
brought a lump to my throat even on a rewatching.  With only one very mild
glitch (the shield problem on the Jenolan, discussed to death damn near everywhere), this show's pretty close to perfect.

Final rating:  10.


"Schisms"
Written by:  Brannon Braga (teleplay), Jean Louise Matthias & Ron Wilkerson
                                                        (story)
Directed by:  Robert Wiemer
Initial rating:  5. Best quote:  The entire Ode to Spot.


"Schisms", like "Realm of Fear", was a show with lots of promise to be
deliciously creepy, only to be bludgeoned back by a technobabble-laden plot.  
Although the creepiness shone through in a few cases (particularly in the
aliens' domain itself and in the holodeck recreation sequence), in many cases
it was trying to mask some sloppy logic on the details and lent itself to an
atmosphere just _slightly_ too reminiscent of the Weekly World News for my tastes.  Despite all of that, though, it was a generally good piece.

Final rating:  6.5.


"True Q"
Written by:  Rene Echevarria
Directed by:  Robert Scheerer
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Q, when asked what would have happened if Amanda hadn't been
        able to stop a warp-core explosion:                 "Then I would have known she wasn't a Q!"


"True Q" brought Q back to his scheming, vicious roots, and it was long
overdue.  While the show doesn't age nearly as well as some of its
predecessors (thanks mostly to some performances that just felt slightly
"off" from the regulars and some heavy moralizing on the planet-based
scenes), it was a very engaging story with a marvelous heroine, Amanda
Rogers.  Q's training of Amanda and Bev getting to play mother-figure in Wes's absence were also more than welcome.

Final rating:  8.


"Rascals"
Written by:  Alison Hock (teleplay),
                Ward Botsford & Diana Dru Botsford and Michael Piller (story)
Directed by:  Adam Nimoy
Initial rating:  5.
Best quote:  "Where did you get the idea that being short and awkward is                 some kind of wonderful gift?" -- Ensign Ro


The best thing, by far, that can be said about "Rascals" is that the child
actors found for the roles managed to turn in surprisingly good performances
all around.  Unfortunately, that's not even _close_ to enough to redeem this
show, given an exceedingly dumb premise, turning the adult crew into idiots
several times over during the Ferengi attack, and some major doses of both
technobabble and crap science to support the initial premise.  Watching the
kids enjoy the roles they were given helped, to be sure -- but not enough to keep me from wondering just what people were thinking when they filmed this.

Final rating:  4.5.


"A Fistful of Datas"
Written by:  Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story), Wolfe and Brannon Braga (teleplay)
Directed by:  Patrick Stewart
Initial rating:  6.
Best quote:  "I must have a little talk with Mr. Barclay." -- Worf, after         seeing a holo-prostitute in Alexander's program


Here, we have an example of a show that took what I'd have to call a pretty
worthless idea and ran with it pretty well.  Although a lot of the incidental
elements were ones I didn't care for in the slightest (Data-as-Eli, for
instance, along with Data-as-Annie, Annie-as-Annie, some blatant production
errors, and having to sit through that blasted saloon scene *twice*), several
of the others were very well done (such as Data-as-Frank and the Enterprise
riding off into the sunset).  Add to that some cute bits with Spot, nice
dialogue, and the first real signs of followup to "The Inner Light" in Picard, and you have a surprisingly decent show.

Final rating:  7.


"The Quality of Life"
Written by:  Naren Shankar
Directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  "Doctor, there is a big difference between you and a _virus_,                 but both are alive."


Initially, I jumped on this episode as the savior of a very silly third of a
season.  In retrospect, it wasn't quite _that_ good, but it was still the
only thing apart from "Relics" in this segment that I really felt was worth
seeing more than once.  Its biggest problems were some somewhat simplistic
arguments on both sides of the dilemma and (surprise, surprise) a great
excess of technobabble.  However, Data had some wonderful scenes and
benefited by being put on the side of judge, and the show in general was a
nice working of a good premise.  Not exactly the best the season had to offer
(in fact, a great many of the shows _after_ this one were better than it), but fairly good nonetheless.

Final rating:  8.


"Chain of Command, Part I"
Written by:  Frank Abatemarco (story), Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
Directed by:  Robert Scheerer
Initial rating:  9.5. Best quote:  "-- and get that fish out of the ready room."


There is only one thing getting in the way of this being an absolutely
wonderful show, and that's the kludge used to get Picard and company onto
that away mission in the first place.  While it doesn't, in my opinion, hurt
the wonderful show we get in part 2, it does scream "setup!" and
"artificial!" loudly enough to hurt my tender sensibilities.  :-)  However,
apart from that it's fantastic -- great acting on all counts, good pacing,
good tension, good characterization, and a final scene that made the arms of the chair I was sitting in suffer.  

Final rating:  7.5.


"Chain of Command, Part II"
Written by:  Frank Abatemarco
Directed by:  Les Landau
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Too many to pick just one for general greatness.  The most apt
        one I found was,
        "When children learn to devalue others, they can devalue anyone --                 including their parents."


As in part 1, there's only one complaint, and this time it's one aimed more
at the rest of the season than the show itself.  The ending suggests a
long-term effect that we'll probably never see realized.  Certainly we haven't since this show so far.


However, as I said that's more a criticism of the series than of the episode.
Virtually everything I listed as a good point in part 1 was at least as good
here, and we had the addition of the Picard/Madred scenes to truly bring
people in, viscerally.  A chilling, dehumanizing show which managed to provoke a ton of different emotions while I was watching it.  Nice, nice job.

Final rating:  9.5.


"Ship in a Bottle"
Written by:  Rene Echevarria
Directed by:  Alexander Singer
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Another case of indecision.  :-)  One of the below:
                "A deadline has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind."
                "I'm afraid I can't do that."
                "Policemen -- I'd recognize them in any century.", and                 "Computer, end program."


"Ship in a Bottle" is definitely in the running for one of the best shows of
the season.  At its worst, it tends to run a little slow.  At its best, which
is most of the episode, it has a marvelous sense of atmosphere, a goodly
supply of plans-within-plans scheming on *both* sides, an absolutely stunning
performance from Daniel Davis as Moriarty, and one of the most delightfully offputting endings in years.  Bravo to all concerned.

Final rating:  10.


"Aquiel"
Written by:  Jeri Taylor (story), Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
Directed by:  Cliff Bole
Initial rating:  2.
Best quote:  "There are DNA traces here -- Klingon!" -- Worf, in a very                 un-surprising revelation.  :-)


The best way to describe "Aquiel" is that it's an endurance test for TNG
watchers, to see who's _really_ hooked.  (I plead guilty as charged, but this
even gave me second thoughts.  :-) )  "Aquiel"'s biggest problem isn't that
it's offensively _bad_ -- it's that it's incredibly BORING.  The plot
surrounding the "cellular residue" was drowning in technobabble so deep that
I'm not sure exactly what we were supposed to get out of it, and the
Aquiel-centered stuff wasn't much better, thanks to very flat acting, a poor
mystery, some serious confusion about Klingon/Federation relations, and a
solution that is about as out-of-the-blue as TNG gets.  And then, of course,
there's the inevitable rule:  "Instant annoyance -- just add yapping puppy." Bleah.

Final rating:  2.


"Face of the Enemy"
Written by:  Rene Echevarria (story), Naren Shankar (teleplay)
Directed by:  Gabrielle Beaumont
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Another tie.  Here are two:
        Ensign DeSeve:  "As I have grown older, I realize that clarity of
                purpose is a more ... ambiguous matter than I had thought in
                my youth."
        or Commander Toreth:  "People blame the military for the wars that
                we are asked to fight -- but I think it is your kind, Major,                 that will be the death of us all."


If "Ship in a Bottle" isn't the best of the season, "Face of the Enemy" just
might be.  It definitely ranks as the single best Troi-centered story _ever_,
in my opinion.  Possibly more importantly than that, however, this represents
one of the best insights into Romulan culture we've ever seen on film --
between Commander Toreth and Ensign DeSeve, I feel as if I understand
Romulans a lot more than I did before.  (As long as this is used and the
Romulans aren't simply turned back into stock villains, I'm all for it.)  Add
to that a lot of nice suspense and some surprisingly vibrant musical passages, and you've got a terrific show.

Final rating:  10.


"Tapestry"
Written by:  Ronald D. Moore
Directed by:  Les Landau
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  Again, too many.  Here's another sampling:
        "You're dead, this is the afterlife -- and I'm God."
        "Now, look at you -- dead _before_ your time."   -- Maurice Picard
        "Nothing you do will cause the Federation to collapse or galaxies
                to explode.  To be blunt, you're _not that important_."         "I would rather die as the man I was, than live the life I just saw."


"Tapestry" was yet another Really Good Show in this part of the season.  (In
fact, we had a four week period containing "Ship in a Bottle", "Face of the
Enemy", and this, which probably qualifies it as one of the best months for
Trek in history.)  "Tapestry" continued the rehabilitation of Q as a
character, putting Q in his second-best role yet (the first still being "Q
Who", in my opinion), and gave Picard a rather visceral morality play.  
There's not much that stands out in this show -- it was sort of all-around terrific.  Definitely a keeper.

Final rating:  10.


"Birthright, Part I"
Written by:  Brannon Braga
Directed by:  Winrich Kolbe
Initial rating:  9.
Best quote:  "No man should know where his dreams come from!  It spoils the         mystery -- the fun!"            -- Dr. Noonian Soong


This was also a winner, though not quite as strongly as many of the efforts
of the preceding weeks.  The "Data's dream" subplot ranks as one of the most
innovative, and IMO one of the most _beautiful_ sequences of the season, and
it ticks me off to no end to see the lack of followup given to it so far.  
(Hey, now that "The Inner Light" has been given some later consideration, I
need to have at least one sticking point, and this is a prime candidate.)  
The only significant negative here was Worf's lack of foresight in planning
ahead when he decided to leave for the prison camp -- however, unlike "Chain
of Command"'s goofs, this one wasn't nearly so bad.  Other than that, we had
a remarkably interesting show about fatherhood and searches, and a promising beginning to a new phase in Data.

Final rating:  9.


"Birthright, Part II"
Written by:  Rene Echevarria
Directed by:  Dan Curry
Initial rating:  4. Best quote:  "No one survived Khitomer."

And then ... it all fell apart.


This squandered pretty much all of the wonderful capital it had been given by
part I, and left us instead with an extremely routine Klingon/Romulan culture
clash instead.  Although there were a couple of intriguing _ideas_ floating
around in this episode here and there, none of it was developed to its
potential (or even close), and much of it (such as L'Kor as father-figure to
Worf, and Data's dream) was simply dropped outright.  We also had what I
would have to term a fairly rotten performance from Jennifer Gatti as Ba'el
and a romance that is among TNG's less believable ones.  Although Tokath was
an interesting character in spots and the feast-as-rebellion scene was truly
memorable, all in all we had a pretty disappointing effort here.  The only
reason the rating here doesn't fall is that B2 unexpectedly provided some good grist for "Rightful Heir" later in the year.

Final rating:  4.


"Starship Mine"
Written by:  Morgan Gendel
Directed by:  Cliff Bole
Initial rating:  7.
Best quote:  "I have to admit it has a certain strange fascination -- how         long can two people talk about nothing?"  -- Riker, on small talk


"Starship Mine" was pure fluff, but after the self-importance of "Birthright
II" it was a pretty substantial relief.  And it filled the most important job
of fluff -- it was *fun*.  Yes, the logic behind the entire station-based
subplot was, well, _lacking_ -- and yes, the terrorists on the ship were
fairly dumb in not searching and later not killing Picard.  If you can put
those thoughts out of your mind, though, you're left with a nice action show
featuring a rarely seen side of Picard and a lot of suspense.  And besides, the "small talk" bits with Data and Hutchinson are a killer.  :-)

Final rating:  7.5.


"Lessons"
Written by:  Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias
Directed by:  Robert Wiemer
Initial rating:  9.
Best quote:  "Have you been playing [the flute] long?"  "Um... yes, a long                 time."


"Lessons" was the sort of show many people would call "just" a love story.  
There wasn't much else to it, 'tis true, but personally, that doesn't matter
a bit to me _if the romance is believable_.  This one was.  Although it
rankles that the powers that be didn't allow Nella to remain on board, it
represents a fairly big step that she wasn't killed off outright.  "Lessons"
also represented the first significant indication of change on Picard's part
due to "The Inner Light" -- and as long as it isn't the last, I applaud it
wholeheartedly.  (I know, I know -- I'm never satisfied.)  Finally, if
"Lessons" doesn't start silencing the complaints about TNG music, nothing
will, because here the music was virtually its own character, and a damned
good one to boot.  That flute solo in the Jeffries tube still brings a lump to my throat.

Final rating:  9.


"The Chase"
Written by:  Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore (story), Joe Menosky (teleplay)
Directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
Initial rating:  7. Best quote:  "Dream not of today, Mr. Picard."

Urgh.


Without getting into any of the ancillary points that caused a lot of fuss when I first reviewed this, let me say this about "The Chase":


The Galen/Picard interaction and Picard's subsequent obsession are both
excellent, and much of the character interplay was good.  (Not all of it, though -- Bev seemed a bit flatter than usual, for one thing.)


However, "The Chase"'s entire premise (that humans are some special
engineering product of an ultra-advanced race) is both ill-thought-out and
arrogant as all hell, and I cannot in good conscience support an episode that
contains thinking I am so passionately devoted to countering in teaching my students the value of critical scientific thinking.  (More on this later.)

Final rating:  6.


"Frame of Mind"
Written by:  Brannon Braga
Directed by:  James L. Conway
Initial rating:  10. Best quote:  "Don't let them tell you you're crazy."


Here, on the other hand, is yet another candidate for best of the season.  
"Frame of Mind" was a paranoid, imagery-ridden, deeply disturbed show able to
give most viewers the willies -- and _damn_, it was fun.  :-)  Jonathan
Frakes gives the first of two "performances of his life" in this show as well.  There's really nothing I can say against this one.

Final rating:  10.


"Suspicions"
Written by:  Joe Menosky & Naren Shankar
Directed by:  Cliff Bole
Initial rating:  3.
Best quote:  "Is that an order, Doctor?"  "Yes."  "Too bad you're not my boss                 any more..."


Ouch.  In "Suspicions"'s favor, it was trying awfully hard to do something
new, and to give Dr. Crusher some badly-needed star time.  Unfortunately, it
all got tangled up in some truly rotten acting (especially from Tricia O'Neil
as Kurak and whoever played the Vulcan scientist), some major lapses of logic
(such as the "autopsy" conflict -- it's not invasive enough on one side and
too invasive on another), and a heavy excess of narration.  There were nice
bits nibbling around the edges of this episode, such as Reyga's character and
a couple of scenes between Crusher and Ogawa, but not nearly enough to bring
this one up out of the doldrums.  (Fortunately, it was the _last_ loser of the season.)

Final rating:  3.


"Rightful Heir"
Written by:  James E. Brooks (story), Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
Directed by:  Winrich Kolbe
Initial rating:  9.5.
Best quote:  Again, a tie for several --
        "I _want_ to believe."  "That is a beginning."
        "Have you ever fought an idea, Picard?  It has no weapon to destroy,
                no body to kill!"  -- Gowron
        "If his words hold wisdom and his philosophy is honorable, what does
                it matter if he returns?  What is important is that we
                follow his teachings.  Perhaps the words are more important                 than the man."          -- Kahless


"Rightful Heir" was a show that only got better after I watched it again --
and I liked it a lot to start with.  Not only did it give us a marvelous
story about faith of all kinds and its various ups and downs, but it managed
to use the monstrosity that was "Birthright II" as a constructive jumping-off point, which I didn't think anyone could manage.


The show also had lots of wonderful moments.  The "we are Klingons!"
exhortation scene made me think that Kahless might really _be_ legit, Michael
Dorn got to give Worf more range than he's had in a good long while (possibly
as far back as the introduction of Alexander on board, really), Picard got to
give Worf a much-deserved chewing-out, and Worf playing kingmaker makes me
think he might have more of a future in the Empire than I'd originally thought.  All in all, most impressive.

Final rating:  10.


"Second Chances"
Written by:  Michael A. Medlock (story), Rene Echevarria (teleplay)
Directed by:  LeVar Burton
Initial rating:  9. Best quote:  "I've seen that face in the mirror too many times."


This was almost unexpectedly good -- given the number of "double" stories
Trek has had in its time, the prospect of another one wasn't especially
appealing.  However, the worst that can really be said about "Second Chances"
is that it runs a bit slow in places, especially in those blessedly rare
instances when discussion about the distortion field and "retrieving the
database" comes to the forefront.  Other than that, we had a wonderful new
accounting of the Riker/Troi history, some good points about uniqueness, a
nice and quiet character drama without technobabble dragging it down, and
another surprising ending, in that Thomas Riker was _not_ killed off.   Another keeper.

Final rating:  8.5.


"Timescape"
Written by:  Brannon Braga
Directed by:  Adam Nimoy
Initial rating:  10.
Best quote:  "The next thing I know, there's a hissing ball of fur coming at                 my face..."


"Timescape", not surprisingly, was another reality-bending time-travel story
in the vein of "Cause and Effect", and it worked very nearly as well.  It
started from a very neat premise and a great creepy atmosphere, and went on
to give us a very engaging story full of misdirection (_effective_
misdirection, which is somewhat rarer), good use of a silly bit of
technobabble from "Face of the Enemy" [the "artificial quantum singularity"
power source], a sensible solution and a particularly strong showing for the
second week in a row from Deanna Troi, both in writing and in Marina Sirtis's
acting.  Where "Timescape" falls down a bit, though, is when it drowns a bit
in its own technobabble.  That, combined with a few small logic questions here and there, keep it from a top rating -- but it's still quite good.

Final rating:  9.


"Descent"
Written by:  Jeri Taylor (story), Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
Directed by:  Alexander Singer
Initial rating:  9.5.
Best quote:  "You should listen to her, Captain -- she's way ahead of you."                                 -- Lore


And then, the season came to a close with a bang.  "Descent" started with a
very light-hearted poker scene featuring Stephen Hawking -- and that's about
the last time this show was lighthearted at all.  "Descent" oozed tension
pretty much throughout the show, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one feeling
very uncomfortable when Data was being put through the wringer
philosophically by Crosis.  Both Picard and Data are being put through major
crises of conscience in "Descent", and it remains to be seen what will come of it.


However, I can't give this a rating -- not yet.  There are too many things
that depend on the second half for me really to know confidently how this
will turn out.  The change in the Borg and Picard's moral dilemma are two of
the longer-term issues I'm wondering about, but many of the logical problems
in getting to the cliffhanger ending are also ones that can be explained away
with a little work in Part II.  As such, I don't want to deduct for them yet -- but I also don't want to ignore them.  

Final rating:  Not available.


If I were to strictly average that out, we'd get a 7.2.  That's a bit up from
last year, but as with last year doesn't really say much.  A whole series is not really the sum of its parts.  So, it's time for...


II.  General Commentary | ------------------------+


On the whole, I have a much better feeling about this season just past than I
did about season 5.  While I'm not sure season 6 had anything that equalled
the sheer emotional power of "The Inner Light" in a single episode, it had
several richly textured shows in its place, and managed to feel like there was an uninterrupted run of quality for a while.  


While that run wasn't quite uninterrupted, it wasn't at all bad once we hit
"Chain of Command", which was quite early in the season.  From "Chain of
Command" onwards, there were only four shows out of 17 that were anything
lower than a 7.5 so far as I'm concerned, and they were spaced out nicely.  
(For the record, those four were "Aquiel", "Birthright, Part II", "The
Chase", and "Suspicions".)  In fact, the six-episode period from "Chain of
Command II" to "Birthright I" had five shows placing 9 or higher, with only "Aquiel" causing any problems at all.


That's the sort of sustained run I don't recall seeing since season 3 -- most
of the time it's been much more on-again, off-again.  It's a heartening sign that TNG is correcting more mistakes than it's making.


For instance, there were two trends I noted last year as possible problems,
both of which seem to have been nipped in the bud.  I said that the Romulans
had ceased to be interesting villains and had instead turned into faceless
enemies again.  Lo and behold, we got "Face of the Enemy", probably the best
Romulan-based show I've seen.  I also worried publicly that Worf had become a
laughingstock and nothing at all akin to his former self.  Well, "Birthright
II" didn't exactly help that image, but part I of it, and then _especially_
"Rightful Heir" have reinstated him in my eyes.  (This is combined with the
near-total absence of Alexander, who didn't show up after "A Fistful of Datas".  Personally, I have to hope it stays that way.)


These are definitely good things.  Another is that TNG seems to be getting
looser in its approach to storytelling.  "Frame of Mind", for instance, was
almost totally unlike anything TNG had ever done, and the dreaming sequence
in "Birthright, Part I" was definitely far beyond the norm as well.  Even
something like "Suspicions", which in my view was a pretty abysmal failure as
an episode, was at least _trying_ to do something new.  It failed, but at least it tried -- and I can live with the occasional failure.


Then, however, we have the new and different worrisome trends, and I'd like
to make a mention of them, since there's only one season left to avoid them again.  

First, there's "technobabble -- threat or menace?"


You've probably noticed that many times in my episode-by-episode rundown, I
said that such and such might have been a good story, "but drowned in technobabble."  That's true far, FAR too often.


Years ago, when I heard the hype about TNG taking pains to be more
scientifically accurate than its predecessors, I took it more or less
seriously.  Yes, there were gaffes such as "subatomic bacteria" or the
infamous "-291 degrees Kelvin" then, but they were fairly rare, and also tended to take up a very small portion of the show.


Now, though, we're getting entire _episodes_ built around the intricacies of
the transporter ("Realm of Fear", though it probably wasn't meant to look
that way) and the structure of subspace ("Schisms").  This is adding
fictitious mumbo-jumbo on top of an _already_ fictitious structure.  Maybe
it's meant to suspend disbelief -- with me, the effect is the opposite,
creating an attitude of "if they're tossing phrases this goofy at us, we're
obviously _not_ meant to suspend disbelief."  Somehow, I don't think that's what was intended.


And then, to make matters worse, we get something like "The Chase".  At the
bottom line, "The Chase" was butchering everything currently understood about
evolution, genetics, and basic statistics -- and why?  Not for the sake of a
good story, it appears, but to "explain" the 20th century necessity of
humanoid aliens.  Anyone who _needed_ a 24th-century reason for such a thing
is taking the show too seriously.  (In addition, by using the fallacy of "it
couldn't have occurred randomly, therefore it was _consciously designed_", it
has made itself look very silly, along with other "theories" using that fallacy.)


I realize that TNG takes pride in its scientific "accuracy".  I don't fault
it for not getting things right all the time -- sometimes there simply isn't
time, and sometimes the truth is pretty boring.  However, I think one of two things needs to happen.  Either:


1)  Naren Shankar needs to get together with a biologist and at least make
that side of things _sound_ more vaguely plausible than it does.  I won't say
there aren't physics goofs, but they're far fewer and also less likely to be
picked up by laymen.  If *I'm* jumping on biology goofs, they're pretty blatant.

or


2)  The technobabble level of the shows needs to be _drastically_ reduced, by
which I mean at least a factor of four.  (Note that this is my preference.)  
Take "Second Chances", for instance.  That's a good case of technobabble
being used well and at an appropriate level -- there were a few quick lines
about how Thomas Riker came about, they sounded realistic enough that no one
cries foul -- and then they're _done_, and we can get on with the rest of the story.  That's the sort of approach I'd like to see.


That leaves the other major issue I have, namely that of "glitches" in the story that make what comes after seem contrived.


In far too many cases this year, we've seen wonderful executions of wonderful
stories, marred only by one thing -- no one could possibly believe the crew
would be daft enough to get _into_ the situation they're so nobly extracting themselves from.  Some examples of this:


-- "Chain of Command".  Yes, part II was among the more riveting things the
        season had to offer -- but who honestly believes there was a good
        reason advanced for the team that was sent to Celtris Three?  Not I.
-- "Birthright".  Worf at least thought enough ahead to let the Enterprise
        know he was leaving, but given that he knew he was going someplace
        dangerous, he could've thought a bit more about how to get _out_ of
        the situation.  Given all the problems part II had anyway, this
        was a comparatively minor point.
-- "Suspicions".  It should NOT be that easy for a non-command officer to
        steal a shuttle, and the bridge crew should not react that slowly
        to an obvious security breach.  This particular setup has happened
        a great deal, and it's beginning to wear entirely too thin.
-- "Descent".  Here, actually, I didn't have much of a problem with Data
        stealing the shuttle.  I _did_ have a problem with many of Picard's
        actions on the planet.  Many of the obvious things were taken care
        of, such as using shuttles for recon, but that doesn't explain the
        lack of attention paid to the building, the top-heavy composition
        of the "critical" field team, or their nonchalance about wandering
        into a probable Borg headquarters.  Most of these are ones that can
        still be fixed in part 2, and may well be -- but for now it doesn't         look good.


Basically, what I'm getting at here is that the staff may be getting so
ambitious about the broad strokes of what they want to tell ("Descent" and
"Chain of Command", for instance, are both marvelous pieces of work aside
from what I've mentioned above) that they're losing sight of the details
necessary to make it believable -- sometimes patching over holes with
technobabble, which only makes matters worse.  This is the sort of problem
very common to Trek, given how much we as fans overanalyze it -- but a lot of
the problems above are pretty basic, not esoteric.  I think it deserves some attention.


I think, at long last, that that wraps it up.  As I said earlier, on the
whole I think this has been a very nice season -- a definite upturn from the
roller-coaster ride in quality that was season 5.  As TNG heads into its final season, I hope it manages to go out with its head held high.  

Until September, then, fare thee well.


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"No man should know where his dreams come from!"
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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