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Featured TV on DVD Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five

November 16th, 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

We are more than halfway through the seven-year run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first two seasons were a little rough, but by season three and season four it had really hit its stride. How does season five compare?

The Show

The season starts out with the second half of Redemption, which I previously reviewed. It's not the best season-straddling two-parter in the show's run, but it is still a great way to start the season. Darmok is one of the best episodes in the show's entire run. The Enterprise is tasked with opening a relationship with the Tamarians, a race that has before been called incomprehensible. Their first attempts fail, because incomprehensible is an understatement. In a desperate attempt to communicate, the captain of the Tamarian ship forcibly teleports himself and Jean-Luc Picard to the surface of the planet and puts up scramblers so the Enterprise cannot teleport him back. I love this episode, because it is one of the few that show how hard it would be to communicate with truly alien species, a species whose language doesn't conform to the rules for the Universal Translator to work. Ensign Ro begins with Picard at the barbers getting his hair cut. You know, there's Sci-fi and then there's pure Fantasy, and this is crossing the line. Early in the episode, a Federation colony, Solarion Four, is destroyed and a Bajoran terrorist organization claims responsibility, in order to force the Federation to take sides. The Bajorans' homeworld was taken over by the Cardassians forty years ago. The Cardassians and the Federation have been having an uneasy peace, but the Federation is sympathetic to the Bajorans, so this attack could backfire. In order to get this mission done, a new officer to brought aboard, Ensign Ro Laren. She has a reputation for being difficult, but the Admiral insists she will be needed. It's not as good as the first two episodes, but still very good. Also, I liked Ensign Ro as a character and was glad when she stuck around. Silicon Avatar begins with the crew of the Enterprise helping a new colony begin, but a Crystalline Entity arrives and starts to destroy the surface of the planet. Most of the colonists survive, but not all of them. They bring aboard Kila Marr, an expert in the Crystalline Entity, as her son was killed by the being during an attack on Omicron Theta, which is the world where Data was made. She's here to try and stop it, but Picard wants to see if they can communicate with it first. This is the weakest episode on Disc One, but still very good. Disaster starts with the crew in-between missions and more or less relaxing. Disaster strikes and the ship is left drifting through space with much of the core crew separated and unable to communicate with each other. Counselor Troi is the senior officer on the bridge, Keiko O'Brien is nine months pregnant and stuck in Ten Forward, worse still, Picard is trapped in a turbolift with three kids. Another very strong episode to round out the disc. It combines drama, tension, and humor. On a side note, this is the episode with Marissa Flores (Erika Flores). If you don't know who Marissa Flores is, it means you don't read a lot of really bad Fan Fiction.

There's not much to talk about on Disc Two. The Game is one of the weaker episodes. Riker's latest alien girlfriend gives him an addictive game, World of Warcraft, and he's instantly brainwashed and begins spreading the game to the rest of the crew. Fortunately, Wesley Crusher is visiting and is there to save the day. There were some really tense moments, and the Wesley / Ensign Robin Lefler interaction is good, but the gaming addiction is forced and it has a really weak ending. Up next is the two-part Unification, but since that is also a separate DVD, so I will review it on its own. A Matter of Time involves Matt Frewer as a time traveling history professor who arrives to study the Enterprise during an important mission. Matt Frewer is a great guest star and it is a neat twist on time travel. New Ground is the return of Alexander, Worf's son. That character never worked, so this is a weaker episode.

Disc three begins with Hero Worship, which is one of the weaker episodes of the season. The crew of the Enterprise, specifically Data, rescue a young boy, who is the only survivor aboard a research vessel. The crew begins to hero worship Data, while whatever destroyed the research vessel might destroy the Enterprise. Violations uses forced telepathic contact as an analogy for rape. Marina Sirtis does shine in the episode, but it is an uncomfortable topic, to put it mildly, and the episode isn't strong enough to handle it. Also, the mystery is very weak. It's too easy to see the twist coming. The Masterpiece Society is better than the past two episodes, but it is still only good and not great. It deals with a society where everyone is genetically engineered for a particular job, while eliminating any unwelcome traits. This is a topic that Sci-fi deals with better than any other genre, but it is a little clumsy in dealing with the subject. Conundrum, on the other hand, is a fantastic episode. The crew of the Enterprise are scanned by an alien craft, which affects their memories, and part of the computer. They have all of their normal skills, but they don't know who they are or what their mission is. Now they have to figure out what happened and complete their mission. It's a great Sci-fi mystery and even though there's a little bit of a flaw in the execution, (a new character appears, so the viewers know something is up before the crew does.) It is still one of the best episodes of the season. You get to see the characters act in ways they wouldn't normally act and it is very enjoyable as a result. In Power Play, the Enterprise picks up a distress call on a M-Class moon, but it is from a ship that went missing 200 years ago. Jean-Luc Picard assumes everyone is dead, and since the moon is covered in dangerous storms, he doesn't want to risk investigating further. However, Troi detects someone alive down on the moon. It's too dangerous to transport, so Data, Riker, and Troi take a shuttlepod down... and promptly crash. When they are finally beamed back to the Enterprise, something is brought back with them. It's a solid episode, but it doesn't really stand out.

In Ethics, Worf is involved in accident that leaves him paralyzed. Dr. Beverly Crusher thinks she can get him about 60% mobility back, but another doctor, Dr. Russel, says she can get him full mobility, with an untested and very risky procedure. The episode deals with both medical ethics and euthanasia. (Worf would rather commit ritualistic suicide rather than live as anything less than a warrior.) Having a message helps, but perhaps the episode is a little too crowded to work to its full potential. In The Outcast, Riker has sex with a member of the J'naii species, which is genderless. There are so many easy jokes here. However, the episode is very serious, because the species thinks that any J'naii that identifies with one gender or the other has a sickness and must be reeducated. This is basically an analogy for Gay Conversion Therapy, which makes it a very daring episode for 1991. Hell, it would be daring today. Cause and Effect begins with the Enterprise blowing up. This happens a lot. The Enterprise is stuck in a time loop, but we see the crew slowly pick up on this fact and try to change their fate. Despite the repetition, it still has high replay value. Arguably the best episode of the season. Wesley Crusher again returns in The First Duty, or to be more accurate, the Enterprise goes to him. While there, there's an accident at the academy and one of Wesley's classmates dies. During the investigation, it is clear there is a cover-up and Wesley is involved. This is a very good episode, but not a classic. Robert Duncan McNeill has a guest appearance playing a character very similar to the one he would play on Voyager. Cost of Living is a Lwaxana Troi episode that also focuses on Alexander. Moving on.

The Perfect Mate involves a guest spot by Famke Janssen, so we have Professor X and Jean Grey together years before X-Men. This would be enough to make it an interesting episode, but it is also a really well made episode. In it, the Enterprise is needed to help stop a centuries-long war. There is a ceremony of reconciliation and the Krios are giving the Valt a gift to ensure peace. Skipping over some details, this "gift" is a woman, Kamala, a empathic metamorph who will bond with the Valt, thus ensuring peace through a political marriage. This isn't slavery, because she's chosen to do this for her people. However, she was supposed to be kept sealed up to prevent her from bonding with anyone before the ceremony, and that doesn't work out so well and now Picard has to figure a way to keep her away from men, unless she bonds prematurely. Imaginary Friend is about a girl, Clara, who has an Imaginary Friend. Turns out this friend isn't imaginary and isn't a friend. It's arguably the weakest episode in the season. In I Borg, the crew of the Enterprise intercept a distress beacon on a moon in a system they were potentially going to colonize. But when they go down and look for survivors, they find... a Borg. Instead of destroying it and moving on, they try to see what they can learn about the Borg. Geordi goes so far as to give it a name, Hugh. As they try to learn about Hugh to turn him into a weapon, Hugh learns to be an individual, which changes the crew's perception of Hugh and the Borg. In The Next Phase, the Enterprise races to rescue a Romulan ship in critical danger. Riker, Worf, Ensign Ro, and Geordi beam over to help, but when Ensign Ro and Geordi beam back, a transporter malfunction occurs and they die. Or do they? The episode then mostly switches to Ensign Ro and Geordi's point of view, as they try and figure out what happened to them. Geordi figures out they are out of phase and needs to figure out how to get back in phase. Worse still, they overhear the Romulans discussing a top secret new power system, one they can't let the Federation know about, so they plan on sabotaging the Enterprise so it will explode next time it goes to warp. An excellent Sci-fi mystery with some very tense moments and it has a lot of fun touches.

The Inner Light is one of the best episodes in the show's seven-year run. The Enterprise comes across a strange probe, which scans the ship and Picard is knocked unconscious. When he awakes, he's greeted by someone who calls him Kamin, and who says she's his wife, Eline. She claims he is just recovering from a fever, one that has taken his memories. He's not buying it, but there's little he can do. Some time passes, and by that I mean years, and he begins to accept this is his life, but he can't let go of his memories of the Enterprise. Of course the viewers know the Enterprise is real and this life is not, but it is still an engaging episode, thanks to an incredible script and excellent performances all around. Time's Arrow begins with the Enterprise returning to Earth, because there has been new evidence uncovered that shows aliens visited the planet 500 years ago. One of the relics found is... Data's head. Yeah, that's a bad sign. At first the crew is shocked and all react quite poorly to this discover, all but Data that is. Then the crew goes down to San Francisco to the cave where the artifacts were found to solve the mystery, but while they are performing experiments, Data is sucked into the past. While in the in past, Data meets Guinan. At first Data thinks Guinan traveled into the past, but instead her species is simply very long-lived and this is before she ever boarded the Enterprise. Back in the future / present Guinan convinces Picard that he must travel back into the past, or they will never meet in the future. There is the reason this time the two-part season finale / season premiere isn't the big individual Blu-ray release. While Time's Arrow is a very good episode, it isn't nearly as good as Reunification, the other two-part episode this season. Also, Reunification includes an historical aspect as well that this episode can't match. (More on that in the stand-alone review.) Part of the problem is the portrayal of Mark Twain, who is aggressively annoying. That hurts an otherwise very strong episode and the season ends on an excellent note.

Almost half of the episodes from season five of Star Trek: The Next Generation are excellent, if not classics. This includes the second part of Redemption, Darmok, both parts of Reunification, A Matter of Time, Conundrum, Cause and Effect, The Perfect Mate, I Borg, The Next Phase, Inner Light, and the first part of Time's Arrow are all excellent. On the other hand, there are a handful that are rather weak. New Ground, Hero Worship, and Violations are three bad episodes right in a row in the middle of the season, while Imaginary Friend and Cost of Living from late in the season also fail to rise to average for the franchise. They are worth checking out, but they have limited replay value.

The Extras

The only extra on Disc One is an 18-minute overview of Season Five. Departmental Briefing: Year Five is a 15-minute look at the production of a few episodes from season five, starting with Inner Light and including Ethics, etc. The Departmental Briefing: Year Five from disc three looks at the visual effects. Disc four has Memorable Mission, which looks at the most memorable episodes from the season. There are also audio commentary tracks for Cause and Effect and The First Duty. Disc five has a 28-minute long tribute to Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991, just after season five began. Intergalactic Guest Stars looks at guest actors on the show. They first give a few examples throughout the years, then focus on season five. There is also an audio commentary on I Borg. Alien Speak looks at various aliens languages heard and seen through the show's run. Disc six starts with seven minutes of outtakes. There is a massive 74-minute long documentary on the music in the series. Finally, there is a two-part look at the show, episodes that took on contemporary issues, the lasting effect, etc. There is also an audio commentary on Inner Light.

The technical presentation continues to be excellent. Despite the fact that this show is more than 20 years old, it still looks great, for the most part. There were a couple of episodes with about two minutes of standard definition. It is definitely noticeable when you watch the episodes, but the scenes are so short that it won't distract too much. The audio is just as good with a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers. The 7.1 surround sound track is very engaging, which is surprising given the age of the show.

And as always, the only downside is the price. The list price is $130, while on, it's $78 with discount.

The Verdict

Season Five of Star Trek: The Next Generation is filled with excellent episodes and even the weakest episodes are worth checking out. The Blu-ray has plenty of extras, but it is expensive. I think it is worth the price, but others might not be so sure.

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Filed under: Video Review, Whoopi Goldberg, Majel Barrett, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Michelle Forbes, Jonathan Frakes, Matt Frewer, Ellen Geer, Famke Janssen, Ashley Judd, Caroline Kava, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart, Wil Wheaton, Rosalind Chao