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

December 1st, 2012

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation lasted for seven seasons and for much of its run, it was considered the best Sci-fi series of its day. However, season one wasn't among its best seasons. In fact, it wasn't until the fifth / sixth episode, Where No One Has Gone Before, till we got a good episode and there are only about six others that are good. Granted, a lot of shows take a little while to find their footing. So does the show begin to shine in Season Two? Or does it take a step back? What about extras and the technical presentation? Do they warrant the high price?

The Show

There were a number of changes at the beginning of season two, most notably the replacement of Dr. Beverly Crusher with Doctor Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur). Doctor Pulaski was supposed to be a gruff doctor more like Bones from The Original Series, but the character just didn't work out. Also new this season is Guinan, which was a much better addition to the cast. Guinan was the wise alien bartender who ran Ten-Forward, a new location in the ship, which allowed us to see the crew in a more casual setting. Finally, Chief Miles O'Brien is (re)-introduced as a more prominent member of the cast. (Colm Meaney had a couple brief appearances as unnamed characters in the first season.) Two of the three major changes at the beginning of the season were positive, but that's still a lot to deal with, so the season needed to get off to a strong start.

Unfortunately, The Child is anything but a strong start. In fact, you could argue it is the worst episode of the season. In it, Counselor Deanna Troi is raped and no one seems to react that way. She's impregnated by an alien force while she sleeps, that's rape by any meaningful definition of the word, and it is treated as merely a strange occurrence. Had they not screwed up this part of the episode, it still would be a weak episode, as there are other problems. Where Silence Has Lease is a much better episode. The Enterprise encounters something strange in space, a void without matter or energy. When they investigate, they become captured by an alien and become the subject of investigation themselves. Elementary, Dear Data is the first truly classic episode of the series. In it, Data is on the holodeck playing Sherlock Holmes with Geordi LaForge, but Geordi LaForge realizes there's a problem. Not only does Data know all of the books in every detail, he knows the world so intimately that he can deduce the ending of any mystery immediately. When Geordi tries to get the computer to create a foe smart enough to defeat Data, the computer creates an artificial intelligence in the form of Professor James Moriarty. Easily one of the best episodes of the season. Arguably one of the best of the series. The Outrageous Okona is one of the weakest episodes. Capt. Thadiun Okona is described as a charming rogue, but he's just annoying, while the A-plot involving star-crossed lovers is no less irritating. Also, Data tries to learn about humor and gets advice from a great comedian. Joe Piscopo. Really? Neither storyline works. Loud as a Whisper at least has a good setup. The Enterprise is to transport a mediator to a warring system in order to get the two sides to come to peace. However, the negotiator, Riva (Howie Seago), is deaf and only communicates through three translators. When these translators are killed, he struggles to deal with the tragedy and learn to communicate through other means. Like many early episodes that had a message, this one was heavy-handed, so while the heart was in the right place, the execution is lacking.

In The Schizoid Man, a brilliant scientist, Dr. Ira Graves, has a medical emergency. Unfortunately, his case is terminal. Before he dies, he downloads his mind into Data so he can carry on his scientific work. This causes Data to act very odd and the rest of the crew begin to worry. It is better than the last two episodes, but just average for the season. Unnatural Selection is about an epidemic on a planet that causes all of the people to age rapidly and Doctor Pulaski has to come up with a cure. It is merely average for the second season. A Matter of Honor is anything but average, it is one of the best episodes of the season. In it, Riker is assigned to a Klingon vessel as part of an officer exchange program. It is obviously a bit of a culture shock going over there. At the same time, the Enterprise has an exchange ensign as well, Ensign Mendon, who also has trouble fitting in with his new crew. It's a great episode, as we get to see more of the Klingons in action. The Measure of a Man is not just one of the best episodes of the season, it is one of the best episodes of the series and of the franchise. A roboticist, Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy), wants to study Data, in order to find a way to recreate the technology. However, the testing could destroy Data. When Data refuses to, Maddox tries to argue that since Data is just a machine, it has no rights within Starfleet and can be forced to undergo the experiment. They go to court with Jean-Luc Picard defending Data, while Riker is forced to take the other side.

After two excellent episodes, disc three begins with The Dauphin, which is not classic. It is below average for the season. It's a Wesley story, and not just a Wesley story, but a Wesley in love story. Moving on. In Contagion, the Enterprise's sister ship, the Yamato, is having serious problems and are stuck in the Neutral Zone. The Enterprise goes to help, but soon is afflicted by the same technical problems and are at risk of attack from the Romulans. It's one of the best episodes of the season, but not a true classic. The Royale is so bad that it's good. Riker, Data, and Worf get trapped in a world based on a bad B-novel. However, the story itself is like a bad B-novel, but not in a way that makes for a good sci-fi story. It's filled with mysteries that are never explained and bizarre plot holes. (The scene where they find the dead astronaut is particularly bad. They find a skeleton in bed and Riker concludes he died in his sleep. Why? Because they found him in a bed? Data than comments there's no advanced decomposition. It's a skeleton. You can hardly get more decomposed than that. Time Squared is a much better episode. The Enterprise comes across a shuttlecraft and in it there's one person, Jean-Luc Picard. He's comes from six hours in the future where the Enterprise was destroyed. That's a really good setup and the execution is also solid. The Icarus Factor is another miss. It focuses on Riker dealing with his disapproving father.

Pen Pals is an interesting episode that deals with the Prime Directive. While performing a survey of a very unstable star system, Data begins communicating with a young alien, Sarjenka. After talking for many days, Data realizes her species doesn't know about life beyond her planet and therefore he's broken the Prime Directive. This episode has one of the better discussions of the Prime Directive in the franchise. Q returns in Q Who? and introduces us to The Borg. An absolutely classic episode. Not only is it one of the best of the season, it is one of the best of the franchise. In Samaritan Snare, Wesley has to go to a Starfleet for an Academy test. Meanwhile, Jean-Luc Picard has a serious medical problem and needs to go to the base to have it taken care of, and he goes with Wesley. The other plot involves the Pakled, one of the dumber and least interesting alien races around. I like parts of this episode, but overall it is just average. Likewise, Up the Long Ladder there are some okay parts, but others... The Enterprise has to rescue a bunch of drunken Irish settlers. Maybe I'm being a little unfair to the episode. … Nope. There are some pretty offensive stereotypes here. Manhunt involves Lwaxana Troi. Like I said last time, I have nothing against the actress, but that character is annoying. I do like Deanna Troi's reaction when she first senses her mother's presence. Also, I like how Picard avoids her by hiding out on the holodeck.

The final disc begins with The Emissary, which is one of the better episodes of the season. The Enterprise has to deal with a Klingon ship that was found in deep space with its crew in stasis. They've been in stasis so long, that they think they are still at war with the Federation. The crew does have help from a half-Klingon, half-human woman, K'Ehleyr, who has a history with Worf. The season ends with Peak Performance. An alien, Sirna Kolrami, comes aboard to help with tactical tests, war games. Two things happen. Before the war games, Kolrami beats Data in a tactical game so easily that Data thinks something is wrong with his programming. Secondly, during the war games, they are interrupted by a Ferengi, played by Armin Shimerman, the second Ferengi character he played before being cast as Quark. That's it. That's the last episode of season two. ... There's only 21 episodes, because otherwise we have to admit Shades of Gray exists, and I refuse to do so. It's not a real episode, but a bad clips show created solely for budgetary reasons.

In some ways, season two is a serious step up from season one. There are three episodes this season I would consider classics, Elementary, Dear Data, The Measure of a Man, and Q Who?, and that's three more classic episodes than were in the entire first season. There are also a few others like A Matter of Honor, Peak Performance, Contagion, Time Squared, and The Emissary that are as good as just about any first season episode. However, there's also episodes that are just not good. If you were to rank the 26 worst episodes from the show's entire run to create a full season's worth of misses, almost half of this season would potentially show up on that list. That's even worse than season one. Overall, the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation began to show signs of what it would eventually become, but there were still some problems that needed to be worked out.

The Extras

There are a lot of extras on this five-disc set, both old and new. New extras on disc one start with the second part of Energized!, this time focusing on the changes from season one to season two from a technical standpoint. There is a segment from Reading Rainbow, which of course starred LeVar Burton. There is also a promo for the new Reading Rainbow app. The only extras on disc two involve The Measure of a Man. You can watch the episode as the broadcast version, the original extended cut than ran 13 minutes too long, the hybrid version, and the extended cut with audio commentary. This episode really is this important. Disc three has about ten minutes of outtakes. The only new extras on disc four is an audio commentary track on Q Who? Again, it is one of the best episodes of the season. Disc five has Reunification, an hour-long reunion with the cast. There is also a two-part, 80-minute long retrospective called Make it So. Finally, there's the last Archival Mission Log, which is another season two retrospective.

Old extras begin with a promo for season two. There is also an Archival Mission Log, i.e., extras ported over from the old DVD release. On disc one, it is a production featurette. Disc three has two more Archival Mission Logs. Inside Starfleet Archives looks at Penny Juday, who works at the Star Trek archivist. The second is an interview featurette with most of the cast. Disc four has a retrospective on the season, while disc five has another retrospective. That's a good collection of old and new.

The technical presentation is just as good as the first season. Granted, there were a few scenes that looked like they were filmed for TV in the 1980s... and that's because they were. However, they stood out because for the most part, the show looks amazing. It looks better now that it did when it first came out. It's not quite up to the level of a first run show like Lost, but it is an unfair comparison. The audio is just as strong and the show's 7.1 audio track is also excellent with a very immersive track. The show has a lot of ambient sounds and the audio brings them to life.

On the other hand, there's the price. Right now on, the second season costs $80, which is a lot to ask. There are clearly enough fans out there willing to buy it, but it is not a bargain.

The Verdict

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two has more classic and excellent episodes than Season One did and there are better extras. However, the season also has more major misses and the price is really high compared to other TV on Blu-ray releases.

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Filed under: Video Review, Whoopi Goldberg, Majel Barrett, LeVar Burton, Billy Campbell, Nikki Cox, John de Lancie, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, DeForest Kelley, Gates McFadden, Colm Meaney, Joe Piscopo, Suzie Plakson, Mitch Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart, Wil Wheaton