Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 5a)

<--Season 4b Season 5b-->

In its fifth season “The Next Generation” had hit its stride. We don’t see any more truly goofy episodes, but at the same time there is less experimentation—less risk being taken. Most of the fifth season episodes that are numbered among the greats of the whole series come in the second half, but there are still some good thought provocations among these first 13:

Episode 1: “Redemption II” 

As is often the case with second-parters, this one fails to match the tone and weight of the season finale. The most interesting aspect of the show—Data’s turn at command—is hardly explored.

Episode 2: “Darmok” 

This is one of the more daring, conceptual attempts of the whole franchise. Whether it pulls it off or not is open to debate. For the first time in all of its interstellar exploration, a Trek crew encounters a truly distinct culture and language. These aliens think in a way that is foreign and their communication reflects it. It is a little unconvincing, though, that a language could be built purely on metaphor when one would need a base language with which to share the stories from which the metaphors would arise.

Episode 3: “Ensign Ro” 

This series was written and produced in 1991. When one thinks of the historical context the world was experiencing, some of these stories both make more sense and at the same time seem somewhat naïve about the way the world really works. More on that in a couple of episodes.

Episode 4: “Silicon Avatar” 

For some reason I always connected the title of this episode to the Crystalline Entity. It wasn’t until this viewing that I realized the title is referring to Data. Don’t know how I missed that. Other than that this is a standard if somewhat compelling debate about revenge.

Episode 5: “Disaster” 

The writers place a bunch of characters in a difficult situation and then write them out of it.

Episode 6: “The Game” 

Despite the embarrassing cheese that this episode flirts with, it is a good story at its core. The culture we live in has indeed given too much power to the entertainments we are obsessed with, and it remains to be seen just how long it will be until that power is recognized and used for evil. If someone were willing to try they could do a lot of damage.

Episodes 7&8: “Unification”

The real world events that surround this airing are interesting. It was barely a year since German reunification. The final nail in the coffin on Soviet dissolution was mere days after part two aired. Czechoslovakia split one short year later. This was the world we lived in. The Cold War was ending and no one could imagine problems or divisions being that insurmountable ever again.

Episode 9: “A Matter of Time” 

This episode has a feel of mystery so thick that the viewer is never really taken in, so the twist when it comes is anticipated. Despite that and the ever-present and annoying time-travel problems it is an entertaining story. The debate at the end has an important feel to it, until you realize it is a huge “what if” discussion that has no real implications.

Episodes 10: “New Ground” and 11: “Hero Worship” 

Two episodes exploring the challenges of parenting and helping children. Aren’t they sweet? One of the “best” moments in Trek (and not in a good way) is when Riker carries those ridiculous animals out of the fire.

Episode 12: “Violations” 

A surprisingly straight forward mystery about a serial rapist and an acknowledgment that evil is something that is real and that we will never overcome or outgrow on our own.

Episode 13: “The Masterpiece Society” 

This is one of the types of stories that Trek does best. When the crew encounters a Eugenics colony, they also confront a society that is religiously run by science. It is one of the best examples of how Scientism and other institutional religions like Catholicism are not all that different. This is surprising because (a) Trek is generally seen as a nearly religious show preaching Secular Humanism, and (b) most philosophical secular humanists reject other forms of belief due to the negativity they see in organized religion.

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