Posted 05 August 2012 - 01:51 PM
116: Too Short a Season
The Enterprise crew must take an aging admiral to defuse a hostage situation on a volatile planet. However, when the admiral starts to grow younger, Picard must work out what's going on and how to save the hostages (note: he succeeds).
This is one of those episodes which relies on its guest stars being as good as the regulars in order to work. Michael Pataki rises to the challenge with a fearsome performance as Karnas, the leader of the planet, but Clayton Rohner is simply unconvincing as Admiral Jameson. This is not helped by his ludicrous wheelchair prop: costing $10,000, packed with electronics and almost totally immobile, it was the difficulty of using this device which convinced the DS9 crew to adopt a much simpler wheelchair prop for their episode Melora, six years on from this episode. The aging make-up is also horrendous.
Rohner's inept performance and a shaky script undermines a reasonably solid premise and a very un-Trek-like (at this stage, anyway) moral situation where no-one is really in the right and all of the players are tainted by their actions in the past. Not the worst episode this season, but nevertheless disappointing.
117: When the Bough Breaks
The Enterprise discovers the legendary planet Aldea, which is hidden from the rest of the universe by a cloaking device. The Aldeans are masters of technology and science, with capabilities far beyond the Enterprise. However, they are also sterile and unable to conceive. They decide to abduct several of the children - happily, including Wesley - on the Enterprise and forcibly 'adopt' them. When Picard objects, the Aldeans use a repulsor weapon to push the Enterprise three days away at Warp 9. As the Enterprise races back, Wesley and the other children launch a 'strike' to try to convince the Aldeans to let them return home. Eventually it is discovered that the Aldean planetary cloaking device is what is making the people sterile, and by shutting it down they may be able to start breeding again.
A potentially solid, emotional-jugular premise is upset by a series of baffling continuity issues (if the Aldeans have been using their planetary device for thousands of years, why has the sterility only kicked in during the last generation?) and some logic flaws. Despite the resources of the Federation and the entire Galaxy being open to them in solving their problem, the otherwise peaceful and enlightened Aldeans seem willing to resort to threats, violence and kidnapping way too easily. Jerry Hardin (here a few years short of his role as Deep Throat on The X-Files) gives his all, but the premise is simply too riddled with problems to be plausible. Still, a nice effect as the Enterprise is blasted out of orbit, so nice it's used several more times in the course of the series.
118: Home Soil
The Enterprise arrives at a planet being terraformed by a Federation science team. During their visit, there is an accidental death and Picard becomes suspicious that something is amiss. Eventually it is discovered that microscopic - but intelligent - crystal aliens are living in the planet's subsurface water table, which is being drained by the terraforming effort, and are defending themselves. Picard brokers a peace and departs with the scientists, marking the planet as off-limits.
An interesting episode dealing with the moral and ethical issues of terraforming, as well as (broadly) getting the science of it right as well. The guest cast is a mixed bag and there is some inherent silliness in the crew staring intently at a goldfish bowl with a glowing light in it for half the episode, but the premise is reasonably strong, let down by a mixed execution.
119: Coming of Age
Wesley Crusher gets to show how awesome he is when sitting entrance exams for Starfleet Academy. Realising that letting Wesley be as awesome as normal would result in him leaving the show (not really seeing the problem here), the writers somewhat cheesily have Wesley helping a less-confident classmate get a higher score than him, resulting in him staying on the show for another year. Great. Meanwhile, the obnoxious Commander Remmick launches an investigation of the Enterprise crew. His superior informs Picard that there may be some kind of conspiracy building at the highest levels of the Federation and he wanted to be sure of the crew's loyalty. Picard agrees to help investigate the situation once more information is available.
Woah, Star Trek flirts with a multi-episode storyline for the first time in its existence (barring two-parters). This episode sets up some things to be explored further a few weeks down the line in the batshit insane Conspiracy (the one where Picard phasers someone in the head, resulting in their skull exploding on-camera). Fairly mild by modern standards, but in 1988 some fans had to be carried out on stretchers from the shock of an episode that didn't resolve everything nicely at the end. Shame it's so inane, with very vague insinuations of some shit going down on Earth and nothing more than that, not helped by a total lack of urgency to events. The Wesley storyline is so dull it hurts. So overall, nice idea, poor execution.
120: Heart of Glory
The Enterprise responds to an SOS and discovers three Klingons on a damaged freighter. Initially they claim to have been passengers on a ship attacked unprovoked by the Ferengi, but they then reveal to Worf that they seized control of the freighter and destroyed a Klingon warship. They have tired of the years of peace and want to return to the glory days of battle. When the Klingons send a ship to apprehend them, the prisoners break out and run amuck on the Enterprise until Worf defeats them.
The 'Worf episode' of Season 1 is one of the stand-outs of the season. In retrospect, the episode lays a surprising amount of pipe for future Klingon storylines: the Klingons bored with peace and wanting a return to war is a recurring theme in both TNG and DS9, whilst Worf's conflicted loyalties will form arguably the best-handled character arc in the history of the franchise. Whilst Ronald D. Moore gets a lot of credit as Trek's 'Klingon guy', a fair bit of their characterisation in the series is actually established in this episode. There's some good action beats and the episode is quite fast-paced and well-directed compared to most of the first season. The only problem is that the episode never convinces us that Worf is going to side with the renegades, merely acknowledge that they might have a point. It still works quite well apart from that, and can be forgiven for the slightly weird bit where someone falls over and the transparent engineering deck beneath them shatters into a thousand pieces instantly, which seems a bit of a design flaw.
121: The Arsenal of Freedom
The Enterprise arrives at Minos to investigate the disappearance of the planet's population and the destruction of the USS Drake, which was sent to investigate. The crew discover that Minos was home to a whole race of arms-dealers. Triggering an automated sales pitch and 'demonstration', both the Away Team and the Enterprise come under sustained attack. Riker is imprisoned in a forcefield, Dr. Crusher is wounded and the Enterprise is forced to flee with LaForge in command. Picard manages to deactivate the system by agreeing to the sales pitch and offering to make a purchase, but for some reason the system attacking the Enterprise remains operational. LaForge destroys the automated vessel through some clever maneuvering and everything is okay.
LET'S! BLOW! SOME! SHIT! UP! This episode feels like the result of a note delivered from Paramount asking if the crew can stop dicking around talking to aliens about their feelings and unleash some major carnage. The result is the most action-packed episode of the season, a totally brainless but nonetheless entertaining episode with more phaser blasts than the rest of the season combined (probably). There's some good humour, with Riker's exchanges with the illustory Captain Rice being particularly notable ("My ship is the USS Lollipop. It's a good ship,") and the holographic arms-seller having some great sales patter.
Underneath the violence there's also some good moves, like putting Worf in charge of tactical on the bridge whilst Yar is on the planet (where he excels) and LaForge handling command pretty well. However, the presence of an antagonistic Chief Engineer who tries to seize command of the ship from LaForge feels very strange and un-Star Trek-like. It's also good to see the Enterprise separating once again. Given that this is a primary ability of the Enterprise, it is ridiculous that the ship only separates three times in the show's history (all within the first half of the show's run). In reality this was because the original, unwieldy six-foot-long Enterprise model was the only one of the three major shooting models of the vessel which could separate, and filming sequences involving it were so ludicrously expensive and annoying that the producers eventually dropped the idea.
Trivia: conn officer T'Su is played by Julia Nickson, better-known to this board as Catherine Sakai in Babylon 5. The demonstration system shutting down but the space drone continuing to attack the Enterprise has been cited as the most blatant plot hole in the entire series (though there've been some spirited fanwanking attempts to explain it away). The actor playing Captain Rice (Marco Rodriguez) also played the exasperated Mexican baseball coach in the second season of Eastbound and Down.
Conclusion: Stupid, but fun, continuing the gradual rise in quality seen towards the end of the first season.