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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four DVD

By Jon de Burgh Miller on 08 November 2002

The fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation picks up where the previous season left off, with Commander Riker doing his duty and attempting to destroy a Borg cube with the assimilated Captain Picard on board.

While not quite as good as part I, the conclusion to ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ still stands head and shoulders above most Star Trek. While the episode contains several frantic action sequences as the crew race to rescue Picard, its most admirable trait is the understated and subtle way with which the weighty events are portrayed.

The Star Fleet graveyard at Wolf 359 is overpowering in a way that future, theoretically much more epic, confrontations would never match, thanks to the undercurrent of the crew biting their tongues and doing their job despite horrific circumstances. The return of Picard is handled with grace and dignity and the trauma humanity endures is never over played or under stated. Few words are needed, and implication is enough to portray the full horror of events.

The season opener also gives a new spin on the ongoing theme of ‘family’. If Season Three was about the family we’ve got, Season Four is about the family we haven’t, and building bridges with those we’ve become distant from. With Shelby and Riker in charge of the Enterprise, an efficient, modern and ruthlessly impressive ship yet lacks the charm and quaintness Picard provides. The show’s creators know that in reality a Riker/Shelby ship would be far more efficient, while simultaneously building up the myth of Picard, finally making him far more the definitive Star Trek captain than Kirk ever was.

‘Family’ sees Picard not only struggling to overcome his Borg experience but also to reconnect with the family he’s paid so little attention to in the past. It’s a charming episode that does little on its own but as an epilogue to ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ strikes the perfect balance of taste and understatement.

Long lost relatives of a different kind feature in ‘Brothers’, a fantastic return for the awful Roddenberry cop-out Lore, Data’s evil twin. The Next Generation has a habit of running sub and main plots that play to similar themes, and nowhere in the entire series is this more blatant than in Brothers, as Data settles a dispute between two children human whilst exploring the reason his own family can never be together. The tragic conclusion to this proves one of the series finer episodes, and given that it’s little more than a filler, shows how great the show has become by this point. The theme of surrogate fatherhood continues in ‘Suddenly Human’, an episode showing Picard becoming a father figure to a headstrong teenager, with mixed results.

And then we have ‘Remember Me’, an incredibly focussed, gripping and well written episode that not only continues to explore Dr Crusher’s reluctance to let her son grow up but also provides the Next Generation with it’s first episode exploring the difference of perception. Years before the Matrix, TNG became a dab hand at realities that are more than they seem, with the success of ‘Remember Me’ leading to several more over the next few years, though none as effective or well paced as this. As if that wasn’t enough, the thread of Wesley Crusher’s true nature, barely a throwaway line three years previously, is picked up with a deft nod that’s not too extreme or obtrusive.

A sibling of a long lost crew member pops up in ‘Legacy’, an episode exploring the nature of sisterhood, while ‘Reunion’ sees Worf confront past ghosts and sets the scene for the season’s conclusion. These episodes provide tantalising scene setters but are really among the season’s weaker offerings. The show hits its stride once more, however, with ‘Future Imperfect’, an episode that brings the alternative perception theme to the fore as Riker is seemingly transported into the future.

‘Final Mission’ sees not only Wesley Crusher’s departure for Starfleet Academy but the resolution to the thread of Picard as his surrogate father. An understated and fairly unmemorable episode, this one begins a string of weaker episodes in the middle of the season. ‘The Loss’ and ‘Data’s Day’ are nice character pieces but basically filler, whilst ‘The Wounded’ is memorable for nothing more than the introduction of the Cardassians.

‘Devil’s Due’ and ‘Clues are a pair of interesting mystery episodes, both with strong concepts that try something a little different, but whereas ‘Devil’s Due’ falls somewhat flat of expectations, ‘Clues’ is a cleverly written script that provides one of the more enjoyable and interesting episodes of the season.

The fantastic ‘First Contact’ takes up the theme of the Prime Directive and is in many ways a rerun of last season’s ‘Who Watches The Watchers’, but with a more intense pace as the Federation is shown to be not as infallible as would sometime seem. Many claim this sort of thing wasn’t contemplated until the latter years of Deep Space Nine, but episodes like this one prove otherwise.

‘Galaxy’s Child’, ‘Night Terrors’, ‘Identity Crisis’ and ‘The Nth Degree’ are filler episodes of reasonable quality when taken alone, but compared to the rest of the season they’re not anywhere near the same standard.

The last half of the season consists of solid, well-written but basically unmemorable episodes with only ‘The Drumhead’, a Salem witch trials parallel that continues to homogenise Star Trek, really standing out as the best of the bunch. Tying in the federation conspiracy with Picard’s Borg conversion, ‘The Drumhead’ provides another interesting if a little heavy-handed look at the darker side of the Federation.

The season concludes with another family episode, this time exploring the problem’s of Worf’s relationship to the Klingon homeworld, and the dilemma of blood relatives compared to adoptive ones. As he struggles to find his identity, he echoes a wider theme of this season. Who are we, where do we fit in the grand scheme of things and how can we move into the future without our lives being controlled by the past?

This is undoubtedly the most thematically unified season of any Star Trek. Every level of family is explored this season, through blood relatives, surrogate relationships, the family of the Enterprise to the wider family of the Federation. This is a season that firmly establishes a strong, confident and complicated universe with a quality of storytelling much underrated.

While there’s enough average episodes to not make this the best season of The Next Generation, the great episodes are some of the best the series ever produced and even the weaker episodes are strong, only fairing less well when judged next to the stronger efforts. Once again, this DVD release, packed with extras, shows just how superb this series was compared to the sausage factory seasons that later Star Trek’s would churn out.

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By Jon de Burgh Miller

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