Friday, April 1, 2011

TNG Season 2 Recap


Having survived an enjoyable but inconsistent Season One, TNG rockets back onto TV with a fresh spate of shows in the 1988-1989 season. Changes for this year include the loss of Gates McFadden as Doctor Crusher, replaced with TOS veteran Diana Mulduar as Dr. Katherine Pulaski. Geordi and Worf see full-time promotions to new posts. Riker grows a beard. Also new to the cast in a special guest starring capacity is Whoopi Goldberg as the wise bartender, Guinan, stationed in the new Ten Forward set. Do these changes bode well, or ill, or not really factor in to the quality level of the show this season?

Marina Sirtis is one short woman.

Matthew's Thoughts

This is a Maurice Hurley/Rick Berman season, the duo that took over the 2nd half of Season One, which was much more even than the first half. They are listed as "Co-Executive Producers" despite Roddenberry still being listed as "Executive Producer."  The result is a much more even-keeled set of episodes, even with the challenges of a strike-shortened season. There is a stronger science fiction emphasis overall in Season Two, with a corresponding reduction of episodes that feature boring political conflicts between random alien races. We get stories about cloning, time loops, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, mind transfers into computers, shape shifters, the Prime Directive, and collectivist cyborg zombies. There are still a few throwbacks to the Season One style of things, but the shift in tone is palpable.

The last part of the season peters out, probably due to the writers' strike. The strike actually occurred before the season, but it led to a shortening of the schedule and the re-use of the "Phase II" script for "The Child." Anyway, I still think it explains things, because most shows front-load their quality scripts and back-load their stinkers, simply to ensure that budgets go to the good ones. Many premises in stories remain half-baked, and would receive better in-depth treatment in later shows. ?Indeed, there are probably nearly as many episodes with deficient plotlines in Season Two as there were in Season One, but they are saved more frequently by character writing and acting.

Speaking of characters, moving Geordi to Engineering and Worf to Security more clearly defines their roles and makes character spotlights feel more organic for them. Without his mother present, the Wesley character gains some independence and becomes much less annoying.  "Pen Pals" is definitely his "coming out" party. He gets played as a responsible, mature person who has self doubt and vulnerability. This is much better than the "snotty-super-genius-wunderkind" we got in Season One. Troi is used pretty well this season. Very little "deception and pain," quite a bit of counsel, advice, and analysis. Riker gets several spotlight shows, deepening his character and introducing the idea of his maturing expectations. He goes from the "hotshot who wants to be a captain soon" to being a calmer and more reflective person who factors in his comfort and happiness into his expectations. Data gets loads of development and spotlight episodes, probably due to writers and producers seeing what the actor could do in Season One. Picard takes a turn from "crochety old man" to "urbane British sophisticate," with the introduction of his loves of horsemanship, philosophy, archaeology, pondering insoluble intellectual puzzles, and the like.

The Pulaski character is something of a McCoy retread. Mulduar gives it a good go, and I was never annoyed or bothered by her character. I even enjoyed it a few times. I never really had occasion to consider Pulaski as a woman, whereas I think Beverly provided a better feminine energy, especialy given her unrequited Picard-love. Pulaski seemed like she could just as well have been a male character. Our other new character, Guinan, is your basic Magic Wise Black Person, but she certainly does it well. Chief O'Brien assumes his transporter role, and makes a nice recurring character. Dr. Selar, Ensign Sonia Gomez, and K'Ehleyr each make a bid for "recurring female character," but are unceremoniously dropped, much to the chagrin of astute (and/or female) viewers.

Production values seem roughly similar in visual effects (by this I mean a generally "video toaster" look to stars and energy beams), but enjoy a slight uptick in prop and set construction (for instance, the containment chamber in "The Child," the updated shuttle bay). The bridge gets a few minor updates, such as a stencil behind the captain's chair, new chairs for the Captain and bridge stations, and the replacement of the wood panels on the bridge walls. Crew quarters in general look less "neon" and Early-80s - which is definitely a good thing. We get extended looks at Worf's and Troi's quarters for the first time.

Kevin's Thoughts

Before we dove into TNG for the blog, I always mentally grouped the series into seasons 1 and 2, seasons 3 through 5, and season 6 and 7. For some reason, I tended to think of season 2 as having a lot of the same problems of season 1, and the show not really hitting its stride until season 3. But, having watched season 2 in order again, I have changed my mind. I still think it's fair to classify the first two seasons as the show finding its sea legs, but season 2 is a jump in quality and more importantly, consistency. As you will see in the stats below, before "Q Who" about two thirds of the way in, we gave nothing a one, and only a small number of twos. The weaker episodes of the season still managed to be "average." Like Matt said, jettisoning conflicts I don't care about and focusing more on the emotional development of the characters that are now more fully constructed I think deserve the lion's share of the credit. It's a crying shame the writer's strike hit at the time it did. I don't know if season 2 would have been as good as season 3 became with more time and resources, but I'd bet money it would be closer.

If I had to name the quality that is most changed this season, it would have to be momentum. A lot of episodes in season 1 collapse under their own weight. I'm watching them, aware that I am watching them, waiting for stuff to happen. A lot of season 2 episodes really shine by pulling me into the story in a more complete way. "Q Who," "Contagion," and "Peak Performance" spring to mind. There's an energy in those episode that is engrossing.

There's a synergy between the writers and actors this season that pays off in a big way. I think the writers started writing to the actors' strengths. It's particularly apparent in Picard and Riker. Picard's conversion from dour to dapper, and Riker becoming more comfortable in his skin really pay dramatic dividends. The best part is it makes sense for their character developments. Riker becomes happy on the Enterprise and wants to stay and starts to reconcile that with his ambition. Picard's last command cost him his best friend, and eventually his ship itself. It makes sense that he would be more reserved and distant until he built trust with his new crew and in himself being in command again. It makes the characters more interesting and more enjoyable to watch. That it plays to Stewart's and Frakes' strength as actors is icing on the cake.

Pulaski was always just kind of ...there...for me. The McCoy parallels were too many and too close together to not be distracting, and she didn't really get a lot of scenes with the other characters. Her scenes tended to be over the com line from Sick Bay, or by herself with the guest actor. Her first scenes with Geordi and Troi in The Child, and the tea ceremony with Worf, prove she has the chops and the chemistry for more. I'm guessing with the shortened season, the writers never found time to develop a new character from scratch. Trust me, I'm happy Dr. Crusher comes back next season, but I wish they had followed up eventually on the character. A guest spot, or even a passing mention of "Oh, yeah...Kate Pulaski, she's head of Starfleet Medical now," or "She moved to Qo'nos and opened up a small, but highly successful chain of Chinese take-out restaurants." Anything, really, would have been nice.

The lasting contributions to the series from season 2 are my favorites, that of Ten Forward and Guinan. For such an A-list star, she never consumed the episode or even the scene. A joint effort by Whoopi Goldberg and the writers make all of her appearances enjoyable and just long enough to work. And the Ten Forward set is just gorgeous. The gray, fabric-paneled walls date the room somewhat, it's just such a neat space that it's easy to overlook. Anything that makes the Enterprise feel like a real place staffed by real people is always well received, and even in close-up conversations, the out of focus blurs of movement lend the room and the ship a lovely veracity.



For my money, "Contagion" is the best episode of the season.It's really tight in writing and pacing, the acting is great, and the concept is a classic sci-fi one - the race for a technological artifact of an ancient civilization which promises ULTIMATE POWER! Love it, love it, love it.

"Q Who", of course, is a classic, and it's nearly as good as Contagion. I wish it had had a bit more of an origin for the Borg, or explained why and how the El-Aurians never chose to mention them to the Federation. Nonetheless, it's a great show, is genuinely scary, and has great production values all around. Definitely a Season 2 highlight. Maybe I'm downgrading it because it kind of gave me the hots for Sonia Gomez, and I know in hindsight that she will disappear.

"The Measure of a Man" has what I call "intellectual cred." It's a show based around arguments. And really nothing else, when you think about it. It's talk, talk, talk from start to finish. Do I want every episode to be like this? Maybe not. But I'm happy this one is.

"Elementary Dear Data" is the first truly good TNG comedy show. In fact it's pretty much  the first episode where the comedy wasn't unintentional. But it also has a science fiction story, one of artificial intelligence, with ethical exploration of how such intelligences are to be treated. Was the "capable of defeating Data" plot device hackneyed? Maybe. Were loads of things left unexplained? Perhaps. Was it entertaining? Definitely.

"The Schizoid Man" remains a personal favorite of mine because it touches on a personal subject for me (and presumably for everyone, despite what they might say) - immortality, death, and fear of dying. Stories like this are some of the best, purest science fiction - what if someone found a way to preserve their consciousness past the death of their body? Who and what would they be willing to sacrifice in order to attain this? If this episode has a fault, it's that it wasn't three hours long to allow exploring all the issues. What we got was great, anyway.


"Q Who" just edges out "Contagion" as my favorite of the season, and it's not just for it contribution to later episodes. There's something to the story line in that episode that I find compelling, and a little scary, in a really entertaining way. To date, the Enterprise had never lost. You could classify the Enterprise's destruction in Star Trek III as a loss, but Kirk gets a ship and saves the day, so it's at best a draw, and there were extenuating circumstances anyway. The Enterprise has never faced a foe that so easily and immediately outclassed. The idea that humanity is not in fact ready for the exploring it's been doing for a century is just compelling. Also, I love Q's line and use it whenever possible, in response to all kinds of queries. How was the movie, Kevin? How was that new Thai restaurant, Kevin? It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid.

See, it works in all kind of situations.

"Contagion" and "Peak Performance" run a very close second and third respectively. Like I said above, there's just an energy infused in the episode that draws me in as a viewer to the point that I forget I am watching something. I am just experiencing the story, Add to that top notch acting and character development, and above average effects and I am a happy camper.

I agree with Matt's other choices for the reasons he articulates, but will add I have always had a soft spot for "The Child." I tend to be more attracted to primarily emotional episodes, and it was well executed, especially compared to the PAIN and the LONELINESS of the last season that I can't help but be affect. I'm not saying I actually tear up, but I feel such empathy, if you'll excuse the use of the word, for Troi when she's crying on Riker's shoulder that I can't help but be affected. The only downside is it makes the overall lack of use of Troi more egregious, since she demonstrates clearly she can pull it off.



"Manhunt" is a sad, rather pointless vehicle for Majel Barrett, who, although we love her dearly, is featured in an absolute litany of stinkers. Lacking in sci-fi, featuring an utterly inane B plot (the Antedean delegates), and being rather insulting to the sexual feelings of seniors, this episode is a dud.

"The Outrageous Okona" is a flashback to Season One's big flaw: stories revolving around political struggles between "aliens of the week." Who cares? It is only saved from utter disaster by the fact that William O. Campbell is relatively charming in the titular role.

Speaking of political struggles no one cares about, "Loud as a Whisper" features a plot that revolves entirely around whether deaf mediator Riva can overcome his odd and rather unbelievable handicap in order to make two sets of practically identical aliens not hate each other so much. ZZZZZZZZZ....

"Shades of Gray" was designed to save time and money in a strike shortened season of television. Why didn't they just go the whole nine yards and simply cut this episode? The sad thing is, it could have been a bottle show that expanded Riker's backstory. Instead, it's a terminally unwatchable bore.

"A Matter of Honor" has some entertaining moments. It has one decent guest character in Commander Klag. But you know what it doesn't have? A shred of science fiction. It's a trite and unimaginative "what if we put Officer X on a ship with Species Y?" story. Loath as I might be to cite "Enterprise" for any reason, at least when they put Trip on an alien vessel, he got knocked up in the process. That's science fiction.


I agree with every episode you cite and the reason you cite them, though I will say I liked "Matter of Honor" a little bit more than you, largely because the TNG Klingons are a favorite of mine, and this is more ground work toward Season 3's entirely awesome "Sins of the Father." To your list, I will add "Samaritan Snare." It's a nightmare combination of bad writing and bland execution, salvaged only by some charming dialogue between Wesley and Picard in the shuttle.

Matthew: OMFG, I can't believe I left that off. Must have been a PTSD memory blackout. That episode makes me want to jab sharp things into my brain.


Matthew: Both of our rating averages jumped up by about the same amount. The second half of the season suffered a bit of a dip, probably due the weaker scripts being held for later by the writer's strike. But the overall trend is up, up, up. You found it perfectly average, and I found it slightly above average. Am I a softer grader than you? I don't think so yet - we'll have to see when we get through every series.

Kevin: Definitely a substantial improvement over Season 1, both in terms of quality and consistency. The dip in the back half of the season is disappointing, but in fairness, still does not hit the depths of season one's screwups.As for the episodes you liked a little more than I did, I think it comes down to two things. You respond to a big idea, even if it has execution problems, whereas I respond to an emotional core, even if it has execution problems, and I think our splits thus far clearly demonstrate that. Second, you watched these first run, where I watched them mixed in with catching up with Seasons 1-4, so try as we might, I think a touch of your nostalgia and my whatever the inverse of nostalgia is may be subtly affecting our scores. Still, it's not a huge difference. Now for some pretty graphs...


Matthew: As Kevin has indicated, Season 3 is frequently believed to be the first quality run on TNG. I think this is belied by the results we've shown. I think the last third of Season One was the beginning of a steady upward climb. Berman had begun to exert his influence, and writers such as Piller, Moore, and Braga were on their way in by Season Three. Season Two is a midpoint in between these two sets of shows, and there is a lot of good stuff here. I remember as a young viewer being really excited by Season Two, which only set the stage for being dazzled by Three. So, onward we go!

Kevin: Before we dove into season 2, I mentally summarized it as a not-good season, and I have certainly changed my mind on that point. Even with the streak of snoozers and/or clunkers at the end, there is still a lot here to like, and the Writer's Strike accounts for much of the problems, where in season 1, it was genuine issues with writing, acting, and creative choices. I don't think, with the exception of Shades of Gray, that I actually questioned the competence of the staff once this season. We just finished our podcast for Evolution, and I'll leave the major discussion of season 3 changes there, but in the end, I would still peg season 2 as closer to season 1 in terms of style and tone than season 3. It's definitely a jump in quality and I think Matt pegs it as the midpoint between seasons 1 and 3. The richness of season 3 needed the groundwork a successful season 2 laid.


  1. FYI, you gave the same score to 16 of 22 episodes and in only one episode were your scores off by more than a point. I've noticed a certain amount of "Okay, yeah, I'll bump it up [or down] a point based on what I'm considering from what you said." Is it possible that if you blind-scored the episodes while keeping the rest of the dialogue, you might find you have greater scoring divergence...?
    - Carl

  2. Eh, we like arguing with each other. If we end up convincing each other, so be it. The goal isn't to have divergent scores, it's to have fair scores based on the criteria. I'm satisfied with our distribution.

  3. Yeah, I think the arguments are usefully in judging the episode especially since Matt and I approach them from such different perspectives. Matt tends to rate higher episodes with stronger hard sci-fi or philosophical elements, where I tend to gush more over episodes with stronger character interaction, so if we both like or dislike an episode, it's safe to say that it really succeeds or fails in a number of ways.

    Maybe at some point we will post our first crack at scoring them on our own, but I think in a vacuum, the scores tend to reflect more a personal like or dislike of the episode. The discussion is what helps make the analysis more objective.