Monday, April 9, 2012

TNG Season 6 Recap


Season 6 of TNG warps into Treknobabble's record books, showing a slight drop-off in quality ratings. Have Matthew and Kevin become drunk with blogging power, or do they have a solid rationale for such a result? Click through to see, if you dare...

It's time to start asking the question - have the Borg been watered down too much?

Kevin's Thoughts

I've said this before, but I always tend to group seasons 1 and 2 together, seasons 3 though 5, and seasons 6 and 7. It's safe to say that this season does not reach the dizzying heights of perpetual awesome as the middle three seasons, but that's not a criticism, per se. It's an observation. I'm not sure it would be quite possible to turn in a fourth season in a row of the consistent awesome that was 3, 4, and 5. A lot of what made those seasons so great was they were treading genuinely new territory either in terms of character development or storytelling style. Even the best show will begin to get a little stale with time. That being said, I don't think season 6's problems are ones of trotting out old ideas to less fanfare. If you look at the episodes that were less than successful, you see a list of ideas that are novel for Star Trek, but failed for one reason or another. "Birthright" has at least two awesome ideas at the core, but neither were developed with enough energy or space to let them shine. I think what separates even the worst of this season from seasons 1 and 2 is that even at its worst, there was a genuine attempt at a good idea, when several episodes early one left me scratching my head about what the intent of the writers actually was. This season definitely had its highlights to match its lowlights. I don't think anyone could dispute "Chain of Command" or "Tapestry" place in the highest tier of episodes, and both managed to explore issues or character history in a novel way. In the balance I think I am comfortable giving the writers the benefit of the doubt that they were really trying to keep things new and interesting in season 6 and not merely rest on their laurels, but with any new endeavor comes the risk of failure, and as I have also said before, I will always take a well-intentioned passionate failure over a merely apathetic or cynical one.

I know Matt finds the treatment of Data particularly problematic this season, but I view it in a slightly different light. With the admittedly notable exception of "Descent," I didn't find any of the Data heavy parts of the season to be particularly bad for the character in a vacuum. I agree with the general assessment that they came to rely too heavily on "Data comedy" to carry an otherwise weak episode, but I always thought Spiner gave it his all.

Depending on the episode, the greatest strength or saving grace of this season was the character interactions. For episodes like "Tapestry" or "Second Chances," everyone behind the camera knew enough to step back and let the actors and the characters they had developed for six years take center stage and breath and function in a truly organic way. I can't imagine Riker and Troi being given a scene as mature and nuanced and compelling as the Ten Forward scene in seasons 1 or 2, or frankly, them being able to pull it off with such understated drama. Both the actors and the characters needed the history to infuse the scene so no one had to resort to speeches or shouting to make their point.

I think this may be Troi's best season to date. Between "Second Chances" and "Face of the Enemy," plus dozens of smaller scenes peppered throughout the season, she is really the perfect combination of competent Starfleet officer and counselor with empathetic and caring friend. More than any season to date, her presence on the ship and at Picard's left hand made sense. No pain. No loneliness. Not even that much sensing of deception. Just, finally, a pair of pants.

I think this season typifies an axiom of ours here at Treknobabble, that bad Star Trek is better than average television. Our complaints are about a handful of episode that failed to deliver on their admittedly nifty ideas, but largely still gave us glimpses into the personal lives of characters we have come to care deeply about. Trying and failing to succeed is light years ahead of the average, cynical pablum you find channel surfing, and if it sounds like were are being really critical, it's only because we know how great the show can be, and we kind of want it to be that great all the damn time, even if that desire is unrealistic. Even by the numbers, this is still an above average season, and deservedly so.

Matthew's Thoughts

As Kevin opines above, this season has always seemed like a bit of a drop-off in quality to me as well. Don't get me wrong - I still enjoyed it thoroughly, both when it first ran on TV and as I've watched it again on DVD. But something always seemed to have shifted here. On a simple gut-check basis, I would have said it was due to the treatment of Data. I felt and still feel as though his character was relied on to carry too many episodes, and episodes that were in some way fundamentally flawed. He was also taken into some kind of un-enjoyable areas as a character for a viewer to watch. "A Fistful of Datas" and "Descent" particularly were not fun and didn't feel good, at least for me. "Birthright Part I" was OK as far as the Data parts went, but it was a pretty weak story all told.

But beyond the issue of Data, I think there is an inconsistency to episodes in this season. This time, though, the inconsistency does not come from a lack of understanding of he characters or a lack of coherent plots (maladies which plagued Seasons One and Two to varying degrees), but from overly ambitious stories that couldn't be fruitfully developed within the constraints of the format. Here I am thinking of episodes that are not necessarily bad, but are incomplete. "Timescape" is a great example. This Braga-penned story has all kinds of interesting twists and turns, with some "gee whiz" cool stuff as far as time-bending goes. But the antagonists were introduced only to be abandoned with little explanation, and there are plot holes aplenty. Bad episode? No. Inconsistent? Yes. "True Q" is another good story idea that just doesn't blossom quite in the way it should. I would have personally gone much farther with adolescent wish-fulfillment on the part of the young Q, and taken it into creepy territory. "Schisms" is another fun twist on alien abduction stories, but doesn't really explore all the territory we might like - it leaves its aliens terribly fuzzy as well. And hey, what do you know - Brannon Braga is behind this one as well!

Braga is the person whose stamp is on Season 6 more than most, I think. When he connects with the ball, it goes really far. "Frame of Mind" and "Realm of Fear" are shows that I really enjoy for their delving into darker psychological realms, and they are good, solid, complete stories. But sometimes he reaches and fails to grasp. He is behind several of what I would call "change of pace" episodes. "Aquiel" is a prime example -trying to change the pace of the show a bit into the realm of mystery and investigation. In theory, it's a good idea. In practice, the situations weren't dramatic enough, the casting failed to connect, and the resolution was a bit wanting. Braga isn't the only writer responsible, of course. Successful changes of pace include "Starship Mine" (action movie) and "The Chase" (archaeology). Less successful ones include "Suspicions" (Agatha Christie style murder mystery) and "Man of the People" (psychological thriller).

This season delved into character back stories much more deeply. Picard saw his past fleshed out with "Tapestry." Riker and Troi got their turn in "Second Chances." Worf's cultural and religious backdrop was created, quite successfully, out of nearly whole cloth with "Rightful Heir." I found it to be a real boon for the series, because when this or that story fails, we still have the characters we love to carry the day somewhat. It likely explains the difference between this season's overall rating, and a similarly inconsistent season such as Season Two.

What's interesting, as you'll see below, is that a lot of episodes that Kevin and I list below as highlights are not "10" episodes. There are a lot of imperfect efforts in this season. But inconsistency can be plastered over with great character acting and high-minded concepts. It worked on TOS, and it works here.


Kevin: Well, I'll start with the obvious ones. "Chain of Command" was the best of what Rodenberry's idea for Star Trek can be. It was a searing criticism of torture in the name of state security, but the episode was centered on the horrifying experience of a main character. It is the pretty much perfect blend of Star Trek's ability to shine a light on our own humanity, while anchoring it in a story about a character I care a great deal about.

"Tapestry" certainly throws down the gauntlet for best Q appearance to date. It is the apex of Q's playful and malicious sides alternately, and occasionally simultaneously appearing. We got a novel take on time travel, and the basic human story of wondering about the road not taken. As I said in the podcast, without intending to do so necessarily, I think they created a fascinating counterpoint to "Inner Light" where Picard explores and alternate life, and finds his own to be the one he wants.

"Lessons" and "Second Chances" are great for me, not only for the lovely character moments everyone gets, but for the overall maturity by both the writers and characters when it comes to romantic relationships. No bravado, no petulant shouting, just an interesting, layered look at real people navigating the most complex part of their personal lives.

"Relics" is another highlight of the seaon for me. I do wish they had explored the Dyson Sphere more fully, but the exploration we got of Scotty and Geordi's characters was great, and it's a just plain fun episode to watch. The inside of the sphere and the bridge of the original Enterprise help push this episode over the top. As both a TV viewer and a Star Trek, this episode really has it all.

And I know we only gave it a 6, but gosh darn it, I love "Rascals." The comedy is really funny and not demeaning to anyone, and the casting office killed on this one. Particularly for Ro and Guinan, it was almost upsetting how good those child actors were. Not even a hoard of stupid Ferengi could derail an episode that always puts a smile on my face.


Well, I don't think there is an argument for anything but "Tapestry" as best of the season. What really blew me away, aside from the nice chemistry between the cadets and the delightful John De Lancie (as always) was how a throwaway line from a (terrible!) Season Two episode was spun into the best episode of Season Six. That just goes to show you what creating and respecting continuity can do for a set of stories. I stipulate to all of Kevin's other picks and his rationales for them.

I love "Frame of Mind." To me it typifies what Brannon Braga can do best - a change of pace story with a good sci-fi hook, that gives the characters a real mind-#$%&. Frakes turns in some of his best work on the series. Also in the change of pace highlight list is "Starship Mine." This show weaves comedy and action-thriller elements into a really satisfying whole. The Data comedy here was perfect - flowing from his character traits, not from outlandishly artificial situations concocted by desperate writers.

I would feel remiss if I did not give "Rightful Heir" a little shout out. This episode has balls to spare, essentially giving us a sci-fi take on faking the return of the Messiah. That said, it's not an unfair secular humanist bashing of religion. It has nuance and heart.


Kevin: I want to like "Birthright." It should be the height of the exploration of Worf's warrior philisophy and another bite of the interesting apple of Worf's bigotry toward Romulans. Instead, we get a first part that's two stories stitched together and a second part that feels like it has nothing to do with the first and was funereally paced.

I get what they were trying for with "Aquiel," but dear Lord, was it a snoozefest. Geordi had no chemistry with the female lead and we get one step closer to creepy stalker Geordi. Even the Klingons seemed to be drowsy this episode. Combine with a poorly CGI-ed villain that I also didn't care about, and you have the nadir of the season.

And lastly, for me, is "Man of the People." It's the standard sub-standard Troi assault plot, plus this time, magic, cause...why not? While I certainly applaud Marina Sirtis for the body and self-esteem to pull off that blue lace number, the episode is nigh on unwatchable.


I again stipulate to Kevin's picks for the dregs. But I have a few to add.

"A Fistful of Datas" represents pretty much everything I think is wrong with the later seasons of TNG (though again, I think there is plenty right with these seasons, too). It is a hokey setup designed simply to give an actor the opportunity to chew scenery. It layers trope (holodeck malfunction) upon trope (characters in drag = comedy gold!) in an increasingly unfunny crap-fest of indulgent writing and acting. Plus, Alexander, the least interesting character in the show, gets about 20 minutes of screen time. I kind of hate it. Only "Counselor Durango" made it tolerable.

"Birthright Part I" is one of the worst written episodes in the series. Like, nearly "Shades of Gray" bad. Why do I say this? It is a haphazard melange of conflicting and artificial story elements that fail to cohere into an episode that makes sense. Dr. Bashir breaks into Enterprise facilities, carrying a... plot device... that zaps Data's brain, and Worf gets an anonymous tip... ah, screw it. The only things that redeem it are some decent acting and a nice flyover of the ship during the dream sequence.

"Descent Part I" isn't a terrible episode. It's got more than a few good parts (Hawking, Nechayev, several character interactions, nice effects and locations). It's just a terrible omen. It sullies two formerly great TNG institutions - the Borg and Data, and it has a raging case of the stupids which are necessary to move its plot along.


Kevin: You can see from the numbers, it's not as many 8s, 9s, and 10s and previous seasons, but it's also fewer 4s and 5s and no 2s or 3s. At some point, it becomes boring to repeatedly sing the praises of something, so you tend to start focusing on the problems, if only for variety, but as the pretty, brightly colored graphs above show, this is a good, even better than good season. Just avoid "Aquiel" and "Man of the People." Advice the writers could have easily taken to heart.

Matthew: It looks like I gave out a conspicuous number of individual "2" ratings this season. Maybe the whole new-baby-lack-of-sleep thing is getting to me. Still and all, I think our combined rating is fair, and it represents the general feeling we both have of Season 6 tailing off a bit.


Kevin: This is a good season. It's just not as great a season as 3, 4, or 5, and I want to be careful to make sure that not being the best the series has ever been in treated as it being bad. There is a lot here to recommend the season. Even in its worst moments, there are usually a fair number of scenes of experience actors infusing their scenes with the friendship and rapport that we have come to love so dearly. And really, two parts of "Chain of Command" plus "Tapestry" added to any season of any show, even "The Jersey Shore," would probably average out numerically to an above-decent year of television.

Matthew: So, the verdict is in - Season 6 shows a slight recession in quality. But TNG is by no means a bad show at this point, and had they produced six or seven more seasons at just this level of quality (sigh....), I don't think anyone would have had any problems with it. Whatever else can be said of Season 6, it does not represent TNG spinning its wheels or recycling ideas ("The Quality of Life" excepted). The characters grow and change, the overall universe continues to expand, and a lot of good sci-fi stories get told. I don't think any reasonable person could ask for more.


  1. I've just finished to watch the entire season and I totally agree with you :)

    I'm going to get used to read your post after each episode.. so, please, don't stop this GREAT work! :D

  2. Not to worry, after TNG ends we've got three more series to go :) Thanks for the kind words, keep commenting, and tell your friends!