The Star Trek Chronological Binge – TNG Seasons 6 & 7

By the end of Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this new Star Trek is not so new anymore. It has a separate identity from the original series, and it’s no longer competing with the films and original cast.  “Best of Both Worlds” gave the show its own look and feel. The characters are now so well established that Data and Worf are now cultural touchstones.

Mark Twain in "Time's Arrow"So season 6 sees TNG being itself, despite starting with the low-stakes conclusion to “Time’s Arrow.” What began promising–Data’s head found under the Presidio in San Francisco despite Data being very much alive and still using it–becomes an unsatisfying time travel romp with some vague threat of soul-eating beings from another dimension. Sounds like a great premise for Doctor Who, which only requires a Doctor and a companion and maybe a few guests. Somehow, they have to cram in the entire cast, Guinan included, and Mark Twain. This came off more as a season 2 episode that reaches and misses.

That out of the way, we get into some real character studies. “Realm of Fear” brings back Barclay, who will later be a recurring character in Voyager‘s later seasons. Barclay is terrified of the transporter, a fear more suited for the likes of McCoy and Pulaski (the latter of whom has her life saved by that same transporter.) It delivers a long-promised Star Trek event: the first person shot of someone in the transporter. Barclay’s fear and some weird stuff going on in the transporter allow Barclay to discover you can hide in the pattern buffer. (Guess M’Benga never wrote that down nor did Una put that in any of her reports. Consistency is hard over 60 years of television and movies.) It’s a great moment for Barclay and the introduction of a plot device that turns up later.

Barclay inside transporter beam“Man of the People” is what you get when you cross Dracula with The Picture of Dorian Gray. A ambassador tricks Deanna into being a receptacle for all his negative emotions. However, it turns her into a shrieking banshee who ages in a matter of days. When the connection is broken, the ambassador ages decades in moments and dies.

After having McCoy send off the Enterprise and Spock begin reunification between Vulcan and Romulus, Scotty appears, using the plot device from “Realm of Fear” of hiding in a transporter buffer. Scotty is a man out of time who visits the original 1701 via the Holodeck and realizes 78 years in limbo has dropped him in a world that passes him by. He gets under Geordi’s feet as he tries to teach the young buck a thing or two. But then the Enterprise gets trapped in the same Dyson sphere which shipwrecked Scotty. Geordi soon learns who wrote a lot of the old regulations and why. “A good engineer is always a wee bit conservative…” Scotty has more in common with Trip, Reno, and Hemmer, who made things up on the fly, than Geordi, who took Leah Brahms’s designs and said, “Okay, what cool stuff can I do with this?”

Jellico: Mr. Garak, that sweater you sold me keeps picking up static electricity.
Garak: What do you want me to do about it?
Jellico: I'd like another one free of charge.
Executive Producer Rick Berman“Chain of Command,” a two-parter that elevates the Cardassians as antagonists, also sees Picard tortured and Ronny Cox as Edward Jellico in command of the Enterprise. The crew doesn’t like Jellico, and for good reason. He has his own way of doing things, and it’s his way or the highway, to the point where he relieves a recalcitrant Riker and irritates recurring rival Gul Ivek. It’s also the episode that launched a thousand dad joke memes, thanks to Cox’s deadpan delivery and a wealth of reaction shots from Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis. Fun fact: The memes helped the semi-retired Cox decide to reprise Jellico in Prodigy as Admiral Janeway’s superior. It also introduces Natalia Nogulich as the redoubtable Admiral Necheyev.

Season 6 is mostly a character season, with the entire cast, save Guinan, getting either put through the wringer or exposing their past. It ends with “Descent,” a two-parter that sees Data turn evil under the influence of his brother, Lore, who has an army now: disconnected Borg. (Laying the groundwork for season 1 of Picard .) The stolen emotion chip is the cause of Data’s lapse, and soon, he recovers and deactivates Lore. Let’s face it. The dude is batshit insane.

Season 7 is the most uneven, but not in a season 2 kind of way. Season 7 swings for the fences, getting the crew off the ship more often and messing with the format. Sometimes, it works. (“Gambit Parts I & II”). Other times…

Bev Crusher gets freaky with a ghost.Well, in “Sub Rosa,” Beverly bangs a ghost. Not sure if that was the point of the episode or that Beverly’s family is haunted. “Genesis,” while a good, effects-heavy episode for Gates McFadden’s debut as a director (following Frakes, Stewart, and Burton as cast members directing), from a writing standpoint, ’tis a silly episode. Beverly fixes an innocuous flu bug in Barclay only to create a virus that causes changes in the crew. While Picard and Data are away, the crew suddenly are not men (or women.) They are Devo, as in de-evolution. Data finds a solution soon enough to stop Picard from turning into a lemur. It’s resolved five minutes before the episode ends, a bad habit that will carry over to Voyager, unfortunately.

While Season 7 is uneven, it’s defining episode is a classic. Next Generation begins as it ends, with a double-episode featuring Q, though he only shows up at the end of “All Good Things, Part I.” Picard is shifting in time, back to “Encounter at Farpoint” with Denise Crosby getting a meatier Tasha Yar to play for once, and into a future right about the time of Picard. Jean-Luc is, indeed, running the family vineyard as we eventually see him. Picard implies Geordi did actually marry Leah Brahms, though they have a much different future. But his daughters and their unseen brother get namechecked here. And Beverly and Picard are friendly exes, though for vastly different reasons. An anomaly threatens the existence of, well, everything, an eruption of anti-time causing past events to unravel. Via the ongoing trial of humanity, Q informs Picard he caused the problem. While the futures of each character turn out to be much different (Riker and Troi marry and have adventures on the Titan, Beverly leaves Starfleet, Data dies as a plot device), The Next Generation ends as it began, with Q desperately trying to get this interesting, but primitive, species known as human, and their allies and rivals, to grow. Only this time, the writers have had seven years to get to know the crew and their Enterprise. Unlike the TOS veterans who rejoined Roddenberry in 1987, they’re not reinventing the wheel and have even more lore (no pun intended) to draw on, thanks to Deep Space Nine‘s inaugural two seasons. But unlike DS9’s “What You Leave Behind,” which was definitively final, or The Undiscovered Country, sending our heroes into the sunset, “All Good Things” is a love letter to a crew not finished yet. The show ends not with Riker getting his own command or Picard promoted to an unwanted desk but with Picard joining his crew–his family–in the weekly poker game. Terry Matalas will call this back in Picard‘s popular season 3, which sets up a possible new TNG-era series.

Final poker game from All Good ThingsBut seasons 6 and 7 mark the first time more than one Trek was on the air with new episodes. Seven years is long enough for any television series. And Star Trek had grown to where large swaths of both authorized novels and fanfic started creating their own crew. But that requires a change-up. New rivals in the Cardassians, smarter Ferengi, and how about a space station instead of a starship. TNG left the air sharing space with Deep Space Nine.