Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 29, 1990
|via Memory Alpha|
A Federation freighter crash lands on Turkana IV, Tasha Yar's homeworld. The survivors are taken hostage by a dissident faction. In their effort to rescue the crewmen, our Enterprise friends allies themselves with Ishara (Beth Toussaint), Tasha's sister and member of yet another faction.
The episode provides a lesson in friendship for Data who quickly grows close to Ishara. The question, of course, is whether he or any of the rest of our heroes can trust her. Toussaint is strong in the role and her hair... definitely memorable. Maybe even a little distracting. I saw someone on the 'Net describe it as the "Jordache look" - of the era, to be sure. Overall, I'd say the story is highly effective, a stronger Data story than "Brothers" in my opinion. He learns and therefore grows.
After completing production on "Legacy," the cast and crew held a special party to celebrate The Next Generation's 80th episode. The significance: Star Trek's original series only had 79 episodes. True, the originals also boasted an animated series and, to that point, five feature films. That acknowledged, there was no longer any denying that the new series was a success, capable of standing on its own merits.
As such, this seems a natural juncture at which to take stock. 3+ seasons in, what is the new series bringing to the franchise and are the links to the original still meaningful?
Without question, TNG kicks TOS's butt all over this place when it comes to both character development and world building aboard the Enterprise. The former was clear from the first episode. To be fair, character was a lesser consideration for the original series. Nonetheless, the fact remains that we already know more about Geordi La Forge, TNG's least developed principal, than we do about even Captain Kirk. As for the ship, we see parts of the Enterprise that either weren't included in previous models or weren't considered meaningful enough to explore.
And again, I can't overemphasize what Patrick Stewart brought to Star Trek. Set aside the fact that Picard's leadership style is quite different from Kirk's and therefore allows for different stories. This is about the actor's approach to the work. Stewart has a strong intuitive sense of his role in a story, on both the micro- and macro-levels. As I pointed out in another post this week, he can do a lot with a little. Through two miniseries as Karla, he never spoke a word. His scenes are unforgettable even though they're not really about him. They're about George (Alec Guinness). While Karla's presence is essential, Stewart understands he's there to support the protagonist's story.
Similarly, in Star Trek, Stewart is equally effective when Picard is leading the story and when his is the supporting role. His posture and, my goodness, his voice project undeniable presence on screen but he knows better than to fill up the entire space in every scene. Few have ever led an ensemble television cast with such elegance.
Is this still Star Trek?
I believe Star Trek is, at its heart, about an approach to confronting "the other." In the late 1960s, the United States was in the thick of both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. A message of tolerance within a story genre that had long perpetuated fear and distrust was bold and captivating. Next Gen definitely carries on that more hopeful message. But the world of the late '80s/early '90s - at least, the white part of the world - saw itself as more accepting. Having a Klingon on the Enterprise bridge in 1987 was less revolutionary than having a black woman on the bridge in 1966. I can say as an adolescent in that era that we were taught, in the more liberal families, not to see the differences in others. They are less important than our similarities. Once again, Star Trek challenged conventional thinking.
Thanks to the stronger character development, TNG was better able to explore the role of the individual in a modern, pluralistic society. How is it to live in two cultures at once? (Worf) How does one balance obligations to family with one's personal ambitions? (Deanna and Beverly, though from different perspectives) What are the rights of an artificially intelligent life form? (Data) What role does one's specific disability play in shaping the self-identity of a disabled person? (Geordi)
In short, TNG is Trek on a more personal level. In fact, this week's story is a good example. Questions about whether or not our friends are on the right side of the fight are less important than Data's experience of personal betrayal.
The best news: there are still nearly four seasons to go.
Set a course, Ensign. Engage!