Star Trek: TNG: Season 5
If you happen to find yourself attending and science fiction convention you will inevitable to come across a debate that has been ongoing with unabated intensity for over a quarter of a century; which is better, the original Star Trek or the Next Generation. A corollary to that is the constant bickering over the superior captain of the Enterprise, Kirk or Picard. A cursory glance around the venue will instantly allow you to determine which side an individual is on by the costume they are sporting. Paramount has been re-releasing ST: TNG on Blu-ray at the accelerated rate of two seasons per year they also have been providing separate double episode stories on their own disc containing the cliffhanger fro0m season with its conclusion on the next. This time Paramount deviated from this fan friend methodology by releasing the separate disc although both halves of the story are included within the same season. In other words unlike the previous release cycles if you are purchasing Season Five there is no reason to also get the ‘Unification’ disc.
This season was special in several ways. It is the only season not to feature an episode featuring the Picard’s omnipotent nemesis, ‘Q’. The franchise its twenty fifth anniversary during the original broadcast of this season and the creator of the franchise, Gene Roddenberry, died retaining the posthumous title of executive producer for the remainder of the season in recognition of a visionary who quite literally affected our society in a profound fashion. The pervasive theme that infuses this season was to provide deeper emotional and psychological understanding of the characters and the universe they reside in. placed against a galactic socio-political background directly analogous to our own this season introduced several factions critical to the further expansion of the franchise and an intense exploration of a few already established species and individuals.
It had already been established that Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was not only a natural leader and brilliant tactician and strategist but a polymath of extraordinary abilities. He was the Federation’s first choice for missions involving first contact largely due to his intrinsic talent for diplomacy. Picard would much rather think his way out of a situation than resort to his option of last resort, violence. These qualities are examined in depth through several episodes. Even among an antagonistic and volatile race as the Klingons Picard was respected as a man on honor. This is why the season opens up with his fulfilling his duties as the Klingon’s High Council’s "Arbiter of Succession". In ‘Darmok’, one of my personal favorite episodes, Picard found himself trapped on a planet with a member of a race whose language was indecipherable even to Data. Picard is able to deduce that the alien language is entirely based on metaphors from Tamarian folklore. Though patience, understanding and an empathic approach Picard is able to communicate. In the episode, ‘The Inner Light’, Picard lives decades of an alien’s life in order to fully understand a race long gone. This was done by a race on the precipice of extinction so that a memory of them would life on.
With ST: TNG well established with the fans the producers were able to begin to turn their attention to the future expansion of the franchise. With this in mind the writers returned to a race touched upon in a prior season, The Cardassians. Known for their brutality and vehement hatred of other races they would become the focal point of the series, ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’. This fifth season of ST: TNG introduces fans to the Bajorans, an ancient and deeply spiritual people peacefully living in a thriving theocracy. They fell under the draconian rule of the Cardassians. During this occupation the Bajorans became victimized by Cardassians atrocities. This harsh rule pushed a sizable number of the Bajorans into harden rebels. One such person becomes a crew member of the Enterprise, Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes). Although because of her attitude she comes off as belligerent chaffing under the authority of Starfleet. She demands her name be used in the Bajoran tradition of surname first as well as insisting to wear the ornamental earring on one ear. Picard determines something in this young officer was worth nurturing.
In the episode ‘The Game’ a new video game sweeps through the crew, only Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) and his friend, Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd). They realize that a hostile race was using the game to subliminally brain wash its victims paving the way to a relatively easy conquest. This gives a glimpse of Wesley as a Starfleet cadet and reinforces the concept that there are many dangerous races out there besides the traditional opponents. This would prepare the fans to accept outer enemies now that diplomatic relationships with the Klingons and Romulans were underway.
The idea of a general gathering place was crucial to the development of stories dependent upon the personal aspects and social interaction of the crew. Like the Holodeck, Ten Forward became a pivotal location and plot point. Every bar needs a wise bartender with well-honed listening skills filled here by Guinan, brilliant played by recurring cast member Whoopi Goldberg. Her character was an El-Aurian, a race of "listeners", long lived and highly intelligent and perceptive. She has a deep relationship with Picard and is always afforded his attention. Characters like this, perfectly cast and exceptionally written add a foundation of realism and a degree of emotional sincerity to the series.
This season is critical to the franchise as a whole and manages to excel at developing the numerous plotlines that were just coming into their own. The season is vital to the development of an extremely complicated sociological and political landscape that would serve as stage for the entire off shoot series and the movies. In the original series Star fleet and the Federation were depicted I n mostly general terms consistent in their altruistic motives. This season provided a far more complicated environment with secret police on all sides including the Federation. The intensity that pervades this season helped to usher in a new more mature direction for all elements of the Star Trek universe. The franchise was now 25 years old and fully able to attract and hold an adult fan based.