Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E26: “The Neutral Zone” (and Season One Wrap-Up)


“We come in peace…and to discuss your race’s choice in fashion and haircuts.”

At last, the final frontier…of season one, that is. It’s been a long journey of wildly inconsistent quality, so perhaps it is fitting for its long-awaited finale to be of such “middle-of-the-road” quality. At times pleasant, at other times banal, “The Neutral Zone” makes for a tolerable but less-than-inspiring capstone to the season one experience. And that is no doubt a consequence of the episode’s unconventional design: it’s essentially two episodes in one, with dual storylines almost entirely divorced from one another, yet forcibly stapled to one another so clumsily that you can still see the bleeding seams.

The first plotline concerns the sudden disappearance of entire Federation outposts in the Neutral Zone (and completely ignores the galaxy-shaking events from the previous episode, I should add). They travel to the zone and encounter the suspected culprits, the Romulans, marking their first contact with Federation forces in decades and their first appearance since the original Star Trek series. Turns out this was meant to lead into a two-part “bridge” between the first and second seasons, and serve as our introduction to the overarching series big-bads the Borg. But a crunched timescale (due to the writer’s strike again, naturally) threw a wrench into these plans, meaning we punctuate the season with little more than a tease to future events.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E25: “Conspiracy”


A face only a mother could love.

Well now…that headlining screencap alone just speaks volumes, does it not? I was forewarned ahead of time by several parties that season one’s penultimate episode would be something out of the ordinary…but I would never have expected this.

“Conspiracy” is a tremendous shift from Next Generation norms for many reasons, which can be broadly categorized in two parts. One is that it’s the first episode of the series to have such a strong dependency on continuity: its story feeds off of foreshadowing introduced in the prior episode “Coming of Age”, and its ending seems to foreshadow stories to come that will hinge off of its critical events. For a series that has, up to now, been rather stringently episodic, the idea of a far-reaching and central narrative element that could potentially bind multiple episodes together into woven story arcs is a pretty huge change.

The other way “Conspiracy” differs can be seen above: its sinister and graphic nature. The conspiracy in question turns out to be the infiltration and overthrow of the Federation by a race of invasive parasites, and that lends to a great deal of body horror and “who can be trusted” suspicions seemingly more akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing than a Star Trek production. The climactic final confrontation against the mother parasite is so grotesquely over-the-top that the episode was initially banned from the air in the United Kingdom, and was aired with a warning in Canada.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E24: “We’ll Always Have Paris”


Given the Holodeck’s track record, I’m expecting the Eiffel Tower to suddenly come alive and try to eat Picard.

“We’ll Always Have Paris” is an utterly disposable, forgettable hour of television…and that is a huge breath of fresh air. After all, following the gut-churning one-two punch of “Symbiosis” and “Skin of Evil”, even the most mediocre of showings could be considered a wild improvement. “We’ll Always Have Paris” is indeed mediocre at best, not exactly befitting of something that borrows its title from a line in the classic Casablanca…though had it not been for a unique set of external influences, perhaps that might not have been the case.

Much has been written, recorded and made transparent about the production of these episodes, most of which I merely bring up in passing throughout these write-ups as they become relevant. This episode in particular, however, had its production truncated by an event far outside the control of the producers themselves: the 1988 Writer’s Guild of America strike. Not only did it result in the script being rushed out the door in a mere five days, but it caused further disruption when it was discovered that an entire scene (the climax in which Data corrects the time anomaly) had been left incomplete.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E23: “Skin of Evil”


“So long, friends. I’m off to a better place: co-starring in Orpheus Descending.”

Well, it had to happen eventually: it’s time for one of the show’s principal characters to kick the bucket. It’s not the first casualty the Enterprise has seen, nor is it even the first time that behind-the-scenes shakeups have been reflected in the on-screen roles (I’ve already lost count of the number of chief engineers we’ve had so far, and there’s even a new one in this episode). But Lieutenant Tasha Yar has been a fixture of the series from its very outset, and “Skin of Evil” marks her last breath, in accordance with actress Denise Crosby requesting to be released from her contract.

If you’ve been following along up to now, it shouldn’t be difficult to fathom why Crosby would wish to quit. The show, to put it charitably, wasn’t up to snuff: not in scheduling, not in budget, not in the ratings, not in abject quality. And amongst the nine-or-so main characters jostling about for screentime, Yar had easily drawn the shortest straw; she was relegated to the sidelines most of the time and was placed in even more degrading positions when she wasn’t, ranging from being kidnapped by barbaric warlords to giving children remedial drug abuse prevention lectures. Still, Crosby struck me as someone who tried her hardest with what little she was provided, and Yar herself carried great promise that future writers could have easily eked some compelling stories out of. It’s a shame to see her leave this soon, and the writers would have been well served to create an appropriately respectful exit for the character.

Or, y’know, they could abruptly kill her off within the first ten minutes and proceed to gloss over her demise. That works too.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E22: “Symbiosis”


Truly, the Badger and Skinny Pete of their day.

In 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to America on the topic of drug trafficking and abuse. The next few years would see a tremendous cracking down on the illegal drug trade…and not just in terms of the long arm of the law. Culture itself was impacted, with even our children’s cartoons and video games geared towards teaching America’s youth to say “no”. And if you thought that adult-oriented science-fiction television might be exempt from these sweeping reforms…well, then you probably haven’t watched “Symbiosis”.

This episode, to be blunt, is an embarrassment. Not in the same way that the racial stereotyping of “Code of Honor” or accidental misogyny of “Angel One” are embarrassing, of course, but rather in a manner that insults you, the viewer, on a more direct level. To imagine that the writers of “Symbiosis” would think so little of their audience so as to devote an entire episode to a transparent drug abuse allegory is a depressing thought, and the execution somehow torpedoes it even further down.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E21: “The Arsenal of Freedom”


The people of planet Minos devoted their lives to the creation of the most advanced potato gun ever made.

There are many disparaging adjectives I could use to describe the first season of The Next Generation (in fact, in case you haven’t been following along thus far, I already have. Repeatedly). “Mindless”, however, would not fairly be among them; typically, even its bone-headed decisions are born from a desire to be far more than that, to imbue their shoddy world-building or contrived scenarios with a deeper sense of purpose. “The Arsenal of Freedom”, however, might be the closest approximation of “mindless” that we’ve encountered thus far, in that meditations on the conflicts facing are the characters are minimal and even the explanations for their questionable behavior are not just insufficient but absent. It’s among the most straightforward of episodes the series has yet had, seemingly guided on autopilot.

To its credit, the set-up inspires promise, with the Enterprise arriving at a planet formerly financially buoyed by the sale of advanced weapons systems, only to come under attack by one of those very systems gone rogue. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my experiences with the show thus far, however, “the set-up inspires promise” is often a silver lining of little solace. There is at least some suspense and mystery leading up to the reveal of what threatens the ship and the crew stranded on the planet, but the reveal of its true nature is brushed aside by Picard as quickly as it came up. As such, what could have perhaps spiraled upwards into a thought-provoking screed on shortsighted military profiteering instead just becomes a series of shoot-outs and space action escapades. Which is puzzling, as story editor Maurice Hurley apparently did see the episode as a commentary on just that. Perhaps he simply did too good of a job at hiding it.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E20: “Heart of Glory”



Even the most rudimentary of Star Trek neophytes (like myself) know of the Klingons: the proud warrior race that served as the recurring antagonists of the original series and early films. So Gene Roddenberry’s (apparently last-second) decision to appoint a Klingon to the bridge of the Enterprise was a brilliant decision, one of the few design choices of The Next Generation with an immediate sense of clarity and purpose. Lieutenant Worf’s mere presence in Starfleet was a clear indication of just how much time had passed in the universe, and to what end: the greatest menace to the United Federation of Planets had, to an extent, kissed and made up. He was a symbol.

However, Worf has been little more than a symbol up until now, and therein lies the problem. He has been a character relegated mostly to the background, and what little action and dialogue he’s had is entirely colored by limited stereotype. Yet there was still the latent understanding that his circumstances among Klingon society were unique, or at least very different when compared to Klingons of the original series, and this would have to be addressed at one point or another. But how to go about it?
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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E19: “Coming of Age”



I suppose the good times couldn’t last forever. After two consecutive episodes that crossed the “actually watchable” threshold, I had hoped that, at the very least, the season might have finally reached a certain stability in its quality. But that was a fool’s hope, and instead we return to the series swerving across the entertainment spectrum with reckless abandon like a drunk driver in a blizzard. “Coming of Age” may not reach the same disastrous lows as past disappointments, but it’s still a real stinker: a chunky soup of clichés and ridiculous story elements.

The episode consists of two plotlines. In the first, Wesley undertakes the grueling exam process for entry into the Starfleet Academy. In the second, Captain Picard’s long-time friend Admiral Gregory Quinn sends Lieutenant Remmick to examine the ship and interrogate the crew, ultimately culminating in the suggestion that Picard leave to Enterprise to become the commandant of the Academy. In both stories, we’re presented with the same question: will a long-time member of the Enterprise crew leave the vessel to pursue a golden opportunity. And the foregone conclusion, of course, is “no”. Duh. If anything, these are the two roles I would consider the least likely to be disposed of by the show. So instead the episode has to generate engagement on its own terms, and you can already guess how that goes too.

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Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E18: “Home Soil”


“Crystal Lifeform” was briefly marketed in the 1990s, but never caught on.

It’s common pop-cultural practice to pit Star Trek against Star Wars in a fruitless contest of genre, with the former being labeled as “science fiction” and the latter as “science fantasy”. It’s a distinction I’ve always found unfair for several reasons, but at least partially because it seems to be built upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the degrees to which these franchises balance their “science” against the conventions of drama. Sure, Star Trek does tend to be more concerned with how components of its setting and the laws of its mechanics work when compared to Star Wars, but it doesn’t forsake traditional dramatic necessity to that end either. You don’t usually get the sensation that the writers of a given episode were as devoted to scientific accuracy as they were to narrative flow. Consider even the episodes we’ve seen up to now: in “Where No One Has Gone Before”, problems are both caused and solved by intangibilities in human emotion, a “Star Wars-ian” notion if I ever heard one. It isn’t an inherently worse approach to story, nor better: simply different.

I say all of this, because “Home Soil” is assuredly the “hardest” science fiction that the series has provided to date. Especially when compared to something like “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the episode is very technical in its content, and fastidious in its efforts to convey it to the viewer. It forsakes character development among its main cast. It revolves around terraforming and inorganic lifeforms, and does not shy away from delving deep into both the practical and philosophical ramifications of those topics. Even by Star Trek’s standards, this would at first appear to represent a slow-burning density that would polarize its viewers and eject the less “rigorous” among them from engaging with the story. Continue reading

Emergency Treatments: Star Trek: The Next Generation, S1-E17: “When the Bough Breaks”


THIS is what they replaced Spongebob’s timeslot with?

One is occasionally left to wonder why anyone in their right mind would willingly serve aboard a Starfleet vessel. By most reports, life in the Federation of Planets resembles that of a post-scarcity utopian paradise; meanwhile, in the first season alone, the Enterprise has been shot at, hijacked, flung to uncharted corners of the universe, exposed to deadly radiation, and afflicted by plagues. And even if the thrill of adventure and discovery supersedes matters of safety in the minds of its crew, surely they would think better than to bring their families along for the ride. I can sympathize with the heartbreak of being separated from your loved ones across the great void of space, it’s true, but when the alternative is…oh, I dunno, having your loved ones kidnapped by an alien race en masse, you might think to just leave them with a sitter next time.

Why yes, that was a segue into today’s episode of discussion. How astute of you to notice.

In “When the Bough Breaks”, the Enterprise meets with the legendary Aldean race, wielders of advanced technology who are nonetheless facing extinction due to their recent sterility problem. Subsequently, they propose that the Enterprise relinquish some of their own children to them, and once refused, they forcibly kidnap them, with the Enterprise powerless to prevent it. This effectively cleaves the story in twain: Picard and his entourage hashes out diplomacy and tactics alike trying to recover the kids, while the kids themselves (led by who else than our favorite wunderkind Wesley) cope with their new surroundings. And both halves work quite serviceably, each grounded by a star performer.
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