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The Next Generation (TNG) Season 5

Season 1 - Season 2 - Season 3 - Season 4 - Season 5 - Season 6 - Season 7

 

The episode descriptions are given in normal text, my comments in small text. Rating: 0=worst, 10=best (rating system)

 

Redemption II See TNG season 4

Darmok Stardate 45047.2: The Enterprise is on a mission to establish relations with the Children of Tama, whose language was previously described as being "incomprehensible". When the attempts of verbal communication between the Enterprise and the Tamarian ship fail, the Tamarians abduct Picard and isolate him on the planet El-Adrel IV, together with their Captain Dathon. Facing a common enemy in the form of a dangerous creature, they re-enact what the Tamarians call "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra". Picard begins to understand the meaning of this and other odd expressions. As opposed to abstract words, they reflect the Tamarian history and customs. Dathon, however, is mortally injured by the creature. Back on the Enterprise, Picard can put an end to the ongoing confrontation with the Tamarian ship when he demonstrates his knowledge of their language.

Almost all of Star Trek's aliens fall into one of only two categories. On one end of the scale we have non-humanoid lifeforms whose very nature is incomprehensible. On the other end there are humanoid species that look, act and speak much like humans. Cultural misunderstandings with the latter are commonplace, but at least there is never a problem speaking with them - thanks to the universal translator. "Darmok" is remarkable because it is the first time in Star Trek that communication with a humanoid race is not possible but has to be worked out, which is a missed story opportunity of TOS and early TNG in hindsight. 
Although I don't see it as very plausible, I like the Tamarian language very much. It is very limited by its very nature, yet there is something poetic about it. The metaphors such as "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", "Temba, his arms wide" or "Uzani, his army with fists open" have a charming ring to them, and they contribute much to the atmosphere of the episode. Most notably "Shaka, when the walls fell" sounds a lot more pleasant than "Shit!". The romanticized language of the Tamarians is contrasted with their technology, and with their determination to use it against the Enterprise.
I like the interaction of Patrick Stewart as Picard and Paul Winfield as Dathon. They are quite convincing as two people who have much in common and who are trying hard to understand each other. 
Something that bothers me about the story is that Captain Dathon creates a dangerous scenario for himself and Picard without a good reason, a reckless maneuver that would cost him his life. He could have achieved much the same without the lethal threat. We have to bear in mind that the whole scenario merely served to explain the meaning of "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", and wasn't really useful to make their language more understandable as a whole. Dathon could have chosen a far less dramatic example of the Tamarian language to demonstrate that it is based on metaphors, or he could have given Picard and the Starfleet crew more time. After all Deanna and Data find out a lot on Darmok and Tanagra without being exposed to any danger. Aside from that, I think both sides should have tried harder to develop a common language - preferably one based on pictures and symbols. Showing a slide show about the Federation may have been a good start.
Nitpicking: Considering that every human language has colloquialisms and proverbs that are hard to translate, it is a great idea for a science fiction story that a race may have based their whole communication on familiar quotations. Yet, the concept of the Tamarian language as depicted in "Darmok" is not really credible. The Tamarians seem to possess a basic grammar (and, at, with, when, his) and nouns other than names (walls, river, winter, army, fist) that the universal translator can handle for some reason. So why do they always speak in allegories? Well, it seems plausible the Tamarians themselves may have forgotten about the original meanings of those words, from a time when those quotations were formed. However, in this case the Tamarians simply don't have the necessary tools in their language. All they can do is describe a situation or a concept as being the same or similar to one that is firmly established in the Tamarian mythology. Everything that doesn't fall into the predefined historical categories can't be expressed in their language, as if it didn't exist - much like with "Newspeak" in 1984. Owing to this constriction of their language it would be impossible for the Tamarians to "think outside the box". They couldn't possibly build or operate starships, unless they had something like a technical auxiliary language. A mathematical message from the Tamarians was mentioned in the beginning, but it was said to carry no specific meaning. Anyway, there just has to be something that the Tamarians use for scientific, technical, military, commercial and legal purposes and that may have helped immensely in the communication with aliens too. Finally, I wonder how Tamarian children learn their language in the first place if it is so hard to grasp the meaning of mythological references. Basically it would require to expose them to the situation just like Picard to make them understand what "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" means.
Remarkable error: The Enterprise famously fires a phaser beam from the photon torpedo launcher.
Remarkable shuttle: This episode marks the first appearance of the Type-6 shuttlecraft.
Remarkable costume: We can see Picard's uniform variant for the first time, consisting of a gray shirt and a red open jacket. 
Remarkable appearances: This is the first time Ashley Judd can be seen as Ensign Lefler. She would reappear more prominently in "The Game". -- Captain Dathon is played by Paul Winfield, who previously appeared as Captain Terrell in "Star Trek II".
Remarkable facts: The computer finds 47 entries for the search term "Darmok". -- Data has encountered 1750 non-human races races during his tenure with Starfleet.
Rating: 7

Ensign Ro Stardate 45076.3: A Federation colony has been attacked by Bajoran extremists as it seems. Against Picard's explicit wishes Admiral Kennelly assigns Ensign Ro Laren, a Bajoran Starfleet officer who has been sentenced for disobeying orders, to the Enterprise. Picard does not know that Kennelly put her on the mission and told her he would supply the terrorist Orta with weapons so he can fight against the Cardassians. After talking to Guinan Ro lets Picard in one her mission. But Kennelly's actual goal is to find Orta's hiding place so the terrorist can be eliminated by the Cardassians. Kennelly, however, is not aware that the Cardassians raided the outpost themselves to put an end to the Federation aid for the Bajorans. Picard finds out the truth. He gives the Cardassians the desired opportunity to get rid of Orta's resistance movement as planned, but they just destroy an empty old ship. Picard offers Ro Laren a position on the Enterprise, and she accepts.

"Ensign Ro" is noteworthy for introducing the Bajoran people in general and the character of Ro Laren in particular. But other than that, there is not much special about the episode. The story about the political intrigue gets lost in too many places and people that are being involved. The screenplay largely neglects to take care of those people's goals and motivations, which at some point in the story don't make much sense any longer and don't really matter anyway. We have: peaceful Bajoran refugees; Bajoran terrorists who may or may not have attacked a Federation outpost; a Starfleet admiral with a hidden agenda and a hidden hidden agenda; the Cardassians who have tricked everyone and are only waiting to attack. These characters remain totally uninteresting. But even Picard and Ro are ultimately subordinated to the story in a way it shouldn't be done. Also, while I don't mind that despite the theme of terrorism there is comparably little action in the episode, the direction could and should have made it a bit more exciting. The way it was done it comes across as rather unhurried, it lacks a tendency of rising tension until what should be the climax of the episode: the destruction of the Bajoran ship. 
Ro Laren is an extremely unsympathetic character in the beginning. Well, she has just been released from prison and she is covertly working for Admiral Kennelly in addition to her official task, with an according psychic and emotional stress. It may be understandable in her situation that she is not the most cooperative crew member. Still, she is ostentatiously defiant like a teenage punk girl, which neither helps her on her official nor on her secret mission and which is totally unbecoming of a Starfleet officer. We can see in her conversation with Guinan that Ro is actually craving recognition and seeking friends, and that she is doing just the contrary, because her "poles are reversed", as Guinan puts it. This explains Ro's behavior, and makes her change of mind plausible. Ro warms up in the following. She recognizes that there are people aboard the ship she can trust, as opposed to Admiral Kennelly who was only using her.
Still, I have a few problems with Ro Laren's involvement in the story. I don't think she is all that useful in the crisis although Picard believes she is. Sure, she helps expose Admiral Kennelly's and eventually the Cardassian plot, but only after much dithering. I would have hoped for her to take a more active role in the final ten minutes. Regarding Picard's opinion of Ro Laren, I don't think she really gives him much reason to keep her aboard the ship, other than a vague feeling that he may become a father figure (a feeling that she will disappoint in "Preemptive Strike" when she defects to the Maquis). 
Unremarkable ship: This is the first appearance of a ship of the "Antares class". The Bajoran version doesn't even have warp capability, its maximum speed is half impulse.
Remarkable station: Lya Station Alpha is another huge mushroom-shaped starbase (as it first appeared as Earth Spacedock in "Star Trek III").
Remarkable appearance: This is the second appearance of a Bolian barber on the Enterprise, and the first of the one known as Mr. Mot.
Continuity: The Bajorans appear for the first time in Star Trek. They are almost consistently referred to as "the Bajora" in this episode. Only Picard calls them "Bajorans". In addition, the Bajoran make-up is different than towards the end of TNG and in DS9.
Remarkable facts: The Bajoran homeworld was occupied by the Cardassians 40 years ago. -- Eight members of the away team from the Wellington died on Garon II, because Ro Laren disobeyed her orders.
Rating: 4

Silicon Avatar Stardate 45122.3: Riker and an away team witness an attack of the Crystalline Entity that wipes out the whole vegetation of Melona IV and kills two people, including Riker's acquaintance Carmen Davila. Dr. Kila Marr, whose son was once killed by the Crystalline Entity when Lore lured it to Omicron Theta, comes aboard the Enterprise. She is very hostile towards Lore's "brother" Data, until she learns that he has the memories of all killed settlers and is even able to imitate her son's voice. The entity also kills the crew of an alien freighter. Picard, however, makes clear that the primary goal is to communicate with the entity. When the Enterprise encounters the Crystalline Entity, Marr takes revenge by destroying it with a graviton pulse that was supposed to be a means of communication.

In another instance of great intraseries continuity this episode brings back the Crystalline Entity from "Datalore". But the story built around it isn't great at all.
It may not be immediately evident, but this episode bears one of the worst examples of hypocrisy in Star Trek. The crew of the Enterprise-D have witnessed how the Crystalline Entity has devastated a whole planet, killing all life (including two human settlers) and leaving it uninhabitable. The entity subsequently kills the crew of an alien freighter. While the Starfleet crew attempt to communicate with it, Dr. Marr (who lost her son in a previous attack) seeks to destroy the Crystalline Entity. I have to concede that no rash decision is made whether the Crystalline Entity is intelligent and/or sentient or not and would thus have deserved to live or not. This is one of the few positive aspects of the episode because limited understanding could have prevented the crew from recognizing it (such as in TNG: "Home Soil", "Evolution" or "The Quality of Life"). Maybe the communication would have even been fruitful. But essentially, no matter if it was "evil" or just acted instinctively, the Crystalline Entity posed a lethal threat to the Federation, not unlike the Borg. But while the Borg were quickly labeled as mortal enemies and fought ardently, the outlandish Entity gained the status of something that is precious and would need to be preserved. I simply don't agree with Picard's comparison that the entity is like a sperm whale that devours cuttlefish, unless he wants to degrade human beings to cuttlefish. Realistically, what could Picard have told the Entity? "Please go away and eat Romulan planets?"
To avoid misunderstandings, I agree that there may have been other options to solve the dilemma, and least of all Star Trek should resort to unnecessary violence. The particular problem I have with the ethics of "Silicon Avatar" is rather with the plot development. Essentially the crew was alienated by Marr's behavior because she pulled the trigger just a few moments earlier than Picard may have been forced to do anyway. Putting the whole blame on a scapegoat is a cheap quirk to let the Starfleet crew appear in a bright light. Moreover, Marr is unsympathetic from the outset, she is clearly obsessed with her mission, and she turns out to be mentally unstable above all, which lets her act erratically and immorally. She is nothing more than a token mad character, in the worst habit of some TOS and TNG episodes where especially dignitaries and scientists (most obviously Daystrom and only recently Norah Satie in "The Drumhead") were prone to break down. The bottom line of the episode, at least the consequential antithesis to Marr's allegedly despicable actions, is that any righteous and sane human being would need to act like the gallant Starfleet crew. Maybe even as far as a Starfleet captain would rather have to sacrifice his ship with all hands and perhaps a couple of inhabited planets along with it, than ever harm an alien lifeform -- the more exotic the lifeform the better for it.
As already mentioned, Marr is a bitch from the outset. Aside from all my ethical concerns, in a good story, I'd expect someone to change their mind at some time. Marr could have recognized at some point that seeking revenge was not the right way, and she could have joined the effort to talk with the entity. The story even includes a red herring to that end when Marr stares at the entity in awe, saying "It's beautiful", as if she was going to change her mind. But no, she carries on with her evil mission regardless, which comes as a big disappointment. Vice versa, Marr could have convinced someone of the crew to support her cause. Perhaps Data, after his (trashy) impersonation of her son. But everyone is at odds with her all the time, which is another big letdown.
While her character is written to be hopelessly stereotypical in the first place, I don't like Ellen Geer's performance as Dr. Marr either. Her painfully trembling voice and her grim face only adds insult to injury. Look at me, I'm soooo evil. I can't stand her.
But even if we leave aside the involvement of the mad scientist for a moment, there is a lot of unexploited potential. There could have been more of a conflict between Picard and Riker, for instance. When they talk in the ready room, Picard's priority appears to be to communicate with the Crystalline Entity, and he has no real plan how it could be killed should the communication fail. In fact, Picard is almost criminally negligent when the Enterprise encounters the Crystalline Entity, considering that the first time in "Datalore" the shields barely protected the ship. Riker, on the other hand, is more concerned about the ship's safety than the captain. Picard then insinuates that Riker has a personal motivation to take revenge on the entity. Unfortunately the two clash only briefly and not in front of the crew. It has no lasting impact, and they eventually unite in their disgust with the mad scientist. I would have expected something more daring from TNG than this unanimous finger wagging of the crew.
This episode fails on so many levels that it is the worst of TNG in my view, even though there are still a few major stinkers to come in the later seasons.
Nitpicking: The effects of the Crystalline Entity devouring the planet's surface are impressive for the time, but wouldn't it take millennia at that speed for the entity to consume the whole surface of an Earth-like planet? Well, the entity may have slowed down to enjoy the delicacies in the form of human bodies. And it obviously didn't save the best for last. -- Considering that the entity consumes the whole surface of the planet with ever increasing intensity, in a just a few hours, wouldn't it soak up the whole atmosphere as well?
Remarkable dialogue: "If we can determine what its needs are, we might find other sources to supply it." - "Its needs are to slaughter people by the thousands. It is nothing but a giant killing machine." - "Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil. It is feeding. The same may be true of the Crystalline Entity." (Picard and Marr)
Remarkable scenery: The matte painting of the devastated planet surface previously appeared in "The Survivors".
Remarkable blooper: In one shot in the cave on Melona IV, Marr is holding a tricorder upside down. She may have been confused because of Data's presence.
Rating: 0

Disaster Stardate 45156.1: When a quantum filament hits the ship, Captain Picard is stuck with three children in the turbolift. Geordi and Beverly are trapped in a cargo bay. Their only chance of extinguishing a plasma fire is to open the airlock. Riker and Data try to reach engineering, while Worf stays in Ten Forward to assist Keiko O'Brien, who is about to give birth to her child. Deanna is in command of the bridge, and despite the objections of Ro Laren, who fears an imminent warp core breach, she decides not to separate the saucer, which would leave the drive section helpless. Instead, she orders O'Brien to activate the monitors in engineering to display the warning. After Data has been struck by a high electric current, Riker, with the help of Data's detached head, manages to restore warp power in time.

This episode is based on a rather simple premise. The Enterprise is disabled, and the crew is faced with several difficulties until the ship is out of danger and everything is up and running again. We already know this basic plot in many variations. The special thing about "Disaster" is that, instead of having Picard on the bridge and Geordi in engineering where we'd normally expect them to be, the story isolates parts of the crew in rather uncommon combinations in various areas of the ship, where they have to cope with a variety of unusual hardships. Captain Picard, who didn't like the idea of having children on board in "Encounter at Farpoint", is stuck in the turbolift with three children. Deanna, who barely has an idea of the working principles of the ship, finds herself as the highest ranking officer on the bridge and is expected to make decisions for the survival of the crew. Beverly and Geordi are locked up in a cargo bay. Riker and Data try to make their way to engineering. Worf has to assist Keiko when she gives birth to her daughter, and he expects it to be a birth by the book. All of the many sub-plots are of almost equal importance for the story. At the time the episode was made this must have been a new, almost experimental concept. I think it works excellently.
While the disaster begins with a common cliché, the explosion of a console that kills the poor Lieutenant Monroe, it becomes a cornucopia of original ideas in the following. We have got the hot wall in the cargo bay that turns out to be a plasma fire that Beverly and Geordi can only extinguish by opening the outer door. Picard "promotes" the children to his officers, whereby they gain self-confidence and he himself warms up with the idea of taking care of them. They make their way up the turboshaft (in a far more credible fashion than in "Star Trek V"). An electric arc of 500 kiloamperes is in Data and Riker's way, and the only way to interrupt it is by using Data's body, upon which Riker detaches the android's still operational head. Finally, Deanna decides that it would be a good idea to reactivate the monitors in engineering to warn about the warp containment failure. All this is pure pleasure, and very nerdy in the best sense. 
I like the atmosphere of "Disaster" very much. It could have become silly or bizarre, considering that Picard of all crew members is stuck with three children, and Worf of all crew members helps deliver a baby. Yet, the seriousness of the situation never gets lost. It could have been dark and desperate in light of the dramatic events and the fact that obviously a couple of people died. Yet, everyone remains positive that their respective problems can be solved.
Well, some may object that there could have been more of a conflict between single crew members in the episode, that it shows nearly perfect people and that normally not everything works so well once the command structure is largely defunct. However, I think Deanna's clash with Ro (after all, on three occasions in the episode) is absolutely realistic in their situation and absolutely sufficient to show that different individuals deal differently with the same emergency situation. And, while it's a bit on the comical side, Picard gets into arguments with the children as well, as does Worf with Keiko.
Nitpicking: Deanna knows alarmingly little about the ship on which she serves as a senior officer. O'Brien and Ro Laren have to explain to her some very basics, such as that the ship will explode in case of a containment breach. -- I know this is pedantic, but Picard has a bad French accent for a Frenchman when he sings "Frère Jacques". -- The turbolift clamps are a faulty design if they don't withstand a moderate fall of the cabin. -- Speaking of faulty designs, who had the idea that it's necessary to walk from the console with the door opener to a far wall to repressurize the cargo bay, other than for the dramatic impact? Agreed, it's not designed to be de- and re-pressurized with people still inside but some more safety would have been a great idea. -- Why is Worf the most qualified crew member to help Keiko? There are many people in or near Ten Forward, and not all of them are injured. -- No one is in engineering when Riker and Data arrive there.
Remarkable dialogues: "The crew has decided to stick together. We all go or we all stay." - "All right. I'll try. But I want you to know this is mutiny." (Marissa and Picard), "The computer simulation was not like this. That delivery was very orderly." - "Well, I'm sorry!" (Worf and Keiko), "You have the Bridge, Number One." - "Aye, sir." (Picard and Riker/Marissa) 
Remarkable plaque: "To Captain Picard: In appreciation for the way you helped us get out of the turboshaft, and the way you helped us not be scared. Jay Gordon Graas, Paterson Supra, Marissa Flores"
Remarkable fact: "The Laughing Vulcan and His Dog" is a children's song in the 24th century. The double paradox, considering that Vulcans neither laugh nor appreciate the presence of dogs, is certainly funny. But doesn't it border on xenophobia?
Crew death: Lt. J. G. Monroe
Rating: 9

The Game Stardate: 45208.2: Wesley Crusher, back on the Enterprise on vacation, has a crush on Ensign Robin Lefler who works in engineering. They are the only two crew members -apart from Data who is deactivated by Geordi and Beverly- not to become addicted to a new video game that everyone on the ship is playing all the time. Riker has received this game from the Ktarian woman Etana Jol whose group of political extremists is using subconscious messages in the game to take control of key positions within the Federation. Wesley and Robin escape the permanent attempts by the rest of the crew to make them play, and they begin to repair Data. After Robin has become addicted to the game, Wesley is on his own. But he is finally forced by the crew to play too. Fortunately Data, who has been fully reactivated in the meantime, finds a countermeasure in the form of a strobe light that cancels out the effect of the game.

Back in 1990, when Wesley left the ship in the fourth season episode "Final Mission", many fans (or at least a vocal minority) breathed a sigh of relief or even cheered. When he returned in "The Game", almost one year later, the Wesley haters were given a chance to make their peace with the character instead of forever looking back at the first three and half seasons in anger. "The Game" is a real family episode, not only because Wesley comes home and receives a warm welcome but also because of the countless references, such as to Risa as a pleasure planet, to Beverly Crusher as the "Dancing Doctor", to Troi's chocoholism and to Groundskeeper Boothy.
Well, it isn't really plausible why of all people on the Enterprise Wesley should be the only one not to fall for the insidious game. He still seems to be a bit like the outsider who wants to be a normal boy yet defies all rules. But once we accept the idea that the young cadet only has eyes for the cute Ensign Lefler (which is the behavior of a normal boy), it is a rather intelligent and quite thrilling episode. There are various nice twists and red herrings: Picard is already addicted when he promises Wesley to investigate the game, Wesley and Lefler only pretend to play in order not to raise suspicion, Wesley needs a moment to see that Lefler is addicted too, Wesley has repaired Data off-screen. Some of them are rather predictable, but the fast pace and good directing makes up for the clichés in the story.
The only real weakness in the story is the apparent goal of the Ktarians to take over every ship and every planet of the Federation. Even though the game is highly addictive, they couldn't honestly hope to keep control of the minds of millions or even billions of lifeforms. Their plan is even less credible than the previous attempted takeover by the creatures in "Conspiracy", especially since we only see Etana Jol, which makes it look like a one-woman show. It had been much more plausible if Etana Jol had enlisted the mind-controlled crew of the Enterprise to raid an outpost or to assassinate someone (a bit like Geordi in "The Mind's Eye").
The graphics of the game may be dated today, but I think the idea of video addiction was way ahead of its time in 1991 and is highly topical today. While games that tie into the pleasure center of the brain and make us susceptible to orders are fortunately still beyond our technical possibilities, gamers who are playing all day are a real problem, and sometimes I feel the same about people who have their fingers on the smartphone everywhere they are going.
Nitpicking: The Ktarians in this episode (actually we only see Etana Jol though) look very different than the ones on Voyager.
Remarkable error: Picard calls Wesley's knowledge of Latin "oppido bonum", which can be translated as "good for the town". What he probably meant to say was "optime bonum", meaning "very good".
Remarkable quote: "Wesley, if you meet someone whose initials you might want to carve into that elm tree, don't let it interfere with your studies. I failed organic chemistry because of AF." (Picard)
Remarkable ship: The Ktarian ship is a modification of the Tarellian vessel from "Haven" and previously appeared as the (much more powerful) Zalkonian ship in "Transfigurations".
Lefler's Laws: #1: "You can only count on yourself." #17: "When all else fails, do it yourself." #36: "You gotta go with what works." #46: "Life isn't always fair." #91: "Always watch your back." #103: (added by Wesley) "A couple of light years can't keep good friends apart." 
Rating: 7

Unification I/II Stardate: 45233.1/45245.8: A long-range reconnaissance image shows famed Ambassador Spock on Romulus. Has he defected? Briefly before his death Sarek tells Picard that his son Spock may be working on a plan to reunite the Romulans and Vulcans, together with Romulan Senator Pardek. On board a cloaked Klingon Bird-of-Prey, Picard and Data travel to Romulus where they disguise themselves as Romulans in the hope of finding Spock. In the meantime the Enterprise investigates the disappearance of several old Vulcan ships, which have been removed from a surplus depot on Qualor II. A mysterious alien ship that suddenly appears on the scene, apparently to steal more material, explodes at the first shot. On Romulus, Picard and Data meet Spock. He is working in a Romulan underground movement that embraces the Vulcan way of life. Picard, unlike Spock, does not trust the Romulan contacts Pardek and Neral, and soon he is proven right when he himself, Data and Spock are captured. In an alleged mission of peace, Sela sends three stolen Vulcan ships to Vulcan, but they are actually carrying invasion troops. Data and Spock manage to send a warning. The Enterprise hurries to intercept the invasion ships. When the Romulans discover that their ruse has failed, a warbird decloaks and destroys the Vulcan ships with all the troops still aboard. Spock mind melds with Picard and says he is determined to stay on Romulus.

The Vulcans and the Romulans are two people with a common ancestry that have been separated for many centuries, a long time in which both sides developed their own cultures as well as a good deal of mistrust for the ways of the other side. The Vulcans are suppressing their emotions and embrace logic for the benefit of a peaceful and meaningful life. The Romulans, on the other hand, use emotions to achieve their goals and they accept that their world of oppression, corruption and sacrifice is not perfect. But just like every society of our time produces dissenters, there is an underground movement on Romulus that follows the Vulcan ways. This is a rather fascinating premise. It was made into a good but not an outstanding episode. 
Speaking of our time, "Unification" is inspired by the German reunification of 1990, so clearly that the scripts avoids a direct reference. Yet, the story takes a very different direction, most obviously because the unification of Romulus and Vulcan doesn't take place. My principal problem with the story is that the Romulan plan to conquer Vulcan never becomes really plausible. Why would they need the real Spock, why the Vulcan ships? The plan goes into great lengths to create a short diversion that most likely wouldn't have worked, even without Data and Spock thwarting it. Even where the story isn't really inconsistent it could have been developed better. For instance, when Neral surprises Spock with full support of the Romulan-Vulcan unification, this is much more than Spock could have ever hoped for, and much more than anyone would be prepared for. Neral is a fool for promising so much, by which he only raises suspicion. Moreover, I don't know if it was on purpose, but the way Norman Large plays Neral just cries "deceit". 
On the bright side "Unification" gives us more memorable moments than any other fifth season episode. And Leonard Nimoy's appearance as Spock is a clear highlight. The double episode takes as much time as hardly any other for dialogues, such as between Picard and Perrin, Picard and Sarek, Picard and Data (about Sarek), Picard and Spock, Data and Spock. This happens at the expense of action, but I don't think we should compare "Unification" with "Redemption", although both episodes deal with pivotal events on major planets (and both have Denise Crosby as Sela).
Continuity: "Unification" references the Khitomer Conference from "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" (where Spock met Pardek). The movie was released after the episode but was shot sooner.
Nitpicking: Why doesn't Admiral Brackett show Picard the enhanced picture of Spock on Romulus in the first place? Why does she access the raw picture and uses the Enterprise computer to clear it up? Does she just want to make it more suspenseful? Well, she may have wanted to prove to Picard that it's not a fake, but Picard ought to trust in her judgment. -- Geordi says he has no idea what the pieces of debris in the cargo bay could be from. But most parts are still fairly intact. He shouldn't have much trouble finding out to which type of ship they belong if it's a known type, but it takes quite a long time. -- Spock has no protruding forehead bones as apparently all Romulans in the 24th century. Wouldn't his look raise suspicion on Romulus? -- The Romulan plan to conquer Vulcan is rather stupid. Why all the pain to get their hands on Vulcan ships? What could they accomplish with Vulcan ships that emerge from the Neutral Zone, except for raising unnecessary suspicion? Why all the trouble to lure Spock to Romulus and negotiate with him? Just to have better records for the holographic message? -- The three ships are moving at Warp 1. Their journey to Vulcan would take many years at that speed. It doesn't look like they were supposed to speed up, and the T'Pau could hardly travel at high warp without the deflector.
Remarkable dialogues: "They're not removable, are they, Data?" - "Removable?" - "Your ears." (Dr. Crusher and Data), "I was with him before coming here. He expressed his pride in you. His love." - "Emotional disarray was a symptom of the illness from which he suffered." - "No, those feelings came from his heart, Spock. He shared them with me. I know." (Picard and Spock, about Sarek), "Excuse me, I'm just finishing up a speech. For you, Mister Spock. I rather enjoy writing. I don't get to do it often in this job." - "Perhaps you would be happier in another job." (Sela and Data)
Remarkable quotes: "Ambassador, with great respect for all that you've achieved on behalf of the Federation, this sort of cowboy diplomacy will not easily be tolerated any more." (Picard, to Spock), "You are half human. Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life. In effect, you have abandoned what I have sought all my life." (Data, to Spock)
Remarkable scenes: Sarek suffers from some form of dementia. He mentions Senator Pardek to Picard, but doesn't remember that a few moments later. -- The Zakdorn quartermaster says he has no time to help with Riker's investigation and simply ends the communication. -- Picard tries to sleep in his uncomfortable Klingon bunk, and feels disturbed by Data just standing around. -- The reaction of the Klingon captain to Picard's and Data's Romulan make-up: "Don't you two look sweet." -- Data creates a holographic Riker with "bad hair" as a diversion for Sela. -- Data doing the Vulcan neck pinch -- Picard's mind meld with Spock
Remarkable first times: It is the first time we can see the planet Romulus. -- The Romulan greeting "Jolan tru" is spoken out for the first time. -- We can hear a Klingon opera for the first time.
Remarkable re-use: The Qualor II surplus depot re-uses footage of the Wolf 359 graveyard, some of which didn't air so far or was altered.
Remarkable memorial: In both parts a title card commemorates the recently deceased Gene Roddenberry: "Gene Roddenberry 1921-1991".
Remarkable facts: Spock never had a mind meld with his father. -- Picard says he met Spock once before. Considering that Picard attended the wedding of Sarek's son as mentioned in "Sarek", it is possible that it was indeed Spock who got married.
Rating: 7

A Matter of Time Stardate 45349.1: The Enterprise is on a mission to mitigate the effects of atmospheric pollution on Penthara IV when Worf registers a temporal distortion. A time-traveling historian from 26th century Earth, Berlinghoff Rasmussen, beams aboard the ship. He insists to be shown "artifacts" and has questionnaires for the crew to be filled out. Troi is convinced he may not be trusted, but most crew members go along with him being a constant nuisance. After an attempt to heat up the atmosphere using geothermal energy has caused volcanic eruptions and thereby even more pollution, La Forge develops a dangerous procedure which might tear off the atmosphere instead of preserving it. Picard asks Rasmussen whether he should proceed as suggested, but Rasmussen refuses to reveal anything about the future. Picard decides to go for it regardless and succeeds. It turns out that Rasmussen is actually from the 22nd century. He tries in vain to escape with stolen gadgets and with Data, and his time pod leaves without him.

Although the story is overall rather conventional, the way "A Matter of Time" is written and directed strikes me as rather curious. For one, not just the character of Berlinghoff Rasmussen himself but everything surrounding his alleged research mission and the crew's reactions to his presence has an air of comedy but never becomes silly. Furthermore, Berlinghoff Rasmussen remains a mystery almost until the very end, unlike the stock character of a guest who first appears to be a nice guy and then turns out to be a troublemaker, or the other way round. The fact that no one can really judge him keeps up the suspense for almost the complete episode. Yet, this happens at the expense of Rasmussen's characterization. In the end, only a few minutes are left to reveal his true origin and motivation. He is not a genius from the 26th century, but just some insignificant guy from the 22nd century, which does not really become plausible and is overall disappointing.
I like the A-plot despite the bland outcome. Only in the second half the dialogues get a bit lengthy. Especially Picard's discussion with Rasmussen about the right course of action should have been shortened, not only because Picard's reiterated request becomes boring but also because it makes the captain look quite helpless. Picard essentially expects the kind of support from Rasmussen that he himself would deny other people who are in need. Well, he has a good point when he says that the Prime Directive (and its possible temporal equivalent) exists for a good reason but that there are circumstances where it is justified to disregard it. Yet, Picard essentially asks how he can influence the future for the better, from someone whose future he would change. And Picard of all people should know that the timeline must be preserved. When Rasmussen still refuses to reveal anything, Picard gets gruff, so much that it's almost out of character: "Well, you know, Professor, perhaps I don't give a damn about your past, because your past is my future and as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been written yet." But he has obviously learned his lesson. It is up to Picard himself to write his future, and he can't delegate the responsibility to someone else. Picard also acknowledges that the mere discussion with Rasmussen (and ultimately his mere presence on the ship) may already have changed the future, something that never bothered Rasmussen, for reasons that are not yet clear at this time.
Regarding how the rest of the crew react on Rasmussen, it is worked out nicely how Worf is embarrassed to meet the man from the future, how Beverly is fascinated and how Troi remains skeptical. I think that Troi's role should have been expanded, perhaps even up to a point that she gets into a conflict with Picard over Rasmussen.
Although the B-plot is conceded a considerable screen time and although it comes with some nice visual effects, it never gets interesting. It is just too reminiscent of previous occasions when the Enterprise saved a planet, such as in "Pen Pals" or "Déjà Q".
Nitpicking: For someone who came from the 22nd century and who is only looking for gadgets to steal, Berlinghoff Rasmussen plays his role just too well. He knows quite a few things about the 24th century. And why would he want to take a few phasers and tricorders from the 24th century anyway, if he can have anything from any century? Why does he choose to look for stuff on a starship somewhere deep in space? -- The Enterprise fires several phaser blasts on targets on the surface of Penthara IV that are very close together. This is only possible if the ship is in synchronous orbit. Yet after the operation Picard orders to "return to synchronous orbit." -- There is a possible temporal paradox that no one seems to care for, because Rasmussen's mere absence from the 22nd century has possibly altered the timeline and may have to be fixed.
Remarkable quote: "This is really a thrill, Data, like running across a Redstone missile or a Gutenberg bible. To think, the Model T of androids." (Rasmussen)
Remarkable shuttle: The timepod is a redress of the Nenebek from TNG: "Final Mission".
Remarkable fact: Data says he can listen to over 150 compositions at once but that to analyze the aesthetics he limits their number to ten or less.
Rating: 5

New Ground Stardate 45376.3: Helena Rozhenko arrives on the Enterprise with Alexander, who has become a problem child, to ask Worf to care about his son himself. When Alexander attends the ship's school he continues to lie and to bullly his classmates. In the meantime the Enterprise crew is preparing for a test of the soliton wave, a new technology that is supposed to replace shipboard warp drive. However, the experiment fails when the test ship gets destroyed and the wave runs out of control and threatens to wipe out everything in its path. When the Enterprise penetrates the wave to stop it, Alexander is in an unshielded lab section from where he is rescued by Worf and Riker. Worf then realizes how much he would miss his son if he were sent away; Alexander remains aboard the Enterprise.

The setup of "New Ground" is similar to the previous episode, "A Matter of Time". In both episodes the focus is on a rather trivial topic, while a simultaneous life-threatening situation is demoted to the B-plot. The two recent examples show how much the storytelling has changed since the early days of TNG, or even since the time of TOS. However, while it may be possible to take more care of the characters this way, there is also the danger of episodes becoming verbose at a time we rather expect action. In other words, the idea to make the more light-hearted plot the A-plot may turn out anticlimactic. I think this happens in "New Ground", as half of the episode seems to consist of Worf's discussions with Helena Rozhenko, with the teacher and with Deanna about how to deal with his son. All the people from whom Worf seeks educational advice are women, while the one who comes with him to save Alexander is a man, which additionally rings a gender cliché alert. It is also a letdown that we only witness the one incident where Alexander steals the little lizard model, but never how he bullies anyone the way the teacher tells Worf. Considering that Alexander has been aboard the ship for at most two or three days, I wonder anyway if it is already the time for Worf to hold frequent crisis meetings about his son's misconduct. It all doesn't feel quite right. Yet, I think that Worf's reaction to his son is totally in character. He is embarrassed talking about it to other other people, and he initially has way too much confidence that Alexander will stop it, just because Worf explains to him that it's wrong.
Overall Worf may be a lousy child psychologist. Yet, I think he is a good father. It only needs time for Alexander to come to terms with his life as Deanna correctly recognizes, and who else but his father could help him. I still have a beef with the outcome, because if one thing becomes clear, it is that a starship is not exactly the safest place for a small boy.
On a side note, this episode marks the beginning of the "Season of the Children" (if we don't already count in "Disaster" with the newborn Molly O'Brien and Picard's kid crew). In no less than six episodes of the remainder of this season children play a key role.
The B-plot of "New Ground", about an experiment to get a ship without a propulsion system top warp, shows a clear parallel to TOS: "The Ultimate Computer", where we had a ship that was supposed to go without a crew. In both cases the experiment had to fail, because the technical revolution would have changed the world of Star Trek too much. But in both cases it failed so utterly that I wonder if any new technology will ever do well in Star Trek (except for makeshift improvements on Voyager, which always work perfectly) and whether all Starfleet engineers that are working on a big project for years are idiots (while the geniuses working on starships know tricks such as quickly modifying the deflector to do something it was never designed for). If it is the intention to point out the limits and dangers of science and technology, there may be more decent ways than always turning innovations into disasters, ways without the bad credit to scientists and engineers who are frequently depicted as irresponsible or incompetent. 
Nitpicking: Unfortunately the science in the episode is very bad. How can the energy level of the wave increase to a factor of 12, later 96 and finally 200 when it was close to reaching the planet? The dialogue even states that the energy increase goes along with a higher speed and a larger extent of the wave. Where does all the additional energy come from after the wave generator has been disengaged?
Continuity: Kivas Fajo claimed he had the last surviving gilvo in "The Most Toys", but now there are allegedly 14 of them left. Maybe the collector exaggerated a bit. -- Geordi La Forge compares watching the test of the soliton wave to "being there to watch Chuck Yeager break the sound barrier, or Zefram Cochrane engage the first warp drive." In "Star Trek: First Contact" Geordi will even be aboard Zefram Cochrane's vessel during the first warp flight.
Remarkable appearance: After Jon Steuer in "Reunion", Brian Bonsall is the second actor to play Alexander Rozhenko.
Remarkable ship: The soliton test ship previously appeared as the Mars defense perimeter ship in "The Best of Both Worlds II" and also showed up in the surplus depot in "Unification I".
Remarkable facts: The soliton wave is supposed to have 98% efficiency, 450% (=4.5 times) more than the Enterprise-D warp field (which would give the warp field an efficiency of only 21.8%). -- Alexander was born on stardate 43205. -- Kahless and his brother Morath fought for twelve days and twelve nights "because Morath had broken his word and brought shame to his family."
Rating: 4

Hero Worship Stardate 45397.3: Young Timothy is the only survivor of the research vessel S.S. Vico, which is found adrift in a black cluster. Timothy tells the Enterprise crew that an alien ship destroyed the Vico, but no evidence for this can be found. In the following time the boy develops a friendship to Data, whose unemotional behavior he starts to imitate, covering up his traumatic experience. Asked about the accident again, Timothy reveals that he touched a console, which he believes triggered the Vico's destruction. When the Enterprise is threatened by the same phenomenon and Timothy recalls what happened on the Vico prior to its destruction, Data realizes that the shields have to be lowered since they would only amplify the gravitational stress in the black cluster.

The "Season of the Children" continues with what can be labeled a cookie-cutter episode, considering that the story of "Hero Worship" is much like an amalgamation of elements from TOS: "Charlie X" and from TNG: "The Bonding". In both previous episodes a young boy lost one or both parents in a terrible accident, refused to cope with the loss in some fashion, came to trust one specific Enterprise crew member as a father figure, and finally had to accept what had happened. Essentially the same happens yet again in "Hero Worship".
Yet, there are a few things that I like about "Hero Worship", or at least things that are handled better than in its predecessors. For one, Timothy (played by Joshua Harris, whom I still remember well from his role as Bobby's adoptive son in "Dallas") is a really likable boy, unlike many other children in TV dramas. Timothy's transformation to an emotionless android could have been shown in a much more intense fashion, but "Hero Worship" plays safe and doesn't take the depiction of the boy too far. I think it benefits the story that it becomes clear that Timothy is just playing the android (he still enjoys his dessert) and isn't totally caught in his self-imposed role. Deanna is proven right when Timothy eventually overcomes his trauma the "natural" way and enters the mourning process of a normal boy, without adults lecturing him how to behave in his situation the way it happened in "The Bonding". Data and Troi join forces once again, as a team with very different personal skills that complement each other perfectly. Furthermore, after so many episodes in which aliens set up a trap I appreciate that this time the Enterprise is chasing a phantom, and that the destruction of the Vico turns out a simple accident.
Summarizing, "Hero Worship" does have its moments but remains overall unremarkable. I don't care very much for the unoriginal plot and the slow pace of the directing makes me yawn at times. Well, the latter may have to do with the fact that the crew learned of Gene Roddenberry's death during the filming of the episode.
Continuity: This is the second mention of the Breen, and the first time that they are described as possibly hostile. 
Remarkable quotes: "I'm fine. The servo mechanisms in my mouth are designed to approximate human movements." (Timothy, explaining why he yawned), "I would gladly risk feeling bad at times if it also meant that I could also taste my dessert." (Data - I couldn't agree more)
Remarkable song: The children in school sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", just like Kirk, Spock and McCoy at the campfire in "Star Trek V".
Remarkable ship: Greg Jein built the
damaged model of the S.S. Vico with its exposed decks, closely based on the original Oberth-class model from "Star Trek III".
Rating: 3

Violations Stardate 45429.3: Three historians of the Ullians, a telepathic race, come aboard the ship. They do their research by probing their subjects' long-forgotten memories. After a dinner with the Ullian guests Deanna is plagued by memories that are forced upon her and falls into a coma, followed by Riker and Dr. Crusher. Troi wakes up after three days, and she agrees to be probed by the Ullian Jev, who says that he wants to prove his people's innocence. When Jev makes Troi relive the moments before she became comatose, she sees Jev's father Tarmin. It appears that it was him who tapped into her thoughts. Geordi and Data, however, find evidence that Jev was the only one present during all previous incidents of coma on planets that the Ullians visited. Troi too realizes that the mental rapist was actually Jev.

The thing I like most about "Violations" is the opening scene, in which the Ullian Tarmin helps Keiko O'Brien to unearth memories of her grandmother. Although the memory isn't very revealing but rather trivial, the whole scene is well-directed and strikes me as quite thrilling. It works very well as an exposition on what the Ullians can accomplish (if they play fair). It also shows how open for the unknown the people in the 24th century are. As such, the scene is very efficient. The rest of the episodes leaves me quite disappointed. It fails for many different reasons.
The dinner of the Enterprise crew together with their Ullian guests unpleasantly reminds me of the one with the Klingons in "Star Trek VI". The writing and execution of the scene is awkward. Why is it that Beverly is in naughty mode and has to abash the captain in front of their guests when she insists on him trying out the memory probing? Well, Worf is embarrassing and embarrassed as always. Troi tries to save the situation much like Uhura did in "Star Trek VI" and asks Tarmin if all of his race are equally gifted. Tarmin takes the opportunity to snub his son Jev for being less skilled, upon which Jev leaves the room. 
When Troi follows Jev to the turbolift and we see that the two have a good chemistry, the episode seems to take a turn for the better. But the red herring (at this time Jev seems to be a nice guy who only suffers from his father's condescension) works only for a moment until, in a very anticlimactic twist, we see that it is Jev who commits the mental rape, by inducing his image into Troi's mind. Troi has to suffer yet again in this episode, much like in "Night Terrors". It is very clear the whole time that Jev is the offender, especially since the awkward dinner scene readily gave away his motive, that he is being put down by Tarmin and now wants to undermine his father's work. Just as in all cases where a detective story reveals the offender so soon, it should have been shown at least in part from the offender's perspective to keep up the suspense. The way the story unfolds in "Violations", in contrast, is rather boring, despite Beverly's, Geordi's and Data's quite plausible efforts to solve the puzzle (I especially like that Geordi has the decisive idea, to search for cases of an alleged Iresine syndrome in the presence of the Ullians, rather than for unexplained comas). 
In the end it all boils down to a simple case of faked evidence. Jev replaced his image with his father's when he made Troi remember the incident. It would have worked so much better, had Jev not previously been identified as the offender.
The perhaps worst aspect of the episode is the very ending. I am fond of Gene Roddenberry's vision that humanity can evolve. But I'm not a fan of 24th century characters reiterating this idea like an ideology (or religion). It is a letdown when Tarmin mentions that Jev's crime has not been committed for centuries, because things that don't happen for centuries until the Enterprise shows up is a cliché that I am tired of. To make things worse, Picard takes the opportunity and gives his usual sermon about the savage past of humanity. Well, he concedes that "the seed of violence remains within each of us", which reconciles me a bit with the preachy ending.
Continuity: Will says that Deanna once helped him by talking to him when he was unconscious, by which he probably refers to "Shades of Gray".
Remarkable quote: "Oh, I can't read Ullians, but I do know a certain Betazoid mother who is a great deal like your father." (Deanna, to Jev)
Remarkable fact: We can see Picard with hair in Beverly's flashback.
Rating: 2

The Masterpiece Society Stardate 45470.1: A neutron star's core fragment is threatening to destroy a newly discovered human colony on Moab IV. Despite the obvious danger, colony leader Conor refuses the necessary evacuation, arguing that the artificially created genetic balance would be ruined once there should be contact to the outside world. While Hannah Bates from the colony and Geordi are working on an enforced tractor beam to deflect the fragment, Troi spends a night with Conor, but realizes that her DNA wouldn't be welcome in the colony. After the danger has been averted, Bates and 23 other colonists ask for asylum on the Enterprise, leaving Conor with the hard task of rebuilding the balance in the colony.

"The Masterpiece Society" seems to come straight out of the "Build your own Star Trek plot" generator. Absolutely every aspect of the story is already known from previous episodes. We've already had a perfectly balanced, secluded and snobbish society in TOS: "The Cloud Minders". Genetic engineering as a means to keep a secret human colony running is familiar from TNG: "Up the Long Ladder". The theme of the forgotten Earth colony with a stubborn leader who refuses to leave although it would mean certain death, plus a curious female scientist as the antagonist, is nearly the same as in TNG: "The Ensigns of Command". The idea of a dissenting scientist from a xenophobic society who decides to seek asylum on the Enterprise is very similar as in TNG: "First Contact".
While there isn't anything noteworthy in the plot, I like the ethical debate on the nature of the society on Moab IV, although is becomes a bit lengthy and a bit too formulaic. In a way, "The Masterpiece Society" makes up for the negligence in "Up the Long Ladder", where the whole discussion of the ethical implications was essentially reduced to "The bastards have cloned us. Let's kill the clones." And it corrects the grave mistake not to condemn eugenics in "Unnatural Selection".
"The Masterpiece Society" is particularly interesting because it contrasts the society of the Federation, which has often been labeled as conformist or even totalitarian by detractors of Star Trek, with a way of life that is really dictated by total conformism. The contrast between 20th century Earth and Moab IV would be even greater, but we can notice that the Federation is a careful further evolution of today's human societies, whereas the genetically engineered colony comes across as an undesirable outgrowth. In a way, the colony on Moab IV is like a bourgeois exaggeration of the human society of the 24th century, and of Gene Roddenberry's idea of an improved humanity for that matter. The boy playing piano is symptomatic of Moab IV. While I admit that classical music is prevalent in the Federation too, I bet they have absolutely nothing like rock music on Moab (which definitely makes it a place with a low quality of life). Most likely they have outlawed alcohol, salt, sugar and fat too. In my view Moab IV is a darn boring place that only works because the people living there know nothing else. While Roddenberry's tenet could be expressed as "You can (and have to) improve yourself.", on Moab IV it is much like "Know your limits, because you have been designed that way."
I could even go as far as calling Moab IV a fascist society. We have various pieces of evidence especially in the first couple of minutes, when Conor and Martin praise their accomplishments and unwisely use Nazi or right-wing terminology. "But he is performing his function as he is designed to do." Doesn't that mean pretty much the same as "You are nothing, your people is everything.?" "Our ancestors came from Earth to develop a perfect society." We could also say, a "master race". "Every plant life, every microscopic lifeform is part of a master design." Oh, wow. "Blood and soil." "No one in this society would be blind, for example." Although the people on Moab IV kill "only" embryos, this is reminiscent of the Nazi euthanasia program. "Your presence here has already begun to affect the entire balance of our society." Just in case there was any proof necessary, Moab IV is xenophobic too. Yet, all these statements can be interpreted differently, and it may not be permissible to compare a peaceful colony with the Nazi terror. Of course, it is just a theoretical possibility that the colonists may want to eliminate deviant citizens, because no one is actually deviant (or so they claim). Also, xenophobia is a non-issue as long as there are no outsiders who could become possible victims. Finally, Conor has a point when he says to Hannah that the colony is like a family, and that the family should stick together, which to me has a much greater impact than the bullshit concept of a "society in balance".
While the story shows both sides of the medal, I am a bit disappointed that the way of life of the colony is first criticized by everyone (even Deanna remains skeptical), and for very good reasons, only to become something precious that has to be preserved in the course of the story, a bit like the Crystalline Entity in the very unfortunate episode "Silicon Avatar". I wish it had been the other way round, that the Enterprise runs into a human colony that seems to be a paradise at first but gradually shows its ugly face. The way the story actually unfolds it throws overboard many of the totally justified concerns, and even common sense. In the end it almost seems that Picard agrees with the bigoted colonist Martin, who complains about the loss of the genetic balance in the colony, which unpleasantly reminds me of Picard's equally unwarranted change of mind in "Suddenly Human". This stance is clearly hypocritical, because the colony would hardly need a genetic balance if everyone has to die. The lives of the colonists are more valuable than the oh-so-precious foundations of the colony. Period.
Regarding the other characters, I like Geordi's involvement. He makes no secret of his disapproval of the society on Moab IV, for obvious reasons, because he wouldn't even be allowed to exist in the colony. And in a twist of irony, the interface of his VISOR, a technology that the people on Moab have no need for, eventually helps him devise a solution to the problem of deflecting the core fragment. Deanna, on the other hand, is rather disappointing in this episode. She is like an open book, and it is so blindingly obvious that the main reason why she speaks in favor of the ways of the colony is that she is smitten with Conor. Well, I like her courage when she reveals her love affair to the captain. And Conor's own readiness for compromises out of his love for Deanna somehow sets her record straight again.
Interestingly, "The Masterpiece Society" reveals hardly anything about how exactly the genetic selection takes place and does not really criticize the practice of genetic engineering but rather its outcome.
Continuity: The colonists on Moab IV are unfamiliar with the transporter.
Remarkable quotes: "They've given away their humanity with this genetic manipulation. Many of the qualities that they breed out, the uncertainty, the self-discovery, the unknown, those are many of the qualities that make life worth living. Well, at least to me. I wouldn't want to live knowing that my future was written, that my boundaries had been already set, would you?" (Picard), "But in the end we may have proved just as dangerous to that colony as any core fragment could ever have been." (Picard)
Remarkable fact: The settlers on Moab IV have been building their society for eight generations.
Rating: 3

Conundrum Stardate 45494.2: The Enterprise is scanned by an alien ship. The scan selectively wipes out personal memories from the crew's minds and all personnel data from the computer. The crew can't remember their names and their functions, so the most noticeably decorated Worf assumes command, while Data decides he's the bartender in Ten Forward just because he is standing there. Unaware of the fact that they are at odds in real life, Ro and Riker engage in a brief affair. After Geordi's repairs the ship's computer comes up with the crew's names. All of them, including First Officer Kieran MacDuff, assume their normal posts again. Their mission, according to the computer, is to destroy the Lysian Central Command. When it is discovered that none of the Lysian weapons are a match for the Enterprise, Picard becomes suspicious. McDuff tries to seize command, and when he is stunned by a phaser blast it is discovered that he is actually a Satarran spy. He has used the Enterprise in an effort to defeat the Lysians, who are at war with the Satarrans.

The mystery thriller "Conundrum" is unique because usually it's only one crew member who suffers from amnesia and tries to cope with it, such as notably Kirk in TOS: "The Paradise Syndrome". "Conundrum" has in common with the TOS episode that the amnesiacs retain their personalities and act much the same as if they still had their memories. Kirk still showed courage, leadership skills and compassion in "The Paradise Syndrome", although he had no idea he was the captain of a starship. Likewise, Picard retains his curiosity and his morality in "Conundrum", and despite the almost perfect deception he trusts in his own judgment, rather than in his orders. Well, the part of having sex with a woman that he wouldn't engage with under normal circumstances falls to Riker this time. The story shows us a different and original kind of character building, one that is only possible in a series that is running for some time and has accordingly well established characters. It is the second time in the season after "Disaster" that we can see the crew in unusual roles, and while "Conundrum" is overall not quite as exciting as "Disaster", it has the more surprising twists.
I have a bit of a problem with Riker having sex with Ro Laren. It may seem plausible that there could be an erotic tension between the two that they would ignore under normal circumstances, because Riker and Ro are at odds, and because Riker is a much higher ranking officer anyway. However, while sexual relationships are usually never in the focus of interest (for all we know Riker could have a new affair every few weeks), I wonder why he and Ro behave like there were no yesterday and no tomorrow. It feels out of place, considering that they have other problems at their hands. Especially since Riker must have been aware that, if anyone, Deanna Troi has to be the one he loves. Speaking of Deanna, I like her role as the one who knows a bit more than everyone else and who has a bad feeling about the ongoing war, a bit like Guinan in "Yesterday's Enterprise". By the way, is Guinan on vacation? She may have been a valuable addition to this episode, just like the O'Briens. Anyway, it makes sense how Data, who has no ego, readily accepts his role as a bartender, whereas Worf claims the position of the ship's captain.
What I like very much about the story is the casual way that the new guy on the bridge is introduced. When I first watched it, I did notice the still unnamed man in red, but it didn't bother me very much. He could have been present during the Satarran scan for all I remembered. Then I saw the commander pips, but it still didn't strike me as a problem. Perhaps it would become plausible in some fashion. But then this Kieran MacDuff was identified as the ship's first officer. WTF? And the Enterprise is supposed to go to war against a race called the Lysians? In several ways this positively reminded me of the already mentioned inimitable episode "Yesterday's Enterprise".
Nitpicking: The Satarrans can scan through the shields, block very specific memories in every crew member, block Data's memories likewise, sabotage certain parts of the Enterprise computer, erase very specific protected files and let one of their people pose as a perfectly authentic human being. This is far beyond the capabilities of the Federation, yet the Satarrans possess only hopelessly outclassed weapons. -- The Enterprise drops out of warp just behind the Lysian border and proceeds the rest of the way at impulse, with as long as 37 hours still to go? Why?
Remarkable ship: The Satarran ship appears only briefly. It is the same model as the Pakled ship from "Samaritan Snare".
Remarkable station: The Lysian Central Command previously appeared as the Edo "god" in TNG: "Justice".
Remarkable quote: "Do you have any clothes around here I could borrow? At least until I figure out where the swimming pool is?" (woman in swimsuit in sickbay)
Rating: 8

Power Play Stardate 45571.2: Riker, Troi and Data are going to investigate an old-fashioned distress call from a moon of Mab-Bu VI, but their shuttle crashes. After O'Brien has beamed down to rescue them, all but the injured Riker start to behave strangely. After a failed attempt to take over the bridge, they take hostages in Ten Forward. Troi's, Data's and O'Brien's bodies have been taken over by entities who claim to be the spirits of the crew of the USS Essex that was lost at the moon over two hundred years ago. Their violent behavior, however, belies this story. The three are actually possessed by aliens who have been condemned to living in a penal colony. They finally coerce Picard into beaming up the remaining criminals. But Picard threatens to blow them all, including his three officers and himself, out of the airlock, whereupon the entities leave their host bodies and return to their prison.

On a curious introductory note, Ten Forward is Keiko O'Brien's room of disasters. In "Data's Day", it is in Ten Forward that Data causes big confusion by telling Miles O'Brien that Keiko would like to call off the wedding. In "Disaster", she is in Ten Forward when the quantum filament strikes the ship, leading to the premature birth of Molly. And now she is in Ten Forward when her husband enters and points a phaser at her and Molly.
I am glad that the writers picked O'Brien as one of the three officers to be possessed by aliens, because his being a family man gives his role an additional emotional impact, although it doesn't have a great impact on the course of the story. Likewise, it is good to see Marina Sirtis as Deanna in an unusually strong and unusually important role, although this only re-emphasizes that she could need more to do in her normal role as well. Ironically, it is Deanna in her normal function who invites the trouble in the first place, because the away team only goes down with the shuttle after she has sensed life on the moon.
Overall, "Power Play" is a well-acted and well-directed action episode. It is a bottle show that does not strike me as limited in any way. It has a couple of really good moments. On the downside, the premise of alien entities taking over the crew's bodies is anything but new, and the (alleged) involvement of a Starfleet ship that crashed long ago is gratuitous and contributes hardly anything useful to the story. And while it is an unusual sight that Deanna, Data and O'Brien threaten or even hurt other crew members, no one gets killed, although it may have easily happened. I'm not saying that it should have happened, but the story is less daring than it could have been.
The authors of recent TNG episodes seem to take special pleasure in showing how characters outwit the ship's security, just like Roga Danar in "The Hunted", Data in "Brothers" and Wesley in "The Game". It is neither very original nor very credible that this happens yet again, and that Data and O'Brien can override just anything with ease, from turbolifts over forcefields to transporter controls. Yet, I have to admit that is very thrilling how they make their way from the bridge to Ten Forward.
Nitpicking: How could these aliens know any details on the USS Essex? -- As Beverly surmises, the aliens didn't take over Riker because his broken leg caused the pain receptors to fire. Rather than that, I would have hoped for an explanation how they could overwhelm even Data.
Continuity: Unlike the Enterprise, the shuttlepod has seatbelts. -- We can see pattern enhancers for the first time in this episode.
Remarkable dialogue: "Lieutenant, I must apologize for my inadvertent misconduct toward you." - "No apology necessary." - "Your restraint was most remarkable." - "You have no idea." (Data and Worf)
Remarkable facts: The USS Essex NCC-173 apparently crashed on the moon over 200 years ago. The ship had a crew of 229. The commanding admiral of the sector at the time was Uttan Narsu of Starbase 12. -- The last ship of the Daedalus class was retired 172 years ago. -- When he threatens to open the outer door of the cargo bay, how can Picard be sure that the "souls" of the criminals wouldn't survive the vacuum of space?
Rating: 6

Ethics Stardate 45587.3: An accident with a cargo container falling on his back leaves Worf paralyzed. Ashamed about being helpless and being a burden for everyone, Worf asks Commander Riker to help him with the hegh'bat, the Klingon ritual suicide. Riker is more than reluctant, even as Picard recommends that he should comply with Worf's wish. Beverly offers Worf neural implants that could at least partially restore his mobility, whereas Dr. Toby Russell has developed a highly experimental technique of a replicated spine that could heal him or kill him. The two doctors also clash over Russell's experimental treatment of a survivor of the USS Denver, which may have caused the death of the patient. Riker appears in sickbay wit a knife as requested, but he tells Worf that according to Klingon customs it would be up to his son Alexander to aid with the hegh'bat. Worf doesn't want to involve his son and finally agrees to Russell's surgery. He apparently dies during the procedure, but his highly redundant Klingon physiology brings him back to life.

This episode is further proof that in its fifth year TNG has matured and that the show is not just about presenting us as many space anomalies or unpleasant alien guests as possible. 
"Ethics", as already the title says, is about profound ethical conflicts, of which there are actually two in the episode. The first one is that Worf is determined to abide by Klingon tradition and decides to die, rather than become a burden for his family and friends. He is still too much of a Klingon that he could accept the alternative of regaining at least partial mobility through neural stimulation. And so he asks Will Riker to aid him in the hegh'bat, the ritual Klingon suicide. But Riker refuses, saying that according to Klingon tradition this would be up to a member of Worf's family, preferably his son. On the other hand, Worf is too much of a caring father and accordingly does not want to let his son perform the custom. Well, his ultimate rationale may have been that undergoing the operation wouldn't be un-Klingon, because he could either win, or die fighting.
The other aspect of the dilemma is represented by the contrasting opinions of Dr. Russell and Beverly Crusher. Russell, the daring scientist, wants to take the risk and perform her newly developed surgery on Worf. Her view of the problem matches with the Klingon desire to be either healthy or dead, but only accidentally. Russell has developed a professional distance to her patients during her years of research, too much of a distance in Beverly's view. Beverly, with her Samaritan attitude, puts the welfare of her patient above all, even if Worf disagrees. Russell's experimental treatment of one of the survivors of the starship Denver, which may have caused the patient's death, only deepens their conflict. While this is an important part of the story, I don't like Russell's justification because it is too easy to see that Crusher is right about everything. It culminates in Russell's pathetic statement: "Let me ask you this. If some years from now, borathium therapy [the experimental treatment] were to save the life of someone you loved, would you still condemn me?" Beverly relieves Russell of duty, calling her "irresponsible". Even Captain Picard's request to let Russell perform the surgery on Worf (he seems to be even more Klingon than Worf in this episode) doesn't change her opinion. She only agrees -reluctantly- after Worf himself requests it. I appreciate the outcome that the eventual success of Russell's method doesn't change anything about Beverly's hard feelings, because it is only realistic that they wouldn't become friends just because of what they have accomplished together. After Worf's unlikely resurrection, the ongoing clash between the two women prevents the episode from having a fabricated happy ending. And for what it's worth, Beverly was not totally wrong with her professional assessment of the redundant Klingon organs as being useful, because these ultimately saved Worf's life.
Continuity: Worf previously died in a comparable accident and was more or less miraculously resurrected by "John" in "Transfigurations".
Nitpicking: How about securing cargo containers with straps?
Remarkable quotes: "Doctor, I will not attempt to leave Sickbay without your approval. The restraining field is not necessary." (Worf, as he notices that he can't move), "I have come to have a great respect for you, Deanna. You have been most helpful in guiding me since Alexander's arrival. I can't imagine anyone who would be a better parent to my son. If it is too much to ask." (Worf, just before the operation)
Remarkable facts: Klingons have redundancy in their anatomy, such as 23 ribs, an eight-chambered heart and a double-lined neural pia mater. -- We can see that Klingons have ridges on their spine, as well as on their feet.
Rating: 6

The Outcast Stardate 45614.6: Commander Riker is working with Soren, a J'naii pilot, in order to rescue a shuttle of the J'naii from a pocket of null space. The J'naii have evolved to a genderless race, and they see the concept of different sexes as primitive. Soren, however, belongs to a sexual minority. She feels like a woman. She tells Riker that that she is attracted to him, and asks him to remain silent about it, because on her planet she would have to undergo a psychotectic therapy once her "unnatural" predisposition were discovered. Yet, the J'naii authorities become aware of what is going on with Soren and Riker. They take Soren into custody and put her on trial. Riker attempts to protect Soren, claiming that he seduced her. But Soren states that she had those feelings for all her life and that she is tired of lying. She is condemned to an immediate psychotectic treatment. Despite Picard's warning, Riker and Worf try to free Soren, but the treatment has already taken effect and Soren denies her feelings for Riker.

Although gay and lesbian advocacy groups were always calling for it and eventually appeared to have changed Gene Roddenberry's mind about it, homosexuality never appeared as a topic in Star Trek. Actually, in the early days of TNG, a script for an episode titled "Blood and Fire" by David Gerrold was purportedly turned down by Roddenberry because he felt the gay relationship of two crew members was presented like something unusual - rather from a viewpoint of the 20th century and therefore not fitting for the world of the Federation where homosexuality should be totally accepted. 
And so the issue of homosexuality was tackled in the series in the form of an allegory, rather than showing something like two men kissing aboard the Enterprise. "The Outcast" deals with a problem equivalent to the discrimination of homosexuality, set on an alien world in the future. Ironically, a relationship between man and woman, something that is normal for humanity and almost any other humanoid race, is regarded as "primitive" and "deviant" in the J'naii society. This doesn't only make Soren and Riker, who falls in love with her, outcasts in this episode, but humanity in general. By putting the viewer in the role of the oppressed minority, the episode even stresses the demand for sexual tolerance. It demonstrates on a more general level that it is just a matter of interpretation what is "normal" sexuality and what is not. In my view the "The Outcast" is immensely successful in showing the same basic problem in another light, without losing its significance. So while the mission to portray a gay relationship in the 24th century for the sake of statistical fairness has not been achieved, the episode is an important step in proving that Star Trek's Federation keeps the promise of a future without sexual discrimination (even though the Prime Directive puts a limit to helping aliens outside the Federation to accomplish the same).
Yet, it is a small but perhaps significant omission that all testimonies put forth in favor of sexual relationships by the crew are made from either an impartial or from a heterosexual perspective. Everyone avoids to annotate that the Federation would endorse same-sex and possible other forms of relationships just as well. However, I understand that a mention of homosexuality may have been considered to be a too obvious broad hint to the purpose of the episode. It has also been criticized that all members of the J'naii were played by women and that particularly Soren should have been a man, as Jonathan Frakes once said. On the other hand, I think it would have been just too odd to have a man play a woman who should be genderless but falls in love with Riker, who in this case would have appeared as bisexual.
While I don't care for the B-plot about yet another new space anomaly that is very much like other anomalies seen before, I like how the story about Riker and Soren unfolds and I like the roles of most of the crew members. Picard expects Riker to obey the Prime Directive but he does not explicitly forbid him to beam down to rescue Soren. Regarding Riker, it may have been him who got Soren into trouble in the first place, because kissing her on her home planet where someone could have observed them was a bad idea. But he also tries everything to avert her re-education. Riker acts out of love for Soren, but also out of his sense of justice. Worf feels uncomfortable about the J'naii, as he tells his colleagues during the poker game. He may not be openly intolerant, but he represents an old-fashioned, narrow view about sexuality. Yet, he offers Commander Riker his full support, because ultimately friendship is more important than moral concerns. Only Riker's interaction with Deanna in this episode feels a bit out of place. It looks like Riker always asks for her permission to date other women, which is particularly odd in light of the special issues the two may want to discuss in Soren's case. Soren herself comes across as a bit too talkative. She has some very long monologues, even in front of the court when I would expect the close-minded judge to cut her off after the first sentence. A bit less talking and a bit less preachiness would have suited her better. And regarding the other, "normal" J'naii, I would have preferred if someone of them had smiled occasionally or had been shown in some way more likable and not so fun hating.
Remarkable quote: "I am tired of lies. I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding and your compassion. We have not injured you in any way. And yet, we are scorned and attacked. And all because we are different. What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh. We complain about work and we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families, and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other, that is what we do. And for that we are called misfits and deviants and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?" (Soren)
Remarkable scene: When Soren is talking to Riker in Ten Forward and her superior appears, she abruptly switches to a formal language and to a "male" pitch of her voice. I think this was made to appear artificial on purpose, to emphasize how tired Soren is of pretending to be "normal".
Remarkable shuttle: The Type-6 shuttle is equipped with two 1250 millicochrane warp engines and microfusion thrusters. Unarmed by default, it can be fitted with type 4 phaser emitters.
Remarkable appearance: Geordi La Forge can be seen with a beard in this episode.
Remarkable fact: The J'naii incubate their foetuses in fibrous husks, which the parents inseminate. They consider their method as less risky and less painful. 
Rating: 6

Cause and Effect Stardate 45652.1: The Enterprise is destroyed in a huge explosion - but only a moment later the senior officers are playing their regular poker game as if nothing was wrong. Dr. Crusher feels like she already knows the present situation and what will happen next. When suddenly another starship appears from an anomaly and is about to collide with the Enterprise, Picard follows Data's advice to alter the other ship's trajectory with the tractor beam, rather than decompressing the main shuttlebay as Riker suggested, but this doesn't suffice. The Enterprise is destroyed in a huge explosion - but only a moment later... The ship is caught in a time loop, and the crew -except for Data- notice this by déjà vu experiences that grow the stronger the more often they run through the time loop. Being aware that something terrible will happen and there may be little time to avoid it, Geordi provides Data with a dekyon emitter, giving him the possibility to remember a specific small piece of information in the following loop. Just before the ship explodes yet again, Data programs the number "3", which to everyone's surprise frequently appears during this loop. The "3" refers to the number of Riker's rank pips, and when the collision is about to occur again, Data follows Riker's suggestion and opens the main shuttlebay too, which eventually breaks the time loop. The Enterprise was caught in the loop for seventeen days while the other ship, the USS Bozeman, has traveled 90 years to the future, only to get stuck in the time loop too.

Star Trek has a long history of featuring strange time travel phenomena, very often involving past incursions that the crew has to fix, or other variations of linear time. "Cause and Effect" puts a fresh spin on the idea of time travel with its concept of a time loop. It is arguably one of the most curious episodes every written, especially keeping in mind that it came out in 1992 even before the movie "Groundhog Day" with its similar theme. It is also one of the most thrilling episodes ever, and a true masterpiece of writer Brannon Braga and director Jonathan Frakes, who had to take care of minutiae that are not important or are not deemed important in a usual episode. 
Starting with the explosion of the Enterprise in the teaser, the story thrives on the almost ritualistic actions and occurrences that repeat in four loops, always with slight variations. Actually, it appears that even the parts that are the same in two or more loops were newly filmed each time, and that no footage was reused. The impression that everything is the same yet not exactly the same adds to the eerie atmosphere of this episode.
Loop 1: After the explosion in the teaser and the opening credits, the first loop begins with Picard's log entry as if nothing had happened. But we know that something is happening, is going to happen, or has already happened. We see a long scene in which Data, Riker, Worf and Crusher are playing poker. Nothing seems unusual, except that Crusher has the impression that Riker is bluffing. But Riker is a gambler and Crusher knows that, so there doesn't have to be anything supernatural about it. Then Ogawa calls from sickbay that Geordi is requiring attention. Geordi says his sentence "I thought the catwalk was spinning. As it turns out, it was me." Somehow Crusher seems to remember the symptoms, Geordi doesn't. In the perhaps most notable ritual that pervades the rest of the episode, Crusher is dressed for bed, tends to her flowers, puts the book aside, lays down, hears the voices and drops the glass. This gets the more eerie the more often it repeats. Crusher reports in the 07:00 observation room meeting that she and ten more people heard those voices. Then the anomaly appears, all systems go down, Data's attempt to use the tractor beam on the other ship fails, the collision rips the starboard nacelle open, the core ejection fails and the ship explodes as in the teaser.
Loop 2: The poker game again. Crusher has the feeling that Riker is bluffing sooner this time, and Ogawa is calling sooner from sickbay. Crusher recognizes sooner that she has talked to La Forge about his dizziness before, and Geordi now concurs with her. But they don't investigate it any further. When she is ready for bed yet again, Crusher is uneasily looking around in her room. She knocks down the glass yet again. But then she calls Picard. Picard tells her that passages in his book are familiar to him, which to him may be just a sign that he read it years ago. Once again the strange occurrences are being discussed in the observation lounge. And once again the senior crew is called to the bridge where the catastrophic events repeat, this time with a cut to Beverly's worried face.
Loop 3: In the poker game it's now Worf who is the first to mention a déjà vu, a nIb'poH in Klingon. And everyone except Data knows in advance which cards he would deal. Beverly anticipates what would happen next. She calls sickbay, where Geordi arrives just one second later. She investigates Geordi's VISOR. His dizziness is being caused by a phase shift in his visual receptors. Back in her room, Beverly is not dressed for bed now. She puts the glass on another table, in the hope she would not knock it down. She is prepared for the voices and records them. Leaving the room in a hurry, she breaks the glass in spite of everything. Data analyzes the voices and finds that they belong to the Enterprise crew. Geordi finds out about the time loop. The voices turn out to be echoes from previous loops, afterimages in time just like the false images created by Geordi's VISOR. Geordi and Data work on sending a message to Data in the next loop, rather than trying to reverse course to avoid the collision. The events on the bridge repeat just as in the previous loop, but now Data programs his dekyon emitter just before the ship explodes. 
Loop 4: Worf has his nIb'poH yet again. Everyone knows which cards Data would deal. But, big surprise here! He deals all threes and then three of the same kind for everyone. What is going on? In this loop we see how Crusher is doing the scan of Geordi's optical interface (that was off-camera last time), we also see for the first time how Picard wonders about the familiar passage in his book and how Data and Geordi are doing the subspace scan, this time with the result "33333333...". We hear Beverly through the comm system, including how the glass breaks in her room. The meeting in the observation lounge is filmed from above this time, corroborating the impression that the viewer is outside and the crew inside the cage that is the time loop. Just after Picard has decided, as usual, that the tractor beam is the method of choice to avoid the collision, Data turns his head and spots the three rank pips of Commander Riker. He thereby decodes the message from the previous time loop and decompresses the shuttlebay as Riker suggested. The explosion does not take place, disrupting the time loop.
The episode actually features two different kinds of time travel. First, the USS Bozeman unintentionally travels 90 years to the future, just to collide with the Enterprise. Second, the Enterprise is caught in some kind of time loop. Every time the Enterprise is destroyed, the present time for ship and crew and probably the surrounding space region returns to an instant some time before the ship's destruction from an external viewpoint. In other words, the Enterprise and her crew do not travel back in time, but time itself is not continuous within a small region of space. This is corroborated by the statement that the Federation time signal is 17.4 days ahead at the end of the episode, meaning that the Enterprise has stayed in the time loop for this long as seen from an external observer. 
On a final positive note, I like how Dr. Crusher is the central figure in this episode, and how she contributes to the solution of the problem not only with in intuition (a stereotypically female quality) but also with cleverness.
Nitpicking: In the third loop, there are two options to avert the collision: send an unspecific message to the next loop in the hope of getting it right this one time, or reversing course. Quite honestly, I think it is stupid not to try the latter. Even if we assume that free will doesn't exist and that the crew would always make exactly the same decisions based on the same facts, considering that the crew is able to remember something from the previous loop, they should eventually discover the right course of action anyway, whether it is proceeding on course or reversing course. -- This episode perpetuates the cliché that Galaxy-class starships explode very easily because engine shutdown and core ejection are prone to fail.
Remarkable dialogue: "You know, it's possible we've tried this a thousand times and it's never worked." - "Do you have a feeling that you've done this before?" - "No, I don't." - "Neither do I. Maybe that's a good sign." (La Forge and Crusher, preparing Data's dekyon emitter in the third loop)
Remarkable ship: The USS Bozeman, Soyuz class, is a variant of the Miranda class.
Remarkable fact: This is the only episode to show the Enterprise's main shuttlebay in its entirety, albeit just as a model.
Rating: 10

The First Duty Stardate 45703.9: Captain Picard is going to deliver the commencement address at Starfleet Academy. Briefly before the Enterprise arrives at Earth, Picard receives the news that there has been an accident during the flight training, in which one of Wesley Crusher's classmates has been killed. In the following investigation the squadron leader, Nicholas Locarno, puts the blame on the dead cadet, Joshua Albert, who allegedly panicked, thereby causing the five spacecraft to collide. He urges the other three cadets to comply with his testimony, but Wesley feels bad about it. Reviewing the badly damaged recordings salvaged from Wesley's shuttle, Picard discovers that the squadron was actually going to perform a dangerous stunt called the Kolvoord Starburst, which has been banned for over a century. Picard calls Wesley into his office and demands that he tell truth, otherwise he would do it himself. After the hearing has already been closed and the four surviving cadets have only been reprimanded for their negligence, Wesley breaks the silence and tells the whole truth. Nick Locarno is expelled, but he takes the whole responsibility, allowing the three remaining team members to stay on the Academy, where they have to repeat their last year.

I loathe the outgrowths of "team spirit" in real life, and I find it absolutely fitting how the conduct of the members of the Nova Squadron is being denounced on all accounts in this episode. Many children have to experience very early in their lives that the rules of a clique are made by its self-declared leaders and are designed to ensure their power. Pussies are being bullied, squealers are expelled. Fortunately some time before their puberty most kids learn the basics of socially responsible behavior. Those who don't learn it may remain assholes for their whole lives and are prone to become members of youth gangs. Many fraternities with dangerous initiation rituals are not much better than that. I never understood why some young adults have such a perverted idea of how they have to prove themselves and, even much worse, force the weaker members of their fraternity to follow suit.
Nicholas Locarno is one of those people that have not learned the lesson. He first urges the squadron members to try out the Kolvoord Starburst, to become living legends. He does not mind that Joshua Albert is not yet ready for it. Joshua is a member of the team, and he has to comply. After the accident he puts the blame on the dead Joshua and conjures the surviving team members not to tell the whole truth, to protect them and above all himself. Only when Wesley breaks the silence, Locarno finally acknowledges his responsibility for the disaster, allowing his teammates to stay on the Academy. This unexpected move serves justice and reconciles me a bit with the character, although Locarno's motivation to take the whole blame (we only learn of it through Picard) may not have been as selfless as it seems but somewhat spiteful, along the lines "You failed me, yet I don't fail you".
The cadets' refusal to take the consequences is the most important theme of the episode. I can understand it it to some extent because their Starfleet careers may be over in case they told the truth. Still, I have to agree with Captain Picard that the truth is more important than the false idea of friendship they cling to. They hold loyalty in high regard as they keep affirming to each other, but where is their loyalty to Starfleet? Even worse, the members of the Nova Squadron put the blame on someone who can't speak for himself any longer. On someone for whose death they are responsible. However, even more than what happens after the accident, I find it immature and stupid of future Starfleet officers that they attempted to perform a maneuver in the first place that is outlawed for a good reason. What did they expect? That their superiors would say, "So you broke the rules, but we are all so enchanted that I give you a commendation"?
After the accident, Wesley Crusher is plagued by his conscience all along, as he keeps telling Nick and the other two cadets who are determined to go through with the cover-up. Nick counters Wesley's doubts with hollow phrases about friendship that Wesley doesn't recognize as such. But rather than in the debates among the cadets, his dilemma becomes particularly clear in two other talks. In the first one Commander Albert, Joshua's father, approaches Wesley and apologizes for his son's failure. Albert may not seem to be the most devoted father, considering that he does nothing to defend his dead son, but he has no other choice after Locarno's testimonial that confirms his own impression that his son had to work hard to keep up with the others. I sort of like that Albert doesn't exaggerate the accomplishments of his son the way many other parents may do in his place. In contrast, Beverly Crusher tells Wesley that she would do anything to restore the reputation of her son, because in her view the doubts about his version of the story can only be due to a technical problem, or even to falsification of sensor data. This only adds to Wesley's grief because he doesn't want to drag her into the affair, especially since she might eventually find out the whole truth.
As bad as the cadets appear in "The First Duty", especially Nick Locarno but also Wesley, as steadfast is Picard. Not the safety of the Federation but only the truth about a simple accident and the honesty of four cadets is at stake. Nevertheless, Picard takes the matter very seriously - also because he has always supported Wesley's interest in Starfleet, and now Picard feels exactly the responsibility for the boy that Wesley himself refuses to take. I is interesting to watch how Picard gradually finds out the truth. It is Boothby who gives him a decisive hint, that Nick Locarno, the team leader, may have had a bad influence on the others. In a great moment of the episode Picard finally gets the idea when Data and Geordi are talking about a not recommended procedure to release the plasma which would ignite it. Another good scene follows when Picard has Wesley come to his ready room and begins to talk about the good old days when he first admitted Wesley to the bridge, only to change his intonation abruptly when he questions the decision to support the boy.
On a final note, considering how bad an experience Starfleet Academy has with the Nova Squadron, I wonder why they officially endorse Red Squad, a group of cadets whose big-headed attitude is even worse.
Nitpicking: While the cadets all call each other by their first names, they say "Sito" to Ensign Sito, which is definitely her last name because this is what she is called in the hearing. -- The Academy logo in this episode famously reads "Ex Astra, Scientia", which should be "Ex Astris, Scientia", of course.
Remarkable quote: "What happened to your hair?" (Boothby)
Remarkable appearances: After he was mentioned in TNG: "Final Mission", we can see Boothby (Ray Walston) for the first time. He will reappear in VOY: "In the Flesh" (as a Species 8472 impersonation) and in VOY: "The Fight" (in Chakotay's hallucination). -- Sito Jaxa (Shannon Fill) will appear once more, in TNG: "Lower Decks".
Remarkable miniature: Wesley has a model of the original USS Enterprise in his quarters.
Remarkable set: The door to Wesley's quarters is one of the few hinged doors that we can see in Star Trek.
Remarkable location: The exterior shots of the Academy were filmed at Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.
Remarkable facts: Jean-Luc Picard is of the Academy class of '27. He once fought against a Ligonian (TNG: "Code of Honor"). He also "made a mistake" that he had to cope with, according to Boothby. -- The training shuttles were flying at 80,000km/h briefly before the crash. -- The Kolvoord Starburst is a maneuver in which five ships cross within ten meters of each other and ignite their plasma trails. Wesley prepared the release of the plasma by opening his coolant interlock.
Remarkable background fact: Robert Duncan NcNeill will also play Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager, a very similar character as Nick Locarno. There is even speculation whether the two may be one and the same person.
Rating: 7

Cost of Living Stardate 45733.6: To Deanna's annoyance Lwaxana is about to get married to a man she never met, and to Worf's annoyance she takes young Alexander to a holoprogram of freethinkers, including a mud bath. In the meantime metallic parasites from a destroyed asteroid are consuming essential components of the ship. In a race against time, Data barely gets the ship back to the creatures' home and beams them away after life support has broken down, leaving him the only crew member conscious. Lwaxana is disappointed about her fiancé Campio who turns out stubborn and boring. When she appears in the traditional Betazoid wedding dress - that is, without any clothes - Campio is horrified and leaves, while she, Deanna, Alexander and even Worf celebrate their victory in the mud bath.

It is a bit silly how this episode combines the clash between Worf and Alexander with that between Lwaxana and her future husband Campio. Still, I enjoy the story because of its good timing. The most interesting scene is the dispute between Deanna, Worf, Alexander, Lwaxana, Campio and his assistant (well, and Mr. Homn who remains silent as always) in Lwaxana's quarters, when everyone wants something else, and no one reacts on anyone else's arguments. An excellently arranged chaos! 
As obtrusive as her nonchalance may usually seem, Lwaxana is just the right person to show Alexander that there is something besides the order he experiences with his father for whom everything needs to be regulated (we remember how he helped Keiko O'Brien deliver her baby in "Disaster" ;-)). The Parallax colony with its open nonsense and the mud bath forms a nice contrast to the always meaningful duty on the always clean ship. I especially like the constantly arguing couple ("They're friends. They love contradiction.") and the philosopher, whose words "The higher the fewer!" Alexander loves to recite, although he has no idea what it means (if anything). The truth can be found somewhere between Lwaxana's and Worf's attitudes. Like Worf is taking part in the mud bath in the end of this episode (although he wishes he would fight instead), Lwaxana has already learned a lesson about real life and its problems in "Half a Life". It is quite obvious that Lwaxana and Campio would never come together, and I wonder how in the world they could have come to the conclusion that their personality profiles would match perfectly. Even more so than Worf, this guy and his assistant are obsessed with rules and protocols. The really only thing he has in common with Lwaxana is his noble descent, but this is far from enough to really tie them together. Their personal mutual dislike is probably even greater than any general cultural clash between the joyful Betazoids and the apparently boring Kostolain could be, but the appearance of the naked Lwaxana - after all complying with Betazoid traditions - is the ultimate affront. A human groom would probably have been irritated too, but this Campio really deserves to be discomfited. The scene is successful in actually exposing his intolerance, rather than Lwaxana's body to whom this was a quite "natural" thing.
What I really dislike about "Cost of Living" is the completely unnecessary B-plot about the "space slime". After not watching the episode for years I had completely forgotten about it. I was hoping the asteroid chase in the teaser was only a small tie-in, rather than the opener for a fully-fledged plot thread. So it was even more annoying to see how the ship attracts a strange lifeform once again (like only recently in "The Loss" and "Galaxy's Child"), unrelated systems fail once again (almost exactly as in "Contagion" and "Hollow Pursuits"), life support goes offline once again, and Data saves the ship once again. It is a totally uninteresting slight variation of the usual theme. Moreover, shouldn't Campio be infuriated after the rough ride? Shouldn't Alexander be intimidated? The B-plot remains totally isolated and has no further effect on anyone, which is simply bad writing.
Continuity: Lwaxana doesn't learn anything here. She will marry the Tavnian Jeyal, an unimaginative and boring man just like Campio (DS9: "The Muse"). -- Deanna and Riker's wedding on Betazed is planned to be a traditional naked one, as mentioned in "Star Trek: Nemesis".
Remarkable quote: "Making little boys reasonable only gives them pimples." (Lwaxana Troi)
Remarkable appearance: As part of the entertainment program in the colony, we can see the arguably sexiest dancer since the green Vina.
Rating: 5

The Perfect Mate Stardate 45761.3: Kriosian Ambassador Briam arrives aboard the Enterprise with a peace gift to Alrik, the ruler of Valt Minor. En route to Valt Minor the Enterprise rescues two Ferengi from a shuttle in distress. One of them attempts to steal the gift, which turns out to be a beautiful young woman called Kamala. She is an empathic metamorph, meaning that she can become exactly what any man wants her to be. When Briam is hurt by the Ferengi, Picard has to take over his ambassadorial duties - with the help of Kamala. They feel attracted to each other, also because Picard is the first man who affirms that she has a value of herself. Just when Kamala is about to meet Alrik, who is not really interested in her, she tells Picard that she will fulfill her duty but that she has already bonded with him, by which she remains the woman Picard always wanted.

The similarities of "The Perfect Mate" to TOS: "Elaan of Troyius" are remarkable. In both episodes an attractive woman serves as a peace gift. In both episodes she bonds with the captain in some fashion. However, the difference between the two female characters couldn't be greater. The pampered and capricious Elaan had to learn how to adapt and to become less self-centered, whereas Kamala, educated to serve, needs just the opposite. So it is not really a re-issue, even if the circumstances seem to be much the same.
While the TOS episode essentially relied on the plot of The Taming of the Shrew, the comic relief in
"The Perfect Mate" is provided by the Ferengi, whose depiction in this episode only corroborates that the species is not to be taken seriously. Why must every individual Ferengi be a clown? The Ferengi involvement is incredibly contrived anyway. The cargo bay in which Kamala is stored is openly accessible to everyone, although Briam insisted on access being restricted. Picard doesn't seem to hold security on his ship in high regard. To add insult to injury, the Ferengi also hurt Briam when he comes to their quarters where they have been confined. We have to wonder anyway how in the world they wanted to carry away the "egg" with Kamala, without a starship.
The sexism of the story is evident, in particular the effect Kamala seems to have on about every male individual of any species. This includes a couple of miners with bad manners, who are aboard the ship just as incidentally as the Ferengi, as well as Worf whom she impresses with her Klingon "purring". Well, in some way this is the compensation for "The Outrageous Okona", where it was a man who drove all female crew members crazy. However, I just don't like how "The Perfect Mate" takes every opportunity to show Kamala as a dream woman that every man is attracted to on one hand, and tries hard to make up for that blatantly sexist depiction by half-hearted criticism of the idea of empathic metamorphs as some sort of slavery. The only constructive criticism comes from Beverly, while Picard is too much of a diplomat to put the welfare of a young woman above the peace treaty between two worlds.
Picard gets personally involved only through another contrived twist when Briam is disabled, and it falls to Picard to prepare Kamala. While this is yet another annoyance, fortunately the episode improves once Picard takes care of Kamala (also because the Ferengi are finally gone for good). The two have a couple of good scenes together. I like the ending, in which Kamala tells Picard that she has become the woman he wanted her to be. I think Kamala felt drawn to Picard, or to the idea of being like Picard, from the very moment she saw and felt him. So despite the prospect of marrying Alrik, a man who does not really care for her, it could have been still worse for Kamala, had she become a dull person herself in order to please him.
Nitpicking: The status of Krios is contradictory. In "The Mind's Eye" the planet was a Klingon colony with a Klingon governor, but here it seems to be completely independent, and the Klingons are not even mentioned, much less present during the ceremony. Maybe the two planets were not even supposed to be the same, but only after it had been discovered that the name was used twice.
Remarkable quotes: "Mister Worf, escort our Ferengi guests to quarters. Not too close to mine." (Riker), "I think you are more empathic than you admit. At least when it comes to women." (Kamala, to Riker), "I only hope he likes Shakespeare." (Kamala, after bonding with Picard, about Alrik)
Remarkable appearance: One of the two stupid Ferengi, Par Lenor, is played by Max Grodénchik, who would appear as Rom on DS9.
Remarkable absence: Deanna Troi does not appear in this episode (which is about an empathic woman after all!).
Remarkable ship: The Kriosian ship is a re-use of the Talarian warship.
Remarkable facts: Kamala's spots will return - as the make-up of the DS9 Trills. -- Ambassador Briam says he is 200 years old. -- Geordi mentions the dolphins aboard the Enterprise to one of the Ferengi.
Rating: 3

Imaginary Friend Stardate 45832.1: Ensign Sutter is concerned that his daughter Clara has an "imaginary friend", Isabella. Counselor Troi assures him that there is nothing to worry about. The imaginary friend, however, comes to life when a plasma-based lifeform enters the ship and assumes Isabella's shape. Isabella gets Clara into all sorts of trouble, while other plasma lifeforms are draining power from the ship. Deanna tries to prove to Clara that her imaginary playmate can't hurt her - and is promptly stunned by Isabella. Picard realizes there is a connection between the energy drain and Clara's friend. He tells Isabella that the Enterprise is not hostile and that adults do not mistreat their children but impose limits on them because they love them, thereby convincing the lifeforms to refrain from their attacks.

This unremarkable episode concludes the "Season of the Children". In essence, the story is only a very slight variation of the recurring theme "energy lifeform learns about human emotions". There is almost nothing new about it. The way the energy lifeform hovers through the ship, looking for a corporeal "victim", is nearly identical to TNG: "The Child". The whole rest of the story is essentially the same as in TNG: "The Bonding". In both episodes we have a non-corporeal entity that transforms itself into a humanoid shape, in order to take care of a lonely and unhappy child. In both cases the non-corporeal lifeform cares for human ethics for some reason that remains unexplained, yet gets essential aspects wrong. More precisely, in both cases it accuses the human crew of being heartless, without even knowing what it is all about. And finally, both episodes end with a preachy sermon on education and child care by Picard, who doesn't even have children.
"Imaginary Friend" is not as annoying as it could have been. Actually, I like how the "normal life" aboard the ship is in the focus of the episode, like a couple of times before especially in the fifth season. But even as we leave aside the striking similarities to previous stories, it is all much too predictable and relies too much on the effect of children's tales that come true. It is foreseeable that entering the nebula (the boring anomaly of the week, yet said to be a "unique phenomenon that hasn't been recorded before") would get the ship into trouble, and it is just too obvious that there is a connection between Isabella and the nebula. 
Remarkable quotes: "It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit." (Data, to Guinan, looking at the nebula) - "But if you're judging us, as a people, by the way we treat our children - and I think there can be no better criterion - then you must understand how deeply we care for them. When our children are young, they don't understand what might be dangerous. Our rules are to keep them from harm, real or imagined. And that's part of the continuity of our human species. When Clara grows up, she will make rules for *her* children, to protect them - as we protect her." (Picard, to Isabella)
Remarkable scene: In the arboretum, just before the entity enters Clara's head, it briefly creates a copy of an orchid, thereby foreshadowing the creation of Isabella.
Remarkable set: We get a good impression of the arboretum for the first time.
Remarkable facts: Isabella names the graviton field generators as part of the deflector shields, a clear hint at their function principle. -- Guinan mentions her pet, a Tarkassian razor beast. -- Ensign Sutter is a Starfleet officer since Clara is two years old. This would mean he hasn't been promoted in about eight years!
Rating: 2

I, Borg Stardate 45854.2: The Enterprise rescues a young Borg with the designation Three of Five from a crashed scout vessel. Beverly and Geordi, to Picard's displeasure, take care of the Borg whom they name Hugh. Cut off from the collective mind, Hugh soon develops individuality and refers to himself as "I" instead of "we". Picard, on the other hand, is determined to destroy the Collective by sending Hugh back with a deadly computer virus. Beverly, Geordi and finally even Guinan tell him this would be wrong, so Picard agrees to talking to Hugh himself. He finds that Hugh's newly gained individuality and his ability to engage in friendships deserves his respect and protection. Hugh eventually opts to return to the Collective, where his individuality may prove just as destructive as the computer virus.

Although not explicitly mentioned here, helping enemies in distress is probably a fundamental principle of Starfleet. But when the away team discovers that the sole survivor of the crashed scout ship is a Borg, only Beverly acknowledges his right of medical treatment and ultimately his right to live. In TNG: "The Enemy", everyone (except for Worf) would have helped the dying Romulan, because Romulans are a very similar species and evoke compassion. In TNG: "Silicon Avatar", everyone (except for a mad scientist) wanted to preserve the Crystalline Entity, because it was seen as something very "precious". The Borg fall in neither of the two categories, and so Riker and Worf are vehemently opposed to Beverly's treatment of the Borg. Beverly convinces Picard to beam the Borg aboard though, but it is obvious that he does that because of his appreciation of Beverly, rather than because of his compassion for the Borg. Also, as we learn a bit later, Picard acts in a way that Starfleet could learn more about their mortal enemy.
Picard sees the presence of the Borg aboard the ship as an opportunity to fight them, by infecting him with a computer virus that would spread throughout the Collective. Once again, only Beverly is opposed to Picard's idea. But it also appears that Picard himself is not entirely certain that he is doing the right thing and that he is acting for the best of everyone and not just out of his experience with the Borg. He initially speaks of the Borg as "he" but then switches to "it", thereby dissociating himself from the Borg and particularly from the idea that he might be or might become an individual. Moreover, in a fencing match Guinan (whose homeworld was destroyed by them) corroborates his stance not to have mercy with the Borg, by using Picard's compassion with her alleged pain in the leg to score a point. This is just how the Borg are acting all along along, but she is talking about the Collective and not about the evolving individual named Hugh that she doesn't know yet.
With Beverly being on Hugh's side all the time, Geordi is the first one to change his mind when he notices that he is essentially talking to a somewhat bewildered young man and not to a killing machine. Guinan changes her mind likewise after speaking with Geordi and then with Hugh. And Picard is open-minded enough to agree with meeting Hugh as well. And like everyone else, he revises his perception of Hugh because it is obvious that Hugh is an individual now. Of course, we may still pose the question whether Hugh's individuality is really the only criterion for his right to live. But it is quite satisfying to watch how justice ensues in this episode. Well, the end is a bit rushed and arguably overly optimistic. After all Hugh will likely become a dull drone again, or will be deactivated in the worst case. But what remains in any case is that Hugh made a conscious decision about his life, something that the Borg never granted him. Actually, I would have preferred if Hugh had expressed the wish to return to the Collective before Picard stated that in case of his return his individuality may be just as dangerous for the Collective as the computer virus.
Nitpicking: Picard's posing as Locutus makes no sense. The Borg know that Locutus has been severed from the Collective. Moreover, Hugh has previously seen Picard without implants and in his Starfleet uniform. He should be well aware that Picard is not Borg any longer.
Continuity: Hugh will return in "Descent".
Remarkable quotes: "To use him in this manner, we'd be no better than the enemy that we seek to destroy." (Picard, after talking to Hugh), "But perhaps in that short time before they purge his memory, the sense of individuality, which he has gained here, might be transmitted throughout the entire Borg Collective. Every one of the Borg being given the opportunity to experience the feeling of singularity. Perhaps that's the most pernicious program of all. The knowledge of self being spread throughout the Collective, in that brief moment, might alter them forever. We leave his memory intact." (Picard, explaining his plan)
Remarkable scene: After agreeing to beaming the Borg aboard, Picard goes to his ready room. Data looks over to Troi (in worry?), and Troi follows the captain.
Remarkable fact: The Borg don't ingest food. Their implants can synthesize any organic molecules the biological tissues require.
Remarkable title: The episode title is an allusion to the novel I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
Rating: 7

The Next Phase Stardate 45092.4: While assisting in repairs on a Romulan ship, Ro Laren and Geordi La Forge apparently die in a transporter accident. The two rematerialize on board the Enterprise but they are not visible to the rest of the crew and they can pass through walls. While Laren thinks she is dead, Geordi seeks for a scientific explanation. They soon find that their current state is the result of a Romulan experiment - they are phase-cloaked. When they discover that a cloaked Romulan has sabotaged the Enterprise's warp core, they try to warn their crew by producing chroniton traces, but Data who discovers the traces regards them as random patterns, and his cleaning isn't sufficient to make them visible again. Looking for a suited place to get the attention of as many people as possible, they flood their own memorial service with chronitons, and the cleaning procedure makes them visible again, just in time to warn Picard not to activate the warp drive.

"The Next Phase" is in the same tradition as the previous episode, "I, Borg", because Starfleet normally does not hesitate to help anyone in distress, even their enemies and even if it could be a trap. But this moral question is only a side aspect in the story, which is primarily about a somewhat implausible yet fascinating scientific mystery.
While we can't be totally sure about Ro, it is clear that Geordi La Forge would survive this episode. We know that the two are not really dead, also because Star Trek with its self-imposed secularism would not go as far in religious matters as depicting the afterlife. And so the story gradually reveals what actually happens to them, in a quite thrilling and quite entertaining fashion.
There are countless memorable moments in the episode, especially in the visualization of Geordi La Forge's and Ro Laren's situation. It all begins with Ro Laren running around, with no one noticing her. After talking in vain to Picard and Beverly in sickbay, the captain runs straight through her. Then Beverly changes Ro's status to "deceased", while Ro is still watching. Geordi has made the same experiences, and the two cautiously put their hands together, thereby verifying that they have in common whatever happened to them (and that they are not "ghosts"). When the two are on the Romulan ship and investigating their systems, we can see a conspicuous Romulan in the foreground. He looks like he is aware of Geordi and Laren, but he doesn't do anything that could expose him. It still comes as a bit of a surprise when he suddenly stands up and follows the two cloaked Starfleet officers, revealing that he is out of phase too when he walks through the console. Back on the Enterprise, Geordi causes chroniton emissions in main engineering while Data is scanning for them, trying to make Data understand that it is not a random phenomenon. There is a curios chase through the ship, including the quarters of unsuspecting crew members, until the Romulan gets thrown through the window into space. Finally, we have Ro and Geordi on their own memorial service. They try to cause as many chroniton pulses as possible by shooting around with the disruptor, and Ro can't resist shooting Riker into the head. I could watch this episode a thousand times, and it would never get boring.
The only small gripe I have is that it is quite fabricated how Picard's command to go to warp is being interrupted twice.
Nitpicking: If walls are no obstacles for Ro and La Forge, why can they stand on the floor? And how can they breathe the molecules of the normal air?
Continuity: We don't know the diplomatic implications of the Romulan development of the phase cloak. Picard will make a big deal of the similar phase cloak that is illegally installed aboard the Pegasus in "The Pegasus".
Remarkable quotes: "I've been thinking about the first time I met Geordi La Forge. He was a young officer assigned to pilot me on an inspection tour, and I made some offhand remark about the shuttle's engine efficiency not being what it should. And the next morning I found that he'd stayed up all night refitting the fusion initiators. Well, I knew then that I wanted him with me on my next command." (Picard), "Never been to a better funeral." (Geordi)
Remarkable ship: The Romulan science ship is a redress of the Romulan scout ship from TNG: "The Defector".
Rating: 8

The Inner Light Stardate 45944.1: A seemingly harmless space probe taps into Picard's mind and renders him unconscious for several minutes. While the crew are worried about him, Picard finds himself in the role of the iron weaver Kamin, who lives in the town of Ressik on the planet of Kataan. He is married to a woman called Eline and has a friend, Batai. After years have passed, Picard has finally accepted his new life that gave him two children, but a continuing drought is threatening the planet. Many years later Picard/Kamin is an old man, his children are grown up, and Eline and Batai have died, while the planet keeps drying up. The sun is going nova, and the limited technology of Kataan allows nothing more than to launch a space probe to preserve the memory of its inhabitants. Kamin's life was selected to be told to a future historian, who happens to be Picard. When Picard awakens on the bridge, only some 25 minutes have passed, during which he lived half a life on the planet of Kataan. Inside the probe the flute that Kamin/Picard used to play is found.

When the Enterprise encounters an alien probe, Picard is hit by a beam and finds himself on an unknown planet. The outline of "The Inner Light" sounds much like the one of "Future Imperfect" and other episodes about crew members who find themselves in a parallel reality or in some odd alien prison. But while both Riker and Picard are initially struggling whether they should accept their new life or try to escape, "The Inner Light" is told in a totally different fashion. Picard doesn't manage to escape. He has to give up his resistance and embrace his second life. It all reminds me a bit of how Kirk suffered from amnesia and stayed with the Indian tribe in "The Paradise Syndrome". Kirk was without his ship, but he still acted much as if he were still a captain or at least a prudent leader. The TNG episode goes still one step further. We see a new Picard, whose starship is totally out of reach and who gradually fits into his simple life as a family father over the course of many years. Yet, Picard doesn't totally change as a character. He is passionate about his research mission, and he cares for his family a bit like a captain for his crew.
Patrick Stewart said that this episode was the greatest acting challenge he faced in the seven years of TNG, and I can attest that he mastered the challenge. Kudos to him, but also to Margot Rose, who plays his wife Eline.
Without a doubt, "The Inner Light" is the emotionally strongest episode of TNG and perhaps of all Star Trek series, and arguably one of the very best too. It is heartwarming to see how Picard, who was never fond of children, decided that it was time to start a family after five years as Kamin. Each of his two children represents one aspect of his present and his past life: Meribor becomes a scientist, Batai an artist. The scene in which Eline dies is already sad enough, but when old Picard/Kamin goes to see the launch of the probe, his friend Batai and his wife Eline reappear and tell him the truth about the probe, the episode finally brings the tears to my eyes. And so does the final scene, in which Riker hands the box with the flue to Picard.
Regarding the way that the Kataanians preserve the memory of their planet, we may object that they do it by force. Imposing memories on someone against their will is clearly an act of violence, even if the memories are of a pleasant kind. Several later Star Trek episodes will pick up the issue, such as DS9: "Hard Time", VOY: "Ex Post Facto" or VOY: "Nemesis". In all these later cases the memories are implanted with criminal intent or as a punishment. The most obvious parallel, however, is VOY: "Memorial", in which the eponymous memorial plagues some members of the crew with horrible visions. Much like the Kataanians strive to preserve something of their culture, the builders of the memorial want to commemorate a massacre that took place long ago. But as a I wrote in my review of the Voyager episode, I call the authenticity of the memorial into question, and without knowing anything about the historical context, the commemoration is pointless anyway. My judgment about the Kataanians certainly isn't that harsh. Although Picard's experience of a life on Kataan may not have been authentic, I think the dying Kataanians have every right to show themselves as a valuable culture that would have deserved to persist. They only should have chosen a somewhat less forceful method to let the people of the future know about their planet, and most notably they should have told the story to more than just one randomly selected person.
If I were to get people with little interest in science fiction enthused about Star Trek, I would choose "The Inner Light", rather than anything with space anomalies or battles with the Borg. "The Inner Light" is one of the best episodes without being geeky.
The timeline of Picard's stay on Kataan (or of what we are shown of it) is as follows (with approximate times): Kamin and Eline get married (-3 years, not shown). Picard arrives and finds himself in the identity of Kamin. The town is suffering from a drought, yet Kamin plants a tree. Kamin supposedly begins to collect data on the drought (0 years). Kamin suggests to the administrator to build atmospheric condensers. He tells his wife that they should have children (+5 years). Batai dies (+7 years, not shown). Kamin and Eline have a daughter of pre-school age and a newborn son, whom they name for the deceased friend Batai (+10 years). Young Meribor begins to collect scientific data (+15 years, not shown). Meribor is grown up. She still analyzes soil samples and wants to pursue a career in science (+25 years). Scientists on Kataan come to the conclusion that their central star is going nova (+33 years, not shown). Batai is grown up. He tells Kamin that he is leaving school to concentrate on his music. Eline dies (+35 years. It seems Batai is still at school at the age of some 25 years, or perhaps university). Old Kamin watches the launch of the probe (+35+x years). Picard wakes up on the Enterprise (+1000 years).
Nitpicking: How can a probe that was launched from a planet with technology like on 20th century century Earth be still operational after as long as 1000 years, and how can it penetrate the shields of the Federation's most powerful starship? It would have been a lot more plausible if the story had been like this: The probe is non-functional when the Enterprise runs into it. It is beamed aboard (which would have required a full-size model though). Geordi and Data work on getting it online again. Curious as he is about ancient artifacts, Picard comes to engineering as Geordi is flipping the switch, and the captain promptly hit by the beam. The rest of the story could have been almost exactly the same. That would leave only the problem of how the Kataanians developed a perfect mind manipulation (or memory implantation) technique that would work on aliens. -- Picard tells Eline that he is gradually losing his memories of his former life. I doubt that after waking up he would regain it fast enough to resume command.
Continuity: Picard plays "Frère Jacques" on Kataan, which he sung with the children in "Disaster". Likewise, he will carry over the Ressikan tune to his world in "Lessons".
Remarkable quotes: "This tree is our symbol, our affirmation of life. Everyone in this town gives part of their water rations to keep it alive. We've learned, Administrator, that hope is a powerful weapon against anything. Even drought." (Batai), "I would have believed I didn't need children to complete my life. Now I couldn't imagine life without them." (Picard as Kamin), "The rest of us have been gone for a thousand years. If you remember what we were, and how we lived, then we'll have found life again. [The probe is launched.] Now we live in you. Tell them of us, my darling." (Eline) 
Remarkable props: The Ressikan flute. After playing a key role in "The Inner Light" it will reappear in "Lessons", just like the Ressikan tune. -- Eline is wearing a necklace that is shaped like the space probe.
Remarkable tune: The score of the episode, including the catchy Ressikan tune that Picard is playing on the flute, was composed by Jay Chattaway.
Remarkable scenery: There is a great shot of Picard/Kamin in front of the town of Ressik.
Remarkable appearance: Kamin's son Batai is portrayed by Patrick Stewart's son Daniel.
Remarkable fact: Picard is unconscious on the bridge for some 20 to 25 minutes. In that time he experiences some 40 years on Kataan.
Rating: 9

Time's Arrow I/II Stardate 45959.1/46001.3: The Enterprise investigates the mystery of Data's head, which was found in a cave in San Francisco, among artifacts from the 19th century. The trace leads to Devidia II where an away team discovers a time rift that transfers Data to San Francisco of the year 1893. Here Data meets Guinan, who has no recollection of him because she will meet him in the future, and Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, who is suspicious about the strange visitors. An away team with Picard follows Data and they discover that aliens from Devidia II are consuming energy from cholera victims of those days. Just when the away team are going to leave the 19th century through the cave, they are first surprised by Clemens and then by two Devidians. They open the gateway which decapitates Data. Data's body, the away team and Clemens make it to the 24th century, while Picard stays behind with Data's head. Since the "new" head is in the 19th century (and has to stay there to be found), there is no other way for Geordi but to use the "old" head found in the cave to repair Data. In the 19th century, Picard leaves a message to be found in Data's head that allows Clemens and Picard to return to their respective time. 

This whole two-part episode is built around the amazing discovery of Data's severed head in a cave in San Francisco. The fact that this head is 500 years old implies that Data must have traveled to the past and must have died there. In other words, the timeline is predetermined. Likewise, Guinan says that she first met Picard long ago before they actually meet in the past. The concept of predetermination was used in only one previous episode, TOS: "Assignment: Earth". It makes "Time's Arrow" stand out from Star Trek's many time travel episodes, even though it impairs continuity, keeping in mind that time travel in Star Trek usually works differently.
Considering that it is a two-parter, the story should have been able to handle all the characters, places and plot complications. However, I think everything related to the Devidians remains too sketchy. It never really becomes plausible why they are out phase, why they have to take the effort of going to the past to find nourishment, and why they would choose Earth. I don't find the idea of life-sucking aliens not very original anyway. Moreover, the cane with a snake head that comes to life when activated is a very silly idea. In hindsight it may have worked a bit better to just trap the crew in the past due to some kind of accident and remove the alien threat and the time phase shift (in addition to the time travel) from the story. On the other hand, Data's reports from the other time level and the transition of the away team that follows him to that level is impressive and very eerie.
Despite my gripe with the Devidians I like how the story unfolds and how Guinan, Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain and Jack London are worked into it. I only have a problem with Picard's statement that he and Guinan share something that "goes far beyond friendship". Neither in the episodes with Guinan so far nor in future installments Picard and Guinan will be as close as he insinuates here.
Nitpicking: When he notices that the aliens are out of phase and hence not visible, neither Geordi nor anyone else refers to "The Next Phase", just two episodes ago. -- At the beginning of the second part, where did the rest of the crew get their clothes and their money? They must have raised just as much suspicion as Data in their "pajamas". -- If we accept the idea that time travel works somewhat differently in this episode than on other occasions, there is still the problem that Guinan does not seem to understand or even denies the concept. She insists on Picard joining the away team, so she can meet him in the past. If everything were predestined, there would be no need for her to take any influence with her knowledge about the timeline. She also tells Riker on the topic of what he could do to save Picard who has stayed behind in the past: "If I told you what happened in that cavern, it would affect any decision you'd make now. I can't do that. I won't."
Remarkable dialogue: "I appreciate your concern, Captain, but, to employ an aphorism, one cannot cheat fate." - "Cheat fate? Perhaps we can't, Mister Data. But at least we can give it a try." (Data and Picard, about Data not going on the away mission)
Remarkable quotes: "There is no way anyone can prevent it, sir. At some future date, I will be transported back to nineteenth century Earth, where I will die. It has occurred. It will occur." (Data, about his severed head), "As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent." (Deanna, quoting Data about friendship), "There hasn't been an earthquake here in thirty years." (a doctor, to Picard), "Well, it seems to me I have as much right to be in your time as you had to be in mine. I wanted to see how you've conducted my future affairs." (Samuel Clemens), "All this technology, it only serves to take away life's simple pleasures. You don't even let a man open the door for a lady." (Samuel Clemens)
Remarkable homage: The contraption that Data builds for the "horseless carriage" ("I am an inventor.") is similar to Spock's in "The City on the Edge of Forever".
Remarkable scenes: After finding that the transceiver he built is missing, and was presumably taken by the curious Mr. Clemens, Data says: "If you are correct, he must be warned. The device has been modified in such a way that prolonged contact with human tissue would be highly toxic." Clemens, who is still hiding in the wardrobe, drops the device, and is discovered. -- When Mrs. Carmichael enters, the crew has to pretend that they are rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream. Geordi is not wearing his VISOR an is holding his script upside down. Troi turns it round only after Mrs. Carmichael has left.
Remarkable running gags: After someone (more or less jokingly) called him a Frenchman, Data keeps posing as one. (Data's French is a lot better than that of Marc Alaimo's character at the poker game, although the latter claims to be of French descent.) -- Mrs. Carmichael, the landlady, consistently addresses Picard as "Mr. Pickerd".
Remarkable facts: Seismic regulators serve to avoid earthquakes in the 24th century. -- Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain speaks of a novel about time travel that he wrote. This is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court from 1889.
Rating: 7

 


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