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The Next Generation (TNG) Season 7

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

 

Reviews in progress.

 

Descent II See TNG season 6

Liaisons Stardate not given: Picard welcomes two Iyaaran ambassadors, Byleth and Loquel, aboard his ship, before embarking a shuttle with a third Iyaaran, the pilot Voval, to meet with their leader. Picard assigns Riker to tend to Byleth, but the Iyaaran insists on staying with Worf. In the following, Byleth does everything to enrage the Klingon. Troi, on the other hand, finds herself escorting the gentle Loquel, who is longing for entertainment and any kind of culinary pleasures above all. When Picard's shuttle crashes on a hostile world and Voval is knocked out, he finds a human woman, Anna. She has apparently been living there for seven years, after her freighter has crashed. Picard initially likes the sympathetic woman, but soon notices she sabotages his attempts of getting rescued. It turns out that Anna is not real and was a disguise of Voval, who is another ambassador. The Iyaarans arranged this whole scenario on the planet to test the human emotion of love, just as the two ambassadors on the ship were to experience rage and pleasure, respectively.

Some aspects of "Liaisons" are quite enjoyable, some are rather annoying. The interaction between Deanna and Loquel as well as between Worf and Byleth is very amusing, and never gets ridiculous. It is my impression that the events on the Enterprise were meant to be only the secondary plot. But they make up for the contrived and tiresome main story with Picard and the alleged lonely human woman on the planet. 
In my view there is a logical flaw already in the Iyaarans' intention to explore the human(oid) emotions of rage, pleasure and love. They were so well prepared for their roles that no one of the Enterprise crew ever noticed that it was only a charade, a problem already known from DS9: "If Wishes Were Horses". If the Iyaarans really didn't know any of that, they must have done a good deal of research on the topics, and must have rehearsed a lot. In other words, there would have been no need for a live test. Also, the Iyaarans are a spacefaring race with comparably advanced warp technology. They must have been in contact with other alien races before. It makes no sense that they don't have the slightest idea of the basic principles that are common to all races except for themselves. Moreover, they should have anticipated that they would annoy their hosts already at their first contact. 
Continuity: Picard says that Terellians have four arms, which will later be contradicted in VOY: "The Fight".
Remarkable dialogue 1: "I do not see why it is necessary to wear these ridiculous uniforms." - "Protocol." - "They look like dresses." - "That is an incredibly outmoded and sexist attitude. I'm surprised at you. Besides, you look good in a dress." (Worf and Riker)
Remarkable dialogue 2: "I have heard that in moments of diplomatic tension, it is often helpful to find elements of commonality." - "Ambassador Byleth is demanding, temperamental and rude." - "You share all of those qualities in abundance. Perhaps you should try to build on your similarities." (Data and Worf)
Remarkable scene: After the brawl with Worf, Byleth rises to his feet again and leaves with the words, "I will document this experience". Worf, Riker and Troi are startled. Loquel, however, is still sitting on the poker table, smiling, with his cards and the bowl of chocolate in his hands. He passes the bowl to Deanna, who doesn't give him a look but only grabs a piece of chocolate.
Remarkable shuttle: The Iyaaran shuttle is a redress of the Nenebek from TNG: "The Final Mission" and the J'naii shuttle from TNG: "The Outcast".
Remarkable dessert: This episode shows the Ktarian chocolate puff, made of 17 types of chocolate.
Rating: 4

Interface Stardate 47215.5: Fitted with a new interface suit that converts sensor data from a probe to VISOR inputs, Geordi is ready to take on the retrieval of the lost USS Raman, which is stuck in the atmosphere of the gas giant Marijne VII. Captain Picard, however, has the sad duty to inform Geordi that the USS Hera, the starship of his mother Silva, is missing with all hands. Geordi does not want to mourn yet and carries on with his mission. He suddenly sees his mother's image on the Raman, indicating that she may still be alive. But no one of the crew lends credence to his words. He hooks himself up once more to the probe, now against orders. Geordi learns from his "mother" that her starship is located still lower in the atmosphere, but this turns out to be a message by lifeforms that are trapped on the Raman and need to be brought back to their realm in the lower atmosphere.

I used to rate "Interface" higher, but now that I am watching it for the first time in several years it is a very underwhelming experience, and arguably the greatest disappointment of my whole TNG review tour. On the bright side, the episode does a solid job working with Geordi's character. His attachment to his mother, combined with his faith in technology and technobabble makes him blind (sorry for the pun) for what is really going on. Fortunately he gets a chance to redeem himself and save the aliens thanks to the same special equipment and abilities that got him into trouble in the first place. I also like Geordi's interaction with Data, but also with Troi, Picard and Crusher, and especially with Riker. Actually, a filler scene of the two in engineering was filmed several weeks after the end of the regular shooting schedule because the editors ran out of footage. This is no surprise considering how incredibly thin the story is.
I'm not the biggest statistics buff, but it occurred to me that up to this point we have seen family members of almost everyone among the principal cast, especially in season 4 (which I refer to as the "Season of the Family"). Even the sister and daughter of Tasha Yar showed up. The only exception is Geordi. So it was just too obvious to bring in Geordi's family in some fashion. Unfortunately his family is never involved beyond the point of mere lip service. Geordi's father appears only on a computer screen, and his mother is an illusion anyway. I ran across this statement by Ron D. Moore that hits the nail: "I think it was a point where we were in the room and we were talking about bringing Geordi's mother in, and we all kind of looked at each other and we were like, 'This is sad. This is the best we can do? Is this the best we can do, is Geordi's mother?' It was such a 'who cares' idea that we were just sort of, 'Oh man... This show has got to end.'" (source: IGN, via Memory Alpha)
Besides token family members we have got another derelict science vessel and a new virtual reality technology that never really gets interesting. But speaking of clichés, the worst of all is that the "ghost" of Geordi's mother turns out a manifestation of some unnamed shapeless aliens ("subspace beings of some kind") that for some reason know what Geordi expects to hear and see but that are never seen again. I don't remember what I thought when I first watched the episode, but this revelation (as late as three minutes before the end of the episode) is a big letdown even now that I am prepared for it. If it were not for those aliens, the outcome could have been particularly realistic. Geordi may have been hallucinating his mother, and for once everything may have been just the way it seemed. The outcome may have played with our expectations, and it may have put a limit to TNG's preoccupation with alien lifeforms that are responsible for almost everything that does not work the way it should on the Enterprise. Among the various stories with a similar theme (such as "The Loss", "Night Terrors" or "Power Play"), "Interface" is clearly the worst take.
I also have a beef with how the interface probe works. It just doesn't make sense (in Star Trek but also in most other science fiction) that the signal of a virtual reality interface needs to be boosted to a point that it overloads the operator's nervous system. Regarding the visualization of the system, I don't mind that we see Geordi walk about on the Raman all the time, but his environment is shown from Geordi's point of view. This is just a question of style. But it becomes downright absurd when we see Geordi's "mother" (actually the shapeless aliens) grab "Geordi's" head (actually the probe), while he himself doesn't notice anything!
Rating: 2

Gambit I/II Stardate 47135.2/47160.1: It seems Picard was vaporized by a weapon in a bar weeks ago. Riker is determined to find out who killed the captain, and he follows the trace of the possible murderers to Barradas III. Suddenly the away team is ambushed by a group of mercenaries. They kidnap Riker, who is surprised to find Picard alive - as one of them. Taking a cue from Picard, who plays the archeologist "Galen", Riker assumes the role of a renegade Starfleet officer eager to join the mercenaries. The Enterprise follows the mercenary ship to Calder II. Like Barradas III, this was once the home to a Romulan offshoot civilization. Picard and Riker play their parts by firing a low-level phaser burst that leaves the Enterprise unharmed but impresses the mercenary leader, Baran. Tallera, an alleged Romulan, recognizes that "Galen" is not who he pretends to be, and she reveals to him that she is actually Vulcan and that the mercenaries are seeking to complete an ancient psionic Vulcan weapon. During a raid of the Enterprise in order to obtain another piece of the weapon, "Galen" pretends to kill Riker, and upon his return assumes command of the mercenary ship. When the mercenaries finally reach Vulcan to deliver the psionic resonator to an isolationist movement, Tallera turns out to be the one who wanted the weapon. With the power of thoughts she kills two of the mercenaries, only to see that the weapon is useless against those who don't share the hatred.

"Gambit" is further proof that the series is running out of steam in its final season, because in several ways it feels like a reissue of "The Chase" in the previous season. Both episodes are about a treasure hunt from planet to planet, in an attempt to obtain the pieces for an archeological puzzle. In "The Chase" one idea was that the DNA code could contain plans for a powerful weapon, in "Gambit" the puzzle pieces actually belong to a weapon. In "The Chase" Picard met his old mentor, Professor Galen, here Picard himself poses as an archeologist named Galen. There isn't anything in the story concept of "Gambit" that could possibly better the ingenious idea behind "The Chase", a pivotal episode of the franchise. The producers attempted to make up for this inherent disadvantage of the story by extending it to a two-parter, by putting Picard and Riker in unusual roles, and with more action. However, while the flow of the story is smoother (I remember the directing of "The Chase" as a bit bumpy, which is the only reason why it don't give it as many as 10 points), "Gambit" is overall quite implausible.
It all begins with the crew's undercover investigation of Picard's disappearance in the teaser of the first part. Riker, Worf, Troi and Crusher are doing the best to fill their roles, and I think it is intentional that they don't feel like typical visitors of the bar at all, but rather like what they are, Starfleet personnel in civilian clothes. This raises the question why they don't beam down in uniform in the first place. It is a recurring problem of the episode that the crew are not prepared for their roles, that their actions are badly considered and that everyone survives only by chance. Still they carry on with their undercover roles at any time of the story, even though their actions may seem utterly implausible to Baran and his people, even though someone may blow the whistle any time, even though it may endanger many lives and even though it brings the criminals dangerously close to getting what they want. Picard's efforts to make an ass of himself, in order to get Baran to trust Riker, are awkward. And considering that they can't really coordinate their actions, their charade for Baran is very dangerous not only for themselves but even for the Enterprise. Data correctly recognizes that Riker would never attempt to gain access to the shields using his obsolete code, and in an act of carelessness he orders the shields to be dropped, in the hope that Riker knows what he is doing. But actually Riker can't be sure that Picard and no one else would fire on the Enterprise, using minimum power. And how in the world could he hide an encrypted message in the code he sent? This is just one of many examples where the story just doesn't work. Ultimately we have to pose the question why no one tries to apprehend the mercenaries, for which there would be plenty of opportunities, before they can achieve their goal and do even more damage.
While Baran is just too blind to see that Picard and Riker are playing games with him, at least Tallera is smart enough to see that Picard (unlike Patrick Stewart) is a bad actor. It only doesn't make sense that she bothers to tell Picard/Galen that the device is a powerful ancient weapon and that the isolationists on Vulcan want to get hold of it. By revealing all that she only unnecessarily alerts Picard. Anyway, although it is yet another ancient piece of technology that works against all reason, I like the revelation that the psionic resonator works only against those who are aggressive and that it is useless in peace.
Overall, "Gambit" is exciting and does have some memorable moments, but it is not very original and it is lacking plot logic. So it pales in comparison to "The Chase".
Nitpicking: Riker refuses to attend the memorial service for Picard. Although the circumstances are different, this is not the same Riker who organized a fun party after Geordi and Ro had been declared dead in "The Next Phase". -- When the mercenaries, together with Riker on the floor, line up for the beam-out, Worf can see them. Why doesn't he shoot? -- Picard tells Baran that Riker is the commanding officer of the Enterprise (which is hard to deny, considering Riker's rank pips), and that Riker has a "history of insubordination". That doesn't fit together at all, because why should Starfleet reward such an unreliable officer with the command over one of their most powerful ships? -- One more example of carelessness: "Killing" Riker on the Enterprise was a bad idea by Picard, because who says that Baran or someone else loyal to him wouldn't kill Picard immediately after his return? Picard somehow managed to disable to pain inducer, but they still have enough other weapons.
Remarkable scene: After their return for the mercenary ship, Riker remarks that Picard has been declared dead and should not give orders, whereupon Data states that Riker is still considered a renegade. Before entering his quarters, Picard orders Data to escort Riker to the brig - which Data does, against Riker's protest that it was just a joke.
Remarkable appearances: The Klingon Koral is well over 2 meters tall. He is played by basketball player James Worthy. -- Robin Curtis appears as Tallera. She previously played Saavik in "Star Trek III".
Remarkable facts: While not explicitly referring to the exodus of dissenters from Vulcan, the episode provides several facts about the common Vulcan-Romulan history. Most notably the Debrune civilization, an offshoot of the Romulans (ex-Vulcans?), once settled on the planets Barrdas III, Calder II, Yadalla Prime and Draken IV.
Crew death: 1 security officer
Rating: 6

Phantasms Stardate 47225.7: Data is troubled by nightmares from his dreaming program, including a "cellular peptide cake" in the shape of Deanna Troi and workmen apparently disrupting a plasma conduit. In the meantime, Geordi attempts in vain to activate the new warp core. When Data begins to see strange mouth images on his crewmates and finally stabs Deanna into the shoulder, he is confined to quarters. Beverly, examining Deanna, finds an interphasic creature just where the wound is located. These lifeforms are extracting cellular peptides from their victims and have also disabled the warp drive. With the help of Data's dreams, which symbolize the effects of the alien attack, Picard and Geordi devise a high-frequency interphasic pulse to expel the creatures.

I was dissatisfied with how Data's first dreams were incorporated in the 6th season episode "Birthright". His dream experience unnecessarily sidetracked the main story about Worf (in an awkward attempt to build a "seeking for your father" theme), only to end in a very unspectacular way. For the sake of continuity, I am glad that the topic was picked up again. But the story built around Data's nightmares in "Phantasms" turned out to be another disappointment.
I like the score and the camera work in the nightmare sequences. I also like the visualization, such as the 19th century workers who tap into the plasma conduit, Troi as the cellular peptide cake (with mint frosting!), Beverly sucking something from Riker's head through a straw, and the telephone ringing inside Data's body. It is clear that all this has a significance, which is why Data seeks advice from Deanna and from Dr. Freud. Yet, all this has little to do with Data's mind. The revelation that actually invisible aliens are responsible for Data's dreams (as well as for the malfunction of the new warp core) is a huge letdown, considering that it is the standard explanation for everything that goes wrong on the ship (such as only lately, in "Interface"). Yet, I don't think that the alien involvement is quite as bad an idea as in "Interface", because here it is an important part of the story and not a lame "deus ex machina" device.
Overall, the worries about Data's ability to cope with nightmares and about Picard arriving at the Admirals' Banquet in time are too trivial to make a good episode, let alone the young ensign who has a crush on Geordi. Stranger things happen on the Enterprise all the time, and so it needs Data's attack on Deanna and the revelation of the alien threat to get the story finally moving. However, even when Beverly discovers that scary alien creatures are attached to everyone's body, no one is really horrified. It happens all the time, and it is resolved with too much routine. The thin story (comparable to "Interface") would normally warrant no more than two points, but I still like what was made of it, so I think four points are a fair deal.
Nitpicking: While it makes some sense that Data perceives the alien creatures only subconsciously, it is not really plausible that he can fight them in his mind with a method (the shrieking) whose equivalent work (the high-frequency pulse) would work in the real world.
Remarkable scene: Dr. Freud, a figure in Data's unconscious mind, explains to Picard and La Forge who he thinks he is: "If I were to interpret my own appearance in this dream, I would say I am the symbolic representation of Data's unconscious mind trying to warn him about the dangers he perceives around him."
Rating: 4

Dark Page Stardate 47254.1: Lwaxana Troi seems to be tired, even depressive, in the presence of the telepathic Cairn, who until recently were not able to communicate verbally. Lwaxana breaks down as she watches how a Cairn girl falls into a shallow pool in the arboretum. Maques, one of the Cairn, suspects that some buried traumatic memory, a "dark place" as he calls it, is responsible. Maques acts as a telepathic bridge, so Deanna can read her mother's mind, but she doesn't find a definite clue. When she and Picard review Lwaxana's journal, they find that as many as seven years have been deleted. The reason is that Lwaxana's first daughter Kestra drowned in a lake a long time ago when Deanna was still a baby and her husband Ian Andrew was still alive. Feeling guilty about this tragical accident, Lwaxana deleted every evidence and suppressed any memory of Kestra.

We have seen telepaths of a similar kind as the Cairn before, namely the Ullians from the season 5 episode "Violations". Even the protruding brains (that have apparently grown too big for their skulls) of the two races are similar, which raises the question why the Ullians were not simply reused for this episode. Anyway, alien guests with such special abilities always cause trouble on TNG, and even though it is not intentional that Lwaxana Troi has a traumatic experience because of them, it fits the cliché. Fortunately the episode does not overemphasize the possibility that the Cairn may have a hidden agenda; it keeps up the depiction of Maques as a nice person (for some reason people with limited abilities to communicate verbally are always shown as sympathetic on TV in more recent years). It also quickly resolves the red herring when Maques suddenly sneaks into sickbay while Deanna is sleeping there, actually in a well-meant attempt to help her mother. Well, and for what it's worth it's not Deanna but her mother who has to suffer this time. 
Overall, the story isn't very original, also considering that only one week after "Phantasms" we see someone of the crew walk around in someone else's mind again. The timing couldn't have been worse. At least "Dark Page" includes the psychological aspect that was missing in "Phantasms" (where everything was more or less a manifestation of what happened around Data's mind). And although the explanation given in the episode is that the metaconscious mind of Betazoids is responsible for Lwaxana's trouble, human psychology knows a similar phenomenon in the form of a suppressed memory. I like this aspect of the story, and it gives the mumbo-jumbo of someone talking with interactive figures in someone else's mind more weight than in the previous episode. Dr. Freud would like "Dark Page", rather than "Phantasms".
The whole episode is centered around Deanna and her mother and, on a positive note, goes without inappropriate comical elements. Maques, Picard and Beverly are the only other characters with significant lines, although their lack of interaction with Deanna feels a bit like the rest are letting her down. Especially Will Riker should have been involved to a greater extent in my opinion.
Just as in "Phantasms", I like how the telepathic sequences were filmed, with a wide-angle lens in this case, which makes them appear appropriately eerie.
Continuity: Data mentions his dream experiences and gives Deanna a hint that people in a dream may represent an aspect of the person who is dreaming (yet, without specifically referring to anything in "Phantasms"). -- In "Haven" Lwaxana Troi said that she had fired Mr. Homn's predecessor, Mr. Xelo. Mr. Homn, however, kept a photo of Kestra and Deanna with their father, which is only possibly if Mr. Homn preceded Mr. Xelo.
Remarkable dialogues: "Your mother told me of your need." - "Need?" - "A moment. Husband. You need a husband. I need a wife." (Maques and Deanna), "Commander! Take your hands off her." - "Mrs. Troi." - "Don't you Mrs. Troi me." (Lwaxana Troi and Riker)
Rating: 4

Attached Stardate 47304.2: The Enterprise visits Kesprytt because the Kes, unlike their purportedly xenophobic neighbors on the planet, the Prytt, have applied for Federation membership. When Picard and Beverly beam down, the transporter beam is redirected and they are taken prisoners by the Prytt. They manage to escape with the help of a Kes agent, but they discover that they are telepathically linked to each other, so that Beverly learns that Picard was in love with to her when she was still married to Jack Crusher. On the Enterprise the Kes have installed a security office, and their behavior soon becomes as paranoid as that of their sworn enemies. Riker finally tells them to leave, but not before beaming up a representative of the Prytt to finally get them to talk. He tells the Kes that the UFP will definitely turn down their application. After reaching the Kes border, Picard and Beverly can finally be beamed up again.

This episode works with the characters in a way it wasn't done and perhaps wasn't possible in the first few seasons of the series. Dr. Crusher and Picard were separated from the rest of the crew in a similar fashion in "The Arsenal of Freedom" in the first season, but there was relatively little personal about what they were talking and doing. They shared some anecdotes and Beverly did everything to save the captain's life, something she would have done for anyone else. Even though it is achieved through a plot device that creates a telepathic link, it is good to see how their interaction in "Attached" is more profound and how the series and its characters have evolved. Still, I don't think the Picard/Beverly story makes a sufficient main plot (it is of equal importance as the Kes/Prytt conflict and has more screen time if I'm not mistaken). Although I always appreciate location shots, the two have have escaped from a prison on an alien world that doesn't look very alien, just like Kirk and Spock in various TOS episodes. I don't mind the obstacles that they encounter in the form of lava eruptions or steep hillslopes that feel a bit like in a jump-and-run game, and the necessity to stay close together to maintain the telepathic link (otherwise they would become nauseous) adds to that impression.
The revelation that Picard was once in love with Beverly doesn't surprise me a lot. It is rather surprising and also a bit disappointing that Picard and Beverly first make a big deal about it and then it doesn't play a role any more. This is anticlimactic in the context of the episode and perhaps a wasted chance to change something about the setting of the series ("All Good Things" will pick up the idea in a rather playful fashion). Well, a Troi/Worf relationship was already in the making at the time and establishing changes such as new relationships in the final season is not exactly bold (as we will see once again on DS9 and Voyager). Still, the mere confession that Picard was once in love with Beverly but they keep everything as it is is not really an interesting outcome. I also wonder why Picard and Beverly, in the seventh year of the series, still need the contrived exposition establishing their breakfast.
I freely admit that I like the plot thread about the Kes/Prytt conflict better, although it is overall too formulaic. It reminds me a bit of TOS: "A Taste of Armageddon", where the leaders of the two countries wouldn't talk to one another either.
Many years after the first airing date of the episode it occurred to me that there is an even more obvious analogy in the real world: Cyprus. The country in the Mediterranean Sea is divided since 1974 when the Turkish military invaded the island and set up a separatist, internationally not recognized country in the northern part. The southern, Greek part of Cyprus applied for membership in the European Union. The EU requested that a referendum be held on the reunification of Cyprus. In the Greek part of Cyprus a majority voted against the reunification. Still, the EU accepted "Cyprus" (actually only the Greek part) as a member in 2004, thereby only deepening the rift that runs through the island and through Nicosia. Of course, the analogy is a mere coincidence. The makers of the TNG episode clearly couldn't predict the political development on Cyprus, although "Kesprytt" sounds a bit like "Cyprus". I was upset when Cyprus was accepted to the EU in 2004, especially considering that the people on the island renounced a historical chance that the Germans never had as long as the Cold War lasted. Had I been in charge of the approval of Cyprus, I would have acted just like Riker, citing that Cyprus is "a deeply troubled world with social, political, and military problems they have yet to resolve." Although someone may still overrule Riker, the Federation seems to stick to its principles, rather than the EU.
Nitpicking: Considering that Picard and Beverly make their way from the prison in the Prytt capital to the border by foot, the capital has to be rather small and can't be more than a couple of kilometers from the border, which isn't very plausible (well, unless we're talking about a similar situation as in the divided city of Nicosia). -- Why does Picard dispose of his jacket? He (or Beverly) could need it at night. -- The plan of the Kes to guide Beverly and Picard to the border doesn't make much sense. It was devised too quickly in the first place (they receive the tricorder with the plan after just a few hours in prison as it seems). And if the Kes have that many operatives (in the prison, plus allegedly a complete village of collaborators), why doesn't anyone accompany them? Riker rises a good point: "Forgive me, Ambassador, but is it wise to send two human fugitives in Starfleet uniforms into a Prytt village?" Even if the village is under control of the Kes, a lot could happen to them until they finally arrive there. -- So the Prytt could deflect the Enterprise's transporter beam, which is a clear sign of advanced technology. The Enterprise is not able to track where they materialized, but what happened to the sensors that are usually capable of identifying single individuals of a species on a planet? Sure, the Kes may jam the sensors, but it doesn't seem it is even attempted to use the sensors, and Data is discreetly absent in this crisis when Riker could need him.
Rating: 3

Force of Nature Stardate 47310.2: The Enterprise is searching for the missing medical ship Fleming in the Hekaras Corridor - the only safe route through an area filled with tetryon particles. There the Enterprise runs into a disabled Ferengi ship that doesn't respond to hails and opens fire. DaiMon Prak claims that his ship has been immobilized by a Federation buoy. The Enterprise suffers from the same effect only a few hours later. It turns out that Rabal and Serova, brother and sister from Hekaras, want to prevent all ships from engaging warp drive in the corridor, for they think warp drive causes cumulative damage to the fabric of space. Serova sacrifices herself by initiating a warp core breach on her ship, which opens a subspace rift, thereby proving that their theory is correct. The Fleming is now stuck within the rift, which the Enterprise enters by only briefly activating the warp drive, in order to beam over the crew of the medical ship. The Federation declares a general warp speed limit of Warp 5, to prevent further damage until a solution to the problem is found.

Many TNG episodes contain barely disguised comments on real-world issues from drug addiction over terrorism to homophobia. Environmental protection, however, was not taken into account until the seventh season, which is astonishing, considering that the series was conceived in the 1980s. Well, the Enterprise saved a planet from the radiation from an old freighter in "Final Mission" and cleaned up the atmosphere of another planet in "A Matter of Time". But in these cases only single planets were concerned, whose inhabitants were not to blame, and so it was just about disaster relief; no discussion on if and how to protect the environment was necessary. We may assume anyway that waste disposal, water pollution and global warming are non-issues in the 24th century, and only external influences can lead to planetary pollution. But speaking of external influences, in TNG: "The Chase" it was even deemed more or less acceptable that Klingons wiped out all lifeforms on a planet (at least it didn't entail any consequences), with the convenient excuse that there was no intelligent life. In order to finally take care of present-day environmental topics in the series it was obviously deemed necessary to do it in the context on a still bigger than a planet-wide problem. 
I like how the issue of the subspace damage is dealt with in "Force of Nature". It is something that concerns the Federation and ultimately all spacefaring civilizations, who will have to work together on it in some fashion. It is a problem caused by side effects of the warp drive, a technology of fundamental importance that was always used in good faith that it was harmless, which makes it especially hard to cope with for Geordi, the engineer, and for Picard, the explorer. It is a problem that should have been recognized sooner but that was not taken seriously, perhaps also because many in the Federation Science Council felt like Geordi and Picard and just didn't want to believe in what the Hekarans said. The episode was probably made without a particular real-world analogy in mind. But we can recognize several parallels to nuclear power and to global warming (the debate about which was in its initial stage when the episode was made and can't have served as a model). 
Personally, as a fellow engineer, I can especially understand Geordi's regrets very well. He has been working with a technology all the time. He was convinced of it, and he thought he understood all of its aspects and could easily refute the concerns about possible side effects. It happens all the time in real-life engineering that we have to concede an approach was wrong. It is the harder to stop or redefine a project the later this realization comes, and many of us think of it as a personal defeat if we don't recognize possible problems in time. Regarding the Hekarans, however, I don't think that scientists, unlike activists (who are usually not so much into research), are that fanatic. It is true that many discoveries were made with ethically questionable methods, but the self-sacrifice in this episode takes the cliché one step too far, especially since it has only a brief melodramatic impact and makes way for the more pressing problem of the forming rift.
While the theme of the episode is definitely interesting, the course of the story isn't. Nothing of note happens in the first 15 minutes. They consist of nothing but mindless banter, as Data's main concern is cat education, while Geordi is preoccupied with the warp drive efficiency competition, in a sort of crude foreshadowing of the things to come. Even the small exchange of fire with the Ferengi ship comes across as rather casual. Then the two Hekarans show up and begin to annoy everyone aboard the Enterprise as well as in front of the TV screen. It is impious, but the story changes for the better after Serova's self-sacrifice, when it becomes clear that she was right after all and that there is not just an immediate but also a long-term problem with the damage to subspace.
Continuity: This episode has a lasting effect. The Warp 5 limit remains in place for some time, and is referred to again in "Pegasus" and "Eye of the Beholder". 
Remarkable quote: "You know, Geordi, I spent the better part of my life exploring space. I've charted new worlds, I've met dozens of new species. And I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves. Now it seems that all this while, I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear." (Picard)
Remarkable ship: The Hekaran ship is another reuse of the Talarian warship from TNG: "Suddenly Human". 
Rating: 4

Inheritance Stardate 47410.2: While the Enterprise is helping in reheating the cooling magma core of Atrea IV, Juliana Tainer, married to one of the participating scientists, introduces herself as Noonien Soong's ex-wife and, in a manner of speaking, Data's mother. When pressed, she tearfully admits that she was against Data's creation in the first place. She also insisted on leaving the android behind when she and Soong fled from Omicron Theta, all because of fears he could become like evil Lore. On Atrea IV her husband is injured in a plasma cave. When Data joins her there, the instability forces them to jump from a cliff and her arm is severed, confirming his guess that she is an android. When Soong's real wife died, he implanted her memory into this new body, which imitates the human functions much more perfectly than Data's, so that even Juliana herself has no idea that she is an android. Data decides not to tell Juliana about her true nature.

Data is arguably the Enterprise-D crew member who encounters the most relatives during his tenure on the ship. The various family members customarily introduce themselves to the unknowing android with words like "Data, I am your {brother, grandfather, father, mother}", thereby catering to Data's aspiration to become human. In Lal's case Data even programs her to call him "father" from the outset. It is clear that Data wants to have a family and perhaps needs one to attain his goal. But it is also obvious that the mere idea of an android having family members would not be be interesting any longer in its fifth reissue. Likewise, filling more small gaps in Data's biography along the lines "What did Noonien Soong have for lunch the day he activated Data?" would have bored the viewers. Dan Koeppel and René Echevarria were probably aware of these problems, and so they came up with a new twist. They gave Data a family member, who appears to be perfectly human, who even believes to be human - but is actually an android. Juliana Tainer combines the best of both worlds. She represents in perfection what Data has always tried hard to accomplish: to understand what it means to be human. Her character absolutely makes sense in the series, at least from a writer's standpoint.
Unfortunately the thought-provoking and new aspects of the story come about too late to save the first 30 minutes of the episode from boredom. The flow of the story is lacking. It is too episodic, too much a sequence of family history, anecdotes and mother's pride. Moreover, the tedious B-plot about using the ship to save the planet (a cookie-cutter idea already known well from "Pen Pals", "Déjà Q" and "A Matter of Time") distracts from the mother-son relationship. And the ineffective character of Pran could easily have been removed from the script altogether. Yet, I like how Data skeptically eyeballs Juliana from the beginning, as solving the puzzle about her outweighs the faith in his mother in his mindset.
With much of the time spent on trivia and on the B-plot with its inevitable dramatic climax in which the attempt to save the planet almost goes awry, the ethical implications of Juliana's nature are in the focus for only a few minutes, but I like how they are being discussed. I appreciate that the question of whether to tell Juliana (and her husband!) that she is an android or not is openly discussed and that it is up to Data to make that decision. There are probably laws in the Federation that a patient has the right to see his complete medical records. But Juliana is not ill, and in the unprecedented case of her being an android without knowing it, no one would be more qualified to decide for her than Data, the android and her "son" no less. 
Nitpicking: Noonien Soong is said to have built Juliana in a few days. Yeah right. A complete android with revolutionary and completely untested new technologies such as tear ducts, sweat glands, subdermal veins and capillaries, fake biosignals and most obviously the transfer of Julians's human brain structure into a positronic matrix.
Remarkable quote: "I lied. When I said there was no room for you in the escape pod that we took from Omicron. There was. I didn't want to bring you with us. I was afraid if we reactivated you, you'd turn out like Lore. I made Noonien leave you behind." (Juliana Tainer)
Remarkable music: Data practices for the Passacaglia in G minor for Violin and Viola on a Theme by Georg Friedrich Händel, which he eventually performs with Juliana.

Remarkable facts: Juliana says that her mother was against her marriage with Noonien Soong. "She thought that Noonien was an eccentric scientist who was too old for me. We decided to marry secretly to give her a chance to get used to our being together. We slipped away to Mavala IV and got married there. A Klingon and a Corvallan trader were our witnesses." How romantic! -- According to Juliana, Soong had to add a modesty subroutine to Data's program so he wouldn't run around naked. 
Rating: 5

Parallels Stardate 47391.2: After returning from a victorious bat'leth competition, Worf notices that reality changes from one moment to another, beginning with the color of his birthday cake. The changes become more severe, and at some point he is not able to return fire during a Cardassian attack because the console configuration suddenly becomes unfamiliar - causing Geordi's death. Also, he is now married to Deanna. After another leap he is the ship's first officer under Captain Riker. The only constant is that Geordi was always close to Worf when he slipped into another reality. Data finds out that Worf's quantum flux is out of sync with the rest of the universe, and the VISOR's subspace pulse triggers his transition from one quantum universe to another. Wesley discovers a subspace fissure where countless of these universes intersect and which widens after an attack by the powerful Bajorans of this universe, so that thousands of Enterprises from different universes keep popping up. Finally the correct Enterprise for Worf to return to is found. But as Worf is on his way, he is attacked by an Enterprise that wants to prevent his return because in their reality they are among the last survivors of a successful Borg attack. Captain Riker orders to fire at them, and the weakened ship explodes. The rift is finally sealed when Worf reaches his own universe, and he also travels back in time just prior to his birthday surprise party. The surprise is that there is no party in his universe, but just a visit by Troi who has a present for him.

Up to this point, the seventh season has been rather disappointing. The authors came up with emotional stories and worked well with the characters. But they ran out of ideas. There is almost nothing in the seventh season so far that we haven't seen before, and usually better. I also think the producers were reluctant to admit further "temporal anomaly", "alternate reality" and other "what if?" scenarios, of which the sixth season had quite a few very successful ones. Fortunately they decided to do "Parallels" in spite of these concerns. And it was prepared very carefully. Brannon Braga notes that he didn't want to have Tasha in the parallel reality because it would be too reminiscent of "Yesterday's Enterprise". And he did not hint at a possible mental illness of Worf in order to avoid similarities with Riker's experience in "Frame of Mind". 
I know "Parallels" doesn't show up in most fans' lists of favorite episodes, probably because they feel let down if the events of an episode have no impact on "our" characters and "our" universe. And perhaps because they dislike the idea of a Worf-Troi relationship (just like Jonathan Frakes who tends to be very vocal in this regard). While I can understand these points, I think the fascinating plot idea, the skillful development of the story, the plethora of details and the almost flawless execution and fine acting make "Parallels" a highlight of TNG. It is among the very best Star Trek episodes in my view.
Regarding the Worf-Troi thing, I admit it comes out of the blue. Alternate Troi says that the relationship has its seeds in the events of "Ethics" (when Troi promised to take care of Alexander in case Worf didn't survive his spinal surgery). But as Worf objects, "Deanna, I have always considered you a close friend. And although I have never seriously considered a romantic relationship, I would not be opposed to the possibility." I tend to agree with Worf, that it's not very realistic for the two to fall in love with one another. But who knows what may happen in a parallel reality. Much stranger things have happened and ironically do happen in the very same episode, so I find it rather unfair to focus the criticism on just one aspect or even put down the complete episode because of it.
Here is a short summary of the changes from our reality (#0) that Worf experiences:
Reality #1: Geordi joins Worf's birthday party. The interior of the cake has changed from chocolate to yellow. Captain Picard is on the party, although Worf remembers him calling from the bridge. 
Reality #2: After reviewing the sensor logs of the Cardassian ship near the Argus Array, Geordi and Data switch their positions on the "pool table" in engineering, and Picard disappears. Worf doesn't remember coming to sickbay earlier on the same day, and Dr. Crusher suspects that he may suffer from memory loss. Back in his quarters, Worf discovers that he has lost a bat'leth match in the competition and finished in ninth instead of first place. Worf is not aware that he was supposed to perform a metallurgical scan of the Argus Array, and he surprises Picard with the statement that a Cardassian vessel tampered with the Array, for which there is no evidence in this reality.
Reality #3: Geordi enters Worf's quarters, and the painting that Data gave to him moves to another wall.
Reality #4: With Geordi still in Worf's quarters, another painting (of a Vor'cha cruiser) appears, and Troi now wears a standard uniform instead of a dress.
Reality #5: Worf now finds himself on the bridge, whose appearance has changed noticeably. The Cardassians attack, but Worf can't raise the shields because the console is configured differently than he knows it. The ship takes damage and has to retreat, whereupon the Cardassians destroy the Argus Array. Back in his quarters, Worf discovers that he was not even able to take part in the bat'leth competition in this reality. Troi enters, and it turns out that he is married to her. Data has blue eyes in this reality. Dr. Ogawa tells Data and Worf that Geordi has died because of the injuries in the Cardassian attack. 
Reality #6: As Geordi's VISOR is reactivated, Worf jumps into yet another reality. He is now the ship's first officer. Ogawa is only a nurse (again). The ship is commanded by Captain Riker (who keeps a trombone in his ready room). Captain Picard died in the Borg attack. The bridge now sports a large transparent display, and among the crew is Lieutenant Wesley Crusher, as well as a Cardassian crew member. Worf is still married to Troi, and they now have two children, whereas Alexander doesn't exist. The Bajorans have overpowered the Cardassian Empire in this reality, and it was them who destroyed the Argus Array. After an attack of the Bajorans, fissures open to other quantum realities, and as the other ships are contacted, we can see the bridge of "our" Enterprise on the viewscreen, as well as that of a battered Enterprise that is running from the Borg.
Back in reality #0: Worf keeps his memories from the other quantum realities. Prior to his arrival, he informs the Enterprise of his discovery. This time there is no surprise party (this is the original reality, but it may already have changed after Worf has gone back in time). 
Continuity: We can see the Argus Array from TNG: "The Nth Degree".
Remarkable editing error: When Worf unwraps Data's gift, a painting, he is holding it in a way that the green portion is on top (upside down). The next shot shows his face, and he says, "Ah. A painting." Then we see how he continues to unwrap the painting. He turns it round, so the sky is on top (upside up). The next shot is the reverse angle again, and we see how Troi takes it and demonstratively turns it round. It should be upside down again. However, in the close-up of Troi as she is hanging up the painting, it is upside up though. Most likely the cut to Worf continuing to unwrap the painting and turning it the right way shouldn't have been in there.
Remarkable dialogue: [Everyone sings "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in Klingon] "That was not a Klingon song." - "It wasn't easy to translate. There doesn't seem to be a Klingon word for 'jolly'." (Worf and Dr. Crusher)
Remarkable quotes: "Captain, we're receiving 285,000 hails." (Wesley Crusher), "I know Klingons like to be alone on their birthdays. I'm sure you have to meditate, or hit yourself with a painstik or something." (Deanna Troi)
Remarkable scenes: When Deanna walks straight into Worf's bedroom, Worf cautiously looks around the corner. His facial expression as Deanna begins with a massage is priceless! -- As the quantum incursions ensue, Enterprises keep popping up in the region of space all the time. -- One Enterprise fires on Worf's shuttle that is supposed to fix the quantum realities. A Commander Riker with a messy beard appears on screen and says that he doesn't want to go back to his universe, because the Borg are everywhere.
Remarkable consequences: Roberto Orci cites the concept of quantum realities show in this episode or, in more general terms, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, as the rationale why the timeline change in "Star Trek (2009)" takes place in a parallel universe, rather than in a parallel timeline that replaces the existing one.
Rating: 10

The Pegasus Stardate 47457.1: Admiral Erik Pressman leads the Enterprise on a mission to recover the USS Pegasus which he and Riker, at that time one of his junior officers, had to abandon years ago. He doesn't tell Picard the whole story, and he demands that Riker be silent about the events on the Pegasus. Actually, Pressman was testing a phase cloaking device, illegal according to the Treaty of Algeron, the crew mutinied, and the few crew members loyal to their captain had to leave the ship. When they discover traces of the ship inside an asteroid, Pressman orders the Enterprise to enter a narrow rift leading into the interior where they find the Pegasus, partially submerged in the solid rock. Obviously the phase cloak suddenly failed. Aboard the Pegasus Pressman and Riker are going to salvage the cloaking device, but a Romulan warbird has sealed the entry to the asteroid, leaving the Enterprise trapped. Riker reveals Pressman's secret, and the phase cloaking is installed on the Enterprise, so that the ship can pass through the solid rock. In open space Picard orders the cloak to be deactivated, because he wants to make Pressman's violation of the treaty public.

Military organizations are built on obedience and loyalty, but they can't work on long term if commanders misuse their power for self-serving, illegal or inhumane purposes and thereby jeopardize the trust of their subordinates. Well, Admiral Pressman may not quite fit the cliché of a "mad admiral" at first glance. He comes across as unsympathetic only because of his dominant posture and way of talking - and because we see Riker's reserved reaction to his appearance. We are likely to sympathize with Riker's judgment whatever may have happened on their common previous posting on the Pegasus, and so it is just a feeling that something is wrong about Pressman at this point of the story (rather than something being wrong with Riker).
Yet, it becomes clear quite soon and maybe too soon that Pressman is obsessed with finding his old ship. He barely manages to hide his personal ambitions behind his orders from Starfleet Command not to let the ship fall into Romulan hands. When Pressman objects to Riker's totally reasonable suggestion to destroy the asteroid together with the Pegasus and briefly later orders the Enterprise to fly into the asteroid instead, it is clear beyond doubt that Pressman is not being rational at all. Had I been in Picard's place, I would have deposed Pressman the very moment he ordered the insane stunt with his ship. But Picard hesitates a bit like already in the first season episode "Too Short a Season". He needs real proof that his superior officer violates laws or fundamental regulations, and apparently jeopardizing Starfleet's flagship with all hands just to salvage an older and much smaller ship isn't a major offense. Anyway, regarding Picard's conflict with Pressman, it is quite foreseeable that Pressman would readily serve Picard the reason to relieve him of command, since Pressman is keen on getting his hands on whatever is on the Pegasus, too keen to be ready for the necessary compromises. 
Unlike it actually happens, I still would have hoped for Pressman to admit his mistake before Riker ultimately blows the whistle, and to aid in the rescue of the Enterprise. Yet, he is obstinate until the end, even though it should be clear to him that it is his second total failure to secretly test the illegal cloaking device and to convince his people of its usefulness. The only thing that slightly redeems Pressman is that he objects to the one-sided nature of the Treaty of Algeron. Why would the Federation oblige itself not to use cloaking devices, thereby giving the Romulans an enormous tactical advantage apparently without receiving anything in return? History shows that peace is not for sale, and that treaties to preserve the peace only work if it obliges both sides to something. Well, perhaps there are clauses in the Treaty of Algeron that we don't know of and that the Federation may profit from.
Riker finds himself in a similar situation as Wesley Crusher in "The First Duty". He is covering up an offense because of a feeling of loyalty just like Wesley. Well, Riker is an experienced officer unlike Cadet Crusher. But when Riker made his error of supporting Pressman in the first place, he probably wasn't much older and perhaps just as inexperienced. Riker obeyed Pressman's orders, not only because he learned it at the Academy but also because he had faith in his captain. Pressman, on the other hand, doesn't like Riker, and probably never did. He is merely glad that the young officer was there to support him, and that he remained silent about his captain's fault. A useful idiot. Another parallel is that Picard finds out the truth about the mutiny on the Pegasus before Riker tells him about it, just like Wesley didn't admit his mistake in time in "The First Duty". And just like Wesley nevertheless gets a second chance on the Academy, Riker takes the chance to free the Enterprise from the asteroid against Pressman's increasingly irrational attitude to save the cloaking device, rather than the people on the Enterprise.
I used to have mixed feelings about Picard revealing the cloaking device to the Romulans when I watched it many years ago, as I thought that he unnecessarily weakened the position of the Federation. I think I understand him better today. The first thing to keep in mind is that the Romulans most likely were aware of what they were looking for on the Pegasus. The disappearance of the Enterprise would have confirmed that, even if hard proof was missing. The Romulans would have silently assumed that the Federation was building phase cloaks, perhaps on a large scale, and they may have taken unwise actions against it. The second point to consider is that Picard forces his own superiors to deal with the existence of the phase cloaking device, instead of continuing to deny its existence, in which case Pressman or another officer may have tried to use it yet again. Pressman's actions were covered up when he lost the Pegasus, and it may happen any time again.
Overall, this is a solid spy story with a moral lesson and with very personal involvement of Will Riker, a good episode on all accounts but not a perfect one.
Nitpicking: Why is the old prototype on the Pegasus so precious? Wasn't it possible in all those years to build a second one? -- The cloaking device works on the Enterprise with minor modifications. While this is great continuity with (and perhaps a nod to) TOS: "The Enterprise Incident", it isn't plausible at all that the cloaking is a compact device, that it works on a much bigger ship just as well, and that it works flawlessly without testing.
Continuity: The warp speed limit from "Force of Nature" is mentioned, and the Enterprise is allowed to exceed it on this mission.
Remarkable dialogue #1: [It's Captain Picard Day!] "Why does it have to be me?" - "Because you're the captain, and they look up to you. You're a role model for them." - "Well, they seem to have a somewhat exaggerated impression of me." - [Riker takes a doll and imitates Picard] "I don't know. I think the resemblance is rather striking. Wouldn't you agree, Number One?" - "Isn't there something else you have to do?" - [Riker begins to walk out with the doll] "I'll be on the Bridge." (Picard, Troi, Riker)
Remarkable dialogue #2: "Oh, you'll be interested to know that I've arranged for a Commander Riker Day next month. I'm even considering making an entry myself." - "Great." (Picard and Riker)
Remarkable dialogue #2: "But your unannounced appearance might have unfortunate consequences. It would be an awful shame if your ship were damaged due to some misunderstanding." - "I am touched by your concern for my ship, but I doubt we were ever in any danger. May I ask what you are doing in this system?" - "I might ask you the same question." - "We are conducting a survey of gaseous anomalies." - "How interesting. So are we. Perhaps we could combine our efforts and share our findings." (Picard and Sirol, the Romulan commander)
Unremarkable prequel/sequel: The Enterprise series finale "These Are The Voyages" takes place during this TNG episode for the most part.
Rating: 8

Homeward Stardate 47423.9: Nikolai Rozhenko, Worf's foster brother, has been living on the primitive planet Boraal II for some time, where he played more than just a cultural observer. When the planet's atmosphere is about to dissipate and the rest of the crew is just watching how every living being dies because the Prime Directive precludes any interference, Nikolai has created a duplicate of the caves on Boraal on the holodeck in order to save at least some of the natives. Picard and Worf are outraged, but now they have to go along with Nikolai's plan. One Boraalan, Vorin, accidentally steps out into the Enterprise, and when he can't cope with this new experience, he commits suicide. A new home for the people is found and the Boraalans are transferred there. Nikolai stays with them because one of the Boraalan women is carrying his child.

I always liked the discussion of ethical issues in TNG, although or just because the outcome was sometimes unpleasant or debatable. For example, I don't agree with the reasoning put forward in a couple of episodes, such as "Who Watches the Watchers" ("Religion is bad for the people, and we better violate the Prime Directive even more to get the idea out of their heads.") or "Suddenly Human" ("This boy only knows the violent Talarian way and has trouble accustoming to life among humans, we better send him back."). Still, I appreciate that these two stories discuss the individual problems openly instead of imposing a ready-made doctrine on us. I can't say the same about "The Neutral Zone" where Picard treats the "barbarians" from the 20th century with open contempt and about "Silicon Avatar" where a mad scientist serves as the scapegoat and destroys the oh-so-precious Crystalline Entity to everyone's horror. Very similar errors can be found in "Homeward" as well, and worse. It is not a bad episode. But now that I have seen it again after a couple of years, I can confirm my previous impression that "Homeward" is the most cynical and most hypocritical Star Trek ever produced. 
The first instance of hypocrisy is when Picard refuses to save any of the inhabitants of Boraal but rises from his seat to "honor" those who are just dying on the planet. Nikolai Rozhenko refuses to take part in this hollow ritual. He says: "I find no honor in this whatsoever, captain. You will forgive me if I don't stay." Although Nikolai just needs an excuse to leave to tend to the holodeck, I couldn't agree more with him. But why does Picard refuse to help? It is because the Boraalan civilization falls under the Prime Directive, and the non-interference with "primitive" cultures obviously implies that they should better be killed than be spoiled through a contact with the advanced Federation. In even more drastic words, it is a question of technological progress if people have a right to live or have to die. By any standard, this part of the directive is highly unethical. Picard may have taken the comfortable position that he is just following orders, but in the course of the episode he repeatedly agrees with the "spirit" of the law that it would be better for the natives to die. Ironically, in "Star Trek: Insurrection" he will passionately fight for the rights of the Ba'ku who (albeit they once had the technology) are in a similar situation.
Regarding Nikolai Rozhenko, we may say he is in part acting out of personal interests as he is married to one of the native women. Still, he is the only one to respect the natives' wish to breathe and live. He saves one tribe by secretly beaming them up. Secretly because quite obviously Picard would never have agreed. It is one of the few pleasant aspects of "Homeward" that Nikolai appears as an overall positive character and that in the end nearly everyone can be content with what he has achieved for his new-found people. Yet, his demeanor is being criticized by the crew as reckless. Considering that he may have even been punished for saving a civilization, he ends up as an pariah -- he is let down even though it is his intention to stay with his people anyway. The hypocrisy is obvious when Picard and virtually everyone else explicitly blames Nikolai for the inconvenience he has caused -- even rather than for committing an offense. Well, I can understand Picard to some extent when he says to Worf, "Keep a close eye on your brother. I don't want him making this situation worse than it is." In a similar vein, Worf tells his brother, "You have not changed. You still expect people to solve the problems you create." Yes, Nikolai causes trouble, but he does it for a greater good, while Picard and Worf's simple position is that what they are doing is legal - and additionally they wouldn't have to care for the survivors if it were not for Nikolai.
Picard and his crew ultimately support Nikolai and his people - but only because they have no other choice. And not without further objections and reproaches. Picard is skeptical: "What if it doesn't work? What if they become aware that something strange is going on?" He makes it sound as if this were worse than letting those people die. Crusher states: "It's just that the enormity of what we're doing is overwhelming. We are deciding the future of a species." She says this is as if the death of millions of people on their planet had not been an enormity. But it is Picard who takes the cake (unsurprisingly in this episode), when he suddenly speaks of "our success" and says that he is glad that he saved the Boraalans and that "our plan for them worked out well." Wow. It was Picard's firm stance that all Boraalans should die on their planet for the sake of the Prime Directive, and now he demands credit for saving them!
But the worst part of the episode is still to come. One member of the tribe, Vorin, finds the exit of the holodeck where Nikolai has created a natural environment for them. The confrontation with the miracles of the starship comes like a shock to him. Well, I have to concede that Picard is kind to Vorin, unlike he treated the "cavemen" in "The Neutral Zone". Yet, when Vorin is given the choice to stay or to return to his people and reveal nothing about the world outside, he commits suicide. What does this insidious twist tell us? That the Prime Directive is there for a good reason. To save "primitive" people from civilization, as the shock would destroy them anyway. So better let them die the natural way than make them unnecessarily suffer. Notwithstanding the "success" of saving a few of the people that Picard has to concede, this cynical reasoning serves to confirm Picard's original stance and ultimately disprove Nikolai.
On another note about Nikolai, I like how Paul Sorvino plays him as a surprisingly restrained and decent character, rather than someone who is notorious for causing trouble. Still, I neither find Nikolai nor his interaction with Worf very interesting (yet another family member, this is becoming the second "Season of the Family"). It is symptomatic that Worf introduces Nikolai, saying that his brother didn't follow the rules and left the Academy, which comes across as unfavorable. In the previous episode the case of insubordination mentioned in Riker's personal record was cited by Picard as the reason why he chose him as his first officer. While it's a different case with different circumstances, a very similar casual notice serves the opposite purpose here.
On a final positive note, I really like the very intelligent use of the holodeck in "Homeward". 
Nitpicking: Picard says that Nikolai can't return to the planet but offers him to "upload" his data from the planet, and a bit later Nikolai speaks of an "uplink" to the ship. But that should be "download" and "downlink" (even though the data goes up into space). 
Remarkable dialogue: "I wasn't going to let those people die just because your captain started quoting Federation dogma to me." - "Your duty was to respect the Captain's orders and to uphold the Prime Directive." - "Duty. That's all that really matters to you, isn't it? Well, I refuse to be bound by an abstraction. The lives of the people of Boraal are far more important to me. You worry too much, Worf. You always did. Everything will work out." (Nikolai and Worf)
Remarkable fun dialogue: [The hologrid lines become visible in a pool.] "Do not worry. It is an omen." - "What does it mean?" - "It is the sign of... La Forge. It is a message to travelers. It is said when these lines appear and disappear in a pool of water, the road ahead will be filled with good fortune." (Worf and Dobara)
Rating: 2

Sub Rosa Stardate 47500.0: Following her grandmother Felisa Howard's funeral on Caldos IV, Dr. Crusher finds diaries revealing that the old woman had a young lover named Ronin. Ned Quint, a friend of her grandmother, warns Beverly of Ronin and of a candle she inherited from Felisa, but she doesn't give his words credence. Then Ronin appears in person, a lifeform that can't keep its corporeal form for long. Ronin gives Beverly odd sensations of pleasure. The Enterprise aids the colony in repairs of the weather control net, which is experiencing unexplained malfunctions. In an attempt to tamper with the system, Quint is killed. Beverly finds residual anaphasic energy in his body. Although it is clear that Ronin has to be responsible for his death, Beverly decides to stay with him and to resign from Starfleet. Picard comes to talk Beverly out of the idea, but he gets disabled by Ronin just like Data and Geordi, who are investigating Felisa Howard's grave. Ronin finally even reanimates her grandmother's body. Beverly has to kill Ronin, who is actually an anaphasic lifeform. He appears to have romanced her family's women for centuries and who used the candle as a receptacle.

This episode may give us the impression that the writers have forgotten that TNG is a science fiction series. "Sub Rosa" has little Star Trek in it but very much of a gothic novel. Notwithstanding the extremely lame idea to come up with yet another relative of a crew member in this second "Season of the Family", the idea of a secret in the Howard family that is passed on through the centuries doesn't have to be bad. It only should have been presented appropriately. But the story just takes too much pleasure in exploiting all the common stereotypes about ghosts, mysterious buildings, haunted objects and frightening thunderstorms that should be totally anachronistic in the 24th century and already are today. Moreover, the episode is gratuitously set on a planet that is modeled after old Scotland. I wouldn't mind the clichés about Scotland that are worked into the episode (even caber tossing is mentioned), with only the token alien character Maturin and the usually invisible weather control net reminding us that this is not god old Scotland but a different planet in the 24th century. However, together with the lame horror motifs and the romantic transfiguration of Beverly's experience it is way too much to be credible, perhaps too much to be even endurable. And as if the accumulation of unsuited story clichés were not yet enough, in the climax of bad taste Ronin resurrects Felisa Howard's body from her grave! Like in a cheap horror flick. This may be easily the most appalling scene in Star Trek's history so far.
Apparently in an attempt to throw in at least a little bit of science fiction, the writers incorporated well-known tropes, such as yet another series of odd malfunctions on the ship and yet another energy lifeform responsible for that (a bit like "Redjac" in TOS: "Wolf in the Fold"). The revelation that everything is the work of an "anaphasic lifeform" is only the Trek equivalent of something that would have gone unexplained, i.e. simply called a "ghost" in fantasy or mystery shows. I only like that we get some insight into the weather control net, a system that was mentioned in TNG: "True Q" to exist on Earth.
Most of all Beverly's weakness is frustrating in this episode because it is so out of character. Comparing this Beverly to the self-confident woman of earlier seasons or the courageous one that solved the case in TNG: "Suspicions", it is like we are dealing with two different individuals. And regardless of the alien influence on her that may excuse her unusual behavior, it does a disservice to Beverly's character. I think it is latent sexism that women in Star Trek, at least occasionally, are shown as if only the right guy needed to come along (preferably an alien or otherwise superhuman macho), and after a few days they would abandon their career and all of their principles. As Picard puts it, "Beverly is not that spontaneous", but this doesn't make it more plausible. It looks like she has made a conscious decision, that she is apparently willing to remain under Ronin's influence. Picard contributes at least a few redeeming qualities in the form of a good deal of common sense. An interesting aspect is how openly Beverly and Deanna talk about the sexual part of her relationship with Ronin. Well, but I find it is quite an indiscretion when Deanna tells Picard of Beverly's affair with Ronin before she even suspects that he may be in any form dangerous.
Continuity: The malfunctions are transferred to the Enterprise via a feedback loop in the energy transfer beam. The writers were obviously fond of this idea and reused it in a couple of Voyager episodes.
Nitpicking: Ronin says that already the first ancestor of Beverly he met 800 years ago was named Howard. So did all the women of Beverly's family in up to thirty generations keep their last name? Even if the chance for women with children (they don't need to be married after all) keeping their last names had been as high as 50% for each generation across the centuries, the probability would be 1 in a billion! Moreover, Beverly would have been the very first to break with this tradition. -- It doesn't look like anyone bothers to check Ronin's records (or rather, to check whether any records exist) when it becomes clear that something is wrong with him.
Remarkable quote: "We've been having a few tremors over the past couple of months. Could you check the seismic stabilizers? You can't imagine what it's like trying to enjoy afternoon tea while the earth is shaking." (Maturin, to Data)
Background information: The story of "Sub Rosa" was submitted by freelance writer Jeanna F. Gallo, later adapted by Jeri Taylor and developed to a screenplay by Brannon Braga. The similarities of "Sub Rosa" to The Witching Hour by Anne Rice are said to be coincidental, and Jeanna F. Gallo is a real person, not a pseudonym for Anne Rice.
Remarkable facts: Dr. Selar (who only appeared in person in "The Schizoid Man") is still on the ship. -- The weather control station on Caldos has a late 23rd century computer interface (such as in "Star Trek VI").
Remarkable in-joke: One of the graves has the inscription "McFly", another one "Vader"
Rating: 1

Lower Decks Stardate 47566.7: Four young Enterprise ensigns, Nurse Ogawa, Taurik, Sito Jaxa and Sam Lavelle, are expecting their promotions. It seems that Lavelle and Sito are both up for the same job as ops relief. Sito, who was involved in the accident in Wesley's squadron at Starfleet Academy, receives a severe lecture by Picard and a strange lesson in self-defense by Worf, while Nurse Ogawa has to deal with an injured Cardassian in sickbay and Ensign Taurik is to shoot at a shuttle with a phaser rifle. The reason is that Sito is going on an undercover mission where she is to disguise as the Cardassian's prisoner, to infiltrate the Cardassian Union. The mission fails, and Sito is probably killed. Lavelle's promotion at this cost leaves a bad feeling in him, but the remaining friends and Worf keep bolstering and comforting each other.

Star Trek's stories are routinely told from the perspective of one or more of the principal cast, who coincide with the senior officers of the ship. We see them make decisions, solve problems and sometimes go on dangerous missions. It often seems like the junior officers and the crewmen were doing nothing more than occasionally push a button or hold a phaser. It is clear that this impression has to be wrong. But in most episodes the junior staff appears only in the form of extras. Well, on a cynical note they are briefly in the focus when they are killed (fortunately far less frequently in TNG than in TOS) and they are commemorated in some fashion if they are lucky, like Marla Aster in "The Bonding". There are exceptions, such as notably Reginald Barclay and Ro Laren who have recurring roles and even stories centered on them, but even in "their" episodes we see everything mainly from their superiors' perspective.
"Lower Decks" is a departure from the usual way stories are written for TNG. Not only does the story focus on the four junior officers and the way to their promotion, it also shows the events mainly from their perspective. Well, it would have been even more powerful if this had been done still more consequentially, for instance if it had not been revealed to the viewers that an injured Cardassian was beamed into sickbay after Dr. Crusher had Nurse Ogawa ordered to leave. Anyway, this story works very well. I think it was necessary to wait so long to perform this switch of perspective and give the junior crew due credit, because the principal cast has to be very well introduced before their roles can be cut in favor of other, minor characters. Speaking of these characters, I think it was a good idea to include Nurse Ogawa. She was present very often, but we have never heard much from her. As far as I remember, her most active roles were in "Suspicions" when she helped Dr. Crusher with the (illegal) autopsy and recently as "Dr. Ogawa" in "Parallels". So we don't really know more of her than that she is loyal and that she is likely good in her job. But she is a familiar character that helps the viewers identify themselves with the young officers on the whole.
Sito Jaxa is the other familiar face, and while her story may be a bit too reminiscent of that of Ro Laren (the other Bajoran whom Picard gives a second chance on the ship), she has sort of a personal history with Picard since she and Wesley were among the cadets who covered up the accident in "The First Duty". I don't fully understand why Picard tests Sito's character by putting her down. It is a psycho test that has little to do with her actual mission, considering that the Cardassians will hardly react well to complaints about unfair treatment. Yet, I like how Worf manages better to teach her the lesson, with his made up "gik'tal" ritual in which the blindfolded Sito is supposed to defend herself against Worf but ultimately to notice that this isn't fair at all.
Well, it may have been desirable to see the two other other junior officers, Lavelle (who serves under Commander Riker) and Taurik (who works in engineering under Geordi's auspices), in an previous episode. But the two characters are worked out nicely and quite efficiently in "Lower Decks". Taurik is a perhaps unusually enthusiastic Vulcan. He wants to accomplish more on the technical side than Geordi as his superior officer is able and willing to take care of. I neither think that Geordi is afraid that Taurik may outperform him nor that he mistrusts the calculations of the Vulcan. Rather than that, Geordi has the responsibility for all things engineering on the ship, and as tempting it may be for an engineer to increase the engine efficiency by 7%, it has to be verified thoroughly and all variables have to be taken into account. As someone who is in a somewhat similar position as Geordi, I know young engineers of Taurik's kind and value their input very much, but the running projects do not allow to pursue all possible innovations. Lavelle, on the other hand, feels that he receives too little recognition from Commander Riker, and so he tries to ingratiate himself. The scene in which Lavelle starts a conversation with Riker (with the false information that Riker is Canadian) demonstrates that it is a self-sustaining process. Lavelle thinks that Will Riker doesn't like him perhaps only because he himself evokes situations involving his superior officer that become embarrassing for him. And even more interestingly, it becomes clear that Lavelle and Riker are a lot alike, which I think is recognizable even before it is made blindingly obvious in the power game where Lavelle acts just like Riker. Overall, the young officers are introduced very well, and they are well integrated into the bigger story, especially since everyone knows only a bit of the puzzle until the end, which is only realistic. 
Well, that leaves Ben, the waiter, who is not an officer at all and who apparently has more freedom on the ship. He calls Will Riker by his first name and doesn't mind joining the senior officers' poker game, which would be inappropriate for junior officers. His freedom apparently seems to include the right to plant rumors (Riker is Canadian, and the one who was saved from Cardassian space may be Ambassador Spock). But notwithstanding the comic relief, I like how he persuades Worf to join the junior officers in their mourning of Sito Jaxa. He manages to remove the barrier between the ranks at a time when everyone can need it but would not dare to ask. It is certainly a very sad outcome that Sito gets killed, but as it is shown how everyone deals with it (including Picard with his shipwide announcement) it gains at least a bittersweet flavor.
Nitpicking: Would Troi and Riker really go to Ten Forward for their crew evaluation, while the junior officers are sitting just a few meters apart? I doubt it. -- In the vastness of space, the position of the escape pod "50000 kilometers in Cardassian space" is about the equivalent to something being "1 micrometer behind the Chinese border". Well, the unrealistic precision of the measurement was required to allow the Cardassian to be beamed out while the ship was hardly in transporter range (usually 40000km). -- I would expect at least basic safety measures as Taurik is firing on the shuttle hull, but Geordi is standing only one or two meters from the impact. -- A Type-6 shuttle has an escape pod?!
Continuity: Sito Jaxa's make-up was changed (just like Ro Laren's) to comply with the new standard established for Bajorans after the launch of DS9. 
Remarkable sad announcement: "To all Starfleet personnel, this is the captain. It is my sad duty to inform you that a member of the crew, Ensign Sito Jaxa, has been lost in the line of duty. She was the finest example of a Starfleet officer, and a young woman of remarkable courage and strength of character. Her loss will be deeply felt by all who knew her. Picard out." 
Remarkable scene: During the senior officers' poker game, Troi remarks that Riker and Lavelle are a lot alike, which Riker immediately denies. Geordi says (to Riker): "You're bluffing." Cut to the junior officers' game, where Lavelle is bluffing too, with a wider Riker smile. Ingenious!
Remarkable appearance: Alexander Enberg, who plays Ensign Taurik, will reappear as another Vulcan engineer, Vorik, on Star Trek Voyager.
Rating: 8

Thine Own Self Stardate 47611.2: Data is on a mission to retrieve radioactive debris from a downed probe on the pre-industrial planet Barkon IV. But he suddenly shows up in a village on the planet, and he appears to have lost his memory. Data befriends Garvin, his daughter Gia and the teacher Talur. But he unwittingly spreads radioactive metal fragments of the probe throughout the village. When more and more of the villagers are showing signs of radiation sickness, they put the blame on the strange looking man. They finally lynch and bury Data, but the Enterprise manages to locate and salvage him. In the meantime, on the Enterprise, Deanna has passed the last exam for her promotion to commander, the subject of which was to be able to condemn one crew member to death in order to save the ship.

We have seen most aspects of the Data story in "Thine Own Self" before. Data befriends a girl from a pre-warp civilization like in "Pen Pals". The inhabitants of a planet are proud to have left behind the age of superstition, but the appearance of a Starfleet officer challenges their beliefs, as already in "Who Watches the Watchers". Data is on his own, and he has to deal with stubborn villagers, receiving support from a scientifically minded woman just like in "The Ensigns of Command". So the plot is not very original and the Barkonians on the whole and the single characters in particular are too reminiscent of previously shown pre-warp civilizations.
Still, the episode has grown on me. In some way it makes up for the missed opportunity to show more of the effects of a memory loss on Data in TNG: "Conundrum", where his role turned out rather humorous when he thought for some time he was the bartender. The most interesting aspect in "Thine Own Self" is how Data continues to be the friendly android despite his amnesia. Yet, Data is visibly uncertain. And he is shocked (or at least confused) when the villagers hurt him and he suddenly becomes aware that he is not an "iceman", not a living being at all but some kind of "thing". Kudos to Brent Spiner who adds more facets to Data's character here (although Data will remember nothing of it in the end). And although their roles are a bit clichéd, I like Data's interaction with the Barkonians, especially when Garvin first meets Data, and when Data discusses the nature of materials with Talur.
The plot thread about Deanna Troi's bridge officer exam doesn't work so well. The probably best aspect is the continuity with "Disaster". Deanna explicitly mentions the events from that episode, when she didn't have an idea of how to command the ship, as her motivation to take the bridge officer test. Yet, the exam overall comes across as rather effortless, considering that we only see how Deanna has to struggle with one aspect of the engineering test. In this regard it doesn't sit well with me how she complains about Riker not telling her what she did wrong. On the other hand, Riker could have mentioned that finding out what was wrong is just the nature of the test. And Deanna could have recognized that earlier, considering that Starfleet seems to be fond of character tests, such as the Kobayashi Maru scenario, or the "psycho test" in "Coming of Age".
One more thing to note is that Captain Picard appears only briefly at the very end of the episode. I would have expected him to play a role in Deanna's promotion. I would also have expected everyone to be a bit more concerned about what has happened to Data on his away mission. And I would have expected Beverly to have a bit more trouble reviving Data. Overall, I have the impression that I have missed a couple of things that must have happened on the ship. The episode could have been more coherent, had its focus been entirely on Data's mission, without the "bridge officer test" plot.
Nitpicking: Data's amnesia is quite selective. He has retained a little more knowledge about science than the Barkonians, just enough to forget that he is an android and was on a starship on one hand, but to lecture the Barkonians on science and build some scientific instruments on the other hand. Data knows about materials such as wood or metal. However, he can't tell what is special about the metal he brought to the village. He corrects Talur when she explains that everything is made of rock, fire, sky and water, saying that wood is made of complex compounds, none of which is fire. While he evidently knows about organic chemistry, he has no idea of radioactivity. And most remarkably, Data isn't even aware of the meaning of the word "radicoactive" on the container he is carrying, although he otherwise has not lost any of his linguistic skills and the etymology of the word is obvious. -- It is a stretch that Data could discover the phenomenon of radioactivity and develop an efficient cure for radiation poisoning with the little bit of primitive lab equipment that is available. -- When Data pours the medicine into the well, why doesn't anyone of the many bystanders suspect he is poisoning the village's water? -- It is hardly realistic that an exam for promotion to the rank of commander and/or bridge officer consists of just a few tests that can be taken any time, in a matter of a few days and as often as required to pass them.
Continuity: Will Riker gave his trombone to Thomas Riker in "Second Chances". He obviously reconsidered his decision and got a new one.
Remarkable quotes: "Congratulations. You just destroyed the Enterprise." (Riker, to Troi), "I believe you are reasoning by analogy, classifying objects and phenomena according to superficial observation rather than empirical evidence. Wood, for example, does not contain fire simply because it is combustible, nor does it contain rock simply because it is heavy. Wood, like any complex organic form, is composed of thousands of different chemical compounds, none of which is fire." (Data, to Talur)
Remarkable scene: When Deanna comes to Will's quarters to discuss her bridge officer test, Will is practicing the trombone. He answers to Deanna's questions with Trombone sounds.
Remarkable set: The village set will be re-used in some future episodes.
Remarkable fact: Deanna Troi is promoted to commander.
Rating: 6

Masks Stardate 47615.2: A comet discovered by the Enterprise is found to be the archive of the ancient D'Arsay civilization. Soon parts of the starship are being converted to artifacts of this culture. The program also targets Data and makes him impersonate different iconic characters. Eventually, Picard and the others deduce that Masaka, the most feared character, and her pursuer, Korgano, share a cycle much like Earth's sun and moon. With time running out and direct override impossible, Geordi finally locates the archive's transformational program just in time for Picard to pose as Korgano and "chase" Masaka off her temple throne. Once Masaka is subdued, both the ship and Data return to normal, without the whole society of characters that were within him.

"Masks" is quite obviously an attempt to give Data even more character development, while Picard can have even more fun with archeology. But the episode fails on both accounts. 
Already the teaser is a big bummer. So Data joins a children's class where Troi wants him to sculpt something with clay. After working with him for almost seven years Troi apparently still expects Data to do something out of an emotion or intuition. She should know better that Data's creativity is limited by his programming, and that he does not have this ability, at least not in his conscious mind. When Data forms a realistic PADD with clay, Troi tells him he should go for something abstract, as if this was his problem. But Data has evidently created abstract works of art before. The worst about the teaser is that it is extremely contrived in light of the story that will unfold. Data can be seen sculpting something with clay for the first time, in an episode that will be all about sculpted artifacts, and in which the very mask he sculpted will play a decisive role!
After the first artifacts begin to pop up on the ship the story becomes so absurd that I don't know where to start. Data gets transformed into various personalities from the ancient culture, in what Troi calls the "android equivalent of multiple personalities". He speaks in riddles, with exaggerated gestures and pitches of his voice. It becomes annoying even though I have to admit Brent Spiner still makies the best of it.
As already mentioned, Picard is supposed to have fun in this story. But he seems to get so much fun from the ancient symbols and artifacts that he cares rather little about his ship and his people that are in extreme danger. His attempts to save the ship that is gradually being destroyed are unhurried and half-hearted. At times it seems to be more important to him to solve the apparent puzzle. He doesn't ask himself whether the random stuff generated by the archive are parts of a puzzle at all, and whether solving this puzzle would be helpful. The crew, and especially Picard, are clearly too much bent on playing "Masaka's" game by the rules. Troi remarks, "The question is, can we trust a personality from an alien archive [Ihat] that seems bent on taking us over?" Picard responds, "Ihat risked his life to show me that symbol, and Masaka killed him for doing it. I think we have to risk it." He takes the statements made by the fictional characters created by the archive at face value. This is a bit like someone in our time who believes that TV is real. In the silly climax of the episode Picard puts on a mask, in the hope that Data aka Masaka will recognize him as Korgano!
Star Trek is fond of the idea that ancient civilizations not only leave random ruins, other artifacts or messages but create something for the crew to chew on, who have to decrypt, relive or re-enact past events. But after two immensely successful stories of this kind, namely "The Inner Light" and "The Chase", there was already one that failed, namely DS9: "Dramatis Personae". "Masks" is an even bigger failure.
Nitpicking: Deanna Troi says, "And like the sun and the moon, only one of them can be in ascendence at any given time." Uhm, since when are the motions of the sun and the moon (as observed from Earth) coupled, in a way that they never ascend simultaneously? Perhaps it's like that on Betazed? But why should the analogy of exactly one sun and one moon be the same on a distant planet anyway?
Remarkable scene: It is an amazing CG sequence for its time when the Enterprise melts the comet with the phasers.
Remarkable fact: The archive is 87 million years old.
Rating: 1

Eye of the Beholder Stardate 47622.1: The unexpected suicide of promising young Lieutenant Daniel Kwan in the plasma stream of the warp nacelle is baffling to all those who knew him. When Counselor Troi visits the site and stands in front of the plasma stream, she is overwhelmed with panic and fear, and she suddenly has a flashback of the time the Enterprise was being built at Utopia Planitia. Deanna further investigates the suicide and comes to the conclusion that Walter Pierce, an engineer working at Utopia Planitia who is on the Enterprise now, found his lover Marla Finn embracing another man and killed her. Marla Finn's remains are found behind a panel inside the nacelle. As she is working with Worf on the case, the two end up in Deanna's bed. Deanna, however, finds out that Worf also dates Ensign Calloway, who was Kwan's girl-friend. She kills Worf with a phaser, rushes to the nacelle and is about to jump into the plasma stream just like Kwan. Worf can hold her back, telling Deanna that everything she experienced since she first looked into the nacelle never happened. It turns out that Pierce indeed killed Marla Finn and also her lover, and that he subsequently committed suicide by jumping into the plasma stream. Being partially empathic, Pierce's experience was imprinted into the bulkhead. Kwan, who is also empathic, acted out that experience, and Deanna almost met the same fate.

This is an episode that I was unusually unfamiliar with because for some reason I had only seen it a total of three or four times. The last time must have been over a decade ago. So while I remembered the basic plot with its metaphysical aspects (the "empathic imprint" in the nacelle), I didn't know what exactly was real and what was illusory as I watched it again. It came as a surprise to me when it was revealed that everything from the moment that Deanna looks into the activated matter stream inside the nacelle only happens in her imagination. While I was aware of the ongoing Worf/Troi thing in the final season, I was certain they didn't actually come together in this episode, and so I was relieved it takes place only in Deanna's mind. And I would never have expected her to get consumed with unwarranted jealousy, except perhaps under alien influence such as in "Man of the People", which is another thing that fortunately doesn't actually happen here.
So I watched this episode a bit like Deanna Troi herself must have experienced everything, and I enjoyed it for the most part. On the other hand, it is rather inefficient that the actual occurrences at Utopia Planitia and Deanna's hallucination of those events are not very far apart. It is easy to confuse the two versions of the story, and that may be the reason why I couldn't tell them apart. I think a different episode could have worked better, one that would have focused on Deanna trying to find out the truth about Utopia Planitia in conflicting or faked evidence, instead of her being in false reality herself. Also, the deceit that it looks like Deanna's hallucination of Utopia Planitia in front of the plasma stream ends but actually it continues doesn't sit so well with me in retrospect. Well, it will be done again at the beginning of "Star Trek: First Contact" (Picard in front of the mirror), but there it doesn't span almost a whole episode.
Coming back to the emerging Worf/Troi relationship, no matter whether it really happens in "Eye of the Beholder" or not, it is still contrived how hard the writers are pushing it in the final couple of episodes. And the awkward scene (which is definitely real) in which Worf asks Riker for permission to date someone, implying that it could be Troi, doesn't really help to make it in any way more plausible.
Nitpicking: I found no gross mistakes in the course of the story under the condition that it only happens in Deanna Troi's mind. It is all shown from her perspective, she is present all the time. Yet, I wonder how she could possibly know the names of Walter Pierce and Marla Finn. And even if the names are somehow parts of the empathic imprint in the nacelle left behind by Pierce, the personnel files most definitely are not. -- Wouldn't the alleged accident, in which three(!) people were killed on the Enterprise while it was being built, in the nacelle where Kwan died(!), be the very first useful evidence the crew would find out in their investigation of Kwan's suicide - in a matter of seconds if only they bothered to ask the computer? In light of this omission the version that Deanna hallucinates, that Marla Finn was simply listed as missing and that Walter Pierce was still alive, is more realistic than what turns out to be real. -- Well, considering that Deanna only hallucinated everything, it makes sense that it takes so long to prepare the cargo bay after the ship has already arrived at the starbase, to load the supplies and leave enough time to shut down the engines completely. Considering that the Enterprise was previously allowed to exceed the warp speed limit because of the emergency on Barson II, the idling otherwise wouldn't make sense.
Continuity: Worf says, "Yes, I too have sought visions in fire." He obviously refers to his time on Boreth in "Rightful Heir". -- The Enterprise is allowed to exceed the Warp 5 limit, established in "Force of Nature". 
Crew death: Lieutenant Kwan
Rating: 5

Genesis Stardate 47653.2: When Data and Picard return from retrieving a wayward demonstration torpedo, they find the ship without control and the crew mutated to what seems to be lower lifeforms. Deanna is an amphibious creature, Riker an Australopithecine. While Picard is being chased by Worf, who has turned into a massive proto-Klingon predator, Data discovers that a synthetic T-cell that Dr. Crusher has given to Barclay to fight a flu has unlocked not just the one gene that Barclay needed. The T-cell became airborne and activated the crew's dormant introns, genes of previous, more primitive lifeforrms. Barclay himself was turned into a spider. Only the new-born kittens of Spot, Data's cat, are immune, while Spot herself is now an iguana. With the help of pregnant Nurse Ogawa, who is now a primate, Data is able to find a remedy to reverse the de-evolution in the form of a retrovirus.

"Genesis" is customarily slammed by fans for its bad science. In the category of bad biology it may be the runner-up to the unrivaled Voyager episode "Threshold". It is just too obvious that humans don't have dormant spider DNA that could be activated, to name only the most blatant error of the story. Anyway, while I care about scientific blunders, there is one thing that disturbs me much more about "Genesis". What we witness is an extreme transformation, or should I say disfiguration, of the Enterprise's entire crew. Even if it should be possible to erase everyone's memories of what happened to them in order to alleviate the trauma, Counselor Troi would have a ship full of psychotic patients. That is, if she is able to carry on with her job at all. This is what should happen, but with the arguably biggest reset button of the whole series everyone is returned to a perfectly normal and healthy condition and is inappropriately nonchalant in the end. Dr. Crusher, who was said to require a reconstructive surgery after Worf's acid attack, smiles as if nothing had happened. And what about the man who was killed on the bridge? By Worf? By Riker? DNA traces will reveal who is responsible, and even though we may argue their mental condition would eventually exonerate whoever did it, the death of the man remains without consequences as far as we can tell.
On the other hand, I dig the eerie atmosphere of the episode, the skillful use of background music and the contrast between Data, who remains calm and factual all the time as we should expect from him, and the increasingly timid Picard, who de-evolves "to a lemur, or a pygmy marmoset", according to Data.
It is clear that the writers were aware they were walking a fine line with this story, and I'm torn whether I should praise it for its thrill and atmosphere or rather devalue it for its bad science and the blatantly unrealistic reset button. Well, I think it's still one of the average episodes after all.
On a different note, even this mostly out-of-character episode continues to forge the relationship of Troi and Worf. The two are having lunch together, obviously on a more or less regular basis. And as Worf mutates, he regards Troi as a his mate, even though she herself obviously mutates to a still different, probably biologically incompatible species! How much more proof would we need? It is also noteworthy that Riker is dating still another woman than last week. Considering that he never showed much interest in female crew members other than Troi, it is another piece of the puzzle, but a quite contrived one. 
De-evolved crew members, in the order of appearance: Deanna Troí - The Swamp Thing, Will Riker - Australopithecine, Livingston - jellyfish, Spot - iguana, Reginald Barclay - spider, Alyssa Ogawa - ape, Worf - proto-Klingon with exoskeleton
Continuity: Data says about Spot (or her predecessor of the same name): "There have been several injuries to other members of the crew who have attempted to care for her." So Riker doesn't seem to be the only one Spot doesn't like. -- Dr. Selar gets mentioned but once again doesn't show up. -- We can see Deanna Troi in the captain's chair for the first time since she took the exam in "Thine Own Self". -- Spot is most definitely a new, female cat now, but was already referred to as "she" in "Force of Nature".
Remarkable quotes: "The next test will involve the new photon torpedoes. The explosive yield has been increased by eleven percent and I have enhanced the targeting system for increased accuracy." (Worf, before one of his new torpedoes goes off course), "I have spent the past nine weeks as an expectant parent. I would be happy to share my insights with your husband. If my experience is any indication, he will need all the help he can get." (Data, to Nurse Ogawa)

Crew death:
Ensign Dern
Rating: 5

Journey's End Stardate 47751.2: According to the peace treaty the Federation is forced to remove settlers from colonies that are now in Cardassian territory. One of these colonies is Dorvan V, where American Indians have found a new home after they have escaped the cultural assimilation on Earth. Wesley is on a visit to the Enterrpise. He is dissatisfied with his life as a Starfleet cadet, and he is surprised when the Indian Lakanta tells him that he should find his own way. Wesley goes on a vision quest. When he learns of the plan to remove the settlers, he tells them the truth, which infuriates Picard. But Wesley has made up his mind and resigns from Starfleet. Lakanta reveals himself to be the Traveler and takes Wesley on his journey. The Indians decide to stay on Dorvan V, even under Cardassian supervision.

At first, this episode seems like a bland reissue of "The Ensigns of Command" or "The Masterpiece Society" where stubborn human settlers needed to be convinced to evacuate their planet likewise. And the folklore aspect of "Journey's End", that the planet was settled by American Indians, unplesantly reminds me of the stereotypical Scottish/gothic horror motives that were supposed to spice up the awful episode "Sub Rosa", earlier in this season. But "Journey's End" takes an unexpected direction. Most notably, it involves two crew members personally, Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher, in two very different ways.
Picard learns that his ancestor Javier Maribona Picard took part in a massacre of American Indians following the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Anthwara says that Picard was called to the planet to redeem his family. This doesn't seem to concern Picard too much because he knows that his prime responsibility is to resolve the situation on the planet here and now. Still, I wonder whether the crime committed by his ancestor may have influenced his decision anyway. I don't like this part of the story at all. It shows the otherwise plesant and wise (stereotypically wise?) Anthwara in a bad light, because he uses the principle of collective guilt against Picard. He essentially harrasses the captain for something he is by no means responsible for and urges him to pledge allegiance with the Indians' cause. Realistically, every human being has at least one "stain of blood" in his family history (or in his people's history), and it simply doesn't help to charge up all the resulting claims against each other.
Wesley's involvement is more interesting than Picard's. Still, for much of the time it comes across like the rebellion of a teenage boy who doesn't accept authorities any longer, who begins to smoke pot and joins a hippie community. I think the revelation that Lakanta is the Traveler and that Wesley's vision quest is supposed to let him enter a new "plane of existence" comes too late to give everything a deeper significance. Also, I neither like the dialogues written for Wesley Crusher, who is arguing with everyone all the time, nor Wil Wheaton's performance, who doesn't manage to show us a credible transition from the sullen cadet to the enthusiastic explorer of new dimensions. 
Picard suffers a twofold defeat in this episode. He fails to fulfill his mission to evacuate the settlers on Dorvan V, who decide to stay under Cardassian rule. And after working hard to make Wesley at home on the Enterprise and teach him a lesson about honesty in "The First Duty", Wesley ultimately fails Picard. In a way, I am disappointed about the outcome of this episode a bit like Picard. Near the end of the series, quite a few things are falling apart.
Continuity: Picard prepares Bularian canapés for Admiral Nechayev, saying that he used to have tensions with her. Picard probably refers to Nechayev's critcism of not taking the chance to destroy the Borg Collective (which he could have done in "I, Borg") in "Descent".
Rating: 4

Firstborn Stardate 47779.4: When Alexander shows little interest in warrior training, Worf takes him to a Klingon outpost's Kot'baval festival, celebrating the battle between Kahless and the tyrant Molor. They are almost killed by assassins, but a strange man named K'mtar saves them. He claims to be a friend of the family. The the knife that was used to attack Worf and Alexander bears the seal of the Duras family. However, when the Duras sisters are confronted with the knife, they are surprised that it contains the seal of B'Etor's son, but B'Etor only just learned herself that she was pregnant. It turns out that K'mtar is Alexander from the future, who regrets to have become a pacifist diplomat that couldn't help his father when he was assassinated in the Klingon High Council. Worf tells Alexander/K'mtar that he is convinced Alexander will have a great future, and that he will support his son. 

Ever since Alexander came aboard the Enterprise again in "New Ground", the writers never had a good concept of how to write for the boy. After Alexander was faced with the possible death of his father in "Ethics", he was only involved in three more stories, "Cost of Living", "A Fistful of Datas" and "Rascals", all of which were dominated by the fun aspect. At times, it seemed that Worf didn't have a son who was living on board. And while I'm at it, what happened to Alexander in "Genesis"?
I like how "Firstborn" makes up for this negligence and comes up with a decent father-son story. Well, it doesn't surprise me too much that Alexander doesn't care much about being a warrior, as this tendency was already visible in previous episodes. Also, a father-son conflict one TV
is always about a son not following in his father's footsteps (or about an older son having regrets about following his father). But it is worked out nicely that pushing a child to fulfill the parents' expectations is not the right way. Even though Klingons evidently grow up much faster (as we will will ultimately see in the course of DS9) and even though drilling children is still commonplace in some human societies today, it is just not childlike to act like a grim warrior. In this regard I like how Worf tries to get Alexander to fight during the Kot'baval festival, when he himself "loses" the fight against "Molor" and thereby encourages Alexander to defeat the tyrant in his place. The show fight is definitely a good way to teach children a lesson, although it shouldn't be done with sharp blades and although Alexander takes this lesson a bit too seriously when he hurts "Molor". The idea that Alexander has to defend his father gains a whole new significance in the following; it becomes the principal theme of the episode and of K'mtar's efforts in particular. It initially seems contrived that K'mtar and the assassins show up the very day that Alexander is supposed to learn that lesson, but it makes perfect sense for the old Alexander to return to exactly this time of his life in K'mtar's guise. Alexander/K'mtar is bent on saving his father father's life in the future, and he is sorry about not following his father's way, thereby defying the cliché. In the end, Worf recognizes that K'mtar's appearance has already changed the future. And whatever Alexander will decide, it will be a good decision and Worf will back him.
There are certainly much more exciting time travel episodes, but the way that the time travel is used to strengthen the father-son relationship of Worf and Alexander deserves praise. Only the ending is quite rushed. Perhaps it would have been good to focus even more on Worf, Alexander and K'mtar, but I don't mind that this episode near the end of the series is a bit of a road movie that revisits several previously established characters and races, such as Quark, the Duras sisters, a Dopterian, an Yridian and (only mentioned) the Corvallen and the Pakled.
Remarkably awkward quote: "As time passes, a boy inevitably becomes a man, but what is not inevitable is that a man become a sword." (Worf)
Remarkable fact: K'mtar, like all members of the Mogh family that could be seen, has the same forehead bones pattern as Worf. That may have given away his identity, or at least the kinship. 
Remarkable guest appearances: We can see Armin Shimerman as Quark, Gwynyth Walsh as B'Etor and Barbara March as Lursa .
Rating: 6

Bloodlines Stardate 47829.1: The Ferengi Bok still blames Picard for his son's death in the Battle of Maxia. He sends a probe that announces that he is going to kill Jason Vigo, Picard's possible son from an affair with a woman named Miranda Vigo 24 years ago. The crew finds Jason Vigo on the planet Camor V, where the young man was on an underground rock climbing tour. A DNA test verifies that Jason Vigo, who has had a troubled life after his mother's death, is Picard's son. Bok uses a subspace transporter to kidnap Jason. In the meantime a genetic defect is brought to light that Jason can't have inherited from either his mother or Picard. Actually, his DNA has been resequenced to match Picard's. The captain uses the risky subspace transporter too, and once again he reveals Bok's unprofitable intentions to his crew who relieve him of command.

"Bloodlines" continues the story of ex-DaiMon Bok's unsatisfied revenge from the first season episode "The Battle". It is a nice touch whenever the writers work with the established continuity, especially in the final season. Well, there would have been more interesting storylines available to be picked up. Bok remains one-dimensional just like in "The Battle", he fails for the same reason and is relieved of command by his crew with the same reasoning, that his actions are unprofitable. But I don't think the premise to have Bok return is the main problem of the episode.
I think "Bloodlines" is let down most of all by the discrepancy between the life-threatening situation on one hand and the sedate writing, staging and acting on the other hand. Everyone remains composed all the time and handles the crisis as if it were a routine mission. It is boring. The little bit of suspense that is created when Bok appears in Picard's quarters and later in his ready room dwindles away too quickly. "Bloodlines" is a sequel to a season 1 episode, and it feels like it has inherited the dramaturgical problems of the early episodes.
Also, the father-son relationship between Captain Picard and Jason Vigo doesn't work. I understand that it was the intention of the story to show that Jason is irked by the situation, rather than afraid, and that he simply doesn't care for his "father". Picard, on the other hand, tries hard to be a caring father although he has no experience, and he does it rather by the book than out of intuition. It is clear that there is no emotional bond between the two. But I would have expected at least a bit of a change in their relationship, which doesn't happen. And I would have expected Jason to come across as a bit more sympathetic, which doesn't happen either. The only emotional reaction in the whole episode that I noticed is when Geordi tries in vain to override Bok's transporter beam and Picard dashes to the platform to grab Jason, although it would be futile. Ironically, he does that after he has learned that Jason is not actually his son.
Jason Vigo's life on a failed planet may not have been as easy as if he had stayed on Earth. He also has a criminal record. However, I am glad that this remains only a side note because the idea to show the antithesis to the comfortable and orderly world of Starfleet in the form of unpleasant places and people has been overdone by now. While the movie overall isn't so great, "Star Trek: Nemesis" shows much more impressively how Picard meets the "dark side" of his own existence. Considering that Jason doesn't do anything to disappoint or even betray Picard (unlike Jono in "Suddenly Human" or Ishara in "Legacy", for instance), his back story could have been left out of the story anyway. Well, or it was meant as a red herring (Jason could have collaborated with Bok), but if it was one I failed to notice it even when I watched the episode for the first time many years ago.
Speaking of side notes, it is another letdown that we never see Miranda Vigo. I'm not the biggest fans of flashbacks, but it would have served this episode well, to create the missing suspense and emotional attachment.
As a final point of critcism, the story delves into clichés. We have got yet another family member that shows up, although this time it turns out to be a deception. And while I don't mind the technobabble in this episode, it irks me how the Enterprise's transporter can be converted to a long-range subspace transporter in a matter of a few minutes. The note that the technology is deemed unreliable serves as a lame excuse why it has never been used before and will never be used again in this form.
Continuity: The subspace transporter (or similar technologies that allow long-distance beaming) shows up as a Dominion technology in DS9: "Covenant" and most notably in the Abramsverse in "Star Trek (2009)" and "Star Trek Into Darkness". -- Regarding a possible son that Picard never knew of, there is a clear missed opportunity. Jason could have been the son of Marta Batanides from the changed timeline in "Tapestry", implying that Q really sent back Picard and it wasn't just an illusion. Jason would have had to be some ten years older but it would have explained perfectly why Picard suddenly has a son.
Remarkable quote: "But one thing is clear. You'll never look at your hairline again in the same way." (Picard, to Jason)
Remarkable probe: The miniature of Bok's probe previously appeared as Roga Danar's escape pod in TNG: "The Hunted". 
Remarkable appearance: Bok is played by Lee Arenberg in this episode. In "The Battle" he was portrayed by Frank Corsentino.
Rating: 3

Emergence Stardate 47869.2: Data's program of The Tempest is suddenly disturbed by the holographic recreation of the Orient Express. Amazingly, Data and Geordi find a network of self-erected nodes cross-connecting several of the ship's functions, much like a lifeform's neural web. The crew gradually loses control of these functions, including engines and navigation. Back in the holodeck, they discover that characters of the train program represent various functions of the ship. The ship's course changes are reflected there too. It becomes evident that the ship prepares for reproduction, creating a new lifeform in a cargo bay. When the new lifeform needs more vertion particles and the natural sources are exhausted, Geordi launches a photon torpedo into a nebula to generate them. The new lifeform leaves the ship with unknown destination.

"Emergence" is a playful take on the idea that computer systems are prone to behave unpredictably or may even pose a danger as they become more and more complex. I love how Data's staging of The Tempest is worked into the story without appearing as contrived. Picard mentions that Shakespeare was influenced by the end of the Renaissance and was uncertain about what would follow, which sets the tone for the story about the "new era" in the evolution of the Enterprise. In the course of this evolution Data's classical holodeck play is being converted to what seems like a piece of the Theatre of the Absurd. Shakespeare makes sense if you know the historical context and his motivation, while the characters inside the train that runs to "Keystone City" and later to "Vertiform City" don't. I like how the single characters on the holodeck, the train, the jigsaw puzzle, the brick and other details have a significance and symbolically represent what is going on on the ship: the creation of a new lifeform. I also like the mystery aspect of the story, in which technobabble is present (most notably another throwaway particle, the vertion) but is for once not deemed sufficient to solve every problem and explain every phenomenon.
The third season episode "Evolution" already presented a similar story in which the nanites developed a consciousness. In light of this precedence it is not surprising that the Enterprise, with its vastly higher capacity, has the same capability. It is good to see that the crew knows that not everything that runs out of control and not everything that doesn't behave as expected has to be dangerous. At one point Picard decides that it may be good not to stop the emergent intelligence but to support it. On the other hand, this decision is made easy because no one of the crew has been deliberately harmed by the intelligence so far.
Not everything in the episode is original. But looking back at other "holodeck malfunction" or "unrecognized lifeorm" stories, "Emergence" is among the most curious and most intelligent episodes of its kind.
Nitpicking: The emergent intelligent activates the warp engines to save the ship from the hazardous theta flux distortions. Those distortions sound like a natural phenomenon and were most likely not created in the course of the ship's evolution. If they are natural, they have to be exceedingly rare. Otherwise all ships would permanently scan for them, considering that it's technically not a problem. But if they are so rare, it is a highly unlikely coincidence that the ship has become intelligent just at a time when the phenomenon occurs. -- While it is a nice set, the interior of the train does not look like the Orient Express. Either Beverly did not do enough research, or (preferably) the program was modified by the emergent intelligence.
Remarkable quote: "Complex systems can sometimes behave in ways that are entirely unpredictable. The human brain, for example, might be described in terms of cellular functions and neurochemical interactions. But that description does not explain human consciousness, a capacity that far exceeds simple neural functions. Consciousness is an emergent property." (Data)
Remarkable dialogue: "Captain, I am staging a scene from The Tempest this evening for a small audience. I would like for you to attend." - "I would be honored. What scene?" - "Miranda's first encounter with other human beings." - "O brave new world, that has such people in it." - "It seemed appropriate. Captain, you took a substantial risk in allowing the Enterprise to complete its task." - "Why do you say that?" - "Because the end result was unknown. The object could have been dangerous. It may in fact, be dangerous." - "And I have allowed it to go off on its merry way." - "Yes, sir." - "The intelligence that was formed on the Enterprise didn't just come out of the ship's systems. It came from us. From our mission records, personal logs, holodeck programs, our fantasies. Now, if our experiences with the Enterprise have been honorable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?" (Data and Picard)
Remarkable scene: Data says, "I encountered a minor difficulty, Counselor, but it has been dealt with." Then we see how he is pushing back the taxi with one hand while he is working on the node inside the manhole.
Remarkable set: "Keystone City" was filmed in the New York Streets set.
Remarkable Shakespeare play: Data performs The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1, as Prospero.
Rating: 7

Preemptive Strike Stardate 47941.7: Newly promoted Lieutenant Ro Laren is asked to infiltrate the Maquis which is an organization of Federation colonists who fight the Cardassians. She soon gets the attention of the group and proves herself trustworthy when she helps stealing medical supplies from the Enterprise. Ro is subsequently torn between her loyalty to Picard who always supported her and her new sympathy for the people and the cause of the Maquis. When Ro is supposed to lure the Maquis into a trap, she defects.

All Good Things Stardate 47988: Picard finds himself slipping from one time to another: the present - seven years in the past, when he first took command of the Enterprise - and twenty-five years into the future, when his crew has scattered or resigned from Starfleet. He thinks that his time travels may be connected to an anomaly in the Neutral Zone, when suddenly Q appears and puts him on trial like he did seven years ago. Q admits that he is responsible for the time travel but claims that Picard was, is and will be responsible for the death of all humanity. He then takes Picard to primordial Earth where amino acids are supposed to combine, but they don't do that because of an anomaly visible in the sky that Picard is supposed to have caused. The captain and his various crews can't figure out what this anomaly, which is larger in the past, is about, until Picard gets the idea that it's an effect of anti-time. Picard will create the anomaly by scanning the same region of space with an inverse tachyon beam in three different times, and this will cause an anomaly to grow backward in time. When finally the damage is repaired in the course of which all three Enterprises have been (temporarily) destroyed, Picard is back in his normal time, and he takes the opportunity to join his senior crew's weekly poker game for the first time.

 


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