A Klingon Conflict Dominates the Fourth Season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation is regarded by many to be the best of the television series set in that universe. Whereas the original series (which will always have a special place in my heart as the one that introduced me to Roddenberry’s realm) was essentially a rollicking ride through space, The Next Generation incorporated more political and cultural drama into the stories, exploring science fiction as allegory rather than as pure adventure. This does not always work, and when it fails, it fails in a big, noticeable way. Yet for the most part, The Next Generation succeeded in showing the more serious side of the Star Trek universe, especially by the time the show reached its fourth season.

Whereas seasons one and two of The Next Generation stumbled along by the grace of the Star Trek brand as the show attempted to flesh out its broad ensemble of characters, season three (as I have previously noted) was the true start of the program’s greatness. Head writer Michael Piller came along to bring the writer’s room in line, guiding now-legendary genre writers like Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga while also penning some of the show’s best episodes, including the time-bending “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and, most prominently, the cliffhanger season finale “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1.” Season four, which picked up where that episode left off, had pretty big shoes to fill. It gets off to a brilliant start, with “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2,” as Commander William Riker (the never-better Jonathan Frakes) takes control of the Enterprise in order to rescue Captain Jean-Luc Picard (the too-good-for-words Sir Patrick Stewart) from the control of the nefarious Borg. However, while the rest of the season does not reach those same heights, it is a perfectly solid continuation of The Next Generation saga, revolving around a recurring story arc involving Klingon tactical officer Worf (Michael Dorn).

When the head of the Klingon high council passes on under suspicious circumstances, Worf finds himself drawn into the political wrangling surrounding the question of who will succeed him, while also attempting to regain his family’s lost honor. If the wrong Klingons take control of the high council, their alliance with the Federation may come to an end, providing an easy opportunity for Romulan attack. The episodes in this arc give a delightful glimpse into Klingon culture, one of the most interesting species in the Star Trek universe, while also providing a healthy dose of political intrigue thanks to Moore’s writing; with his talent for creating human-alien political struggle, it’s no wonder the man went on to remake Battlestar Galactica. It’s also no surprise, then, that the Klingon thread running through season four results the best episodes on this six-disc Blu-ray release.

Dorn is fantastic as Worf, walking a thin tightrope between his gruff, warrior bloodlines and his life as a Starfleet officer raised by humans. The character of Worf was short-changed throughout much of the first three seasons, so it is great to see him get his due, especially in the episode “Reunion,” directed by Frakes, which reunites Worf with his past love, the half-Klingon half-human ambassador K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson)--and introduces him to his son. K'Ehleyr is sassy, smart and sexy, and stands head and shoulders above most of the show’s other female characters; one weakness of The Next Generation that is never entirely fixed is the lack of compelling women on board the Enterprise. Also fantastic is “Mind’s Eye,” in which Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LaVar Burton) is kidnapped by Romulans and brainwashed into attempting to assassinate a Klingon leader. It’s very Manchurian Candidate with an alien twist--in other words, completely awesome. However, the season’s finale, “Redemption,” while initially exciting in its bringing of the Klingon drama to a high-stakes climax, ends up getting bogged down in too many unnecessary subplots--not to mention a very lackluster and pointless twist. The writers clearly attempted to replicate the success of “The Best of Both Worlds” and it's jaw-dropping cliffhanger, which could--and does--only lead to disappointment.

There are some great episodes in season four that don’t revolve around the Klingon conflict. “Brothers” delves deeper into the creation of the android Data, featuring Brent Spiner in three separate roles and fantastic in all of them. Spiner’s performance as Data is one of the greatest triumphs of The Next Generation, as well as one of the most consistent; any episode that focuses on him is pretty much guaranteed to be fascinating. Also good is “Remember Me,” which explores Dr. Beverly Crusher’s fear of losing her loved ones by stranding her on a version of the Enterprise where the crew keeps disappearing, eventually leaving her utterly alone. Less great is “Final Mission,” which mainly stands out for being the final episode featuring Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher. While the episode itself is rather corny and tries too hard to pull on the heartstrings, the departure of Wesley and his Justin-Bieber-in-space teenage antics was a welcome exit for many fans, myself included.

Overall, season four is remarkably solid in quality when compared to the earlier installments of The Next Generation saga. The show has found its feet at this point and, bar a few stumbles, seems to be getting along just fine. As far as the Blu-ray transfer goes, there’s not much more to say other than that for a fan, there is nothing like seeing the glorious Enterprise in high-definition. Any lover of Star Trek will want to add this box set to their collection.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

CBS doesn’t skimp on the bonus features for these Blu-ray sets. Season four includes numerous extras that provide intriguing looks behind the scenes of the production, including a multi-part documentary on how familial themes played such a strong role in that season's stories as well as a conversation with the show’s art department. There are also audio commentaries, deleted scenes, mission logs, episodic promos and, possibly the most enjoyable, a gag reel.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Four" is on sale July 30, 2013 and is not rated. Sci-Fi. Directed by Cliff Bole, Jonathan Frakes, Les Landau. Written by Gene Roddenberry, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Michael Piller et. al.. Starring Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart.

Aug
04
2013
Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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