Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: Season 2 Wrap-Up

With the promise of better days ahead, we present our summarized ratings for season 2 and question the direction our lives have taken us. And let us never speak of this again.

Title Eugene’s
2×01 The Child
Aired: November 21, 1988
 3 1
2×02 Where Silence Has Lease
Aired: November 28, 1988
Full Stop Dead in
2×03 Elementary, Dear Data
Aired: December 5, 1988
3  2
2×04 The Outrageous Okona
Aired: December 12, 1988
Impulse  Warp Core
2×05 Loud as a Whisper
Aired: January 9, 1989
 5 4
2×06 The Schizoid Man
Aired: January 23, 1989
3  2
2×07 Unnatural Selection
Aired: January 30, 1989
 1 1
2×08 A Matter of Honor
Aired: February 6, 1989
5 5
2×09 The Measure of a Man
Aired: February 13, 1989
6 6
2×10 The Dauphin
Aired: February 20, 1989
 3  4
2×11 Contagion
Aired: March 20, 1989
 2  1
2×12 The Royale
Aired: March 27, 1989
 Full Stop Dead in Space
2×13 Time Squared
Aired: April 3, 1989
 3  1
2×14 The Icarus Factor
Aired: April 24, 1989
 2 1
2×15 Pen Pals
Aired: May 1, 1989
 2 Warp core
2×16 Q Who
Aired: May 8, 1989
 5 5
2×17 Samaritan Snare
Aired: May 15, 1989
 1  Dead in Space
2×18 Up the Long Ladder
Aired: May 22, 1989
 Warp Core
2×19 Manhunt
Aired: June 19, 1989
 2  1
2×20 The Emissary
Aired: June 29, 1989
4 4
2×21 Peak Performance
Aired: July 10, 1989
3 2
2×22 Shades of Gray
Aired: July 17, 1989
 Dead in Space Dead in Space

Are there any ratings you would change?

Eugene: I know I’ve been consistently rating things a bit higher than Torie. My only explanation is that I must have been grading episodes on a sort of curve, with “Up the Long Ladder” and “Shades of Gray” in mind as the season’s obvious low points, and perhaps attempting to will the second season to be better than it is out of sheer stubbornness. Looking back, I don’t see anything that deserves to be bumped up in my esteem, but I was probably far too generous on several episodes.  So I’m going to shave off a point and give “The Child” a warp 2, and the same for “Time Squared.” I’ll also revise “Contagion” down to a warp 1, if only because it remains utterly unmemorable even after I’ve just rewatched it.

Torie:  My only regret is that we never left enough room at the bottom of our warp scale. I wound up resorting to warp core meltdowns and implosions and floating debris to adequately evaluate some of this season’s turds. Looking back… I honestly cannot remember about a third of these. And I just watched them. Again. I may have been a little generous with “A Matter of Honor” and “Q Who,” both more of a 4.5, but I think I’ll let them slide. I’ll up “The Royale” to dead stop just because I don’t think it deserves the same level as “Samaritan Snare” and “Shades of Gray.” I’m also going to bump “Loud as a Whisper” to a 5–like I said before, it’s one of those episodes that just sticks with you as an idea years after seeing it, and with 20/20 hindsight it’s a leap above anything else we get this season.

Best episode? Favorite episode?

Eugene: There’s no question that the best episode is “The Measure of a Man”—I didn’t even need to rewatch it to know that much. It was far and away the best written and one of the most thoughtful and provocative entries of the season, and the entire series. My favorite episode though is “Q Who.” I continue to like Q and the role he plays in the Enterprise’s fate, and ultimately that of humanity; although he’s firmly classified as a space douche, he has a personality and a character arc all his own. It’s difficult to consider this episode and many others on their own merits with my knowledge of later TNG and subsequent Star Trek shows, especially since this is a pivotal moment that paved the way for many of the most memorable episodes—and one of the best films—to come. Starfleet’s first contact with the Borg is just too chilling and fascinating to forget. The Borg were the first new Trek villains that worked, and this also is probably the first time TNG tackled an action-oriented episode and mostly pulled it off. I just feel that with “Q Who,” the scope of the series expanded and it really stepped up its game.

Torie: Unquestionably the best is “Measure of a Man,” despite the weird attempt at Picard flirting that just didn’t work for me. As Eugene said, it’s thoughtful and provocative, and to my mind, one of the more deeply science fictional episodes the series gave us. Who are we? What does it mean to be alive? These are the questions I thought the show was going to explore week to week.  My favorite is a tie between “A Matter of Honor” and “Loud as a Whisper.” The former is the better episode and is just a lot of fun; the latter isn’t as well executed but remains much more memorable. This is a show with a universal translator, so it’s refreshing to see the crew struggle to communicate.

Most disappointing episode?

Eugene: “Time Squared.” I had such fond memories of that episode, given my predilection for weird time travel and duplicates, but the implementation was a muddled mess, and I’m not sure what I ever saw in it. But that’s true of a lot of episodes this season, including “Where Silence Has Lease,” “Elementary, Dear Data,” “Contagion,” and “Pen Pals.” I suppose my tastes have just changed a lot since I saw them last, though powerful nostalgia may have affected my ratings a tiny bit.

Torie: “Elementary, Dear Data.” I don’t know what I was thinking. I really had incredible fondness for those Sherlock holodeck episodes, but rewatching them is absolute agony. I was also disappointed by “Manhunt.” I like Lwaxana Troi but that episode should be placed on a rocket and shot into the sun.

Eugene’s final thoughts on Season 2: I’m thrilled that the writers’ strike resulted in a shorter season, saving us from the possibility of an extra four hours to slog through and ending our misery that much sooner. Granted the strike is blamed for much of the uninspiring quality of the season’s offerings, but I’m not convinced that all the awfulness can be attributed to it. I think the biggest problem was that the right production staff had not yet fallen into place and there was a lot of tension and too many people involved in the creative process behind the scenes. And yeah, there were some terrible writers at the helm.

But for all the season’s shortcomings, the writers and actors did finally begin to understand these characters, which for the most part were handled more consistently and with more complexity and nuance than in the Before Time. They began to cohere like a crew, if not yet a family, and the cast often helped make up for weak dialogue and hackneyed plots. Individual episodes were hit or miss, leaning heavily toward the latter, but the season overall seemed to be moving in the right direction. It’s interesting that as maligned as the first season is, the second season has many much lower rated episodes; the first might have averaged lower, but the second has more spectacular failures. In fact, “Up the Long Ladder” might make an appropriate subtitle for season 2–they were slowly climbing their way up from the bottom, slipping down a rung from time to time. If only they had Spock’s rocket boots…

Were the episodes really that much worse? Perhaps. But I think it’s more a matter of audiences having slightly higher expectations, bolstered by some of the more promising installments, and the episodes not meeting their potential. They had good sets, big ideas, and strong actors, but it was still lacking something… Maybe the self-assuredness and vision that I think will be demonstrated by better efforts in the following season. In some ways, TNG was still struggling between what Star Trek used to be and what it will become, hampered by an unfortunate reliance on old scripts written for a different series and the weight of the franchise.

I was surprised that certain episodes appeared in season 2, ones that I thought had occurred much later like “Pen Pals,” “Samaritan Snare,” and “A Matter of Honor.” And I was also surprised that several episodes I hadn’t thought much of previously now seemed more interesting, flaws and all: for example, “Loud as a Whisper,” “The Dauphin,” and “The Emissary.”

In short, TNG was starting to develop its own personality in this season, an identity similar to but distinct from the original series. In the right hands, the series seemed capable of being a good—even a great show—but much more of it represented wasted opportunities, half-formed ideas, and outright missteps. But if making these throwaway episodes was a necessary progression to the brilliance of TNG at its best, then I can’t begrudge it too much; failure is a natural part of the creative process, and we’re fortunate that the show had a future at all after accomplishing mere mediocrity.

Despite the resounding thud of the final episode falling flat on its face, I find myself reinvigorated and excited to push on with season 3. Following a short break to recover, of course.

Torie’s final thoughts on Season 2: I wish I could feel inspired to continue, as Eugene does, but Season 2 has been incredibly dispiriting. I just can’t agree that the characters have started to come together, and that’s by far my biggest issue with these first few seasons. Two years down the line the writers still weren’t sure who these people were. The lines were written to drive the plot, and so the writers spun the ensemble wheel to see who would say them, seemingly randomly.  It’s the worst kind of writing: bland. Every meeting scene works this way, with the characters in a position to each contribute something from his or her own perspective, and yet there’s absolutely no distinction among them. Take this exchange from “Time Squared.” Try to read it without reading the character tags.

DATA: I have nothing to offer. There is not enough information upon which to base a hypothesis.
LAFORGE: Well, the shuttle apparently came from somewhere up ahead, so Rather than continuing on this course, maybe we should stop here and let whatever is out there come to us.
RIKER: We may already be too late.
LAFORGE: What are you saying? That stopping, turning right or left, or even reversing our course, would be pointless?
RIKER: When we brought the shuttle and the other Picard on board, we committed to a sequence of events which may be unalterable.
PICARD: Yes, this is not a rock on the trail which once seen can easily be avoided. This is much more complex.
WORF: There is the theory of the moebius. A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop from which there is no escape.
LAFORGE: So, when we reach that point, whatever happened will happen again. The Enterprise will be destroyed, the other Picard will be sent back to meet with us and we do it all over again. Sounds like someone’s idea of hell to me.
RIKER: Well, I know this much. We can’t avoid the future.
PICARD: Agreed. So let’s continue on course. Somewhere out there something will happen. A decision will be made during the course of which, I will be separated from the Enterprise. At the time, the decision will seem to be correct, but it won’t be. We have to anticipate and not make, not make the same mistake once. Something is waiting for us out there. Let’s try and determine what it is, as quickly as possible.

Now go back and look at the character tags. Is there absolutely ANYTHING that indicates, by the line, who spoke it? Is there anything that’s distinct or unique or individual about these crewmembers? No. They’re interchangeable cogs in plot extruder, which doesn’t even make good plot.1  When most of us read a good book (or even a mediocre one), we don’t read the “, he said” at all. We mentally skip over it. Because good writing doesn’t need it. When Jane Austen puts words in someone’s mouth, those words could not have been spoken by anyone else in that or any other book.2 But you don’t have to be Jane Austen! You just have to have some sense of who these characters are and what they bring to the table. If they have nothing to bring to the table, they shouldn’t be in the freaking scene. This season is full of scenes–hell, whole episodes–that contribute nothing to our understanding of these people and who they are and why we should care that they have the best job in the world. I can’t just gloss over that and think “well, it’ll get better.” It bothers me every time, because every week I feel like they’re wasting my attention and my hope and my faith in this idea, this vision. I can’t believe in a positive future if it’s full of Archies and Bettys.

Looking back at the episodes worth watching, they all have in common a commitment to their characters as individuals with their own struggles. With  “Loud as a Whisper,” the show calls itself on the crutch of the universal translator and asks us to consider the incredible loneliness of being unable to communicate. It makes Troi (the most useless crewmember!) face the fact that as a professional PSYCHIC communicator she completely sucks. Hear hear! With “The Measure of a Man,” we’re finally forced to think about why we just implicitly accept Data as a member of the crew (if we do…) and what his presence might mean in this universe. Isn’t there something sinister about him, if you think about it? And the episode puts its finger on exactly what that is. Then Riker gets to let his Kirk show a little, and have a real adventure in “A Matter of Honor”–the kind of adventure we miss about TOS, with cleverness and ingenuity and thinking on your feet.  “The Dauphin” again contemplates the incredible loneliness of space, because having all options can also mean having none. For some the vastness of space is an oppressive, impossible dream. Picard has to finally own his arrogance in “Q Who,” and become in a way responsible for the potential destruction of his race. And the last goodie, “The Emissary,” gives Worf the benefit of imperfection and struggle and even a little helplessness.

These are the best episodes not because they have the most interesting science fictional ideas or rollicking good plots, but because they believe in their heroes. Because if you want an audience to care about science fictional questions you have to give them characters who are more than incidental to the events that take place, who give us some connection to the world and the events and the consequences. That’s what ultimately makes this future appealing and the rest of this series worth watching. Despite the Scottish ghost sex.

Onward and upward!

1 The only one with any sense of his own character is Worf, who’s about to be bogged down as the greatest Daddy Issue of them all. And note that in this exchange, he’s given a line he shouldn’t have. That line should by all rights go to La Forge.

2 “Guess who said this line in P&P” is both a great party game and an excellent lesson in dialogue for the aspiring writer. Play it with your friends! Your nerd friends, I mean. Assuming you have some other kind, too.

About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.