2012 promises to be an exciting (albeit expensive) year for Star Trek fanboys and fangirls. With the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans will be seeing the series in high- definition for the first time, beginning with Season 1 on Blu-ray to be released sometime in late 2012. All seven seasons will be transferred to true high-definition 1080p with CBS returning to the original 35mm film negatives, where visual effects will be recompositioned. And for those of you who (like me) don’t understand much about movie quality – the layman’s version is that it looks good.
Unfortunately, the chronological release schedule means we will have to soldier through Season 1’s overuse of dues ex Wesley’s science project and a Season 2 filled with Dr. Pulaski’s rampant android racism before getting to the seasons actually worth whatever exorbitant sticker price ends up on these collections. But in order to entice us (or to create one more excuse to get into fan’s wallets), a Blu-ray sampler was released back in late January. The single-disc entitled Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level included the pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint" (1.1/2) plus "Sins of the Father" (3.17) and "The Inner Light" (5.25).
By why these three episodes to whet our appetites? I suppose the pilot had the most to gain out of the upgraded special effects and the latter two are both well-liked fan favorites. But I like my compilations to have a theme, so I’ve put together a list of three fantasy compilations CBS should have put together instead of The Next Level. (Warning! The below plot descriptions will be completely spoiler filled, because you’ve had 25 years to watch this! And if you haven’t watched the series, bookmark this post, log onto Netflix instant, watch all seven seasons and then report back to me in a few months.)
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Let’s All Think Big Thoughts!
A compilation of thought provoking episodes that you just might keep thinking about/obsessing over for days after watching.
The Measure of a Man (episode 2.09)
This episode has the honor of being the first that really showed early viewers that the writers and actors of Next Generation had the potential to make TNG the excellent and thought- provoking show we know it as today. A soulless cyberneticist with a major inferiority complex is bummed that he can’t make an android as awesome as Data. So his solution is to petition Starfleet to let him shut down Data and remove his brain so he can reverse-engineer it. Since this might kill Data, Data says no dice and instead chooses to resign from Starfleet. Soulless cyberneticist tries to argue that Data is not a sentient being and is therefore the property of Starfleet. A trial ensues and Picard argues on behalf of Data while Commander Riker is forced to prosecute against him. With his passionate courtroom scene, Picard will have you questioning what it means to be human and thinking about the ways in which humanity continues to create “others” in which to subjugate.
The Inner Light (episode 5.25)
I feel a bit like I’m cheating, since this episode was included on The Next Level Blu- ray. But it’s one of my all time favorites and it won a freaking Hugo, so I’m including it. The Enterprise encounters an unknown probe, which scans Picard, rendering him unconscious. While the crew tries to revive him, Picard finds himself on an unknown planet with a woman who claims to be his wife. Despite his memories of the Enterprise, everyone knows him as Kamin and after a few years he begins to accept his new life. Picard grows old, has children and even a grandson. Unfortunately, this planet is dying and its leaders launch a probe into space, hoping to carry on the memory of their planet. It’s then that Picard recognizes the probe and is informed that he was the receiver of that memory. He wakes back up on the Enterprise. Only 25 minutes have passed and yet Picard has lived out an entire lifetime. I dare you to keep yourself from crying whenever you hear Picard playing his Ressikan flute.
Second Chances (episode 6.24)
The Enterprise goes to recover research data from a planet, only to discover an exact duplicate of Commander Riker. Eight years earlier, Riker narrowly escaped from the planet when it was being evacuated. Except a transporter malfunction created two identical Rikers - one who escaped to the ship and another trapped on the research station all those years. Neither one is a copy of each other - both Rikers being the “true” Riker. The Commander Riker we know went on to get promoted, break Deanna Troi’s heart in pursuit of his career and eventually find his way onto the Enterprise. “Lieutenant” Riker spent all that time alone, thinking about Troi, whom he still considers to be the love of his life. Maybe I’m the only one obsessed with this episode (I imagine it’s hard for some people to handle the intense levels of awesomeness generated by two Rikers in one place.) But I find it a fascinating look at how certain events and decisions shape the person we become. One Riker was willing to sacrifice his relationship with Troi, while the other cannot imagine himself ever capable of such an action. Maybe there is something to be said for the phrase “right person, wrong time” after all.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Brain Explosion!
Episodes that are so bad they’re…well, they’re still bad. These episodes are overflowing with so much batshittery that it hardly seems fair to make fun of them. But life isn’t fair, so here goes.
The Naked Now (episode 1.03)
The crew members of the Enterprise get infected by a mysterious ailment that causes them to lose their inhibitions and act irrationally and without regard for their safety. Now, I’m actually a huge fan of the trope where an outside element causes characters to act wildly different than their normal personalities. But this gimmick only works effectively when we actually know the characters well enough to understand why the contrast is funny. But this is only the second episode in the series. The characters are new to the audience and they’re new to the actors. But at the very least, we can always thank this episode for providing us with enough Data/Tasha fanfic to fuel a warp core.
The Game (episode 5.06)
Once upon a time, Riker goes to Risa (the crew’s favorite sex-vacation planet) and returns with a mysterious and addicting game. Soon most of the crew are playing the game, which seems to involve using your mind to move disc shapes into trumpet shapes and rewards players by triggering their pleasure centers and giving them O face. But luckily, Wesley and Ashley Judd are immune to the temptations of the sexy game and manage to save the day. Basically, this episode is just begging for you and yours to make a drinking game out of it.
Sub Rosa (episode 7.14)
This is the episode where Dr. Beverly Crusher has a relationship with her dead grandmother’s ghost-lover. Let me repeat. Has a relationship. With her dead Grandma’s. Ghost. Lover. This is Star Trek, so of course the ghost is really some type of non-corporeal alien, but that hardly makes it any better.
An honorable mention has to go to the "Cost of Living" (episode 5.20), for the scene of Lwaxana Troy and Worf’s son Alexander together in a mud hot-tub in the holodeck. I mean, who thinks of this stuff?
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Fist Pump Edition!
Episodes that will have you swelling with pride for the crew members of the USS Enterprise, jumping up from the couch and fist pumping into the air.
Yesterday’s Enterprise (episode 3.15)
A rift in space-time leads the old Enterprise-C ship through an anomaly, causing history and (therefore) the present to change. Suddenly the Enterprise-D is no longer the ship we know - it has become a warship. Tasha Yar is back and Worf is nowhere to be found. Because history has changed in such a way that the Federation is again at war with the Klingons, only Gainan is able to sense that reality has changed. In order to revert to the previous timeline, the Enterprise-C must travel back through the anomaly, sacrificing themselves in the past. Those on the Enterprise-D sacrifice themselves as well, many of our crew dying in battle against the Klingons. But no moment is more meaningful that Tasha Yar (knowing that she shouldn’t even be alive at all) volunteering to help man the doomed Enterprise-C on its journey back into the past.
The First Duty (episode 5.19)
This episode finds Wesley Crusher at Starfleet Academy; he and the other members of the exclusive Nova Squadron are involved in a training accident that took the life of a cadet. Except that the accident took place while the cadets were practicing an illegal maneuver and Wesley is pressured by his team to lie under oath. Really, the entire plot is irrelevant. To me, that plot is just a device to lead up to this moment - one of Picard’s greatest speeches:
Gives you shivers, doesn’t it? And kind of makes you want to call your parents and confess that it was actually you all those years ago that broke the vase - not the family dog as you claimed. One of the most tragic moments of my life came in college during one of the few times I pretended to work out at the gym. I was flipping through the channels and was lucky enough to stumble across this episode on TV. And right before Picard’s grand speech, a heinous monster of a girl walked up and changed the channel. This was in the days before I could just look it up on YouTube. I was inconsolable.
Chain of Command (episode 6.10/11)
First Picard gets captured by the Cardassians. Then Picard gets tortured by a sadistic Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred. Gul Madred tries to break Picard down, every so often trying to get Picard to say that there are five lights above them (when in reality there are only four). The episode culminates in one of the most intense scenes of the series, where Gul Madred has convinced Picard that the Enterprise has been destroyed. And Picard has the choice - be tortured for the rest of his life, or be released...so long as he incorrectly states that he sees five lights. You will never be more proud of anything that has come out of his mouth than when the battered Picard shouts "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!" at his abuser before being released. This episode, amount others, always reminds me that one of the greatest tragedies in human history is that Patrick Stewart was never nominated for an Emmy for his work as Captain Picard. The 1993 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series went to Tom Skerritt for his role in Picket Fences. I’m sure he’s quite a fine and accomplished actor, but has he been knighted by the Queen of England? No? Then his Emmy is invalid.
Now that you’ve read my choices, what hypothetical ST: TNG compilations would you create? And will you be first in line to purchase the Season 1 Blu-ray when it comes out? Or has the Star Trek franchise drained your pocket one too many times?