Feb 14 2012 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season Overview

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season OverviewStar Trek: The Next Generation Third Season

Original air dates: September 1989 – June 1990
Executive Producer: Gene Roddenberry
Co-Executive Producers: Rick Berman & Michael Piller, with Michael Wagner

Captain’s Log: This was the season when Star Trek: The Next Generation really came into its own. It started with a simple wardrobe decision, changing the uniforms from the ugly skintight spandex to the more flexible (and comfortable!) uniform jackets. Gates McFadden returned as Dr. Beverly Crusher, and the characters of Worf and Geordi La Forge were given promotions to full lieutenant and lieutenant commander, ranks they’d maintain for the rest of the series. By the end of the season, Wesley Crusher’s contributions to the ship were rewarded with a field promotion to ensign (and allowing poor Wil Wheaton to wear something other than gray pajamas that looked like a rejected uniform from Star Trek: The Motion Picture).

But where the show really solidified was in the writing staff. The third season saw the debut of several writers who would remain with the franchise for a decade or more, many of whom would be responsible for some of Trek’s finest work.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season OverviewAfter Michael Wagner cut his tenure as co-executive producer to replace the departed Maurice Hurley short, he was replaced by the late Michael Piller, who would remain as the head of the writers room for the rest of TNG’s run, and who would have a big hand in the development of the next two spinoffs, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Three more writers started working for the show in this season, all of whom not only continued to guide Star Trek, but have gone on to excellent work on dozens of other shows in the years since: Ronald D. Moore (“The Bonding”) and René Echevarria (“The Offspring”) both had spec scripts purchased, which led to staff positions, both eventually becoming supervising/executive producers on both TNG and DS9. Ira Steven Behr joined the writing staff as well; he would go on to become the show-runner of DS9 for most of its run. All three would continue to work on some excellent genre shows (The 4400, Battlestar Galactica, Carnivale, Now and Again, Medium, The Twilight Zone), and still remain top talents today (Behr is the show-runner for SyFy’s Alphas, and Echevarria’s an executive producer of Terra Nova).

Every character got at least one spotlight episode. Wes gets to almost destroy the ship (“Evolution”). Troi falls in love and then has to make her lover look bad in front of everybody (“The Price”). Crusher gets kidnapped by terrorists and dances on the edge of Stockholm Syndrome (“The High Ground”) and gets to help and befriend an amnesiac patient (“Transfigurations”). La Forge gets to fall in love with a holographic blow-up doll/scientist (“Booby Trap”) and be trapped on a planet with a cranky Romulan (“The Enemy”). Worf loses an officer on an away team (“The Bonding”), refuses to help treat another cranky Romulan (“The Enemy”), and gets exiled from his own people (“Sins of the Father”). Data has to talk an entire planet into moving (“The Ensigns of Command”), has a daughter and loses her (“The Offspring”), and gets kidnapped by a crazed collector (“The Most Toys”). Riker has to kill a hot chick (“The Vengeance Factor”) and turns down yet another command (“The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1). And Picard is worshipped as a god (“Who Watches the Watchers?”), gets kidnapped (geez, these guys get kidnapped a lot) and replaced with a doppelganger (“Allegiance”), goes on an adventure complete with sex and violence (“Captain’s Holiday”), does an extemporaneous best-of-Shakespeare in order to rescue Troi’s Mom (“Ménage à Troi”), and ends the season being transformed into a Borg (“The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1).

Plus some of the finest moments, not just of TNG, but Star Trek as a franchise happened in this season: “Sins of the Father” gave us our first look at the Klingon homeworld. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” provided a gripping look at an alternate timeline that’s considerably less pleasant for our heroes. And there’s no scene that has ever been more intense, or caused more screaming, than the final scene of “The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1, ending with an amazing cliffhanger that has never been matched since.

Highest-Rated Episode:The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1, with 10. Mention should be made, however, of the many episodes that rated a 9: “The Survivors,” “The Bonding,” “The Defector,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and “The Offspring.”

Lowest-Rated Episode:A Matter of Perspective” with 1. Boo on lame-ass Rashomon rip-offs!

Most Comments (as of this writing): The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 with a record-setting 51 comments. Honorable mention to “Yesterday’s Enterprise” with 47, the only other episode to clear 40 comments.

Fewest Comments (as of this writing):The Hunted” with 8; “The Vengeance Factor” only had 9, the only other one in single-digits.

Favorite Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity? From “Hollow Pursuits”: We get a whole mess’a technobabble in this one, some real, some not: magnetic capacitors, flow regulators, flow capacitors (which Barclay amusingly later refers to as a “flux capacitor,” since apparently he’s building a time machine), nucleosynthesis, phase transition coils, magnetic quench on the fusion preburners, fuel inlet serves, swirl dampers, gaseous cryonetrium, primary coupling, starboard transfer conduit, ventral relay, and so on.

Favorite Thank You, Counselor Obvious: From “Who Watches the Watchers?”: Troi, along with Riker, tries to minimize the cultural contamination by playing skeptic with regard to “the Picard.” Troi’s distraction succeeds in getting everyone but the easily subdued old man out of the room so Riker can rescue Palmer, and it’s only discovered because Oji goes back to read the sundial (her main duty for the village) and sees Riker taking Palmer away. So it would’ve worked, if it hadn’t been for that pesky kid…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season Overview

Favorite What Happens On The Holodeck, Stays On The Holodeck: From “Booby Trap”: According to Wes, La Forge spent “days” putting together the perfect date program for his liaison with Christy. These days of effort resulted in — a beach, two drinks, and a violin player with a scarf on his head. This was the best he could come up with in “days”? No wonder she wasn’t interested.

Then, of course, the holodeck gives La Forge the perfect date without him asking for it. And the holodeck can apparently create a personality based on profiles and debates at engineering caucuses that flirts, offers to cook, and gives backrubs. Not that that’s at all creepy.

Favorite No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: From “The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1: “Data was available, I took him, we came.” Yes, Shelby really said that. Wah-HEY!

Favorite The Boy!? From “Evolution”: Wes is reunited with his mother for the first time in a year, and things are awkward between them — more so when Wes snaps at Crusher that she hasn’t been there. Of course, that was just the guilt talking: in fact, Wes is responsible for the damage to the ship, an amusing reversal of his oft-cited role as the ship’s savior.

Favorite If I Only Had a Brain...: From “The Ensigns of Command”: Data, last seen playing the violin as Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary, Dear Data,” is now part of a string quartet. His violin playing would continue to be a recurring motif throughout the series (notably in “Sarek” later this season). He also gets to work on using reverse psychology and improvisation.

Of particular note is the fact that Data uses a part from his right arm to modify the phaser. From that moment forward, Brent Spiner never uses his right arm, letting it hang uselessly at his side, a nice touch.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season Overview

Favorite There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: From “Yesterday’s Enterprise”: Worf is also only in the beginning and the end, but his bit in the teaser is simply brilliant. Guinan introduces him to prune juice, which he proudly and without (deliberate) irony proclaims to be “a warrior’s drink.” Worf’s love for prune juice would remain a running theme throughout not only TNG, but Deep Space Nine (there’s a scene in “The Way of the Warrior,” Worf’s first appearance on DS9, where Worf orders a prune juice, and Quark laughs hysterically, cutting it off when he sees the yes-I’m-serious-don’t-make-me-have-to-kill-you look on Worf’s face). Guinan also criticizes him for always drinking alone, and he repeats his comment, made to Riker on Edo, that humans are too fragile. Guinan respectfully disagrees, pointing out that you never know until you try, and Worf smiles and says, “Then I will never know.” It’s a great scene, beautifully played by Michael Dorn and Whoopi Goldberg, and is perhaps most notable for being the first time we see Worf laugh.

Favorite Syntheholics Anonymous: From“The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1: Picard and Guinan talk on the eve of the battle with the Borg, citing a couple of human historical precedents: Nelson touring the Victory on the eve of Trafalgar (Nelson died, but the battle was won, an obvious bit of foreshadowing), and Picard musing if Emperor Honorius knew that, when the Visigoths were coming over the hill, that the Roman Empire was about to fall. Guinan also assures Picard that, even if they lose against the Borg, as long as some of the human race survives, they will prevail — just as Guinan’s own people did when the Borg destroyed her homeworld.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season Overview

Favorite Welcome Aboard: This season is filled with excellent guest stars, including both the return of some old favorites, and the debuts of characters who would come back.

The former includes the now-expected appearances of Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi (“Ménage à Troi”) and John deLancie as Q (“Déjà Q”), as well as Mark Lenard’s appearance as the title character in “Sarek,” once again inhabiting his beloved role from the original series and its movie spinoffs, and Denise Crosby’s return to TNG as Tasha Yar from an alternate timeline in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

The latter includes Susan Gibney as a holographic version of Leah Brahms in “Booby Trap” (the real one will show up in “Galaxy’s Child”), the late great Andreas Katsulas as Commander Tomalak in both “The Enemy” and “The Defector” (he’ll return in “Future Imperfect” and “All Good Things...”), Tony Todd as Kurn, Charles Cooper as K’mpec, and Patrick Massett as Duras in “Sins of the Father” (the former to return in “Redemption” and DS9’s “Sons of Mogh,” the latter two to come back in “Reunion”), Jennifer Hetrick as Vash in “Captain’s Holiday” (showing up again in “QPid” and DS9’s “Q-Less”), and Elizabeth Dennehy as Lt. Commander Shelby and George Murdock as Admiral Hanson in “The Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 (both returning in Part 2 at the top of next year).

Mention also must be made of some spectacular one-off guests: John Anderson and Anne Haney as an elderly couple in love with an awful secret in “The Survivors,” Kathryn Leigh Scott elevating an otherwise poor episode as Nuria in “Who Watches the Watchers?” James Sloyan as Admiral Jarok, the first of Sloyan’s many roles on Trek, in “The Defector,” Kerrie Keane’s justifiably bitter Devos in “The High Ground,” Tricia O’Neill giving us a more-than-worthy Enterprise captain in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Corbin Bernsen’s hilarious uncredited cameo as another Q in “Déjà Q,” Max Grodénchik’s audition for Rom in “Captain’s Holiday,” Harry Groener’s disturbed Tam Elbrun in “Tin Man,” Mark LaMura’s compassionate portrayal of “John Doe” in “Transfigurations,” and especially the magnificent Saul Rubinek’s stellar portrayal of Kivas Fajo in “The Most Toys.”

But the best guest star in a season filled with great ones has to be the birth of a beloved recurring character who would return in multiple episodes of TNG and Voyager, as well as Star Trek: First Contact, and be mentioned on the other two spinoffs, DS9 and Enterprise: Dwight Schultz as Lieutenant Reginald Barclay in “Hollow Pursuits.” Nice job, there, Broccoli...

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: Third Season Overview

Favorite I Believe I Said That…: From “The Price”:

“We’ll need chairs.”

“I am Captain Picard of the Enterprise. I am serving as host for these proceedings.”

“Good, then see to it that we get some chairs.”

“Let me explain...”

“Fine, fine! Just have your Klingon servant get us some chairs.”

“I’m in charge of security!”

“Then who gets the chairs?”

“DaiMon, due to the delicate nature of these negotiations, all parties have agreed that one representative will suffice. Now, I will be happy to provide your counsels with accommodations, and you may have my chair.”

DaiMon Goss obsessing over chairs, Picard (and Worf) trying and only partially succeeding in setting him straight.

Favorite Trivial Matter: Probably the one for “Sins of the Father,” because holy crap, that was a long one....

Make it So: Just looking at the ratings for this one overall bespeaks its tremendous quality: 18 of the 26 episodes ranked 6 or higher, which is a damned impressive percentage of above-average episodes. Only one rated lower than a 3, and that was “A Matter of Perspective,” my animus for which relates primarily to my love for the movie that it used (poorly) as source material.

This season is not only a good one for its great episodes—though there are plenty of those, culminating in “The Best of Both Worlds,” one of the greatest cliffhangers in television history and one of the best episodes of any Trek series — but for its consistency. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a consecutive run of eight episodes of any series that matches the sequence from “The Defector” to “Sins of the Father,” even with the drag effect of “A Matter of Perspective” in the middle of it.

Where the second season settled things down a bit after the chaos of the first season, the third season solidified TNG as a show that had finally outgrown the shadow of its predecessor and could stand on its own as a truly fine television show.


Warp factor rating for the season: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido would really like everybody reading this to buy his police procedural set in a city filled with superheroes, SCPD: The Case of the Claw. Think The Wire meets The X-Men. Dozens of random strangers on the Internet think it’s excellent, and really, what more testimonial do you need? Go to Keith’s web site for ordering links. You’ll be glad you did.

James Whitehead
1. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
The brighter set & better uniforms led me to hope that the show was going to come into its own back when it first aired. Overall I have to say that I really liked this season. I felt it was when they stopped rehashing old Trek plots, let Picard be captain of the Enterprise & not anti-Kirk, & have faith in the actors talents to write better stories.


PS - Although I still did not like 'the boy.' Simply because the writers overused him so badly - Wheaton himself was said to be embarrassed about that.
Rancho Unicorno
2. Rancho Unicorno
I'm torn - I enjoyed today's entry but I forgot that it would appear (and was thus expecting the latter half of The Best of Both Worlds). So I'm happy but irritated at the same time. But, still, an excellent recap to an excellent season.

As I went through your lists, there was nothing I really disagreed with - if I were to sit down and think it though, I might differ, but nothing strikes me as wrong. Except for the I Believe I Said That section. I would have thought that "Resistance is futile" would have taken honors there. Was it just too obvious a choice?

I also expected the laser in your face shot to close the entry, but I agree that the Menage a Troi shot works better. How does that not rival the face palm for meme-building (maybe it does, I'm not one of the cool kids)?
Chris Lough
3. TorChris
@2. The images in this post were my doing, and I've found that the Locutus laser shot doesn't quite work as a still. In the show the laser wibbles around but as a still you either get a tiny flare of red or the whole pic is washed out by the laser. The menace gets undercut. (The final close-up of Riker in that episode is similarly problematic. In motion, Frakes narrowing his eyes and intoning "Fire." is exciting. as. hell. But as a still it just looks like he's getting sleepy.)

So since we couldn't go for foreboding, I went for goofy. Because I can't resist a picture of Picard being silly. (We're in real trouble once we get to "Q-Pid.")

In general, we try to go for a balance between stills that are silly, stills that visualize the narrative as Keith is relaying it, and stills that come off as overlooked iconic images. It's a fun challenge to try and find something that visualizes an episode other than the image that fans already associate with it, and it (we hope) makes these episodes feel a little more fresh.
Rancho Unicorno
4. Christopher L. Bennett
Sadly, that should be " Behr was the showrunner for Syfy's Alphas." He's been replaced for the second season by former Eureka showrunner Bruce Miller.
Keith DeCandido
5. krad
Rancho: The only reason you got anything today is because it was an overview. I just got my latest novel -- Goblin Precinct -- out the door this morning, and then dove right into this overview. If I had to sit and watch an entire episode, especially one as intense as BOBW2, I wouldn't have been able to handle it. So count your blessings. :)

Christopher: Ah. I was not aware that Ira had left Alphas. Pity.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Justin Devlin
6. EnsignJayburd
Each Trek series has had its stellar seasons, but this one has to be my favorite even if it turns out it's not the best (the jury is still out on that one actually). Finally I was able to silence my naysaying friends and relations who thought TNG wasn't up to TOS standards. I was able to show them episodes like "The Defector," "Sins Of The Father," "The Most Toys," and "Yesterday's Enterprise." What really won them over (and I mean all of them) was "The Best of Both Worlds." It cannot be overstated how groundbreaking and influential an episode of television that was...
Rancho Unicorno
7. gibson99
You've done a good job reviewing, Keith. Since you freely admit to your personal bias, I'll let it slide that A Matter of Perspective is rated lower than my personal least favorite, The High Ground. Worst presentation of moral relativism ever!
Rancho Unicorno
8. AlBrown
Totally agree that this is when the show began to hit its stride. Great episodes and good stories.
And it was about time for Star Trek to actually show crew members wearing a uniform that, while still looking too dressy and stiff, looked more like something someone might wear on a real ship.
Rancho Unicorno
9. Plasha
@gibson99 - you either need to re-watch The High Ground or look up moral relativism.
Rancho Unicorno
10. Rancho Unicorno
@TorChris: I appreciate the insight. To be honest, I hadn't realized how perfect it was for Valentine's Day. The missus isn't a huge fan of the series, but she puts up with my watching. That shot sent me home wanting to specifically watch the scene. Which led to her laughing and enjoying the episode more than any episode that she's watched in a while...

@Keith:..which led to todays post being all the most useful since it gave me the tips to run through a "best of season 3" clip night. Which led to her complaining when I pointed out that it was 1am, I had to get up for work at 4:30am, and that if we started watching BoBW:II we wouldn't get to bed until 2. Still, it isn't like Netflix won't be there tonight.

I appreciate you getting out this post today - busy days can be nightmarish, especially when you want to get out quality work. Don't tell Leigh, but this rewatch is a bigger Tu/F highlight for me than the WOT/GOT readings.
Nate Shouse
11. MnemonicNate
Great recap, krad, as usual! I'm wondering if you'll eventually do a broad comparison from season to season, as I'd like to see your analysis of season 3 versus season 4.

Chris: Excellent image choices, as usual. Picard taking the arrow in "Who Watches the Watchers" was probably my favorite goofy image of the season. Well done!
Rancho Unicorno
12. gibson99
@Plasha - I watched the episode a few weeks ago, and I just read several differing definitions of the term online. It's a broad and subjective term, so perhaps we use it differently. I'm not sure what your point is other than baiting me into an argument. Someone else will have to indulge you.
Rancho Unicorno
13. ChrisG
Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this rewatch. I really enjoy it and look forward to each entry.
Rancho Unicorno
14. trekgeezer
This is by far the best season of the show, followed by seasons 4 & 5

All though far superior to the first two seasons, 6& 7 couldn't compare to them middle 3.

A side note: Ira Behr will not be returning to Alphas for the second season.
Rancho Unicorno
15. Electone
So there you have it - TNG's best season. I can't really explain why it's not my favourite season (which is season 2), but this is the show at it's best. I'm in the camp that prefers Yesterday's Enterprise to TBOBW, but they are both top-notch.

Best Episode: Yesterday's Enterprise
Honourable Mentions: The Offspring, The High Ground
Worst Episode: Menage a Troi
Funniest Moment: Picard singing in Ten Forward, Allegience
Worst Acting: Levar Burton, The Booby Trap
Most Touching Moment: Lal's death, The Offspring
Rancho Unicorno
16. Adam Byrne
Hello Keith,

I really enjoy your reviews but is this some kind of joke in regard to Data not using his right arm after he uses a part of it to modify a phaser? In a photo from your very next review he is clearly holding something up with his right arm (a model of dancing ballerinas) and I distinctly remember him raising both arms later in the season as well to try and catch hold of someone who was levitating or whatever - can't quite recall exactly what was going on as I've been watching one episode a night for the last 60 nights, but seriously Keith, he does use his arm and plenty too!

Thanks, Adam.
Kerry Engelhardt
17. geniusscientist
@16, he means for the rest of the episode/scene. Not for the rest of his life. Presumably he could have his arm repaired.

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