Star 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.
After 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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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
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