Q, Who (original airdate: May 8, 1988)
Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rob Bowman
For its first two seasons, The Next Generation struggled to figure out what it was going to say that would set is apart from the Original Series and the feature films. “The Measure of a Man” was an excellent demarcation point of the showrunners realizing that the exploration of humanity through the story of Data would elevate the series. This episode is monumental because it introduced what is arguably the second element that distinguished TNG, The Borg.
To make the Star Trek universe feel vast, it was decided to hold off on using the same alien races from the Original Series. This is what introduced the Ferengi in season one, but they were deemed too comical to be equivalent to the threat of the Klingons and Romulans. The Borg could have been introduced in season one, but the 1988 writer’s strike held them off until the second year. Their design was inspired by the work of H.R. Giger, the mind behind the xenomorph from Alien.
This is one of the episodes I distinctly remember seeing (likely in reruns) when I was a child. The Borg were fascinatingly creepy because they were as new to the characters as to the audience. We’re following right along with the away team investigating the seemingly innocuous cube ship, uncovering strange drawers where babies with borg tech are being incubated. This was a much better blending of Star Trek and body horror than the bizarre season one “Conspiracy.” The body horror here is explored in the same way Enterprise crew would encounter any alien species.
This is also a Q episode, the antagonist introduced in the series premiere of TNG. He’s a multi-dimensional being, part of a cosmic collective. Q believes that humans are rotten to the core and has decided Picard is the one human he will poke at for eternity. This episode is an interesting one because the solution to the problem involves Picard admitting humanity can’t find a solution for every problem and have been beaten. This is magic to Q’s ears, and he allows the Enterprise to live another day.
Deja Q (original airdate: February 5, 1990)
Written by Richard Danus
Directed by Les Landau
This is season three’s entry in the ongoing Q saga, this time dumping the troublemaker on the Enterprise without his powers. Apparently, his Collective has decided Q has spread too much chaos through the universe and will be mortal. This is a very humorous episode with the jokes coming out of the powerless arrogance of Q, seeing him forced to adapt to essential biological functions like eating and sleeping. The Enterprise crew are quite bemused at this but have a bigger problem going on in the background, a planet about to collide with its own moon.
While “Q, Who” dealt with the fallibility of humanity in the face of profoundly daunting circumstances, “Deja Q” is all about how much humanity exists within Q. Of course, he has difficulty with the material, but what’s more interesting is how he deals philosophically when he can’t solve a problem with his omnipotence. There’s a moment where Q could just abandon the needs of humans and worm his way back into the collective, but his experience as a human compels him otherwise. Does Q actually develop and change in his next appearance? Nope. But that was sort of the deal with Q, always begrudging to admit when the humans are right.
Yesterday’s Enterprise (original airdate: February 19, 1990)
Written by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell, Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by David Carson
The Enterprise encounters a distortion in time that allows its predecessor Enterprise-C to escape its fate two decades prior. This anomaly causes the timeline to alter, and the current Enterprise and its crew have a new history because of this change. That includes Tasha Yar still being alive and head of security. Only one person seems to know something is wrong, Guinan, the bartender in Ten Forward. The Federation is now engaged in a brutal ongoing war with the Klingons, and it is Guinan who knows that the Enterprise-C must return to its point in time and be destroyed to fix reality.
I love a good time travel/alternate reality story, and this is a great one. Like good science fiction, it uses the fantastic premise to explore themes of sacrifice and the greater good. As Guinan is able to make her scrambled memories more precise, she eventually convinces both crews about what needs to be done. Tasha Yar provides a fascinating wrinkle because she realizes if the timeline is repaired, she ceases to exist, no one in the Enterprise will remember she was there because her death will be restored.
What’s even better is that the choices made in this episode have long-lasting consequences, which I’ll cover in a later post. This version of Tasha Yar gets to go out on a much better note than her death in “Skin of Evil,” which was unceremonious. There’s a noble sacrifice being made without substantial proof of what will be restored only that the circumstances created by the Enterprise-C’s absence in the timeline are about as terrible as things can get.
The Offspring (original airdate: March 12, 1990)
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Data decides to start a family by constructing an android “child” he names Lal (Hindi for “beloved”). He allows Lal to choose their gender and even species with the child settling on presenting as an adult human female. Lal struggles to adapt to life aboard the Enterprise; finding children in the ship’s school are frightened of her, and she has to overcome some obstacles in understanding human emotions. Picard is nervous that Lal was constructed in secrecy, recalling the events of “The Measure of Man,” where Data’s autonomy was handed out by Starfleet with hesitation. Picard reports this, and Admiral Haftel comes onboard demanding Lal be turned over to him for study. Picar once again argues for Data’s humanity, citing the previous decision and stating that if Data views Lal as his child, he has parental rights and custody.
Once again, a Data-centric episode proves to be one of the best, doing what is Star Trek’s specialty, exploring profound existential ideas in a way that is easy to understand. Once you can get over the often laughable “robot” acting from the woman playing Lal and dives into the meat of the episode, it gets very good. While the writers of TNG may have been thinking of slavery while they penned episodes about humans being seen as property, I believe there is, even more, to say about this is a contemporary context.
As corporations are patenting manipulated genomes, and artificial intelligence is slowly becoming more complex, the questions surrounding humanity become more urgent. Ever since the abolition of slavery gained traction, those in power have been searching for loopholes. We see it in America’s prison system and the wage/debt ratio that keeps so many people working to stay alive. It would not be too far a leap to see corporations claiming that humans they have sufficiently genetically altered or AI they have designed are property, not people.
One note of something beautifully progressive is how Data allows his child to choose how they represent themselves. For 1990 this is a really advanced idea to throw out to mainstream audiences, something probably not thought about too hard by most viewers. Now, in our modern context, where trans people are given more prominence and openness than before, it’s a beautiful dream that a child could define themselves as a simple part of their own development into adulthood.
Sins of the Father (original airdate: March 19, 1990)
Written by Drew Deighan, Ronald D. Moore & W. Reed Moran
Directed by Les Landau
Worf is probably my second favorite character, after Data. He’s my wife’s favorite on TNG after watching all of these best of episodes with me. Worf is to TNG what Spock was to the Original Series. I think Data and Spock often get lumped together, but I say Worf has more in common with the ambassador. Both men are the result of being raised in two worlds, and the core of their character is how they balance these two sides of themselves. Worf leans on the more measured side as a result of being raised by humans and as a member of Starfleet, but he still feels the pull of the more passionate and volatile Klingon culture.
This episode has Worf confronting the slandering of his family name, as his estranged brother Kurn seeks out his help in restoring their family name. Soon the Klingon High Council will charge their father, Mogh, posthumously as a traitor based on logs recovered from the devastated Khitomer colony. As the brothers investigate, aided by Picard, they uncover the truth that another prominent Klingon is trying to shift his own father’s traitorous actions onto Mogh.
This is the prelude to an even bigger Worf story from seasons 4-5, and it’s a side of Klingon culture not glimpsed often at this point in the franchise. All of these elements would be further expanded in TNG and especially Deep Space Nine, where Worf’s story got to continue. I think watching Worf’s struggle between two cultures is always fascinating viewing mainly because of the strong writing and the fantastic acting from Michael Dorn. Worf is such an awkward person, someone trying to live up to a toxic male expectation, but knowing inside that there’s another, better path he could follow.