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STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION
Season Five

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, , Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brett Spiner, Gates McFadden
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Five Featurettes
Length:  1183 Minutes
Release Date:  November 5, 2002
NOTE:  Complete episode listing is available at the end of this review.

“Nothing is so precious as now.”

Shows ****

As Star Trek:  The Next Generation rolled into its fifth season, it found itself in uncharted territory once again.  Year four had meant that this series had officially surpassed the original in longevity, which seemed to inspire a new and better confidence in the cast, crew and writers.  But year five would be recalled as a more somber chapter in the ST history.  It was the year the show’s beloved creator passed away.

Gene Roddenberry was the true pioneering spirit of Star Trek.  His imagination colored its worlds, and his determination and work ethic kept it alive and thriving even through early frustrations and seeming failures.  The shows, both past and present, reflected his humanity and his optimism for mankind.  His vision of the future gave fans hope, even in the darkest of our present times, that as a race, we could and would prevail over the worse angels of our nature.  The starship Enterprise would continue to boldly go where no one had gone before, but from 1991 on, it would do so without its remarkable leader and most stalwart champion.

Though the shows in Season Five were already starting to air at the time of his death, one can’t help but feel the loss as something so great that it seemed to leave a shadow on the show in retrospect.  The episodes continued on in a manner first fashioned in the previous year:  singularly, but with a self-awareness of its own history, but for many of the shows, the sense of adventure and wonder was often replaced by a bleakness.  As fans would mourn the loss of Roddenberry, so would the show in its own way…a grieving period was needed for all.

This is probably not so apparent as in the two part episode “Unification”, which brought two of the franchise’s most beloved characters back into the fray, but one of them only to die.  Mark Lenard, who made his mark on Star Trek nearly a quarter of a century earlier as Sarek, finalized his work here as the great Vulcan ambassador passed away.  Part of his spirit, though, as we remember, belonged to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Stewart), as part of his flesh continued to live on in his son Spock (Leonard Nimoy).  Each grieves as he sees fit, but ultimately, the situation (and story at hand) must proceed.  One would feel that Roddenberry, as Sarek, would have philosophically approved.

Other episodes have a slightly more morbid feel than others.  “Violations” introduces a new kind of rape into the world of the Enterprise, while “Hero Worship” and “New Ground” both explore, in different ways, the subject of loss from a child’s point of view.  “Silicon Avatar”, in a way only Star Trek could, shows the tragic outcome of a lifetime of bitterness.  But propping up the more pessimistic (if that’s the right word) episodes is a thorough exploration of the beauty of a lifetime in “The Inner Light”, a moving and thoughtful entry in which Picard lives out an entire alternate life without the Federation.  It’s one of Patrick Stewart’s tour-de-force performances as well.

But I don’t want to make the entire season seem heavy handed.  Episodes like “The Game” employ the series’ frequent sense of scientific mystery, and for added fun, even brought back young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) to help save the day as he always did in the earlier years!  And Season Five also boasted one of my all time favorite Next Generation episodes, “Disaster”, which tested the mettle of the Enterprise crew beyond just about anything they had ever had to face, and forced our beloved Picard into a helpless babysitting role despite his admitted discomfort with children!

Others of my favorite episodes aired in this year:  the return of Wesley one additional time to learn some powerful and costly lessons about truth and honor in “The First Duty”, the potent but ultimately futile attempt to humanize the Federation’s most feared enemy in “I, Borg”, and the Jonathan Frakes directed foray into repeating time, “Cause and Effect”, which possibly boasts the most attention-getting opening sequence of any Star Trek episode!

All of this leads to the finale, another season cliffhanger, in “Time’s Arrow, Part I”.  The time-space continuum had been a favorite target of the show’s writers for some time, and this intriguing look at the future’s past was another in a long string of intelligent screenplays about traveling through time.  It’s only appropriate in the year that saw the loss of its creator that Star Trek ended with an eye to the future and one to the past as well.

Season Five was indeed a median year for The Next Generation.  Gene Roddenberry continues to be missed, but his excellent cast, crew and creative team insured that the vision he gave to us would never die. 

Video ***

For some reason, I felt this season marked a slight drop in overall quality compared to previous sets.  I don’t know if less cleaning up was offered as the show entered the 90s or not, but there are noticeable instances here and there where the picture is a little less textured than others.  Overall, the presentation continues to be good, with probably just as many outstanding moments if not more than troublesome ones, so fans have nothing to really concern themselves with.  Just something worth noting, that’s all.

Audio ***1/2

The new 5.1 mixes continue to be good, with select action sequences really opened up because of the multi channel capabilities, and the subwoofer continuing to bring the low frequencies of the Enterprise to life.  High marks again.

Features ***

There are five production featurettes included on Disc Seven…as with previous sets, they include a year-specific “Mission Overview” with cast and crew interviews, pieces on the production and visual effects, and recollections by the team members of their memorable moments from the season.  Each of these are about 15 minutes or so.  The fifth featurette is a half hour tribute to Gene Roddenberry…tasteful and fitting, it includes the dedication of a building to him at Paramount (which occurred not too long before his passing). 

As another nice extra, the disc includes a small CD ROM promo for the upcoming film Nemesis.

Summary:

Dreamers die, but dreams live on.  Star Trek:  The Next Generation Season Five may have born witness to the passing of the irreplaceable Gene Roddenberry, but the strength of his initial vision and imagination was more than strong enough to carry it through.  I believe I will always think of him every time I watch “The Inner Light”.

So Gene, from one devoted Trekkie whose world was made just a little better by your presence…thank you.

COMPLETE SEASON FIVE EPISODE LOG:

Redemption, Part II Conundrum
Darmok Power Play
Ensign Ro Ethics
Silicon Avatar The Outcast
Disaster Cause and Effect
The Game The First Duty
Unification, Part I Cost of Living
Unification, Part II The Perfect Mate
A Matter of Time Imaginary Friend
New Ground I, Borg
Hero Worship The Next Phase
Violations The Inner Light
The Masterpiece Society Time's Arrow, Part I