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STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION
Season Six

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, Two Bonus Trailers
Length:  1177 Minutes
Release Date:  December 3, 2002

“Do you remember the first time you and I met?”

“Of course.”

“Don't be so sure…”

Shows ****

Some fans consider year six to be the apex of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  It's hard to argue against that.  From the death of the show's creator the year before, the series marched forward with a seemingly more intent exploration of the nature of life and time, and added considerable more drama to the science and the fiction.

No episode epitomizes this better than the stunning two part “Chain of Command”.  In it, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Stewart) temporarily relinquishes command of the Enterprise to lead an important covert operation into Cardassian territory, only to find it a waiting trap, leaving him helpless and at the whim of a cruel torturer.  This may be the harshest territory that Star Trek ever boldly ventured into, yet for all its disparity, there is a sense of the unflinching spirit of humanity, personified by one of Patrick Stewart's most astonishing performances in the series.

The nature of life is contemplated over and over again as the year progresses, whether it is the question of what makes a being alive when Data (Spiner) discovers a possible new artificial being in “Quality of Life”, or the way our choices weave indelibly into the fabric of our being as Captain Picard is awarded a chance to avoid a life-altering mistake in “Tapestry”, or asking if there is still dignity in growing old, as James Doohan makes a welcome guest appearance as Scottie in “Relics”.

Every aspect of humanity is explored, from faith, as Lt. Worf (Dorn) questions those who would manipulate Klingon mythology in “Rightful Heir”, to fear, as engineer Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) faces his terrors and makes an amazing discovery in “Realm of Fear”, to the nature of childhood in one of my personal favorites, the amusing “Rascals”.  In it, Captain Picard, his friend Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and two of his officers inadvertently become reduced to children in a transporter malfunction, and ironically, the key to preventing a catastrophe at the same time!

Other members of the crew get their moment in the spotlight as well.  Dr. Beverly Crusher (McFadden) makes a surprising announcement at the beginning of “Suspicions” before telling the tale of how it came to be.  Lt. Geordi LaForge (Burton) finds himself trying to prove the innocence of a suspicious but attractive officer in “Aquiel”.  Counselor Deanna Troi (Sirtis) becomes an unwilling but necessary pawn in the Romulan underground effort to reunite with Vulcan in “Face of the Enemy”.  And for the year's most unforgettable performance apart from Stewart, you have to see the undoing of Commander William Riker (Frakes) in “Frame of Mind”…an episode that pushes the question of real and unreal into the realm of sane and insane.

Season Six is a remarkable year from start to finish, with scarcely a weak episode amongst the 26, though not all of them are as heavy handed as I've made them sound.  One fan favorite involves a holodeck malfunction that leads Worf into the Old West to battle “A Fistful of Datas”.  The popular nemesis Q (John De Lancie) makes two appearances in the year, from the holder of Picard's destiny in “Tapestry” to the potential guardian of a new similar life form in “True Q”.  “Ship in a Bottle” returns the self-aware holodeck character of Moriarty to battle wits with Picard in an ingeniously unfolding episode.  And another favorite of mine, “Starship Mine”, has Picard alone on the Enterprise battling an invading team of would-be terrorists Die Hard style…great fun!  

The season also marked LeVar Burton's first turn in the director's chair, and he offers a solid entry to the series in “Second Chances”, in which the Enterprise discovers another Will Riker…how and why, I'll leave for you to discover.  The series ends with another famed cliffhanger, “Descent”, in which a strangely behaving but still deadly Borg leaves the Captain and crew, especially Data, in a serious bind.  It would be the last of the series' season ending cliffhangers, as the following year would be the final run of The Next Generation's crew on television.

Is Season Six the best year?  Very possibly…for me, it was always a toss up between the sixth and seventh years.  I look forward to reviewing the last year with a fresh take, and maybe deciding once and for all.

Video ***

Though still quite good, the latter seasons of Next Generation don't seem to come across as well as earlier years…perhaps the shows from the late 80s received more attention in terms of restoration and presentation.  Though Season Six offers good coloring and generally sharp imagery in both light and dark settings, there is a bit more texture noticeable in terms of light dustings of grain and other artifacts here and there…nothing distracting, but sometimes noticeable, as when certain scenes fade to black.  It's certainly nothing to turn Trekkies away, but worth noting.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mixes continue to be welcome and pleasing, with the .1 channel keeping the machinery of the ship and outer space humming along, and occasional tasteful discreet uses of the rear stage for episodes with more action and battle sequences.  High marks.

Features ***

As before, the features are all on the seventh disc, and they begin with a “Mission Overview” of the year.  Some fresh cast and crew interviews shed light on what made Season Six so special, with close looks at some of the year's individual offerings.  “Bold New Directions” highlights two cast members turned director, as Patrick Stewart and LeVar Burton discuss the making of the episodes “A Fistful of Datas” and “Second Chances” respectively.  A “Crew Profile” examines the evolution of Data as a character, along with the man who brought him to life, Brent Spiner.  Finally, two production featurettes detail the writing, visual effects, and inspirations that went into the sixth season.

Summary:

Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated a strength, clarity of vision, and boldness in its approach to subject matters that are universal and crucial.  The cast's unity carries off the vision of the writers and creators, and with seemingly more personal stake in the show's success, everyone involved kept the spirit of Gene Roddenberry alive while discovering their own voices more and more as well.  This was indeed a banner year for the show.

COMPLETE SEASON SIX EPISODE LOG:

Time's Arrow, Part II Face of the Enemy
Realm of Fear Tapestry
Man of the People Birthright, Part I
Relics Birthright, Part II
Schisms Starship Mine
True-Q Lessons
Rascals The Chase
A Fistful of Datas Frame of Mind
The Quality of Life Suspicions
Chain of Command, Part I Rightful Heir
Chain of Command, Part II Second Chances
Ship in a Bottle Timescape
Aquiel Descent, Part I