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STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION
Season Seven

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:  1174 Minutes
Release Date:  December 31, 2002
NOTE:  Complete episode listing is available at the end of this review.

“I know what this crew is capable of…even if they don't.”

Shows ****

A phrase that gets used a lot in sports these days is “going out on top”.  It conjures images of those stars of their games who would forever be remembered as being at the top of their form and at the peak of their glory when they bowed out…stars like Barry Sanders or Michael Jordan his first two times.  There is a mysticism and awe about them that we lose a little of when once great stars try to perform far past their prime, such as Andre Dawson.  Or Michael Jordan's third incarnation.

Star Trek:  The Next Generation went out in peak form after seven glorious seasons, each arguably better than the one before.  Year Seven was my favorite year…it boasted some of the cast and crew's best work, including some of the series' greatest examples of writing.  It ended with an episode I still consider to be an apex of science fiction writing.  And it left us in admiration and wanting more.  At least, until the Next Gen crew started making their own movies.

The crew of the Enterprise had spent six full years in our living rooms, at first building upon but later breaking away from the foundation set by the original series, which had become something of a cult phenomenon over the years.  During that time, we Trekkies went from casually measuring them, to accepting them, to loving them, almost growing to a point where we couldn't imagine our weekly routine without them!  Yet that was what we were faced with…knowing that in year seven, the voyages of this Galaxy Class Enterprise would end up where many shows had gone before…out of circulation.

We could see the confidence building in both cast and creators over the years.  By the final year, there was no doubt that the Star Trek universe was comfortably theirs, and it was in good hands.  They had become like a family to each other and to the fans, and family became a running theme of their last year on the air.

Whether it was Lt. Geordi La Forge's (Burton) mother and father (Ben Vereen) in “Interface”, Lt. Worf's (Dorn) half-brother (played by Paul Sorvino) in “Homeward”, Captain Jean-Luc Picard's (Stewart) possible long lost son in “Bloodlines”, Counselor Deanna Troi's (Sirtis) mother (the elegant Majel Barrett) in “Dark Page”, Lt. Commander Data's (Spiner) reunion with his “mother” in “Inheritance”, or even the return of Dr. Beverly Crusher's (McFadden) son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) for a final goodbye in “Journey's End”, the joys, heartaches, triumphs and problems of family were intimately addressed.  In each case, they added more strength and depth to already well rounded characters.

The show's final cliffhanger “Descent” was resolved in Part II, in which the simple difference between right and wrong frees Data once and for all from his “brother” Lore (also Spiner) and his wayward influence.  Another terrific two-part episode was “Gambit”, in which Picard and Commander William Riker (Frakes) are separated from the Enterprise and stumble across an amazing Romulan scheme.

Each character has at least one high point during the year, be it Data's dreamscape in “Phantasms”, Dr. Crusher's battle with an old family curse in “Sub Rosa” (arguably Gates McFadden's strongest performance of the series), Troi having to face a bleak incident from her mother's past in “Dark Page”, Geordi's moral test in “Interface”, or Worf settling the future of his young son in “Firstborn”. 

But several episodes deserve singular mention, starting with “Attached”.  I challenge anyone who would dismiss Star Trek as a lightweight populist sci-fi show to come up with a better example of a teleplay anywhere.  It's filled with humor, honesty, and beautifully played out drama when a diplomatic situation gone awry forces Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher into an unusually close-knit situation.  It's absolute perfection.

“Parallels” offers one of Star Trek's most mind boggling puzzles, exploring the possibilities of an infinite number of alternate realities, each one grown out of the choices we make constantly, and what it would be like to travel between them.  The finale is an eye-popper.

The cast really cuts loose on Gates McFadden's directorial debut, “Genesis”, a dark and often frightening episode in which almost all of the Enterprise's crew de-evolves into lower order animals with base instincts.  It's a triumph of style, make-up, raw performances, and a sense of experimentation that really stands out.

But nothing comes close to the two hour finale, appropriately entitled “All Good Things…”.  Everyone wanted the show to go out on the best note possible, and together, they did it.  This is one of the most imaginative and awe-inspiring pieces of fiction to ever emerge from the Star Trek universe; an episode that really explores the endless possibilities of time and space, and even brings back the popular nemesis Q (John De Lancie) in the process.  The Next Generation saved the best for last, and it earned every moment of its grand finale.

Yes, there would be other shows, and more movies (which were always welcome in my book), but somehow, there was such a perfection to the last episode that it still seems to close this chapter of the franchise.  I enjoyed Generations, First Contact and Insurrection, which were all entertaining enough in their way, but I still tend to think of the Captain and his officers around that poker table for all eternity, with Picard's words “the sky's the limit” echoing a superb sense of closure.  After nearly a decade, I still miss this show…and now, I will certainly miss the time I've spend re-visiting and re-hashing my memories of it with the conclusion of this DVD collection.

So farewell to you all…Worf, Geordi, Deanna, Beverly, Will, Data, Jean-Luc…even to Guinan, Tasha, and Wesley.  And farewell once again to you, Gene Roddenberry…thank you for sharing with us your hopeful vision of the future and making it a part of our present.

BONUS TRIVIA:  The aforementioned “Attached” was written by none other than Nick Sagan…Carl Sagan's son.  Also, Season Seven marked the first and only time The Next Generation was honored with an Emmy nomination for Best Dramatic Series.

Video ***

For my eyes, it seems like the second and third years were the best in the video department.  Season Seven looks fine, but maybe a tad less impressive than earlier years, possibly owing to less work being done as far as preservation goes for being the most recent season.  Colors and images are generally well rendered, with only a bit of murkiness here and there, and a touch of softness in the margins.  Space scenes and low lit settings come across rather well…overall, it's still a good effort.

Audio ***

Will we ever be able to go back and watch these shows on TV in reruns without our 5.1 sound?  These remixed soundtracks continue to be a welcome addition to the DVD releases.  The Enterprises engines have been alive in my subwoofer all year, and it's nice to know they always will be.  Actual surround sequences are limited but tasteful, as the rear stage is mostly used for ambience instead of action.  Still a commendable effort to a commendable year's worth of releases.

Features ***1/2

The features are similar to ones offered on the previous box sets, but they seem a little better and a little more special this time around for being the last season.  The Mission Overview offers cast and crew memories of year seven, while Starfleet Moments and Memories puts the entire run of the series into perspective.  Patrick Stewart offers a warm Captain's Tribute to each of his fellow actors, while a segment on Production highlights directors McFadden and Frakes on “Genesis” and “Attached”, respectively, and the roles of strong women in the Star Trek universe.  Finally, one whole segment is dedicated to the making of “All Good Things…”.  A nice promo for the DVD releases of Deep Space Nine rounds it out.

Summary:

Once upon a time, we were asking if a new generation of Star Trek would ever really fly.  Seven years later, we had our answer…not only would she fly, she would soar to greater heights than any of us could have imagined.  Star Trek:  The Next Generation remains the franchise's crown jewel, and will always be glorified in fans' memories for going out on top.  Season Seven is a triumph.

COMPLETE SEASON SEVEN EPISODE LOG:

Descent, Part II Sub Rosa
Liaisons Lower Decks
Interface Thine Own Self
Gambit, Part I Masks
Gambit, Part II Eye of the Beholder
Phantasms Genesis
Dark Page Journey's End
Attached Firstborn
Force of Nature Bloodlines
Inheritance Emergence
Parallels Preemptive Strike
The Pegasus All Good Things...
Homeward