Season Four had some pretty high-concept, hard-hitting episodes. It also introduced a war that apparently everyone in the Trek universe either missed, ignored, or forgot about. And it sent Wesley off to Starfleet Academy, so if you weren’t a fan, you were probably thrilled.
But, of course, the big news was that Picard wasn’t dead and Shelby wasn’t sticking around. I’ll talk about that in my top episodes list when we get there. For now… Season Four.
Best Episode: If you’re going to introduce a new quasi-villain, “The Wounded” (4.12) was a great way to do it. Apparently the Federation had been at war with the Cardassians for some time before TNG — I’d really like to see more on this topic in a pre-TNG tie-in* — and now that peace has been declared we find that one of the heroes of the war can’t deal with the change. Not only did we get a cool new class of ship, but we also got to see O’Brien save the day and we got Picard at his best, doing a distasteful duty that nonetheless needed doing. Overall a great episode. Honorable mentions: Future Imperfect (4.08), First Contact (4.15), Half a Life (4.22)
Worst Episode: “The Loss” (4.10). No contest. How do you follow up Wesley leaving the crew? Apparently you have some two-dimensional aliens take away Deanna’s empathic powers and turn her into a raging bitch. I’m not going to say she wasn’t justified in her actions, but the episode felt very weak to me and in the end no one really learned anything because Troi got her powers back. I’d rather have seen her lose them for a few episodes, or have them diminished and come back over time, and had TNG been aired in the 2000s, we might have gotten that. Alas, the limitations of 1990s episodic television. Honorable mentions: Suddenly Human (4.04), Legacy (4.06), Galaxy’s Child (4.16)
Most Underrated: I know a lot of people give TNG crap for the bad Mrs. Troi episodes, but there were some truffles in the dirt, and “Half a Life” was one of them. The trope of Mrs. Troi looking for love in all the wrong places is never felt more strongly than in this episode — she falls in love with a man who must commit ritual suicide because his society believes that people of a certain age are more a drain on society than a boon. This was probably one of my favorite Mrs. Troi episodes because, for once, she’s not the comic relief. We get to see her as a real character who’s really hurting because she loves this man and she knows he’s going to die before they can have their life together. I’m a sucker for a good love story. Honorable mentions: Clues (4.14), Night Terrors (4.17), The Drumhead (4.21)
Most Overrated: This might seem an odd choice, but I’m going with “The Host” (4.23) — the one where Beverly falls in love with a Trill ambassador whose host body is killed and then the symbiont goes into Riker’s body. It’s an interesting look at the future of love and “is appearance more important than substance?”, and it’s also a little disheartening to see this as the first real exploration of non-traditional relationships in TNG. Clearly, even in the 24th century, some people still have issues with appearance — albeit changing appearance. It was more than made up for on DS9 with Lenara/Jadzia (I’d forgotten how good that episode was), but still, I think too many people make too much of this episode, when really they shouldn’t. Honorable mentions: Data’s Day (4.11), First Contact (4.15), Redemption (4.26)
Best Guest Star: How can I not give it to Majel Barrett for Season 4? In “Half a Life”, as I said earlier, she really knocked it out of the park. After dealing with so many iffy scripts, it was probably quite a relief for her to get this one and realize that the writers had more in mind for Mrs. Troi than just being the comic relief. We’ve seen her play a role similar to this in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, when Nurse Chapel discovers that her once-fiancee is now an evil android, and almost 30 years later she’s still doing it. That’s something to be proud of. Honorable mentions: Suzie Plakson (K’Ehleyr); Bob Gunton (Benjamin Maxwell); Jean Simmons (Admiral Norah Satie)
Worst Missed Opportunity: The first 60 percent of “Future Imperfect” — the one where Riker wakes up 16 years in the future — is one of my favorite parts of this season. I love looking ahead, seeing logical extensions of how characters are going to change and grow. However, once Riker figured out what was going on and it became a Romulan prison camp scenario, I was vastly disappointed — and I was also disappointed with the ending. I’d rather the writers have ended that show another way. I don’t know how, but I just know I wasn’t happy. Big-time missed opportunity there.
Strangest Thing: There were a lot of weird acting choices in this season. Brent Spiner as Dr. Soong (“Brothers”) seemed not to quite be able to pull off the old-man role. Wil Wheaton delivered quite a few lines badly in “Final Mission” — especially when he’s telling off the shuttle captain. And then there was Spiner again in “In Theory”, which wasn’t a bad episode per se, but his outburst at Jenna and some of the ways he behaved were way too over the top. I realize that was probably partially due to direction and writing, but I think Spiner could’ve played it a little better. Just… too much cringeworthy acting in this season.
* That one by Keith RA DeCandido notwithstanding. I mean something a little more current — maybe a book focusing on Captain Maxwell and Chief O’Brien? That would be cool, right? Right? Anyone?