The sixth season of TNG was sort of weird. There were a lot of iffy episodes, and several that I just didn’t like (and couldn’t tell you why). But it did have my favorite Riker episode of all time.
Best Episode: Of the good ones, none really stood out, so I’m going to pick my favorite, “Frame of Mind” (6.21). Jonathan Frakes turns in a command performance (except for some of his shouting), and the writing is compelling and twisty. We never really know until the very end just how it’s going to turn out beyond a general sense of “everything will be fine at the end of the show”. But as we see in the final scene, Riker is still bothered by what’s happened to him — his fundamental worldview was turned around so many times that he probably still wasn’t sure for several days if he’d really won or not. Honorable mentions: Schisms (6.05), A Fistful of Datas (6.08), Timescape (6.25)
Worst Episode: “Man of the People” (6.03) covered zero new ground and was actually very annoying — a big disappointment after the strong “Realm of Fear” that preceded it. I knew from the preview that I wouldn’t like the episode — Troi falls for a smooth-talking ambassador, but instead of giving each other foot massages, he uses a crystal or something to force his bad feelings on her, making her age prematurely. And somehow it takes until she’s exceedingly gray for the crew to figure this out and put two-and-two together. What has changed on the ship? Oh, I don’t know, maybe the ambassador whose mother just died? Headdesks all around. Honorable mentions: Aquiel (6.13), Birthright Part II (6.17), Suspicions (6.22)
Most Underrated: For almost 30 years, we as viewers had been simply accepting the fact that, on Star Trek, people can “beam” from place to place. We knew McCoy didn’t trust the transporter, but the thing’s been around for a couple hundred years; it should work right, right? Right? Well, in “Realm of Fear” (6.02), we finally get inside the transporter itself, and while the effects weren’t that great (especially the langolier-like creatures), Dwight Schultz played Barclay not as a bumbling fool but as a guy who has a serious concern and knows he’s right. I didn’t think I’d like the episode when I first heard about it, but as it happened, I really liked it, and I think not enough people give it credit. Honorable mentions: Schisms (6.05), Starship Mine (6.18), Timescape (6.25)
Most Overrated: “The Chase” (6.20) is supposed to give us definitive proof that the Preservers existed, right? And it was supposed to prove to us that Picard really could have had a history in archaeology, right? Well, it definitely did both of those things, but it devolved into something more akin to Cannonball Run, where everyone was racing to be the first group to prove the existence of the Preservers. That’s where I lost interest. The problem with episodic television in those days (and even now) was that you had to have action — had to. I’d much rather this have been a slower-paced episode with more science-y bits and research, and less of the Romulans, Cardassians, and Klingons. It took a good premise and killed it. Honorable mentions: Ship in a Bottle (6.12), Tapestry (6.15), Second Chances (6.24)
Best Guest Star: Given that James Doohan was in this season, it might be unpopular for me not to pick him, but I’m choosing Wendy Hughes as Commander Nella Daren. Coming in specifically to play Captain Picard’s girlfriend for only one episode is a big, big task, and she was up to the challenge. She played against Patrick Stewart in all the ways we needed her to, and honestly I think the reason we as an audience responded so well to her was because we saw Picard’s unrequited feelings for Beverly reflected in his choice of Daren as a girlfriend. It wasn’t just the acting or the role; it was also the circumstances. Honorable mentions: James Doohan (Scotty), David Warner (Gul Madred), John de Lancie (Q)
Worst Missed Opportunity: I found myself quite let-down by the B-plots in both of this season’s two-parters. In “Chain of Command”, a devastatingly-great performance by both Patrick Stewart and David Warner was spoiled by the lame Jellico-vs-Riker plotline and the fact that Jellico was written to be the anti-Picard. Ronny Cox did the best he could, but that whole plotline just stunk out loud. As for “Birthright”, while I appreciated the existence of the Bashir/Soong storyline, it seemed quite out-of-place, especially since it wasn’t continued into the second half. It was more like a “let’s give our least-favorite DS9 character some time on TNG so maybe people won’t dislike him so much” scenario.
Strangest Thing: I simply can’t buy the fact that Data’s head was so well-preserved under San Francisco for more than 400 years that Geordi could clean it up and use it again — with all of Data’s memory engrams working perfectly. I realize we’re talking Star Trek here, but the end of “Time’s Arrow, Part 2” was just too farfetched for me to play along. Not this time. Sorry, writers. Next time you blow Data’s head off, find a better way to get it back on.