The triumph of season five is that it was at least as good as the two preceding seasons and features some truly great, even iconic, episodes. This season also includes my favorite episode of all time. The Nielsen ratings were sky high: among the key 18-49 demographic during the sweeps period the rating was 14.6. This was higher than 60 Minutes, Roseanne, Cheers and even Monday Night Football! Redemption part II was a great way to kick off the season, and it was followed by an even better episode, Darmok.
The tragedy of season five is that during this season, on October 24th, 1991, Gene Roddenberry died. This year was the 25th anniversary of Star Trek and on June 6, 1991, Paramount had recently named their newest building after him. The whole cast and crew mourned his passing, and Marina Sirtis has said in interviews that Gene died on the same day that her own father had, 10 years earlier. Everybody said the same kinds of things about him: he was always kind, his office door was always open, he had good humor, was gracious, down to earth, and he really cared. Marina has said he was a dirty old man too, which was probably true! Majel Roddenberry reported in an interview that NASA contacted her not long after his death and wanted to see if they could take his ashes into space, given all he has done to help the space program. She said yes and on October 22, 1992 NASA included his ashes in the Columbia launch, took him around the planet and brought him back down to her. His impact can easily be seen in the idea that really took hold of the world, which is that the future might actually be better! TOS and TNG really encapsulated that idea, more so than any other series I’ve seen. Star Trek will go on, but without Gene Roddenberry around the subsequent series definitely changed.
Something unique to season 5 is that this is the only season in which John DeLancie as Q does not make an appearance. This is also the first TNG season that had stable upper management. The writing staff continued to be stable and this coherence contributed to the show as well. There were two other notable changes in the show. One was very minor, in that Picard’s captain’s jacket was redesigned. The other was Michelle Forbes as ensign Ro Laren.
Michael Piller said in an interview that he and Rick Berman felt very strongly the show needed another female character on board the Enterprise. The trick was getting the audience to accept her as part of the TNG family, but the writers had a plan. Piller explained, “What made the character accepted was that she was embraced by Guinan.” Ro was a remote, angry young woman and by Guinan presenting her to Picard and the crew as her friend, she was inviting the audience to accept her as well. She also happened to have began the whole Bajoran arc and introduced their species, which of course blossomed in DS9. To me the Enterprise was missing something after Wesley Crusher left, because we need someone we care about at the Conn. That piece was put into place with Ro Laren, and an actress of Michelle Forbes’ caliber was perfect. Ro will only appear in eight episodes, but for me it always has seemed like more. Michelle has said the only episode she’d seen previous to her first appearance was the Best of Both Worlds, because her friend Elizabeth Dennehy was in it, and that’s when she realized “it’s really a great show.”
Between seasons four and five Gates McFadden had given birth to her son, James Cleveland McFadden-Talbot. That’s a mouthful! Speaking of female cast members, after four long seasons, finally in season five Marina Sirtis gets an episode to be proud of! Power Play is the first palpable hit for Deanna Troi in an episode showcasing her, and thank goodness for it. It’s a nice, meaty script and I’m glad they finally came up with one for her. Even if she did injure herself trying to do her own stunt.
Season five has some of the best guest stars of the entire series. Kelsey Grammer, Denise Crosby (twice), Paul Winfield, Ashley Judd, Wil Wheaton (twice), Mark Lenard, Matt Frewer, Ray Walston and Famke Janssen all make appearances. Let’s face it though, the greatest guest star (maybe ever?) was Leonard Nimoy as Spock, in the Unification two-parter. How huge is that?! The Next Generation is the only Star Trek iteration that will ever have each of the ‘big three’ from the original series on it: DeForest Kelley in the pilot, Nimoy this season and Shatner in the Generations film. Next season, for icing on the cake TNG also gets James Doohan reprising Scotty!
This is the last season that TNG will have all to itself, as next season Deep Space 9 will be introduced. I recently ran across a quote from Seth MacFarlane, a huge TNG fan who at the time of this writing has launched his own sci-fi show in the Star Trek vein. I think it captures some of what appeals about Star Trek, as well as episodic storytelling in the Star Trek style as well:
Dystopia is good for drama because you’re starting with conflict: your villain is the world. Writers on [ST:TNG] found it very difficult to work within the confines of a world where everything was going right. They objected to it. But I think that audiences loved it. They liked to see people who got along, and who lived in a world that was a blueprint for what we might achieve rather than a warning of what might happen to us.
Both comedy and drama have in common that you must excite viewers with surprise. You surprise them with a laugh or you surprise them with a story. To me–[Gosh], a new adventure every week!–that’s inherently surprising. People don’t know whether they’re going to be getting an adventure show, a social allegory, a love story or a comedy.
Overall it’s a great season of TNG, and next season it will continue. There is a blooper reel also, worth watching. It just underscores how much fun the cast had during shooting. As usual, what follows is a listing to links of my season five reviews, as well as their 1 – 5 star rating.
List of episodes in season five: (links will activate as I review the episodes)
- Redemption II
- Ensign Ro
- Silicon Avatar
- The Game
- Unification I
- Unification II
- A Matter of Time
- New Ground
- Hero Worship
- The Masterpiece Society
- Power Play
- The Outcast
- Cause and Effect
- The First Duty
- Cost of Living
- The Perfect Mate
- Imaginary Friend
- I, Borg
- The Next Phase
- The Inner Light
- Time’s Arrow