Here we are, season two! Before I start talking about it, let’s recall that by the time season two started TNG had already accomplished two things, the first considered difficult, the second impossible. The difficult thing was proving that a science fiction show could be successful. Remember in 1987 there were no sci-fi shows on television, and nobody was even talking about them. The impossible thing was to create a new Star Trek series, which most everyone discounted from the beginning. However there was an audience that was hungry for sci-fi and for Star Trek, as Season One’s success shows. Season two was a celebration from the first episode that they had survived!
There were several big changes for season two. Perhaps the most recognizable was the change in the cast. Doctor Crusher is not in season two, because she’s gone to “become head of Starfleet Medical.” I’ve got to tell you, I always considered that one hell of a promotion, from a regular ship’s doctor to the head medical officer in all of Starfleet? Hmm. Anyway, I didn’t know for the longest time what the real story was behind Gates McFadden leaving the show. The official announcement from Paramount was that she’d left the show “to pursue other career opportunities;” this was true in a sense, but it makes you think that she decided to pick up and leave. The reality was that she got a call from her agent the Monday after the wrap party for season one, who told her the producers decided to ‘go in another direction’ with the character–in other words, she was fired. There may have been some falling out she had with some of the show’s producers, particularly Maurice Hurley. In an interview she said she had thought some of the scripts from season one were sexist, and perhaps her saying those things resulted in her getting fired. “I said things in a way that really pissed people off, probably.” She was still stunned though, saying that she had been told by Gene Roddenberry that she was the third most popular character on the show at that time. She returns next season due to a letter writing campaign by the fans, Patrick Stewart’s support and finally Rick Berman’s invitation. She did alright for herself in this year though; she appeared in The Hunt for Red October and taught acting at NYU.
There were two additions to the cast: Diana Muldaur as the new ship’s doctor, Dr. Kathryn “Kate” Pulaski, and Whoopi Goldberg as Ten Forward’s bartender, Guinan. Whoopi was by far the better received of the two. Dr. Pulaski is one of the most disliked characters there has ever been on any Star Trek series, and once you start watching season two it’s not hard to figure out why: she’s replacing a character that TNG fans liked, and during the course of the season proceeds to bicker and argue with Captain Picard on a regular basis, calls Worf a coward, mispronounces Data’s name and doesn’t for a second believe he’s a life form. The plan, according to Rick Berman, was to have a “crusty” doctor who could hold her own with Picard, similar to the Kirk/McCoy dynamic. No chemistry, however, developed. Behind the scenes things were even worse. While they were shooting the episode Unnatural Selection she had to wear some prosthetics and said she would never again work in science fiction–it was only the seventh episode of the season. After she left the show she had this to say: “It wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I thought it would be wonderfully inventive and wonderfully creative, and I found it was not any of those things.” When asked about working with the cast, she said, “Everybody was out for themselves. I don’t think they were happy to have me there.” It was interesting to read that Michael Dorn has said in interviews he got really close to Diana while she was there. Yep, she sure knows how to endear herself to the fans…though some of the blame needs to go to the writers and producers as well. During her tenure on the show she was always billed as a special guest star.
Whoopi really had to cast herself. One of her childhood idols was Nichelle Nichols from the original series, and she has always loved Star Trek. She described herself as a “huge fan” of TNG, and she approached the producers wanting to see if they would write her some kind of role on the show. In fact Levar Burton said Whoopi asked him to go to Rick Berman and tell him how badly she wanted to be on the show, and he didn’t believe Levar. It wasn’t until she called and asked for any role, no matter how big or small that the producers started figuring something out. Her character is actually named after a Prohibition bartender, Texas Guinan. Later on Whoopi ended up getting Dwight Schultz (Reginald Barclay) his recurring role on TNG, having worked with him previously. In an interview Brent Spiner said that once she joined the cast there was a big perception shift in the general public, that a major movie star wanted a regular part on a television show. I think he’s probably right, that it did make a difference, who knows how big. Whoopi said in one of her interviews that Guinan has a bond and back story with Picard that to my knowledge no one has ever revealed, but it’s the one great unanswered question that I would like to ask if I ever met either of them.
There were several other changes this season as well. Season two has the fewest episodes of any season; this is because there was a Screen Writer’s Guild strike in 1988, so the first episode didn’t air until late November. Geordi got a promotion to full lieutenant, a job as Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, and a uniform change from red to gold. This was great because the engineers from season one frankly sucked, and he really shines in that role. They weren’t quite sure how exactly to use him so several times in season two you’ll see him walk on the bridge and say “engineering transfer to bridge” so he can still be on the bridge. It’s a little ridiculous, but not too terrible.
Worf gets promoted to Chief Security Officer, which is a natural fit, and switches from red to a gold uniform as well. He has a different prosthetic forehead, and another change was his baldric. If you liked his sash from season one you’re out of luck because from here on out he’s got a new one that I personally like better. His new baldric was made from bicycle chains and leather was woven through them. Jonathan Frakes grew a beard over the summer between seasons and according to Frakes Roddenberry said “I love it, it’s nautical!” It’s with him for the rest of the series, and for some reason it actually makes me respect him more. In an interview Frakes said they were five or six episodes in to the season when a memo was circulated from middle management saying he needed to reduce the beard by 2%! That’s how closely they watched it.
Marina Sirtis didn’t have to wear wigs anymore, which she wore throughout season one, and I consider it an improvement; she also gets a new maroon uniform, which she was probably grateful for as the costume from season one was made from freakin’ denim! Wesley Crusher dons a new gray “acting ensign” uniform this season which is a vast improvement from season one, and he will continue to wear it up until the end of the third season. Another really nice addition was the institution of the poker game. The poker game became a part of the series as it proved so popular, starting with two episodes in this season and lasting all the way up to the series finale.
The bridge had some slight modifications which you will notice if you look close enough. Also cool was the addition of a new area of the ship, Ten Forward. It refers to its location on the ship, deck 10 section 1 (the most forward section on the ship) and is a place where crew members go when off duty. It’s a combination bar/lounge. The last really cool change was the addition of Dan Curry as visual effects supervisor. He started in season two and they kept him through all of TNG as well as DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. He went on to win seven Emmy awards and receive an additional 12 nominations as well as other awards. He’s that good. In addition to being in charge of special effects he also did other stuff, like designing the iconic bat’leth. I’ll be pointing out cool stuff he does during certain episodes this season.
The Blu Ray remastering of the show into HD was nothing short of stunning in season one. It was almost unbelievably clear, which is why you may be puzzled as to why the quality is pretty uneven in season two. This is because CBS digital outsourced the remastering to a company called HTV-Illuminate instead of doing it themselves. As a result of their uneven work, they will be pulled after this season and CBS Digital will again do the work in season three. For this season though, the remastering is much like the quality of the episodes themselves–sometimes great, sometimes not-so-great.
Update: During this season is a Star Trek extra I was recently told about but can’t seem to find. The 80’s television show Webster series finale had the main character (Immanuel Lewis) appear on TNG! The whole story is here, thanks to TrekCore. Since writing this I have found the episode. It’s a clip show, with Michael Dorn delivering lines so bad even he had some trouble with them. Here is the link.
Season two itself is rather hit or miss. It doesn’t have the utter excellence that will constitute seasons three through six, but it’s certainly a welcome improvement from season one. The plots became more sophisticated, humor became more allowed and there was more of a focus on character development, particularly for Riker and Data, but also for Worf. As a reward for reading this whole thing, please enjoy this gag reel for season two. Following are the links to the episodes:
- The Child **
- Where Silence Has Lease ** 1/2
- Elementary, Dear Data ****
- The Outrageous Okona * 1/2
- Loud as a Whisper **
- The Schizoid Man ** 1/2
- Unnatural Selection * 1/2
- A Matter of Honor *** 1/2
- The Measure of a Man *****
- The Dauphin **
- Contagion ***
- The Royale **
- Time Squared *** 1/2
- The Icarus Factor **
- Pen Pals ** 1/2
- Q Who? **** 1/2
- Samaritan Snare **
- Up the Long Ladder * 1/2
- Manhunt * 1/2
- The Emissary ***
- Peak Performance **
- Shades of Gray 1/2