I have been (very slowly) rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I recently finished up Season 5, and it was an interesting turn for the show. The show had matured or aged or some other term, and it was looking for a bit of a spark.
There’s the obvious, of course – the addition of Ro Laren. It reminds me a lot of Buffy season 5, looking back at it: inserting a new character into the mix to inject a bit of new perspective and life into the show. But it’s not all that changed this season, so let me share a couple of my larger observations with you!
Finishing Off the Existing Plots
There was a sad shadow cast over season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gene Roddenberry, the show creator and show runner and general king of the nerds. There was enough of a team together that the show and world of Star Trek continued on, of course, but it was still a big hit.
So one thing I really saw in season 5 was that they cleaned up the existing dangling plots. The two-parter that led into the season, Redemption, closed up the plot with the Klingons that had been going since the first season. They got their new leader, Worf and his brother acquitted themselves with honor, and things were looking good on the Klingon front.
Of course, this opened up a problem with the Romulans – and in particular, the Romulan Sela, daughter of Tasha Yar. Well, from an alternate reality. It was starting to seem a bit confusing. And I’m thinking others were confused as well – like this was maybe all Gene Roddenberry’s idea?
So they resolved this plot, in a mid-season 2-parter with Spock in it, as a memorial story to Gene Roddenberry. They’re not the best episodes, but from a standpoint of watching the show, they’re necessary episodes. They cleaned up what had come before, and let them move ahead to new and other things.
Who Exactly Was Their Audience?
There were a few themes that I saw coming up time and again, in the idea behind the episodes, in the characters included. Like, a lot. And they seemed somewhat at odds with each other, making me wonder who the intended audience of the show was. Or maybe wondering who, outside of their existing audience, they were trying to reach out to.
One was the relationship between the sexes. With episodes looking at gender and gender roles, relationships, perfect partners, and psychic molestation… yeah, I didn’t watch all of these. Following along the episode descriptions on Wikipedia is a nice thing…
Another theme was children. In the first several seasons, children existed mainly in the person of Wesley Crusher. However, when he left for Starfleet Academy, apparently there was a void there, which was not filled by one person, but by many.
Well, there was one child in particular – Alexander, Worf’s son, who became a recurring character. However, there were a number of other children, like the ones who end up trapped with Picard in Disaster, or the boy who worships Data in Hero Worship. Far more children, it felt like, than had been in the prior four seasons combined.
So with two themes like these, who is your target audience? If it were just children added, I would think it was an attempt to draw in young viewers – like myself at the time it was airing! If it were just the relational episodes, I would think they were going for a “mature” audience. Both? I am not sure about both. Maybe… parents? Maybe everyone.
That’s what I wonder – were they trying to have something for everyone within the show? Closing up the long-standing plots and focusing more on the daily life, the aliens-of-the-week, is the sort of thing that can make a show more accessible to newcomers. So perhaps that really was the goal.
There were a lot of other themes as well – I saw a lot with memory, or loss of memory (does this appeal to an older crowd – or frighten them?); and a lot with different cultures and clash of cultures, which is at the heart of Star Trek. There were still plenty of aliens, moral decisions, time travel, the Borg… the things that made it Next Generation were all still there, there was just also… more. It really feels like they were trying to be a show for everyone.
Some of my Favorite Episodes
So I mentioned before that some of the first Next Generation that I really remember is Best of Both Worlds and the cliffhanger two-parter. However, after this, I remember a lot more. So there was a lot of nostalgia for some of my favorite episodes – Cause and Effect, Disaster, Time’s Arrow, The Inner Light, The Next Phase.
There were also some great quotable episodes – like Darmok:
“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”
Or Cost of Living:
“The higher, the fewer.”
In season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you can see a show that has hit its stride, and which is trying to grow, to appeal to more viewers. The show ran for two more solid seasons, and spun off Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as four movies, three of which are worth talking about… Something they did worked, and I think you can see some of that this season. I’m excited to finish up my rewatching, and I’m thinking I might watch DS9 afterwards – it’s all on Hulu!