Star Trek had its ups and downs in 1991. The year began with The Next Generation well into its fourth season and no longer the awkward offspring of a TV classic. The show had come of age and was buoyed by overwhelmingly positive comparisons with its 1960s predecessor.
At the year’s end, though, Star Trek’s biological father was dead.
Gene Roddenberry had been influential in scriptwriting decisions in TNG’s third season, but the installation of Rick Berman and Michael Piller as showrunners and his failing health meant the fourth was effectively out of his hands. It was also the last full season he would live through before he passed away.
Despite Roddenberry’s minimal oversight, though, Season 4 of TNG is a fitting epilogue to his life. Aside from its premiere – the finale to ‘The Best Of Both Worlds’ – no episodes stand among Trek’s greatest.
Yet, several exemplify the values and intelligence that Roddenberry is credited with investing in the franchise. ‘Suddenly Human’ and ‘Galaxy’s Child’, for instance, aren’t classic episodes, but they are classic Trek in their celebration of life, diversity and humanity through dilemmas involving ethics and choice.
‘The Drumhead’, meanwhile, transcends nerd appeal with the casting of screen legend Jean Simmons and a script that makes a prescient point about not sacrificing principles in our efforts to defend them.
Less inspiring is ‘Final Mission’ with its predictable tale of father-son bonding that at least has the virtue of packing Wesley off to school. ‘Data’s Day’ is also ho-hum, but after 164 episodes Star Trek was probably due a wedding story (‘Amok Time’ doesn’t count). Meanwhile, ‘Family’, highlights the absurdity of casting Patrick Stewart as a Frenchman by making Jean Luc Picard’s relatives enunciate proper English just as well as he does.
Overall, though, The Next Generation’s fourth season is a solid sci-fi experience that suffers in comparison to the season before only because that was such a big step up from what the series had previously produced.