People talk a lot in Star Trek: The Next Generation; that might explain why it rarely succeeded on the big screen. At the show’s core is a philosophy that strongly favours reason over impulse.
It’s a far cry from the current cinematic vision of the franchise, which puts spectacle before substance and gives characters little time to pause and reflect.
The contrast between Star Trek in the early Nineties and now is particularly clear in The Next Generation‘s fifth season. Aside from ‘Redemption II’, which wraps up the Klingon civil war story started in the Season 4 cliff-hanger, the scripts are light on action and heavy on moral dilemmas. It’s ironic that Gene Roddenberry died a few weeks in, because if any single season of Star Trek exemplifies the values his creation is admired for, it’s this one.
‘Unification’ has historically been one of the season’s most notable episodes because of the presence of Spock and the pre-teaser dedication to the Great Bird.
In truth, though, it’s an ordinary two-parter with only a mundane conspiracy story behind the fan appeal. As such, it’s atypical of a season that is at odds with the idea that Star Trek works best when it’s not taking itself too seriously.
Among the issues touched on in the 26 episodes are assisted suicide, cultural relativism, medical ethics (all of which come up in a single script), terrorism, homosexuality, sacrifice, parental responsibility and the right of self-expression.
These topics are almost always addressed through Jean Luc Picard’s commitment to reason and the scientific deconstruction of evidence, albeit with a large dose of technobabble. This emphasis on deliberation is in contrast to the often reactionary behaviour of the NX-01’s crew or Kirk and Spock in Star Trek Into Darkness.
The Next Generation was peaking in its fifth season because viewers then were more confident that reason could resolve global threats. Given the direction Star Trek has taken 20 years on, it’s hard to imagine we’ll see such a verbose interpretation of it again.