The Unexpected Is Our Normal Routine: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2

2×01 “The Child”

There’s some housekeeping here. Geordi has been promoted to chief engineer, which like Worf’s move to security chief is a much better fit for the character than just being a floating dude who does whatever needs doing. It always seemed so weird to me that season 1 had so many extra characters but no dedicated chief engineer. Dr. Crusher has been promoted to the head of Starfleet Medical to explain Gates McFadden’s departure from the show between seasons, which makes things a bit awkward when she returns to the show next season and her rank is still only commander without even a casual mention of her accepting a demotion to return to the ship or anything like that.

Beverly’s replacement, Dr. Katherine Pulaski, has very little in common with her predecessor aside from a fierce devotion to the practice of medicine. (… which we didn’t get to see much of from Beverly in season 1, but will see plenty of later in the show.) This was likely intentional to differentiate the characters, but the direction they initially seemed to be going for was “Dr. McCoy, but a woman.” She’s afraid of transporters, she’s cranky, she’s gruff… and unfortunately, they also try to map McCoy’s playful racism towards Spock over to Pulaski’s interactions with Data. It’s as bad of an idea as it sounds. Fortunately, this is softened as the season goes on, but it still pops up occasionally and I just hate it.

The other big addition to the cast is Guinan, who is both a recurring guest star and a civilian, but both of these details bely her importance to the show. Guinan ends up dispensing salient advice to basically every member of the crew on multiple occasions. And Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is so fantastic that you really buy her as an informal authority on basically everything. In this first appearance, everybody’s favorite bartender and Socratic Method enthusiast helps Wesley decide to stay onboard the Enterprise. It’s a nice way to solve this loose thread in a way that doesn’t feel perfunctory, but rather organic and character-driven.

“But wait,” you’re wondering. “This all sounds kinda good!” Yes, it certainly does. The thing is, I haven’t talked about the main plot of the episode yet.

This episode actually made me unironically cry when I saw it as a younger, more impressionable enby boy. Now it’s impossible not to see how grossly manipulative it is, and I’m insulated by the fact that I’m just seethingly angry the whole time. This is so fucking regressive. It’s a wonder Deanna’s character ever recovered from this episode.

The scene where they’re literally having a staff meeting about what to do about Deanna’s child right in front of her while she sits there silently is one of the worst moments of the entire show. That Picard allows this conversation to go on for so long is a betrayal of his entire leadership philosophy. And all of it is just to give Deanna a pseudofeminist Moment when she finally shuts them down. Because women are allowed to be angry about babies, and literally nothing else.

Of course after all the shit I’ve been talking about season 1, season 2 would open with one of the worst episodes of the series.

(D-Rank)

2×02 “Where Silence Has Lease”

I got stuck on this one for a while because I was having trouble coming up with anything to really say about it but I think that’s a sign to just move on. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s just extremely okay. It was nice to see Riker and Worf getting some new boyfriend bonding time, even if Picard was kind of a space racist about it. Speaking of space racism, they’re still pushing the Pulaski being weird about Data thing pretty hard, can’t wait until we get to the part of the season where they start to tone that down.

(C-Rank)

2×03 “Elementary, Dear Data”

One of the most memorable episodes of the entire show. Data and Geordi are in top form as Holmes and Watson, and the holographic Moriarty is one of the best antagonists of the entire series. He’s brilliant, outwitting Data (which makes sense given that that’s what Geordi programmed him to do), holding Dr. Pulaski hostage, and eventually engaging in a philosophical debate with Captain Picard. Just amazing stuff.

My only real complaint is they’re still pushing Pulaski’s space racism pretty hard and it really feels like a bad fit for her otherwise levelheaded character, but it’s forgivable considering how otherwise awesome she is in the episode.

(S-Rank)

2×04 “The Outragoues Okana”

The subplot with Data and the standup comic was really not my favorite, though it is always nice to have Guinan involved. Okana is just a Han Solo cosplayer and it’s pretty distracting how out of place he is in this setting, though it is funny seeing him seduce crew members left and right, and it was kind of nice having it explicitly stated that Starfleet trusts their crews to be adults when it comes to sex.

(C-Rank)

2×05 “Loud as a Whisper”

Extremely 80s/90s approach to “empowering” people with disabilities in a way that largely centers abled people, but it could’ve been way worse. And Deanna gets to shine. Including the subplot where Pulaski offers to grow new eyes for Geordi in this episode made it pretty clear we were veering towards Very Special Episode territory and made the episode as a whole feel more than a little tokenizing.

(C-Rank)

2×06 “The Schizoid Man”

It’s always fun to see Brent Spiner getting to DQ Something Different, this time because Data is hijacked by a dying scientist. I’m also a big fan of Dr. Selar, because I love Vulcans and I’m a huge nerd and used to read Peter David’s deuterocanonical New Frontier novels which primarily used TNG side characters and characters from the Starfleet Academy YA novels to populate its crew. Her appearance here is as a glorified background character, but yeah.

As much as I love Spiner getting something different to sink his teeth into, his erratic behavior is pretty cringey and full of things meant to provoke secondhand embarrassment, which is something I always have a hard time watching.

All of that being said, I bumped this up literally an entire ranking just for the opening scene where Data invites Geordi and Deanna to his quarters to solicit their feedback on how he looks with a beard, and Deanna blurts “I’m sorry, I have to go now” and rushes out of the room to avoid bursting into laughter.

(C-Rank)

2×07 “Unnatural Selection”

A good Pulaski episode! I don’t really ever love rapid aging as a medical peril, but it at least has a really creative mechanism in this one. And this is when the show really started figuring out Pulaski’s character. I especially loved how her butting heads with Picard was handled, and the revelation that she had requested assignment to the Enterprise out of respect for Picard’s record. A lot of great character work all around.

(B-Rank)

2×08 “A Matter of Honor”

Commander Riker is the best himbo in this one!!! The entire episode is about him participating in an officer exchange program that has him serve aboard a Klingon ship, and he’s just super up for everything and his enthusiasm for it is just such a refreshing approach to this kind of plot. Especially considering I’m headcanoning his enthusiasm as stemming from a desire to learn more about his boyfriend Worf’s heritage.

The B plot with the Benzite exchange officer aboard the Enterprise is also pretty great writing and it’s integrated well with the A plot. Wesley and Picard especially have great moments where they navigate the difficulties with their borrowed officer fantastically.

(S-Rank)

2×09 “The Measure of a Man”

This is arguably the moment when TNG became TNG. At question is whether or not Data is a fully sentient being deserving of equal protection under the law. The setting for this battle is a courtroom, which Picard describes as “a crucible; in it, we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a purer product: the truth.” In reality, this is rarely what a courtroom is, but it works super well when it’s depicted this way in fiction and I have to admit I do have a weakness for dramatic courtroom scenes.

One complaint: at no point does someone repeat the iconic TOS line, “This is a court of space law!” (Just kidding. It would have been woefully out of place here. Just couldn’t not reference it.)

(S-Rank)

2×10 “The Dauphin”

I’m not especially interested in Wesley’s romantic misadventures, and I kind of super hate how he’s written towards the end of this episode especially. But fear not! There are one or two great Worf moments in here, and Guinan and Riker trying to teach Wes how to flirt devolving into Guinan and Riker just aggressively flirting for real is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series.

(C-Rank)

2×11 “Contagion”

A fellow Galaxy-class ship just exploding right in front of the stunned bridge crew is a pretty dramatic way to close the teaser. It leads into a pretty solid episode where the Enterprise and a Romulan Warbird are both infected with a computer virus left behind by an ancient, powerful civilization. The part where Geordi gets beaten up by the turbolift is iconic.

(B-Rank)

2×12 “The Royale”

I might have this ranked too highly but it’s just always been a weird favorite of mine. I seemed to catch it a lot when I was flipping channels, and I just really like the weirdness of these characters being stuck in a casino from a poorly-written paperback as well as the initial mystery that led them down to the planet with the recovered fragment of a NASA vehicle.

I’m probably looking at this through nostalgia-tinted glasses, but it really is a favorite of mine.

(A-Rank)

2×13 “Time Squared”

Just a pretty straightforward “there’s an anomaly we don’t understand and we need to figure it out or the ship will be destroyed” kind of episode. Solid, but unremarkable.

(C-Rank)

2×14 “The Icarus Factor”

We skipped this one because the concept of “difficult fathers” is pretty much always abuse apologism and more than one of us finds that sort of thing triggering. I’ve seen it enough times that I knew we weren’t really missing anything.

2×15 “Pen Pals”

Starts out as a bad Prime Directive episode but ends up turning into a good Prime Directive episode! And on top of that a good Data episode!

I still think the idea of the Prime Directive prohibiting stopping global cataclysms without the populace even knowing is ridiculous, which if you’re keeping track at home means Star Trek Into Darkness’s depiction of the Prime Directive is better than the early years of TNG which uh yeah yikes.

There’s also a great subplot where Wesley is given command of a project. Riker and Troi do a great job of supporting him and he learns a lot. I especially love how this story headfakes at one of Wesley’s team members being kind of a jackass but actually he, along with the rest of the team, is willing to follow Wesley’s lead and even ends up praising his thoroughness in the scene in the conference lounge later. It’s just super cool seeing Wesley learn how to be a better leader and make mistakes and have everything work out great and everyone be supportive of him. It’s effectively an example of Star Trek’s themes about how we can have a better world in action.

(B-Rank)

2×16 “Q Who”

A good Q episode plus the introduction of the Borg. It’s funny that the Borg are in so few TNG episodes but they’re still one of the first things a lot of people associate with the series because their first few appearances are just so phenomenal. Also seeing Quinan ready to straight up fight Q was fantastic.

(S-Rank)

2×17 “Samaritan Snare”

The Pakleds are extra iconic thanks to being brought back to be big bads in Lower Decks, but I think my favorite appearance of theirs is in the FMV game Star Trek: Klingon. This first appearance of theirs is quite strong, though. And I think having Riker in command of the Enterprise for this episode worked super well, it really played to his strengths.

This is also when we start to see a shift from Riker to Geordi as the show’s primary damsel in distress. It’s understandable that the creative team initially thought the show’s designated sex object was the logical choice for that role since the two often go hand in hand, but I think having the guy wearing future glasses is a much better fit in terms of audience relatability.

Meanwhile, Captain Picard and Ensign Crusher get some awkward bonding time on a shuttlecraft journey to a Starbase, and Dr. Pulaski ends up having to save Picard’s life when “routine” heart surgery (lol 24th century) goes wrong. Picard’s reasons for not wanting Pulaski involved in the procedure are a bit difficult to understand, especially considering the respect he developed for her in “Unnatural Selection,” but this B plot still had a lot going for it as well as adding a sense of urgency to the A plot.

(A-Rank)

2×18 “Up the Long Ladder”

What the fuck? How did a season 1 episode end up at the end of season 2?

(D-Rank)

2×19 “Manhunt”

This episode contains the staggering revelation that women on Betazed essentially “own” their men, and uh, wow weird I found myself suddenly super interested in Betazoid culture when I first saw this episode? Less interesting to me (but still hilarious) is this exchange when Riker and Troi are explaining Troi’s mother’s “condition” to Captain Picard:

Riker: Yes, it’s something Troi warned me about when we first started to see each other. A Betazoid woman when she goes through this phase quadruples her sex drive.
Troi: Or more.
Riker: “Or more”? You never told me that.
Troi: I didn’t want to frighten you.
Riker: [Grins broadly.]

The scene where Lwaxana tricks Picard into having a romantic dinner with her and he escapes by insisting Data join them is freaking hilarious, and Data just obliviously playing along is so adorable. He’s just in full Good Boy mode. We also get Worf’s iconic declaration “I am not a man” when Lwaxana is sizing him up, which is clearly intended to mean that he is not human but I’m choosing to read as him coming out as an enby a full 31 years before a Star Trek television series actually had a canonical enby.

Picard’s choice of a Dixon Hill program for calm relaxation is kinda super weird since he keeps getting pissed off whenever anything violent or exciting happens. Like, maybe pick a different program or put it in tourism mode? There has to be a tourism mode, right?

(B-Rank)

2×20 “The Emissary”

I love Worf episodes, and this is one of the best Worf episodes. It shows its hand early on by having Worf kick ass at poker while being ruefully referred to as “the ice man” by his friends, and he continues to be the focus thanks to the dramatic arrival of his old flame K’Ehleyr, the episode’s titular Federation emissary.

The scene where Worf and K’Ehleyr consummate their relationship on the holodeck is one of the most moving to this point of the series. Though Worf’s declaration, “Then this night had no meaning!” when K’Ehleyr refuses to join him in a Klingon marriage oath afterwards is a bit frustrating. It can mean something and still not mean that, my dude! But that kind of inflexibility and black and white thinking does actually make perfect sense as one of the character’s shortcomings at this point in his development, and seeing him gradually grow out of that over the course of the show (something that continues into DS9 as well) is super rewarding.

K’Ehleyr’s mission is to assist the Enterprise in dealing with a Klingon Battlecrusier whose crew has been cryogenically frozen since the Federation was still actively in a state of war with the Empire. Although I’m a bigger fan of the Klingon Attack Cruiser which we’ll see later in the series, it’s pretty cool seeing the iconic old Battlecruiser in action towards the end of the episode, and the soundtrack that accompanies it is freaking awesome. Actually, the soundtrack in the aforementioned scene between K’Ehleyr and Worf is also incredible. In addition to its other strengths, this is just a fantastically scored episode.

The episode also ends on a strong note, with Worf and K’Ehleyr masquerading as Klingon warriors in command of the Enterprise, and ultimately closing with their heartfelt goodbye in which K’Ehleyr admits that their night of passion “did have meaning” and Worf says he will “not be complete” without her.

(A-Rank)

2×21 “Peak Performance”

You might not like it but this is what Peak Performance looks like. (Sorry, I had to.)

Riker is given command of the obsolete U.S.S. Hathaway for a war-game simulation. There’s a wonderful scene where he recruits his boyfriend Worf. He also names him his first officer over Worf’s strong objections given that a superior officer is present, insisting, “you need to be at my side.” Gayyyyy! Rounding out Riker’s crew are Geordi (the aforementioned superior officer), Wesley, and a no-name ensign.

The Hathaway is badly outmatched. Their opponent: the Enterprise under the command of Captain Picard with Data serving as his first officer, not to mention the entire crew complement still aboard aside from those I explicitly mentioned earlier on the Hathaway.

The entire episode is basically about how much of an unmitigated badass Riker is. The Federation observer spends basically the whole episode badmouthing him in front of Picard, and Picard finally has enough and pulls him into his ready room to give him an earful about how awesome Riker is. It’s pretty damn cathartic.

Also cathartic is the subplot where first Riker and then Data challenge the same Federation strategist to the extremely silly-looking future cyber boardgame Strategema. Worf confides that he has waggered heavily on Riker to last surprisingly long, which is another lovely moment between the boyfriends in this episode, but he’s sadly decimated almost immediately. Data is also beaten soundly in his first attempt, which actually shakes his confidence quite a bit. I would have found this subplot a bit annoying if it didn’t lead to a pretty awesome conversation in which Captain Picard tells him, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” I’m a little surprised this is the first time Data is learning that lesson considering his lengthy service in Starfleet, but it’s still a lesson well-delivered by Picard and thus a pretty cool moment. And Data goes on to humiliate his opponent in their rematch by forcing a perpetual stalemate.

Another thing I love about this subplot is that Dr. Pulaski’s attitude towards Data has clearly evolved quite a bit. She treats him as a friend and fellow officer with much less awkwardness than we’ve seen in the past. It really is nice to see a different side of her towards the end of her run on the show, and it just makes it feel like even more of a shame that she didn’t get a proper sendoff from the show.

(A-Rank)

2×22 “Shades of Gray”

I’m not one of those people who thinks a clip show is always bad, in fact I often find myself enjoying them. The fact that this one in particular is centered on Commander Riker virtually guaranteed that I wasn’t going to hate it. Also apparently they almost called it “Riker’s Brain” which would’ve freaking ruled, but alas.

While I don’t agree with the reflexive hatred of a clip show, it is hella disappointing as a season finale. Especially since this is the last time we ever get to see Dr. Pulaski. It really would’ve been nice to see her get a better sendoff.

(C-Rank)

S-Rank: 4
A-Rank: 4
B-Rank: 4
C-Rank: 7
D-Rank: 2
Average: 3.04/5 (B-Rank)

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