Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach, Not Even the Stars: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 3

3×01 “Evolution”

This is the first episode with the new, much-improved uniforms (though the seams they have for the first few episodes are a bit annoying) as well as the new title sequence. I’ve always liked the seasons 3-7 title sequence drastically better, so good to see that. (And yes I know about the really annoying weird starfield wipe, but it’s still overall a better-looking title sequence.)

Also sometime between the end of season 2 and now, Geordi has been promoted to lieutenant commander and Worf has been promoted to full lieutenant, both of which make a lot of sense given their responsibilities as department heads. And Dr. Crusher has returned to the ship after a yearlong absence.

I would’ve appreciated some closure for Pulaski’s character. Even if they couldn’t get Muldaur back for one episode, they could’ve at least mentioned the reason for her departure in dialogue like they did with Dr. Crusher at the beginning of season 2. Oh well.

The episode as a whole was just sort of okay. Wesley accidentally releases a bunch of nanites, they evolve aggressively until they achieve sentience, and they cause a bunch of malfunctions on the ship ranging from comical to genuinely dangerous. The crew eventually finds a way to communicate with the nanite colony, and resolves the conflict peacefully desptie Dr. Kelso from Scrubs trying to do a genocide to them for Reasons.

Not the most memorable episode by any stretch, but also not the worst. If it came on when I was flipping channels (if flipping channels was still, y’know, a thing) I’d probably leave it on.

(C-Rank)

3×02 “The Ensigns of Command”

The Enterprise is contacted by the Sheliak, a reclusive, xenophobic species that considers humans literally lower lifeforms. (Well, that’s uncomfortably hot.) The Federation has a treaty with the Sheliak and the Sheliak absolutely refuse to interact with them in any fashion that is not directly related to that treaty.

The Sheliak inform Captain Picard that he has three days to remove a human “infestation” from one of their planets before they take extreme measures themselves. Unfortunately the planet has a rare form of radiation that is supposed to be deadly to humanoids (apparently the colonists have become immune) and which also interferes with transporter signals, so their timetable is quite out of the question. But the Sheliak are having none of it, as they insist on following the absolute letter of the treaty. Further complicating matters is the fact that the human colonists are refusing to leave.

Data must step outside of his comfort zone to beam down to the planet and convince them to leave, because any other crewmember would be stepping out of their alive zone if they beamed down to the planet. And it’s damn interesting to see that Data has a comfort zone? Something I’m gradually realizing is that Data can be read as a pretty direct metaphor for neurodiverse people like myself, and a pretty positive one at that. Some details are sketchy in this reading, like his quest to become human. But this reading is dialectical. That is, I’m not saying that it was the intention of the creative team for Data to be a metaphor for people like me. This reading is about my relationship to the text, not the text itself, and thus it would be unreasonable to expect every aspect of the text to conform to this reading.

In the B plot, an increasingly frustrated Captain Picard must find a way to convince the Sheliak to delay their destruction of the colony so they can be evacuated without the use of the transporter, while an increasingly frustrated Lt. Commander La Forge tries to modify the transporter. (“Gentlemen, you have an assignment. The one thing we don’t want to hear is that it’s impossible.” “I need the transporters to function despite the hyperonic radiation.” “But that’s im–yes, sir.” […] “Now, how are we progressing, Mr. La Forge?” “About like you’d expect, sir.” “Splendid. Splendid. Carry on.”)

Ultimately it’s Picard who finds a way within the treaty to ask the Sheliak for a delay, which… is honestly what he should’ve been doing in the first place rather than trying to relate to them like he would other humanoids? But at least he gets there. And just then Geordi bursts onto the bridge and declares that they can do it, they can modify the transporters! “It will take fifteen years and a research team of a hundred–” but Picard cuts his chief engineer off with the reassurance that the Sheliak have given them the time they need.

But what of Data’s mission? Data also tries to approach things as though he’s working with people who have a similar frame of mind to his own. His primary obstacle is that their leader is stubborn and powerful, and throws his weight around and bullies his people–many of whom are actually swayed by Data’s argument–into making a futile stand with him. Data finally realizes he doesn’t just need to convince them, he needs to break this man’s power over them, and he has to do so through a tactic that does not come naturally to him: a show of force.

As uncomfortable as it is for Data, he knows that the greater good is served by convincing the colonists not to stay and be slaughtered by the Sheliak. And while he is far, far from his comfort zone by this point, he is still able to impart wisdom. “This is just a thing, and things can be replaced. Lives cannot.”

(B-Rank)

3×03 “The Survivors”

This is one of those episodes that’s pretty damn good for 90% of it–the mystery, Picard being the only one to see through it and completely perplexing the crew with his handling of it, a few outstanding Worf moments (“Sir. may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay, with a non-functioning weapon, was an act of unmitigated gall.” “Didn’t fool you, huh?” “I admire gall.” And later, “Good tea. Nice house.”)… but the ending just sucks so hard it drags the rest of the episode down.

Let me just make this one simple. Hey, writers? Captain Picard’s professed moral confusion about whether someone who committed genocide on an interstellar scale should be condemned is an abdication of your responsibilities to the character, the show, the audience, the entire fucking human race. I have no idea what you were thinking.

(Some brief research shows that the writer of this episode has no other screenplay credits on the series, and got a “story by” credit on the so-so “Evolution,” and the pile of incel crap that is “Booby Trap”–more on that later–so I guess that answers that.)

Again, it’s a pretty enjoyable episode on the whole, but wow does it ever leave you with a sour taste in your mouth.

(C-Rank)

3×04 “Who Watches the Watchers”

A good Prime Directive episode???

I love that the planet being observed here is populated by Vulcan Lites instead of the usual Human Lites. And I love that the Prime Directive is finally being applied to a situation where it’s actually a useful guideline, and that the various ethical dilemmas that need to be sorted through actually make sense, and are approached with the intention of minimizing harm. In other words, in a way that centers the needs of the vulnerable people in the situation.

And once everything is sorted out, we actually see the Enterprise’s crew parting from the Mintakans on a note of hope. Nuria tells them, “You have taught us there is nothing beyond our reach.” And Picard adds, “Not even the stars.”

(A-Rank)

3×05 “The Bonding”

When a child loses his mother on an away mission, the crew of the Enterprise–notably Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, and Lieutenant Worf–do their best to console him. Ensign Crusher is also asked to do so but finds himself uncomfortable with the request, which is an extremely mature depiction of trauma coming back up. You’re not always gonna be at your best, no matter how much you want to be.

I really love how everyone rallies around this kid, and I would rate this higher but like it’s a good episode but it’s not exactly fun to watch? And the alien doppelganger of his mother is pretty uncomfortable.

(C-Rank)

3×06 “Booby Trap”

This would be a D-Rank if it weren’t for the scene where Captain Picard gets to drive. Incel Geordi is one of the most genuinely uncomfortable recurring things in the entire series, and this is when it’s absolutely at its worst. And why the heck are you trying to convince me that half the ship wouldn’t want to date the heck out of nerdy LeVar Burton? Get out of here with that nonsense.

Seriously the vast majority of this episode’s runtime is just so uncomfortable, and it’s not even all the Geordi incel stuff. There’s also the fact that he isn’t engaging the rest of his engineering team in the problem at all, he’s just trying to fix the whole thing in a protracted sexy argument with his holographic crush. There’s even a moment where Picard congratulates him and “his team,” not knowing what’s actually going on, and Geordi responds evasively. It’s SO uncomfortable.

But, yeah, Captain Picard flying the ship manually is one of the absolute best moments in the series. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is. And the bit at the beginning where he’s aghast because no one but O’Brien has a clue what he’s talking about when he talks about ships in bottles is pretty great. This scene also features Worf’s iconic assertion, “I was never a boy,” so enby icon Worf confirmed.

(C-Rank)

3×07 “The Enemy”

Season 1 ended with the dramatic first appearance of a Romulan Warbird, and an ominous promise from its commander: “We… are back.” It was one of the only truly great moments of the season, and the Romulan Warbird is one of the best Star Trek ship designs of all time, dwarfing the Enterprise in size and appearing threatening and predatory in its angles. (Yeah, I’m kinda sorta attracted to a starship.) Yet an entire season has passed since then with the Romulans appearing only once or twice, and those appearances have been noticeably inconsequential. That changes starting now, as the Romulans become one of the main antagonists of the series, and will be involved in many of its best episodes. This episode also introduces Commander Tomalak, who will be one of the major recurring antagonists of the show.

LaVar Burton is given truly juicy character writing to work with instead of incelly bullshit, and he unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park. Geordi convinces Bochra, a Romulan who is also stranded on an inhospitable planet, to work with him so they can both survive. They gradually start to trust each other, and by the time they part they do so as something surprisingly close to friends.

Parallel to this is a storyline where another Romulan in the Enterprise’s custody essentially needs a transfusion from Worf and Worf refuses. Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard both try to convince him to change his mind, with Picard stopping just on the verge of ordering Worf to cooperate, but the point is rendered moot when the Romulan dies.

I would have found this parallel plot pretty upsetting were it not for one detail, which is that when Beverly calls Worf down to sickbay to see the dying Romulan and Worf appears to be about to change his mind, the Romulan tells him he would “rather die than pollute [his] body with Klingon filth.”

I still think Worf ultimately made the wrong choice. I think if the writers wanted that to be more ambiguous they probably should’ve said that there was a negligible but non-zero risk for Worf rather than explicitly stating that there was no risk. But I also don’t feel like it would be my place to lecture someone in Worf’s position, and I think having him grow gradually rather than all at once makes way more sense.

Also, for what it’s worth, I really appreciate that Picard and Riker both respect Worf enough to not try to force him to do what they think is right. And I love, love, love that Worf went to Riker for advice basically immediately. Theirs really is one of the best relationships on a show full of great relationships.

(A-Rank)

3×08 “The Price”

Probably the best Deanna-centric episode so far. When the Enterprise hosts negotiations for ownership of what’s thought to be the first stable wormhole ever discovered, Deanna ends up falling hard for one of the negotiators, Devinoni Ral. Ral is a human representing the Chrysalians, a neutral and peaceful planet that is competing with the Federation, Ferengi, and Caldonians.

Ral comes on to Deanna very strongly, which is super uncomfortable from an outside perspective in all honesty, but he always seems to know just how hard he can push. Which he later reveals is because he, like Deanna, is an empath. They grow very intimate very quickly, and they have what I’m going to guess are the steamiest sex scenes of the series so far. I’m ace so I’m super not the target audience of scenes where “and then they did The Sex” is supposed to be hot, so don’t quote me on that.

Things get even more complicated when the Ferengi poison the Federation negotiator. With Captain Picard unavailable to replace him due to his position as host of the negotiations presenting a fairly obvious conflict of interest, the most logical choice to replace him is Commander Riker, bringing Troi’s closest and most trusted friend into direct conflict with her new beau.

Troi expresses discomfort with Ral not disclosing his empathic abilities to those he’s negotiating with. I’m a bit skeeved out by him in general and think he should probably disclose it to people he’s pursuing interpersonal relationships with, I… really don’t think he needs to do so in the context of his job? And he rightly points out that Deanna uses her own abilities to advise Captain Picard, often without informing the targets of her insight that she’s an empath. We see her disclose it quite openly in situations where she’s on friendly terms with the person she’s interacting with, but when she’s using it to give the Enterprise an edge in an investigation or confrontation, or (hey, wait…) negotiation, she doesn’t. And I agree with Ral that that hardly seems different than what he’s doing. I don’t really think either of them are being unethical in that regard, fwiw. But I think the fact that Ral evidently exercises the same secrecy in his personal life is grossly unethical. Plus he ultimately doesn’t settle for his empathic edge in the negotiations, working with the Ferengi to stage a fake attack to swing things the rest of the way to his side.

This isn’t the point the episode wants to make, emphasizing that his empathic abilities told him that the Barzan were about to award the winning bid to the Federation. But that really isn’t what matters. What matters is Ral’s actions, not how he got there. To the writers’ credit, though, he isn’t just uncomplicatedly evil. When the wormhole turns out to be unstable on the other side, and therefore worthless, he admits defeat and says he’ll honor the agreement he reached with the Barzan.

He’s just all wrong for Deanna, though. He makes sense for a torrid love affair, but he’s too selfish and shortsighted to make a good partner for her. And the basically back to back scenes where Riker and then Troi call that out are just so godsdamned satisfying.

(A-Rank)

3×9 “The Vengeance Factor”

One of those episodes that’s watchable with some decent character interactions, but not the best-written and always falls out of my brain pretty much immediately after I watch it.

(C-Rank)

3×10 “The Defector”

(CW: Suicide.)

What if the real defector was all the friends we made along the way?

This is an amazing Romulan episode. A Romulan admiral named Jarok (initially misrepresenting himself as a much lower-ranking officer) defects to the Federation, bringing urgent information about a secret base being constructed in the neutral zone as a precursor to war. The scene where his scout ship is pursued across the border by a warbird honestly kinda rules, with the warbird charging aggressively into frame and just really coming across as an angry bully of a starship. (*fans self.*)

The crew does everything they can to question Jarok and otherwise investigate his story to try to corroborate or debunk it. And no matter how much digging they do, they keep coming up with the same answer… there’s just no way to be sure, they’re going to have to make a judgment call.

Ultimately, Jarok is telling the truth… but he himself was duped. There never was a base. He was fed false information to test his loyalty, with setting a trap for the Enterprise being icing on the cake.

The Enterprise moves to leave, but is unsurprisingly cut off by two Romulan warbirds that open fire repeatedly, knocking the Federation ship around in what is clearly an act of intimidation, as Picard points out that if they wanted to destroy the Enterprise they would have.

They are then hailed by an exuberant Commander Tomalak, who demands Picard surrender the Enterprise. He gloats that he plans to dissect the Enterprise for every piece of information the ship can provide and “display its broken hull in the center of the Romulan capitol as a symbol of [their] victory,” and the crew will be taken as prisoners of war.

I don’t find Tomalak particularly attractive, but damn that’s kinda hot.

Fortunately Picard doesn’t agree, revealing his ace in the hole: three decloaking Klingon birds of prey.

What I freaking love about this is that the episode actually dropped several hints about this with Picard having several off-camera discussions with Worf that the audience knows about, but there’s so much else going on it really doesn’t necessarily jump out at you until you’re rewatching the episode.

The episode does, unfortunately, end on a downer note with Jarok taking his own life out of despair of being branded a traitor for nothing. The episode neither condones nor condemns this choice, treating it as a tragedy but not wagging its finger at the audience. It’s honestly the best way to handle it, because the heavy-handed moralizing a lot of other shows would do in this situation really doesn’t help anyone.

(S-Rank)

3×11 “The Hunted”

In a similar spot to “The Vengeance Factor,” but it at least has a much better message and a more cathartic resolution. I did roll my eyes pretty hard at the whole “prisons fine/gulags bad” thing. It was nice to see Data and Counselor Troi take an active interest in the plight of the prisoners, though, and Picard being willing to back them up as much as he could within the constraints of the diplomatic situation.

(C-Rank)

3×12 “The High Ground”

This was actually kinda even-handed? Like, there was still some expected liberal distortion of the reasons for revolutionary violence (it’s less about it being effective and more “we’ve tried literally everything else,” generally), but it was still better than I would’ve expected from the show on this topic. Definitely pretty both sidesy, but that was probably a best case scenario here.

(C-Rank)

3×13 “Deja Q”

Q is such a great character but a lot of his early TNG appearances are just so-so. This was a strong concept and it was pretty well-executed for the most part, but it feels like it was still just a little too early in the show’s run to be trying to paint him so sympathetically.

(C-Rank)

3×14 “A Matter of Perspective”

I’m probably higher on this one than a lot of people, but I’m sorry, I love me a good murder mystery.

(B-Rank)

3×15 “Yesterday’s Enterprise”

This episode just has so many things going for it. The Enterprise-C, the alternate universe war with the Klingons, Tasha’s return, a featured role for Guinan. And it builds a hell of an episode around all those things, easily one of the best of the show. Hell, easily one of the best of the franchise. This is a landmark episode.

(S-Rank)

3×16 “The Offspring”

I did everything I possibly could have not to cry this time, and I still sobbed hopelessly all over one of my partners.

It’s just incredible to know something is coming, consciously decide to try to insulate yourself from it, and still be completely unable to. Literally the only thing holding this back from an S-Rank is the way Captain Picard was written at the beginning of the episode. Like, we already treaded this ground in “Measure of a Man,” an episode this one literally references so it has really no excuse to overlook this.

When Picard comes around, though, he’s at his absolute best. Literally throwing himself between Data and a Starfleet admiral who wants to take Data’s daughter from him to study her. The admiral even explicitly threatens that by doing so he’s risking his career, and Picard says that doing the right thing in this situation is more important than that.

Even the admiral gets a sort of mini-redemption arc when Lal suffers a catastrophic (and ultimately fatal) malfunction, assisting Data in his attempts to save her. When the admiral updates the crew on the situation he’s visibly emotional, and impressed, saying, “His… hands were moving faster than I could see, trying to stay ahead of each breakdown. He refused to give up. He was remarkable.”

Just an incredible episode all around.

(A-Rank)

3×17 “Sins of the Father”

Yeah we are super in a good stretch of the show here.

The teaser and first act are both taken up by a Klingon officer named Kurn temporarily taking over for Commander Riker in basically a reverse of the fantastic season 2 episode “A Matter of Honor.” The interesting wrinkle here is that while he’s very hard on every crew member, demanding complete obedience (hot), he’s extremely polite to Worf, to the point that it’s blatantly patronizing.

The first act ends with the revelation that the reason Kurn has been goading Worf is to test the Klingon side of him… because Kurn is his brother! And he needed to see if Worf could be relied upon to answer a challenge to their family’s honor back on the Klingon homeworld.

This introduces a longterm story arc for Worf and the Klingon Empire as a whole, and I’m just a big fan of every episode that comes out of this.

Picard also kicks ass in this episode. Worf asks to be relieved of duty to answer this challenge to his family’s honor, and Picard totally fakes him out by saying no… because his captain should be standing at his side! I was ever so slightly disappointed that Worf ended up asking Picard, and not Riker, to be his cha’DIch, but his reasons make sense, and Picard actually really shines in this role. Plus I think this is one of the first big examples of Picard starting to move into a more personal mentorship role with Worf to help groom him for command, a project that Sisko will later pick up on in DS9. And as a huge Worf fan, I love this move.

(A-Rank)

3×18 “Allegiance”

A solid episode that I don’t have much to say about, except that ha ha ha yeah of course I relate to the species that surrenders to everyone, shut up.

(B-Rank)

3×19 “Captain’s Holiday”

I love this Indiana Jones bullshit, and Vash is delightful. Also Picard being too grumpy to go on vacation was freaking adorable. A really terrific change of pace.

(A-Rank)

3×20 “Tin Man”

I feel like a lot of people would probably rate this one higher than me, but I don’t know, I just have trouble connecting with it. It’s cool seeing some Romulan warbirds in action, that’s honestly probably my favorite thing about this episode.

(C-Rank)

3×21 “Hollow Pursuits”

I appreciate the way Captain Picard challenges Geordi to help Barclay instead of just giving up on him. The holodeck scenes are kind of a cross between hilarious and so uncomfy they’re kind of genuinely hard to get through.

It was nice to see the whole engineering team tackle a big problem together and save the ship, it would be nice to see more departments get to shine like this.

(B-Rank)

3×22 “The Most Toys”

Pretty straightforward episode where Data is kidnapped and resists his captor, even to the point of having to confront the limits of his largely pacifist nature. Meanwhile, the Enterprise investigates his disappearance, and Data’s best friend Geordi having a strong showing in this part of the plot.

As a huge Worf fan, I also super appreciated the little mini subplot of Worf taking over at ops! Glad to see Captain Picard and Commander Riker have so much confidence in him, their discussion of who should replace Data lasts like two seconds because they both think it should very obviously be Worf.

(B-Rank)

3×23 “Sarek”

Pretty heavy at times, but it was great to have that connection with TOS and especially the movies. A fan-favorite episode for sure, and lays the groundwork for an even better two-parter down the line.

(A-Rank)

3×24 “Ménage á Troi”

The only things I really appreciated about the main plot were Troi and Riker almost kissing before they’re interrupted by Troi’s mother, and Riker tricking that Ferengi by goading him into a chess game. Kidnapping plots are generally kinda my jam, but the methods of restraint in Star Trek are sadly often limited to just like “you’re gonna sit in a room with a forcefield wall.” Yawn.

In other news, this is the episode where Wesley gets his promotion to full ensign and gets a real uniform, which was an extremely big deal to me as a kid. Also Wesley continuing to work on trying to rescue Troi and Riker rather than catching his transport for his Academy oral exam was a really great character moment.

(B-Rank)

3×25 “Transfigurations”

Extremely so-so, and despite being a Beverly episode this is just kinda nothing in terms of her characterization. I didn’t learn anything new about her, nor did it strengthen or highlight anything I already knew. This really feels like it could’ve been imported from a previous season or TOS.

(C-Rank)

3×26 “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”

It simultaneously feels like I don’t even need to say anything here, and like I should say everything.

I mean… it’s The Best of Both Worlds. It’s probably the episode that is the most synonymous with the show. What do you even say?

This is one of the few TNG episodes I had on VHS, and I watched it over and over without ever getting tired of it. What really impresses me upon revisiting it is that it’s not just the conflict with the Borg that’s going on, you get all these incredible character moments around it. One that’s always stood out is Guinan and Picard’s conversation in Ten Forward when Picard is essentially walking the hallways of the ship because he can’t sleep. It’s just such a perfect moment, and I’m so glad the episode found room for it.

Then there’s Commander Shelby, a character who is given quite a bit of screentime and a meaty conflict with Commander Riker that makes all their interactions so damn compelling. She essentially out-Rikers Riker, with Will confiding to Counselor Troi, “she comes in here full of drive and ambition. Impatient, taking risks. I look at her and I wonder whatever happened to those things in me? I liked those things about me.”

And why is Shelby given so much screentime, aside from as a very effective foil for Riker (and a pretty awesome character in her own right)? We find out that Riker has been offered a command of his own, and Picard encourages him to take it.

And then the Borg kidnap and Borgify Picard.

Suddenly Shelby’s presence, and the fact that she’s given so much screentime to establish her as a credible possible replacement for Riker, takes on an entirely new meaning. Is Riker leaving the show? Is Picard? What is going on?

But for one incredible moment of drama, it just doesn’t matter. We get the stunning reveal of Locutus of Borg, his chilling challenge to Riker and the Enterprise… and it builds into one of the most iconic cliffhangers in television history. The camera rotates around Riker as everyone on the bridge looks to him in breathless anticipation, the music builds and builds to a terrifying crescendo, and Riker firmly orders, “Mr. Worf… fire.”

I mean. DAMN, guys. This episode would only be possible with three seasons’ worth of investment in this ship, this crew, this family… but what a thing to do with it.

See you next season…

(S-Rank)

S-Rank: 3
A-Rank: 7
B-Rank: 6
C-Rank: 10
D-Rank: 0
Average: 3.35/5 (B-Rank)

***

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