Season Six Overview

In weighing up the sixth season of TNG, it might be helpful to first see how it does compared with previous years. As just about everyone and their dog knows, TNG didn't really get going until it had passed its rocky first and second seasons and achieved something of a rebirth with its third. It was during the third season that the show we all know and love really started to take form and for the first time began to deliver a range of good stories of a consistently high quality. That was a tradition that continued through its impressive fourth season. Season five witnessed something of a stumble for the series. Whilst there were still a number of strong episodes, the general feeling was one of stagnation. A pattern was developing, and not an especially healthy one at that -- episodes began to become somewhat formulaic, often comprising of a soap opera character A-plot supported by a technobabble ship-in-danger B-plot. Even when the character story was a strong one, it tended to be blunted by the string of inane, phoney "jeopardy" sub-plots.

Fortunately, despite a shaky start, the sixth season marked a return to form for the series. Things didn't start on a particularly promising note, for of the first eight episodes, only three scored above five. That's not good. But the excellent Chain of Command two-parter marked a sharp upturn for the show, an upturn which would remain pretty constant through to the year's end. We were treated to some very strong episodes which combined genuinely innovative science-fiction premises with solid characterisation, such as the wonderful Tapestry, gripping espionage thriller Face of the Enemy and the darkly surreal Frame of Mind. Fortunately the writers seemed to have learned their lesson from the fifth season, and hokey "jeopardy" sub-plots became the exception rather than the rule.

It wasn't just the stories that became bolder, it was the characterisation, too. Chain of Command, Part Two still ranks among the most intense, disturbing and provocative character pieces ever attempted by any incarnation of Trek. It was certainly something of a landmark for TNG, which previously tended to err on the side of safety when it came to characterisation. Additionally, we saw some solid character building for Picard, first in Tapestry when he comes to appreciate his "misspent youth", then in "Lessons", where we not only see him fall in love, but also learn that his experiences in The Inner Light did have an impact on him, after all. Following the abysmal Birthright, Part Two, the writers even dared broach the issue of religion, previously regarded as something of a taboo in Trek. The results were somewhat mixed, but it was a start and something that DS9 would later pick up on and take farther.

Aside from the bare patch at the start of the year and the occasional stinker thereafter, the only real flaws I can level at the season are more aimed at the series as a whole. In particular, whilst there were some baby-steps to dealing with ongoing character development (mainly in the cases of Picard and Worf), I always found it frustrating that this wasn't utilised further. A series doesn't have to be serialised or a soap opera to depict how events can change a character and cause them to grow. That's something that very, very rarely happened on TNG, and that's a pity. I understand that the aim was to produce twenty-six individual, stand-alone episodes, but all too often the dreaded reset button reared its ugly head and we were all but guaranteed that whatever happened plot-wise or in terms of characterisation would be forgotten by the next week -- and that's very frustrating.

Still, the bottom line is that TNG was back on track, once again delivering episodes of a consistently high quality. That's all I ever ask, really. Not a perfect year, but a solid one that ranks some way behind the third and fourth seasons but a good way ahead of the others. Onwards to the seventh and final season. Is that a dark cloud I see in the horizon? Please tell me I'm mistaken...

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