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Season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation starts and ends with conflict: we begin with the aftermath of The Borg assimilating Captain Picard and end on a Klingon/Romulan plot that hopes to end the Klingon/Federation alliance and also has the tone of a grudge against Picard! Wow, he's a man whose name certainly spans the universe! But before we get ahead of ourselves...
A huge theme in Season 4 is family. The aftermath of The Borg encounter and assimilation has Picard shaky and he returns to his home in France to spend time with his family including his brother Robert Picard in 4.02 Family, which is one of the few times we ever see Picard let his guard down in one of the best scenes of the series. He's not the only one who connects with family that day as the episode also features and time capsule like message to Wesley from his father Jack Crusher, and a delightfully awkward visit to the ship from Worf's foster parents Sergey and Helena Rozhenko. The family theme continues in 4.03 Brothers where Data takes over the ship to reroute himself on a homing beacon to meet his maker/father Dr. Noonin Soong, who wants to gift him with an emotion chip. Things don't go well there as the homing beacon also revives and reveals the presence Lore, who ends up with the chip instead.
In more extended family matters, we have the appearance of Yar's Sister Ishara in 4.06 Legacy, and I continue to be confused over how the entire crew fawned over her, especially as she spoke so negatively of Yar and even called her weak. I'm not Yar fan, but that's pretty low. While we are reaching far out there, we also get to see (fake) future son of Riker named Jean-Luc in 4.08 Future Imperfect, although that's was all a ruse when an alien projects Riker married Minuet from 1.15 11001001, in one of the best reveals of the season.
We also have the first re-occuring couple on the ship with O'Brien and Keiko who get married in 4.11 Data's Day, which surprizingly was one of my favourites of the season not only for having the awesome dance lesson scene with Data and Beverly, but also to get to 'spend a day in the life of Data' and hear his reflection of the crew, his life and being on The Enterprise. And we get to see his cat, Spot.
Families start to expand when K'Ehleyr comes to The Enterprise in 4.07 Reunion, and along with her is Worf's son Alexander. I love Alexander, he's one of my favourite characters in the series, and I love how tiny he is in this episode. He doesn't get to stay though, as in the quest to uncover the truth about Duras' past, K'Ehleyr discovers the truth of Duras' dishonour and he kills here. Worf takes vengeance by killing Duras. Worf accepts Alexander as his son, but sends time to Earth to be brought up by Worf's foster parents Sergey and Helena Rozhenko whom we met in 4.02 Family.
We also have the exit of Wesley Crusher, who finally gets to go to Starfleet Academy, but not after a long drawn out episode 4.09 Final Mission where he and Picard almost die on a desert-like planet. Wesley saves the day though, after Picard gets hurt saving Wesley. That's a lot of saving! I guess we won't have any more wunderkid episodes. And maybe it's the kid being away that lets Beverly get out to play, as she has her first romance of the series with Odan in 4.23 The Host. Wesley isn't the only departure though, as the season leaves on a cliffhanger of 4.26 Redemption with both an exit and a return: Worf resigns from Starfleet to live with and help The Klingons after Gowron becomes Chancellor of The Klingon High Council and then there is the mysterious introduction of a Tasha Yar-like looking Romulan. Gowron also clears Worf's family name, clearing Worf of the discommendation he accepted back in 3.17 Sins of the Father.
Although I will admit to being surprized and not quite remembering where the cliffhanger of the season goes, on the whole Season 4 is one I know really well, and there were several episode I recognized from the very first frame and had my little catch phrases for the episode like the "Barclay gets smart" one, or "Geordi gets kidnapped by Romulans" or the "Sour the Milk" episode. And of course there is the dreaded "One Moon Circles" or what my family used to call it: "I have to find you... to tell you!!!" I don't usually call out 'bad' episodes, but I can't let 4.17 Night Terrors go unmentioned as it's so easy to make fun of. And in all honestly, it wasn't quite as bad as I remembered as the story is pretty interesting but it still feels like it would be much more forgivable if it had been back in Season 1 or Season 2.
A big touchstone for Trek is exploring moral questions and the commitment to non-interference, and several times we have these culture questions pondered. They look at who gets to choose what is the right way to live for someone else like in 4.04 Suddenly Human when a human teen is found brought up by a different race and it also plays a part in the complications of cross cultural relations 4.22 Half a Life with a race who choose to die at 60, and yet again in 4.23 The Host where 2 co-existing beings live as one, but the host body changes over time. The moral question is turned within in 4.21 The Drumhead where Picard calls out a Federation investigator when the hunt for blood goes to far. I think the more notable episode that uses the prime directive is only that only Data would remember, which is 4.14 Clues where the ship encounters a xenophobic alien race and take a few attempts to wipe the possible memory of them from the ship and from their minds.
4.14 Clues is actually one of my favourite of the season, along with the quirky pace of 4.11 Data's Day and the lovely romance in 4.23 The Host. There were also a fair amount of scary episodes this season, including Beverly's becoming the sole crew member of the ship and battling what looks like alien abductions in 4.05 Remember Me, the creepy effect of moving through dark matter in 4.25 In Theory, the waking nightmares of 4.17 Night Terrors and of course a string of abduction including Riker in both 4.08 Future Imperfect and 4.15 First Contact and of course Geordi being brainwashed in 4.24 The Mind's Eye and metaphoring in 4.18 Identity Crisis.
Troi also has a rough season, losing her powers in 4.10 The Loss, dealing with the nightmares in 4.17 Night Terrors and being taken over by aliens in 4.14 Clues. It was actually really cool to see Troi and Data work together in several episodes (4.10 The Loss and 4.14 Clues), and that they make a good team that balances both out of box and realistic thinking - and both of them can do both, which makes it all the more amazing.
We are introduced to several new races including two of one of my favourites: The Cardassians in 4.12 The Wounded which if one of the first times I remember seeing racism even hinted at in the series from The Federation point of view, although it's masked and later revealed as regret. Then we also have the symbiotic race of The Trill introduced in 4.23 The Host. A season couldn't go by without some visits from favourite guest stars, and it was delightful to see appearances of Q in 4.20 Q-Pid as well as Lwaxana Troi and 4.22 Half a Life.
The one thing that feels different about Season 4 from the rest of the seasons so far, is that it has a lot of longer-term conflict, in particular with the threat of The Romulans and possible Romulan/Klingon plot against the Federation. This makes it the most arc-y of any season we've seen, and it's craftily woven in from the Romulan side of things startinjg with a spy who masqueraded and a Vulcan and appeared to blow up in 4.11 Data's Day to the brainwashing of Geordi in 4.24 The Mind's Eye. From the Klingon angle, we have vying for the spot of Chancellor in the Klingon High Council between Gowron and Duras in 4.07 Reunion, which does finally go to Gowron in the season finale of 4.26 Redemption, even though he doesn't have the backing of many on the council.
Although that's a pretty heavy note to end the season on, my thoughts go out to some of the priceless moments in Season 4, and I think they run clear in my favourite lines:
- "K'mpec was old and weak. I am not." - K'Ehleyr in 4.07 Reunion
- 'I have surmised that Commander La Forge was conditioned by Romulans, a process referred to historically - and somewhat inaccurately - as "brainwashing".' - Data from 4.24 The Mind's Eye
- "Perhaps we have a Poltergeist. Perhaps Not." - Picard in 4.25 In Theory
- "I protest! I am NOT a Merry Man!" - Worf in 4.20 Q-Pid
4.01 The Best of Both Worlds: Part II
4.04 Suddenly Human
4.05 Remember Me
4.08 Future Imperfect
4.09 Final Mission
4.10 The Loss
4.11 Data's Day
4.12 The Wounded
4.13 Devil's Due
4.15 First Contact
4.16 Galaxy's Child
4.17 Night Terrors
4.18 Identity Crisis
4.19 The Nth Degree
4.21 The Drumhead
4.22 Half a Life
4.23 The Host
4.24 The Mind's Eye
4.25 In Theory
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 in Pictures
Images Source: TrekCore