TNG at 20: The Human Condition

25-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 5 comments.

Star Trek is a tale not of aliens, technology, and anomalies, but of humanity. However evolved the future's citizens claim to be, they still find ways to learn and and places to grow. Though Worf or Data or even Wesley may've developed the most over The Next Generation's seven years, the hero I found to be the deepest, most complex, and most intricate was their guide through the stars: the very human Captain Picard.

As many commanding officers do, Jean-Luc Picard initially came across as a stiff and remote authority figure: barking orders, didactically lecturing his crew, and providing an extremely straight man for the tomfoolery of Q. But when Picard was given the opportunity to not be a foil but take the center stage for himself, his humanity truly shined.

Though we met almost everyone else's parents and children, Picard had neither. Yet it was his estranged relationship with his brother Robert that we found most empathetic. This wasn't an unknown child appearing on his doorstep or a licentious mother causing him embarrassment; it was two siblings — one who stayed in the family business, the other a prodigal son. That very basic bond is one with which many of us have struggled, and though we'd hope to overcome such issues by the 24th century, it gives us hope to see a man as great as Picard overcome them.

It is one of many trials Picard faced in his time aboard the Enterprise. He lived decades in an unreal life — separated first from his starship family, then from the one he came to love. He was given the chance to put right what once went wrong, only to see the entire tapestry of his life come unravelled. He loved one woman, only to have duty take her away; he loved another, only to give her away himself. Despite a broken heart, he was held prisoner, tortured to the point of a broken mind.

And, of course, there was Wolf 359: where he was a mere onlooker as his own mind and body were used to send hundreds of his fellow Starfleet officers to their deaths. How does any man — not an android, not an empath, but just a man — overcome so much tragedy?

I don't know — yet Picard did so, and somehow became stronger for it. And he showed his unwavering spirit in his love for Shakespeare, archaelogy — and his crew. The most brilliant Star Trek short story I ever read was "The Promise", by Shane Zeranski, which I will spoil for you by quoting Picard's breakdown when he realizes, after thirty years, he may never leave Kataan:

I loved them… and I never told them. I never told a one! Not Data, not Worf, not Riker… not even Beverly. And now they're gone and I'll never see them again! I always — expected that… that I might, but — but I won't… If only I could see them — just once more, just… once… more! They were my family… my family… and I've lost them.

I can hear each of these words come from Jean-Luc's mouth, and they speak of a man wracked with a despair that can come only from a deep and powerful passion. Picard engages in the full range of human experiences, from joy to sorrow; it is this fearlessness with which he faces his own nature that exemplifies Star Trek as an exploration not of mapping stars and studying nebula… but of charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

The full breadth of Picard's character is demonstrated in the videos presented after the jump:

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TNG at 20: To Everything, There Is a Season

23-Sep-07 11:41 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to enjoy a full, cancellation-free run. This October 2nd, its 176 episodes will be available in a new box set (watch the trailer, read the press release). Though $40/season is a fair deal, $278.89, after shipping, is still no small amount of change. And, as Trek Nation has been recently reminding us with their retro reviews, some entire seasons of TNG have not aged well.

There are many ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. Various fan collectives offer thematically-related content, so if you like time travel or Q, you're bound to be satisfied — unless you dwell on what these packages miss, such as "Future's End". For my money, The Jean-Luc Picard Collection is the best value, as I prefer episodes that offer not an anomaly of the week, but significant, focused character development. "Tapestry", "Darmok", and "The Inner Light" are worth their weight in latinum, and with the former two both coming from season five, perhaps that is the series' best season. Other fifth-season episodes "I, Borg", "The Perfect Mate" (another Picard episode, and one which first unites Patrick Stewart with Famke Janssen, prior to their X-Men team-up), Spock's return in the two-part "Unification", and the first half of "Time's Arrow" supports this theory.

But only with the new, complete DVD collection can you get all the above along with gems like "The Best of Both Worlds", "Yesterday's Enterprise", and "Relics" — so if you have money to burn, take the good with the bad and splurge on all seven seasons (plus exclusive features and documentaries). But if you don't, then what season (or fan collective) do you recommend, and for what episodes?


Also in the TNG at 20 series: