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Blu-ray Review: STAR TREK: TNG Season 6 and “Chain of Command”

By time Star Trek: The Next Generation reached its sixth season, it had cemented itself as not only being a ratings smash in its first-run syndication spot, but also pushed the boundaries of science fiction storytelling and what the (albeit limited for the time) special effects could do. As good as Season 5 was, Season 6 has some absolute corkers in it and is arguably the most consistently good season the show produced, despite a couple of silly episodes that are unavoidable in a 26-episode year. All of these fantastic episodes are available on the Complete Season Six Blu-ray set, and as with the last three releases, a companion disc with a feature-length cut of a two-part episode, in this case “Chain of Command,” is also available. Two to beam up!

Season 6 was the season I really remember watching on initial broadcast. I was 8 years old and right in the sweet spot where I thought everything having to do with spaceships and aliens was awesome. I even had a tiny, openable U.S.S. Enterprise playset complete with teeny tiny Picard, Riker, and Data figures. I think I also had a phaser that opened up and was a tiny shuttlecraft playset with Worf or someone. I can’t see that one as vividly. Anyway, needless to say, generally when I have memories of Star Trek: The Next Generation, they’re from this season. As a result, I didn’t even know Wesley Crusher was a character until many years later. Interesting to someone, surely.

Beginning with the second part of the time travel epic “Time’s Arrow,” which had the crew interacting with Samuel Clemens and Jack London in the 1890s, Season 6 has some of the more indelible episodes in the show’s run. For instance, “Relics,” in which Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) emerges from a 75 year transporter snafu and looks at the new Enterprise and her crew. He and Picard even get to have a drink on the old TV show bridge, which is pretty darn cool. Knowing when they had a good thing, TNG had two episodes that year featuring Q (John de Lancie). The first is “True Q,” in which a visiting girl from Kansas learns from the omnipotent trickster that she might be more powerful than she thought. The second is the brilliant “Tapestry” in which Picard dies and Q is the overseer of his afterlife.

There are also several interesting and humorous one-off kind of stories that explore different kinds of science fiction, or just fiction in general. The early-in-the-season episode “Rascals” has a transporter malfunction (why is it always a transporter malfunction? It’s like, get that sh*t fixed, am I right?) causes Picard, Keiko O’Brien, Ensign Ro Laren, and Guinan to revert back to children and are the only ones who can defeat Ferengi pirates. It’s quite silly, but enjoyable. Another is A Fistful of Datas in which Data, whose mind is connected to the ship’s computer, begins to wreak havoc in the holodeck where Worf and his son are living out a Wild West scenario. Data is the villain, plus pretty much all the townsfolk. Patrick Stewart himself directed that episode. And speaking of holodeck, in “Ship in a Bottle,” Barclay accidentally awakens Professor Moriarty who becomes self aware and tries to convince the crew to allow him to leave the holodeck. He’s nefarious, so it makes sense that things don’t go well.

The season also had two great two-parters, the first of which is the one released as a separate, feature-length movie. “Chain of Command” is arguably one of the top five or so best TNG episodes ever, due almost entirely to the brilliant performance by Patrick Stewart and guest stars Ronny Cox and David Warner. Vice Admiral Nechayev relieves Picard of duty so that he, Crusher, and Worf can go on a secret mission to diffuse a Cardassian chemical weapon. In his place, Nechayev assigns Capt. Jellico (Cox), who at first seems perfectly pleasant, but is soon learned to be a difficult taskmaster, a shrewd negotiator, and an all-around hardass. He and Riker very quickly don’t get a long. Their job is to reach an agreement with the Cardassians about territory so as to buy Picard and company time to finish their mission. It doesn’t go well. The intel was false and they walked into a trap.

While Crusher and Worf manage to escape, Picard is kidnapped and taken in for questioning about Starfleet’s plans and codes and things, which he truthfully knows nothing about. He is brought before Gul Madred (Warner) who begins aggressive interrogation, including psychological and physical torture. Picard is asked repeatedly how many lights he sees. Though there are clearly four, Madred insists there are five, and that things would go easier for him if he’d just admit it. Elsewhere Jellico is attempting to figure out a way to salvage his side of the mission, and is forced to ask Riker for help, even though the two had just clashed over whether to rescue Picard.

This is a really excellent two-parter that, while it lacks the spectacle of “The Best of Both Worlds” or “Redemption,” or the fanfare of “Unification,” has themes that resonate still to this day and performances that are still great.

The other two-parter is “Birthright,” which brings the newly-premiered Deep Space Nine into the TNG fold. Worf learns that his father is being held captive by the Romulans (whom EVERYONE hates) and he goes to rescue him, only to be captured himself and have to lead refugee Klingons into battle. Meanwhile, Dr. Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) meets Data and is fascinated by such a being. An engineering experiments leads to Data’s first dream, which brings him ever closer to being more human than human. Not as indelible a saga as “Chain of Command,” but nevertheless full of great things.

Star Trek 6

The whole season leads to its inevitable cliffhanger finale, “Descent,” in which the crew encounters members of the Borg acting outside the hive mind. Data also experiences his first emotion, which is pretty endearing to watch. It also features a holographic game of cards between Data, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Professor Stephen Hawking, playing himself. It’s pretty phenomenal.

As a whole, Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6 might well be the finest complete season the series ever produced and well worth a look or a re-look.

The Blu-ray transfer and CGI-upgrade, like all the previous editions, is nothing short of a revelation. While still the 4×3 picture image, the show in HD looks about as good as any movie or television show made today, despite the early-90s TV lighting. I applaud CBS and Paramount for realizing that Trek fans are particular and they buy stuff, and so go out of their way to give them as much to enjoy as possible.

As far as extras, this set doesn’t have as much as some, but they are still worthwhile. Audio commentaries on the episodes “Relics,” “Tapestry,” and “Frame of Mind,” and the documentary “Beyond the Five Year Mission” are the newly-created extras (to go along with some archival mission logs and deleted scenes and what not). The doc talks a lot about the creation of Deep Space Nine which was going on concurrently and how that affected TNG. There are some excellent anecdotes as well from the regular cast and guest stars like John de Lancie.

The “Chain of Command” release has different features, which I think is a good thing. You can, of course, watch the episodic versions on the box set, but you can only get the commentary on the standalone release, as well as a half-hour documentary about the making of the two-parter. I think this is a smart thing to do, really. If they’re going to take the time to make a second release, they ought to make it as un-double-dippy as possible.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am highly recommending both of these releases to the Trek lover out there, or if you’re a casual fan, pick up the “Chain of Command” disc solo and see if that sparks something.

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